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The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome
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Book description

In The Early Modern Invention of Late Antique Rome, Nicola Denzey Lewis challenges the common understanding of late antique Christianity as dominated by the Cult of Saints. Popularized by historian Peter Brown, the Cult of the Saints presupposes that a 'corporeal turn' in the 4th century CE initiated a new sense of the body (even the corpse or bone) as holy. Denzey Lewis argues that although present elsewhere in the late Roman Empire, no such 'corporeal turn' happened in Rome until the early modern period. The prevailing assumption that it did was fostered by the apologetic concerns of early modern Catholic scholars, as well as contemporary attitudes towards death, antiquity, and the survival of the Church against secularism. Denzey Lewis delves deeply into the world of Roman late antique Christianity, exploring how and why it differed from the set of practices and beliefs we have come to think flourished in this crucial age of Christianization.

Reviews

‘This book will be of considerable interest not only to scholars of early modern Rome and of the Counter-Reformation, but also to those interested in the history of Christian archaeology. Denzey Lewis’s account of the ‘re-imagineering’ of the early Christian city from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries is both compelling and authoritative. I cannot remember when I last read an academic book with such genuine pleasure; since it matched considerable learning across almost two millennia of history with a light and unfailingly stylish touch.’

Simon Ditchfield - University of York

'Denzey Lewis’s fascinating new book challenges widely held views about the spread of Christianity and the nature of the sacred in late antique Rome. By reexamining the evidence for ‘the Cult of the Saints’ in the city and the holy places of burial inside churches, martyrial shrines, and catacombs, she demonstrates how exceptional Rome was in its approach to relics and the cult of the dead. Her analysis of the Crypt of the Popes as a (re)constructed memory has important implications not just for the ways in which modern scholars view late antique Christianity, but also for how modern worshipers at these sites view the Christian past.’

Michele Salzman - University of California

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