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Cover of: The Churches are Empty, the Priests are Silent
Maria E. Doerfler

The Churches are Empty, the Priests are Silent

Section: Articles
Volume 8 (2022) / Issue 3, pp. 337-364 (28)
Published 17.03.2023
DOI 10.1628/rre-2022-0022
The necrosima, a collection of 85 Syriac funerary hymns ascribed to Ephrem the Syrian, encompasses poetry in a variety of metres, commemorating Christians of all ages, genders, social stations, and professional backgrounds. Four of the madrāshê, moreover, distinguish themselves by attending to death on a broader communal scale, namely in the context of pandemic and plague. In both form and context of preservation, these hymns were manifestly part of a community's ritual repertoire. At the same time, however, they witness to periods in which ordinary ritual pathways had broken down. In the midst of sickness and bereavement, the hymns suggest, churches stood empty, clergy mourned the loss of their brothers, even burials had ceased in light of death's relentless onslaught. This article seeks to examine contexts of disaster as spaces for reconfiguring communities' ritual practices in late antiquity, including the recovery of different models for engaging the divine.