Down to Earth or Near to Heaven?: Religious Practice in the Abruzzi, 1154-1313
For decades, medievalists have been interested in the Christian religion, as it manifested among western Europe’s lay population. Specifically, they have considered the extent that institutional, Church norms were accepted on a local level. There have been a variety of answers to this question, ranging from the notion that popular practice largely aligned with official doctrine, to the theory that the majority of Europeans were not Christianized until the early modern era. This paper examines this question through the case study of Italy’s Abruzzi region, between the years 1154 and 1313. The Abruzzi was a mountainous and rural part of Europe with a complex history. To date, it has largely been overlooked in the English literature. However, most Italian historians have adopted a largely dichotomous view of religion in the area. Namely, they contend that the majority of people practiced a “superstitious” religion fundamentally different from that of the institutional Church, viewed as the locus of “true” Christianity. This paper uses a combination of hagiographic and canonization material, in the original Latin, to argue that no essential difference existed between clerical and popular religion in the Abruzzi, and that instead, there was a duality of religious sensibility, one that aligned with an urban-rural split. Theoretically, it employs a distinction between “material”- and “spiritual”-based faith that refers respectively, to “old” and “new” piety, as understood in the context of changing ecclesiastical norms. It argues that rural areas remained “material” in their Christian outlook, while in the city of Sulmona, an increasingly “spiritual” faith was emerging. This was partly due to the impact of St Peter of Morrone, whose popularity helped disseminate “new” piety among the locals. Additional consideration is given to the ways that the physical was intimately linked to the immaterial. Examples of everyday religious practice are provided throughout.