Tag Archives: liturgy

Seminars CXXVII-CXXIX: the price, the mark and the buildings of early medieval Christianity

Interior view of the Hagia Sophia mosque, Istanbul, looking into the dome from the nave

Interior view of the Hagia Sophia mosque, Istanbul, in slightly better state than shortly after the Emperor Justinian built it as a church, when part fell down, as his rather conflicted historian Procopius records

I’m sorry to have gone silent again so quickly: in my defence, I was finishing a chapter for a book of essays in memory of Mark Blackburn, and that’s now done so we’ll see whether it passes muster. Meanwhile, I still have a backlog here of course. The seminar reports seem not to have drawn many comments lately, but I intend to persist, so for those not so interested I’ll try and stay brief, by my own elevated standards of course. The next three I have to report on are all Oxford ones, and they begin with a visit to the Late Antique and Byzantine Studies seminar there by Dr Peter Sarris of Cambridge on the 28th February 2012, whose title was “The Economics of Salvation in late Antiquity and Byzantium”. This was a wide-ranging paper, with examples from England to Anatolia, and as ever with Dr Sarris heavily erudite, but its basic thrust was in fact fairly simple: he argued that in the late Antique period, the drain that the relatively-new Church represented on resources that might have gone to other supporters of the imperial or royal régimes, and the Church’s consequent wealth as a land- and slave-owner, meant that there was in fact a detectable amount of opposition to it and that this probably retarded conversion and/or Christianisation for a long time. His starting point was the Emperor Justinian, perhaps unsurprisingly, of whom Procopius scathingly said, “Justice for him lay in the priests getting the better of their opponents”, but we rapidly got down to the peasantry, for whom despite what has sometimes been argued, the Church for Dr Sarris was no better and perhaps a worse landlord than the aristocracy might have been, because of its greater potential to develop estates, move people around and of course exercise a form of social control over them via worship, as well as having the best possible state backing most of the time.1 Benefaction and support for the Church, in this view, would come principally from those who saw a means to profit or advancement in it for themselves, the sort of people who might build churches on their estates or want to safely house family property with the tax-exempt Church in such a way that the family retained a heritable interest, a compromise that was easy to manage (and, according to one study Dr Sarris referenced, could represent a 5.5% return on investment per generation!).2 In questions, he was forced to back down a bit and admit that obviously there were also sincere believers who gave to the Church for their souls and to fund God’s work, and there was a lot of argument about whether the fact that that is overridingly the sort of language that the sources use of donation to the Church should be taken as evidential or as merely formulaic (or, as I would have preferred, the ineluctable result of only Church archives surviving). There was also some argument about which regions this might be more or less true in, but overall this was a provocative paper thoroughly put forward and those arguing with it needed their evidence about them.

Obverse of a bronze coin of Herod Archelaus, Ethnarch of Judæa (4 B. C.-A. D. 4)

Obverse of a bronze coin of Herod Archelaus, Ethnarch of Judæa (4 B. C.-A. D. 4), with Chi-Ro symbol in field

Reverse of 50-denarius silver coin of King Gelimer of Carthage, 530x534, from Wikimedia Commons

Reverse of 50-denarius silver coin of King Gelimer of Carthage, 530×534, from Wikimedia Commons, with denomination mark derived from a letter

Then on the 1st March, Ildar Garipzanov gave the second of his two Oliver Smithies lectures in Balliol College. This was entitled, “The Rise of Graphicacy and Graphic Symbols of Authority in Early Europe (c. 300-1000)”, and to an extent it went over the same ground as his similar paper given in London a little while back on which I reported, but here managed also to cover the periods before and after. Graphicacy, you may need to know, is the skill of determining information from symbols, and it’s most usually used of maps, but Ildar was more interested in monograms here, which since they use letters meant a certain amount of definition-chopping over what is and isn’t text. His key reference point therefore was the symbol above, the Chi-Ro, composed of the first two letters of the word Christos in Greek. The basis of this is in text, but its meaning as a symbol for Jesus goes far beyond the text and was recognised far far beyond the realm where the language relevant for that text was spoken or read. It is seen as a marker on Christian objects in Britain as early as the early fourth century, before Emperor Constantine’s conversion had made it famous, and in general has a lot to tell us. Ildar wanted this time however to try and bring this tradition together with a different one of ownership marks used on property in shipment, usually elaborations of a letter N, M or H rather than anything related to an actual name, which were also widely used, including on coins very occasionally, and suggest the two traditions converged into the authority-marking monograms on which Ildar is more known for working.3 He didn’t quite leave himself time to make this case, as I felt, and had to withstand a full-on interrogation from Jonathan Shepard afterwards so couldn’t expand on it, but I expect that we will see it fully made before long, because Ildar does write quite a bit.

Altar and sculpture in the Asturian church of Santianes de Pravia

Altar and sculpture in the Asturian pre-Romanesque church of Santianes de Pravia

Last in this batch was a paper given before the Medieval Archaeology Seminar on 5th March 2012 by Isaac Sastre de Diego entitled, “Early Hispanic Churches through their Liturgical Sculpture”. This paper had been provoked by a phenomenon that irks me a lot too, the acute dearth of excavation around early medieval Spanish churches. (Catalonia is probably better for this than non-Catalan Spain, by the sound of it, though even there there’s a big difference between digging in and also digging around.) The other target assumption was that before Spain caught Romanesque, everything went in sensibly chronological phases that can be plotted in architectural styles, something which has also been disputed here so in general I was well placed to like this paper. Isaac’s solution to the problem, the problem being that this set-up gives a nice sensible system of dates for standing structures which is in fact entirely artificial, was to deal with the church’s architecture in terms of what we know about changes in the liturgy of the times and basically to see how that affects the dating of the churches. This is a big project, and here he focused specifically on altars. There are several types of altar to be found in Spain’s pre-Romanesque churches (even I can’t get away from the adjective, drat it), some late Roman ones reused (again, a subject dear to me by now), some set up as slabs on a single pillar like a Tau-cross (as above, or the one at Santa María de Quinzanas which was dated to 725×825 by carbon-dating of the relics still in place within), some as table-like slabs set up on legs at the edges, some slab-sided and roofed and some built of piles of slabs. When one stops assuming that there is a stylistic sequence to these types, and looks for actual dating evidence, which is rare, it becomes clear, said Isaac, firstly that we have nothing from before the second half of the fifth century as yet detected (though I pointed out that Sant Feliu de Barcelona, the first cathedral there, is known to be earlier even if we don’t have its altar any more), secondly that regional styles of decoration are detectable within the sample (and across types) and that there is certainly no such thing as a `Visigothic’-style altar as the old phased chronology has it, and thirdly (as emerged only in questions) there is nothing either that can be dated to the eighth century, though plenty after. Isaac suggested that that was best seen as a time of low investment in the Church, rather than some mass abandonment of altar-building. I found the dating arguments in this paper generally somewhat hard to follow, and it was some time before I was sure that the dates of the altars in question hadn’t in fact come from the same typology Isaac was attempting to dismantle, but it was not in fact so and as he said, while there is not a lot to go on here yet it’s still a step forward towards something a bit more scientific, from which indeed new and better-founded typologies could still be developed. So there we have it for now! More soon.


1. One thing about Peter Sarris’s papers is that they always feature a full bibliography, so I can tell you that the paper derived from some of the work in Sarris, Matthew dal Santo and Phil Booth (edd.), An Age of Saints? Power, Conflict and Dissent in Early Medieval Christianity, Brill’s Series on the Early Middle Ages 20 (Leiden 2012), which I’ve not yet seen myself but which looks really interesting actually.

2. For this figure the cite was Paul Gautier (ed./transl.), “La Diataxis de Michel Attaliate” in Revue d’Études Byzantines Vol. 39 (Paris 1981), pp. 5–143 at pp. 17-129 [sic].

3. I think here mainly of I. Garipzanov, “Metamorphoses of the early medieval signum of a ruler in the Carolingian world” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 14 (Oxford 2006), pp. 419-464.

Seminary LI: `brothers’ in Byzantium

Due to reasons of travel idiocy I missed the antepenultimate Earlier Middle Ages seminar at the Institute of Historical Research this term, and although I made it to the penultimate one on 3rd June, Professor Claudia Rapp presenting on “Ritual brotherhood in Byzantium: origins and context”, so did Magistra and it it is very much more her thing than mine. One could say, eruditely, that complex questions of masculinities and historians’ attitudes to them were involved which she is far better educated in teasing apart than I am, or you could say, as she put it when we discussed it later, that she is the Internet’s go-to person for gay monks. I’m not about to argue with someone who can claim that sort of status, I tell you. And therefore she has done a proper write-up of it, which you should go and read, and I will therefore only do a summary so that you know roughly what was at issue.

Icon from St Catherines Sinai of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, fifth-century martyrs, used by John Boswell as the cover image for his Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe

Icon from St Catherine's Sinai of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, fifth-century martyrs, used by John Boswell as the cover image for his Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe

There is in Byzantine liturgical texts, 62 of them in fact, a rite called `adelphopoiesis‘ for allowing two men to become spiritual brothers, supporting each other above all others, cohabiting and sharing their property. It basically established an artificial kinship tie, but unlike the other two ways of doing this, marriage and sponsorship of baptism (that is, godparenthood), it doesn’t preclude marriage to others and doesn’t give any inheritance rights so doesn’t disenfranchise the family. (This latter, it should be said, came into question in the latter part of the paper.) Professor Rapp has written about this before, but was returning to it after some time away.1 One of the reasons it’s an issue is that the controversial John Boswell included adelphopoiesis in his book Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (New York 1994) as a cover for gay marriage, or at least a marriage-like arrangement. (Hello Byzantium? This is the 21st-century UK and California calling, we need to talk to you about wording… ) I haven’t read Boswell’s book so I don’t know if he suggests that this is what it was invented for or merely that it was allowed to perform this function, but this is what Professor Rapp was initially writing against. (You can find Paul Halsall, no less, speaking for Boswell’s defence with due respect to Professor Rapp, online here with an account of Boswell’s wider controversy and the sometimes vicious reaction it has engendered.)

Excavated monastic cells at the desert settlement of Pherme, Western Nile Delta, Egypt

Excavated monastic cells at the desert settlement of Pherme, Western Nile Delta, Egypt

In this paper, however, Professor Rapp was expanding on something that she only touched on in that earlier paper, the monastic context in which she believes the rite developed. Certainly she had lots of evidence for this kind of association, between hermits and disciples, between pupils of such hermits, and generally quite a lot of formations with which one might have been led to believe that the Lives of the Desert Fathers is full once you start looking. She also looked at building layout (as shown by archæology of monastic sites like Pherme, above), shared burial and general lifelong friendships being recognised in sources and attempted to place the whole thing in a much wider context of male homosociality that none of us, I think, would deny were it not raised in this context. Speaking as one whose work is fundamentally based on the idea that the fact that some people in the Middle Ages got on with some other people but didn’t get on with still others has historically explanatory value, I am all for this, but I still didn’t quite think she’d bridged the gap between the desert and Constantinople five centuries later. Perhaps this is just because she had so much evidence from the desert that it swamped the rather thinner trail to the later centuries, but it seemed to me that there was room for other antecedents and not enough ways to distinguish the results of this ceremony from ordinary lifelong friendship. The liturgy is evidence of a serious thing, yes: but we can’t use other male-male life collaborations as evidence for that same thing because that same thing seems to be defined by the liturgy, you see. If you argue that the liturgy is only recognising a pre-existent thing you wind up having to explain the liturgy as aberrant and thus losing all your evidence for social recognition of whatever it is you think is going on. There is more that could be said here and Magistra says much of it: here is a taster.


1. Claudia Rapp, “Ritual Brotherhood in Byzantium” in Traditio Vol. 52 (New York City 1997), pp. 285–326.

Three sorts of priest, part I: the promised evidence for priests and their books on the Spanish March

It’s a new series! Albeit a short one. This starts from where I promised, a little while back as a reaction to some of Celia Chazelle’s suggestions about the probable lack of training and book-learning of some priests in the farflung parts of Carolingian-era Europe, some evidence to the contrary. My particular corner of Europe is fairly farflung, after all, and almost all the textual evidence from it is land charters, so you could be forgiven for thinking it was difficult to say much about pastoral care. And it is, especially liturgy, most of our evidence for the liturgy comes from the kingdoms next door where the Carolingian Renaissance wasn’t carried out, and if one’s interested in liturgy, which I’m not really (post about that upcoming somewhen, too), then this must be quite annoying as this ought to be a locus classicus for testing the Carolingian cultural effect, and it won’t let one look.1

In fact, where one can say something to the point of Professor Chazelle’s conjectures, it’s not because of the Carolingians but because of the Visigoths. It is laid down in the Visigothic Code, the Forum Iudicum yet, already, by the ‘glorious Flavius Reccensvinthus, king’, as follows:

As soon as a bishop has been consecrated, he shall straightway proceed to make an inventory of the property of his church in the presence of five freeborn witnesses; and to this inventory the said witnesses shall affix their signatures. After the death of a bishop, and as soon as his successor has been consecrated, the latter shall require a second inventory of the church property to be made; and if it should appear that said property had, in any way, been diminished, then the heirs of said bishop, or those to whom his estate was bequeathed by will, shall make up the deficiency.2

I don’t suppose this was actually done everywhere, but it was done at least twice at Vic d’Osona.3 And, because books are very expensive when you’re killing a sheep for every eight pages or so, they are listed too. So, circa. 970, after the murder of Bishop Ató (not Archbishop, no matter what you may have heard), Fruià his successor appears to have done this and the books are inventoried too, after their papal and royal precepts. The interesting thing is that the books weren’t at the cathedral, in some cases. Fruià himself had a volume of canones on loan, and a woman called Riquilda had a copy of Kings, so there’s an interesting thing for other reasons. More relevantly for the post, there were several small clusters out at other churches. At Castellar, far out at the west end of Manresa in Segarra, out in the wilds, someone had an antiphonary, a lectionary and a missal. Valldaneu, which I can’t place, had an antiphonary and a missal, and out at Artés in Manresa, there was an antiphonary, a missal and a volume of dispositos (any ideas? I’m guessing a penitential). This is interesting because that’s most of what you’d want as a mass priest; I’d expect a Psalter, too, and I’m surprised that none are mentioned, but maybe the priests had their own.

Churches in Artés, Manresa, seen from above, from Wikimedia Commons

Churches in Artés, Manresa, seen from above, from Wikimedia Commons

Also, these are development areas: Vic got hold of Artés only in 938, when 50-odd people from there were made to swear to the bishop’s lordship.4 We don’t even securely know of a church out there before the eleventh-century Santa Maria; you can see from the picture that it’s a bit busier now, but here we can see that Vic had a kind of mission station out there, and one at Castellar too. Part of the development that the cathedral was putting into these areas was supplying the textual necessities for cult. It may well be that they didn’t intend these books to stay there, were hoping that the new churches’ resources would eventually permit them to buy their own copies, but for then, the cathedral’s chosen hot-spots were getting their start-up costs met centrally. Likewise, one of Vic’s richest priests, a guy called Guifré Brunicard, had borrowed a lectionary; I rather suspect that he, too, was spreading the good word in some of the places he’d managed to buy and which, via his two nephews, the cathedral would eventually also come to own.5

This still doesn’t tell you what the priests in question knew, where they’d been taught (though as Ató was a learned man and one of the teachers of Gerbert of Rheims, a cathedral school doesn’t seem a difficult thing to envision) or what liturgy they used, what hymns they sang, and how fierce they were about superstition, or whatever; it doesn’t tell us, either, how Christian or not their `flocks’ were; but it does show that someone in these wild areas was interested to ensure that people got the law and Mass right.6 Obviously this is not a typical area, but where is? And obviously also, this is not the whole of the March: this is three or four places in two counties with hundreds of churches, so there must be other possibilities. Part 2 and part 3 will try and explore some of those, but this is enough for now, and the post I originally wanted to write.


1. On this replacement the chapter and verse (no pun intended) is now Rose Walker, The change from the Mozarabic to the Roman liturgy in Spain at the end of the eleventh century (London 1995); Rose is also one of the few people who can interest me in this stuff, but I still haven’t read it I’m afraid.

2. Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922), Book V Chapter 1 Title II.

3. Eduard Junyent (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX-X, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. nos 303 & 413, following discussion of 413 which is also illus. ibid. làmina 92.

4. Ibid., doc. no. 182. On Vic’s development and its management of its lands, you can of course see Paul H. Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick 1983); online at http://libro.uca.edu/vic/vic.htm, last modified 16th August 2000 as of 22nd November 2003.

5. His will, made before departure on pilgrimage from which, seemingly, he did not return, is Junyent, Diplomatari, doc. no. 479.

6. On Ató and his tuition of Gerbert, one can see firstly Ramon Ordeig i Mata, “Ató, bisbe i arquebisbe de Vic (957-971), antic arxiprest-ardiaca de Girona” in Studia Vicensia Vol. 1 (Vic 1989), pp. 61-97, and secondly J. M. Masnou, “L’escola de la catedral de Vic al segle XI” in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 621-633.