Alfred-Louis Delattre and the Quest for Christian Martyrs: The Politics of Christian Archaeology in the Late 19th Century

Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:50 PM
Columbia 7 (Washington Hilton)
Bonnie Effros, University of Liverpool and University of Florida

In the 1870s, Alfred-Louis Delattre arrived in Tunisia as a missionary, where he became chaplain of the church of St. Louis of Carthage under the aegis of Cardinal Lavigerie's program to expand conversion efforts among the indigenous population of Berbers and Arabs. While there, he launched investigations among the ruins of ancient Carthage, including excavations of the ancient Roman arena in which Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions were martyred in 203. In this paper, I will examine the place of Delattre's efforts in the context of contemporary French and Italian efforts to engage in "Christian archaeology", which I will argue were motivated in large part by the desire to compose a Christian history of the former Roman empire. These histories, written largely by clerics, offered a counter-narrative to the nationalist histories being composed during the Third Republic and Italian unification.