This talk examines how medieval woodlands around Augustinian convents could convey messages of power. The papacy threatened the Augustinian friars with suppression due to their ‘lack of antiquity’. Previous scholarship showed that in reaction to this the friars developed a fictive past in which they claimed to be founded by St Augustine. This paper instead shifts attention away from human agencies to the natural environment. It perceives natural landscapes, most prominently woodlands, as key intellectual resources which could be used as powerful assets in the polemics over the asserted antiquity of the Order. The two cornerstones of this investigation are a cluster of hermitages around Siena with a sacred ilex forest, the claimed dwelling place of the eremitical predecessors of the Augustinian friars, and the convent of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, erected on the locus of an ‘evil walnut tree’ above the tomb of Nero. This paper explores how these key spiritual centres used woodlands to display antiquity and prestige. Ultimately, this talk illuminates that, in a similar way to secular rulers and their palaces, the Augustinian friars used the natural environment in strategic ways to enhance the power of their convents.
This event is taking place both in person and online. All COVID-19 related University protocols will be in place and adhered to.
Join Zoom Meeting: https://utoronto.zoom.us/j/89812364729
Meeting ID: 898 1236 4729