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How Popular Was Early Medieval Devotion?
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 14 (1997)
At the end of a seminal paper Arnaldo Momigliano remarked that “Lectures on popular religious beliefs and the late Roman historians should be severely discouraged.” To offer a lecture on popular devotion in the Early Middle Ages might be seen, therefore, either as a stubborn refusal to listen to one of the great authorities on late antiquity, or as an assertion that religion in the early Middle Ages was in some crucial way different from what had come before. The second of these points may be true, although recent work has tended to emphasise the continuities between the two periods, and, as will be apparent by the end of this lecture, I would certainly not want to draw any sharp division between the fifth and sixth centuries, which have traditionally been seen as marking the watershed between the Ancient and Medieval worlds: what changes the seventh century had to bring is another and as yet undermapped topic, although I will look ahead, briefly, into the Carolingian period.