The strange case of the portable altar: liturgy and the limits of episcopal authority in early medieval Gaul.(Essay) Bailey, Lisa

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Bailey, Lisa
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Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association
Episcopacy -- History; History; Altars -- Usage
An unusual episcopal letter from early sixth-century Gaul condemns two Breton priests for using portable altars in private homes and allowing women to take part in the liturgical service. Approaches to this letter have thus far focused narrowly on the behaviour of the women and what they can tell us about female ministry in the early medieval church. As a result, the portable altars have been relatively overlooked, yet it was these objects which enabled the priests to conduct services in such an irregular fashion. This article explores why portable altars were problematic for the church and why they provoked anxiety in the bishops. Although a short text, the letter tells us a great deal about what the early medieval Gallic episcopate was trying to achieve, and why bishops struggled to exert control even over the central rites of their religion.
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