A box of chocolates or the challenges of working in an archive

Archival work comes close to exploring alien worlds. It might be best described by this modified quote of the movie Forrest Gump: „Archival work is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.“ During the last two months, I’ve visited archives in order to find sources for my PhD thesis. My project revolves around the authority of abbesses and priors in south-west German urban collegiate churches (15th/16th century). Collegiate churches were religious communities which didn’t require canons and canonesses to take eternal religious vows. So I checked the written records of potentially interesting collegiate churches. Due to the widespread disinterest in female collegiate churches until the recent past, the archival material isn‘t as accessible as in other (male) cases. For instance some of the charters of the male community in Ellwangen are digitized. But regarding one female case, the archivist told me that I might have been the first person other than him to check the archival material since he had started working there. Hence, archival work isn’t always easy. Nevertheless, I’ve tasted many different chocolates for the last two months. Sometimes they‘ve resembled truffles and sometimes very experimental Bertie Bott‘s beans.

The entrance to the state archive in Augsburg – what treasures lay ahead? ((c) Simone Wagner)

Five steps are necessary before historians can work with archival sources: Firstly, they need to know which archives might have preserved sources related to their project. Secondly, they need to learn about the structure of the archive they are going to visit. Thirdly, they need to choose which archival material their are going to look at and which not. Fourthly, they need to skim over the archival material in order to check which sources really comply with their research question. Lastly, they need to transcribe their sources. At different steps different challenges present themselves.

Step 1:

Before being able to look at sources pertaining to an institution, historians have to know where they are kept. In most instances researchers and archivists have already published where the written records of collegiate churches are today. Archivists are also usually helpful and able to give advice. It is more difficult to trace the complementary written records of the collegiate churches which weren’t kept in their archives. Since different actors were involved in the affairs of a collegiate church the archives of other institutions might also contain important historical records. The history of these archives can be quite complicated. For instance, the archive of the Further Austrian administration was partly captured by the French during early modern conflicts and the whereabouts of some historical records are still unknown. Luckily, this is the exception: The collegiate churches of my project were dissolved due to secularization in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Thus, their archives came into the possession of the German states as they were the legal successors of the collegiate churches. Naturally, archives can’t preserve everything but have to make a selection which sources they are going to keep. Hence, the sources still existing today are a result of the interests of nineteenth century archivists. As they mainly were concerned to safeguard the legal claims of the state as successor of the dissolved monasteries, especially administrative and legal documents were kept. In the case of some female collegiate churches it is possible to demonstrate that devotional sources were thrown away in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Most archives in Germany are owned by the state. But there are some exceptions: Companies, the church and noble families can also be responsible for their own private archives. For instance, the historical record of the monastery Riedern are kept in the „Fürstlich-Fürstenbergisches Archiv Donaueschingen“ (Princely archive of the family Fürstenberg in Donaueschingen). The family of Fürstenberg obtained the archive of the monastery Riedern in the eighteenth century. At this time, the monastery of Riedern still existed and the nuns always had to ask the prince whenever they needed to look something up in their archive. Thus, the state couldn’t secularize Riedern’s archive when they dissolved the monastery. As the archival material hasn’t left Donaueschingen for some centuries, the archive has a distinctive atmosphere. The archive is in an old building, the reading rooms are furnished with old antiques and some of the sources are spread throughout the room.

Step 2:

Knowing which archive stores relevant sources isn’t enough. Historians have to understand the structure of an archive in order to find what they need. There are two general sorting principles: the principle of provenance and pertinence. Today, the principle of provenance is preferred: Archival material should be stored according to its context of transmission. The principle entails not to rip apart sources originating from the same institution but to respect the original order the institution has established. In contrast, when organizing an archive based on the principle of pertinence archival material is arranged with regard to content. Classification criteria comply with what archivists at the time deemed reasonable e.g. to differentiate between acts and charters. As this principle was fashionable when many modern archives where created it is still highly influential. It is easy to imagine how much more confusing the principle of pertince is, when looking for material of a specific institution. For instance, Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe (general state archive Karlsruhe) has torn apart the charters monasteries and collegiate churches received and sorted the charters according to the issuer. Thus, charters issued by kings, popes and every other issuer are kept separately. Some archives use a mixture of both principles, e.g. the state archive Augsburg. The archival material of Lindau is categorized depending on the archive it originally came from. Parts of the archival material were kept in the state archive Munich because acts (Akten) and office books (Amtsbücher) of one institution had been separated and brought to different Bavarian state archives. In the 70s, the state of Bavaria decided to honour the principle of provenance and relocated archival material according to its origin.

Some archives look rather unassuming from the outside, but may hold fascinating sources… ((c) Simone Wagner)

Step 3:

Having arrived at an archive, historians have to decide which archival material they are going to look at. Sometimes it is possible to check all of the written records, especially regarding the female collegiate churches a manageable amount of sources survives. However, the male communities e.g. Ellwangen and Kempten have extensive written record. These communities had enough money to go to court often which obviously produces more sources than solving conflicts informally. Thus, historians have to restrict the number of archival material they are going to inspect. It varies greatly how precise the archival material is described, though. The city archive of Constance provides an excellent overview over their inventory. The content of every file is outlined extremely specifically. But in other cases, the description made by archivists is relatively vague, incorrect or fragmentary. Here are some examples: For instance, a compilation of letters by the abbess of Lindau is filed under the label „private and public letters“. Disregarding that it is anachronistic to distinguish between private and public in premodern times, all of the letters relate directly to the reign of abbess Amalia of Reischach. The compilation of letters was probably used as a model in form and content by her successors. In comparison to other descriptions the label „private and public letters“ was even useful. The only information usually given about cartularies is the dates they cover. Mostly, it is unclear whether a cartulary is relevant for my research question or not. Some inventories actually prove beneficial, e.g. the inventory of Säckingen’s record in „Sammlung schweizerischer Rechtsquellen (compilation of Swiss legal documents)“. But as the creators were only focused on matters relating to today’s Switzerland (Säckingen today is German) their overview is incomplete and can’t be solely relied upon. All of these deficiencies are normal considering archivists don’t have the time to study all of their historical record. Besides, some descriptions are quite old. Archivists couldn‘t foresee future research and might have been interested in different aspects than contemporary historians.

Step 4:

After a historian has narrowed down the archival material, they have to read the sources to ascertain their usefulness. Having found the right archival material it is helpful to copy some of it. Depending on the (German federal) state, the policy regarding photographs or scans differs. Switzerland has been a pioneer digitizing archival material and letting users take photographs. Until recently, the German federal states were wary of photographs and insisted on users making (quite expensive) copies. But the state of Bavaria, for instance, has changed its policy in the last six months and now allows photographs. According to some rumours the state of Baden-Württemberg wants to change their policy on photographs, too. Curiously, at the state archive Augsburg just one person at a time may photograph archival material which can lead to tensions between users. There is a German saying for situations like these: “Die Decke der Zivilisation ist dünn” (The ceiling of civilization is thin). Users sometimes behave like a pack of wolves fighting for the last piece of meat during an especially cold winter. A warning sign in Augsburg indicates that some users tried to steal archival material shortly before I visited it. Naturally, an archive is caught between making its content accessible and preserving it for future generations. The less archival material is used the safer it is. Some prefer to digitize the archival material so that the original isn’t touched anymore. However, the material aspect of the sources is lost in their digitized version.

Step 4/5:

At home, the sources have to be transcribed so that a researcher can read them carefully. Both step 4 and 5 require good paleographical knowledge. I’ve come across many different fonts since, for example, the languages Latin and German were written in different styles. The style used for Latin in the late fifteenth and sixteenth century is based on the Carolingian minuscule which has influenced our way of writing. Hence, it is relatively easy to read. The bigger obstacle are the frequently used abbreviations in Latin texts. In contrast, German is written in a cursive and quite hard to transliterate for an unskilled reader. Furthermore, the sources exhibit a range of different hands from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. Some sources are only accessible through later copies. Unfortunately, their originals are lost. During early modern times, the German cursive became heavily ornate. Thus, some historians prefer to read fifteenth century texts to early modern ones. The quality of the handwriting also varies greatly. The copies and compilations are usually written quite carefully, as someone wanted to preserve their contents for future generations. However, the files resulting immediately of the administrative practice are scribbled more carelessly.


Working in an archive is like exploring alien worlds or eating a box of chocolates – You never know what you’re going to get. Historians can’t always predict what sources they will find. They are at the mercy of the written record still preserved in the archives. Though archivists are doing a great job making written records accessible and helping historians, visiting an archive still has a lot of difficulties in store. What constitutes the challenge of working in an archive is also its appeal. Sometimes my plan didn’t work out and my expectations weren’t met. In other cases, the quality of my trove exceeded my wildest hopes. The thrill of spotting fascinating sources makes it all worthwhile.

— Simone Wagner

Simone Wagner is a doctoral research in the KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”. She specialises in late medieval religious history, especially that of southern Germany.

At Markets and Fairs in Lyon

It’s the end of July, I’m in Lyon, primarily to do research for the annual conference of our Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies, to be organized around the topic of “urban heterarchies,” and I am working on the St. Trinitatis Brotherhood, which in the late Middle Ages must have represented an important link between the “power” of the clergy and that of the newly formed city council. You can hear more about this in December at the Augustinerkloster in Erfurt.

Today is Saturday and the day of my departure, and I still have plans to go to one of the markets, specifically the Marché Quai Saint-Antoine. There are fewer people there than usual, probably because most people who live in the city are already on vacation.

To the left, on the other bank of the Saône, is Saint-Jean Cathedral, dating from the Middle Ages, and above it, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière (nineteenth century), which majestically overlooks the city, almost as though it were watching over the market.

Saône, Lyon Cathedral and Notre Dame.

The market traders come from all over the region, from the Monts du Lyonnais, Savoie, or Ardèche; some sell goods from the wholesale market, others are the producers themselves, who sell their goods directly (farmers, bakers, gardeners, butchers, cheesemakers, etc.). There are the first fresh figs (from the Ardèche) and Charentais melons (from Provence) as well as many other seasonal vegetables and fruits and, of course, cheese. I buy Comté and Tomme from Savoie and a few fine rigottes de Condrieu; finally, some baguette de campagne for dinner, which will be at home in Germany.

Vegetables sold at Lyon’s market.
Melons sold in Lyon.

Markets and Fairs Have a Long Tradition in Lyon

Lyon has “always” been a trading city—it’s not only the citizens of the city who will tell you this, but historians, too, who have made this claim since early modern times. One can consult Guillaume Paradin (ca. 1510–1590), whose history of Lyon was published in the sixteenth century:

“Des foires, qui de temps immemorial ont esté continuees à Lyon.

L’on ne pourroit nier, que les foires publiques, & le commerce de toute Europe, n’aist esté frequenté à Lyon des la foundation de la cite par Plancus, & possible autant que Plancus fut naiz: estant encores la cite en-bas, entre les riuieres. Et qu’ainsi soit, Strabo qui viuoit du temps d’Auguste & de Plancus, parlant des habitans de Lyon, escript ainsi. Nam et usui magno, est illis emporium. I. Ilz tirent vn grand profit des foires & commerce. Par lesquelles paroles, lon peust bien iuger par coniecture, que deia ce commerce s’exerçoit à Lyon autant que Plancus vin ten Gaule: car il estoit impossible, qu’estant la cite si nouuellement rebastie par luy en la montagne, lon y feist tel profict des foires, lesquelles n’eussent peu encores ester publiees par les prouinces voisines: tant s’en faut, que le profit y eust esté si grand que dit Strabo.” (Paradin, Chapter IX, 12–13). (See here for the digitized version.)

Lyon is indeed famous for its fairs (“foires”). But Paradin’s claim that these already existed in antiquity, since the city’s founding by Lucius Munatius Plancus, is exaggerated. Like every larger city, Lyon, of course, had its weekly markets. However, the fairs were not established until the fifteenth century: in 1420, they began with two fairs a year, and in 1464 there were already four because the king wanted to lure the trade merchants from Geneva to Lyon. The brief suspension of the fairs (1484) was due to the calamities of the time. But in 1494, there were already four annual fairs again. From then on, Lyon experienced an economic and demographic boom, interrupted only by the religious wars in the second half of the sixteenth century.

Religious Fairs and Trade Fairs: Temporal Orderings

The influence of religion is also repeatedly visible with the trade fairs. The dates of the fairs were guided by the liturgical year, meaning that, if the four dates could be arranged accordingly, the fairs began after Epiphany (January 6), Quasimodo (the first Sunday after Easter), August 4 (the day of a local saint), and All Saints’ Day. They usually lasted fifteen days, with the merchandise fair taking place in the first week and the exchange fair in the second. Hence, that’s when prices and payment dates were negotiated. Here, again, is what Paradin wrote about this:

“Mais reuenant aux foires, il me souffira de dire, que diuerseme[n]t elles ont esté reglees, selon les temps, & les regnes: car de ce qui en est memorié, nous trouuons, que le roy Charles septieme de France estant en la ville d’Angiers, en l’an mil quatre cens quarante trois, octroya à la cite de Lyon deux foires, lesquelles il ordonna estre tenues, assauoir la premiere, le mercredy apres pasques, continuant vingtz iours: la seconde, commenceant lendemain de la feste sainct Iaques, & sainct Christophle, le vingtsixieme de Iuillet, continuant vingtz iours. Et depuis par ampliation de grace, en octroya vne troisieme, commenceant le lendemain de la feste sainct André, continuant vingtz iours ensuiuant. Depuis estant venu à la coronne le roy Loys vnzieme de ce nom, son fils, & estant à sainct Michel sur Loyre, l’an deuxieme de son regne, luy fut remonstré, que les foires que lors les marcha[n]s de son royaume freque[n]toyent en la ville de Geneue, estoyent grandeme[n]t preiudiciables au royaume de France, pour raison de l’alienation & transport des deniers, & denrees de ce royaume: au moyen dequoy il octroya lors aux habitans de Lyon, quatre foires l’an, comme ells sont continues iusques auiourd’huy.“ (Paradin, 13–14)

It was normal in Christian Europe in the late Middle Ages for the general calendar to be oriented towards the Christian liturgical year, beginning with Advent and brought into a rhythm with the calendar of saints and feasts. Indeed, German uses the same word, “Messe,” for a church service (the Catholic mass) and a trade fair. “Messe” is derived from the Latin “missa.” The fact that the same word refers here to two very different events can be explained in various ways. First, the Latin “missa” (“religious service,” “celebration of mass”) developed from the formula “ite, missa est” (in English: “Go it is the dismissal”) which concluded the liturgical celebration of the sacrifice. It marks, in other words, the end of the event. Second, as was recorded in many ordinances, church services and markets such as fairs were to take place one after the other: the market after the service, the trade fair often only after the day in honor of a saint. Third, the markets or fairs often took place near a church—not least because there was a large open square where the traders could set up their stands. Evidently due to proximity, a transfer of meaning took place here. Both the spatial and the temporal context (the juxtaposition and succession) of religious and mercantile practices have made their mark in the formation and use of the term. Terms in other European languages (English: fair French: foire, Italian: fiera, Spanish: fiesta) derive from the Latin “feria, feriae.” Yet this, too, not only meant “market” but “religious holidays,” which sometimes took place during the same period. Here, too, one can see the spatial-temporal interrelations of practices that regularly took place, which, precisely through their competition, presumably took shape and continued to develop in parallel. Today, a distant reflection of this opposing pair is manifest in the closing of shops on Sundays (where this still occurs) or in special events such as Whitsun markets, which often combine consumer fairs with folk festivals. The fact that these markets began on an ecclesiastical holiday—or, to be precise, on the following day—often goes back to a royal or imperial privilege granted during the Middle Ages.

Goods from All Over the World

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, textiles, spices, metal goods, books, and paper, as well as leather and skins, were traded in Lyon (Garden, vol. 1, 55–108). Merchants also brought many finished products—such as knives and other iron goods, bed linen, hats, menswear, shoes, wallpaper, carpets, and weapons—from all over France. There are no detailed records in this document of the areas of origin of the raw materials, since they were often imported via Italian, German, Swiss, and Spanish merchants based in Lyon. But the list of spices and medicines (“drogueries”) alone suggests that many of these raw materials came from the Levant or from farther away in Asia: Almonds, aniseed, cinnamon, cassia, coloquine (pumpkin), shells from the Levant, coriander, caraway, incense, Folii Indi (feuille des Indes, Indian leaf, probably: Indian bay leaf), ginger, cloves, Arabic gum, seeds (often “graine de paradis,” meaning melegueta peppercorns), hermodactylus (Iris tuberosa or snake’s-head iris), mace, grains of paradise, mastic, myrobalans (cherry plum, usually dried), nutmeg, pepper, long pepper, musk, pyrethrum, rice, sandarac, seeds for planting, senna, spikenard, turmeric (terra merita, saffron), zinc oxide (vitriol?), zeodary (Curcuma zedoaria). (Gascon, vol. 2, 883; Archives municipales de Lyon: CC 4293, 1519)[1]

Spatial Orderings

Unlike in Calicut (modern-day Kozhikode) in India, at the time there was no fixed location for the Lyon fairs at which mainly wholesalers and long-distance merchants came together. This was the case only for the smaller weekly markets: here, each category of goods was assigned a fixed public place where trading was allowed on a certain day. And later on (or, to be precise, between 1856 and 2005), Lyon had the Grand Bazar, the first large department store in the city, located in the rue de la République, very close to the Franciscan convent (Cordeliers). But where did merchants meet in the early modern period? Let’s take a look at the classic work by Marc Brésard to see if a trade fair topography can be reconstructed.

As early as 1420, just after Lyon had received the privilege of holding two fairs, the consuls determined the places where the wares could be displayed (Brésard, 243–249). The first fair was to take place on the near side of the Saône, i.e., on the Empire side, today’s Presqu’île; the second fair of the year was to be held on the other side of the Saône, the Royaume side. In 1461, certain goods were to be displayed in certain places in the city, each approximately limited to the width of one house. In 1462 the planning of a hall was considered, but this plan failed. Finally, it was agreed, not least after the intervention of the king, that the goods could be displayed anywhere in the city, to the right and left of the Saône and wherever the merchants liked. For this purpose, displays (“étalages”), presumably wooden benches, were made available, which stood everywhere along the streets, on the squares, on the bridge over the Saône, as well as near the city gates, and which could be covered in case of rain or sun with linen sheeting held in place by cords. After that, the perimeter was somewhat restricted: between the rue Juiverie (and quarter named after it), the hospital (with the name of la Saônnerie or la Saunerie), and the place de Roanne on the right side, and la Platière, la Grenette, Saint-Antoine, Cordeliers, and Rhône on the other side. Later, the area was extended to the place des Terreaux (Brésard, 254). Hence four times a year, the whole city transformed into a large market. This was something very special, as fourteen-day fairs with comparable international reach and total sales were held in only a few cities: Lyon, Medina del Campo, Piacenza, and Antwerp. One can imagine how narrow it must have been on the streets and in the alleys at the time. There was no shortage of complaints from drivers who could no longer get through with their horse-drawn carriages. So it proved less disruptive for traffic in the city when the merchants rented space in city shops or deposited their goods immediately upon arriving in the large inn where they were being accommodated. Some unsold goods were also left in these depots until the merchants returned to the city two or three months later. The temporal and spatial organization of the fairs, the presence of many foreign merchants and bankers, and the diverse range of goods also created a specific urbanity.

As can be gleaned from the minutes of the Council and royal letters, trade also took place on the other side of the Saône, which in the sixteenth century could only be crossed via a single stone bridge, the pont du Change, assuming a rowboat was not available. After visiting the market, I cross the pont Bonaparte to the other side of the river, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to visit the most important sites and buildings. The square in front of the cathedral, created only by partially demolishing and reconstructing the St. Jean monastery in the second half of the sixteenth century, was located outside the fair district. The route continues along the rue Saint-Jean, where buildings in the local style typical of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries can still be found today. Along the way, I pass by newer buildings in the Italian Renaissance style arriving via a traboule, one of the passages typically found between buildings in Lyon, at the former Hostellerie du gouvernement and I finally finish my tour at the place du Change, where the money changers met in the fifteenth century, before the first merchant’s loggia (loge du Change) was built here in the seventeenth century, later to be enlarged and redesigned in the middle of the eighteenth century according to plans by Jacques-Germain Soufflot.

Later Uses

Following the French Revolution, the exchange was transformed into a house of worship for the Reformed Church, which still meets there today. But the clocks at the top of the building continue to remind us today that the merchants were “watching the clock.” Such conversions of building uses were not rare around 1800, as we have already seen with St. Peter’s Church in Erfurt, except that here the conversion ran the other way: a formerly secular building was converted for future religious use. This is hardly visible on the exterior of the building; the alterations were mainly internal (cross, altar, pulpit, benches) to adapt the building for the Reformed liturgy.

What is equally interesting for the research group, however, are the rhythms that shaped the use of urban space during the fairs. The presence of the many foreign merchants and trading companies in the city left less of a visible mark in striking architectural structures than did religious practices. At least for trade fairs, a certain ephemerality can be observed, as I showed above. Lasting much longer than practices of commerce and payment, the religious practices of some merchant families or trading nations established themselves in the city: for example, the establishment of a chapel in the church of Notre-Dame-de-Confort by the very wealthy Gadagne family (Italian: Guadagni).

Instead of continuing my stroll through the city, it’s time for me to focus on my essay on urban heterarchies, turning again to the history of the St. Trinitatis Brotherhood. There will be more to read about that by December, at the latest.

Translated by Michael Thomas Taylor.

— Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau is professor of spatial history and culture at the University of Erfurt and one of the spokespersons of the KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” .


Marc Brésard, Les foires de Lyon au XVe et XVIe siècles, Paris 1914.

Richard Gascon, Grand commerce et vie urbaine au XVIe siècle: Lyon et ses marchands (environs de 1520 – environs de 1580), 2 vols., Paris 1971.

Heinrich Lang and Susanne Rau, Weltwirtschaftszentren, 10. Lyon, in Friedrich Jaeger (ed.), Encyclopedia of Modern Times Online (2017), http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2352-0248_edn_a4749000.

Sophie Landrin, “Le Grand Bazar va être détruit malgré les protestations,” in Le Monde, March 31, 2015, https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2005/03/31/le-grand-bazar-va-etre-detruit-malgre-les-protestations_633771_3210.html (August 1, 2019).

Guillaume Paradin de Cuyseaulx, Mémoires de l’Histoire de Lyon, Lyon 1573.

Susanne Rau, Räume der Stadt: Eine Geschichte Lyons 1300-1800, Frankfurt/Main 2014.

[1] The French original is: “amandes, anis, cannelle, cassie, coloquinte, coques du Levant, coriandre, cumin, encens, folli Indi, gingembre, girofles, gomme arabique, graine, hermodates, macis, maniguette, mastic, mirabolans, muscades, poivre, poivre long, pousse-muscade, pyrètre, riz, sandarac, semencine, séné, spicenard, terra merita, tuthie, zédoaire”.

A digitized version of a book from the “Garbeau de l’épicerie” (basically the spice inspection department) from 1519 can be found on the website of the Lyon municipal archive: http://www.archives-lyon.fr/static/archives/garbeau-epicerie/ (August 29, 2019).

Picture credit for all images: Susanne Rau.

Religion and Urbanity at the EASR annual conference 2019 (part two of two)

After our first report on our project’s panels at the 17th annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions in the Estonian University town of Tartu, this blod post discusses the second series of panels organised by members of our research centre “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”.

The session consisted of two panels organized by Emiliano Urciuoli and Cristiana Facchini and both of them treated the theme “Urban Religion and Religious Change. Intellectualization of Religion and Ritual Invention”. It asked ow and how far religious intellectualization and ritual invention are made possible by the engagement of religious communication “with the conditions of specific urban environments at particular moments in the environmental, political, and social histories of cities” (Orsi)?

Emiliano Urciuoli’s paper “Christian intellectuals in a heterarchical world: Religious changes in the ancient Mediterranean city fabric” discussed the relationship between three aspects connected to the state of early Christ religion in 2nd century Rome as urban religion. Fristly, the phenomenon that religious scholar Heidi Wendt has called the rise of “the freelance religious experts” in the Roman empire, referring to the Mediterranean-wide emergence of “self-authorized purveyor[s] of religious teachings and practices who drew upon such abilities in pursuit of various social benefits and often more transparent forms of profit” (Wendt 2016). Secondly, the reliance of these professionals on a specific kind of capital that the urban concentration of recognized assets was able to grant them in order to win and stabilized a religious clientele: high literacy, networks of literary exchange, and various textually oriented interpretive practices” (Stowers 2011). Lastly, the capacity of the urban space to function as a “heterarchical system” (Crumley 1995), where power can be ranked in a number of ways, shared, or checked. The more densely urban and heterogeneous is the context, the more heterarchical is the system of power distribution, that is, the more various the types of power and the ways of gaining authority over people, the more diverse the manners of ranking, un-ranking or re-ranking those powers, and the more extended the chances to get access to them. Trans-urban networks can be mobilized when power is locally counterpoised. As Allen Brent pointed out (Brent 2010), the events following the outburst of the “Novatianist crisis” in Rome (251 CE) – that is, in the midst of a highly fractionated theological metropolitan reality – show that spiritual leaders lacking of sufficient influence over the local population might try to gain international support via oversea sponsors. This was only made possible by the intellectualization of religious communication via the urban production and inter-urban circulation of doctrinally laden texts.

Harry O. Maier (Vancouver School of Theology), a fellow of the research group, presented on “Ritual and Urban Networking with Ignatius of Antioch“. The paper considered ritual as a means of the creation of networks of urban religion in second century Asia Minor. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch, written by the prisoner and martyr bishop journeying to Rome during the first half of the second century, express the desires of a religious leader to create and control city networks of affiliated assemblies of Jesus believers. Ignatius ritualizes his journey to Rome as a sacred urban procession and further ritualizes the audiences of his letters as participating with him in his journey toward an anticipated martyrdom. He uses ritual to create competition for urban space, which – with the help of modern urban studies — is best understood within the specular densely populated settings of the eastern Mediterranean urban face-block neighborhood. Ignatius is concerned that meetings only happen under the supervision or knowledge of particular elected officials of the Christ assemblies he endorses. By portraying these urban locations as places where correctly conceived ritual unfolds, Ignatius adds an orthodox valence to cityspaces that they arguably did not possess outside of his letters. Thus the urban and the written conspire to form a spatial and imagined network of urban spaces, complete with ritualized urban space-time configurations. As a point of comparison, the paper examined associations and their creations of networks and modalities of space and time to consider ways in which other groups were using ritual to engage in analogous neighbourhood practices and urban networking, thereby creating cityspaces of their own. By placing Ignatius within the context of such associations the paper argued that we are enabled to recognize emergent Christianity as an urban religion and to consider how belief and city were in a dynamic relation with one another in the creation of group definition, cooperation, competition, and rivalry.

Saint Ignatius of Antiouch, subject of Harry O. Maier’s paper (see here for details).

Arkadiy Avdokhin (Higher School or Economics (Moscow) delivered a paper on Inventing Prayer, Enforcing Orthodoxy: Athanasios of Alexandria’s Project of Bible-Based Devotion. The paper approached a set of Athanasios of Alexandria’s writings about prayer and hymn-singing as a project of inventing ritual orthopraxy in fourth-century urban and rural Christian communities, as well as in individual Devotion. The paper discussed Athanasios’ Festal Letters, epostolographic output (primarily the Letter to Markellinos), and the Life of Antony from the perspective of the bishop‘s concerns about the contemporaneous diversity of devotional and liturgical practices of praying and hymn-singing and his attempt to bring a unifying change. It argued that Athanasios had a coherent vision of the ideal Christian prayer and hymnody. For Athanasios, ‘orthodox’ Christians—lay and ascetics, educated devotees and common believers alike—should derive their practices of devotion and liturgy from the Bible—the Psalter and the Biblical odes—rather than other sources. Athanasios‘ programme of devotional and liturgical orthopraxy centred around the Biblical ideal is part of his broader project of bringing unity to the division-riddled church of Egypt. The bishop conceived of the Scripturally-cued shared patterns of praying and hymn-singing as one of the means to unify scattered Christian communities. Although not as self-consciously formulated as e.g. his polemic against the ‘Arians’ or Meletians, Athanasios pastoral programme of a uniform Biblical devotion surfaces across his writings with consistency. A further Suggestion was that Athanasios’ project of promoting standardized, Bible-based ritual practices of prayer and hymn-singing was an individually conceived regulatory programme that wasenforced through episcopal frameworks of power. This project was targeted against the diversity of modes of prayer and hymn-singing practiced across a variety of doctrinally, ecclesially, and socially different communities. The paper also explored the impact of the divide between urban (Alexandria-based) and rural (chōra-based) networks of parishes and ascetical communities in both promoting and subverting communication of episcopal regulations regarding prayer and liturgy.

The second panel began with Cristiana Facchini, from the University of Bologna and a fellow in Erfurt, and her paper “Utopias and urban imagination in the early modern period”. The paper argued that utopian literature has been generally placed against the backdrop of different Christian undercurrents, and consequently it has been treated as a genre that both speaks about politics and religion. Rooted in ancient Greek thought, this genre became particularly relevant in the early modern period, as one of the consequences of the discovery of new continents. Fuelled by disappointment or sarcasm about political and religious warfare and strife, the idea of utopia unleashed European imagination about ideally planned communities which were parallel to the concrete founding of new urban environments. The paper explored a set of interrelated questions, both from a theoretical and a historical perspective. On the one hand, it investigated what kind of religious environment utopian thought was likely to imagine, especially against the backdrop of increasing religious strife. On the other one, it analysed how utopian thought might have influenced urban projects that were enhanced in new environments, either as idealized utopian polities or new urban projects, mostly visible in some American areas. Finally, some theoretical reflections were formulated in reference to the striking relevance ‘utopian imagination’ played in urban thought, up to the point where it overlapped with dystopian delusion.

Finally, Martin Christ, a post-doctoral fellow of the Project, considered “Rituals of Death in Early Modern German Cities”. The paper considered the ways in which rituals connected to dying and death were invented, performed and perceived by a range of actors living and working in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The paper concentrated on important German towns and cities in the early modern period to assess how rituals of death changed in this tumultuous period of European history. The religious, political and cultural changes of the early modern period had a profound impact on the ways in which men and women died and were commemorated and remembered. The paper took these big changes as a starting point and explored what processes like the Reformation and Catholic/Counter Reformation, changing discourses around medicine and hygiene or the European expansions in the New World did to rituals of death. It conceived of dying and death as a process with many actors and spaces, all of which have to be considered. They included private spaces, like the bedchamber, but also churches or graveyards which shaped the look of a town. The paper illustrated how rituals of death were in a reciprocal relationship with urban spaces, affected by these spaces and influencing them in turn. In this way, the paper asked about the specific ways in which urbanity influenced dying, death and commemoration in a range of German cities and argued that understanding how someone died is a crucial aspect of early modernity.

Collectively, the anels showed that many features of past and present religions were the outcome of specific effects and uses of city-space and their social and cognitive bases rather than as inherent characteristics of a specific ‘religion’. Many religious phenomena, and especially major religious changes, can be better understood by viewing them in spatial terms, that is, as a result of a dialectic of “co-production” (Day) of city-space and urban life, on the one side, and religious representations and practices, on the other. Therefore, change is not conceptualized by presupposing religion and the city as two static entities, but rather implying a “continual process in which the urban and the religious reciprocally interact, mutually interlace, producing, defining, and transforming each other” (Lanz). Designating a process in which religion and the urban are involved, ‘urban religion’ is the formula that defines the state of a religion which is shaped by the interaction with the urban spatial environment and which can periodically crystallize into major changes whose assessment and naming is a responsibility of the scholar. Focusing on changing urban environments against the backdrop of long-term periodizations such as the Roman empire, the rise of Islam, and the European age of explorations (with the Reformation and the development of colonial empires), this panels reflected on forms of connectivity (cooperative or/and conflictual) and targeted religious dynamism through the lenses of religious intellectualization and ritual invention. These are two kinds of religious changes that appear recurrently in the cross-culturally entangled, world-wide history of religion and urbanism.