The Uses of the Desert in the Sixth-Century West

in Church History and Religious Culture
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Abstract

This essay surveys the cultural uses of the Egyptian desert in western ascetic culture across the fifth and sixth centuries. Challenging the commonly-held assumption that the desert was effectively suppressed by clerical hierarchies or monastic communities in the West, the essay argues that the institutions of the episcopacy and the monastery, the twin pillars of the medieval Church, in fact sought to lay their foundations squarely in the memory of the desert. The bishops selected for discussion are Caesarius of Arles, Fulgentius of Ruspe, and Gregory of Tours; the monastic communities are those described in the Life of the Jura Fathers and the Rule of Saint Benedict.

The Uses of the Desert in the Sixth-Century West

in Church History and Religious Culture

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