The Guglielmites

The Guglielmites

Who is Guglielma?

Guglielma was an Italian woman living in the 13th Century who gained a cult-like following at a time of increased inquisitorial presence from the Catholic Church. The mysticism around her person was not simply post-obit but whilst she was still alive. Very little was known about her before she arrived in Milan in approximately 1260. She adopted the life of a ‘pinzochera’, which is a sober and refrained form of independent living common to the time. 

One of the great rumours surrounding Guglielma is the claim that she was the daughter of the King of Bohemia. It is unknown whether this rumour is true, however, the rumour still carried the effects of validation of the sanctity of Guglielma. Indeed, if she is the daughter of the King of Bohemia, this would be Premysl Otakar I, then there is certainly form for a saint-like daughter. If the rumour is true, Guglielma would be the half-sister of Margarete of Denmark, a revered saint in the land, and also the sister of St. Agnes of Prague whose canonisation was proposed in 1328.

Guglielma was clearly a powerfully charismatic woman, managing to maintain a sense of unity amongst her followers even after her death. This is especially significant given the ranging affluence of influence of her followers. Furthermore, Guglielma was believed to be able to perform miracles as can be seen by the inquisitorial deposition of Andrea Saramita. When asked whether Guglielma performed miracles, he replied ‘yes, specifically in Master Beltrame da Forno, of a mark he had in his eye, and in Albertone da Novate, of a fistula that he had.’

What did the Guglielmites believe?

The Guglielmite’s belief was a unique feminized version of Christianity, more than three dozen Milanese elites held Guglielma to be none other than the Holy Spirit incarnate. That Guglielma had come to start a new church to take over the contemporary corruption of the Catholic church. Furthermore, and even more significant considering the time, was that the church would be led by a female leader after Guglielma’s resurrection and ascension.

These beliefs, naturally, can be seen to be deeply heretical for the time. Twenty years after her death, the Dominican Tribunal held a trial of at least thirty-three heretics. Three of whom paid for their heresy with the ultimate consequence of being burned at the stake. These were the two inner-circle leaders of the ‘cult’, Saramita and Maifreda, but also Giacoma da Nova. Whilst numerous others were forced to wear symbols of their heresy. What is so interesting about the depositions is the open admittance of heresy by Saramita who when asked if he believed his beliefs to be heretical replied ‘Indeed, it is great heresy’. As Saramita had been convicted of heresy in the past, he knew by this open admission of this relapse in belief, that he was subscribing to his death sentence. What were the motives for this, therefore? It is difficult to determine whether this was a testament to his belief in Guglielma or the acceptance that he was damned by the inquisitors either way.

Problems with the record?

A concluding point to make about the inquisitorial deposition of the Guglielmites is the irony of the inquisitors in certain aspects. For example, numerous monks participated in the Guglielmites cult, yet the inquisition of 1300 saw no monks called to testify. Furthermore, Veddano, a monk whose name appears frequently in the depositions, was promoted to abbot three years later in 1303.

Another point to make concerning the inquisitorial record is its challenging credibility. It is clear the document has been edited somewhat since the original recording, given that the document is not in chronological order. Furthermore, the miraculous circumstances in which the document was discovered. Almost all of the records of the Milanese Inquisition were destroyed, apart from the Guglielma deposition which was discovered in the back of a shop, therefore clearly the record had been moved from the general archive, again the motives for this are complicated to discern.


All in all, the story of the Guglielmites is an interesting aspect of the history of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages and the mystic nature of history and belief of the time as well as a great example of the inquisitorial process and sentiment.


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