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5 - (Re-)Founding Christian Rome: The Honorian Project of the Early Seventh Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2021

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Summary

Abstract

Honorius I (625–38) became pope at an opportune moment of relative peace and stability in Italy. His energetic building program and revitalization of the ecclesiastical carmen epigraphicum index his intention to re-found Christian Rome after the difficulties of the war-torn and plagueridden sixth century. His program was not only sensitive to inherited forms of papal patronage and popular piety, but distinctly capitalized, in new ways, upon Rome's growing reputation as the city of martyrs par excellence. Hence it is reasonable to consider Honorius's pontificate as a pivotal moment in the transition from late ancient to early medieval Rome and to offer it a place in any new narrative of renewal in Roman urban history.

Keywords: Pope Honorius I, S. Agnese fuori le mura, carmen epigraphicum, Old St. Peter’s

Honorius I was elevated to the papacy in October 625. In the preceding two decades, following the death of Gregory I in 604, five different men had held the Roman episcopacy. Honorius would serve as the city's bishop for twelve years and eleven months, until October 638, a tenure only seven months short of Gregory’s. For the remainder of the seventh century, only two men surpassed his nearly thirteen years on the papal cathedra (and then just barely). In Honorius's case, time mattered. He inherited a city diminished and in tatters, one that, even now, despite recent re-thinking and new information, remains hard to visualize amid an age so long (considered) ‘dark’. Yet, it is just possible – on the basis of contemporary documentary, epigraphic, literary, and art historical evidence – to see Honorius's episcopacy as a period that laid the foundations for a new instantiation of Christian Rome, one whose Janus-like image not only looked back to the city's fifthcentury heyday of church building and papal imagineering, but also solidified Rome's status as the medieval West's ‘city of saints’ par excellence. If ‘renaissance’ is understood to denote a particularly self-conscious moment of ‘self-reinvention’ through the assimilation and creative transformation of the past – and not simply a movement in which ancient texts and literary forms are recuperated – then Honorian Rome may merit consideration as home to yet another renaissance in a city that, perhaps more than most, had long been deeply committed to curating its past for present purposes.

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Urban Developments in Late Antique and Medieval Rome
Revising the Narrative of Renewal
, pp. 149 - 176
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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