Call for papers: International Congress on Medieval Studies – Kalamazoo, 2018

Church in the City. Ecclesiastical Power and Urban Government in Medieval Italy (10th-13th c.)

In Italian historiography, history of the Church and history of the Communes, and even urban history in a broader sense, have been completely partitioned for long. A s a consequence, the question of the relations between Church and urban secular institutions of government have little been studied. True, from the 1960’s on, scholars started to pay attention to some aspects of this question, starting with the specific problem of the relations between the bishop and the city, and more specifically between the bishop and the emerging Commune. The main purpose of the numerous studies produced on the subject, was to understand how bishops, who were at the head of urban government in the 10th century, could have bit by bit given way to communal authorities in the following centuries, and how they dealt with it.

 It is now a trite to say that in the central Middle Ages, civil and religious spheres were as closely intertwined and even inseparable as they were in the former period and that in terms of political organization of the city, this resulted in what Giovanni Tabacco has defined as the “institutional synthesis of the bishop and the city” – a reality that persisted in the early communal era. However, what was fundamentally at stake in this debate was the birth of the Communes and how bishops had acted as a driving force in the process or, on the contrary, resisted to it. So that the bishop was seen as a central but isolated figure, embodying all by himself the Church, whose other members and manifestations were not taken into account in the discussion.

In the 90’s, the question of the relationships between Church and City was approached from a different angle, that of the “civic religion”, or as André Vauchez defined it, how urban powers appropriated “ values of the religious life (…) for the purposes of legitimation, celebration and public well-being”. The main figure here was not the bishop but the patron saint(-s), and the Church it was about essentially the cathedral, whose bell-tower served as the fulcrum of urban identity. More recently, studies dedicated to the employment of secular clerics and monks in communal administrations has shown that the issue of the relationships between secular and religious institutions could be addressed in a renewed perspective and was still widely to investigate.

The session will thus examine the multiple and complex links between the Church and urban civil authorities, in order to determine how Church took part in the government of the city after the bishop had lost the better part of his prerogatives in that matter. More broadly, the aim would be to address the problem of the cooperation or rivalry between those two institutionnal entities. In this perspective, the Church will be apprehended as a whole, in its different manifestations : its staff (not only the bishop, but also his closest associates, the canons of the cathedral, and beyond, the other secular or regular clerics and monks present in the city), its institutions (not only the cathedral, but also the other urban churches and monasteries), its rights, properties and jurisdictions, etc. Several aspects and topics could be investigated : the transfer of “personnel”, normative models or administrative practices from one sphere to another ; jurisdictional issues (who judges what and where ?) ; rivalry or disputes relating to the control of certain areas or over certain institutions (hospitals for example), etc.

Le Goff depicted medieval Italy as an “exception” respected to the rest of Europe in the central Middle Ages. In full line with this reflection, one of the goals of the session would be to highlight some of the specificities of the history of the Peninsula between the 10th and the 13th century ; but also, in the meantime, to stress certain original developments in terms of political or institutionnal organisation, which tend to be hidden by the great traditionnal narrative of the history of the Communes.


This session of papers is co-organised by Arnaud Fossier, Associate Professor at the University of Bourgogne (France) and Émilie Kurdziel, Associate Professor at the University of Poitiers (France).

Please send proposals (title + 250 words outline of your paper + your current affiliation) by 15 September to:

Émilie Kurdziel

emilie.kurdziel@univ-poitiers.fr