Postgraduate showcase

Lecture Room 8 - Arts Building
Arts and Law, Research
Wednesday 15th November 2017 (16:00-18:00)
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  • Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages Seminar series
  • Speaker: Georgina Fitzgibbon (Birmingham) - 'Cistercians and Sacred Matter: Engagement with the Cult of Saints in the Twelfth Century'
  • Speaker: Ian Styler (Birmingham) - ‘Communicating by Other Means: Material Culture as a Mechanism for Cult Promotion’

All staff and students are welcome to attend.


'Cistercians and Sacred Matter: Engagement with the Cult of Saints in the Twelfth Century' - Georgina Fitzgibbon

This paper will consider the role of posthumous miracles in Cistercian relic cults. The regular accounts of the prohibition of posthumous miracles to prevent a surge in pilgrimage to tombs, demonstrate a concern with the audience for saints’ cults, a desire to minimise disruption in the cloister, and reflect the emphasis the order placed on obedience and humility. The case studies of the cults of St Bernard of Clairvaux, St Waltheof of Melrose, St Edmund of Abingdon, and St Robert of Newminster will highlight the range of responses Cistercian communities had towards relics and access to lay pilgrims. While some communities restricted access to saint’s tombs and propagated miracle stories that emphasised the restriction of the saint’s efficacy to the Cistercian community, others allowed lay supplicants into the church or chapter house to plead for intercession. Thus, though incorporation did play a role in introducing variation into the devotional practice of the order in the twelfth century, from the order’s establishment in 1098 the practice of individual houses varied from each other and diverged from the statutes of the general chapter.

"Communicating by Other Means: Material Culture as a Mechanism for Cult Promotion" - Ian Styler

Evidence of saintly intervention proliferates within the miracle stories and hagiographies that have been produced by the monastic communities promoting the saint with whom they were linked.  However, in times of limited literacy, of equal importance in getting the message across to the laity were the images and material culture of the saint that people saw as they approached a shrine or entered a church.  Statuary, stained glass windows, wall paintings, and images on rood screens were important tools that the clergy had at their disposal to reinforce the lessons and behaviours they wished to impart.  This paper will use examples of the material culture associated with the Anglo-Saxon saint Æthelthryth of Ely to contextualise the particular messages of chastity and virtue that these objects were trying to convey, and will show how through them her reach was extended not only in the vicinity of Ely but also further afield.  Finally, the paper will discuss whether the objects’ geographical spread can be interpreted as part of a co-ordinated strategy to promote and enhance Æthelthryth’s influence across East Anglia, especially in the light of competition from other nearby shrines.