NAPS ’17

I will be presenting a paper entitled “There’s No Place Like Home: The Rhetoric of Displacement in Greco-Roman and Early Christian Spatial Practice” at the upcoming North American Patristics Society conference in Chicago (May 25). NAPS has posted the complete program on its website.

Forced Movement in Late Antiquity

I am scheduled to deliver a presentation at the Forced Movement in Late Antiquity Conference in London (April 2017). The title of my talk is “World Citizenship and Diaspora: Greco-Roman Philosophy and the Contemporary Refugee Crisis.”

Clerical Exile

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Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity has been published by Peter Lang in the Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity series.

I have two essays in the book:“Tracing the Imaginary in Imperial Rome” and “Exile, Identity, and Space: Cyprian of Carthage and the Rhetoric of Social Formation.”

Check out my Research webpage for the abstracts, and make sure to get your volume before they sell out!

John Exsul?

My essay “Mapping Exilic Imaginaries: Greco-Roman Discourses of Displacement and the Book of Revelation” has been accepted for publication in Studia Patristica. See my Research page for an abstract.

NWX

I will be presenting my essay, “Tracing the Imaginary in Imperial Rome” at the Northwest Early Christian Studies Seminar (NWX) held at the University of Portland (April 16, 2016).

Clerical Exile

I have written two articles that will be published in Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity: Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity (eds. Jakob Engberg, Julia Hillner, and Jörg Ulrich; Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2016).

The first article explores the convergence between imperial and exilic discourses of space and identity (“Tracing the Imaginary in Imperial Rome”), while the second examines the exilic rhetoric of Cyprian of Carthage (“Exile, Identity, and Space: Cyprian of Carthage and the Rhetoric of Social Formation”).

For more information, please see my abstracts on my Research page

 

Reis’s Reise

This summer I attended the Oxford Patristics conference, delivering a presentation entitled “Mapping Exilic Imaginaries: Greco-Roman Discourses of Displacement and the Book of Revelation.” After the conference, I embarked on a self-styled “Roman Ruins and Christian Churches” tour, visiting other cities in England (Bath, London, and Canterbury) as well as Croatia (Pula and Rovinj) and Italy (Venice, Padua, and Verona). Please visit my Personal Travel webpage to view images from this trip.

I toured the Roman baths in Bath, walked through a number of Roman theaters and amphitheaters in Pula, Padua, and Verona, visited the temple of Augustus in Pula, and saw countless Roman artifacts in museums and on the streets. One highlight was the Pula amphitheater: as I took my place in the stands, a group of gladiators emerged to practice their techniques. As the sparring ensued, I snacked on an apple and thought about the ancient spectacle of the games discussed by writers like Seneca, Tertullian, and Augustine (the emotions it evokes are detrimental to the soul) and praised by the emperors and other elites (cf. Augustus, Res Gestae).

Roman Gladiators in Pula

Other Roman sites of interest included street mosaics in Pula and Verona, the latter of which was in the basement floor of a clothing store (I admit that the only reason I stumbled upon this was because I had been enticed by the store’s “Saldi: 70%” sign!).

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A Roman Mosaic Floor in a Verona Clothing Store

I also walked through many, many churches. Some, like St. Martin’s in Canterbury, St. Mary’s in Pula, and St. Euphemia’s in Rovinj, date to the early Byzantine period, while others such as Verona’s Duomo and Church of St. Fermo were newer constructions (still over five hundred years old!) that were built over the ruins of early Christian churches.

Many of these buildings were constructed to commemorate the deaths of martyrs and saints. St. Francis in Pula, St. Giustina and St. Anthony in Padua, and St. Fermo and St. Zeno in Verona were all built to acknowledge the piety of ancient and medieval Christian heroes. Particularly interesting is the legend of Euphemia, a young woman killed during the Diocletian persecution. According to the story, her marble sarcophagus floated onto the beach in Rovinj in 800 CE. After the townspeople failed to move it, a boy with two young calves succeeded in transporting the tomb to the highest point of the city, where a church was built to honor the city’s new patron saint.

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Tomb of St. Euphemia

The exteriors of these churches are remarkable architectural achievements, but the interiors are often even more spectacular. Sculptures, paintings, frescoes, and mosaics all attest to the power (and wealth!) of the medieval and Renaissance Church. Although many of these works of art are priceless, perhaps the most famous collection I saw were the Giotto’s fourteenth-century frescoes housed in Padua’s Scrovengi Chapel. The Scrovengi family had made their fortune through moneylending in the freewheeling days of the thirteenth century, and they developed a notorious reputation in the process (Dante placed one of the patriarchs in the seventh circle of Hell). They were also Christians who, like everyone else, were concerned about the fate of their souls. In a moment of anxiety, Enrico Scrovengi decided to build a chapel to assuage God for his family’s professional vocation. He then commissioned Giotto to paint the chapel’s frescoes, which detail various biblical events as well as a harrowing “Last Judgment” scene that covers the entire back wall. These paintings are so delicate that conservators determined that an elaborate system was needed to regulate the temperature and air-flow in the chapel. To ensure the preservation of the art, visitors are only allowed inside the chapel for fifteen minutes in pre-determined groups of 24 people (no pictures, of course).

The story of the Scrovengi family illustrates how important churches were in the lived faith of Christians. Art like Giotto’s frescoes or Canterbury’s stained glass have pedagogical value, instructing Christians in the story of their tradition. The most important of these buildings were also sites for pilgrimage: Christians traveled to them to see relics, express their devotionalism, and engage the power of the saints. For the history of pilgrimage, Canterbury’s Cathedral was the most important church I visited (think Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). 

Following in the footsteps (well, I took a train!) of innumerable medieval Christians, I trekked to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket, who died at the hands of four of King Henry II’s noblemen in 1170. The cathedral has a memorial on the site where the archbishop was killed, and near the altar a single candle marks the spot of the now-defunct shrine that medieval Christians visited (the worn stone around the space attests to the number of people who crawled on their knees to venerate Becket).

Canterbury Cathedral: Thomas Becket Shrine
Canterbury Cathedral: Thomas Becket Shrine

While I was primarily interested in ancient and medieval sites of interest, I also was fortunate to do things that were a bit more “contemporary.” For instance, in London I saw Richard II in The Globe (front row on the floor), and spent time at Juliet’s House and Tomb in Verona to cap off my Shakespearian experience. I also strolled (well, rushed) through London’s Tate Modern and National Gallery, visited Venice’s Accademia, and saw an exhibit of Picasso’s ceramics in Rovinj. At other times I was lucky to hear organists practicing in cathedrals or to sit on a quiet dock watching gondolas float by at sunset on Venice’s Grand Canal. Pretty spectacular.

The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal

Final Rankings:
1. most steps to the top of a dome/tower
a. St. Paul’s: London (528 steps)
b. Lamberti Tower: Verona (238 steps)
c. St. Euphemia: Rovinj (220 steps)

2. rainstorms
a. apocalyptic: Rovinj
b. quasi-apocalyptic: Venice

3. best pizza
a. Rovinj
b. Verona

4. bus drivers
a. meanest: Pula
b. nicest: London

5. hotels/apartments
a. best air conditioning: Residenza d’Epoca Cassiano, Venice
b. smallest bathroom: Northumberland House, London School of Economics (think two phone booths)
c. best location: Northumberland House, London School of Economics
d. best breakfast: Hotel Grand’Italia, Padua

6. oldest churches
a. St. Martin’s: London
b. St. Mary Formosa: Pula

7. best Roman ruins
a. baths: Bath
b. amphitheater: Pula
c. amphitheater: Verona
d. temple of Augustus: Pula

8. biggest churches
a. St. Paul’s: London
b. all of the giant churches in Padua and Verona

9. best pedestrian zones
a. Rovinj
b. Verona
c. Pula

10. best public transportation experiences
a. Venezia Lines Ferry: Rovinj to Venice
b. Condor Airlines: Frankfurt to Seattle (Super Economy class!)

11. best museums
a. National Gallery: London
b. Tate Modern: London
c. Accademia: Venice
d. Ashmolean: Oxford

12. biggest tourist traps
a. everywhere: Venice
b. Juliet’s House: Verona

13. tourist maps
a. best: Oxford and London
b. worst: Pula and Padua

14. best art in churches
a. Scrovengi Chapel: Padua
b. St. Paul’s: London
c. Church of St. Zeno: Verona

15. best views
a. from the top of St. Paul’s: London
b. from the top of St. Euphemia’s: Rovinj
c. along the River Avon: Bath
d. from the top of University Church: Oxford

16. best walks
a. along the River Cherwell: Oxford
b. side streets: Oxford, Rovinj
c. the paths near the Royal Crescent: Bath