Heavenly Brokers, Earthly Clients

Lead Investigator

Prof Dr Birgit Emich

This project uses the production and diffusion of the cult of saints as a case study for understanding the polycentric, layered, and tangled nature of premodern Christianities. Saint cults were frequently transferred across regional, linguistic, and confessional boundaries via the translation of relics, the circulation of texts, and the mobility of individuals. These related cultural practices provide scholars with new tools for tracing communities of interaction, redrawing denominational or confessional boundaries, or reevaluating the centrality and strength of religious hubs.


This project explores the painstaking efforts of the self-declared headquarters of Tridentine Catholicism (the Roman Curia) to manage liturgical and religious plurality while shoring up its own centrality. Curialist claims to universality in the canonisation process in Rome, as well as in the cults of saints monitored by Roman congregations, were highly dependent on petitions—an example of the highly-reactive governance style common in early modern Europe. Running beneath the public demonstrative use of papal authority were processes of negotiation and appropriation: between an institutional centre still under construction and a bewildering variety of local religious communities worldwide that catered to a variety of religious, social and political interests. Such a polycentric lens allows our team to analyse entanglements among religious centres as well as the many networks of sainthood and ecologies of worship that crisscrossed the porous boundaries of Latin Christianity.

About the picture: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of the Blessed Ludovica Alberoni (1671–1674), San Francesco a Ripa church, Rome, Italy (image: Giorgio Eusebio Petetti, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).