Medieval Histories News about the Middle Ages Fri, 24 Jul 2015 22:23:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Castle in Conisbrough Fri, 24 Jul 2015 19:04:01 +0000 Conisbrough lies near Doncaster in one of the poorest parts of England. But it holds two medieval jewels – a very early Anglo-Saxon church and a magnificent Norman Castle Spending a Saturday night in Conisbrough is a heart-warming experience. Apart from having to try and escape inhaling the fumes from the local pubs while walking …

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Conisbrough lies near Doncaster in one of the poorest parts of England. But it holds two medieval jewels – a very early Anglo-Saxon church and a magnificent Norman Castle
Conisbrough Castle Wall
Conisbrough Castle Wall © Medieval Histories

Spending a Saturday night in Conisbrough is a heart-warming experience. Apart from having to try and escape inhaling the fumes from the local pubs while walking past, or surmounting the trouble of finding anything at all to eat – because everybody has suspended with this basic need until the carveries open on Sunday – it is downright mysterious to see people still coming together for a pint (or two as I happens). This may be one of the most downtrodden villages in the old mining districts in Southern Yorkshire, houses may be derelict and small children are without exception dressed up in cheap patent-leather shoes. Nevertheless the local community soldiers on with a basic friendliness towards each other and any odd medievalist on a field-trip.

As a warm-hearted and very helpful woman explained to me rather surprisingly over breakfast: “this place is in fact rather “medieval”; we all know each other down to every bit and detail”, she said. She had been watching “Secrets of the castle with Ruth, Peter and Tom” (BBC) and obviously felt the comparison to be to the point.
Contributing to this “medieval aura”, though, which she so keenly experienced, is probably also the towering castle, which seems to dominate the old mining town.

With its magnificent great tower it  must absolutely be considered one of the most “castly” castles in Good Old England. Although abandoned in the early 16th century, locals obviously had enough stones to quarry elsewhere, and even if it was robbed of parts of its wall, it was early on thought of as a very picturesque ruin. Famously, it inspired Sir Walter Scott to write his most novel “Ivanhoe”, a connection, which the place still profits from. Today it is cared for by “English Heritage” and a group of friendly and knowledgeable curators and guides, who work to turn it into a must-see for both local schoolchildren and the odd tourist, while gently fanning the Ivanhoe-connection.

Strategic location

Conisbrough castle seen from the river Don
Conisbrough castle seen from the river Don. Source: Wikipedia

The best way to get a feeling for the landscape is to climb the mighty tower, which was built into the curtain wall of the inner baily some time in the late 12th century on top of a promontory of limestone. From up here it is possible to look down on the river Don and its confluence with the river Dearne and the ancient Roman road, which led from Doncaster to Templeborough. Here is also a view towards Strafford Sands, where the Don used to be forded. This was probably the traditional meeting place for the Viking Wapantake of Strafforth Hundred (Strafford is probably derived from Stratford or Street-ford(ing). It was also on the line of the ancient border between Mercia and Northumbria.

Obviously the castle was located in such a way that it was possible to oversee the movements of goods and men from the North to the South. But it was also possible to collect customs of the agricultural produce freighted down the river Don to East of England.

It is generally believed that Conisbrough was part of an old Anglo-Saxon/ Viking administrative unit, which was owned by Earl Harold Godwinson, who seized the English throne after Edward in 1066; and who was killed at Hastings in the same year. Very soon after one of the most trusted companions in arms of William, William de Varenne, was appointed the first earl of Varenne. He had married a distant relative of Queen Matilda, called Gunrada.

At that time the honour of Conisbrough consisted of 28 villages covering most of the south eastern corner of southern Yorkshire.

In Doomsday, Conisbrough is described as a village with 21 villagers, 11 smallholders, two mills and a priest. All-in-all they worked 16 plough-teams, of which 5 belonged to the lord and 11 belonged to the village. But Conisbrough was only a small part of the wealth of William de Varenne, who held land in 13 counties all over the country. In modern money his holdings have been estimated to be worth £57 billion, a record in Britain during the last millennium.

At that time earth banks and timber palisades probably surrounded the inner bailey. Inside, there would have been a timber-framed hall, a kitchen and a chamber. There was probably also an outer bailey covering the ground to the west.

The Grandiose Keep

chapel conisbrough
Chapel in the keep at Conisbrough © Medieval Histories

The present castle was built in the late 12th century by their grandchild, Isabel de Warenne who was married to William, son of king Stephen. Later she married Hamelin of Anjou, King Henry’s illegitimate brother.

The unique feature of the castle is its round tower faced with finely dressed limestone. These had been sourced locally to the east of the village. With six buttresses it appears more robust from the outside than from the inside, where the visitor gets a sense of a small and private apartment, which must have been at the height of its fashion at the time of construction.

At the ground floor there was a huge well and probably storage room, which was accessed via a ladder from the first floor. Exactly how this was used is not known. Second floor held a great chamber, which is believed to have been richly furnished. One of the fine details is the magnificent chimneypiece next to which was a water basin fed by rain-water via lead pipes from the roof. The third floor was used as bedroom. Here was yet another chimneypiece, which although smaller served to make the room cosy.

From here a doorway led to a small chapel located in one of the buttresses. A smaller and more cramped doorway led into a sacristy, where the vestments and holy vessels would have been kept. Perhaps this was also used to house the “treasure” consisting of jewels, coins, drinking vessels and the like. This was the private chapel of the lord and his family. Another chapel was in the grounds of the inner baily. used by the servants in the castle. Here in the inner bailey was also the great hall used for the business transactions carried out whenever the lord was in residence. Later in the 14th century a so-called solar was attached to the west end of the great hall. This furnished the earl and his family with more comfortable rooms than those in the great tower built by their ancestors 150 years earlier.

The Church of St. Peter

The interior of St Peter i Conisbrough
The interior of St. Peter i Conisbrough Medieval Histories

Walking down the hill from the castle and up another we find the centre of the small village with its church, graveyard and former centre square (now busy road). The church is arguably the oldest Anglo-Saxon Church in Yorkshire. It is believed to have been built around AD 740, but excavations indicate there was an even earlier wooden predecessor.

Archaeological excavations have demonstrated that the church was perhaps built in an enclosure. It has been speculated that it was part of a very early monastic of royal compound located near the place, where the battle of Idle is supposed to have taken place in AD 616. Another hypothesis is that the findings indicate a wall of a stock-pond for fish, which has been dendrochronologically dated to the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 7th century. This would also indicate that the church was built in connection with an upper-status settlement (monastery and/or royal hall) aka Conungesburh – the Kings Burgh.

As it stands today the church is an amalgamation of different building materials and periods. The early church was curiously enough constructed of a mixture of reused Coals Measure sandstones and reused blocks of limestone, probably quarried from a nearby Roman villa-site, but they may also have come from the Roman forts at Templeborough further to the West and ferried down the Don. Nevertheless, it is an impressive building with a nave measuring 13.4 x 5.28 metres. The original chancel was enlarged in or around 1050 and further extended in the 15th century. The Normans also added the aisles, which gives the church a very wide character.


Conisbrough Castle
Located north-east of Conisbrough town centre off A630; 4 1⁄2 miles south-west of Doncaster

Conisbrough St. Peter
Opening Times: The church is open every day from 9:00am – 4:00pm with a few exceptions.


guidebook-conisbrough-castle-newThe Conisbrough Estate and the southern boundary of Northumbria. Environmental and archaeological evidence from a late sixth/early seventh century structure and a later deer park boundary at Conisbrough South Yorkshire.
By Paul C. Buckland, David Hey, Richard O’Neill and Ian Tyers.
Unpublished paper 2013

Conisbrough Castle
By Stephen Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei
English Heritage Guidebooks 2015

Landscape, Conservation, and Action Plan.
Dearne Valley Partnership 2014




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Oldest Qur’an Manuscript in the world? Wed, 22 Jul 2015 13:26:57 +0000 Scholars from the University of Birmingham claims a fragment of a manuscript to be part of the oldest Qur'an in the world. But what is the evidence?

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Scholars from the University of Birmingham claims a fragment of a manuscript of the Qur’an in their possession is one of the oldest in the world. But what is the evidence?

According to a press-release from the University of Birmingham a fragment of a manuscript is said to be from one of the oldest Qur’ans in the world. The evidence cited is a radiocarbon analysis, which has dated the parchment on which the text was written to the period between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4% accuracy. The test was carried out in a laboratory at the University of Oxford. The result places the leaves close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who is generally thought to have lived between AD 570 and 632.

Susan Worrall, Director of Special Collections (Cadbury Research Library), at the University of Birmingham, says that: ‘The radiocarbon dating has delivered an exciting result, which contributes significantly to our understanding of the earliest written copies of the Qur’an. We are thrilled that such an important historical document is here in Birmingham, the most culturally diverse city in the UK.’

The Qur’an manuscript is part of the University’s Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, held in the Cadbury Research Library. Funded by Quaker philanthropist Edward Cadbury, the collection was acquired to raise the status of Birmingham as an intellectual centre for religious studies and attract prominent theological scholars.

Consisting of two parchment leaves, the Qur’an manuscript contains parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. For many years, the manuscript had been misbound with leaves of a similar Qur’an manuscript, which is datable to the late seventh century.

Susan Worrall said: ‘By separating the two leaves and analysing the parchment, we have brought to light an amazing find within the Mingana Collection.’ Dr Alba Fedeli, who studied the leaves as part of her PhD research, said: ‘The two leaves, which were radiocarbon dated to the early part of the seventh century, come from the same codex as a manuscript kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.’


quran-manuscript Birmingham University Mingana CollectionExplaing the context and significance of the discovery, Professor David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam and Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Interreligious Relations at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Qur’an folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the University’s collections. They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.

‘According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Qur’an, the scripture of Islam, between the years AD 610 and 632, the year of his death. At this time, the divine message was not compiled into the book form in which it appears today. Instead, the revelations were preserved in “the memories of men”. Parts of it had also been written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels. Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad, ordered the collection of all Qur’anic material in the form of a book. The final, authoritative written form was completed and fixed under the direction of the third leader, Caliph Uthman, in about AD 650.

‘Muslims believe that the Qur’an they read today is the same text that was standardised under Uthman and regard it as the exact record of the revelations that were delivered to Muhammad.

‘The tests carried out on the parchment of the Birmingham folios yield the strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterwards. This means that the parts of the Qur’an that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death. These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Qur’an read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.’

Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, Lead Curator for Persian and Turkish Manuscripts at the British Library, said: ‘This is indeed an exciting discovery. We know now that these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three Caliphs. According to the classic accounts, it was under the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, that the Qur’anic text was compiled and edited in the order of Suras familiar today, chiefly on the basis of the text as compiled by Zayd ibn Thabit under the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. Copies of the definitive edition were then distributed to the main cities under Muslim rule.

‘The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Qur’an required a great many of them. The carbon dating evidence, then, indicates that Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library is home to some precious survivors that – in view of the Suras included – would once have been at the centre of a Mushaf from that period. And it seems to leave open the possibility that the Uthmanic redaction took place earlier than had been thought – or even, conceivably, that these folios predate that process. In any case, this – along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script – is news to rejoice Muslim hearts.’

Wishful Thinking?

The last comment is of course exactly where the snag is buried. We must ask: From where is it known that this beautiful manuscript was not written on stockpiled parchment? As a matter of fact a beautiful manuscript written on parchment cannot be produced without stockpiling the prepared skin before one proceeds to write it. The reason is of course that animal skin comes in all sorts of qualities. In order to produce a book, which looks homogenous such skins has to be stockpiled in advance in order for it to be possible at some point to choose leaves of parchment of the same colour, quality, size etc. This is especially the case for such beautiful manuscripts as the one here presented to the public.

These particular fragments of the Qur’an might thus very well have been written later than what the radio-carbon-dating says. In fact this is likely!

Such quibbles, though, does not seem to have stopped the press office at the University to publish a press release aiming at the Muslim community in Birmingham and elsewhere, claiming it – in the words of Dr Muhammad Isa Waley – to be news, which must “rejoice Muslim hearts”. Nor has it seemingly allowed the quoted Qur’an Scholars expressing any caution or doubt; let alone pointing to the real and fascinating part of the study of these very early texts, which is that a number of interesting scribal variants may easily be found; and that it is through the diligent, but perhaps less heroic study of these, an understanding of the very early composition and dissemination of the Qur’an may be carried out. As demonstrated by the work carried out on the texts by Dr. Alba Fedeli, who has made the important discovery.

The Qur’an manuscript will be on public display at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, from Friday 2 October until Sunday 25 October.

Karen Schousboe
(The presentation of the manuscript  etc. is from the press release.)


Sensational Fragment of Very Early Qur’an Identified 
A fragment of a Qur’an in the University Library at Tübingen may be dated back to the 7th century


Early Qur’ānic manuscripts, their text, and the Alphonse Mingana papers held in the Department of Special Collections of the University of Birmingham
By Fedeli, Alba (2015) 
Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.


The Special Collections of the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham hold seven early Qur’ānic pieces on parchment and papyrus dating from the seventh century. Alphonse Mingana purchased them from the antiquarian dealer von Scherling in 1936. Through investigation of the private correspondence of Mingana and archival documents, this research provides new information about the origin and history of the fragments, whose reception has been influenced by the European cultural context at the beginning of the twentieth century, in contrast with the public image proposed in catalogues, official documents and previous studies.

Furthermore, this research is an attempt to initiate an alternative perspective in analysing and editing the physical objects and texts of early Qur’ānic manuscripts by applying digital philology, thus using XML-encoded expressions to transcribe all of the richness of manuscripts in reconstructing the history of their transmission. This perspective interprets the process of the making of the manuscript text and the context in which the manuscript was written, thus editing its mobile and multi-layered text, differently from previous examples of the edition of early Qur’ānic manuscripts.


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Einhard’s Basilica in Michelstadt Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:24:41 +0000 In 815 Louis the Pious granted Michelstadt and Seligenstadt to his faithful courtier, Erhard. One church still stands and makes Michelstadt worth a detour for all Carolingian scholars

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In 815 Louis the Pious granted Michelstadt and Seligenstadt (Mulinheim) to his faithful courtier, Erhard. Later he built churches there and fitted them with relics, stolen from the Catacombs in Rome. One church still stands and makes Michelstadt worth a detour for all Carolingian scholars
…”Through the descent of Brombach into the Mümling; from there to the oak tree between Grafschaft and Munitat…”. The oaks, which Einhard used as markers in the landscape are long gone. But a new one opens the vista towards Michelstadt.

A little under a year after the death of Charlemagne (AD 814), Einhard was able to secure a grant of some land east of Lorsch in Hessen between the rivers Main and Neckar. Here in the Odenwald (Odonewalt) was a small place with a wooden church to which belonged approximately 15 to 34 km2 of land [1]. Within this boundary lived fourteen servants with their wives and children plus forty “dependant men and woman”. If a Carolingian manse – farm – was app. 8 – 10 ha, this means that no more than 5 – 10% of the land was cultivated by a small population of somewhere between 100 -120 people (today more than 8927 live in Michelstadt today). [2]

Of course these figures are very tentative. However in 819 Einhard and his wife Imma decided to have their land in Michelstadt transferred to Lorsch. In connection with this we find that Einhard – probably in person – did a field-walk together with the elders from the hamlet in order to get a proper feeling for the place. It appears from this (Dutton, p. 56) that the area stretched north to south and not east to west as the local district does today. It is possible there was some sort of manor located in the midst of the property, as was the case later on. However this is not mentioned in the grant. What we get is a sense of a hilly landscape covered with woods and oak-trees and traversed by the valley of Mümling fed by numerous minor creeks, watercourses and small rivers. As it is today!

Later Einhard himself described the place as “a certain remote piece of property, that was well out of most people’s way” [3]

Einhard’s Basilica in Steinbach

Plan of Einhard's Basilica by Otto Müller
Plan of Einhard’s Basilica by Otto Müller

Nevertheless, he embarked upon a major venture: the building of a large and impressive church of red sandstones, which quite remarkably still stands as a witness to the entrepreneurial spirit of this little, big man. Of course nearly 1200 years have set their mark on the edifice as it stands today. Nevertheless, the building still retains large parts of its original plan and and it is here we get – better than anywhere else – a feeling for the Carolingian masterplan of Christianisation as it unfolded in a far-a-way corner of the empire.

Michelstadt Steinbach Einhard's basilica interior
In Einhards time the arches opened up into the aisles. Source: Wikipedia

Lucky for us, however, Michelstadt never became the vibrant religious centre, which Einhard had dreamed of. After he had secured his longed-for relics – the bones of St. Marcellinus and Peter – from Rome, he tells us the saints came in a dream to one of his servants and commanded to be translated once more to a new and more convenient place. In the end the remains of the two saints were carried to Seligenstadt, where Einhard had more success with attracting religious persons (monks) who might help him in creating the framework for at prosperous pilgrim-centre. Curiously enough Einhard writes that the “people who lived nearby were entirely ignorant about what we were doing” [4]. (They were probably tired of having been commandeered to work on the prestigious new basilica.)

It was not until 1073 that Lorsch became interested in sending a delegation of monks to Michelstadt. In 1235 it was taken over by nuns, which left the place after the reformation. Hereafter the convent was turned into a spital. This, however, was destroyed in the 30-year was and the next centuries the building was used by the local count as a boathouse and shed for firewood. Luckily these functions needed to be kept under sturdy roofs. This was no small matter since it probably saved the building. Since the 1990’s the basilica has undergone extensive restoration and today it welcomes visitors on a pilgrimage to this extraordinary relic of the Carolingian world.


Stadtmauer Kellerei Michelstadt
So-called “Kellerei” – a rambling collection of buildings erected on top of a former “castle”

Originally Michelstadt is believed to have been a small Roman settlement located at the crossroad of two roads built to support castells on the Limes. During the Early Middle Ages it seems as if the settlement turned into the small and insignificant village, which figures in the writings of Einhard. However, in the later Middle Ages Michelstadt changed again into a proper small German town complete with a wall, a late-Gothic church (1461 – 90), a famous city hall (from 1484) and an apothecary (from 1551). Later a railroad linked the town with Darmstadt und Eberbach and turned the place into a thriving industrial hotspot with a number of small-scale factories. It is still possible to travel by train to Michelstadt. However, the railroad is also served by the local association of “railroaders” , which offer old-fashioned excursions with steam-locomotives.

It is really nice to take a walk along the wall in the evening looking into a miniature world of old timber-framed houses. At one corner the local renaissance “castle” – the Kellereihof – is built into the wall. Beneath is said to be the remains of an early medieval castle (not excavated).

The place to stay in Michelstadt is “Zum Grünen Baum”. The hotel, which is fitted with a traditional beer-garden and restaurant, has been run by the same family since 1667, but the building is older. If brave, try out the local “kochkäse” served on bread and with “musik” = pickled onions.


In the 1990’s locals organised a trail from Michelstadt to Seligenstadt, mimicking the last step in the translation of the relics of Marcellinus and his friend, Peter.


[1] The measurement says that the area stretched for two leagues (4.4 km) or one rasta (6.6 km). The area of a circle with the radius of 2.2 km/3.3 km gives the area presented here.) But it was obviously not a circular area, but a long area covering the valley from Michelstadt and up through the Valley of Mümling.

[2] Donatio Einhardi et Immae de cella Michlenstat. The charter is translated in: Charlemagne’s Courtier. By Paul Edward Dutton. Broadview Press 1998, p. 43 – 44. Cella means small church.

[3] Charlemagne’s Courtier op. cit. p. 54 – 57

[4] Charlemagne’s Courtier op. cit. p. 81


Einhards-Basilika CoverEinhards-Basilika. Michelstadt-Steinbach
By Thomas Ludwig
Edition der Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten Hessen . Brochure 18.
Schnell & Steiner 2003





Die Einhards Basilika CoverDie Einhards-Basilika in Steinbach bei Michelstadt im Odenwald
By Thomas Ludwig, Otto Müller und Irmgard Widdra-Spiess.
Verlag Phillip von Zabern in Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1996
ISBN-10: 3805313225
ISBN-13: 978-3805313223


Ich und Karl der Grosse PatzoldIch und Karl der Große: Das Leben des Höflings Einhard
By Steffen Patzold
Klett-Cotta 2014
ISBN-10: 3608947647
ISBN-13: 978-3608947649





Charlemagne's coutier by Dutton Charlemagne’s Courtier.
By Paul Edward Dutton.
Broadview Press 1998
ISBN-10: 1551111349
ISBN-13: 978-1551111346





Map of Michelstadt

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Reading Robin Hood Tue, 21 Jul 2015 09:41:10 +0000 Robin Hood is a myth, which has been continuously reinvented since the High Middle Ages. A new book tells the story from the beginning and up until our time

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Robin Hood is a myth, which has been continuously reinvented since the High Middle Ages. A new book tells the story from the beginning and into the 21st century.

Reading Robin Hood Content, form and reception in the outlaw myth coverReading Robin Hood. Content, form and reception in the outlaw myth
By Stephen Knight
Series: Manchester Medieval Literature and Culture
Manchester University Press 2015
ISBN: 978-0-7190-9526-9

Reading Robin Hood explores and explains stories about the mythic outlaw, who from the middle ages to the present stands up for the values of natural law and true justice.

This analysis of the whole sequence of the adventures of Robin Hood first explores the medieval tradition from early poems into the long-surviving sung ballads, and also two variant Robins: the Scottish version, here named Rabbie Hood, and gentrified Robin, the exiled Earl of Huntington, now partnered by Lady Marian.

The nineteenth century re-imagined medieval Robin as modern – he loved nature, Marian, England, and the rights of the ordinary man – and in novels and especially films he has developed further, into an international figure of freedom, just as Marian’s role has grown in a modern feminist context.

The vigour of the Robin Hood myth still reproduces itself, constantly with new forms and new meanings.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: drawing an academic bow
1. Interfacing oralcy and literacy: the case of Robin Hood
2. Rabbie Hood: the development of the English outlaw myth in Scotland
3. Robin Fitz Warren: the formation of the gest of Robin Hood
4. Robin Hood for a penny: reconsidering the outlaw Broadside Ballads
5. Romantic Robin Hood
6. A novel Robin Hood: nineteenth-century outlaw fiction
7. The making and re-making of Maid Marian
8. Rhizomatic Robin Hood

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Art of the Islands Mon, 20 Jul 2015 11:15:38 +0000 New book by Michelle Brown presents a series of masterpieces of Celtic, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon and Viking origin and explain their context

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New book by Michelle Brown presents a series of masterpieces of Celtic, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon and Viking origin and explain their context

Art of the Islands. Celtic, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon and Viking Visual Culture, c. 450-1050
Michelle P. Brown
Bodleyan Library Publishing 2015
ISBN: 9781851244461

Shop directly: Every purchase supports the Bodleian Libraries


Art of the islands michelle brown coverThe Celtic, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon and Viking peoples who inhabited the British Isles and Ireland from late prehistory to the Norman Conquest left a rich visual heritage whose influence continues to be felt.

This is the first book to present an illustrated overview of the early art of the British and Irish archipelago during one of the most formative periods in its history. It explores the interaction between its inhabitants, along with the formation of national and regional identities, through the lens of visual culture.

Leading expert Michelle P. Brown explains the historical context within which key artworks of the period were made and used, ranging across works as diverse as the Book of Kells, the Tara Brooch, the Aberlemno Stones, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Alfred Jewel and the Benedictional of St Ethelwold, and examines the ways in which their complex imagery can be interpreted. She also considers the impact of the art of this period upon the history of art in general, helping to inform both the Carolingian renaissance, the Romanesque and, from the late nineteenth century, the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements.

Fusing history, art history, archaeology and literary studies, and fully illustrated throughout, this is a ground-breaking guide to a fascinating and complex period in which northern Europe journeyed from late Antiquity into the Middle Ages.


Michelle P. Brown is Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, Visiting Professor at University College London and Baylor University and former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library.

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Scandinavian Amulets in Viking Age Poland Mon, 20 Jul 2015 09:23:54 +0000 Very important new book carefully examines Scandinavian amulets like Thor's Hammers found in Poland and sheds new light on the Old Norse religion.

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Scandinavian amulets like Thor’s Hammers, figures, miniature weapons, anchors, wheels and other types have been found in ports of trade witnessing to the widespread Scandinavian settlements in Viking Poland. Very important new book carefully examines the small objects and sheds new light on the hotly debated character of the Old Norse religion.


Scandinavian amulets in viking age PolandScandinavian Amulets in Viking Age Poland
By Leszek Gardeła
Series: Collectio Archaeologica Ressoviensis tomus XXXiii
Rzeszów 2014
Pages: 166
Format: A4
Language: English with a summary in Polish
Edition: 2014
Publisher: Fundacja Rzeszowskiego Ośrodka Archeologicznego, Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego
ISBN: 978–83–7667-197-0

Scandinavian Amulets in Viking Age Poland

This monograph by Leszek Gardeła provides a comprehensive analysis of the complete corpus of Scandinavian Viking Age amulets discovered in the area of Poland. Among the examined finds are, for example, Thor’s hammers and miniature weapons, but also anthropomorphic figures and pendants. The Scandinavian-style finds from Poland are presented in a broad comparative and theoretical context with particular focus on the latest advancements in the studies on Old Norse religion. In order to provide a bigger picture of the explored issues the opening chapter of the monograph examines the long and often complicated history of Viking research in Poland, providing an important and critical contribution to the studies on the role of Scandinavians in the southern Baltic. The book is lavishly illustrated with full-colour photographs and artistic reconstructions.

The opening chapter gives an overview of the last 160 years of studies on the presence of Viking Age Scandinavians in the territory of Poland. it begins by reviewing a range of works by some of the most famous 19th century enthusiasts of Scandinavian history and archaeology, who expressed their fascinations with the north in their art, literature and academic publications (e.g Henryk Siemiradzki, Juliusz Słowacki, Karol Szajnocha and others). Further sections of Chapter 1 present the gradual development of Viking Studies in the early 20th century. This is followed by a critical assessment of a wide spectrum of past and recent discoveries of actual or assumed Scandinavian-style artefacts from various sites in Poland.

Amber Thor's Hammars from Poland. From the collections of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences (Centre for Medieval Archaeology of the Baltic Region). Photo by Leszek Gardeła. Used by permission of the autor.
Amber Thor’s Hammer from Poland. From the collections of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences (Centre for Medieval Archaeology of the Baltic Region). Photo by Leszek Gardeła. Used by permission of the author.


Chapter 2 focuses on the long history of research on Viking Age amulets in Scandinavia (and elsewhere in the Viking world) and briefly discusses their most distinctive types. It also explores a range of previous interpretations of such artefacts and examines the different methodological problems which amulet studies continue to evoke. Particular attention is devoted to the issue of identifying such finds and providing their accurate definition. In addition, Chapter 2 discusses the Scandinavian-style amulets in the broader context of pre-christian beliefs and examines how they may have functioned in Norse societies. Some attention is also devoted to ways of producing, wearing and carrying amulets and their role in funerary practices.

Chapter 3 lies at the core of this book and offers a thorough analysis and interpretation of all Scandinavian amulets discovered in Poland. These are divided into a range of distinctive types and each of them is set within a wider context of similar artefacts from the viking world. The last chapter summarises the discussions presented in this book, provides a range of critical comments on the confluences and discrepancies between Scandinavian and distinctively Slavic amulets and offers a range of ideas for further research in the field of Viking studies in Poland.

The book is the final outcome of a research project entitled ‘Viking age amulets in Poland’ which was conducted in 2014. its initial part was generously funded by the Viking Society for Northern Research whose Research Support Fund allowed travels to Elbląg, Szczecin and Wolin to examine and document a broad range of Scandinavian amulets discovered in the territory of Poland.

Table of Contents:

CHAPTER 1: Viking Age archaeology in Poland. History of research and reception 11

1 Viking inspirations in 19th century Poland 11

2 Viking studies in 20th century Poland 13

Józef Kostrzewski 14
Jan Żak 15
Żak’s legacy 17

3 Viking studies in 21st century Poland 18

New finds and controversies 18

4 Scandinavian-Slavic interactions 20

Scandinavians in the ports of trade on the southern Baltic coast 21
Wolin 21
Kamień Pomorski 23
Kołobrzeg and Świelubie 24
Truso (Janów Pomorski) 25

5 Viking burials in Poland? 25

5.1 Greater Poland 27

Łubowo 27
Luboń 29
Other allegedly Scandinavian graves in Greater Poland 32
Grave 62/08 with a cross-shaped pendant from Dziekanowice 32

5.2 Western Pomerania 33

Wolin 33
Bardy-Świelubie 34

5.3 Central Pomerania 34

5.4 Eastern Pomerania 36

5.5 Elbląg 38

5.6 Central Poland 38

5.7 Problematic chamber graves 43

6 Poland and the Viking Worlds 43

CHAPTER 2: Viking Age amulets in Scandinavia. An overview 45

1 Defining amulets 45

2 Viking Age amulets in Scandinavia 47

History of research 48
Amulet types in Viking Age Scandinavia and elsewhere in the Viking world 54

3 Amulets and Viking worldviews 56

New approaches to pre-Christian beliefs in the Viking world 56
Diversity instead of orthodoxyAcknowledging the complexity of Old Norse beliefs 58

4 Viking Age amulets in action 59

Making Viking Age amulets 59
Wearing Viking Age amulets 61
Amulets and death 61

5 Concluding remarks 63

CHAPTER 3: Scandinavian amulets in Viking Age Poland. Analysis and interpretation 66

1 Thor’s hammers 66

1.1Iron and silver Thor’s hammers 67

Iron Thor’s hammers with differing shoulders 67
Iron Thor’s hammers with equal shoulders 68
Iron Thor’s hammers with very short shoulders 69
Silver Thor’s hammers 69
Thor’s hammers with rings 71

1.2 Amber Thor’s hammers 72

Amber Thor’s hammers from Wolin 72
Amber Thor’s hammers from Gdańsk 72
Amber Thor’s hammers from Truso 74
Interpreting amber Thor’s hammers 75
Thor’s hammers in Poland. Discussion and conclusions 75

2 Miniature figures 76

Female figure from Truso (MAH 600/2007) 77
Female figure from Truso (MAH 1578/2008) 77
Female figure shown en-face from Truso (MAH 1579/2008) 78
Standing figure and horse rider from Truso (MAH 74/2000) 78
One-eyed(?) female head from Truso (MAH 2110/2003) 81
Female figure from Kałdus (27/00) 83
Animal head from Wolin (694/79) 83
Male head/mask from Wolin (1331/71) 87
Scandinavian-style miniature figures in Poland. Discussion and conclusions 88

3 Other miniature figures from Poland 89

Anthropomorphic figures from Wolin 89
‘Światowit’ from Wolin 92

4 Multi-headed objectsScandinavian or not? 94

Multi-headed objects in Viking Age Scandinavia. A reassessment 95
Multi-headed beings in Old Norse textual sources 96
Multi-headed objects in Poland and Scandinavia. Discussion and conclusions 97

5 Miniature weapons 98

Miniature shields 98
Miniature axes 100
Miniature spears 102
Miniature swords 105
Miniature weapons. Discussion and conclusions 107

6 Miniature wheels 108

7 Miniature feet/legs/shoes 109

8 Miniature staff 112

9 Miniature anchors 113

10 The tri-part ‘amulet’ from Truso 115

11 Alleged amulets and problematic pendants 117

Cross-shaped pendants 118
Stone pendants? 119
Elongated pendants 119
Pendants with a triquetra motif 120

12 Concluding remarks 120

CHAPTER 4: Synthesis and conclusions 121

1 Types of Scandinavian amulets in Viking Age Poland. A summary 121

2 Other signals of pre-Christian Scandinavian beliefs in Poland 124

3 Scandinavian vs West Slavic amulets 125

4 Future research possibilities 127





Reconstructed Viking Settlement near Wolin (Jomsborg)


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Gold Thread and Silk in Catharijnenconvent in Utrecht Sun, 19 Jul 2015 17:21:19 +0000 A sumptuous exhibition of medieval embroidered art made of gold and silk in the Museum Catharijneconvent shows some of the best preserved medieval liturgical garments preserved in Europe.

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A sumptuous exhibition of medieval embroidered art made of gold and silk in the Museum Catharijneconvent shows some of the best preserved medieval liturgical garments preserved in Europe.
Gregoriusmis, Meester van het Akense Altaar, c.a. 1500, Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht
Gregoriusmis, Meester van het Akense Altar, ca. 1500, Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht

Museum Catharijneconvent has one of the finest collections of late medieval Netherlandish vestments in the world. It may sound paradoxical, but it was actually thanks to the mobs of the sixteenth-century iconoclasts that these ecclesiastical garments became relatively well preserved. Unlike the statues in a church they were easy to spirit away and store in Catholic homes. Here they were kept and venerated for centuries without being subjected to the wear and tear, which was characteristic for similar vestments which were in constant use in the part of Europe, which Catholic.

Like the church itself and all its furnishings, the vestments worn at Mass were considered a tribute to God. Hence the fabrics were very costly and the embroidery of the highest artistic quality. Made of gold thread and silk, they were among the most precious possessions of a church or religious house.

Some of the pieces were made by named artists and may be said to be on par with some of the more famous late medieval art from Flanders.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the four golden garments, which used to belong to David of Burgundy, who was bishop of Utrecht from 1456 to 1496. The set consists of a cope, a chasuble and two dalmatics. For the first time since 1987 it is possible to see these garments together as the chasuble from St. Paul’s Cathedral in Liege has been reunited with the cope and dalmatics of the Catharijneconvent.

The exhibition also showcases works that have served as models for the embroidery on the garments. Relatively unknown is that acclaimed painters as the Master of Alkmaar (active ca. 1490-1510)  and Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (ca. 1475-1533)  also designed embroidery. These artists were very popular and worked for wealthy churches and monasteries as well as for rich merchants.

Museum Catharijnenconvent

liturgical vestments   at CatharijneconventThe Museum Catharijnenconvent – St. Catherine’s Convent Museum – is located in the former convent of St. Catherine. Its collections include a wide variety of religious art –historical objects from the Middle Ages and up until our time. The collection includes richly illustrated manuscripts, book-bindings decorated with precious stones, richly-worked images, paintings, altarpieces, pieces of clothing and ecclesiastical objects in gold and silver. One of the highlights of the collection is ivory objects from the early medieval Church of St. Lebuinus



Museum Catharijneconven
Utrecht, Netherlands
10.04.2015 – 16.08.2015

Het geheim van de Middeleeuwen from Museum Catharijneconvent on Vimeo.

Een bijzonder transport from Museum Catharijneconvent on Vimeo.

The making of Het geheim van de Middeleeuwen in Museum Catharijneconvent from Museum Catharijneconvent on Vimeo.

Een kijkje achter de schermen: het geheim van de Middeleeuwen from Museum Catharijneconvent on Vimeo.

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The Viking Diaspora Sat, 18 Jul 2015 08:29:50 +0000 The Viking Diaspora presents the early medieval migrations of people, language and culture from mainland Scandinavia to new homes in the Northern hemisphere as a form of ‘diaspora’.

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The Viking Diaspora presents the early medieval migrations of people, language and culture from mainland Scandinavia to new homes in the British Isles, the North Atlantic, the Baltic and the East as a form of ‘diaspora’.

The Viking Diaspora
By Judith Jesch
Routledge 2015
ISBN: 978-1-138-02076 – 4
ISBN: 978-1-138-02079 – 5
ISBN: 978-1-138-70833-1


The Viking Diaspora By Judith Jesch - VoverThe Viking Diaspora presents the early medieval migrations of people, language and culture from mainland Scandinavia to new homes in the British Isles, the North Atlantic, the Baltic and the East as a form of ‘diaspora’. It discusses the ways in which migrants from Russia in the east to Greenland in the west were conscious of being connected not only to the people and traditions of their homelands, but also to other migrants of Scandinavian origin in many other locations.

Rather than the movements of armies, this book concentrates on the movements of people and the shared heritage and culture that connected them. This on-going contact throughout half a millennium can be traced in the laws, literatures, material culture and even environment of the various regions of the Viking diaspora. Judith Jesch considers all of these connections, and highlights in detail significant forms of cultural contact including gender, beliefs and identities.

Beginning with an overview of Vikings and the Viking Age, the nature of the evidence available, and a full exploration of the concept of ‘diaspora’, the book then provides a detailed demonstration of the appropriateness of the term to the world peopled by Scandinavians. This book is the first to explain Scandinavian expansion using this model, and presents the Viking Age in a new and exciting way for students of Vikings and medieval history.

This book has its origins in the Viking Identities Network (2006 – 09). The call for proposals prompted the question of whether the concept of “diaspora” could be useful and fruitful in understanding the migrations of the Viking Age and their aftermath. In many ways this book is the fruits of thoughts, which has been developing for nearly three decades by the Viqueen of Viking Studies


  • Vikings and their Ages: definitions and evidence
  • The Viking world: geography and environment
  • The Viking Diaspora
  • Gender and Family
  • Cults, beliefs and myths
  • Networks and Identities
  • Bibliography


As Professor of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham, Judith Jesch teaches various aspects of Old Norse and Viking Studies to students at all levels. Her research has always focused on the relationships of language, texts and contexts in the Viking Age and medieval Scandinavia, with a particular focus on runic inscriptions, skaldic verse and historical sagas. She also write on questions of orality and literacy, geography, migration and diaspora, and Scandinavian contacts with the British Isles.


Reconstructed Viking long house in Newfoundland. Source: Wikipedia

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Traces of Haithabu Fri, 17 Jul 2015 17:06:51 +0000 REVIEW: Excavations at Viking Haithabu in Schleswig has yielded extraordinary finds. New book presents us with endless hours of joy digging into this treasure trove

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Only a tiny part of the Viking town of Haithabu in Schleswig has been excavated. Nevertheless, the collection of finds is extraordinary rich and captivating. New book presents us with endless hours of joy.

Spurensuche Haithabu. Archäologische Spurensuche in der frühmittelalterlichen Ansiedlung Haithabu. Dokumentation und Chronik 1963–2013
[Traces of Haithabu. Documentation and Cronique 1963 – 1213]
By Kurt Schitzel
Wachholtz Verlag GmbH 2014
ISBN: 9783529017971


Spurensuche Haithabu cover“Before his return [to Denmark] Godofried destroyed a trading place on the seashore, in Danish called Reric, which because of the taxes it paid, was of great advantage to his kingdom. Transferring the merchants from Reric, he weighed anchor and came with his whole army to the harbour of Schleswig. There he remained for a few days and decided to fortify the border of his kingdom against Saxony with a rampart, so that a protective bulwark would stretch from the Eastern bay, called Ostarsalt, as far as the western sea, along the entire north bank of the river Eider and broken by a single gate through which wagons and horsemen would be able to leave and enter.” (Royal Frankish Annals AD 808)

The location, to where the merchants were transferred, is well-known as Haithabu. Probably founded around AD 770, this trading town located at the end of the defensive wall soon became the largest emporium in Scandinavia until it was repeatedly sacked in the middle of the 11th century. Around 1066 the town was relocated to the Northern coast of the firth and renamed Schleswig.

Traces of haithabu - a page spread 40 -41Since then has the rich remains of a Viking town lain encapsulated beneath uncultivated meadows until the Danish archaeologist Sophus Müller went on a field trip in the end of the 19th century. Just by walking through he discovered a series of artefacts. Since then archaeologists have been busy excavating. As of today, only a very small portion has been excavated. The rest has been carefully mapped and explored. Of particular interest was the excavation of the harbour, which yielded an enormous amounts of very significant finds.

A tiny fragment of all this is exhibited at museum on site, which is highly recommended for anyone interested in the Viking age. However, it is exactly that: a few pieces of what is obviously an unimaginable treasure-trove.

This book is in German. However it should – as soon as possible – be translated into English. The reason is, the book holds 647 pages brimming with illustrations and explanations of the rich finds, which 50 years of excavations have yielded. As such it is a genuine treasure trove for scholars as well as reenactors.

The best would of course be if the Museum at Schloss-Gottorp got the means to digitize their full collection of photos and drawings and placed them on the internet. While we are waiting, though, we can begin perusing an impressive book of photos, drawings and reconstructions all accompanied by a lucid and well-written text. Anyone seriously interested in the material world of the Vikings needs to have this book in their book-case.

The book has been written by Kurt Schietzel, who led the excavations from1963 – 1998. Still going strong, it appears!

Ove Juul Nielsen

Traces of Haithabu - a page spread pp 172 -173

Traces of Haithabu - a page spread pp188-89

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Viking Worlds. Things, Spaces and Movement Fri, 17 Jul 2015 12:24:57 +0000 Review: Viking halls, regional judicial places, oath rings, door keys, leadworking and much more figures in a fascinating new book on Viking Worlds

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Viking halls, regional judicial places, oath rings, door keys, leadworking and much more figures in a fascinating new book on Viking Worlds

Viking Worlds. Things, Spaces and Movement
By Irmelin Axelsen, Marianne Hem Eriksen, Heidi Lund Berg, Unn Pedersen, Bernt Rundberget et al
Oxbow Books 2015
ISBN-10: 1782977279
ISBN-13: 978-1782977278
ISBN: 9781782977308 (eBook)


Viking worlds things spaces and movements coverIn this book fourteen papers explore a variety of inter-disciplinary approaches to understanding the Viking past, both in Scandinavia and in the Viking diaspora. Contributions employ both traditional inter- or multi-disciplinarian perspectives using archaeological finds, historical sources, Icelandic sagas and Eddic poetry. But they also bring into play place-name research, the history of religion and technological advancements, such as isotope analysis. Each case-study is thus in itself an example of how juggling different approaches in a inter-disciplinary context can yield really new insights into the World of the Vikings.

Geographically, contributions range from Iceland through Scandinavia and to the Continent. Scandinavian, British and Continental Viking scholars come together to challenge established truths, present new definitions and discuss old themes from new angles.

Topics discussed include personal and communal identity; gender relations between people, artefacts such as oath rings, and hegemonic places/spaces in wider regions; rules and regulations within different social arenas; processes of production, trade and exchange, and transmission of knowledge within both past Viking-age societies and present-day research.

Displaying thematic breadth as well as geographic and academic diversity, the articles seem to foreshadow up-and-coming themes for Viking Age research. Rooted in different traditions, using diverse methods and exploring eclectic material – Viking Worlds will provide the reader with a sense of current and forthcoming issues, debates and topics in Viking studies, and give insight into a new generation of ideas and approaches which will mark the years to come.

The articles represent a series of papers presented at an international conference, “Viking Worlds”, which was held at the University of Oslo in 2013. The conference was particularly focused upon the work of postgraduates and early career researchers, in the realisation that there are few open and international forums for a new generation of Viking scholars. The scope of the present book fully redeems this expectation. The introduction written by Neil Price nicely envelops the collection, lending a generous aura to it

Girl from Birka - Source- Historiska Museet- web
The Girl from Birka and her life-world was reconstructed as part of a children’s programme at Svenska Historiska Museet. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonsson tells the story. Photo: Svenska Hustoriska Museet

The first part focuses on architecture, settlements and landscapes. Here we get a first glimpse of the on-going work of Lydia Carstens, who is working on a comprehensive catalogue of existing Viking Halls in order to understand the physical characteristics and practical and symbolic functionalities of which is in fact a rather vague phenomena. This is followed by Joanne Shortt Butler, who discusses the complicated connection between the skaldic poem, Húsdrápa, allegedly from the 10th century and the story behind its genesis, found in the Laxdæla Saga from the 13th century (in which we are famously told that the poem was composed by Ulf Uggason in order to celebrate the carvings of a great Viking Hall). From here we move on to Asle Bruen Olsen’s article on courtyard sites in Western Norway, which expands upon his work on central assembly places and judicial institutions and explores the connection between these regional meeting places and the mythical foundation of the Thingvellir in Iceland in AD 874. Next follows a study of yet another “assembly place”, this time in Denmark. The magnate farm at Tissø, which continues to yield new information, is thought to have hosted seasonal assemblies – markets and religious feasts over a long period, from AD 550 – 1050. Sofie Laurine Albris explores changes in place-names in the wider region in order to understand the development of the site. From here we move on to one of the absolute highlights of the collection, the article by Marianne Hem Eriksen on powerful rings – more specifically the use of large door rings and small votive oath rings found in sacral places in Sweden.

The second part of the collection focuses on Gendered things and gendered spaces. In this part Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonsson tells us about the complex information, which can be gathered from the intimate study of a single individual, a five-year old girl from Birka, while a number of other articles explore the Viking worlds of women taking part in transhumance (Patrycja Kupiec and Karen Milek) and (perhaps) carrying around the keys to the fence-in farms (Heidi Lund Berg).

In the third part the theme is production, exchange and movement. Here Bjarne Gaut discusses the finds from Kaupang in a broad continental context, while Ben Cartwright lifts the veil on his on-going PhD-project on textile production as part of the Viking Identity. Here he focuses on the excavations at Bjørkum in Lærdal. To this is added an article on lead-working in Norway by Unn Pedersen. In a very fine overview by Leszek Gardela, we get a much needed presentation of recent finds of Viking Poland. Here we get a series of tantalizing glimpses of exactly what the title of the books promises to offer us: yet another one of the many Viking Worlds – with a stress on the plural.

Finally a group of scientists and archaeologists offer us a highly interesting presentation of istotopic analysis of silver from Hedeby and some nearby hoards. This article promises no more than a first presentation of the preliminary results. Lead isotope analysis is a relatively untapped resource, but can be used to measure where the metal in the coins and hoards were sourced. As such it can present a diachronic profile of the shifting geographic regions, which a place like Haithabu traded with. One important – albeit tentative – conclusion is that a shift from trade with Asia takes place in the mid 10th century when a steady influx of silver from the newly opened mines in Harzen can be detected. “In the 11th century no trace of Samanid silver could be found” writes the Stephen Merkel, Andreas Hauptmann, Volker Hilbert and Robert Lehmann.

This is a very interesting collection of new insights into the inner workings of the different Viking Worlds, which continue to dissolve the monolithic impressions, which old and less interdisciplinary monographs used to divert us with.

Karen Schousboe


Sparlösa Runestone. Source: Wikipedia. The detail shows the building depicted on the stone with the accentuated door ring hanging on the portal of what is probably a “Hov” (a sacred building or “temple”). Marianne Hem Eriksen deals extensively with this depiction in her article on “The Powerful Ring”.

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In Search Of Vikings in North-West England Wed, 15 Jul 2015 11:57:27 +0000 REVIEW: New interdisciplinary book on Vikings tells the story of a very strong relationship between North Western Britain and Scandinavia about 800 - 1066.

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New interdisciplinary book on Vikings tells the story of a strong relationship between North Western Britain and Scandinavia about 800 – 1066.

In Search Of Vikings. Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Scandinavian Heritage of North-West England.
Ed. by Stephen E. Harding, David Griffiths and Elizabeth Royles.
CRC Press Taylor and Francis Group 2015
ISBN 9781482207576


In search of Vikings 2015 CoverAccording to the preface the title of this book is an apt reminder of the fact that the history of the Vikings in North Western Britain is not at all straightforward. It is something, we have to search for through deftly handling a plethora of sources. Until recently interdisciplinary efforts were not that common, write the editors; which is why they organised a conference in Chester in 2010 with the exact purpose of pooling the resources of archaeologists, place-name scholars, linguists, saga scholars, historians, and geneticists. The result is a thoughtful and delicate small book, which holds a number of contributions covering a wide variety of these fields.

The book opens with a very interesting presentation on the different interdisciplinary approaches to the Scandinavian Heritage of North-West England. Here we get a sense of how it all hangs together. The editors remind us that although Vikings play an important role as “ferocious others” in the imagination of people today, the facts on the ground tell quite a different story of hybridity and day-to-day interactions between people from two similar backgrounds – the Anglo-Saxons and the Norsemen. It is this more nuanced “version” of the history of the Vikings in Britain, which the contributors have sought to unpack. But this is not a scholarly collection of articles: The specific aim is to write for the general public and in an approachable and generous way.

The first chapter – A brief History and Archaeology of Viking Activity in North-West England presents us with a well-rounded introduction to what must be characterised as a relatively limited and fragmented corpus of finds. To this should be added the challenges, which explorations into landscapes, past environments and settlements pose. Griffith does end his paper on a sort of wishful tone. Perhaps, in the future, we will know more, he writes.

More “umpf” is to be found in the chapter by Judith Jesch on “Speaking Like a Viking: Language and Cultural Interaction in the Irish Sea Region, where she presents a succinct snapshot of the linguistic and cultural impact of the migration of Scandinavians to this region. Important evidence for this is the character of the place-names, which were apparently primarily topographical rather than attached to habitations or settlements. There are even a number of rivers, which got Norse Names. This, writes Judith Jesch, is indicative of the fact that the region must have been rather sparsely inhabited before the Vikings arrived. But also, that the migrations must have consisted of not only men, but their whole families. From here she moves on to consider the evidence from the many stone sculptures of mixed character, which she writes “represent diaspora in action”, characterised by a considerable influx of women, who kept some, but not all traditions intact.

This leads to the next chapter by Christina Lee, who touches upon the Viking Age Women and their handiwork and tells the story of how the Scandinavian women played an important role in the distinct textile production while they continued to speak their language for a long period.

The next two chapters, written by John Quarud and Paul Cavill, are representative of more traditional historical handiwork. More precisely they touch upon the history of two famous battles: the Battle of Tettenhall, AD 910 and the battle of Brunanburh in 937; the last one is specifically exploring the exact location of this battle in terms of the evidence from placenames and topography.

This leads to a very interesting paper by Robert a. Philpott, who writes about Viking Age Rural Settlement in Lowland-North-West England, in which he tries heroically to identify the invisible through place-names, field names and primary field enclosures. This is followed by a case-study of Workington in Cumbria, written by Mike Mccarthy and Caroline Paterson. The occasion was a fire in 1994, which destroyed a Victorian church. This gave the archaeologists the chance to excavate inside the church. Rather sensational, this yielded some 24 stone sculptural fragments as well as a number of pieces of metalwork, all reflecting a widespread Scandinavian influence in the 10th century.

Were there Vikings in Carlisle? Ask Mike McCarthy, Janet Montgomery, Ceilidh Lerwick, and Jo Buckberry. One can nearly hear the wistful dreams of excavating yet another York or Dublin. As it is, it appeared complicated to answer the question as the finds from an excavation in the Cathedral precinct yielded no actual confirmation.

However, this cannot be said about the material culture, which Jane Kershaw treats: The Viking-Age Silver in North-West England: Hoards and single finds. The reason here, is, that we know of the precise difference between the monetized Southern England and the North-West, where hack silver was predominant. The region is home to a series of silver hoards, which witness to the practical as well as symbolic capital, which was invested in the hoards. These reveal the silver riches of the vikings as well as their close contacts to their “kindred” and compatriots in Dublin and the Danelaw. Kershaw is of the opinion that the extraordinary many hoards found in the region witness to the region as a transit corridor between the East and West. As it is: here we really see the Vikings in action.

In a final paper, the genetic “heroine” from Leicester University, Turi King, tries to tackle the complicated question of whether the Vikings genetically speaking were present in the Wirrel and West Lancaster. This she does by discussing in detail the finds from a survey of the genetic profile of individuals identified through their surnames as being probable descendants of medieval ancestors. This was a pilot study. Nevertheless it appeared that people from both the Wirrel and West Lancashire with this medieval ancestry were more likely to sport a particular chromosome type, frequent I Norway; (as opposed to the “modern” control sample).

Finally Roger White rounds it all off with a review of Neston Cross fragments in Cheshire which he interprets as created by a stone-carver celebrating their new-found Christianity but also working to remember the affinity with the old cultural roots.

This is a slight book and for specialists many of the conclusions are known from articles or books written by the contributors in a more scholarly context. However, for the general public – especially in North Western England – there is much on offer.

In general the tone of the book is generous: not complicated to read neither too “scholarly”, it does live up to its pretensions; and is recommendable.

However, it seems odd, that the editors chose a greedy publisher with obviously little love of the art of producing books. The price at Amazon is £31.99 for a paperback, which has obviously been produced on a print-on-demand machine. Photos are either black and white or photocopied on paper of somewhat better quality. However, the overall impression is lousy. It had, perhaps been better, to produce the book as a pdf for easy and free download as has been done in the Languages, Myths and Finds project.

Karen Schousboe

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Transforming Male Devotional Practices Wed, 15 Jul 2015 08:13:29 +0000 How did men demonstrate their commitment to God and churches in the Middle Ages? And How did this change in the Early Modern period? Conference aims to shed light on these transformations ‘Transforming Male Devotional Practices’ from the Medieval to the Early Modern Keynote speaker: Professor Anthony Bale (Birkbeck, University of London) Confirmed speakers include: Katherine …

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How did men demonstrate their commitment to God and churches in the Middle Ages? And How did this change in the Early Modern period? Conference aims to shed light on these transformations

‘Transforming Male Devotional Practices’ from the Medieval to the Early Modern

Keynote speaker: Professor Anthony Bale (Birkbeck, University of London)
Confirmed speakers include: Katherine J. Lewis, Rebecca Rist and Sarah Bastow
CfP: Extended deadline for abstracts: 20th July

This conference is co-hosted with the Universities of Reading and Liverpool Hope. It aims to explore the social, economic and spatial factors underpinning the changing way European men demonstrated their commitment to God and the church(es) in a period of significant turmoil. Papers that address male devotional experience from historical, literary, gender studies and material culture perspectives are welcomed. Suggested themes include:

  • Religion and Society: Domestic piety and lay/household Catholicism.
  • Material Culture and ritual objects.
  • The economy of piety: indulgences, relics and paying for piety.
  • Personal and public piety: Continuity and change over the medieval and early modern periods.
  • Devotional reading, writing and performance.
  • Geography, place and space in Catholic piety.

The new deadline reflects the interest we have received in wider European experience. We welcome papers that focus on British and European devotion.

Please send proposals to


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Shrine from Bobbio Tue, 14 Jul 2015 17:57:38 +0000 Various copper-alloy fragments found in Bobbio were identified in 1990 as part of a 7th century house-shaped shrine. Might it have belonged to Columbanus?

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Various copper-alloy fragments found in Bobbio were identified in 1990 as part of a 7th century house-shaped shrine. Might it have belonged to Columbanus?

In 1910 work in the crypt of the Basilica in Bobbio resulted in the find of a small wooden box containing various objects, amongst which were some tinned copper-alloy fragments, which formed part of a house-shaped shrine from the 7th century. It was recently studied under the microscope

The wooden box, which was found in 1910 in the crypt of the Basilica of San Columbano in Bobbio measured 75 x 25 cm. Rotten and damp, it nevertheless held a long list of interesting artefacts, amongst which were

  • A wooden board with an inset bronze-covered wooden cross. Perhaps a portable altar
  • Several wooden house-shaped reliquaries with various decorations
  • Several Copper –alloy decorated plates with a white metal coating
Shrine from Bobbio- Source Wikipedia
7th century shrine from Bobbio.
Source: Wikipedia

To this should be other items: fragments of cloth, a piece of a beaker, pectoral crosses of wood and a number of ampullae, which had contained holy oil and to which a number of wooden stoppers were preserved. It is believed the ampullae had been sealed off with the small pieces of cloth.

Special interest has been attached to the house-shaped reliquaries as well as the pectorial crosses, which seem to look a bit like the jewelled pectorial cross, which was found in the grave of St. Cuthbert. But the other artifacts have also gained some interest in recent years. (A selection are exhibited in the Museum of the Abbey in Bobbio).

In an article from 1990 Michael Ryan presented a thorough exploration of the metal plates, which measured 8.2 x 3.68 cm respectively 8.3 cm x 3.28 cm. Thickness was 0.6 mm. Examined together it soon became obvious for Ryan that the pieces belonged to an insular style-house shaped reliquary, of which a number of extant pieces may be found in Copenhagen, Bolgona, ireland and elsewhere. According to Ryan, “the overwhelming conclusion was that these shrines were made to preserve corporeal relics, hence their likeness to sarcophagi. The idea that they might have been used for the transportation of the viaticum (the consecrated host brought to sick and dying people) was in his opinion not viable, since some of the extant shrines still held relics inside.

One important fact about the reliquary in Bobbio is that a house-shaped reliquary found in Clonmore in Ireland, which seems to have been made by native artisans, is very much like the one from Bobbio. Nevertheless one feature in the Bobbio-shrine  – the inserted crystals – points to a production from a continental workshop but made under Irish guidance. Perhaps it was made in the metal workshop, which has recently been excavated at Luxeuil? Anyway, Ryan’s concluded in 1990 that the reliquary should be dated to the earlier 7th century.

Microscopic examination 2013

In 2013 the shrine was reassembled and the team behind had access to do a detailed microscopic examination, before it was lent to the CREDO- exhibition in Paderborn. This examination concluded that the object showed “signs of considerable use and handling”, that the metal was worn thin in places and that the back has lost most of its tinning; “presumably from swinging to and fro across the chest of person around whose neck it was hung; and one of the corners is dented from a fall or impact.” Further the could report that a ‘piano hinge’, which turned the gabled roof into a lid that opens also showed signs of wear.

Thus they concluded, that the shrine, although undoubtedly a venerable object, had probably also been “in daily use”. According to the team this “suggests that it doubled as a chrismal (a container for consecrated host) and a reliquary.”

The research was funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and PRTLI4


Examination of the Bobbio Reliquary/Chrismal

Decorated metalwork in the Museo dell’Abbazia, Bobbio, Italy.
By Michael Ryan
Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 1991, Vol 120, pp. 102-11

Das Merowingerzeitliche Reliquienkästchen aus Ennabeuren. Eine Studie ze den frühmittelalterlichen Reisereliquaren and Chrismalia.
By Dieter Quast
Römisch Germanisches Zentralmuseum 2012
ISBN: 978-3-7954-2588-3


Roman Bridge at Bobbio source wikipedia - kataColumbanus 615 – 2015



Book of Durrow saint Matthew - cropped-small

Making Europe: Columbanus and his legacy 615 – 2015





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Columbanus 615 – 2015 Tue, 14 Jul 2015 10:29:47 +0000 The year 2015 will mark the 1400th anniversary of the death of Columbanus, Ireland’s missionary saint. Who was he and what impact did he have on Europe in the early Middle Ages? New books, an edition of his vita and archaeological excavations lead up to a series of conferences celebrating the life of this "Man of God".

The post Columbanus 615 – 2015 appeared first on Medieval Histories.

The year 2015 will mark the 1400th anniversary of the death of Columbanus, Ireland’s missionary saint. Who was he and what impact did he have on Europe in the early Middle Ages? New books, an edition of his vita and archaeological excavations lead up to a series of conferences celebrating the life of this “Man of God”.
Annegray from the air. Source: ArTeHis and Sébastian Bully
Annegray from the air. Source: ArTeHis and Sébastian Bully

Columbanus [1] was born in Ireland in Leinster, presumably in AD 543. After having studied in his youth he moved to Bangor Abbey, founded by Comgall in AD 558. In AD 590 he left Ireland together with twelve missionary comrades. Slowly they made their way through France until they ended up in Burgundy. Here they met up with the king, who granted them an abandoned Roman Fortress at Annegray [2] in which to found a monastery. Recent excavations have uncovered the remains of a medieval stronghold as well as the foundations of a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Part of the find was also a number of Merovingian graves. According to his vita, Columbanus and his friends experienced the living conditions as too harsh for their growing community and soon they negotiated a move to another Gallo-Roman castle near the baths at Luxeuil-les-Bains. Here was also a small semi-urban settlement which could support the monks initially.

Both sites were according to the Vita of Columbanus located in wild and overgrown locations covered with pine forests and brushwood. Nevertheless, series of excavations have demonstrated that both sites were equipped with large and spacious churches. And that at least the monastery at Luxeuil seems to have been located in what was already a thriving settlement.

From the excavations at Luxeuil-les-Bains [3] it appears that there was already an urban-like settlement in the 2. century. However, this had been abandoned in the first half of the 4th century to give room for a pagan cemetery. In the 5th and 6th centuries a large Early Christian Basilica was erected. Only part of this could be excavated, but it appears to have been app. 40 meters long and 19.5 meters wide. The entire nave, including the sanctuary, was filled with a multitude of Merovingian sarcophagi. Others were located outside to the east of the apse. With more than 125 such sarcophagi – of which a great number were very well preserved –the question must bee raised exactly how despondent the place was, when Columbanus arrived and began to erect his monastery. According to Sébastian Bully, who has been in charge of the excavations, this raises the question whether there might have been important geo-political reasons behind the donation of the place to the newly arrived Irish monks.

Columbanian Monasticism

Book of Durrow saint Matthew - cropped-small
St. Matthew from the Book of Durrow. Trinity College, Dublin MS A. 4. 5. fol 57. Source: Wikipedia

It has been widely debated in which way Columbanian Monasticism differed from that of the more ancient abbeys founded in the earlier period. One challenge is that the sources witness to the diversity, which came to characterise life in the different abbeys – both in the lifetime of Columbanus and later. Some features, though, seem to have been prevalent.

First of all the Irish Monks must have looked different. While the Latin Monks were tonsured with a crown, the Irish sported another type of hairstyle. Exactly how it looked is not known – some believe that the hair was shaved from the forehead from a line drawn from ear to ear with the back long and braided. Others have pondered upon other styles; in a recent article it has been suggested that the tonsure was formed like a triangle with the tip in front. Different they looked however, according to a group of bishops, who were instrumental in hounding Columbanus from Luxeuil.[4]

Celtic Penitentials

The Vienna manuscript, Lat. 2195, showing the decorative title and dedication of the Umbrense version of the Paenitentiale Theodori, fol 2v
The Vienna manuscript, Lat. 2195, showing the decorative title and dedication of the Umbrense version of the Paenitentiale Theodori, fol 2v. Source: Wikipedia

Apart from the peculiar tonsure, it seems as if the specific penitential lifestyle set the Columbanians apart from their contemporary brethren in the older monasteries spread out through Merovingian France.

Central to the missionary effort was definitely the strict Irish traditions, which in the beginning came to influence the daily lives of his brothers. These were infused with a particular brand of Celtic penitential practices as reflected in the Rule of St. Columbus. In general Late Antiquity was characterised by a ritual practice involving public penance, which might have serious communitarian consequences for the offenders (ultimately shunning). However, in the Early Middle Ages private penance became the norm. This new form of penance was associated with a new literary genre: handbooks of confessors known as penitentials. Containing long lists of all sorts of possible sins coupled with precise measures of the appropriate penance, which might absolve the sinner, became a widespread literary genre. Although hotly debated to what extent this “new” form of penitential practice was rooted in Ireland, there is no doubt that the earliest manuscripts holding penitential manuals have survived in insular manuscripts of the 7th century [5]. It is also apparent that Columbanus personally and later the Columbanians seem to have been instrumental in the mature development of this new form of religious life-form in the 7th century.

Characteristic was the constant ‘confession of devotion’ – some monasteries later required confession three times a day – followed by private and reiterated penance. Apart from fasting an important element was the intermittent withdrawal of the brethren into the wilderness for spiritual rejuvenation. Sometimes such forays into the wilderness were dispensed as a penitence called the “peregrinatio pro Christo”. Judging by Columbanus’ letter to Gregory the Great written in 604, it appears the abbot did not always believe his monks should decide upon this matter themselves. In this letter he asks:

“In the third part of my inquiry, please tell me now, if it is not troublesome, what is to be done about those monks who, for the sake of God, and inflamed by the desire for a more perfect life, impugn their vows, leave the places of their first profession, and against their abbots’ will, impelled by monastic fervour, either relapse or flee to the deserts.” (Letter of Columbanus 1, chapter 6)

Although Columbanus never got an answer as the Pope had died before he received the letter, the question does reveal the type of conflicts, which continued to exist between the old-fashioned “desert” spirituality and the more “modern” communal or coenobitic type, which was hastily developing in the 6th and 7th centuries, inspired by both Benedict and Columbanus.

The Easter Question

However, the main reason why Columbanus sent this letter to Pope Gregory the Great, was to appeal to the Pope concerning the conflict between the specific computi used for calculating the time of Easter [6], which was the main controversy between the Columbanians and the local bishops, who convened in 602 to condemn his practice of using the Augustalian Computus. This event was probably a reflection of the fact that Columbanus at the same time had involved himself in a far more dangerous dispute with his benefactors the, the royal Burgundian family.

According to his vita, Columbanus had objected to the fact that Theuderic II of Burgundy had no intention of marrying, but rather continued to live in a so-called ‘Friedelehe’ with a mistress: the mother of the king, Brunhilda is said to have approved of this, as it secured her position as Queen. As a consequence, she became one of his bitterest foes. In the end Columbanus was taken as a prisoner to Besançon. Although he succeeded in escaping, he was soon apprehended at Luxeuil, from where he was sentenced to be exiled back to Ireland. In the end, though, he succeeded in escaping this fate and was soon visiting Chlothar II, the rival to Brunhilde, as well as Thudebert (the brother of Thuderic). In the end Columbanus travelled to Metz and from there – following the Rhine – to Lake Zurich and further into Italy in 612. Here he was warmly greeted by King Agilulf and Queen Theodelinda of the Lombards, who gave him a tract of land in Bobbio near the Trebbia river. In 615 he died there; traditionally said to have happened in a small cave which may still be visited. His remains were laid to rest in the crypt at Bobbio Abbey. The present tomb is dated to the late 15th century.


Geophysics at Bobbio. Source:
Geophysics at Bobbio. Source:

As at Luxeuil, Bobbio was located in an area, which according to the Vita of Columbanus should be characterised as a secluded spot of wilderness, which commanded an almost super-human effort to inhabit and civilize. As it happens it was a well-known location on the road between Genoa and Piacenza. Even today it is famous for its hunchbacked Roman Bridge, Ponte Gobbo, which was definitely there, when he arrived there. It must be presumed that there was also at least some sort of settlement catering for travellers. Once again archaeology must be used to revise the hagiographic topos of saints “cultivating wilderness”, which flows through the Vita

However, archaeological excavations in Bobbio [7] have only recently been carried out, and much still needs to be done in order to get a proper feeling for the early monastic foundation there. This year, though, a group of archaeologists have dug into the central nave of the Basilica di San Columbano in order to get at least some indications of the earliest building phases of the monastery. This follows on GeoRadar survey carried out last year. These excavations have been carried out in a collaboration between a number of institutions in both Ireland, France and Italy as part of the major project: Making Europe: Columbanus and His Legacy.

Columbanus and His Legacy

In 618, just three years after the death of its founder Columbanus, Jonas of Bobbio (c. AD 600 – 659) arrived at the monastery of Bobbio Abbey. Soon after (between AD 639 – 643) he took it upon himself to write the vita of Columbanus [8].  Later he asserted that he had based his account of the great Irish saint on the testimony of persons who had known him intimately. This Vita seems to present us with an intimate account of the way in which the followers of Columbanus experienced the charismatic personality as feel as life and deeds. It has for a very long time been a problem that no scholarly edition and translation was available. This is to be rectified in connection with the upcoming celebrations of Columbanus and his Legacy by an edition, which has been prepared by Ian Wood and Alexander O’Hara [9]

The project: Columbanus and his Legacy 615 – 2015 was launched in 2014 in order to organise three conferences planned at Bangor, Luxeuil and Bobbio. At Bobbio this will be accompanied by an exhibition showcasing a number of prescious manuscripts as well as artefacts found in connection with the on-going excavations there. Unfortunately the website is currently not properly updated; some information may nevertheless be gained from the dedicated website Columbanus 2015


[1] The most recent overview of the life and legacy of Columbanus may be found in Power and Religion in Merovingian GaulColumbanian Monasticism and the Frankish Elites. By Yaniv Fox. Cambridge University Press 2014

[2] Les sites d’Annegray et de Faucogney: Sondages et prospections géophysiques/ete 2013 and Fouilles programmées et sondages/été 2014

[3] L’église Saint-Martin de Luxeuil-les-Bains (Haute Saône), duxième Campagne. By Sébastian Bully. In: Busema: Bulleting du centre d’études médiévales d’Auxerre, 2010

[4] The Celtic Tonsure: On the shape of the insular tonsure. By Daniel McCarthy. In: Celtica, 2003 Vol 24 pp. 140 – 167

[5] About penitentials: Penance in Medieval Europe, 600 – 1200. By Rob Meens. Cambridge University Press 2014

[6] About Easter: A recent presentation of this conflict may be found in Power and Religion in Merovingian GaulColumbanian Monasticism and the Frankish Elites, pp. 92 – 93

[7] Primo scavo archeologico nella navata centrale della Basilica di San Colombano a Bobbio

[8] The Vita of Columbanus has been published by Bruno Krusch in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatism editi. Vol 37:1905: Ionae Vitae sanctum Columbani, vedastis, Iohannis. 

[9] Jonas of Bobbio. Life of Columbanus, Life of John of Reome, and Life of Vedast. Translated with commentary by Alexander O’Hara and Ian Wood. Series: Translated Texts for Historians. Liverpool University Press 2015 . ISBN-13: 9781781381762


Making Europe: Columbanus and His Legacy.


Columbanus and the Politics of Exile: Social Networks, Elite Identities, and Christian Communities in Europe,  c. 550- c. 750


Saint Columbanus Selected Writings coverSaint Columbanus: Selected Writings
by Alexander O’Hara
Veritas Publications 2015
ISBN-10: 1847305873
ISBN-13: 978-1847305879

Though he died fourteen hundred years ago, the words of Columbanus are as relevant today as they were in the sixth century. A poet, scholar, abbot and founder of monasteries throughout Europe, his legacy has inspired countless missionaries to follow in his path. Compiled by Alexander O Hara, with a foreword by Mary McAleese and introductory chapter by Fr Sean McDonagh, this beautiful selection of writings encapsulates the teachings of one of Ireland s best-known saints, providing a fascinating insight into the mind of a provocative and groundbreaking missionary.


Jonas of Bobbio by O'Hara and Ian Wood - CoverJonas of Bobbio. Life of Columbanus, Life of John of Reome, and Life of Vedast. 
Translated with commentary by Alexander O’Hara and Ian Wood.
Series: Translated Texts for Historians.
Liverpool University Press 2015/16  (In progress)
ISBN-13: 9781781381762

The Life of Columbanus is a, perhaps the, central text for the history of seventh-century monasticism. The first book of the work describes the career of the Irish monk Columbanus, while the second describes his disciples – Eustasius, Athala and Burgundofara. It is a well-known text and has been translated into several languages, including French and Italian. An English version of Book I is in print, as is a translation by Professor Ian Wood of part of Book II. There are, however, good reasons for a new translation and commentary, and not just because the text is a central one. First, Columbanus died in 615: 2015 will therefore be a centenary year. Second, the current translation of Book I does not use the latest (1965) edition. Third, recent archaeological discoveries at Luxeuil, Columbanus’ most important foundation in Francia, have revolutionised our understanding of the saint’s actual impact. Whilst Jonas describes the site as an unoccupied desert, in reality it was a thriving cult site surrounded by major cemeteries which were already in use before Columbanus’ arrival – as has only become apparent in the last five years. This means that the text now has to be seen as a programmatic work, advocating a particular monastic style, rather than as a record of fact (a point that is not new, but which has been disregarded by many scholars). Moreover, while it is a programmatic work advocating a particular style of monasticism, since the 1970s it has become a good deal more apparent to what extent that style was novel, and to what extent it was merely the refinement of monastic practices already present before Columbanus’ arrival. Equally, it is becoming clear that some of the practices ascribed to Columbanus by Jonas reflect developments following the saint’s death, which the hagiographer wished to associate with the founding saint. As a result, the commentary on the text will in many ways be as important for students as the translation. The Life of John of Reome, also written by Jonas, is a short work which promotes the same values as are present in the Life of Columbanus, but which are here ascribed to an earlier Gallo-Roman saint. It is an important text, because it adds to our knowledge of the monastic movement to which the Life of Columbanus belongs. The Life of Vedast is also included in the volume for the completeness. It was identified in 1905, as being by Jonas and although this has been questioned in recent years, the objections are not decisive. The text unquestionably belongs to Jonas’ circle, even if he himself did not write it.


Power and Religion in Merovingian Gaul by Yaniv Fox CoverPower and Religion in Merovingian Gaul. 
Columbanian Monasticism and the Frankish Elites
By Yaniv Fox
Cambridge University Press 2014
ISBN: 9781107064591
ISBN: 9781316057018

This study is the first to attempt a thorough investigation of the activities of the Columbanian congregation, which played a significant role in the development of Western monasticism. This was a new form of rural monasticism, which suited the needs and aspirations of a Christian elite eager to express its power and prestige in religious terms. Contrary to earlier studies, which viewed Columbanus and his disciples primarily as religious innovators, this book focuses on the political, economic, and familial implications of monastic patronage and on the benefits elite patrons stood to reap. While founding families were in a privileged position to court royal favour, monastic patronage also exposed them to violent reprisals from competing factions. Columbanian monasteries were not serene havens of contemplation, but rather active foci of power and wealth, and quickly became integral elements of early medieval statecraft.

The Social Life of Hagiography in the Merovingian Kingdom by Jamie Kreiner CoverThe Social Life of Hagiography in the Merovingian Kingdom
by Jamie Kreiner
Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series)
Cambridge University Press 2014
ISBN-10: 1107050650
ISBN-13: 978-1107050655

This book charts the influence of Christian ideas about social responsibility on the legal, fiscal and operational policies of the Merovingian government, which consistently depended upon the collaboration of kings and elites to succeed, and it shows how a set of stories transformed the political playing field in early medieval Gaul. Contemporary thinkers encouraged this development by writing political arguments in the form of hagiography, more to redefine the rules and resources of elite culture than to promote saints’ cults. Jamie Kreiner explores how hagiographers were able to do this effectively, by layering their arguments with different rhetorical and cognitive strategies while keeping the surface narratives entertaining. The result was a subtle and captivating literature that gives us new ways of thinking about how ideas and institutions can change, and how the vibrancy of Merovingian culture inspired subsequent Carolingian developments.

Columbanus- Studies on the Latin Writings (Studies in Celtic History) coverColumbanus: Studies on the Latin Writings
By Michael Lapidge (Ed)
Boydell & Brewer 1997
ISBN: 978 -0-85115-667-5

Columbanus (d.615), the Irish monk and founder of such important centres as Luxeuil and Bobbio, was one of the most influential figures in early medieval Europe. His fiery personality led him into conflict with Gallic bishops and Roman popes, and he defended his position on such matters as monastic discipline in a substantial corpus of Latin writings marked by burning conviction and rhetorical skill. However, the polish of his style has raised questions about the nature of his early training in Ireland and even about the authenticity of the writings which have come down to us under his name. The studies in this volume attempt to address these questions: by treating each of the individual writings comprehensively, and drawing on recently-developed techniques of stylistic analysis new light is shed on Columbanus and his early education in Ireland. More importantly, doubts over the authenticity of certain writings attributed to Columbanus are here authoritatively resolved, so putting the study of this cardinal figure on a sound basis. Professor Michael Lapdidge teaches in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge.

The Bobbio Missal Yitzhak Hen and Rob Meens CoverThe Bobbio Missal: Liturgy and Religious Culture in Merovingian Gaul
by Yitzhak Hen and Rob Meens (Eds)
Series: Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology
Cambridge University Press 2009
ISBN-10: 0521126916
ISBN-13: 978-0521126915

The Bobbio Missal was copied in south-eastern Gaul around the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth century. It contains a unique combination of a lectionary and a sacramentary, to which a plethora of canonical and non-canonical material was added. The Missal is therefore highly regarded by liturgists; but, additionally, medieval historians welcome the information to be derived from material attached to the codex, which provides valuable data about the role and education of priests in Francia at that time, and indeed on their cultural and ideological background. The breadth of specialist knowledge provided by the team of scholars writing for this book enables the manuscript to be viewed as a whole, not as a narrow liturgical study. Collectively, the essays view the manuscript as physical object: they discuss the contents, they examine the language, and they look at the cultural context in which the codex was written.

Bobbio in the early Middle Ages by richter coverBobbio in the Early Middle Ages: The Abiding Legacy of Columbanus
by Michael Richter
Four Courts Press Ltd
ISBN-10: 1846821037
ISBN-13: 978-1846821035

Bobbio was the last monastery founded by St Columbanus, who died two years after its inception. It soon became the most important monastery in northern Italy.Several dozen manuscripts, some lavishly illuminated, have survived from the first three centuries of its existence. The largest body of Old Irish glosses passed through Bobbio before ending up in Milan.The evidence for Bobbio in the early Middle Ages is richer than for any Irish monastery in those times, with a substantial amount of source material available on the economic status of the monastery in the late 9th century. This is the first full-scale study of this institution, which celebrated its 1400th anniversary in 2012.

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Large Viking Hall found in Reykjavik in Iceland Mon, 13 Jul 2015 12:53:01 +0000 Archaeologists digging on Lækjargata in central Reykjavik were looking for traces of a farm cottage built in 1799 – and found a Viking longhouse 900 years older

The post Large Viking Hall found in Reykjavik in Iceland appeared first on Medieval Histories.

Archaeologists digging on Lækjargata in central Reykjavik were looking for traces of a farm cottage built in 1799 – and found a Viking longhouse 900 years older

The longhouse is at least 20 m long at 5.5m wide at it widest point. The ‘long fire’ in the centre of the hut is one of the largest ever found in Iceland, which visible traces suggesting it was over 5.2 m long.

“This find came as a great surprise for everybody,” says Þor­steinn Bergs­son, Managing Director of Minja­vernd, an independent association working for the preservation of old buildings in Iceland.

“This rewrites the history of Reykjavik”, said Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir, archaeologist at the Icelandic Institute of Archaeology to the Iceland Monitor. She says there is no way of knowing who could have lived in the longhouse. “We have no records of any building on this spot other than the cottage built in 1799,” she explains.

The building is from the first years of the settlement of Iceland – a period usually dated 870-930 AD; but more exact dating will need to wait until after the excavation has been completed.

The long Fire

longfire in Iceland Viking Hall. Photo: Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir
The Longfire in Lækjargata in Reykjavik. Photo: Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir

The exact size of the hall cannot me measured as part of it is hidden beneath neighbouring houses. However, the size of the long-fire is on par with that found during the excavations at Hrísbrú; perhaps the new hall or longhouse measured the same: 30 m.

Such fires were both a source of heat and light. However, as there was no chimney, longhouses were very smoky and uncomfortable to stay in. An experimental archaeology project in two Danish reconstructed Viking Age Houses have shown that the exposure to woodsmoke must have been a contributing factor to health problems [1]. However, in another study the archaeologists teamed up with scientists and found that “even a high inhalation exposure to wood smoke was associated with limited systemic effects on markers of oxidative stress, DNA damage, inflammation, and monocyte activation” [2]. In a series of simulated experiments another Danish archaeologist has shown that the heating of such a large building poised enormous challenges [3]

The Settlement Exhibition

An computer generated image of the layout of the viking hall made by the multimedia company Gagarin of the Longhouse exhibited in Reykjavik
An computer generated image of the layout of the viking hall exhibited in Reykjavik. © Gargarin

The last time a longhouse was discovered in Reykjavik was in 2001, at Aðalstræti. The relics found at this site represented the oldest evidence of human habitation in Reykjavik, dating back to before 871 AD. This longhouse has been preserved as the centre for an exhibition about the Viking settlement in Reykjavik.

The construction of Viking Age buildings is explained using multimedia technology. Computer technology is used to give an impression of what life was like in the hall.

The exhibition aims to provide insights into the environment of the Reykjavík farm at the time of the first settlers. Exhibits include artefacts from archaeological excavations in central Reykjavík.

The remains of the two longhouses were located approximately 250 meters from each other


The Settlement Exhibition Reykjavik 871 +/- 2
Reykjavík center, Aðalstræti 16, Iceland


[1] Household air pollution from wood burning in two reconstructed houses from the Danish Viking Age.
By J. M. Christensen and M. Ryhl-Svendsen
In: Indoor Air. 2015, Vol 25, issue 3, pp. 329 – 340.

[2] Biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation after wood smoke exposure in a reconstructed Viking Age house
By: Annie Jensen, Dorina Gabriela Karottki, Jannie Marie Christensen, Jakob Hjort Bønløkke, Torben Sigsgaard, Marianne Glasius, Steffen Loft and Peter Møller
In: Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, 2014, Vol. 55, Issue 8, pp. 652–661,

[3] Røg- og varmeforhold I vikingetidens huse. Varmetabsberegning og røgsimulering op tre vikingehuse I digital rekonstruktion.
By Elizabeth Rüssel Palm
Unpublished Thesis (MA) 2013


Halls in Iceland: Viking Archaeology, sagas, and Interdisciplinary Research in Iceland’s Mosfell Valley.
By: Jesse Byock and Davide Zori.
In: Celebrating 40 Years of Discovery. In: Backdirt 2013. Annual review of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA

Viking Archaeology in Iceland. Mossfell Archaeological Project.
By D. Zori and J. Byock (eds).
Brepols 2014

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Archaeological Reconstructions and Tourism Mon, 13 Jul 2015 08:00:21 +0000 Together with MAMUZ in Austria, EXARC is organizing an international conference on 'Archaeological Reconstructions and Tourism' near Vienna in September 2015

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Together with Urgeschichtemuseum MAMUZ in Austria, EXARC is organizing an international conference on ‘Archaeological Reconstructions and Tourism’ near Vienna in September 2015

With publications like “From Stonehenge to Las Vegas” (Holtorf 2005) and “The Plastic Venuses, Archaeological Tourism In Post-Modern Society” (Melotti 2011) it has become clear that archaeological reconstructions have found their way to the mainstream public. It is not anymore about carefully made “authentic” reconstructions in a showcase or open-air museum context, we are talking about product placement, supporting modern messages with archaeological imagery, about archaeology lending its face to commerce. Where does this end, and when does it turn bad for archaeology? Or are we happy about (any) role in society, as “they” are the ones who pay “us”? These questions will be explored at Mamuz in September 2015.

Archaeological Reconstructions and Tourism
Mistelbach, Austria
25.09.2015 – 27.09.2015


List of speakers. Full programme with abstracts and presentations of excursions may be found at Exarc’s website


  • EXARC consists of four internal networks for our Members. Subjects are Archaeological Open-Air Museums, Experimental Archaeology, Ancient Technology and Interpretation.
  • The EXARC community is vibrant, dynamic and growing with almost 250 members in 30+ countries we offer a strong supportive network where everyone interested in these subjects can exchange knowledge, experience and best practice…
  • EXARC offers you the EXARC Journal featuring the latest developments in fieldwork, academic research, museum studies, living history interpretation and ancient technology…
  • EXARC also organises small-scale collaborations and international partnerships to raise the profile of the participants and allow other members to benefit from their experience…

Read more about Exarc

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