festivals, as well, were rooted in celebrations of natural phenomena that derived from antique practices. Although a number of writers condemned these practices, it would seem, as today, that rites respondingto superstition and fear were tolerated to some extent and, in some cases, were provided with an Orthodox veneer that made them, at least superficially, acceptable to the church.
In a culture comprised of different economic and social levels, and one in which the population was divided between urban and rural dwellers, lay piety could be manifested in many ways. It would be incorrect to assume that every Byzantine approached his or her religious devotions with equal fervour. Some members ofsociety, particularly those ofthe upper classes whose education enabled them to read theological texts and to correspond with members of the high clergy, were so pietistic that their worldly lives resembled a monastic existence. An ample number of sources attest to the good works and monastic vocations of upper-class laywomen, who retired to monasteries as they advanced in age. Many of the most stunning works of religious art surviving from the middle and late Byzantine periods were commissioned by extremely pious lay members of the elite: some as personal devotional objects, and others for donation to churches and monasteries. Yet the sermons and encyclical letters of strict churchmen like the patriarch Athanasios I constantly complain of the lax behaviour of the working classes of Constantinople, who are reminded not to work or go to the baths and taverns on Sunday, not to leave church before the service is over, to observe fast days and to avoid magical practices and divination.
Members of the rural population, as we have demonstrated, expressed their piety in a more humble manner. For them, the church was closely linked to agricultural work and to lifecycle rituals. Their manner of worship was affected by their inability to read texts, and their deeply held faith must have sustained them in the absence of high-church rhetoric. Thus the picture of lay piety is a complex one and its study reveals significant differences in the devotional practices of men and women, the elite and the humble, the literate and the unlettered. Thus, while the assumption that the Byzantines were deeply pious is undoubtedly correct, the manifestations of that piety were subtly diverse.
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