Placing the Dead: The Changing Meanings of Burials and Urban Cemeteries

After decades of disputes, legal challenges and negotiations, the body of Francisco Franco, Spain’s infamous dictator, was moved from a grande Catholic mausoleum to a municipal cemetery this week. In 1975, Franco’s body was placed in the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos) memorial near Madrid. He ruled Spain from 1939 onwards, after emerging victorious from the Spanish Civil War. Proponents of the exhumation and movement of the body argued that the Franco’s commemoration glorified the dictator and his deeds. Opponents of the decision argued the exhumation disturbed the peace of the dead and gave further, politically motivated reasons for their criticism. Santiago Abascal, the leader of the far-right Vox party, tweeted: “This is how the socialist campaign begins, profaning tombs, digging up hatreds, questioning the legitimacy of the monarchy. Vox alone has the courage to defend freedom and common sense in the face of totalitarianism.” The debate around the proper burial and commemoration of Franco gave parties like Vox the opportunity to use some popular tropes of the far right: Portraying themselves as victims, railing against a supposed undermining of liberties and claiming a role as protectors of freedom of speech. Particularly objectionable to those opposing the move was the fact that the body was moved to a simple graveyard and the decedants of Franco wanted to, at least, move the body to the seat of the Archidiocese of Madrid, Almudena Cathedral in Madrid; a request that was eventually denied for reasons of safety. Eventually, Franco’s body was moved to the cemetery where his wife is buried. The mausoleum, municipal cemetery and cathedral all carry different symbolic, religious and political meanings, leading to fierce arguments between proponents of one or the other burial space. Where a body lies matters.

The Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), where Franco's body used to be.
The Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), where Franco’s body used to be.

The placement of the dead was always important. Ever since humans started to bury their dead, where burials took place was of great significance. In many cases, specific areas were assigned, where the dead were placed and rituals of commemoration were performed. In many of these sites, religious, occult or spiritual practices played a particularly important role, also giving rise to stories of miracles, ghosts or other activities that connect the living and the dead. Pressures of persecution, for example among early Christian martyrs, or political display, for instance when it came to the building of royal mausoleums near churches, all played an important part in the constructions, real and metaphorical, of these burial sites.

But the meaning of these sites was never fixed and what may have been an honourable and desirable burial space in one century could be turned into an undesirable spot in the next. These shifting interpretations of cemeteries, graveyards, execution sites and other places, where dead bodies went, are particularly visible in towns. In urban centres, many changes were implemented because of an increasing density and the need for more space for other buildings or living quarters. In Erfurt, a park and parking spaces were built on top of the former execution site. At the same time, intellectual discourses on religion and hygiene spread more quickly in urban settings, meaning that their influence was felt more strongly in an urban context. The desire to show oneself as wealthy, sophisticated or well-travelled, elements that shaped what grave stones and epitaphs looked like, was also particularly pronounced in urban settings, where one could show off to the whole urban community and have a funerals commemorated in pamphlets and broadsheets.

In the period 1500 to 1800 we see several such shifts in urban cemeteries. Some burial spaces were moved during or soon after epidemics. This happened throughout the medieval and early modern periods, but one of the most famous cases of such a movement of a cemetery came in the early sixteenth century, prior to the Reformation. In Nuremberg, in 1517/18, the cemeteries of St. Lorenz and St. Sebald were moved to spaces outside of the town, creating the cemeteries of St. Rochus and St. Johannis. These cemeteries were deliberately moved outside of the city centre to prevent any spread of the plague among the densely populated town. Rochus was named after one of the most famous plague saints, illustrating the continued relevance of religion, even when cemeteries were no longer directly attached to churches.

Nuremberg's Rochusfriedhof.
Nuremberg’s Rochusfriedhof.

A second change in this period saw the Reformation create what Craig Koslofsky has called a “separation of the living and the dead”. By this he means that both theologically and spatially the living and the dead were separated by important evangelical reformers. As prayers for the souls of the deceased no longer functioned to decrease the time of souls spent in purgatory, cemeteries were moved outside the city walls. Instead of indulgences and saintly intercession, men and women were supposed to focus on the promise of eternal life and divine mercy. How much the movement during these times was a ‘wave’, as it has been called in litertaure on the topic, and if the advice of the reformers was really put into place in many German towns, further research will have to show.

In Reformation Switzerland, we can see that the political and religious demands did not always lead to permanent change when it came to burials and graves. Town councils ordered that family coats of arms and elaborate crosses should be removed from tomb stones, so as to ensure no undue display of wealth in cemeteries. Just like the changes of the Reformation were felt in towns more broadly, so they also influenced the urban cemeteries and changed the way they looked. Tellingly, however, this particular Reformation change was reversed in the seventeenth century, when patricians started adding elaborate coats of arms and depictions to their tomb stones once more. While many Swiss territories were thoroughly Reformed, some changes were not permanent. Apparently, some aspects of burial cultures were so deeply engrained in the self-understanding of the elites that they were not willing to give them up, even if it meant going against the advice of important reformers.

In the seventeenth century, the turmoil of the Thirty Years War led to some repositioning of burial spaces, for example when towns were besieged. On the battlefield, other kinds of burials and commemorations were used. Military chaplains played an important role in making sure that soldiers who had died were buried, but there are also instances where mass graves were used to hold the many bodies of the deceased. Archaeological work has uncovered a range of such graves at important sites of the Thirty Years War, for example fifty skeletons discovered in Nördlingen.

However, as the work of Peter Wilson has shown, that is not to say that during the Thirty Years War chaos ruled in the German lands. There were still significant attempts to bury individuals with at least some of the proper rites. For example, when Gustavus Adolphus died in Lüzen, his body was transported back to Sweden, so that he could receive all the proper rites there and be buried in the royal crypt. The funeral ceremonies influenced Sweden, particularly royal residences, for months. It was of crucial importance that important leaders like Gustavus Adolphus were buried and commemorated in the appropriate manner, even it meant a compliacted transport.

Carl Wahlbom: Gustav II Adolfs Tod bei der Schlacht von Lüzen
Carl Wahlbom: The death of Gustavus Adolphus during the Battle of Lüzen.

At the same time, the increasing European colonization lead to significant shifts in the burial cultures of European colonial powers. Men and women dying on ships could be thrown over board, as there was too much risk that they might contract diseases. In the colonies, funeral rituals and grave spaces could also be adapted. In Asia, the commemoration of Jesuit missionaries and martyrs could take on elements of the local populations, for example, leading to kinds of syncretism, which historians have uncovered in a range of contexts recently. Dying away from one’s home country, whether as mercenary, trader or missionary meant that burials and funerals had to be adapted. Although people died travelling in the Middle Ages, of course, the increasing inter-connectedness of the early modern world meant that deaths abroad became more common.

If we return to Europe and its towns, there was one further big change and that came in the eighteenth century. Increasingly, town inhabitants and councilors wanted to move cemeteries for reasons of hygiene, a trend explored by Norbert Fischer and others. For example, in late eighteenth century Munich, a public campaign ensued to force urban dignitaries to move the cemetery from the town’s centre to the outskirts. For medical considerations and a fear that diseases might spread, letters argued that ‘poisonous exhalations’ would ‘damage the health of the town’s inhabitants’. Alongside these changes to the burial spaces also came other considerations. In the late eighteenth century, Joseph II. of Bavaria argued, for instance, that the state at large would benefit from a thorough investigation of the corpses (Leichenbeschau) in order to ascertain why someone had died and to protect towns from further outbreaks of disease. In another text, an anonymous author criticized that the burials underneath the church could harm people while they were worshipping: ‘The foul air locked in the crypts can even damage the people present in the church, the Temple of God’. In the margins, the author wrote that the tomb stones can be put into the church walls, as is deemed fit, suggesting an awareness that many families would have wanted their family epitaphs and tomb stones to survive any changes in the church space.

As a result of the campaigns, Munich’s former plague cemetery, the Alter Südfriedhof, located outside of the city walls anyway, became the main burial site for the town’s inhabitants. To use a term coined by Thomas Laqueur, the town’s necrogeography changed. The movement of the cemetery changed how and where people were buried, but also what a town looked like and how it would have been experienced by inhabitants and visitors alike. The movement of cemeteries also meant that the church lost some of ist influence, as it no longer received money from the burial spaces, which used to be attached directly to the churches.

The features sketched out above show three general trends in the burial culture of early modern cities: A diversification, where not everyone was buried in their home town; some people died on ships, in wars or while travelling in an increasingly inter-connected world. Secondly, the way towns looked and where experienced changed because, generally speaking, many cemeteries were moved outside of towns, outside of city centres and town walls. Thirdly, the example of urban cemeteries shows one aspect of the mutual influence of religion and urbanity. Movements of cemeteries because of reformers’ demands, complaints by clerics that they no longer received money for burials, which went to the town instead and the spread of diseases in dense, urban environments were all connected to cultures of death. Whether one can interpret the movement of burial sites away from the churchyard, towards sites outside of towns administered by urban actors as a sign of an increasing secularisation is perhaps one of the most interesting questions connected to these dynamics. In the past, as today, cemeteries can tell us as much about death as they can about life.

— Martin Christ

Martin Christ is a KFG post-doctoral research fellow working on ducal burials and urban cemeteries in early modern Germany.

Select Bibliography:

Norbert Fischer, ‘Topographie des Todes. Zur sozialhistorischen Bedeutung der Friedhofsverlegungen zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit‘ in: Fischer/Kobelt-Groch (Hrsg.): Außenseiter zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit, S. 81–98.

Norbert Fischer, Vom Gottesacker zum Krematorium. Eine Sozialgeschichte der Friedhöfe in Deutschland seit dem 18. Jahrhundert. Köln/Weimar/Wien 1996.

Martin Wangsgaard Jürgensen, ‘Spacing Death – Facing Death: Conceptualizing the Encounter With Death During the Early Modern Period’ in: Tarald Rasmussen (Hg.), Jon Øygarden Flæten (Hg.), Preparing for Death, Remembering the Dead, S. 123-152.

Craig M. Koslofsky, The Reformation of the Dead: Death and Ritual in early modern Germany, 1450-1700. Basingstoke u.a.: Macmillan u.a., 2000 (= Early modern history).

Thomas W. Laqueur, The Work of the Dead. A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton 2015)

All images taken from Wikipedia. For details, see here, here and here.

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),

Sophie Landrin, “Le Grand Bazar va être détruit malgré les protestations,” in Le Monde, March 31, 2015, (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: (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.

Martina Stercken to Deliver Paper on Salvific History and Urbanity

Martina Stercken, fellow of the KFG and professor of Medieval History at the University of Zurich, will deliver a paper in the KFG’s research colloquium on 28 May 2019. The paper is entitled “Embedded in salvific history. Mediating urban time and space in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period”. 

Urban studies have assumed the power of salvific history to be an important element
influencing the medieval notion of towns in Europe. Discourses and artifacts reflecting on the celestial Jerusalem have been examined; scholars have investigated how much this idea has influenced town planning; and performative ways of defining the urban space as a religious area and the urban community as a sacral community have been described. The paper aims for a deeper analysis of texts, images, and maps and their ways of mediating temporal and spatial dimensions of towns between the 13th and 16th centuries, so at a time when the urban landscape was being shaped in Europe. Analysing manifold combinations of maps and historiographical texts relating to Zurich, it will explore the means to create images of the town as a spatial and historical phenomenon embedded in salvific history. It will be argued that urbanization changed the notion of the town’s embeddedness in the history of salvation, and developed multifarious ways to connect representations of space with its historical significance.

The paper will start at 10 a.m. in the Max-Weber-Kolleg, Erfurt. 

New Publications by Supriya Chaudhuri and Pralay Kanungo

We are pleased to announce the publication of several articles and chapters by members of our research group.

Supriya Chaudhuri, who recently joined us as a fellow and researches early modern literature, has recently published six articles:

‘Eyes Wide Shut: Seeing and Knowing in Othello’ and ‘What does the Slave know? A Response to Stephen Spiess’ in Blind Spots of Knowledge in Shakespeare and his World, ed. S. Mukherji (Medieval Institute Publications: De Gruyter, 2019), 75-88; 153-55

‘Indian Travel Writing’, in The Cambridge History of Travel Writing, eds. N. Das and T. Youngs (Cambridge University Press, 2019), 159-74

‘Modernist Literary Communities in 1930s Calcutta: the politics of Parichay’, in Modernist Communities across Cultures and Media, eds. C. Pollentier and S. Wilson (University Press of Florida, 2019), 177-96

‘On Making Noise: Hokkolorob and its place in Indian Student Movements’, Postcolonial Studies (2019), 44-58, DOI: https://10.1080/13688790.2019.1568168

‘Nishchindipur: The Impossibility of a Village Utopia’, Open Library of Humanities, 5(1): 25 (2019), 1–28. DOI:

Pralay Kanungo, who is also a fellow in the KFG and works on modern Indian history, has published an article entitled ‘Sangh and Sarkar: The RSS Power Centre Shifts from Nagpur to New Delhi’, in Majoritarian State. How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India (Hurst Publishers, 2019), eds. Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot, 133-149.

If you are interested in the research of any of our fellows, or the KFG as a whole, feel free to get in touch! 

Congratulations to Martin Christ on Winning Research Prize

On 27 April 2019, Martin Christ, core group member of the KFG “Religion and Urbanity”, received the Hermann-Knothe Preis — Research Prize of Upper Lusatia (Hermann-Knothe-Preis – Wissenschaftspreis der Oberlausitz). Christ received the prize for his article “The Century of the Reformation in a Bohemian Small Town, Lauban and its Lutheran Preachers, c. 1520-1620” („Das Jahrhundert der Reformation in einer böhmischen Kleinstadt, Lauban und seine lutherischen Prediger ca.1520–1620“).

The prize is awarded by the Upper Lusatian Scholarly Society (Oberlausitzische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften), one of the oldest learned societies in Germany. It is named after the local historian Hermann Knothe and recognises exceptional research on Upper Lusatian history and culture. The prize was presented by the Mayor of Görlitz, Siegfried Deinege, and the vice-president of the society, Dr. Lars-Arne Dannenberg.  

The essay will be printed in the next issue of the New Lusatian Journal (Neues Lausitzisches Magazin) and focuses on the town of Lauban (today Lubań in Poland). This town was part of Bohemia in the early modern period and so was ruled by a Catholic king. However, the Lutheran Reformation made serious inroads in the region, leading to a constellation where a Catholic king ruled over a largely Lutheran area. The essay focuses on Lauban as one example of the complex introduction of Lutheranism in this region and shows how the Reformation changed urban institutions and influenced the daily lives of men and women. As Dr. Jens Bulisch stressed in the laudatory speech, this research is particularly important as the fact that the now-Polish Lauban was part of Upper Lusatia is frequently forgotten. 

For a German version of this report, see here

The mayor of Görlitz, Siegfried Deinege (left) and the vice-president of the Upper Lusatian Scholarly Society, Dr. Lars-Arne Dannenberg (right) (picture: Kai Wenzel).


The Urban Reformation: An Overview

Martin Luther did not always appreciate the urban environment. Supposedly, he said once during a conversation with students and colleagues that “poverty is great in the city, but laziness much greater”. Although this quote comes from the table talk, a collection of what Luther said in a jovial atmosphere, and therefore a difficult source, on other occasions, Luther could also be critical of towns, seeing them as centres of sin and debauchery.

Wittenberg 1556

Yet for all of Luther’s criticism of towns, they were crucial in the spread of the European Reformations. Towns and cities in the early modern period (c. 1500-1750), of course, were nothing like what we think of when we hear the term today, not least because a population of 10.000 inhabitants would have been a significant urban settlement in this period. Indeed, there is an ongoing debate on how to define a city at all and there are various ways of categorising what constitutes a town. 

Research on the urban Reformation has been ongoing for many decades. One of the most important works was Bernd Moeller’s Reichsstadt und Reformation, which investigates systematically, why towns were important when it came to the spread of the evangelical faith. Steven Ozment and other continued this work on the evangelical faith in cities. Since then, there have been a range of studies on the urban Reformation and while previously towns were seen as centres of orthodoxy, now historians stress that in many towns religious plurality was just as common. Augsburg, one of the best researched towns, has a long history of pluricofnessionalism, for example.

There were several urban features which meant that the Reformation message spread there particularly quickly. Many towns were founded along important trade routes and so they were the first locales were new ideas could spread and then be developed further. Merchants and travellers could bring these new ideas and turned towns into hotspots for novel approaches to religiosity. Once ideas had been introduced to a town, the possibility of reformers to work together with councillors and other urban actors enabled a thorough introduction of changes in the urban and religious fabric. Geneva is a prime example for this kind of combination of religious and political motivations. Guilds, too, could be a driving force for religious change, as artisans hoped that the Reformation changes would give them greater political representation.  

Many of the early modern towns also shared another feature, which was crucial for the spread of the Reformation message: printing presses. Luther managed to harvest the new printing techniques and soon learned that in order to spread his theological message, pamphlets and broadsheet were crucial to reach many people in a relatively short space of time. Together with the arist Lucas Cranach the Elder, who was responsible for many of the woodcuts which featured in Luther’s publications, he managed to establish Wittenberg as one of the most important printing centres in the Holy Roman Empire.

Universities, usually also located in towns, could be another reason for theconnection between urbanity and religiosu reform. Wittenberg, of course, was one of the most important universities for Lutheranism. From there, many Lutheran theologians were sent to other territories and established the Lutheran faith there. Other important universities like Strasbourg or Basel could play similarly important roles in other territories. Later in the sixteenth century, Leipzig and Frankfurt/Oder also developed into centres for Lutheranism because of their universities.  

The spread of Lutheranism from urban centres to other locales could be particularly pronounced in urban coalitions or when important centres of the Reformation dominated the surrounding area. In the Lusatian League, a town coalition founded in 1346, Lutheran preachers deemed too radical in one of the towns moved to another town to work there. Christopher Close has also shown how Augsburg influenced the Reformation in the towns of Kaufbeuren and Donauwörth, coining the term “Negotiated Reformation” for this kind of spread of Lutheranism. The same process could also work for Catholicism. The Catholic imperial free town of Schwäbisch Gmünd delayed the Reformation in nearby Esslingen, for example.

The importance of Lutheranism in towns did not mean that other urban institutions always followed suit. Town councils could resist the introduction of Lutheranism and mayors and councillors could try to keep the Catholic faith in the towns intact. In Görlitz in Bohemia, the Catholic mayor Johannes Hass complained about the Lutheran changes, for example, and hoped to hinder the introduction of the Lutheran faith.

Görlitz 1575

That is not to say, of course, that the countryside could not experience equally drastic changes in religiosity. Itinerant preachers were an important feature of the rural countryside and Thomas Müntzer and other more radical preachers found ready listeners there. As Kat Hill has shown, many Anabaptists travelled and preached in rural areas in central Germany.  

For economic, cultural and political reasons, towns were at the forefront of the spread of the European Reformations. They were early in receiving new religious messages and influenced other regions and towns, in turn. Regardless of what Luther himself thought about the urban setting, towns and the Reformation were closely connected.  

— Martin Christ 

Bibliography (in order of appearance):

Bern Moeller, Reichsstadt und Reformation (first edition, 1962; various translations and editions since). 

Steven Ozment, The Reformation in the Cities. The Appeal of Protestantism to Sixteenth-Century Germany and Switzerland (1975).

Lee Palmer Wandel, ‘Locating the Sacred in Biconfessional Augsburg’, in Lynne Tatlock, Enduring Loss in Early Modern Germany (2010).  

Christopher W. Close, The Negotiated Reformation: Imperial Cities and the Politics of Urban Reform (2009). 

Kat Hill, Baptism, Brotherhood and Belief in Reformation Germany: Anabaptism and Lutheranism, 1525-1585 (2015). 


Religion and Urbanity: A Brief Introduction

Religion has led to dramatic developments in the history of cities, such as foundations, waves of immigration, transformations, (re-) ghettoization and genocide. But what is the specific urban quality of religious ideas, practices and institutions? What was their role in the production of urban space? More than half of the world’s population is living in cities and urbanization affects even the most distant corners of the world. The result is that the social and ecological problems of urban density accompanying the productive and innovative roles of metropolises become ever more evident. Yet the interest in religion and city remains concentrated on contemporary issues, especially  in the “global South.”

Against this background the DFG-funded Research Group “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” (FOR 2779) investigates the historical contribution of religion to urbanization and the long-term evolution of religion and the urban. What role has religion played in urbanization? How has urbanity changed religion, and how do they continually influence one another? By focusing on religion, our goal is to gain insights into the formation of human settlements and thereby to describe different paths of urbanization and their inter-relationships with the development of religion.

We proceed from the assumption that religious practices and conceptions together with their expressions in institutions, texts (narratives) and objects have been of great importance in the formation of urbanity. Religion and urbanity have continually shaped each other – and continue to do so to this day. In order to help meet the challenges of living in situations of urban density, religion has developed and continues to develop practices, conceptions and institutions both to connect individuals with space as well as to help shape and appropriate it. The complexity of overlapping spaces means that varying temporal orders can be present in differing rituals. The circulation of objects has created and continues to produce spatiotemporal modalities (see also: ) . At the same time, reference to (divine) power extending beyond its respective space furnishes spaces and temporal practices with an agency which requires cohesiveness or coordination of rulers and turns sacralisation into long-term and persistent topographical elements which produce and maintain historical identity. Conversely, the localization in the city, the communicative and ritual production of urban centers as well as the appropriation of urban aspirations and ways of life have had a significant influence on the formation of religion and religious traditions.

Erfurt viewed from the Petersberg (2010)

Consequences include small-scale spatialization of rituals, such as conceptions of the divine (and thus stabilization of polytheism), professionalization in condensed division of labor and self-historization through the above-mentioned long-lived spatialization, specific architectures and the taking up of urban imaginaries (for example, “the heavenly Jerusalem”).

With Max Weber, we are looking at the city and religion for actors and groups of actors (S. Rau, J. Rüpke ). But this cocnept also extends beyond human agency (B. Latour). With more recent social geography and spatial sociology (for example H. Lefebvre, E. Soja, M. Löw, B. Werlen and F. de Boeck), we see that urbanity is chractertized by spatiality, practices, representations, atmospheric affects, as well as practices of time (S. Rau et al.).

In light of these considerations, the reciprocal formation of religion and urbanity can not be described by way of the classical parameters of city types such as the sacred center, the city of exiles, the harbor or the agricultural city, or as instances of “Christianization” or “Islamization”. The variety of paths to urbanization must be examined through reconstructing constellations of space, time and practice and by offering a nuanced description of incremental changes in practices, conceptions, architectures, and institutions.

This also requires new concepts.

So our starting points pose research questions concerning the formation of different forms as well as changes in and new constitutions of urbanity and religion in all their diversity in different epochs and spaces. We ask:

  1.  What role does religion play for urbanization?
  2. How does urbanity affect religion? 
  3. What influence does the continuous interaction and the consolidation of heterogeneous practices have on the formation of Religion and urbanity?

Interesting phenomena include the production and alteration of space (topography, buildings, theaters, memorials), changes in spatial and temporal practices (rhythms, cycles, calendar and clock usage, rituals, processions) as well as changes in society (shifts of power, migration, formation of expertise). People migrating to a city have a means to “arrive” in a new urban community by joining a religious group, for example. Some religious experts, to name another example, aim to instiutionalise certain social milieus and try to anchor religious hopes and norms in the forms of immigration. Spaces formed by sanctuary or cemetery architecture become elements of urban religion and change the urban topography and its user flows. The establishment of central sanctuaries, the closure of neighbourhoods by the formation of dead-ends in ancient or Islamic cities or the presence of rulers in temples or cathedrals are all examples.

Hindutempel and market in Chennai (India)

The formation of new forms of the urban public changes or evokes religious spatial practices, for example the establishment of theaters in antiquity, the conversion of churchyards into squares in the 16th century and the uses of cinemas and other spaces of entertainment in North American evangelical churches in the 21st century. The appropriation of spaces by different groups of actors (political, economic, religious, spatial builders/observers) reveal specific regulations: not everywhere is prayer or sacrifice legitimate. We refer to religious practices and notions not primarily to marginal or subcultural “heterotopias” (M. Foucault) and “Thirdspaces” (Ed. Soja), but to the goal of building urban spaces with its growing contact surfaces (H. Berking) in order to live and to realize urbanity.

Many of the processes we are interested in, are particularly visible during phases of changes, such as contractions of cities in Mediterranean late antiquity, the wave of European-medieval urban creations, demographic changes in 18th-century Europe or the rise of colonial-era urban foundations in the Indian area. In addition, expansion of individual cities or networks of cities, shrinkage processes including those leading to the extinction of people and the erasure of spaces, phases of religious pluralization will form a Focus of our research. By investigatign the reciprocal formation of religion and urbanity, our research addresses a central issue which also has important consequences for today’s world.  

— Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke

The Roman Forum