Inherit the tomb

I don’t want this blog to turn simply into a recital of ‘weird things monks do’, but there are things that just have to be noticed. Such as Elisabeth R. O’Connell, ‘Transforming Monumental Landscapes in Late Antique Egypt: Monastic Dwellings in Legal Documents from Western Thebes’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 15 (2007), 239-273, which looks at the occupation by monks of sixth- and seventh-century Thebes of the necropolis there. As well as archaeological and hagiographic evidence, she also discusses monastic wills, which show the inheriting of tomb-caves:

The wills demonstrate that these tomb/cell/homes were legally treated like private property; just like oikos/domus, they were owned and inherited by the monks who lived in them. These documents are almost identical to contemporary wills concerning property inherited through biological families; however, extant wills dictated by monks living in the Theban Mountain describe the transmission of topoito members of a spiritual family.


O’Connell’s comment:

Monks living in the Theban Mountain used precisely the
same legal means and strategies as their contemporaries to maintain their
property within the “family.” But where the monks lived and the vocabulary they used to describe their dwelling places differ significantly from their neighbors.


Make your own jokes as seem appropriate… I’m just staggered again by how what we think we know about the Middle Ages is really far less extraordinary than the reality.


2 thoughts on “Inherit the tomb

  1. What this reminds me of is the Catalan and Southern French phenomenon of moving settlement in villages into the cemetery, so as to be inside the church’s sanctuary zone, usually 30 paces around, but there the motivations are rather different. Presumably this has to be wrapped with the cult of the dead somehow, doesn’t it? do these documents say anything about the occupants of the tombs? I must add this article to the unrealistic reading list…


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