Epiphanies and religious conflict: The contests over the Hagiasma of Chonai

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    In the emotionally sensitive but politically astute novel “Birds without Wings” by Louis de Bernières, a small village of diverse religious adherence is dismembered by events occurring in the “great world”. This simple insight, of the inauguration of hardened exclusive positions in individual pockets of previously benign coexistence caused by empire-wide upheavals, can be fruitfully applied to another location in south-west Anatolia: a sacred healing spring near ancient Colossae. The earliest text related to the site, the Miracle of the Archistrategos Michael of Chonai, is a popular Christian hagiography that appears to have passed through a number of revisions before the middle Byzantine literati, Sisinnius of Constantinople and Simeon Metaphrastes laid their high Byzantine register on it. The popular text retains the colouring not only of a ‘pagan’ forebear/foundation to the sacred site but also of a measure of peaceful co-existence in the early fourth century. The advent of Julian ‘the Apostate’ unleashed massive realignments of the relationship between Christianity and ‘paganism’ and even more in the aftermath of his premature death. The presenting language, reflected in the hagiography, is of the battle between Christianity and paganism that qualifies the surviving traces of mutual forebearance and introduces the tensions and conflicts laid at the feet of paganism’s violent assault on a Christianity. A careful probing of the story reveals a sub-text of an infra-ecclesial struggle, not only to preserve local expressions of faith over against a competitive neighbour, but to establish one’s credentials by whatever means lay at hand before a rapidly changing ecclesial and imperial audience, without the loss of local adherence. This study explores the complexities of local conflict inflamed by global strife.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationReconceiving religious conflict
    Subtitle of host publicationNew views from the formative centuries of Christianity
    EditorsWendy Mayer, Chris de Wet
    Place of PublicationLondon, New York
    Number of pages26
    ISBN (Electronic)9781315387666
    ISBN (Print)9781138229914
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2018


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