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Chapter 2 - Episcopal and Lay Building Projects

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2023

Hope Williard
Affiliation:
University of Lincoln
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Summary

MEROVINGIAN BISHOPS, ROYALTY, and aristocrats repaired, restored, or had constructed from scratch the sacred spaces of Christian worship. Fortunatus’ poetry provides a useful vantage point from which to consider how these activities fit into Merovingian conceptions of patronage and friendship. Fortunatus’ poems emphasize the appropriate use and display of wealth, which indicates that churches were not just visible signs of piety, but also that they were exhibitions of social display and competition. The donor’s own social status and importance influenced the amount and tone of the attention he or she receives in a given poem. In highlighting the wide range of patrons of buildings in Merovingian Gaul, church-building activities were influenced by social status as well as religious obligations. Though the majority of the builders are bishops, Fortunatus’ poems mention a range of donors, from a local church community to barbarian aristocratic families. Their activities demonstrate the convergence of an aspect of patronage, the sponsorship of buildings, and an aspect of friendship, the creation of networks and celebration of merit.

Out of a corpus of two hundred and eighteen poems, there are twenty-five about the construction or repairing of churches and four about episcopal villas or castles. In addition to these, ten episcopal epitaphs or praise-poems make mention of construction projects. This chapter is concerned with an important aspect of friendship-writing in this period: the praise of patronage, construction, and refurbishment of buildings. Most of Fortunatus’ poems on this subject are found in Books 1 and 2 of his poems. This chapter considers three groups of church-builders: episcopal builders, particularly Bishop Leontius of Bordeaux and his wife Placidina, Merovingian royalty, and aristocratic couples. The occasion provided friends with the opportunity to meet and exchange greetings.

I argue that both secular and ecclesiastic donors were engaging in social and pious display by using their wealth in a manner designed to bring them heavenly reward and the favourable attention of their friends, neighbours, and clients. As I discuss in relation to the construction activities of Felix of Nantes, ecclesiastical buildings and festivals had been intertwined with ideals of friendship, and thus aristocratic culture, since the fifth century.

Type
Chapter
Information
Friendship in the Merovingian Kingdoms
Venantius Fortunatus and His Contemporaries
, pp. 67 - 104
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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