The power of liturgy and the liturgy of power in eleventh- and twelfth-century Italy

Louis Iorio Hamilton, Fordham University


Religious reform and social change rapidly transformed Europe and the Italian peninsula in the eleventh century. Central to those transformations were the phenomena of incastellamento and the explosion of church construction and restoration. The dedication of churches became a powerful experience and metaphor within Italian religiosity. It was a moment of healing, vision, meditation, conversion, communal formation, and social conflict. Because the experience of the dedication was formative, the contemporary need to explain its significance was imperative. Dedications were problematic because they seemed to confirm the Imperial position that priests ought to be subject to kings as had been the case in the Old Testament. It was Peter Damiani (1007–1072) who first countered this interpretation. He used the dedication as an opportunity to level a stem warning against the rising structures of banal power. The dedication became an assertion of sacerdotal over lay dominical authority, and a metaphor for Roman authority. Anselm of Lucca (1036–1086) elaborated upon this metaphor. The metaphor of church construction and dedication was at the basis of his Collectio canonum. It draws upon the Biblical foundation of the Church (Matthew 16, 18–19) and traditions about the martyrdom of Peter and Paul to assert that Rome was a church built by Christ and dedicated by the relics of Peter and Paul. Authority proceeded from Rome as did relics from a major to a minor church, a metaphor that only convinces if one accepts the authority of the dedication liturgy. Bruno of Segni (1040/50–1123) began his episcopal career as a devotee of these interpretations. Prior to 1111 he employed the dedication in exegesis and in deed as a symbol of pontifical authority. When he wrote the De sacramentis ecclesiae, however, he appears to avoid deliberately the question of papal authority. Indeed, the composition was an effort to undermine papal authority after Bruno's conflict with Paschal II in 1111 and Bruno's subsequent removal from Montecassino. That the clerical elite who interpreted these dedications were both formed by them and conflicted over their meanings underscores the power and symbolic richness of the liturgy.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|Religious history|European history|Religious congregations

Recommended Citation

Hamilton, Louis Iorio, "The power of liturgy and the liturgy of power in eleventh- and twelfth-century Italy" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9981404.