Knights, Pilgrims, Scholars and Dreamers: Wandering in the Middle Ages
Stational liturgy is a practice that is found throughout the Late Antique and Medieval Roman world. John Baldovin has extensively discussed its development and practice in Jerusalem, Rome, and Constantinople, G. G. Willis has also studied the practice in Rome, and in more recent years scholars such as Christian Troelsgaard have begun to examine the practice in cities such as Milan. It is its development and practice in Rome itself that interests me for today’s purposes, and in particular its impact on the topography of the city. However, I also wish to take a closer look at the practice of the fermentum and to examine how, in concert with stational liturgy, these ritual practices transformed the pagan topography of Rome into a Christian topography. I suggest that stational liturgy and the fermentum reinforced a particularly Roman Christian identity, as well as constructing and inscribing a unified Christian identity onto Rome itself. I am interested in analyzing these practices as specifically Late Antique phenomena, and thus for working purposes I am principally examining the period up to the sixth century, but it will be necessary to reference considerations later than that from time to time.
My argument, which adduces evidence from the Liber Pontificalis, the Letter of Pope Innocent I to Decentius in 416, as well as the Ordines Romani, is that amidst historical forces such as the sack of the unsackable city and tensions over sacred spaces with the adherents of the old Roman religion, as well as concerns about how to maintain visible signs of orthodoxy in a newly public religion, the stational liturgy and the fermentum provide important examples of how Christian ritual practice built identity and shaped the urban environment. At the same time, John Baldovin is absolutely right in arguing that the urban topography had a hand in shaping the stational liturgy of Rome. If, however, identity formation is about the power to represent oneself, then perhaps what we may see here is a dialectic between ritual practice and topography, negotiating each’s reciprocal power of self-representation.