International Conference: Imported Relics in Rome from Damasus I to Paschal I (October 12–14, 2020)

Deadline: January 15, 2020

Job Code:

Job Offer from November 21, 2019

International Conference
German Archaeological Institute (DAI) Rome Department
Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History
Rome, October 12–14, 2020

Scientific Organization: Ralf Bockmann, Adrian Bremenkamp, Tanja Michalsky and Norbert Zimmermann.

In its wealth of relics, Rome surpassed all other cities of the Roman Empire by far; here lay the tombs of the Princes of Apostles Peter and Paul and countless other victims of the Christian Persecutions venerated as martyrs and saints. Pope Damasus I (366–384), known as cultor martyrum, initiated the cultivation of this heritage, a practice that was systematically renewed under Paschal I (817–824). Rome's importance for the Christian Church was based in large part on its abundance of relics, and their export became an instrument for the dissemination of the cults of saints and a factor in diplomatic affairs.

Yet it did not take long for relics of foreign saints to be imported into Rome and integrated into the cult practice and sacred topography of the city. The discovery, salvage, transport, reception and deposition of these imported relics were elaborately staged and commemorated in a variety of media, even when a translation possibly never took place. In the 5th century, for example, St. Stephen was honored with a building reminiscent of a martyrion, and in the 13th century, the fresco cycle of the portico of San Lorenzo fuori le mura depicts the burial of St. Stephen's relics in the tomb of the church's titular saint. Thus, imported relics could become an identity-forming part of Rome's sacred topography.

The conference "Imported Relics in Rome from Damasus I to Paschal I" is intended to explore this little-studied aspect of the Roman cult of saints and relics. The focus of interest will be: the hagiographic profile of the imported saints, the changes in the sacred topography of the city, the codification of new forms of the cult of relics as a result of their import, the use of artistic media and, last but not least, the motivations of the actors involved. This material triggers questions such as:

  • Can we identify particular groups which are represented by imported saints?
  • Is the construction of "otherness" important in the media processing of the translation of imported saints?
  • Does importation prompt reconceptualizations of the cult of relics and saints in Rome?
  • To what extent does the sacred topography of the city change as a result of the import of relics and associated architectural interventions?
  • Does the connection to ancient traditions and places in Rome (keyword: antique hero cult) play an important role in the case of imported relics?
  • Did the mise-en-scène of import relics call for novel artistic solutions or media?

This interdisciplinary conference is aimed primarily at colleagues from the fields of archaeology, art history, history, social and cultural anthropology, history of philosophy and religion, and theology.

We seek contributions of about 30 minutes in German, Italian or English. The organizers will cover travel and accommodation costs for the speakers. If you are interested, please send an abstract of the planned talk (max. 350 words) and a short CV (max. 2 pages) to Raffaele Rossi (by 15 January 2020.

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