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Saint Sergius and Resafa: How a Saint turned a Border Fortress into a Late Antique Metropolis. Public lecture by Volker Menze (CEU)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Why Sergius? Why did Sergius became one of the most venerated saints in (the late) Late Antiquity? The short answer is of course “we can’t say for sure” but in Sergius’s case it is particularly curious that we have a Passio of Sergius and Bacchus but only Sergius became a VIP-saint while Bacchus remained a B-list celebrity. As this has not been addressed in scholarship, I will try to offer an explanation for this development and show how Sergius’ rising star is tied to 5th-century ecclesiastical politics and to the border fortress of Resafa. While until the end of the 4th century Resafa remained a small fortress at the eastern limes, it started to become an important pilgrimage center since Alexander of Hierapolis built the first martyr church here for Sergius in the first half of the 5th century. In the sixth century Resafa was renamed Sergiupolis and elevated to metropolitan status. At this time, it may have been a hub for the Christianization of the Arab tribes, and Sergius’ fame continued under Islamic rule: it even attracted the Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809) to build his palace here.


Volker Menze is Associate Professor of Late Antique Studies at Central European University. He is the author of Justinian and the Making of the Syrian Orthodox Church (Oxford 2008) and currently works on a monograph entitled The Last Pharaoh of Alexandria: Patriarch Dioscorus and Ecclesiastical Politics in the Later Roman Empire.