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Making an Emotional Body: Christmas in Greccio according to the Vita prima of Francis of Assisi by Thomas of Celano

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Image: Legend of St Francis, Institution of the Crib at Greccio. Artist unknown. c. 1300. Fresco in the Upper Church, San Francisco, Assisi.

Date: 11 November, 2014
Time: 6pm
Venue: The University of Melbourne, Old Arts, South Theatre
Presenter:  Prof. Piroska Nagy (Université du Québec à Montréal)

Abstract: Barbara Rosenwein elaborated the notion of emotional communities as a way of explaining the affective dimension of social and cultural groups. But how is an ‘emotional community’ born? Exploring a famous case from medieval religious history, Nagy will test the hypothesis according to which shared emotional events or processes can induce the formation of an emotional or affective community. One of the best known episodes in the life of saint Francis of Assisi is his celebration of Christmas in 1223 in the little town of Greccio. The episode is told in detail by Thomas of Celano in his first biography written in 1228-29. Later sources on Francis report the episode differently, according to their particular agenda ; and it is also included in the iconographic cycles that depict Francis’s life. Nagy’s aim in this paper is firstly, to analyse the work of emotions in the creation of communal feeling, through the careful observation of what happened in Greccio according to the first sources, and how they can be understood within the context of Franciscan history ; and secondly, to show how the transformation of the episode in later sources reveals what can be called a Franciscan politics of emotion.

Piroska Nagy is currently professor of medieval history at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), after having taught at the Université Paris I, the Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, Université de Rouen and the Central European University. She is author of Le don des larmes au Moyen Age. Un instrument spirituel en quête d’institution, Ve-XIIIe siècle (Paris: Albin Michel, 2000) and co-author, with Damien Boquet, of Sensible Moyen Age. Une histoire culturelle des émotions et de la vie affective dans l'Occident médiéval, (Paris: Seuil, forthcoming in 2015).

With Damien Boquet in 2006, Nagy launched the first French research project on the history of emotions, EMMA, Emotions in the Middle Ages: and coedited with D. Boquet Émotions médiévales (2007); Le sujet des émotions au Moyen Âge (2009); Politiques des émotions au Moyen Âge (2010); La chair des émotions au Moyen Âge (2011).

Her current research centres on the relation between collective religious emotions in the medieval West and historical change.