TEMA: Burial Practices Determine Modern City Population Density

“The Touch of Death: Contamination and Urban Spaces in Toledo”
Mariana Hartenthal
Southern Methodist University

PhD student
“Perceived Space, Searching for the X Definition” journal article

spiritual practices shaped the city
urban area in occupational Toledo “la Vega Baja del Tejo”
not many people lived there

In Toledo today, la Vega Baja pattern is different from the rest of the city. It is not as densely populated. What does that mean? What can an empty space in a city show us?

Older maps of Toledo
El Greco 1610
Vega Baja del Tejo was not populated until after WWI.

Roman acropolis found. That is outside the town, on the margins of the road.
No cremation could take place in the city.
Priest carried a plow to determine edge of a city.
This was also the theater area.

Archaeological excavations were used after the Romans as burials too.
Early Christians continued Roman experience of placing the cemetery outside the city.

Bringing the dead closer to the living. Christians began to bring the dead inside the city walls, near the churches. Mausoleums began to be built over the graves.

Significance of worship for body parts of dead saints became very strong during 3rd and 4th C.
Only happens with some kind of contact, as in the word contagion, which means to touch.
The relic, the body of the saint, purifies the surrounding space.
In purity … emanated a purifying force… Reinforces the belief in the bringing holiness/attraction of relics.

Temple now known as the Church of Santa Leocadia “de afuera” usually built as a basilica for the saint. It was destroyed after the Visigoths. This is 16th C.
A relic located inside city walls brought more people living closer. Formal inhumation known as “adsantos”
Sometimes a massive number of corpses in one place.
This move towards the temple was not looked on favorably by the church. 561 work said not to de-purify the saintly relics. The stinky bad contamination of dead bodies was negative.
Decaying bodies/ cadavers are not inherently dangerous.
Even bodies of people killed by infection are less dangerous than living contaminated.

Psychologists explain contamination experience as fear and avoidance.
People would refuse to use a glass in which they saw a cockroach.
We tend to think of such a visceral response as innate. But small children are not usually disgusted by fecal matter. So it’s a cultural response.

For medieval Christians, the sanctifying relics was better than the possible contamination of the decaying bodies. So Christians lived near to the church.

The acropolis came closer to town when a wall was created. Then when mausoleums came, it became even more part of town.

Christians proximity to dead was attacked by Muslims and Jews by a “rhetoric of disgust.”
Spain’s history is riddled with repugnant descriptions of Christian church, because of the corpses placed in churches.

inter-city burial sites were the exceptions for Muslims or Jews

Vega Baja had Muslim and Jewish burials. Cemeteries were later abandoned and tombstones were destroyed.
Maintained its funeral ramifications.
Inquisition used the area to execute heretics.

The Vega is a reminder that space is shaped by non-pragmatic influences and despite its apparent emptiness, it is not devoid of historic meaning.


Low area
Is it possible it is subject to flooding?
Why Romans put the Coliseum there, because flooding.
Also might imply unhealthful place because of sloughs and stuff.

yes, that is what I first thought.

I didn’t find any references to floods at all.
Many, many references to the huge size of the cemetery.
That wasn’t a deterministic fact.
No one discussed it at all.
It’s not that bad. Not bad enough to explain the rejection.

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