Lenten sermon bestsellers: ordering knowledge and shaping identity in late Medieval Europe
In late medieval urban society, preaching was a crucial medium of mass-communication and identity formation. This was particularly true during Lent, when preachers addressed their audience on a daily basis in what became an intensified form of public instruction. By means of well-organized and highly evocative sermon cycles, they prepared the laity to perform powerful identitarian acts connected with Easter, such as the confession of sins, the participation in the Eucharist, and the commemoration of the Passion of Christ. This pervasive project of religious acculturation largely relied on the production and dissemination of Lenten sermon collections, first copied in hundreds of manuscripts and then printed in dozens of editions. Challenging a scholarship that has largely overlooked these pragmatic and ideologically oriented texts, I suggest to interpret them as prominent features of European late medieval culture, since – as pocket-sized encyclopaedias – they reflected and produced the shared (religious) knowledge of the time. In my presentation, I will uncover different, sometime competing, communicative strategies adopted by preachers to organize, disseminate, and impose religious and moral ideas. Moreover, I will discuss the overarching goal of my research, which aims to identify and analyse the conceptual and textual ‘infrastructure’ that supported Lenten preaching as widespread socio-religious practice, with a particular attention to those normative texts that became Lenten sermon ‘bestsellers’.