In this provocative book Éric Rebillard challenges many
long-held assumptions about early Christian burial customs. For
decades scholars of early Christianity have argued that the Church
owned and operated burial grounds for Christians as early as the
third century. Through a careful reading of primary sources
including legal codes, theological works, epigraphical
inscriptions, and sermons, Rebillard shows that there is little
evidence to suggest that Christians occupied exclusive or isolated
burial grounds in this early period.
In fact, as late as the fourth and fifth centuries the Church
did not impose on the faithful specific rituals for laying the dead
to rest. In the preparation of Christians for burial, it was
usually next of kin and not representatives of the Church who were
responsible for what form of rite would be celebrated, and evidence
from inscriptions and tombstones shows that for the most part
Christians didn't separate themselves from non-Christians when
burying their dead. According to Rebillard it would not be until
the early Middle Ages that the Church gained control over burial
practices and that "Christian cemeteries" became common.
In this translation of Religion et Sépulture: L'église, les
vivants et les morts dans l'Antiquité tardive, Rebillard
fundamentally changes our understanding of early Christianity.
The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity will force scholars
of the period to rethink their assumptions about early Christians
as separate from their pagan contemporaries in daily life and
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