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Mad for God

Bartolome Sanchez, the Secret Messiah of Cardenete
Sara Tilghman Nalle

BUY Paper · 228 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813920016 · $26.00 · Dec 2000
BUY Ebook · 228 pp. · ISBN 9780813934624 · $26.00 · Nov 2012

Convinced he was the Elijah Messiah, the Spanish peasant Bartolomé Sánchez believed that God had sent him in divine retribution for the crimes committed by the Inquisition and the Church. Sánchez's vocal and intolerable religious deviance quickly landed him in the very court he believed he was sent to destroy. Fortunately for him, the first inquisitor assigned to his case came to believe that Sánchez was not guilty by virtue of insanity, and tried to collect the proof that would save his life.

For seven years, Sánchez shuttled between jails, hospitals, and his home village while his fate hung in the balance. Nalle convincingly evokes the compassion of Sánchez's first inquisitor, Pedro Cortes, as he struggled to save his prisoner's life, and argues that the Spanish, compared to other Europeans of the day, were remarkably rational and humane when dealing with the mentally ill.

A gripping tale of madness and religious conviction, Mad for God offers new historical insight into the ongoing debate over the nature of religious inspiration, insanity, and criminal responsibility.


What a pleasure to read a book that is so well prepared and has such an engaging story to tell! Mad for God is exceptionally clear, readable, original, and substantial. Nalle interests us in the story of a man with what for his time and place were crazy ideas about God and Catholicism, and in the process teaches us much about sixteenth-century Spanish Catholicism, the Inquisition, contemporary ideas about madness, and the social control of speech and dissenters.

William A. Christian, Jr., author of Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain

Mad for God is microhistory at its best, and it succeeds on multiple levels: it is a riveting narrative that has much to reveal to specialists and amateurs alike, and it is the first study to bring this case to light. Moreover, though it is focused on Sánchez exclusively, this study places the case in the context of similar contemporary phenomena in Spain and Europe, while, at the same time, revealing much about the inquisitorial process itself. Expertly accomplished, and elegantly written, there is nothing else quite like Mad for God in terms of content, form, or purpose, and it should prove to be a prime exemplar of a particular genre of history.

Carlos M. N. EireYale University, author of From Madrid to Purgatory: The Art and Craft of Dying in Sixteenth-Century Spain

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