• Putting Faith to the Test: Anne de Gonzague and the Incombustible Relic

      Hillman, Jennifer; University of Chester (2014-01-01)
      This article explores the cognitive struggle against ‘doubt’ which impeded the conversion of a female aristocrat Anne de Gonzague, princesse Palatine, in seventeenth-century France. Anne’s conversion came only after a life-long intellectual battle which climaxed when she held a fragment of the True Cross in the fire to test whether it could withstand the flames. This article contends that the intellectual premise for her experiment with the holy relic can be found in her ‘conversion narrative.’ It offers a reading of the text which argues that it was Anne’s application of philosophical scepticism and the Cartesian method – to which she was exposed in the Scientific Academy of her physician Pierre Michon Bourdelot - to her own irreligion which actually brought about her conversion to orthodoxy. Anne’s ‘test’ of faith therefore compels us to rethink the relationship between the New Philosophy and faith in the seventeenth century.