Workshop “Bishops – Leaders and Ministers, Judges and Diplomats, Scholars and Saints” (organised by Dorothea Weltecke, Ralph Barczok, and Bernd Andreas Vest)







The episcopal office is a shared feature of Christianities around the globe. This of course also holds true for medieval times. Although the office originates from a common set of sources, the duties and the tasks of the bishop vary greatly in scope. The reasons for such variation include the actual political situation, the social and cultural interactions, and the regional as well as religious background. What power did bishops wield as political agents, as judges, or as counsellors? How and with whom did they interact, and for which purposes? What was expected of a newly elected bishop and which were the categories by which individuals were deemed good candidates for the episcopacy? How did that change the actual form of the office? For whom was the episcopal office desirable at all, and why? Were there other offices that took over episcopal duties by force or necessity? In times of political unrest, bishops assumed political leadership in their residential cities, such as in early medieval Gaul and in the Middle East after the Muslim conquest. They even participated in military activities. As physicians, scholars, and diplomats, they became influential agents in the courts of rulers. In certain regions they acted as judges within their own parish even in secular cases. But in other instances their importance was overshadowed by that of mighty abbots or powerful rulers so that bishops found themselves reduced to liturgical functions. At times the title of bishop was even taken up by other institutions and stripped of all religious meanings.


The workshop in Frankfurt from February 24–25, 2022 focused on the many faces the episcopal office could assume in the course of the Middle Ages (ca. 700–1400) beyond the traditional theological and canonical interpretation of the transmitted sources. It sought to cover a broad geographical area, ranging from al-Andalus to Iraq and from the Caucasus to Ethiopia.

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