The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women

By Nicola Denzey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
POPE DAMASUS, EAR TICKLER

If there is a villain in this book—and one period in which things changed—it would be the ruthless, visionary pope Damasus (366–384 CE), who transformed, unified, and focused the Catholic Church of Rome. Damasus knew well the life of a Roman ecclesiastic. Son of a priest from the parish of San Lorenzo in the eastern quarter of the city, he was, in a sense, "to the manor born." He inherited a city riven by Christian factionalism, and, driven by his vision of a unified Christian Rome, he brought the city together under his sole leadership. It was a formidable task, and Damasus gained enduring fame within the Catholic Church for it. But such centralization bore a heavy cost: I suspect that Damasus's transformation of Rome in late antiquity was to the detriment of its female sponsors and patrons. Indeed, Damasus's deliberate invocation of glorious Rome threw into shadow the cults of venerated female martyrs and the patronage of powerful women.

To understand what drove Damasus, we need to start further back, at the very beginning of his episcopacy. There was no single, united, and Catholic Rome in 366 CE. The city roiled under the control of not one but two legitimate popes, Liberius (352–366 CE) and Felix II (355–365 CE). The many years of two simultaneous popes reflected the political complexity of a city not yet fully Christianized and a Christianity that had not yet consolidated into a solitary identity. Felix would die first, leaving Liberius holding the papal see alone, but only for a year. The phenomenon of two popes disastrously complicated the problem of papal successor. Which of the two men would have an o~cial successor? Was there one man who would return the papacy to a solitary head? Certainly Damasus believed he was that man. He had served as a trusted and faithful deacon under Liberius and had followed the pope into exile. But later, in 355 CE, he had ingratiated himself with Liberius's rival, the "anti-pope" Felix, only to switch allegiances yet again to Liberius upon the latter's return to Rome in certain triumph. Damasus,

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The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction: The Bone Gatherers xi
  • Chapter 1 - Death Takes a Bride 1
  • Chapter 2 - Proba and the Piglet 25
  • Chapter 3 - Waiting in the Afterlife 58
  • Chapter 4 - Praying with Prisca 89
  • Chapter 5 - Petronella Goes to Paradise 125
  • Chapter 6 - The Silent Virgin and the Pale Child 148
  • Chapter 7 - Pope Damasus, Ear Tickler 176
  • Epilogue: Turtura's Veil 205
  • Acknowledgments 212
  • Notes 216
  • Bibliography 261
  • Index 273
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