Indispensable immigrants

The wine porters of northern Italy and their saint, 1200–1800

Lester K. Little
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This book recreates the world of peasants who streamed into late-medieval and early modern northern Italy to carry containers of wine, brenta. It focuses on Saint Alberto, who was a wine porter in the city of Cremona, which imported workers in the thirteenth century - Fernand Braudel called them 'indispensable immigrants'. Alberto's legend is a mix of significant and recurring forms of behaviour - after finishing his daily work as a field hand, kneeling before a cross to say his prayers. It is from the annals of Reggio Emilia, Piacenza, Parma, and Cremona that one can glean information about Alberto. Alberto's transformation from historical non-person to celebrity began within a few days of his burial. Claims of his frequent praying in Saint-Mattia derived from the news of his healing miracles, and the book presents factual accounts of his posthumous reputation. The ecclesiastical authorities of Cremona consigned the chapel of Saint-Alberto to the wine porters of their city. The book deals at length with brentatore, the Italian wine porter, and brenta. It is from the scatological imagination of Teofilo Folengo and other works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that one gets a glimpse of how wine porters were perceived by others. The book looks at who orchestrated Alberto's cult as campaigning for one's own sainthood is really rather unseemly.

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‘It is a welcome contribution to his already-renowned scholarship and a tribute to a little-known Italian medieval saint. As a consequence the book itself will be indispensable to medieval and early modern scholars who work on Italy, saints, cults, the papacy, lay piety, and town life.'
Janine Larmon Peterson, Marist College
The Medieval Review
November 2016

‘The book is a sheer delight, perfect for leisure reading by all historians no matter their chronological or geographic specialization, a testament to the joys of what we do.'
Rudolph M. Bell, Rutgers University
Journal of Social History
June 2016

‘This study, a pleasure to read, should engage a wide range of scholars, of medieval and early modern Italy, of religion and society, of popular piety, of memory and its construction, and of cultural and economic history.'
Thomas Worcester, College of Holy Cross
Renaissance Quarterly Review, Vol LXX, No. 4

‘Indispensable Immigrants is a masterclass in the integration of archival work, historiography, rhetorical skill, and imagination, four ingredients indispensable to the craft of writing engaging and informative history.

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