The Politics of Body Parts: Contested Topographies in Late-Medieval Avignon

The Politics of Body Parts: Contested Topographies in Late-Medieval Avignon

By Joëlle Rollo-Koster

Speculum, Vol. 78, No. 1 (2003)

Introduction: When urban archaeologists discuss topography, they detail the configuration of antique cities from a broad base that often covers features like their art and architecture, literature, religion, history, coinage, geography, politics, and other physical and cultural features.

Similarly this essay discusses the topography of late-medieval Avignon during the Great Western Schism, relying on a portrayal of urban features that are familiar to archaeologists. I will investigate architecture, buildings, and space but also institutions, the judicial system, secular and religious literature of the period, and symbolic words and actions to argue that during the “subtraction of obedience,” the period of withdrawal of French adherence to the antipope Benedict XIII, Avignon’s competing authorities accompanied their political assaults and conquests with conscious use and alteration of the city’s civic space.

This essay therefore addresses how space was redefined and manipulated, during a period of political disturbance, to advance competing claims of political control. I explore the utilization of space as an apparatus of power in order to facilitate comprehension of certain events that took place in Avignon during the schism.

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