Sunday, 3 May 2015

Maria Giulia Genghini: “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything” (AP Moses 6): how the physical environment shaped the spirituality of early Egyptian monasticism

The following study proposes a re-evaluation of literary sources about Early Egyptian Monasticism, in particular The Life of Anthony by Athanasius and Palladius’ Lausiac History, in light of the archaeological and documentary evidences discovered about Egypt during the 1980s but only recently taken into account in the scholarly debate. The paper focuses specifically on the geography of the cell in which the first Egyptian monks trained themselves into ascetic practice. The leading question is whether or not the spatiality of the cell should be considered to have a transformative effect on the spirituality of the different ascetic movements. First, I am going to explore the notion of “desert” in the making of early Egyptian ascetic saints as revealed by The Life of Anthony. Secondly, I will argue that a more attentive use of literary sources can shed new light upon the use of space in Early Egyptian monasticism as long as we commit ourselves to read these sources with the help of documentary and archaeological evidences. This section will focus primarily on the Lausiac History as an example of such re-reading. Lastly, I will examine the new portrait of early monasticism and try to point out some of the peculiar aspects of ancient asceticism as they appear from the spatial analysis of the monk in his cell. In particular, I will argue that the supposedly intimate space of the cell has, in fact, been fundamental in shaping the relations between the first monks and the surrounding ecclesiastical and imperial environment.

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