ugur kansi

Ritualization of Ritual and Religious Music: The Case of Priestess Barbara’s Peace Ritual at the Antioch Catholic Church


ugur aslan


Uğur Aslan is a lecturer at Trabzon University.


Defining ritual is one of the most complicated tasks in relation to functional behaviors in our daily life. What makes a categorization of behaviors a ritual? Is standardization, repetition, being pragmatic, and figurativeness sufficient to name a practice as a ritual? In relation to these questions, scholars also have begun to discuss the term secular ritual. Indeed, in many cases sacred and secular features coexist in a cultural practice to an extent that it is difficult to determine each one separately.

Ritual, including secular forms of it, might be interpreted in many different ways. Many researchers have started to take daily activities into the concept of ritual within the performance studies. Although ritual means a lot in this sense, the notion of performance unites the different kinds of ritual under a single roof. Through this skylight, as it were, I concentrate on the concept of ritualization. This entails conceptualising ritual as a performative process.

My aim is to investigate how music functions in the process of ritualization in the case of the ritual of priestess Barbara at the Antioch Catholic Church, Turkey. Although scholars define ritual as dynamic in terms of structure, meaning, iconic representations and metaphors, thinking about the process of ritualization gives attention to the relations between social agents and the performance practices in the ritual. In this context, as Travis Jackson (2012: 139, 141) indicates, the concept of ritualization puts an emphasis on the creation, transmission, the transformation of social memory, identity, musicking and the habit of social agents.

Priestess Barbara Kallasch was assigned to Antioch Catholic Church in 1976 and since that time she practices the “Peace Ritual” on 29 June every year. Antioch is also accepted as one of the pilgrimage places by the Vatican in 1963. On 29 June many Christians around the world gather in Antioch, at the St. Pierre Church known as the first place where the followers of Jesus were called as Christians. Thus, Kallasch’s ritual began to be practiced since 1976 on this date and after 1993 Antioch Polyphonic Choir began to take part in this ritual by singing the chosen hymns in different languages such as Arabic, Turkish, Latin and Hebrew. With this repertoire, they aim to give a message of peace for all people and at the same time present a multicultural and peaceful environment to the Antioch visitors. This religious ritual involves also the disposition of agents and the construction of power in order to convey the message of ritual through performance.

Describing Ritual

The interpretation of a ritual in academic works varies according to different perspectives from different disciplines. One of the most commonly held approach is the structuralist perspective of Arnold Van Gennep (2004) and Victor Turner (1966) for rituals. Turner focused on the roles of social actors in a ritual while passing from one stage to another. Although Van Gennep and Turner talk about the stages in terms of the rites of passages, the concepts of liminality and communitas coined by Victor Turner are still part of the structuralist way of thinking a ritual.

Current descriptions of ritual have centred on covering the secular forms as well. For instance, Jon Mitchell (2010: 617) describes ritual as different forms of action from daily life. At the same time, Ellen Dissanayake (2006: 33) maintains that ritual is a wide assortment of acts and beliefs. These definitions apply to daily life activities as well as religious forms. As a result of this approach, scholars take secular regulated acts into ritualized activities as part of secular performances.

Ray Rappaport (1992: 249–250) argues that the definitions of ritual are utilized from three different features: a form of structure, performance, and sequences of formal acts. These features draw scholars to observe communication through ritual performance and messages encoded in rituals. From this stance, the static aspect of ritual has changed as invariant, flexible features of ritualistic performance are taken into account. In this sense, the ritual is not only a form or structure but a performance where its message is recreated at every turn. Rappaport (1992: 249,250) interestingly notes that “if there is no performance, there is no ritual”. He also refers to variable and invariable features of ritual in terms of messages conveyed through performance.

Messages and signs carried by ritual allow creating a space for communication. In this space, performance as a medium takes part in the ritual and transmits the ritualistic messages. Indeed, communication is one of the most crucial concepts in interpreting the ritual as performative acts. Thus rituals are not only static forms but also flexible complex structures where messages are conveyed through performance. According to Richard Schechner (1995: 228), “rituals are not safe deposit vaults of accepted ideas but in many cases dynamic performative systems generating new materials and recombining traditional actions in new ways”. In this sense, communication occurs during the performance in ritual and it is a crucial part of the concept of ritualization as well.

Communication, Performance, and the Process of Ritualization

Current debates about ritual and the process of ritualization show that communication is the sine qua non in this performative system. According to Elizabeth Bell (2008: 8), there are two sorts of communication: “the transmission model of communication” and “the ritual model of communication. Citing Carey (1988: 15), Bell maintains that “[t]ransmission model of communication is a process whereby messages are transmitted and distributed in space for the control of distance and people” (Bell 2008:7). Thus, “the ritual model of communication radically departs from that commonly held notion of communication, defined here as “a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed” (Bell 2008: 8). The transmission model of communication is strongly tied to the term “power”. In this context, transmitting a message and communicating it has a pragmatic meaning. In the ritual model of communication, as opposed to the transmission model, there is a symbolic meaning that represents a shared belief. Bell (2008: 8) connects this model also to performance.

The ritual model of communication might be applied to many diverse performances from religious acts to secular popular music practices. Performance is one of the key features in these models of communication that cannot be divided. Thus, the concept of ritualization includes performance and communication in relation to both transmission and ritual model. Thinking about the process of ritualization foregrounds the relations between the social agents and the performance practices of ritual. Ritualization emphasizes the creation and recreation of ritual through performance. In many cases, the production of new materials transforms the social memory and transmits new messages and new meanings. In addition to this, the concept of ritualization makes it clear that people create new materials and attach a new meaning to cultural practices. For this reason, the habits of social agents and their identity are a crucial part of ritualization. In terms of music, ‘musicking’ (Small 1998: 9) is also part of the process of ritualization, thus carrying the current aspects of ritual in academic discussions including dynamic structure, communication, and performance.

One of the most important features of ritualization is that it creates a space in order to transmit the message that allows the creation of power relationships. According to Catherine Bell (2009: 197), “ritualization is first and foremost a strategy for the construction of the certain type of power relationships effective within a particular social organization”. She further drives us to think about the interplay of fundamental strategies of power in rituals (Bell 2009: 204).

“Ritualization also involves the differentiation and privileging of particular activities”, Bell (2009: 204–205) maintains, and continues by describing ritualization as “a ‘way of acting’ that makes distinctions like the foregoing ones by means of culturally and situationally relevant categories and nuances”. Clearly, ritualization involves the construction of power relationships as well as the creation of a space for the performance in order to convey the message of the ritual. Besides that, ritualization might be part of the sacred and secular acts as well as the spaces intersected with these two domains. Indeed, the peace ritual of Priestess Barbara conveys a specific message which includes sacred and secular elements as well as attempting to construct power relationships.

Barbara’s Peace Ritual in Antioch Catholic Church

Barbara Kallasch is one of the main social actors in the process of ritualization of peace ritual in the city of Antioch, Turkey. She was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1956 and went to Taizé Monastery in France in 1974. The monastery was founded in 1940 by Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche (a.k.a. Brother Roger), and it has been deemed as one of the most important sites of Christian pilgrimage, with “tens of thousands of young pilgrims flock[ing]” each year “to the small village of Taizé in central France to share in the community’s way of life” (BBC 2014). Kallasch herself recalls that “in 1975 while staying at the Taize Monastery I was thinking of a place where I could meet Abrahamic religions through music. While going to Jerusalem I passed through Antioch where I saw a mosque, a church, and a synagogue sharing the same garden” (cited in Suna 2014: 422). In 1977, the Catholic Church in Antioch was established and she decided to live and serve there.

Kallasch adapted the practice of Taizé worship ritual in the Antioch Catholic Church. The founder of Taizé, Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche, used to make the same worship ritual also in France. Their joint aim was to establish peace between the Catholics and the Protestants. Later on they also added an Orthodox repertoire in their ritual, thus broadening the aim of the ritual to bring peace around the world. While at the beginnings of the Antioch Catholic Church only Catholic hymns from Taizé were performed, subsequently new compositions and local melodies were added in the rituals in order to get the attention of different ethnicities and religious groups living in Antioch (Suna 2014: 422). This shows two different dimensions of the ritual: Antioch as a place has an impact on the ritual, and the multicultural environment of the place allows creating a syncretic performance for the message of peace. These features of Kallasch’s ritual reveal that the practice involves communication as a performative system.

One of the static features of the ritual is that it has been held on Mondays and Thursdays since the 1980s, and thus it is as calendrical and repetitive as many other sacred rituals. In 1986, Kallasch restored an old Antioch House into “Peace House” where she holds “Peace Rituals”. Her aim was to advocate peace and spread the message to everyone in Antioch where Abrahamic religions would meet peacefully through the ritual. The relation between place and the ritual practice signals the secular meaning of the message through performing the religious repertoire which expressed the sacred meaning of the ritual. Orthodox, Catholics, Armenian, Jewish, Assyrian, Sunni, Alevi and Hindu texts and songs are part of the repertoire. However, the songs are chosen on the basis of the message of peace. In addition, also “secular” pieces are performed in the ritual such as the choral setting of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and Fazıl Say’s “Memory of Hiroshima” from Nazım Hikmet Oratorio. Western notation is used for all songs.


Picture 1: Barbara Kallasch at the Peace House in Antioch (Çakır 2019).

The usage of the western notation and polyphonic texture of music reveal the ideological background of the peace ritual. Sezgin Suna, the conductor of Antioch Polyphonic Choir, has joined the peace ritual with his choir in 1993. After this, the repertoire of the peace ritual has been sung in four-part polyphonic texture. According to Suna (personal interview, June 2014), Western classical music is a universal constant and the message of peace might be conveyed through the style. In this sense, the chosen musical style is also pragmatic in the same way the repertoire is chosen.

Antioch as a place and space of the peace ritual contributes to providing the creation of historical narrative for the practice. In 1963, Vatican under the leadership of Pope Paul VI announced the St. Pierre Church as one of sanctioned pilgrimage places, and every year on 29 June Christians from around the world gather there. On this date, “The Peace Ritual” takes place at the St. Pierre Church instead of “Peace House”. It is nevertheless allowed to change the place of ritual according to the calendrical phase. Clearly, the place does not affect the meaning of the ritual. Hence, “Antioch” as space is a crucial tool for the message of peace as well as communication through the ritual.


Picture 2: St. Pierre Church, Antioch (source:

The rehearsals for 29 June ritual start two weeks before. This is the most crucial part of the peace ritual in terms of the connection to the concepts of ritualization and performance. Indeed, for these two weeks, participants rehearse every day as if they were preparing for a concert. At the same time, this special date is an opportunity to convey the message of the ritual to the visitors from outside of Antioch. I took part in the choir of the peace ritual in 2014 and engaged in participant-observation. The message of peace is not only conveyed through music but also through symbols and objects. For instance, the peace ritual was held once at the Armenian Church in Batıayaz Village, 22 kilometers away from Antioch on 28 June 2014 due to restoration of the St. Pierre Church (Agos 2013). On this date, at the end of the ritual, a children’s choir gave olive branches to all the participants as a symbol of peace. While performing this symbolic action, they were singing “zeytin dalı versinler evleri süsleyelim” (‘Let’s decorate the houses with the olive branches’).


Picture 3: Peace Ritual at the Batıayaz Armenian Church (source:

The message of peace is also implicated in construction of power relationships in the ritual. This becomes particularly evident during the St. Pierre Feast (29 June), as the ritual is covered on the local television channels and in newspapers through its message as well as representing Antioch as a multicultural and peaceful “space” through the participants and state officials such as district governer (Yazar 2017; Güney 2017). With the process of ritualization, the peace ritual also takes place between secular and sacred. Performance shows this dichotomy clearly. For instance, at the daily choir practices for the St. Pierre Feast, Sezgin Suna asks the visitors to not clap after the end of the performance because of the ritualistic nature of the practice.

Although there is a flexibility in terms of performance during the peace ritual, there are also static elements. For instance, the order of ritual does not change according to date or place. The ritual starts with three hymns from three Abrahamic religions. It continues with readings from the Holy Book or Islamic Sufism such as Mevlana, Yunus Emre, and Hacı Bektaş-I Veli. Then, one hymn from any religious source is sung. After the hymn, they keep five minutes silence meditating for the world peace. Although one may think that five minutes is a long time to be quiet in one place, the environment allows the creation of a special soundscape which contributes to the message of peace. For instance, Batıayaz Armenian Church is located in a village where there are no city noises. During this “silent” time, people only can hear the sounds of the birds which possibly creates a peaceful feeling.

After the silent time, a poem about peace is read, and it might be secular as well. At the end of the ritual, guests can contribute by sharing a story or their wishes, and they sing a closing hymn or a peace song. Regarding the order of the ritual, it is evident that every part of the ritual is specifically chosen for the message of peace and that together they create power relationships in order to advocate peace from Antioch through communication and performance in the process of ritualization. Consequently, Kallasch’s Peace Ritual is a unique example of ritualization in terms of sacred/secular, static/flexible, performance, communication, and construction of power relationships.


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Source of the cover photo: