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Living image of pity: Mimetic violence, peace-making and salvific spectacle in the flagellant processions of the later Middle Ages

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Chapter Summary

This chapter revisits one of the most notorious manifestations of religious enthusiasm in the very enthusiastic Later Middle Ages, a lay revivalist movement with its own dramaturgy of redemptive action and its own living images of sanctity: the penitential processions staged by organized groups of flagellants during the two crisis-times of 1260-61 and 1348-49. After some preliminary comments on the emergence of new models of lay sanctity and the interconnections between spectacle, visual culture and violence in the later Middle Ages, the chapter reviews the origins, development, and character of the first flagellant processions in northern Italy in 1260-61. The chapter offers a synthetic reconstruction and analysis of the flagellant liturgy as a form of salvific spectacle, a ritual centred on christomimetic bloodshed and pain and designed to inspire empathetic identification between performers and audience.

Keywords: christomimetic bloodshed; crisis-times; flagellant processions; later middle ages; mimetic violence; peace-making; religious enthusiasm



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