The holidays on the religious calendar weren't just handed down from on high. They evolved gradually over the centuries, taking in all kinds of influences. Susan Karant-Nunn, director of the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies at the University of Arizona, and three graduate students will give talks on how the Christian calendar came to be, as part of their annual series on church history. The talks take place Sundays at 10:15 a.m. through Aug. 20 at St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church, 4440 N. Campbell Ave. All are welcome; for more information, call Luise Betterton at 626-5448 or e-mail her.

Can you give me a brief overview of this lecture series?

It was started ... a number of years ago, probably during the 1980s or, at the latest, the early '90s for--well, for what? To meet a perceived interest in the community centered on, but not confined to, the parish at St. Philip's in the Hills about the history of the (overall) church. Every year, there have been four lectures, and they've all been given until recently by advanced graduate students, my (or) Heiko A. Oberman's (former director of the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies) advanced graduate students. He (Oberman) came here in 1984 from the University of Tübingen because of his wife's health. The community noticed this, by and large--you're a newcomer to this business, but the interested community virtually all knows about this famous man who came here because of his wife's affliction. He tried to adjust to being in the desert, and one of the things he did was reach out to the community, and so he founded this lecture series every summer at St. Philip's. It has continued to this day. He died in April 2001, and I became director of the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies that summer. There was no question that this was a good idea. The only thing I wanted to do was take part myself, so I now give one of the four lectures.

What do each of these lectures examine exactly?

It just has to do with aspects of church or religious history, mostly in Europe. Every year, we try to find a slightly different topic that maybe hasn't been done before or hasn't been done recently. Last year, for example, was a history of the English Bible, the English-language Bible. This year, we're working on the church calendar. In other years past, we've worked on maybe a more literal history of the Anglican Church, king or queen by king or queen. There have really been a tremendous number of topics, but all sharing that common identity dealing with European religious history or the history of the Anglican Church.

So this year, you're focusing on holidays --is that right?

Yeah, the church calendar--the real underlining meaning is how the church calendar we know came into existence.

How did it come into existence?

Well, it's a terribly gradual thing. One could teach a year-long seminar just on this topic. You'd have to go back and look at everything from astronomy to the Roman calendar and how some of the festivities that were observed in pagan Rome actually got converted into Christian holidays. It's a very intricate story, and so, for that reason, we've really this year just picked four areas that we thought the public would be interested in.

What are you going to be focusing on in your talk?

I am going to talk about ... Lent and Easter--Carnival and Easter. I haven't written it yet; that's OK. ... But pretty soon, I'm going to turn to that subject. But I actually already know quite a lot about it. Here again, I think in Easter--I don't want to say there's a wholly pagan explanation for this, but there are various things that feed in--and one is the sense of the renewal of spring. So it really isn't surprising that Easter should fall precisely when other peoples are noticing the return of the sun and that things are turning green again, and the flowers are flowering and the birds are birding, etc. But within Christian history, naturally, it's tied very much to the doctrine of atonement.

What are some influences on Lent?

Well, this is one of the things I need to go back and check on. I'm sure there were periodic fastings and self-denials, and that's always been an aspect of Western Christianity.

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