"The Hollanders were always an original and leading people. They claim to have invented printing (wooden type), oil-painting, liberty, banking, gardening, etc. Above all, years before my tale, they invented cleanliness.."
This quote is from Charles Reade’s best book, The Cloister and the Hearth. It is set in Holland.
Main character Gerald is in Rome around 1480, where he observes two man having a conversation. One of them is preparing to commit a murder. He does not want his place in heaven to become jeopardized by this, so he is buying an indulgence in advance. This turns out to be a regular transaction in Rome. There are pamphlets listing the price per sin.
Of course the Dutch Gerald has heard of indulgences, but this is just too crude. He is looking for the true faith. Not an easy task with a pope who is trying to declare Mary as Conceived Immaculately as well (he never succeeded).
Gerard is trained as a clergyman. That is also what he wants to do with his life: bring faith and comfort to common people. But how to reconcile that with his love for Margaret?
This moves the writer to sigh: ‘Celibacy of the clergy, an invention truly fiendish.’