Research Projects

Spazi sacri e percorsi identitari. Testi di fondazione, iconografia, culto e tradizioni nei santuari cristiani italiani tra Tarda antichità e Medioevo

Sacred spaces and identity trajectories. Foundation, iconography, cult and tradition texts in Italian Christian sanctuaries from late antiquity to the Middle Ages




Data avvio: 21 September 2011

Data termine: 20 September 2016


The Padua research unit is made up of the following members: Chiara Cremonesi (Unit head), Paolo Scarpi, Donatella Schmidt and Francesca Veronese. The research unit is made up of a team of established scholars and younger researchers who have long been taking part with their research in the sacred space debate in relation to identity and inter-cultural dynamics on the basis of diverse sensibilities and academic skills ranging from religious history, anthropology to archaeology with a shared awareness of the need for ongoing inter-disciplinary dialogue. It is precisely this spectrum of individual expertise, as well as frequent debate on shared research ground, which enables in-depth study into the subject of sanctuaries in their complex cultural reverberations to take place, focusing on one hand on ancient and late antiquity Greek and Magna Graecia area complexes and their Christian resemanticization precisely where it was produced. This well structured spectrum of scholarly expertise and its concentration on the theme of sanctuaries, in common with inter-disciplinary debate, reflects the history of the structure hosting this research, the Faculty of Ancient World Sciences. The faculty has been hosting projects of Italian and international scope for some time in which the members of the unit have taken part, with history in fertile dialogue with philology, archaeology with the history of religion and anthropology. Such activities are also made possible by the presence of the Inter-faculty Tito Livio library containing the great documentary collection of the faculties of Ancient World Sciences and Archaeology made up of 104,362 volumes (around one thousand antiquities) and 702 periodical subscriptions. Luigi Lovat - the engineer responsible for the faculty's ICT network (IT, telecommunications and audio-visual technology support) - is also involved in the project and he will be responsible for the IT elaboration of the planned research database according to methods previously experimented in the context of the CENOB international project funded by Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) Francese directed by Jean-Daniel Du Bois dell'École Pratique des Hautes Études together with the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Padua University's Faculty of Ancient World Sciences. Unit members Chiara Cremonesi and Paolo Scarpi are taking part in the project. In relation to the primary objective of the project the Padua unit proposes to enquire into sanctuaries as spaces of sacred production and identity renegotiation, exchange between the human and the extra-human dimension, as places cut through by concrete inter-cultural practices. From ancient times to today sanctuaries have, in fact, acted as fulcra of trajectories and itineraries which both criss-cross and, at the same time, redefine geographical and political, social and economic spaces prompting mythological and historical memories and involving individual and collective experiences. They represent places which are dense in existential and process terms in which the political dimension is at stake alongside the aesthetic, religious and therapeutic dimensions in which processes of negotiation and social and cultural construction play a part and which speak of the sacred realm as a historical reality (see A. Brelich, Perché storicismo e quale storicismo, in “Religioni e civiltà”, 1, 1972, 7-28; D. Sabbatucci, La prospettiva storico-religiosa, Milan 1990; E. de Martino, Storia e metastoria, edited by M. Massenzio, Lecce 1995). The aim of the research is to focus in particular on 'water sanctuaries' in the Greek and Magna Graecia worlds and late antiquity. These are sacred spaces in which sea, river, marsh, spring and lake waters take on specific catalysing roles which survive even where these places underwent subsequent Christian resemanticization. These are characterised by diverse religious experiences and presence characteristics: 'water sanctuaries' are thus working conceptual tools to be subjected to evaluation with two principal enquiry methods - comparative and inter-disciplinary. It is intended here to refute a comparison which 'levels' the comparative facts to the same plane in order to abstract them from the real historical world but, on the contrary, to adopt a comparative technique which allows the individual characteristics of each single sanctuary to emerge in the awareness that history "can only be made by distinguishing, or rather identifying" (D. Sabbatucci, Presentazione a R. Pettazzoni, I misteri. Saggio di una teoria storico-religiosa, Cosenza 1997). We will thus proceed to: 1) archaeological reconnaissance of certain religious places characterised by the presence of water, of its topographical location, structures linked to water (pipes, tanks, fountains, cisterns, wells) within them; 2) collection and analysis of historical and literary testimony concerning each individual sanctuary complex on one hand and the spiritual role of the 'sacred' water on the other; 3) a reading of the material and symbolic dimensions in the awareness that whilst water often performs the role of mediation channel between human and extra-human, it operates in profoundly different ways within the various religious systems which have long inhabited the Mediterranean. The aim of the project is to attribute special significance to a reading of the archaeological and historical-literary documentation relating to water's therapeutic properties where thermal waters are concerned or waters to which prodigious powers have been attributed. The characteristics of the water-disease healing relationship vary in different contexts in the sense that it is the illness itself which varies in significance without ever being reduced to mere nosological event (M. Augé and C. Herzlich, The Meaning of Illness, London, Routledge, 1984,; J. Benoist, Soigner au pluriel. Essais sur le pluralisme médical, Paris 1990; E. de Martino, La terra del rimorso. Contributo a una storia religiosa del Sud, Milan 1961).

Head of Padova Research Unit:

Chiara Cremonesi