Preserved in Wax: Catacomb Martyrs, Piety and Politics in Post-Revolutionary France

  • Bonnie Effros, History, UBC
    Coach House, Green College, UBC, and livestreamed

    Tuesday, November 22, 5-6:30pm, with reception to follow
    in the series
    Green College Special Lecture
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    Examination of wax models of the human form in Europe has tended to focus on either the art of anatomical modeling in early modern Naples or the rise of 'low brow' entertainment in wax museums such as that of Madame Tussaud. Less well understood are the equally lifelike wax effigies that commemorated alleged ancient martyrs and more recent saints in western Europe during the nineteenth century. Especially during the catacomb excavations of Giovanni Battista de Rossi, when a substantial number of newly discovered bodily relics were presented to the faithful in Italy and further abroad, these papal gifts were made more appealing with fine clothing and faces, hands and feet of wax. The practice of covering the martyrs’ holy bones with wax made them less macabre and more accessible to contemplative devotion and veneration; it appears to have been exported from Italy to France, and became an increasingly popular form of Catholic religious expression. Ultramontane clerics in France like the highly influential monastic advocate Dom Prosper Guéranger thus encouraged their circulation in France. This method was applied not just to ancient bones but saints more recently dead, including Vincent de Paul, Catherine Labouré and Thérèse of Lisieux. This presentation will examine this ephemeral art form in the context of ultramontane religious practice in France, and explore its support of the establishment of closer ties between Rome and France. Bonnie Effros will also ask why this form of religiosity was condemned by critics as dangerous: on the one hand, it was understood as attracting predominantly female devotion that was difficult for clerical authorities to control, and on the other, it was seen as anachronistic, anti-historical and superstitious by those promoting the values of scientific modernity.

    Please note that some of the imagery shown in this lecture may be disturbing to some viewers.

    Tea and coffee will be available in the Piano Lounge at 4:30 pm.

    Bonnie Effros is Professor and Head of UBC's history department. Her most recent monograph, Incidental Archaeologists: French Officers and the Rediscovery of Roman North Africa (2018), was the winner of the 2019 Alf Andrew Heggoy Book Prize of the French Colonial Historical Society. Her earlier works include Uncovering the Germanic Past: Merovingian Archaeology in France, 1830-1914 (2012), Body and Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World (2002), Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages (2003) and Creating Community with Food and Drink in Merovingian Gaul (2002). She is the co-editor (with Isabel Moreira) of the Oxford Handbook of the Merovingian World (2020) and (with Guolong Lai) of Unmasking Ideology in Imperial and Colonial Archaeology: Vocabulary, Symbols, and Legacy (2018). Effros is currently studying the cult of ancient martyrs in nineteenth-century France and North Africa, in addition to editing a volume introducing early medieval historians to archaeology. Most recently, she taught at the University of Liverpool, where she was the Chaddock Chair of Economic and Social History, and at the University of Florida, where she was Rothman Chair and Director of the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere. She has held fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bunting Institute (now the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study), the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz and Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Vienna.
  • Unless otherwise noted, all of our lectures are free to attend and do not require registration.

November 22nd, 2022 from  5:00 PM to  6:30 PM
Coach House
6201 Cecil Green Park Rd
Green College, UBC
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1
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