Monday 13 January 2014

Workshop Report: ‘The Hagiography of Conversion'

From Robert Gallagher and Sarah Waidler (both ASNC PhD students):

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and the Leverhulme Trust Project ‘Converting the Isles’ supported a workshop that took place in the English Faculty on November 27th, 2013. The aim of the workshop was to consider recent, on-going and future research concerning Insular saints, their cults and hagiographies. The day began with a wonderfully thought-provoking presentation by Professor Pádraig Ó Riain, who argued that the Irish O’Donohue Lives make far more sense as products of the twelfth century (or later) than the eighth or ninth centuries, for which Richard Sharpe previously argued in his book Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives. Professor Ó Riain presented further evidence, concerning the cult and Life of Colum of Terryglass, to augment his recent article on this subject in Gablánach in Scélaigecht: Celtic Studies in Honour of Ann Dooley and significant discussion followed which addressed the implications of his thesis. The second speaker of the day was Dr Barry Lewis, who offered an overview of his current collaborative research project, ‘The Cult of Saints in Wales: Medieval Welsh-Language Sources and their Transmission’, which aims over the next four years to construct a comprehensive database of vernacular material on medieval Welsh saints. He in particular focused on a the corpus of vernacular poetry which has previously remained unedited, and allowed us to see a sample of some of the poetry on which he is currently working. Following lunch, Gilbert Márkus treated us to a preview of the newly constructed online database of ‘hagio-toponyms’, which is the culmination of three years’ work by a team of researchers at the University of Glasgow on the project ‘Commemorations of Saints in Scottish Place-Names’ and which, as Gilbert demonstrated, has tremendous potential for understanding the development of cults and their relationship with the Scottish landscape. Both Gilbert’s and Barry’s projects received an overwhelming response from the audience, and one participant summed up the general feeling with ‘I only wish this was available before!’. Clearly, the tools for the study of hagiography and the cult of saints are still being crafted and are much appreciated by the scholars of the field!

After an afternoon tea break, two more projects were introduced, one making its debut onto the academic stage. Julianne Pigott presented the project ‘Mapping Miracles’, which is in its very first stages and is being shaped by four PhD students in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and the School of English at the University of St Andrews. This project seeks to create an online database and taxonomy of miracles found in saints’ Lives in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the early and central medieval period. Julianne was joined by Robert Gallagher and Sarah Waidler in answering questions about the proposed project, which met with a very positive response. The day was then rounded off by a roundtable conversation on the depiction of conversion in saints’ Lives, which has been one of the topics explored by the three-year Leverhulme Trust project ‘Converting the Isles’. This was led by Dr Rosalind Love and Sarah Waidler and texts such as the Life of Cadog and Life of Ninnian were discussed in detail, along with such concerns as how depictions of the conversion period changed in hagiography and how hagiographers imagined conversion to have taken place.

Each of the presentations stimulated much discussion amongst the workshop participants. Points of comparison were drawn between varying hagiographic traditions, while the logistics and potential values of online databases and collaborative projects provoked lively debate. All in all, this was an extremely fruitful day for those interested in all aspects of the cult of saints and demonstrated how much is being done and still needs to be done in this vibrant field. The organisers are very grateful to all speakers, participants and the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and ‘Converting the Isles’ for making this such a successful day!

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