Middle English Word of the Moment

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another temporality thought - on conversion

According to Patrick Geary (Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages, London: Cornell UP, 1994), there is, under the parish church of Flonheim, a series of tombs that predate the conversion of the local population to Christianity.
[Archaeologist] Ament sees grave 5 as a founder's burial, like that at Lavoye.  Around it, in the sixth and early seventh centuries, other clan members were buried.  When the chapel was built, the importance of this founder's burial was still recalled, and the builders included the other clan graves within the confines of its walls... [This positioning] strongly suggest[s] that the continuity between pre-Christian and Christian clan members was not  broken by baptism.  In fact, on a physical, structural level, the founder was given a burial infra ecclesia after the fact, thus including him in the newly Christianized clan tradition. (37-8).
Well, why not? Why do we assume that conversion is tied to a moment in time, extending only forward from that moment and denied to all who came before it? We do now, of course, because of long-established tradition that (for example) pagans are denied entry into heaven, even Virgil because he unluckily died just a few years short of a certain critical historical moment.  But that's quite an assumption to make, isn't it? That everyone would automatically understands religion and relationship to religious standing in that way? Why can it not simply be a cultural and behavioural difference, a difference in architecture, into which one may incorporate the past as easily as one might build a temple to an ancestor in a new architectural style and depict them in this generation's sartorial fashions in the frescoes?

4 comments:

tenthmedieval said...

Not saying you're wrong, of course, and diversity must be near-universal, but there is the counter-example in, er, I think Vita willibrordi in which King Radbod of the Frisians refuses baptism after it is carelessly admitted that his ancestors will of course be in the Big Elsewhere while he's in Heaven. So at the least this must have been a debatable question. On the other hand, what would you say as a missionary to get $LOCAL_NOTABLE to let you build a church on his estate? What if Radbod had only been willing to offer his family burial site so that they were included? etc.

Ceirseach said...

Of course. I'm sure there's far more examples of ancestors being excluded, of baptism being a cut-off point in time; but it was fascinating to me to think that it cna be possible for it not to be, as it was an assumption I'd never questioned before.

tenthmedieval said...

Are you aware that this is a thing the Mormons promise? It's one of the reasons they're such a help to genealogists, because if you join the church and are 'saved' so are all your ancestors so it behoves you to find out who they are. I am told that the assumption is that they would have converted, if they'd had the chance to hear the word. (Check every word of this before using it. I am going on hearsay from years ago.)

Ceirseach said...

Ooo, I was not aware! Naturally I'd find properly quotable sources first (blogs might be becoming more respectable but I don't think 'blog comment' appears as a category in the MLA guide yet), but that is an interesting thing to think about. Particularly if it appears as a form of religious commercialism - all other types say this, but we can offer THIS.