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Diversity in Late Antique Christianity: The Cultural Turn, Provincial Archaeology, and Church Building

Authors
  • Niewöhner, Philipp
Type
Published Article
Journal
Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity
Publisher
De Gruyter
Publication Date
Nov 27, 2023
Volume
27
Issue
3
Pages
500–528
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/zac-2023-0028
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
Disciplines
  • Articles
License
Yellow

Abstract

This paper considers archaeological evidence for various aspects of early Christian church building and comes to the conclusion that diversity was an essential quality of late antique Christianity. The diversity in question is ill-attested in written sources, but becomes apparent when the material record and everyday life are taken into consideration (cultural/material/pictorial/iconic turn). Church buildings looked and functioned differently in various regions and provinces of the late Roman empire. The diversity does not appear to have been accidental, but was cultivated throughout late antiquity. It was sometimes related to, but did not depend on, differences in liturgical practice, nor was it a matter of knowledge, ability, and workshop tradition alone. Provincial diversity was maintained even when and where the metropolitan alternative was manifestly known and available and although secular art and architecture continued to uniformly emulate the capital cities. A combination of written and material evidence suggests that the diverse formal repertoire of early Christian art and architecture was chosen and decided individually, but tended to form local/provincial/regional clusters. The decision makers seem to have been guided by religious conventions as well as by personal or political allegiances, many of which appear to have been determined locally, each province or region onto itself.

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