The Christianization of the Peloponnese

Dr. Sanders recently shared a link (via the Corinthian Studies facebook group) to an interesting new digital project by Dr. Rebecca Sweetman and the University of St. Andrews titled “The Christianization of the Peloponnese.” The home page describes the project as a study of the gradual spread of monumental forms of Christianity in the 5th to 7th centuries:

“The aim of this project is to advance an understanding of the changing processes involved in the Christianization of the Peloponnese with particular reference to the location and socio-political context of churches from the 5th to 7th centuries CE. An intensive topographic and archaeological study has made it possible to present a detailed image database of the Late Antique Churches of the Peloponnese and a clickable map based on GPS data. The results of the analysis of this work, which will be published shortly in three articles, have shown clearly the evidence for phased and largely peaceful Christianization of the Peloponnese with a considered use of memory and tradition at different times, rather than that of a violent transition, as is frequently portrayed in the historical literature.”

As the project challenges the notion of “a single process of unequivocal and forceful spread of Christianity with a complete intolerance of any pre-Christian religious practice,” Sweetman continues the work of her 2010 article on the Christianization of the Peloponnese in the Journal of Late Antiquity (see Bill Caraher’s review and critique of that article here). This current website is dedicated to publicizing three forthcoming articles (unfortunately, not named or referenced), which will offer analysis of the Christianization in the Peloponnese in comparison with other regions (Crete, Cyprus, Cilicia, Lycia). By Christianization, Sweetman refers to the monumental forms of early Christian basilica architecture that spread across the Peloponnese in the 5th and 6th centuries.

Whatever the potential value of her forthcoming articles, students and scholars of the Corinthia will benefit most from Sweetman’s clickable map and photo catalogue of the 130 early Christian churches of the Peloponnese.

While the catalogue descriptions of the individual churches are too brief, and the bibliography is incomplete (e.g., why are the works of Rife and Rothaus not referenced for the churches at Kenchreai?), the photos, plans, and aerial views (via Google Maps) give this website some value. Early Christian basilicas are notoriously hard to find in Greece (especially when you’re looking for them) and often difficult to access (sometimes surrounded by big fences), and their frequent publication in modern Greek makes them inaccessible to most scholars and students. So, a website presenting good photos and basic location information for these churches is welcome.

But hopefully this is the start rather than the end of the project. If the author presents somewhat more substantial notation and bibliography for the individual churches and the Christianization of Greece or the Peloponnese, the website could serve as the starting point for early Christian basilica architecture in southern Greece.

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