Friday, 30 April 2010

Ireland in Cambridge

ELB writes:

This week Cambridge has been a hive of Irish-related activity. Events began on Monday with a seminar given to the Medieval Archaeology group at the McDonald Institute by Dr Kieran O'Connor, of the National University of Ireland Galway, on élite Gaelic settlements in Ireland in the high Middle Ages. This was followed by the Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture, organised by the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic in assocation with Hughes Hall, which this year was given by Prof. Marie-Therese Flanagan of Queen's University, Belfast. Prof. Flanagan spoke on the twelfth-century ecclesiastical reform movement in Ireland, highlighting Ireland's manifold connections with England and continental Europe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Prof. Flanagan noted the poor survival rate of sources from Ireland itself at this time, and pointed out that the very good survival rate of evidence from centres such as Canterbury may lead us to overestimate the importance of that Metropolitan See for the ecclesiastical reform movement, in comparison with other potentially significant centres, such as the Regensburg Schottenkloster, from which fewer sources survive.

One of the few reform documents to have survived from Ireland is Gille (Gilbert) of Limerick's De statu ecclesiae, one copy of which survives in a Durham manuscript, and the other surviving copy of which is now preserved in Cambridge University Library and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Prof. Flanagan spoke in detail about Gille's tract, identifying a number of its sources and their links to the Continental reform movement, and she also highlighted Gille's emphasis on reform at the parish level, and his focus on priests and on women.

Cormac's Chapel, Cashel - the architectural embodiment of ecclesiastical reform in Ireland

On the same occasion as Prof. Flanagan's erudite lecture, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic also celebrated the publication of last year's Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture, given by Dr Colmán Etchingham, National University of Ireland Maynooth, entitled The Irish 'Monastic Town': Is this a Valid Concept?  The lecture is available from our Departmental Secretary for a modest sum, and its publication was launched by our Head of Department, Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, in the presence of the cultural attaché of the Irish Embassy in London, Mr Ciaran Byrne.

As if this was not enough, Monday's events were followed by a fascinating seminar as part of the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies series, which meets regularly at Magdalene College under the direction of Prof. Eamon Duffy. At this most recent seminar, Dr Meidhbhín Ní Úrdail, of University College Dublin, spoke about the prolific scribal culture which existed in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland. Indeed, aside from Iceland, one would be hard-pressed to think of another region in which scribal culture enjoyed such vibrant and creative life so late into the modern age. Dr Ní Úrdail's paper focused in particular on one text ('The Battle of Clontarf') which exists in almost ninety different modern manuscript copies, and she demonstrated the creative engagement of the scribes who copied the text, resulting in virtually every manuscript copy of the text containing textual variants to a greater or lesser degree (thus rendering her task, as editor of the text, that much more difficult!).

Our Irish week continued with Dr Deborah Hayden, Lecturer in Modern Irish in the Department, giving a seminar on 'Poetic Law and the Medieval Irish Linguist' at Hughes Hall on Wednesday, and that is followed today by Dr Denis Casey, who will be giving a Research Seminar to ASNC on his work towards a new critical edition of the 'Annals of Clonmacnoise'. It has been an exhausting but intellectually stimulating and immensely rich week, and is testimony to the strength and diversity of medieval Irish studies in Cambridge.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The early medieval world rocks.

ELB writes:

From Christopher Lee's Charlemagne-themed concept album, to the Wild Beast's contemporary take on the Exeter Book poem Wulf and Eadwacer, we applaud manifestations of early medieval culture in modern music. Any suggestions of classic ASNC-related songs or albums gratefully received (aside from the entire genre of folk metal), but in the meantime, here's the great Christopher Lee talking about his Charlemagne album:

Friday, 9 April 2010

Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture 2010, in association with Hughes Hall

On Monday 26th April, at 5.45pm, the 2010 Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture will take place in the Pavillion Room at Hughes Hall, Cambridge.

Prof. Marie Therese Flanagan, Professor of Medieval History at Queen's University, Belfast, will speak on:
Reform in the twelfth-century Irish Church: a revolution of outlook?

The Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture is given annually, in association with Hughes Hall, in memory of Kathleen Hughes who, at the time of her death in 1977, was Reader in Celtic in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, University of Cambridge.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Croch Saithir: envisioning Christ on the Cross in the early medieval west

ELB writes:

Last week I was in Cork for a two-day conference on 'envisioning Christ on the Cross in the early medieval west'. This was organised as part of a wider research project, currently ongoing at UCC, to explore Christ's Passion as it was understood, depicted, and re-created in early medieval literature, art and liturgical practice. The project has a particular focus on Ireland, in its European context. This was brought out fully at the conference, where it was shown that - contrary to popular misconceptions about the nature of medieval Irish Christianity - developments in Ireland were very much in tune with those elsewhere in Europe. Art historians from Italy, Spain and Germany gave very interesting papers on crucifixion iconography, while liturgists spoke about the role of the narrative of the Passion within the daily rhythms of the Church, particularly in relation to the Eucharist. However, in the interests of brevity I shall focus on the papers of relevance to all things Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic.

'Christ on the Cross', Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, 12th cent.

The conference opened with a plenary lecture from Jennifer O'Reilly, who spoke on 'The mystery of the cross and the identity of Christ', which was a tour de force of art historical and textual scholarship, focusing on the earliest representations of the Crucifixion in Insular manuscripts. Also of note was Salvador Ryan's fascinating paper on depictions of the Crucifixion in later medieval Gaelic bardic poetry, and Juliet Mullins' re-assessment of the 'Passions and Homilies' in the Leabhar Breac, a fifteenth-century Irish religious miscellany. Carol Neuman de Vegvar re-visited the Blytheburgh Tablet, examining its possible function as a liturgical diptych, and Amy Miller, a doctoral student at Toronto, argued that the Gosforth Crucifixion, an inscribed stone preserved in Cumbria, should be read not as a Christian monument at all, but rather as a Pagan imitation of Christian artistic forms - I expect that the Christian/non-Christian interpretations of the Gosforth sculptural corpus constitute part of a debate that will continue to rage, but Ms Miller made some interesting points regarding whether or not an overtly Christian symbol, such as a cross, would always have been seen by its audience in fully Christian terms. Richard Hawtree's paper on Eriugena's Carmina for Charles the Bald was an excellent reminder that medieval Ireland's greatest philosopher was also a significant poet, whose poetic works deserve wider attention, and Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh's assessment of Crucifixion iconography on Irish Romanesque sculpture raised significant questions about the relationships between episcopal and royal authority in Ireland during the time of the ecclesiastical reform movement of the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries.

All in all, it was a great event, with an extremely high standard of papers. Most significantly, the conference demonstrated Ireland's engagement with, and contributions to, the mainstream of European cultural and artistic trends, as manifested in medieval Christianity's devotion to Christ's suffering on the Cross.