Christians and Christians: Pope Damasus and the Christianization of Rome

All the temples of Rome are covered with soot and cobwebs, the city is shaken to its very foundations, and the people hurry past the crumbling shrines and surge out to visit the martyrs' graves.

— Jerome, Epistulae 107.1

After Diocletian's persecution of the church and Constantine's conversion to a Christian monotheism, the process of Christianizing Rome began. One key factor in this transformation of the city was the new Christian building program that emphasized the commemoration of the martyrs at the holy shrines around their burial places, called in Latin, martyrium or, in the plural, martyria. Since martrydom was both a physical act that took place in a public space and a discourse, we will see that a second and complementary factor in the Christianization of Rome was the development of the related literary genres of hagiography and martyrology. Hagiographical texts are biographical accounts of the Christian martyrs and saints, while martyrologies detail the legendary accounts of their "passion" or suffering. In this chapter, we will consider how the fourth-century Roman church leaders used these two important strategies, the construction of martyria and their related visual spectacles and the new Christian literary genre of martyrology, in their efforts to claim Rome's episcopal primacy as the sedes Petri, "seat of Peter."

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