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Theater and the Sacred in the Middle Ages

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Andrzej Dąbrówka

The book presents a theory of relationships between the forms of devotion
and early drama genres. The historical background is the circumstances of the Church becoming independent of the Empire. A theological and philosophical aspect of the transformation of piety at the time was the specification of the ontological status of the sacred (spiritualization) and "shifting it to Heaven" (transcendentalization). In opposition to a theory of Western civilization as a process of increasing individual self-control, the author argues for the need to take into account purely religious conditions (the idea of recapitulation). This allows the author to develop a holistic aesthetics for the religiously inspired creativity in the period spanning the 11th-15th centuries and to propose a new typology of medieval drama.

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9. The Stages of Spiritualization

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At first, we have a belief in the omnipresence of the sacred – not only in the Scriptures – but it is not yet ontologically diversified from the profane. Before we begin to construct an overarching scheme, let us consider a small section for a brief overview of the process.

1. AN EXAMPLE OF SPIRITUALIZATION. Even such a remarkably popular form of piety as pilgrimage was subject to spiritualization. After the period of prosperity and stability in the thirteenth century (see chapter 1), new places of pilgrimage no longer emerge from the worship of relics. Instead of new relics, the pilgrims seek Marian sanctuaries associated with the worship of Madonna238 and the growing faith in miracles through her intercession. The number of Marian sanctuaries quickly multiplies, so that in the Middle Ages everyone has them within a day’s reach (Chélini, Branthomme 1996: 164).239 We observe the phase of total spiritualization in the fifteenth century – especially in the circle of Devotio Moderna – during which many incline to the Benedictine idea of a spiritual pilgrimage,240 which one may conduct by walking around a monastery, a house, a city, or any area. One may support the illusion of traveling in the imagination with imitations of famous places, figures, and paintings (Chélini, Branthomme 1996: 165); finally, with special book guides.241 Due to its inaccessibility to many ←127 | 128→ordinary believers, the monastic life itself gained its spiritual form, preserved in the ideal of the Religion of the Heart...

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