Hippolytus moves to Belgrade


Just learned the other day that my abstract was accepted for the XVIII Congresso Internazionale di Archeologia Cristiana (CIAC) held in Belgrade, 2–6 September 2024. Established in 1894, this conference is the most prestigeous and important expert meeting of what used to be called ‘Christian Archaeology’. It seems, not only the term ‘Christian Archaeology’ getting a bit long in the tooth, but the congress too. The deadline for submissions was extended once, which suggests that the rush, if any, is rather moderate. Although only 196 days left according to the website as of today (19.02), no program, no keynotes, no practical info. Promising. At least the registration works. Fun fact: the conference fee can only be paid by wired bank transfer to an account in Serbia outside the euro-zone. Welcome to the 21st century.

This year’s conference tackes with “Early Christianity between Liturgical Practice and Everyday Life,” which is as promising as generic as trendy (‘lived religion’). I decided to move Hippolytus this time to Belgrade and make an attempt to contextualise the bold philosopher in ladyrobe between liturgical practice and everyday life. The abstract tells a bit more:

Piecing Together the Past: Insights of the ‘Hippolytus-Statue’ Project

The ‘Hippolytus-statue’ is a full-size three-dimensional image depicting a bearded man in philosopher’s cloak, seated on a throne holding a book. As a probably Roman copy of a Greek statue, it also displays a Paschal calendar, an Easter computus, and a list of literary works. These suggest that Christians rededicated a ‘pagan’ statue in the early third century CE. Remarkably, the statue was reappropriated during a period in which Christian intellectuals such as Tertullian (fl. 190-220 CE) fulminated against any kind of sculptures as materialised idolatry.

After its rediscovery around 1551 and its ‘restoration’ according to the plans of the Renaissance antiquarian Pirro Ligorio (1512?-1583), the statue was cherished as ‘Hippolytus’, the erudite father of the (Roman) church. The eminent Margherita Guarducci observed however, that the legs of the statue are wrapped in a Greek-style female chiton. Ever since it has been controversially discussed whether the statue was originally male or a female, and whom did it represent? What parts did the Christians reuse, and more importantly, why? What was its purpose? What precisely was rediscovered in 1551? Who came up with the idea of restoring it to ‘Hippolytus’ and why? Or is the statue merely a sixteenth-century fraud perpetrated by a talented antiquarian?

A research project (2018-2022) funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) and two workshops held in Leuven, Belgium (2021 and 2022) addressed many of these pressing issues. The aim of this paper is to showcase the most important insights of the project after a brief overview of the artefact. The presentation will conclude with some reflections about the statue’s Sitz im Leben in the milieu of early third-century Christian lived religious experiences in Rome.