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The Politics of Holy Bodies in Medieval Caucasia and their Modern Usages

The Icon of St George slaying the Emperor Diocletian, 11th c. Mestia, Georgia
Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Sometime in the fourth century, Christians started to believe that deceased holy men and women could do wonderful things, both beneficial and harmful. Bodies were therefore endowed with value which, among other things, was also political. In early Medieval Caucasia (Armenia, Georgia and Caucasian Albania) this politicization of the cult of the saints happened almost as soon as Christianity was established in the region. The cult of the saints and of their relics was entangled in the rhetoric of political authority, legitimate kingship and identity. Somewhat uniquely, the rhetoric of sanctity was also coupled with that of gender, as Georgia’s foundational saints were almost all women, and, crucially, the greatest monarch of Georgia’s cultural memory was also a woman. This rhetorical entanglement resulted in a problematization of the sacred, the political and the feminine, a conundrum which unfolded in unique ways in different political eras: in the middle ages, in 19th-century Imperial, and also twentieth-century national discourses. The lecture will examine several such examples that will hopefully illustrate the longevity of the problem of holy bodies, of their gender and political identities in the history of political and religious thought.

The image: The Icon of St George slaying the Emperor Diocletian, 11th c. Mestia, Georgia