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

Gesa Schenke discusses evidence for martyr veneration at monastic shrines

Gesa Schenke, our Coptic specialist, gave a paper on Egyptian Hagiotopography: Documentary and Literary Evidence for Martyr Veneration at Monastic Shrines at a symposium held in Oxford on Monastic economies in Egypt and Palestine 4th–8th centuries CE (Oxford, 16–17 March 2016). Gesa argued that many of the famous martyr and healing shrines might have been run by monasteries located in the vicinity, a symbiosis advantageous to both institutions.

January news round-up

On 17 December Efthymios Rizos participated in the 8th Meeting of Greek Byzantinists in Athens, where he presented the activities and objectives of the Cult of Saints project. We are grateful to our colleagues from Greece and Cyprus for their encouraging feedback and constructive suggestions on the Cult of Saints Database.

On 13 and 14 January, Efthymios Rizos was invited to give lectures at seminars held by the History Institutes of the Universities of Krakow and Warsaw, where he presented his recent research on the iconography of martyrs in the late antique mosaics of Thessalonike. Efthymis discussed the mosaics of the Rotunda and Saint Demetrius, two of the most important iconographic ensembles to survive from the Early Christian World. We are grateful to our Polish colleagues for their warm hospitality and participation in these lectures!

On 19 January, the ‘Cult of Saints in the First Millennium’ seminar held its first lecture for Hilary Term 2016, which was given by our epigraphy specialist, Paweł Nowakowski. Paweł discussed the problems of recognising epitaphs of martyrs in the Greek Christian epigraphy of Anatolia, which is part of his broader research on saint-related inscriptions from that part of the late antique world.

Conference on late antique Demons in Berlin (5-6 November 2015)

Robert Wiśniewski took part in the conference ‘The perception of demons in different literary genres in Late Antiquity’ at Humboldt University in Berlin. In his paper, which obviously dealt with evil spirits rather than with saints, Robert argued that in early Latin hagiography demons played an unexpectedly minor role. They had a narrative function, but their presence and activity was not considered essential for understanding the diverse misfortunes which befall mankind.

Colloquium on ‘Christian and Muslim Saints: Roles and Functions Compared’, held in Oxford, 12 November 2015

This colloquium was a joint initiative of Oxford’s ‘Centre for Global History‘ and the Cult of Saints project.  The aim of the meeting was to examine and discuss differences as well as similarities between the Christian and Muslim traditions of ‘sainthood’ (though the word ‘saint’ is difficult, because of its powerful Christian associations), and also to explore variant attitudes within each of the two religions.  Though extremists within both Islam and Christianity (whether Wahhabi Muslims or austere Protestants) have sought to banish saints to the realm of superstition, the belief that some people have privileged access to divine power, which can even extend beyond their mortal deaths, remains widespread.  There are, however, also significant differences within religious traditions: for instance, the heritability of sanctity has been, and remains, much more a feature of sanctity within Islam than within Christianity; while Christianity, through the experience of early persecution, evolved a strong belief that suffering could grant spiritual power, which is largely absent from Islam.

A copy of the programme is available Christian and Muslim Saints programme 12 Nov 2015.

Robert Wiśniewski’s talk on Latin monastic hagiography at the Medieval Congress in Leeds

Robert Wiśniewski presented a paper entitled `Eastern Stories Retold by Westerners: The Beginnings of Latin Hagiography’ at  the International Medieval Congress in Leeds (6-9 July 2015). He argued that though texts, heroes and literary motifs that can be found in early western hagiography very often came from the East, Latin authors frequently used them to express their own views on sanctity, theological ideas, and vision of monastic life.