2023 International Congress on Medieval Studies, HYBRID, Kalamazoo, MI and online
IAS-Sponsored Session

Unfolding the Past: The Materiality and Temporality of Medieval Southern Italy – Session I

Chair: Antonino Tranchina


Tancredi Bella and Giulia Arcidiacono
Hidden and Revealed: Sacred Bodies, Monumental Spaces, and Civic Identity in Medieval Sicily

This contribution focuses on two examples of semi-hypogean architecture survived in Medieval Eastern Sicily: the crypt below the presbytery of the Norman cathedral of Catania and the crypt of San Marciano, below the basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista in Syracuse and near the catacombs of San Giovanni.

The crypt of the cathedral of Catania, founded in 1081 by Count Roger I of Altavilla and by the Benedictine abbot Angerio, is a small centric space with a short narthex. Probably it belonged to a pre-existing complex, dating back to the Byzantine period, and then incorporated and reused in the Norman building. The plan and will be analysed, to propose new hypotheses on the functions and on the fruition system, in relation to the sanctuary area above.

The crypt of San Marciano probably derives from a Norman reconstruction of a Byzantine nucleus. The controversial problem of dating will be re-examined in the light of textual sources, historical references, structural features and pictorial remains. Comparative references will also be made to the relationship between the alleged sepulcher of the martyr Lucia, i.e. the genetic nucleus of the catacomb named after the patron saint of Syracuse, and the Norman church of Santa Lucia extra moenia.

Both buildings contribute to the study of the dynamics and forms of local devotion: the crypt in Syracuse is in fact traditionally linked to the memory of the city’s proto-bishop, Marciano, while the crypt of the cathedral of Catania is potentially linked to the cult of the martyr Agatha, patron saint of the city. In both cases, the recovery of the two underground spaces under the buildings for the custody and veneration of the holy bodies, differently visible and usable, meant the promotion of the cult of local saints and the revival of civic identity.

Giulia Anna Bianca Bordi
Redefining the Past and the Sacred Spaces: The Episcopal Complex of Siponto and the Memory of His Saint Bishop Lorenzo

On the site of the ancient city of Siponto the dedication to the Virgin had been transferred from an Early Christian church, to one of apparently later foundation, still existing, but whose peculiar ichnography in the panorama of the “Apulian Romanesque” refers, actually, to phases spread over the centuries. Its construction was therefore probably still in progress between the 12th and 13th centuries, and it could hardly have been identified with the church there rededicated in 1117 by Paschal II. Several sources refer to buildings that must have been placed near the episcopal church of Siponto: among these the later of the two Vite of the bishop Lorenzo, mentions a «sacrario» in which he would have been buried; in addition, the scholar Sarnelli narrated the discovery of the body of the saint bishop in 1100, during some excavation for the enlargement of the chapel of St. Nicola founded in 1098 in that place.

The paper aims to examine in depth some ideas drawn from the scholars, concerning reasons and circumstances that led to liturgical adaptations and re-foundations of sacred buildings of the Sipontine episcopium in connection with the programmatic rediscovery of the figure of Lorenzo: starting from the action of Archbishop Leone (1023(?)-1050) who commissioned the oldest of his predecessor’s Vite and liturgical furnishings, passing through the rewriting of the hagiographic story on Lorenzo in the second half of the 11th century, in which his burial place was explicitly identified for the first time near the episcopal church, until the “ad hoc” inventio of his corpse at the dawn of the 12th century, which could have required further liturgical adjustments of the basilica and culminating in the rededication of 1117.

Sabine Sommerer
The Tomb of Elia in S. Nicola, Bari: Temporality as Argument in Text and Image

The memorial church of S. Nicola at Bari was initiated at the end of the 11th century to house the relics of S. Nicola of Myra and under its builder, archbishop Elia of Bari and Canosa, soon developed into one of the most important pilgrim’s destinations of its time. The interior decoration of the church was completed under Elia’s successor Eustasius, as epigraphically recorded, and came to house not only the relics of the Saint but then also the tomb of Elia. While the tomb is located in a highly visible position on the pilgrim’s path through the church, it has received comparatively little attention within the research about the architecture and interior decoration of S. Nicola. As is made explicit by its panegyric inscription, the tomb served to uphold the fame and memoria of abbot Elia and promoted his special status as patron and builder. To this end, the panegyric inscription plays on an interweaving of temporality which also contains essential parallels to the throne of Elia and as well as to the inscription on the steps to the presbytery. Underpinned by the inclusion of spolia, the tomb and its inscription recall different strata of time to construct it as a superior memorial object and to enfold a crucial impact as political agent.

Maddalena Vaccaro
Deconstructing Models for Constructing the Present: Cults, Architecture, and Norman Patronage in Southern Italy

The most recent historiography taught us that scholars have a growing crucial role in interpreting Medieval artifacts and buildings not only referring to historiography, but also to their functionality, and even to feelings aroused in people that used (and nowadays visit) them. In this case, the projection of an intellectual and anachronistic construct is a vivid risk, that reflects the scholar’s personality more than the cultural identity of the monument. Instead, both artifacts and buildings are lead characters of medieval culture, and can speak for themselves giving voice to both their materiality and temporality, as we consider them as works of art produced by communities rooted in their territories.

This paper will focus on few selected significant buildings in Norman Southern Italy, starting from the late-11th century Cathedral in Policastro (Salerno) and its stunning triconch crypt, aiming to reflect on the ability to produce autonomous and original choices within the framework of political and cultural relations, of historical ecclesiastical geography, and in connection with the Euro-Mediterranean context.

Firstly, the paper will ‘deconstruct’ historiographical prejudices with respect to given cases, then will reflect on choices, uses and re-uses of models, techniques and solutions that constitute the monuments and that can infer the cultural ambitions of patrons and concepteurs that aimed to construct a new Present solidly rooted in Past.

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