Religious Marking of Disaster Spaces: Late-Medieval Processions and Inscriptions in Erfurt and Frankfurt as Memory Strategies for Climate-Induced Natural Extreme Events


Martin Bauch (Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe, Leipzig)




Goethe University Frankfurt (Campus Westend) and Zoom Meeting

In late medieval Central Europe, the memory of disasters such as floods, famines and outbreaks of plague was preserved in religious contexts with a clear spatial component. With Frankfurt as an example, this talk will anchor disaster memory in space via the annual commemorative procession for the so-called St. Mary Magdalene’s flood in 1342. In the urban space of Erfurt and its surroundings, there were mass graves, inscriptions, patronages, and processions, which kept alive for many centuries the memory of mass mortality due to a famine in the 1310s and on the occurrence of the Black Death in 1350. In both cases, municipal governments pursued a deliberate commemorative policy that, far from serving only a specific, timely coping mechanism to an external shock, reshaped memory according to the changing needs of the times and thus preserved it over long periods of time, as far as the twentieth century. Thus, these late medieval practices of remembering extreme natural events and their societal consequences are among the most enduring practices of disaster memory anywhere. Significantly, while these practices are religious in origin and content, they are largely subject to the priorities of secular actors in their targeting and shaping.

This presentation was part of the POLY Lecture Series on “Space and Religion II”, held in the winter term of 2023 and 2024. Click here for more information.

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