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Sharing Medieval Research with the Community
A couple of weeks ago, on Saturday 17th March, a few staff in the Centre had a stall at the University’s Community Day to showcase some of the research we do relating to Exeter Cathedral. We had interest from people of all ages, asking questions about our projects, the pictures and maps we were showing, and about life in medieval Exeter more generally. Here is a short taster of the research by Sarah Hamilton, Oliver Creighton and me that was on display. We’re also in the early stages of planning a larger scale project which looks at the history, archaeology and manuscripts of Exeter Cathedral, and if you’d be interested in hearing more please feel free to get in touch with me.
Exeter Cathedral and its World: Sarah Hamilton focused on Cathedral MS 3518, a liturgical manuscript which lists, among other things, the saints commemorated by the Cathedral community each day. This includes the major Christian saints as one would expect but it also includes a number of more local saints from the South West of England, such as Nectan of Hartland and Petroc of Bodmin. Looking at these saints is one way to understand how the medieval clergy of Exeter Cathedral thought about their local history, and people had fun trying to spot the saints’ names in the images of the manuscript (surprisingly tricky: I never did find Rumon of Tavistock…).
Medieval Medicine in Exeter Manuscripts: I was looking at Cathedral MS 3519, a collection of medical treatises and recipes from the early fifteenth century, particularly some of the ones relating to pregnancy and fertility. Recipes like these are often striking for their weirdness (at least to modern eyes) – eating animals’ reproductive organs to stimulate men’s and women’s fertility, for example – but they are also a fascinating way to think about medieval people’s health concerns.
What Lies Beneath? A Geophysical Survey of Cathedral Green, Exeter: Oliver Creighton contributed some images from a geophysical survey of the Cathedral Green that he undertook last year with other staff and students from Archaeology. This was probably the most popular part of our stall, as people tried to interpret the black and white images and work out if there was a Roman road underneath the cloisters.
And if anyone wants to hear more about one of Exeter Cathedral’s most famous manuscripts, the Cathedral is holding an afternoon event celebrating the Exon Domesday on 17th April: see their website here for more details and to book.
Senior Lecturer in History
Visiting a PhD Crime Scene
In my PhD research, I am looking at the local pasts that were communicated through liturgy in the tenth century in a metropolitan city on the Moselle river: Trier. My main corpus of sources consists of prayers, sermons, hymns and hagiographical texts, all of which can be found in medieval manuscripts from this area. In order to study these manuscripts, I needed to visit Trier itself, as they were not digitized yet. Visiting the epicentre of my research, however, proved more fruitful than I had imagined.
Architecturally, the city of Trier is a strange mix of every period from the last two millennia. The Porta Nigra and a basilica from the time of Constantine the Great represent the Roman past, the cathedral and market square
represent the High Middle Ages, and numerous churches and monasteries in and around the city were rebuilt in the course of history. The city breathes its own past on every corner. It was very useful to be inside my ‘object of study’ for many reasons, not least for its insights into the local religious communities of tenth-century Trier.
Firstly, I could physically measure the distance between the religious centres of the city. Even though many churches and monasteries have changed considerably over the last thousand years, the location of these centres did not. Being able to walk from the (still-in-use) monastic centre of St. Eucharius to the cathedral in half an hour, and then going another ten minutes to the royal abbey of St. Maximin and the canonical centre of St. Paulin, I got a clear grasp of how close these centres were to each other. This would have made interaction between the different centres very likely.
Another advantage of being at the ‘crime scene’ of my research is the availability of material culture. Studying liturgical sources, I was delighted to go into the Dom Schatzkammer, where golden reliquaries just sat there, waiting to be studied. Another obligatory visit was, of course, to the Stadtbibliothek, a modern building where the medieval manuscripts are kept. After having had a look at the beautifully illuminated Ottonian manuscripts – a local guide was very keen on explaining their greatness – I got to see my original incentive for visiting Trier.
Not only the artefacts and manuscripts, but also the lay-out of churches and monasteries were enlightening. Most of the time that is… Most bizarre was my visit to the royal abbey of St. Maximin. This monastery had been enormous and thriving in the tenth century. Now, however, most of the monastic buildings are gone, and the church itself – rebuilt in the seventeenth century – functions as a gym for the local secondary school. Gym mattresses were protecting the students from painfully bumping into the massive columns of the nave, and a basketball net had replaced a statue of Christ in front of the apse.
Although in some cases, time had completely ruined the medieval ambiance, other places seem to have survived the test of time brilliantly. A large component of my research comprises the study of local patron saints, as hagiographical texts and prayers for these saints can tell us about the importance of that local saint and the role he or she played in local society. Visiting the burial places – the centres of local cults – was an important element of my stay in Trier. Entering the crypt of St. Matthias’s Abbey, and sitting down in front of the late antique sarcophagi of the first archbishop of Trier, Eucharius, and his successor, Valerius, I could not help feeling connected with all those monks and pilgrims who have been visiting this crypt to pray to the local patron for the past sixteen centuries. The feast of St. Eucharius is still celebrated by the local Benedictine community every December: continuity in its highest form.
Studying medieval history is not only studying primary sources and reading literature. Most importantly, it is an attempt at imagining a past society. This society is best understood, I believe, if you have a chance to be part of it. When I returned from my visit to Trier, I did not only bring home notes on the studied manuscripts and reliquaries, but also about the physical distance between different centres, and the ambiance of local cult sites. And, in the spirit of traveling medieval monks, I brought back the thought that – if nothing else – I will have saint Eucharius of Trier at my side on the rest of my intellectual journey.
Lenneke van Raajj, PhD Student on the HERA-funded After Empire project
Using the Past to Negotiate a Time of Change: A Medieval Perspective
Last month in the baroque splendours of the Brevnov monastery in Prague, HERA launched its third joint programme of European research on ‘Uses of the Past’. Amongst the 18 projects being funded for the next three years is one based, in part, at Exeter on Europe in the long tenth century: After Empire: Using and Not Using the Past in the Crisis of the Carolingian World, c. 900 c. 1050 (UNUP).
Charlemagne (768-814) is remembered now as the ‘father of Europe’, establishing an empire which stretched from the Atlantic to the frontiers of modern Hungary, and from the English Channel to Catalonia and Central Italy, which came to an end only in 888. In the century and a half which followed frontiers shifted, established centres became peripheral and peripheral regions became central within new power structures. A time of turmoil, social and political change, the tenth century has also, since at least the seventeenth century, been seen as witnessing the emergence of modern nations. This project seeks to go beyond these modern nationalist teleologies to provide a comparative and cross-European perspective on developments, an aim which has acquired fresh resonances since it was orginally conceived in a pre-Brexit world.
In recent decades the period of Carolingian rule has attracted a good deal of attention from scholars, but the time between the end of empire and the mid-eleventh century remains largely ignored. This three-year project (2016-19) will investigate the social, political and cultural developments in this century and a half from a fresh perspective. In early medieval Europe the absence of clear structures meant that action in the present often drew authority from claims about the past. Crises and change led to a search for legitimacy in the past. Our hypothesis is that the changing landscapes of Europe and the increase in instability and uncertainty in the long tenth century are connected to the variety and complexity of attitudes to the past manifest in sources from the time. Our aim is to explore that relationship from a number of dfferent perspectives (social, political, cultural) in order to offer a case study of post-imperial transition in a time of rapid change, and to allow comparison with uses of the past in other periods. Some members will focus on materials from areas which had been the Carolingian heartland in the ninth century whilst others will investigate the ways in which people in regions which had been peripheral, including England and Catalonia, looked to the ninth century and the Late Antique pasts to legitimise their authority.
This is a collaborative project with other members being based in Barcelona, Berlin, St Andrews and Vienna. It is an international team of 5 established scholars with 3 PhD students and 2 postdocs, and together we come from Austria, France/Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the UK.
The Exeter-based team comprises myself and Lenneke van Raaij, who has just begun her PhD, having recently complete her masters at the University of Utrecht. We will both be focussing on the plentiful liturgical manuscripts produced in this period. We’ll explore the ways in which Carolingian texts were taken up both in prestigious manuscripts, like this prayerbook made for Otto III (980-1002):
and in seemingly more practical manuscripts like this one made for Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury (960-78):
Now almost two months into the start of the project we have (almost) cleared all the bureaucratic hurdles of government and university bureaucracy to do with new appointments, and begun research, developing our plans for engagement (including a website, to be launched in the spring, and a public exhibition) and a ‘kick-off’ international conference in Berlin in May 2017.
Prof. Sarah Hamilton