The Rule of Naming a Godparent

As a nation state, Italy has emerged only in 1871. Until then the country was politically divided into a large number of independant cities, provinces and islands. The currently available evidences point out to a dominant Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultural influence on today's Italians.
siciliangirl2016
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The Rule of Naming a Godparent

Postby siciliangirl2016 » 12 Aug 2016, 18:11

As I look over the many baptism records available on the LDS site, I have to wonder when godparents were chosen back then, would the parents have chosen a blood relative first rather than a friend of the family ? I know the "rules" were more strict than maybe what they are today. Thanks!!!

erudita74
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Re: The Rule of Naming a Godparent

Postby erudita74 » 13 Aug 2016, 01:36

The following is something I put together some time ago and is based on sources too numerous to list here. Hopefully there's some info here which will answer your question.

In past centuries, much thought went into the process of selecting godparents. Not only were godparents responsible for a godchild’s spiritual well-being throughout his/her life, but they also became the child’s guardian and provider, if that child was ever orphaned. The practice of selecting a child’s godparents has an interesting history. Before the sixteenth century, and the existence of the Sacred Council of Trent, godparents were sometimes related, not only to their godchildren, but also to the parents of their godchildren. However, this was true in only an infinitely small number of cases. Only 1.5% of the godmothers and godfathers in Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries, for example, were among the blood relatives of the parents of the baptized child. The overwhelming majority of godparents were recruited from among neighbors, colleagues, political acquaintances, or business associates of the child’s father

Members of noble or illustrious families in a village were also much sought after to serve as godparents. Since there were usually no more than one or two such families in a village, and since they could not attend every baptism for which they had been asked to serve as a godparent, they would often send surrogates to the baptismal ceremony. The actual godparent, and not the substitute, however, still bore the responsibility for the child, and he/she was the person formally named to serve in that role, but not necessarily the person who actually held the baby at the baptismal font.

For the Renaissance elite, it was customary to have a large number of godparents. This, in fact, was considered to be socially useful. Baptism was second to only marriage in linking families. People generally chose godparents who could help increase their influence in the world outside the family. Women were rarely chosen, as they had low social status and could therefore not do anything to advance a family in the society. Some children had an entire town as its godparent. Florentines, in addition to choosing close friends and neighbors as godparents for their children, also did not choose the same person to be godparent on more than one occasion. Doing that implied that the infant’s father no longer had enough friends. If the godchild died, however, by choosing the same individual to be godparent for another child, the families could continue the ties which had previously been established between them. Priests and religious were also logical choices to serve as godparents, as the religious education of the godchild was one of the primary duties of being a godparent. Rarely did the Florentines, however, choose godparents whose social status was much above their own. The church advocated choosing godparents for the love of God and not to enhance status.

When the Sacred Council of Trent came into existence in the middle of the 16th century, the number of baptismal kin that a child could have became limited. The Church, in fact, did not want more than three individuals to serve in the capacity of godparent and had a spiritual reason for imposing such a limitation. According to church law, the act of baptism formed a bond between the godparent and the child, which meant that certain taboos were now in effect. So, if a person had too many godparents, they might forget who those godparents were and commit spiritual incest by accidentally marrying one of those people, or by having sexual relations with them.

Godmothers appear at most, if not all, baptisms, as Church law required their presence. Prior to that, however, baptism was largely a masculine affair. The great majority of godparents had been men and included patricians, some artisans, and a few influential men. Women rarely had any influence outside of the family and hardly ever were asked to serve as godmothers. Most children, therefore, had only a godfather or godfathers, and no godmother. Even when there was a godmother or godmothers, the women’s names were usually left out of the account, unlike the names of the men who had served as godfathers and were always recorded.. The other reason was that husbands may have deliberately prevented their wives from becoming godmothers, as being one meant that that would have to be on friendly terms with the male compari, and most husbands did not want their wives doing that.

When an infant did have a godmother or godmothers, these women substituted for the mother at the ceremony. Mothers rarely, if ever, attended their children’s baptisms because of the rigors of childbirth. Also there was the Mosaic taboo which forbade the new mother from entering the sacred area for forty days after childbirth. So the mother would be left at home during the ceremony, after which she could be visited in her confinement chamber. Following the baptism, the party basically went to the mother’s bedroom, which was in accord with the customs of that time period.

Many of the women who were chosen to serve as comothers or godmothers also had been present at the birth. Midwives, friends, and relatives, who were in attendance at the birth, became comothers. Midwives themselves had developed close ties with the family whose child they had helped to deliver and, as a result, were often selected to serve as an infant’s godmother. Their becoming godmothers demonstrated their continuing concern for the welfare of the children they had helped to deliver.

Sometimes even a wetnurse would be chosen as the godmother, as choosing a wetnurse to be godmother was one way to reward a person who had aided the family. Since wetnursing was perceived as a hazardous affair for the child, one way to ensure the child’s safety would be to bind the nurse close to the infant, and to its family as well, through baptismal kinship.

Godparents in some parts of Europe even gave godchildren their names, but not in Florence or in other parts of Italy and Sicily. They also did not have any freedom in choosing the child’s given name. The godparent simply transmitted the parents’ wishes. Children from an individual family were named according to a specific naming pattern: the first two children (male or female) were named after their paternal grandparents; only the first son had the right to call his son by the same name as his father. The younger brothers and sisters were named after their paternal aunts or uncles. If a child died prematurely, the next child of the same sex born to the family would be named after the dead child. In second marriages, the first male child was named after the dead husband and the first female child after the deceased wife.

Nowadays, there generally are two godparents: a godfather and a godmother. A male relative of the husband (brother or father) and a female relative of similar category of the wife (sister or mother) are godparents for the first child whereas, for the second child, the male relative comes from the wife’s side and the female from the husband’s. The pattern of allowing a single godfather and godmother may be altered by permitting two godfathers, two godmothers, or even simply a single godmother .

In most of rural Italy, except in the south, godparents most frequently are relatives. In urban areas, except in the south, there appears to be little preference for relatives over friends. In southern Italy, both in town and country, the preference was for friends over relatives. The choosing of appropriate godparents, as in centuries past, allows a family to enlarge its network. A child’s parents and godparents refer to each other as cummari, or cumpari (co-mother or co-father). The relationship is similar to a close friendship that cannot be torn apart by rivalry, jealousy, or greed. If possible parents try to choose godparents for their children who are wealthier and more powerful and able to provide for the child’s spiritual and physical well-being. Godparents, like inlaws, are permanent members of the family and extend the kinship network and therby optimized the nuclear family’s economic and social possibilities

The godparents and the godchild are the principal participants at the baptism and, in rural Italy, are frequently the sole participants.together with the priest. The godmother carries the child to church, holds the child during the major portion of the ceremony, and then returns the newly baptized infant to the arms of its mother. In one town, Lazio, the godmother is even allied with the sacredness of the Sacrament, and the infant’s mother kneels before her for her blessing.

It should be noted that in many church baptism books, one finds that the godfather, godmother, or godparents (if there are two sponsors) were sometimes just sponsors assigned by a parish itself. If that was the case, then the same individual(s) would be found as godparent(s) for all of the children on a single page in the parish’s book of baptisms. In most instances, the relationship of the sponsor to the child is not given in the record. In other instances, it was given, and even grandparents have been found to serve as children’s godparents.







siciliangirl2016
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Re: The Rule of Naming a Godparent

Postby siciliangirl2016 » 13 Aug 2016, 01:50

WOW..... what a wealth of information. I was always curious how the godparents were selected or chosen and who did the selecting. I will have to save this information to my computer and look at it from time to time. There really is a lot of information here..... thank you so much for answering me !!!!

erudita74
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Re: The Rule of Naming a Godparent

Postby erudita74 » 13 Aug 2016, 04:21

Happy to share my research.
Erudita

siciliangirl2016
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Re: The Rule of Naming a Godparent

Postby siciliangirl2016 » 13 Aug 2016, 13:32

Also, what I am finding in the Borgetto, Sicily baptism records for my particular situation is that most of the named godparents are actually close relatives of the born infants. It's good to know they were all so close like that to name them as godparents.

erudita74
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Re: The Rule of Naming a Godparent

Postby erudita74 » 13 Aug 2016, 15:44

That's great that you are finding that the godparents were close relatives as well. I think that when the godparents are also from another town, it is safe to assume that they were relatives, or at least close friends, of the family as well.
Erudita


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