Field Trip to Rome

Bryan Ward-Perkins writes: In September last year six members of the Cult of Saints project teamed up with three members of the Warsaw-based ‘Presbyters’ project, and went on an intensive five-day visit to Rome. The purpose of this visit was to familiarise ourselves with the physical evidence for the early cult of saints, and there is nowhere better to do this than Rome, with its quite extraordinary collection of catacombs, excavated cemeteries, early churches, inscriptions,and mosaic and fresco depictions of the saints, all supplemented with rich contemporary documentary evidence and unique levels of modern scholarly engagement.

  In the course of our five days we covered huge distances on foot (since this is the best way of forming an impression of the city’s topography, pre-Christian and Christian), and visited most of the highlights of early Christian Rome, including the excavations under St Peter’s and some twenty churches.  I had the good fortune to be born and brought up in Rome, and therefore had some familiarity with almost everything we saw – but seeing these monuments in an group was deeply enlightening, since, at every site, at least one of our number was guaranteed to know something I didn’t.  For instance, in S. Maria Maggiore I learned more about the fifth-century nave mosaics (and some fairly obscure passages in Genesis) than I had ever dreamed was to be known!

The high points of our fieldtrip were definitely: our visit to the newly reopened S. Maria Antiqua on the Forum (which coincided with an excellent exhibition about its early medieval frescoes and their context); a private tour of the catacombs of Domitilla, Calixtus and S. Sebastiano, accompanied by two great experts on these, Antonio Felle and Donatella Nuzzo; and a visit to the Congregatio pro Causis Sanctorum, the present-day Vatican office where the cases for possible new saints are carefully scrutinised.  Here Father Zdzisław Kijas OFMConv, who works for the Congregatio, took us very thoroughly and patiently through the modern process of vetting an application.  There are of course huge differences between the careful legalistic procedures of the modern Vatican, that have slowly evolved since the twelfth century, and the very informal processes of early centuries, that are our area of study.  But some central things have remained unchanged, such as the Church’s concern over unregulated cult, and the need for miracles to prove that a saint has intercessionary power.

We left Rome, as we had hoped, with a good understanding of the city’s remarkable physical evidence for saintly cult – cult that had built a string of impressive churches over the graves of the martyrs, including the massive basilicas of Old St Peter’s and St Paul’s, and had created the stunning mosaics of SS Cosma e Damiano and S. Agnese fuori-le-mura.  But, more than knowledge of a single city (important though that city is), we took away from Rome a much better understanding of how to read and interpret similar physical evidence from the same period across the rest of Christendom.

The Cult of Saints in Mainz and Heidelberg

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Bryan Ward-Perkins writes: ‘In November I visited Mainz and Heidelberg to give general introductory talks about our project at the two universities’ Ancient History seminars.  Such talks are largely given to spread the word that a big project is underway, and to explain how we are setting about collecting and tagging the evidence from all six languages of early Christianity and across all types of evidence – from passing references to shrines in papyrus documents to full-blown Lives of saints, by way of dedicatory inscriptions, martyrologies, homilies, etc.  But it is also very useful to address different audiences from different scholarly traditions, to see how we need to refine our own approaches, or, at the very least, justify the limitations on our project that the pressures of time dictate.  In producing a searchable corpus of all the available evidence up to c.700 AD (or at least of as much of it as possible), we are inevitably having to cut some corners, since completeness in this context is more important than perfection – but, at the same time, these corners need to be cut in a suitably scholarly way!  There is no better way of refining our thinking on how to do this than to talk to as many established scholars, students, and members of the wider public as possible.’

The Cult of Saints in the First Millennium seminar series

Time: Friday 5.00 – 7.00 pm

Venue: Trinity College (Sutro Room), University of Oxford

Convenor: Efthymios Rizos

Week 1 (28 April)
Conrad Leyser (Worcester College)
Through the Eyes of Two Deacons: Church Property, Clerical Office, and the Cults of Stephen and Laurence in Fifth-Century Rome

Week 3 (12 May)
Gesa Schenke (Oxford)
Invoking Martyrs for Justice, Expecting Healing through Saints: a Glimpse into the Early Realities of Cult through Greek and Coptic Documentary Evidence

Week 5 (26 May)
Aude Busine (Brussels)
Saints Basil and Basilissa at Ancyra

Week 7 (9 June)
Leslie Brubaker (Birmingham)
Mary at Daphni

‘Saints at the Margins’ panels series, IMC 2017

The Cult of Saints project has organised a series of four sessions at this year’s International Medieval Congress in Leeds (July 2017) which will explore the lower reaches of sainthood: men and women who nearly, but didn’t quite, make it into sainthood; and those who just succeeded in being accepted as saints, sometimes only to sink back into oblivion. The session organisers are Bryan Ward-Perkins (University of Oxford) and Robert Wiśniewski (Instytut Historyczny, Uniwersytet Warszawski), and full details of the sessions can be found in the IMC programme available here.

Workshop: Rulers and Saints

A workshop on Rulers and Saints: Concepts of `dynasty` and `sanctity` from Late Antiquity to the Late Middle Ages has been organised by the research fellows of the `Cult of Saints` and the `Jagiellonians` research projects and will take place in Oxford on Friday 13th May 2016. A full programme is available here: Rulers and Saints.

Presentations at Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies

On 18-20 March Paweł Nowakowski and Efthymios Rizos participated in the 49th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Inscribing Texts in Byzantium: Continuities and Transformations (Exeter College, Oxford).

Paweł’s paper began with the presentation of the search engine of our database and its functions especially useful for epigraphists, e.g.: browsing inscriptions attesting to the cult of saints, searching for the epigraphic evidence for the cult of a given saint, reading an inscription’s card, etc. The second part of the paper dealt with the changes in the use of inscriptions as a peculiar instrument of cult between the late antique and middle Byzantine period, including the growing dossier of epigraphically venerated saints, the sophistication of saints’ epithets (probably modelled on the epithets of the elite), the appearance of explicit references to emotions of donors, and the introduction of new forms of old types of inscriptions.

Efthymios spoke about inscribed imperial letters, as examples of the institutional transformations of imperial and municipal government from the Principate to Late Antiquity. His talk focused especially on inscriptions from the Christian shrines of Ephesos.

Seminar Series: The Cult of Saints in the First Millennium

Trinity Term (April – June 2016)

Friday 5.00 – 7.00 pm, Weeks 1, 3, 7

Venue: Radcliffe Humanities Building – Collin Matthews Room (Ground floor)

Convenor: Efthymios Rizos

Week 1 (29 April):

Mark Laynesmith (The Archbishop’s Examination in Theology, Lambeth Palace)

“The Cult of St Alban of Verulamium: Romano-British, Merovingian and Anglo-Saxon devotion, c. 400-800″

Week 3 (13 May):

– No seminar –

 Week 5 (27 May):

Simon Loseby (University of Sheffield)

“Thinking about saints with Gregory of Tours”

Week 7 (10 June):

Robert Wiśniewski (University of Warsaw)

“The burials ad sanctos