The Early Christian Sanctuaries and the Transformation of Italian Landscape

Alessandro Luciano


In the early Christian period the birth and development of relics’ cult led to the transformation of urban, suburban and rural Italian landscape. Indeed, the deposition of venerated bodies in extra-muros cemeteries led to the gradual Christianisation of the whole peninsula. The link between territories and martyrs’ cults is shown by Christian Calendars, which reported just the dies natalis and the place of depositio. The saints were so territorially well established that their burials were simply considered as loca by ancient Christians. The gradual monumentalisation of martyrs’ tombs led to the birth of huge sanctuaries. They were composed of funerary and religious buildings but also service facilities, accommodations for pilgrims and monasteries. The most important sanctuaries were those of Saints Peter in the Vatican, Erasmus in Formia, Alexander in Nomentum, Felix in Cimitile, Januarius in Naples, Felix in Venosa, Marcianus in Syracuse and the Apostles in Concordia. They became so popular that Jerome said: ‘movetur urbs sedibus suis’. It seems that sometimes there was a coincidence between sanctuaries and episcopal palaces, such as in Sardinia, in some part of Latium and probably at Cimitile, Venosa and Concordia Sagittaria. In the fifth and sixth centuries some sanctuaries spread also in rural areas, usually along important routes. Suburban and rural sanctuaries led to the development of new settlements, as shown by the birth of new villages. The current word “Cimitile”, for example, derives from “Cimiterium” and even Paulinus of Nola wrote about a vicus nearby the sanctuary. At Saint Peter’s tomb, a Civitas was born in the Early Middle Ages. At the end of the Early Christian era, the traslationes broke the tie between relics and their locus depositionis, causing new urban sanctuaries to form.


Christian Sanctuaries, Relics, Saints, Basilicas, Graves

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