Why Christianity put away its dancing shoes – only to find them again centuries later

Despite centuries of dance prohibitions that came from church councils, ancient and medieval Christians would not stop dancing. Ritual manuals of the 13th century and beyond reveal how church authorities turned dance to the service of Christendom.

Within the spaces of churches, cathedrals and shrines, dance could help generate collective worship. For example, following healing miracles that saints supposedly enacted, community members would erupt into song and dance. From the church’s point of view, such pious performances could actually enhance orthodoxy. In other words, dance could work in the service of conversion and rituals. …

Since at least the ninth century, dance became integrated into Christian devotion. During pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Faith, a child martyr from the third century who had a strong following in medieval France, Christians would break into dancing and singing.

And 13th-century friar Francis of Assisi was said to dance in a dramatic fashion while preaching. For Francis, who was later canonized as a saint, it animated his image.

Actual dances began to be performed in churches and cathedrals during public worship. Ritual manuals from the 13th century testify to a variety of dances that Christians and clergy performed during sacred days, especially during Christmas and Easter.

By Kathryn Dickason, University of Southern California for The Conversation

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