Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes 1125-1325

(Darren Dugan) #1

 4 Cities ofGod

policies independent of the papacy.^15 But this flies in the face of the political

policies and communal identity of the first Lombard League. Rather, it was

the cities’ wars with the empire that encouraged their citizens to sacralize the

commune. The cities exploited religious forms of organization, they sought

legitimacy through the cult of patron saints, they conceptualized their time

and space in sacred terms, and these religious realities in turn formed the

people. The Italian city as a living religious entity deserves greater attention.

I should note from the onset that I have chosen to keep the Franciscans

on the sidelines and so let the piety that produced Francis speak for itself.

There is probably no period and place in Christian history where ordinary

people had a greater impact on forms of devotion than in the communal

republics of Italy. The world of the communes came between the rule of the

count-bishops of the old empire and the later rule of the princes. The cities

produced a religious culture truly their own. Communal Italy also produced

the single largest concentration of lay saints in Christian history, the modern

age included. This book is meant to be about the people who produced Saint

Francis, not his imitators or those whom he influenced.

Scholars of ancient and early modern religion have already produced fine

reconstructions of Christians and their lived piety—their rituals, their beliefs,

and their devotions.^16 These accomplishments challenge the way we Italian

medievalists do our work. Such a study is long overdue for communal Italy.

If my book has succeeded in recapturing this lost world, even in part, then

good. If it has failed, then I hope it will convince others to renew the attempt.

PartI: SacredGeography

The first part of this book presents a religious geography of the communes,

the self-governing republics of Italy, during their classical period, 1125 –

1325.^17 My geographical choice was not arbitrary, as will become clearer as

the book goes on. Until books like this one appear for France, England,

Germany, Spain, and the rest of Italy, sustained comparisons are impossible.

But it is already clear that in many ways the religious life of the Italian

communes was unique. Only in central and northern Italy did the public

cult focus on a revival of the ancient practice of mass Easter baptisms con-

ducted by the bishop. Elsewhere in Europe the dioceses were simply too

large for such consolidation.^18 Scholars working on southern Italy assure me

  1. See Diana M. Webb, ‘‘Cities of God: The Italian Communes at War,’’The Church and War,ed.
    W. J. Sheils, Studies in Church History, 20 (Oxford: Ecclesiastical History Society, 1983 ),’’ 111 – 14.

  2. And not only for Christianity; on lived ancient Judaism, see E. P. Sanders,Judaism: Practice and
    Belief, 63 b.c.e.– 66 c.e. (London: SCM, 1992 ). On Christianity I have especially in mind Eamon Duffy’s
    Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400 – 1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992 ),
    9 – 376 , and Robin Lane Fox’sPagans and Christians(New York: Knopf, 1987 ), both of which have had
    great influence on my project.

  3. For the political history of the communes, see Jones,Italian City-State;Hyde,Society and Politics;and
    Daniel Philip Waley,The Italian City Republics, 3 d ed. (New York: Longman, 1989 ).

  4. See Robert Brentano,Two Churches: England and Italy in the Thirteenth Century, 2 d ed. (Berkeley and
    Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988 ).

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