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David Lazzaretti: heretic, rebel, or mentally insane? A cold case in Post-Unification Italy

TABLE OF CONTENTS: 1. Introduction - 2. The life and works of David Lazzaretti, the “Second Christ” from Arcidosso - 3. The ‘Prophet’ on the stand: the criminal trials in the State Courts - 4. Lazzaretti before the Tribunal of the Roman Holy Office - 5. Life after Death: Different interpretations of the Lazzaretti case - 6. The Prophet and the Alienists - 7. Conclusion: a prismatic figure.

ABSTRACT: The aim of this paper is to retrace a peculiar case occurred in the complex context of the decades after Italian Risorgimento and the Italian unification (1861). In particular, it will be analysed the case of David Lazzaretti a poor carter from Tuscany, self-proclaimed “Christ, Duce, Judge” and “the Second Son of God come to earth”, considered a heretic and excommunicated from the Catholic Church due his blasphemous writing. He founded the “Giurisdavidic Church” based on a sort of mystical and utopian socialism (his motto was: “The Republic is the kingdom of God”). His figure has given rise to lively controversy between those who considered him a martyr and who reputed him a mad visionary or a charlatan. In any case, Lazzaretti’s movements are emphasized above all for his tragic end: on the morning of August 18, 1878, while he was driving a peaceful procession from Monte Labbro to Arcidosso, a little town in Tuscany, he was killed by Italian carabinieri during a religious ceremony. After his death, medical science and in particular positivist psychiatry, also called “alienists”, described Lazzaretti not as a sacrilegious impostor but as a mentally ill person, who would have benefitted more from treatment than prosecution.

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