A New World in a Small Place: Church and Religion in the by Robert Brentano

By Robert Brentano

Unusual historian Robert Brentano offers a wholly new point of view at the personality of the church, faith, and society within the medieval Italian diocese of Rieti from 1188 to 1378. Combing via a cache of formerly neglected files saved in a tower of the cathedral, he makes use of wills, litigation complaints, financial bills, and different documents to reconstruct the everyday life of the diocese.

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Rieti, once a Sabine center, had, under the Romans, become a Roman city; it was the home of the Flavians and appropriately of the agricultural expert Varro. Under the Lombards it had become part of the duchy of Spoleto. It had been the name-giving center of a gastaldate and then a county, which it remained into the twelfth century. Rieti was the victim of memorable and remembered destruction by Roger of Sicily in 1149. Its recovery and rebuilding were accompanied by the growth of communal government under the local direction of consuls.

Its traditions connected it with the blood of martyrs, and a fleeting reference to its church is found in the letters of Gregory the Great. Its episcopal position, and memories, were strengthened by the long and seemingly relatively effective episcopate of the twelfth-century bishop Dodone, at least from 1137 to 1179. 20 From Pope Innocent III (11981216) Rieti received two important but not disinterested gifts. Rieti became a free commune, although not free of an annual census, with its own government organized under a podestà.

In the papal-royal summer of 1289 Rieti was further swollen by the presence there of the thirteenth chapter general of the Franciscan friars minor, men from all over. 36 They were not from the whole world, and they were not all strangers, but the majority of those who can be identified did not come from Rieti or nearby villages but rather from other Italian places. In the early fourteenth century, after the second of the two periods of papal sojourns, and after many Reatines had themselves become members or followers of the papal curia, Rieti, with its Roman Papazurri bishop, was certainly not a place sealed against the outside world.

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