At first glance, associating the Jesuits with popular religion might appear paradoxical. Given their background, training, ecclesiastical power and political influence, the Jesuits constituted an elite within German Catholic society in the era of the Counter-Reformation. At the same time, their ministry was principally directed towards that society’s other elite groups. Jesuit priests, or patres, were prominent, for example, in an educational role, as instructors of the secular and regular clergy in the universities, or as tutors to the sons of nobility and patricians in their imposing urban colleges. Similarly the order’s significant political influence derived from the frequent occupation by Jesuits of posts as confessors to Catholic princely dynasties. Jesuits too trod the boards of high culture as artistic and literary patrons and practitioners. Such were the elevated circles in which they appear to have moved most comfortably. Unsurprisingly, historians of the Society of Jesus in Germany have chosen to focus their studies on those Jesuit activities and institutions which best reflect these themes, from theology to court politics, from Marian Sodalities to school drama.1 But what of the rest of society and, in particular, of its largest constituency, the rural peasantry: were the non-elite ignored completely by the patres?
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