Medieval Histories News about the Middle Ages Sat, 25 Apr 2015 09:22:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Medieval Armenia Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:54:41 +0000 Today the world remembers the 100-year anniversary of the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, who died as the result of a horrible massacre. We should also remember the awful cultural destruction, which followed in its wake

Not quite so awful as the genocide proper, but also of world-historical importance, was the accompanied destruction of the Armenian heritage: churches, manuscripts, art. Most of the properties formerly belonging to Armenians were confiscated by the Turkish government and turned into military posts, hospitals, schools and prisons. After the genocide at least 600 names of locations were changed into Turkish.

More specifically churches were given over to Muslim immigrants from the Balkans and Greece, and turned into Mosques. The legal justification for the seizures was the law of ‘Emval-i Metruke’ (Law of Abandoned Properties), which legalized the confiscation of Armenian property if the owner did not return. Thus, in 1914 the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul controlled 2549 religious sites, amongst which were 200 monasteries and 1600 churches. In 1974 it was estimated by UNESCO that of 913 registered monuments in Eastern Turkey only 21% were still in existence, although demanding repairs. The rest had either vanished or lay in ruins.

It has to be remembered that very many of these monuments were very ancient foundations from the earliest days of Christianity. Armenian Christianity traces its roots back to the apostolic endeavour of the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus. Whatever the actual truth in this: it is a fact that the Armenian Church was the first to be officially adopted as a State church. This happened in AD 301.

Churches and Monasteries

Here is a list of a few of the more famous of the destroyed sites:

Arakelots_Monastery_in_Tavush WikipediaThe Holy Arakelots Monastery was founded in the 4th century by one of the founding fathers of the ancient Armenian Church, Gregory the Illuminator. In 1915 the monastery was attacked and looted and the last inhabitants were murdered. In 1960 it was blown up by a local Turkish administrator.




Saint Karapet WikipediaThe Saint Karapet Monastery in the Taron province, also founded by Gregory the Illuminator. It was blown up by the Turkish army and today nothing remains except a few shapeless ruins.





Nor_Varagavank-WikipediaVaragavank Monastery, founded around in the early 11th century is today in ruins; it ceased to function in 1915, but was not demolished until 1951. Today, the remains of the vast complex are used as a stable.





Church_Of_The_Apostles_or Cathedral of Kars 2009 WikipediaThe Cathedral of Kars or the Holy Apostles Church was built in the 10th century. After the genocide the church was confiscated by the Turkish State. In the 60s and 70s it was used as a museum. In 1998 however, it was turned into a mosque.


T'oros Roslin  Armenian illuminatorgoogle art projectAt the beginning of WWI the largest collection of Armenian manuscripts was kept in the Cathedral of Holy Echmiadzin. In February 1915, 4.660 manuscripts plus other valuables were sent to Moscow. Others were saved during the next months. However, it is estimated that more than 10.000 medieval manuscripts were destroyed. The collection from Echmiadzin constitutes the core of the 11.000 Armenian manuscripts currently kept at the national museum in Yerevan at the Matanadaran. Some of the treasures in this collection dates to the 5th century: Another treasure is the Homilies of Mush, which measures 55.3 x 70.5 cm and weighs 27.2 kilos. It was written in 1200 -1202. The Mashtots Matenadaran Ancient Manuscripts Collection  was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme Register in 1997 in recognition of its world significance


Karamvank Monastery. The Monastery was located in the Vaspurakan region around the Lake Van. It was founded in 908 – 943. Today the monstery is heavily damaged and the dome is completely ruined. Source Wikipedia


The Armenians CoverArmenians, The: From Kings and Priests to Merchants and Commissars 
by Razmik Panossian
Columbia University Press 2015
ISBN-10: 0231139268
ISBN-13: 978-0231139267



The Armenians in the Medieval islamic World CoverThe Armenians in the Medieval Islamic World: Medieval Cosmopolitanism and Images of Islam
by Seta B Dadoyan
Transaction Publishers 2012
ISBN-10: 1412851890
ISBN-13: 978-1412851893



Armenia they can live in the desert cover“They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else”: A History of the Armenian Genocide
Series: Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity
by Ronald Grigor Suny
Princeton University Press 2015
ISBN-10: 0691147302
ISBN-13: 978-0691147307


Studies on the formation of Christian Armenia CoverChurch and Culture in Early Medieval Armenia
by Nina G. Garsoian
Series: Variorum Collected Studies
Ashgate Publishing Limited 1999
ISBN-10: 0860787877
ISBN-13: 978-0860787877


maranci great outdoors flyerVigilant Powers: Three Churches of Early Medieval Armenia (Cover not posted yet)
Series: Studies in the Visual Cultures of the Middle Ages
by Christina Maranci
Brepols Publishers 2015
ISBN-10: 2503549004
ISBN-13: 978-2503549002


Armenian Churches around the world CoverArmenian Churches Around The World( Christian Armenian Churches Built All Around the World)
Nver Antonyan (Author), Arman Antonyan (Editor)
Kindle Edition of a Google translated self-published guidebook from Armenia. However, it does present a very good overview of what to look for.




treasures in heaven CoverTreasures in Heaven: Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts: American Illuminated Manuscripts
by Thomas F. Mathews
Princeton University Press 1994
ISBN-10: 0691037515
ISBN-13: 978-0691037516


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The Knighting Ritual and Arm Delivery Thu, 23 Apr 2015 10:36:22 +0000 The roots of the knighting ritual can be found in the 11th century. The evidence points to a set of rituals developed in the triangle of Normandy, Flandern and France and dedicated to mark the coming of age of young men brought up in the households of mighty lords.
William the Conqueror seal-web
William the Conqueror’s seal. Note that he is carrying a standard fitted to a spear and not a sword

We think we know how a knight came to be and what elaborate religiously inspired ritual, he had to undergo in the process. We also think we know that knights per definition were noble and members of a select brotherhood. And we believe we know that a special ethos came to characterise medieval knights as the idea of chivalry developed in the 12th century.

Nevertheless, medievalists have long tried to explain how the reality behind this ideal-type myth and the accompanying stories was much more complex and full of nuances than generally believed. As of now there is a considerable literature trying to come to grips with what chivalry really meant in different contexts and at different times. It seems, all that was solid has melted into thin air in the last 40 years.

However, a better understanding of how this institution came about has until now been more sketchy. One reason is that it is not that easy to cover a field, where historical research is not enough. To grapple with the question of how chivalry came about and what it might mean, demands more of a scholar than mere text-plodding. You need to be well-versed in philology, text-analysis, literary theory, and historical anthropology as well. One challenge is simply that knightings – however we should understand them – went on for centuries and were described in a very wide variety of texts and languages. But if we could get a firmer grasp on when and how it all came about, we might get a clearer understating of the phenomena than post-modernity seems to have been able to present to us.

In a number of recent articles, Max Lieberman from Bern University, aims to do exactly that. In his work he demonstrates his ability to juggle these different theoretical approaches and succeeds in shedding new light on how it all came about.

In his latest article he examines six very early texts about “knighting” and by asking two sets of questions, the first of which focus on what really went on in these six texts (more of those below). The second goal is to explore to what extent these early cases of “dubbing” might be considered necessary rituals, that is performative ritualised “speech-acts” designed to assign a new status to the “knight”. Behind this lingers of course the question of whether a knight was primarily a “heavy cavalryman”, a member of a landed stratum below barons, but more exalted than ordinary freemen, or “a specially ordained person”, ritually set apart from friends and foes not so dubbed.

Henry I great seal
Henry I’s great seal. Note that he is carrying a sword as opposed to his father

The six texts are [1]:

  • AD 1040 – 45 William the Conqueror took arms (arma militaria summit) according to William of Poitiers writing 1071 – 77. A later text by William of Malmesbury after 1126 says that William the Conqueror accepted military insignia from the French King (militia insignia a rege Francorum iccipiens)
  • AD 1060 Fulk IV Le Réchin of Anjou was made a “miles” by his uncle Geoffrey Martel at Angers (nepotem suum ornavit in militem) From: fragment of family chronicle of Fulk le Réchin † 1109.)
  • AD 1064 William of Normandy gave arms to Harold (Hic: Willem: dedit: Haroldo: Arma) From: Bayeux Tapestry, scene 19
  • AD 1060 – 70 Philip, son of Henri I of France, was distinguished with arms by Baldwin VI, Count of Flanders (regalis militiae armis) Quoted in charter given by Baldwin II.
  • AD 1086 Henry, son of William was “dubbed… to ridere” ( at Westminster (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)
  • AD 1098 Louis (the son of the French king and the future Louis VI) was decorated and honoured with “arma militaria” and promorted and ordained to “militia (debeo Ludovicum regis filium armis militaribus adornare et honorare, et ad militium promovere et ordinare). From a letter by Guy de Pontieu – who is to do the act – inviting the bishop of Arras to come to Abbeville to “come and honour that same Louis”.

By working carefully through these texts, Lieberman is able to conclude that the evidence suggests that “symbolic deliveries of arms” apparently did take place in courtly settings as early as the 11th century and that they were designed to mark a young mans entry into manhood. He further argues, that it is highly likely that the arms consisted of a full set of weapons fitting the young man out as a mounted cavalryman. The text from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may suggest this. However, unspecified arms might also just be given as gifts like those Harold was gifted with in the scene in the tapestry (it is highly unlikely to understand this scene as part of a process whereby William takes Harold as a vassal. He is obviously fitting Harold with a helmet, not slapping him).

A much more complicated question is, though, what status these young men acquired, when they received their “arms”. “Miles” was a “polysemic and richly evocative” expression already before 1100, writes Lieberman. However, in his opinion the six bits of text does suggest that what took place were indeed constitutive knightings – “that it was possible to be knighted, even before 1100”.

But was it constitutive knighting – in the sense that the young men became “knights” as the result of a performative ritual? Yes, answers Lieberman: There was a type of arms-gift and this was linked to the creation of knights out of young persons, who grew up in the household of a lord.

In all likelihood, he writes, knighting in a developed sense took place before 1100. Through this ritual, young men recruited from the elite were lifted into a distinct brotherhood of fighters on horseback. Thus, it does not make sense to argue that “the knights” rose over the course of the 12th century. Perhaps even the chivalric ethos was already widely accepted as early as the 11th century.

Highly interesting…

[1] See article for links to the relevant sources and the full texts with their translation.


A New Approach to the Knighting Ritual
By Max Lieberman
In: Speculum 2015 Vol 90: 2, pp. 391-423

Knighthood and Chivalry in the Histories of the Norman Dukes: Dudo and Benoît.
In: Anglo-Norman Studies (former: Proceedings of the Battle Conference) 2009, pp.129 – 183


Max Lieberman is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Berne, Switzerland

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Rural settlements in the Early Middle Ages in France Tue, 21 Apr 2015 11:50:47 +0000 The theme for the 36th International Conference on Merovingian Archaeology is dedicated to new research into the rural settlements of Early Medieval France

The theme for the 36th International Conference on Merovingian Archaeology is dedicated to new research into the rural settlements of Early Medieval France. The conference is organised by AFAM – the French Association for the study of Merovingian Archaeology (Association française d’archéologie mérovingienne)

In 1993, the French association of Merovingian Archaeology organized a conference devoted to Rural settlements and housing in the High Middle Ages in France, the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK. At that time the archaeology of rural settlements in the early Middle Ages was developing gradually in France, and inspired the whole field of “rescue archaeology” developing at that time.

Originally, the ambition was to uncover the genesis and formation of villages in early medieval France. Since then, however, ambitions have widened to explore regional variations in the organisation of different forms of social space. In the same period excavations have multiplied, collective research projects have emerged, and many monographs and regional reports have been published. Today, the field has changed completely. The upcoming conference aims explore what all this new knowledge might mean for our general idea of rural settlements and society in the Early Middle Ages.

The 36th international conference will be organized in three sessions that will be devoted respectively to the main theme nationally, to South-West France, and to general news from the field of Merovingian archaeology.

  • From North to South: regional balances, micro-regional and case studies
  • The medieval settlements in the Middle Ages in Languedoc-Roussillon (VI-XII c.)
  • Merovingian News

Conference: Rural settlements in the Early Middle Ages in France (5th – 11th centuries.). Dynamics of population, forms, functions and status of institutions
L’habitat rural du haut Moyen Âge en France (Ve-XIe s.). Dynamiques du peuplement, formes, fonctions et statuts des établissements
Montpellier (Hérault)
01.10.2015 – 03.10.2015
CFP: deadline 15th of May: mail should be addressed to


The photo is from the excavations at Bruch in South-Western France, where a series of Merovingian tombs have recently been excavated.

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The Medieval New: Ambivalence in an Age of Innovation Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:43:04 +0000 The Medieval New explores what “newfangled” meant in literary, scientific, and religious discourses of the twelfth through sixteenth centuries

The Medieval New: Ambivalence in an Age of Innovation
by Patricia Clare Ingham
Series: The Middle Ages Series
University of Pennsylvania Press 2015
ISBN-10: 081224706X
ISBN-13: 978-0812247060


The Medieval New CoverDespite the prodigious inventiveness of the Middle Ages, the era is often characterized as deeply suspicious of novelty. But if poets and philosophers urged caution about the new, Patricia Clare Ingham contends, their apprehension was less the result of a blind devotion to tradition than a response to radical expansions of possibility in diverse realms of art and science. Discovery and invention provoked moral questions in the Middle Ages, serving as a means to adjudicate the ethics of invention and opening thorny questions of creativity and desire.

The Medieval New concentrates on the preoccupation with newness and novelty in literary, scientific, and religious discourses of the twelfth through sixteenth centuries. Examining a range of evidence, from the writings of Roger Bacon and Geoffrey Chaucer to the letters of Christopher Columbus, and attending to histories of children’s toys, the man-made marvels of romance, the utopian aims of alchemists, and the definitional precision of the scholastics, Ingham analyzes the ethical ambivalence with which medieval thinkers approached the category of the new. With its broad reconsideration of what the “newfangled” meant in the Middle Ages, The Medieval New offers an alternative to histories that continue to associate the medieval era with conservation rather than with novelty, its benefits and liabilities. Calling into question present-day assumptions about newness, Ingham’s study demonstrates the continued relevance of humanistic inquiry in the so-called traditional disciplines of contemporary scholarship.


Patricia Clare Ingram is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University. She is author of Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the Making of Britain, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press, and coeditor of Postcolonial Moves: Medieval Through Modern.


Woman at spinning wheel with man carding. Smithfield Decretals. c. 1340. British Library Royal 10 e iv, fol 147v

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Anglo-Saxon Saints’ Lives as History Writing in Late Medieval England Tue, 21 Apr 2015 09:56:08 +0000 The Anglo-Saxon Saints were ideal conduits for late medieval fashioning of the glorious past of England. New book tells the story of how their hagiographies were used to forge a vision of historical righteousness among policymakers, intellectuals and clerics in Late Medieval England.

Anglo-Saxon Saints’ Lives as History Writing in Late Medieval England
by Cynthia Turner Camp
Boydell & Brewer 2015
ISBN-10: 1843844028
ISBN-13: 978-1843844020


Anglo-Saxon Saints' Lives as History Writing in Late Medieval EnglandLate medieval thinkers and writers weren’t interested in their island’s Anglo-Saxon past; it would be up to early modern antiquarians and reformation polemicists to “rediscover” pre-Conquest history. Or so the received narrative tells us. Turning to visual art, royal ceremony, and monastic tradition, however, we can see a widespread fascination in late fourteenth, fifteenth, and early sixteenth-century England with English religious history before the Norman Conquest. Every sector of society might try to root its institutional history in, and thereby shape its contemporary identity through, the perceived spiritual and political perfections of Anglo-Saxon England.

The past was simply very much present in later medieval England, as secular and religious institutions worked to recover (or create) originary narratives that could guarantee, they hoped, their political and spiritual legitimacy. Anglo-Saxon England, in particular, was imagined as a spiritual “golden age” and a rich source of precedent, for kings and for the monasteries that housed early English saints’ remains. This book examines the vernacular hagiography produced in a monastic context, demonstrating how writers, illuminators, and policy-makers used English saints (including St Edmund) to re-envision the bonds between ancient spiritual purity and contemporary conditions. Treating history and ethical practice as inseparable, poets such as Osbern Bokenham, Henry Bradshaw, and John Lydgate reconfigured England’s history through its saints, engaging with contemporary concerns about institutional identity, authority, and ethics.

Central to this project is the question of ways, not only ends, of imagining the distant past. That is, Saints’ Lives is as concerned with different narrative and non-narrative modes of commemorating pre-Conquest England as it is with the reinvention of the Anglo-Saxon past. Particular attention is paid to these texts’ formal poetics, the structure of manuscripts, the interplay of text and image, and the intersection of writing and corporality. Approaching these texts via both narrativist historiography and the stasis of image and relic, Holy Histories theorizes the ways diachronic and acronic depictions of time establish distinct transtemporal relations between the late medieval present and the distant past. By paying particular attention to the genre’s distinctive features, Saints’ Lives demonstrates how hagiography is able to forge connections unavailable to other historical genres or within other media, making saints the ideal conduits through which the past’s glories can made available to the present.


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  Edith of Wilton and the Writing of Women’s History
  • 3  Audrey Abroad: Spiritual and Genealogical Filiation in the Middle English Lives of Etheldreda
  • 4  Henry Bradshaw’s Life of Werburge and the Limits of Holy Incorruption
  • 5  The Limits of Narrative History in the Written and Pictorial Lives of Edward the Confessor
  • 6  The Limits of Poetic History in Lydgate’s Edmund and Fremundand the Harley 2278 Pictorial Cycle
  • 7  Bibliography


Cynthia Turner Camp is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Georgia.

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Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy Tue, 21 Apr 2015 09:20:34 +0000 Italian cities are renowned for their bustling marketplaces full of bars, covered market-stalls and beautiful art in the form of water-fountains. New book tells the story of the spatial, architectural and artistic elements of the medieval marketplace

Markets and Marketplaces in medieval Italy  CoverMarkets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy, c. 1100 to c. 1440
by Dennis Romano
Yale University Press 2015
ISBN-10: 0300169078
ISBN-13: 978-0300169072

Cathedrals and civic palaces stand to this day as symbols of the dynamism and creativity of the city-states that flourished in Italy during the Middle Ages. Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy argues that the bustling yet impermanent sites of markets played an equally significant role, not only in the economic life of the Italian communes, but in their political, social, and cultural life as well. Drawing on a range of evidence from cities and towns across northern and central Italy, Dennis Romano explores the significance of the marketplace as the symbolic embodiment of the common good; its regulation and organization; the ethics of economic exchange; and how governments and guilds sought to promote market values. With a special focus on the spatial, architectural, and artistic elements of the marketplace, Romano adds new dimensions to our understanding of the evolution of the market economy and the origins of commercial capitalism and Renaissance individualism.


Dennis Romano is the Dr. Walter G. Montgomery and Marian Gruber Professor of History and a professor in the Department of Art and Music Histories at Syracuse University.


Piazza del Campo Siena. Source: Wikipedia

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Lack of Medieval Male Heirs has Modern Impact Mon, 20 Apr 2015 13:17:10 +0000 Lack of Medieval Male Heirs led to conflicts and instability and slowed down economic development. The consequences can still be measured today. It appears Henry VIII was right to fret about his lack of male heirs!

Medieval State Building and Contemporary European Development
By Avidit Acharya and Alexander Lee
Stanford University 2015, Unpublished Paper

In the Middle Ages a shortage of male heirs led to conflict and instability which led to persistently weaker institutions as well as persistently weaker development outcomes. The amazing discovery is, that such medieval periods of instability are reflected in modern GDP. One such example is Portugal, where the House of Avis failed to produce any male heirs in the period after 1500. This led to Portugal’s annexation by the King of Spain (the female-line-heir). Afterwards followed a long period of absentee rule (1580 – 1640), which is generally associated with the beginning of the Portuguese decline; the results of which can still be seen today (in comparison to Spain).

The amazing result of the work of Avidit Acharya and Alexander Lee is, that this case is not singular. In fact, hard-core statistics show that such “events” are reflected in modern-day economic performance in several European regions.


Henry I king of Portugal Source: Majorca Castle
In 1578 the king of Portugal died without male issue, and his uncle, a cardinal with the name of Henry – was the last of the House of Aviz. He tried to be allowed to renounce his clerical status to sire an heir, but the Pope – inspired by the Spanish King Ferdinand II – opposed the plan. The result was a kingdom ruled in absentia, sowing the seed for a long-term decline of the economy of Portugal. He was later called ‘Henry the Chaste’.

The development of modern state institutions is a major legacy of the medieval period in Europe. Following existing arguments about the importance of the state for development, Avidit Acharya and Alexander Lee have conjectured a link between the success or failure of medieval state building projects and contemporary development. To substantiate this conjecture in the face of empirical challenges, they have developed a theory that identifies an important source of variation in medieval state building. During the Middle Ages, most European polities operated under a norm that gave only the close male relatives of a deceased monarch a clear place in the line of succession. When no such heirs were available, succession disputes were more likely, with more distant relatives and female(-line) heirs laying competing claims to the throne. These disputes often produced violent conflicts that destroyed existing state institutions and stunted the subsequent development of the state.

The theory can be schematically summarized as follows:

shortage of male heirs➞ conflict and instability ➞ persistently weaker state institutions ➞ persistently weaker development outcomes

The hypothesis is that the unavailability of male heirs to Europe’s monarchies in the Middle Ages have had a corresponding deleterious effect on contemporary development levels across European regions.

The findings of Acharya and Lee show that the state building processes that were underway in medieval Europe had profound consequences for the development of the continent. In regions where chance allowed for a series of uncontested leadership transitions, rulers were able to build up a set of state institutions that supported economic development. In areas burdened with more potential succession disputes, and thus more politically instability, the path to economic prosperity was much more arduous. These results reinforce other findings in the literature documenting the negative effect of violent conflict, and the importance of political institutions for development.

“Besides emphasizing the importance of state building in general, their results also show how the pre-1500 period was an important period in the political development of the modern world, and that within Europe the political trajectories of regions diverged much earlier than is sometimes argued. The emergence of the first modern states in this period was so important, and the states themselves so fragile, that even small disruptions could have long-term consequences—consequences they have shown are measurable even after centuries of revolution, industrialization, war and institutional growth”, they write in the conclusion, adding:

“The findings also illustrate the remarkable effect of chance and other contingent factors on political development. Far from being determined by natural resources, disease environments, pre-existing political institutions, or even the plans of their rulers, the fortunes of regions like Naples and France were influenced by accidents of biology. The results provide a rejoinder to a focus on large structural predictors of social scientific phenomena, and remind us of the glorious chaos of politics in an unpredictable world”, they conclude. Highly interesting…



Avidit Acharya is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Stanford University, Encina Hall West, Stanford, CA 94305.

Alexander Lee is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Rochester, Harkness Hall, Rochester, NY 14627.


People demonstrating against the crisis in Marquês da Fronteira Avenue. In 2013  the ‘Association to Combat Job Insecurity’ and the ‘Inflexible Precarious Workers’ associations called on a group of artists to decorate the city with murals.

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Vikings in the Isle of Lewis Sun, 19 Apr 2015 10:25:07 +0000 The history of the Vikings in Lewis is an amazing story of how a Pictish life-world changed when Norse immigrants arrived

Until the 9th century The Isle of Lewis was inhabited by Scots and Picts, who brought their language – Gaelic – to the island at the beginning of the first millennium. However, in the period between the 8th and 9th centuries Norse Vikings arrived, literally changing the language, the material culture and presumably also the general way of life and life-world in the island.[1]

Sheep at Great Bernera, the Isle of LewisOne of the places, where this have been demonstrated vividly is Bostadh on the north western tip of the Great Bernera Island, which is only linked to Lewis by a small bridge.

‘Bostadh’ is of course a Viking name, and when archaeologists began digging in 1993 after a storm had laid some dunes bare, it was expected they would find the remains of a Norse settlement. However, it was what lay underneath, which really helped to make the place famous.

Beneath the Norse settlement they found the remains of eight Pictish, or Iron Age houses from AD 500 -700, built in the traditional ‘jelly bean’ or eight-shaped form. As seen from above such a structure would consist of a large circular structure linked to a smaller circular projection by an internal doorway. It is believed that the larger area was for living, while the smaller area was for storage.

What made these houses so spectacular were that the contents of the huts had been perfectly preserved in the sand making it possible to reconstruct the reality of their daily life. It appeared that their primary nourishment had come from cattle and very young lambs plus large amounts of shell-fish and saithe, a fish, which can be found close to the shore, particularly in rocky areas. To this should be added the occasional hunted prey and some grain. Apart from that a number of artefacts were discovered in the hubris, like bone pins, antler Combs. Today an Iron Age house has been constructed on site.

The Norse

Bostadh Isle of Lewis Scotland Map
The map shows the location of Bostadh and – perhaps – its importance for Viking Ships to be able to stock up with victuals somewhere on the isle of Lewis if taking tho outer route around Scotland

At that time people in Bostadh began to live off the catch from a new kind of deep-see fishing, obviously carried out from boats. Not only bones from cod and hake but also heering were found. It is speculated that part of these catches must have been dried and perhaps even bartered or traded. Fishing from ashore you rarely catch more than the meal of the day. Longline fishing off-shore and perhaps also using nets (for herring) you might land huge catches. It must have taken considerable energy and labour to process such amounts of fish (hanging, drying and perhaps salting). It has been speculated that Bostedh in the early Viking period was a convenient harbour and trading-post for Viking ships passing by on their way to Ireland. Here they might trade for supplies of dry cod, drye or smoked beef jerk and perhaps oat- or barley biscuits on their way down south. A delicatessen might even be deer-jerk produced from the large finds of red deer carcasses, which were mixed into the midden. Careful analysis of the remains of the red deer have shown surplus hindquarters at Bostadh, signalling that trade with parts of red dear took place on the Great Bernara Island. It has even been proposed that the Vikings erected a barrier between the Bernara Island and the rest of Lewis in order to prohibit the deer to swim across the shallow sound, making it possible to manage the population. [2]

Further we know that the agricultural production at the farm became both more intensive and characterised by the introduction of new crops. Not only barley and oats were cultivated now, but also rye and flax (although at Bostadh, it appears that the Norse immigrants curiously enough gave up on flax, when they located themselves there).

To this should be added large herds of cattle, goats and sheep, with calves being killed off at a young age. Apparently diary played an important part (hence the import of Norwegian soap-stone bowls). Further, lambs, were no longer killed as sucklings, but allowed to mature in order to produce fleeces and wool. Studies of place-names have also demonstrated that in all likelihood some kind of seasonal movement to summer shielings was practised at this time.


All this was probably part of the overall change in the orientation towards the sea. Long-distance ships need sails, and Viking-sails ate up enormous amounts of wool and/or flax. It is often speculated that flax was grown to produce linen or linseed oil. However, it is more probable that it played a significant role in the making of sails.

By carefully piecing together the information from Bostadh with results from other excavations (Loch na Beirgh) on Lewis, and reading it all in the light of the stories told about Hebrideans in the Norse sagas and poetry, the outline of a new world emerges characterised by an arable economy geared to sheep-rearing, paired with a deep dependence upon the sea. No wonder, boats, ships, and sails fostered a combined set of important cultural icons in this new world, which was obviously geared towards sea-faring and deep-see fishing in a way, which the Iron-age Scots and Picts had never been.

It is unfortunate that Bostadh only offers a reconstruction of the iron-age huts but not the later Viking house(s). It would be nice to “see” the difference in the landscape.


[1] An Ethnic Enigma – Norse, Pict and Gael in the Western Isles
By Andrew Jennings and Arne Kruse
In: In: Viking and Norse in the North Atlantic. Select Papers from the Proceedings of the Fourteenth Viking Congress, Tórshavn, 19-30 July 2001. Ed. Andras Mortensen and Símun V. Arge. Annales Societatis Scientiarum Færoensis Supplementum XLIV. Tórshavn 2005, p.  284 – 96

[2] Aspects of economy and environment of north west Lewis in the first millennium AD : the non-marine faunal evidence from Bostadh and Beirgh considered within the framework of north Atlantic Scotland
By Jennifer E. Thoms
Thesis submitted for the degree of PhD at the Department of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh 2003


Uig Beach Isle of Lewis Outer HebridesBostadh, Great Bernera, Isle of Lewis, Western Isles, Highlands and Islands, Scotland


The lewis chessmenSix Lewis Chessmen Returns to the Isle of Lewis



Vikings at the Isle of Lewis CoverThe Vikings in Lewis
Ed. by Brittany Schorn and Judy Quinn
Series: Languages, Myths and Finds – Vol. 2.
Centre for the Study of the Viking Age, University of Nottingham 2014
ISBN 9780853582991

This booklet is vol. 2 of a series produced by the Languages, Myths and Finds Project, exploring Viking heritage in historically significant areas of the British Isles and Ireland. The project and this series of booklets are funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.



Lordship of the Isles CoverThe Lordship of the Isles (Northern World)
by Richard D. Oram (Editor)
Brill 2014
ISBN-10: 9004279466
ISBN-13: 978-9004279469





Lewis chessmen coverThe Lewis Chessmen. New Perspectives
Ed. By David H. Caldwell and Mark A. Hall
National Museum of Scotland 2014
ISBN: 9781905267859


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Chessmen Returns to the The Isle of Lewis Sat, 18 Apr 2015 14:20:58 +0000 The Lewis Chessmen from the 12th century are among some of the most iconic images of both the Isle of Lewis itself and the Norse heritage of the British Isles. This summer, six of them will find a new home, near the sand dunes, where they were hidden more than 800 years ago.

Uig Sands with figure of Lewis ChessmanThe Lewis Chessmen were found in 1831, probably in a small stone chamber or – box, built for safekeeping in the sand dunes at Uig. Until now the collection has been split between the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland. With 82 pieces in the British Museum and only 11 in Edinburgh feelings do sometimes run high. Many Scots is of the opinion they should be repatriated! Now, however, six of them will go on a long-term loan to the Isle of Lewis as a token of the will to boost the important tourism economy in the Outer Hebrides.

Come summer a new museum and archive will open on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides to house the returning ‘Vikings’. Located in a modern purpose built extension to the restored Lews Castle, the future museum in Stornoway will open in the summer of 2015. The museum is planned to include exciting new galleries, which will look at the stories of the Islands and Islanders. Visitors will be able to

  • discover how the distinctiveness of the Outer Hebrides is shaped by a unique combination of land, sea and people
  • hear details about different people’s lives; the diversity of experience, opinion and perception of living life on an Island.
  • examine how people have lived and worked from the earliest times to the present day, how their culture is expressed through the Gaelic language, religion and community life.

The plan is to create a 21st Century museum and archive with activity and event spaces, and better facilities for schools. A dedicated research space will invite visitors to study the collections and archive records, while a shop and café plus 600 acres of beautiful Castle Grounds will provide the setting for a great day out for all the family.

The Lews Castle Hotel

At the same time plans have been underway to turn the restored Lews castle into a luxury hotel. However, the response from the market has been tepid and a year ago it was announced that the castle (from the 19th century) will instead be turned into a series of units for self-catering.


The Isle of Lewis


The Lewis Chessmen

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The Lewis Chessmen Sat, 18 Apr 2015 11:56:35 +0000 The Lewis Chessmen are simply amazing. New book captures their spirit while presenting us with a very detailed look of the material they were made of and how they were produced.

The Lewis Chessmen belong to a group of archaeological objects, which nearly everyone knows and can identify by sight. 78 pieces in all, they were miraculously found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. A later report tells that they were found hidden in a shallow stone built box in a sand dune right off the coast together with 14 tablemen and a belt buckle. A study of the style reveals that they were probably carved sometime between 1150 -1200.

We know them of course so well because they are used in every single publication about Vikings, we can think of. In a sense they have defined our idea of vikings looked like – kings, queens, thrones, crowns, shields, berserkers, bishops and warders. It seems we cannot stop looking at these little marvels!

Lewis chessmen coverIt stands to reason that the Lewis Chessmen since they were found have been studied from all angles and published in very many contexts. However, apart from pamphlets no major book has until now been devoted to the tiny figures. Now, though, a recent book published by The National Museum of Scotland in conjunction with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland amends this.

The book is a collection of articles stemming from a conference held at the national Museum in Scotland in 2010 in connection with the exhibition there of the total collection (some pieces are held at the British Museum and were on loan for the occasion). However, this is not a mere collection of articles. It is in fact a very well-edited presentation of the Chessmen and their material, artistic and historical context.

In the first section we get a very detailed presentation of the chess pieces and their physical appearance. By studying for instance their visual expressions it is possible to determine that at least five artists might have been involved. But we also get details about the fact that the chess-pieces were probably partly painted. And we get information about aspects of the life-world, in which the chessmen were understood – where did the idea of the berserkers stem from and what might we learn from the pieces about queens and their roles. Not least the question is raised, how we should understand the different gestures of the figurative pieces.

The second section is devoted to recovering the political and geographical context: the Kingdom of the Isles, Manx, Norway, Iceland and the sea world of the chessmen in which they were made. Along the way, we also get a fine introduction to Walrus hunting and the ivory trade in the North Atlantic. Not least the enigmatic nature of the Kingdom of the Isles and the life-world of the chessmen is explored. An understanding of both the hoard and the Kingdom seems to be  inextricably interlinked, writes hall and Caldwell in the introduction.

The third section touches more specifically on the context of gaming. What was the cultural value of such chessmen, who might have bought them (or had them gifted), how was the game of chess played, how does it relate to the ‘hnefattafl’ (the icelandic game) and  finally what role did games play in Old Norse-Icelandic fiction and cultural context. In a particularly rewarding essay Heather Pulliam makes the point that the Lewis Chessmen figuratively makes it very easy for the player to identify with the figure in question. Compared to the Chess-pieces of Charlemagne, where the king is wrapped in his castle and with flanking attendants, the thrones of the Lewis kings are nearly invisible, exposing the them as ‘persons’ more than ‘incumbents of royal offices’.

This is a splendid collection. It invites the reader to delve into the laboratory of the learned archaeologists and historians, trying to wring as much information out of every detail as possible. And the devil really lies in the detail here. But it also presents us with sketches to a better understanding of the context, in which the Lewis Men were meant to be paraded, admired and played with.

The published volume, however, does not present us with a well-rounded presentation of the Lewis men. (In fact it lacks a preliminary presentation of the hoard and it took me some time to locate it in the back of the book). But it does present us with a collection of articles, which as bits and pieces bring our knowledge of the chessmen singularly forward.

This is really a worth-while read.

Karen Schousboe 

The Lewis Chessmen. New Perspectives
Edited by David H Caldwell and Mark A Hall
Published by NMS Enterprises Limited 2014
ISBN 978 1 905267 85 9


David H Caldwell was formerly Keeper of two departments in National Museums Scotland – Scotland and Europe, and Archaeology.

Mark A Hall is History Officer for Perth Museum and Art Gallery, where he is principally responsible for the curation of the archaeology collections.

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Archaeology and the Public Sat, 18 Apr 2015 09:52:39 +0000 What archaeology does the public demand? Who has the power to decide what is important? These questions are raised and debated at a Conference in Tübingen in May 2015

We live in a new era where archaeology is no longer a walled and ditched reservation for University trained archaeologists with high scientific ambitions. In stead, amateurs are running around with metal-detectors if they are allowed, while minor and insignificant finds are bombastically heralded as if they were the discovery of the millennium by the press. At the same time the cultural tourism industry is busy building events and visitor-centres to accommodate the growing public fascination with the remains of yesteryear.

What to do as an archaeologist? This question will be heavily debated at a major conference organised in Tübingen in May by DGUF – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte.

Looking at the programme it promises to open up for a series of lively and controversial discussions of such questions as: Should people pay for visiting excavations? How should archaeologists handle public attention when it is primarily inspired by nationalist or xenophobic interest? Should neo-pagans be allowed to expropriate ancient heritage? What role does blogging and other forms of digital communication play? What does the future of scientific archaeology look like in a world where the enterprise is at the same time exploited, flattered and fêted? But often also fundamentally misunderstood?

This is the annual meeting of the DGUF and only German presentations and cases are debated (and in German). However, the debate is wide-ranging and touches upon the conditions for archaeology in most European countries.

DGUF-Jahrestagung 2015
Tübingen, Eberhard_Karls-Universität.
14.05.2015 – 17.05.2015


Schafft sich die Öffentlichkeit eine andere Archäologie? Analysen einer Machtverschiebung


DGUF – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte


Participants are invited to take part in a tour on the river Neckar in in the evening

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Æthelred II and Cnut the Great 1016 Sat, 18 Apr 2015 08:31:12 +0000 2016 will se a series of major events commemorating the invasion and conquest of England by Cnut the Great, king of the Danes

In May 1016 King Cnut, leader of the Scandinavian forces in England, reached London with his fleet of 160 ships, anchoring up by Greenwich. After this a long ditch was dug on the South Bank, and the ships were dragged upstream of London bridge; after which a second ditch was presumably dug around the city on the North Bank, so “that no man could go in or out”. London was under siege. Even though the siege was later lifted, war continued to be waged and in the next few years Cnut succeeded in taking hold of all England. This feat was finalized in 1018 when the Danes and the English reached an agreement at Oxford. As is well known, the price was hefty: a huge tribute from the English of £72.000 was agreed upon. London had to pay an additional £10.500.

Without doubt 2016 will witness a long list of millennial commemorations and events around the country, while a number of books are probably right now in the crucible.

However, conferences have to be announced in advance and this week invitations to a special conference was sent out:

Æthelred II and Cnut the Great: Millennial Conference to Commemorate the Siege of London in 1016.
06.07.2016 – 09.07.2016


London a thousand years ago: a lively port, the centre of trade, cross-roads for armies going north and south, seat of political government and dispute, all against the backdrop of a war between Æthelred II and Cnut with its culmination in the Siege of London of 1016. In just over a year the academics and interested public of London will commemorate this siege and its times with a three-day international conference.

There will be other Cnutonica for this year but none other in the city where the war came to an end. This conference will begin with a welcome on the afternoon of Wednesday 6 July 2016. Lectures will be scheduled to begin on the following day in Senate House, Birkbeck College and UCL in single session. A day-long excursion to Winchester is planned as part of the conference. There will be four plenaries, by

  1. Prof Simon Keynes of the University of Cambridge in the area of Anglo-Scandinavian history;
  2. Prof Andrew Reynolds of the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, on the archaeology of London relating to the Vikings and the siege of 1016;
  3. Prof Andy Orchard of the University of Oxford, on the contemporary Beowulf manuscript, BL MS Cotton Vitellius A.XV and Old English literature;
  4. and Prof Emerita Roberta Frank of Yale University on Skaldic poetry and the Norse literary achievement.

Papers are invited in the fields of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian literature, history and archaeology in and around the Siege of London in 1016. Possible subjects might include, but are not limited to:

  • Old English literature of the Benedictine Reform
  • Old English poetry (including Beowulf)
  • Anglo-Saxon palaeography of the tenth and eleventh centuries
  • Skaldic poetry at the court of Cnut
  • Æthelred II and the Danish Wars
  • Cnut and early medieval historiography
  • Material culture in the later Viking Age
  • Cnut and coinage of the British Isles
  • The archaeology of London
  • Anglo-Scandinavian cultural exchange
  • Knýtlinga saga and Icelandic and Norwegian sagas
  • The Danish empire
  • Cnut and the Baltic
  • Cnut and Rome
  • Queens Emma and Ælfgifu
  • Cnut’s Laws
  • The Beowulf manuscript in the context of Cnut’s reign

Please send abstracts of about 300 words to Richard North ( All papers will be considered on the understanding that speakers have a maximum of half an hour. We plan to arrange a manuscript exhibition, to be able to reserve student accommodation for attendees, and to invite speakers and other contributors to submit papers for a volume of Conference Proceedings for publication in the following year.


Roskilde 6 is a the largest wreck of a viking boat ever found. Dendrochronologically dated to the time of Cnut, it is believed to represent the type of ships, Cnut used to transport his army to England. 160 such ships must have look frighteningly. © Paul Raftery

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900-Year-Old Priory Reopens as Museum Fri, 17 Apr 2015 11:55:59 +0000 Norton Priory was founded 900 years ago. The plan is to turn it into a new state-of-the-art museum complex

St Christopher at Norton PrioryIt is 900 years since Norton Priory was established by the second Baron of Halton and Constable of Chester as an Augustinian foundation. It is located on the Southern bank of the River Mersey and may very well have been able to create a substantial income from travellers and pilgrims crossing the river. Perhaps the Priory was even able to exact a direct toll. At least, there is no doubt the river-crossing played a substantial part in the self-understanding of the priory, as witnessed by the huge sculpture of St. Christopher.

In 1391 it received the status of Abbey. Closed in 1536 as part of the dissolution it was turned into a reservoir of building material reused in first a Tudor manor and later a Georgian house on the site.

In 1971 excavations on the site began. These revealed the foundations and lower parts of the monastery buildings and the abbey church. The very extensive excavations have made Norton Priory one of the most well-known medieval archaeological site, not least because it is possible to follow the development of the site from the earliest temporary buildings, the monks lived in while erecting the church and their future living quarters to the Tudor manor house built much later. It was during these excavations that the foundations and undercroft of the medieval priory were exposed. Hundreds of artefacts were also discovered including a twice life-size statue of St Christopher, a large amount of medieval floor tiles, stone carvings, pottery, glass, wood, leather and skeletal remains. In the 70s the priory was opened as a museum and in 1984 a separate walled garden was designed and opened to the public.

To celebrate this landmark work is about to start on an ambitious project to build a new museum, visitor centre, galleries and café. The plans to redevelop Norton Priory were set in motion in 2008 as the current museum building was in poor condition with leaky roof, poor drainage and no heating system. Eventually, by 2010, conditions had deteriorated to the extent that there was an outbreak of mould in the collections store and the entire collection had to be relocated off-site with the help of Halton Borough Council.

“The redevelopment will allow us to reveal the whole story of Norton Priory over the past nine centuries,” says learning and education officer Claire Broadhurst to Museums & Heritage. She continues: “While the story of the medieval priory is very important, the later stories of a Tudor hall, then a Georgian mansion being built on the site haven’t enjoyed as much prominence. The exploration of the post-Reformation history will also be helped by the improved environmental conditions in the new museum allowing fragile artefacts to be displayed.”

Currently Earthworks Archaeology is on site completing preliminary works in areas where new foundations are required for the redevelopment. The archaeologists have also taken up the tile floor in the medieval undercroft where conditions had become extremely damp and the floor had started to sink in some areas causing the tiles to raise and crack. The redevelopment work will substantially improve the environment in the undercroft, and a geo-textile membrane will be put in place to support the tiles and prevent the floor from sinking in the future.

The comprehensive redevelopment will see a new first floor gallery above the undercroft, developed through consultation with English Heritage. This gallery will have a pitched cedar shingle roof and cedar cladding both being centuries old construction methods, yet able to mix with the demands of a modern museum. Large windows will be fitted looking over the medieval ruins providing a link between objects and where they were found.

“The undercroft is one of few features on site that has survived all phases of development since the 12th century,” says Broadhurst. “Initially the storage range for the priory, it would have had the Abbott’s Tower and lodgings above. The undercroft became the wine cellar for the Georgian house and had at least two floors above it, including a ballroom.”

The medieval undercroft will be a star attraction at the new Norton Priory Museum complex

The new Norton Priory is scheduled to open in 2016.


Norton Priory – Deeveloping a 900-Year-Old Monastery into a modern Museum Complex


Norton Priory Museums and Gardens

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Space, Power and Culture in Lleida 2015 Fri, 17 Apr 2015 10:08:03 +0000 The main focus at the 5th International Medieval Meeting in Lleida, will be on space, power and culture in Medieval Iberia.

The 5th International Medieval Meeting in Lleida takes place in June just before Leeds. Organised by the CMSRG it succeeds in creating an important opportunity for medieval historians, art historians, filologists and archaeologists; many are focusing on the history of medieval Iberia, but the aim is obviously to to engage with the rest of Europe while at the same time develop an interdisciplinary forum. .

The meeting has no overarching theme as in Leeds, but there is a distinct flavour of presentations focusing on the archaeology of medieval archaeology and art history and with a marked overweight of presentations focusing on medieval Iberia.

For instance there are seven lectures and six sessions in Medieval Archaeology and only four papers in Literature and Drama-theatre. Most of the papers will be presented in Spanish, but some in English.

The Cortes in Barcelona and the Parliament in England

Cortes de BarcelonaThe key-note lecture, presented by Prof. Peter A. Linehan from St. John’s College-Cambridge University, however, gives a hint of what have the attention in Catalonia these days. His title is: The intellectual in politics in the year of Magna Carta. Peter Linehan is a well-known specialist on the history of the medieval Church in Spain and Portugal and has published extensively in this field (and wider Iberian history). The point to be argued is presumably – there is no abstract on the website – that it pays to explore the history of the politics in 13th century Catalonia (and Castile) with that of England in a comparative perspective.

It is well-known that Catalonia often boasts of being home to the first parliament in Europe, as witnessed by the process surrounding the promulgation of the first Catalan legal code, the ‘Usatges de Barcelona’ from the 11th century. It is also well-known that this “historical fact” is widely used in present-day politics inside Catalonia as well as by the “man in the street” (easy to verify if you interview Catalonians employed in the heritage- or tourism business). However, it is of course also a delightfully convenient myth. Regional laws were collected and codified in the 11th – 13th centuries in a wide variety of institutional settings peopled by royal, baronial and clerical representatives and across the whole of Europe. Further, most of these collections of laws were the results of long processes of codification (as is the case with the ‘Utsages’, but perhaps not the Magna Carta, which is a somewhat different legal instrument.)

Just to give an example: There is no doubt that there existed a tradition for a yearly meeting at the ‘Thingvallir’ in Iceland each year; nor that there was an oral law-tradition, which was partly recited at the meeting each year; nor that this meeting had the authority to pass laws. For instance the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion in Iceland was famously passed as ‘law’ around the year 1000 (the so-called kristnitaka, literally, “the taking of Christianity”). Later in the 12th century the Icelandic Laws were written down. They were in use until 1262 – 64 when Iceland was taken over by the Norwegian crown. In the same way the ‘Utsages’ were obviously the result of an equally long process finalized in 1251, when the different regional laws of Gerona, Lleida, Tortosa, Valencia and Mallorca were compiled, redacted and codified by Jaume I together with the Cortes de Barcelona (the Parliament in Barcelona). This parliament from 1251 was obviously a little earlier than the one convened by Simon de Montfort in 1265 (which is generally considered the first English Parliament). However, it is somewhat later than 1241, when the Danish king together with a host of local representatives from all over the country adopted the Laws of Jutland (‘Jyske Lov’) at a parliament in Viborg.  Specific for all these cases of lawmaking in the 12th and 13th centuries were of course the role of the literati – the intellectuals, who penned the laws.

We must believe, deduced from the title of his lecture, that this might be what prof. Linehart is going to speak about; perhaps inspiring the many intellectuals present to reflect upon their role in the current processes of modern law-making and nation-building in 21st century Europe


Main focus, however, it naturally on the very important field of medieval archaeology in present-day Spain. With presentations ranging from Portugal to Sardinia, this will perhaps be the real treat. Of special interest are papers presenting and discussing excavations and studies from Portugal, thus opening up for a less parochial approach in a region historically, culturally and linguistically reaching across modern national borders (wider Galicia). A whole session is thus devoted to the city of Braga.

Consolidated Medieval Studies Research Group

CMSRG stands for ‘Consolidated Medieval Studies Research Group’ – Grup de Recerca Consolidat en Estudis Medievals “Espai, Poder i Cultura” – at the University of Lleida.

It is an interdisciplinary research groupcomprising medievalists, art-, music- and literary historians, filologists, archaeologists, archivists, etc.. They stem from various universities, but the activities of the group is articulated and coordinated from the University of Lleida. The group came into being in 2000. Apart from organizing the yearly meeting in Lleida it also publishes a very well edited yearbook, the Imago Temporis and several other series of publications, it also organizes summer-courses and interdisciplinary programs aiming for degrees in Medieval Studies, offering an interesting opportunity for students seeking a medieval degree in Iberian Medieval History. (Some working knowledge of not only Spanish but also Catalan should probably be recommended.)

‘Space, power and culture’ has been adopted as specific area of interest in order to enrich the interdisciplinary effort of researchers involved in the group.


International Medieval Meeting Lleida

The definitive programme will be available on 30.04.2015

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Framing the Flemish Primitives Thu, 16 Apr 2015 11:51:52 +0000 Innovative electronic presentation of book on ‘Frames and Supports in 15th- and 16th-Century Southern Netherlandish Painting’ leads the way for future art-historical publications.
Screentouch of Frames and Supports in 15th- and 16th-Century Southern Netherlandish Painting
Screentouch of Frames and Supports in 15th- and 16th-Century Southern Netherlandish Painting: Triptych of the Virgin and Child By Goossen van der Weyden 15th century-closed. Tournai Museum of Fine Arts

Today marks the launch of a new in-depth study of selected panel paintings and their frames, Frames and Supports in 15th- and 16th-Century Southern Netherlandish Painting, supported by the Getty Foundation as part of the Panel Paintings Initiative.

In 1989 Hélène Verougstraete published her doctoral thesis on the construction of the supports of the Flemish Primitives. This may seem a very dry subject. However, understating the way in which joinery was devised and the way in which this impacted upon the “workings” of the diptychs, triptychs and polyptycs, which were continuously unfolded and closed again.

“The frames with their crescendos of colours, mouldings and other trompe-l’oeil devises, played a role in this deployment”, she writes. To understand these mechanics is simply to understand these pieces of art as cabinets or books more than just mere static paintings.

Anonymous, Calendar Dial ca 1500  Leuven M-Museum  inv  No S 4 OToday, her thesis has been republished electronically and with all the illustrations in colour as a free e-book by KIK-IRPA, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels. Offering more than 700 images in HD and 1500 diagrams this is not only in landmark in terms of making a very important work accessible for a new audience of art-historians. It is also a generous gift to medievalists in general. The new version has been fully translated into English and contains expanded research with crisp full-color illustrations and a searchable, zoomable interface.

Apart from the general introduction there are separate presentations of a number of works in Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Kuringen, Leuven, Mechelen, Namur, St. Truiden, Tongeren and Tournai plus five in private collections.

A good example of the richness is found in the presentation a Calendar Dial ca. 1500, presently in the collection of the Leuven Museum. The dial is made of fiver vertical boards, butt-joined with dowels. The painting has been painted in the frame. By studying the frame, it becomes readily obvious that the calendar dial has obviously been made to place a clock movement.

(Anonymous, Calendar Dial ca. 1500. Leuven M-Museum, inv. No. S/4/O)


Frames and Supports in 15th- and 16th-Century Southern Netherlandish Painting CoverFrames and Supports in 15th- and 16th-Century Southern Netherlandish Painting
By Hélène Verougstraete
Royal Insitute for Cultural Heritage 1989 (2015)


Triptych of the Virgin and Child. By Goosen van der Weyden. 15th century. Closed: Annunciation in Grisaille,

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Medieval and Early Modern Belief and Practice Thu, 16 Apr 2015 09:37:29 +0000 Previous scholarship stressed the difference between a medieval monolithic “catholic” church and a post-reformational poly-cultural religious landscape. Today a more complex and nuanced portrait of belief and practice has emerged. This is the theme of the CMEMS conference in October 2015
Religion and (the Master) Narrative: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Medieval and Early Modern Belief and Practice
Second Annual CMEMS Conference
University of Colorado Boulder
22.10.2015 – 24.10.2015

CFP: Before 15.05.2015Recent scholarship on medieval and early modern religion has begun to question fundamental categories and to destabilize the meaning and chronological divisions between medieval Europe and Reformation Europe, the pre-Christian and the Christianized. A more complex and nuanced portrait of belief and practice has emerged. Where there was once a monolith – the homogeneity of medieval and Catholic Christianity – now we have a sense of the vitality of popular movements (cults of saints, poverty, Apostolic, and women’s movements) interfaith exchanges (among Jews, Muslims, Christians), and heresies (Wycliffites and Cathars).  In addition, the Reformation has come to be seen less as an end to the Middle Ages than inextricably connected to it, another manifestation of religious reform. This conference seeks to bring together scholars from a wide range of disciplines to ask how we might best understand medieval and early modern religion and the narratives generated to explain religious change and continuity. Given that the legacy of the Middle Ages and Reformation persists in our own time, this topic is pressing and particularly timely.   To this end, bringing medieval and early modern ideas about religion into conversation with twenty-first century accounts of secularity and religiosity, globalization, and religious plurality is one of the overarching goals of this conference.

Plenary Speakers Include:

Sarah Beckwith (English, Duke University), Kenneth Mills (History, University of Toronto/University of Michigan), Nina Rowe (Art History, Fordham University) and John Van Engen (History, University of Notre Dame)We invite abstracts for papers (20-minutes in length). Potential lines of inquiry may include: the language(s) and categories of belief and practice (including visual languages); changing narratives of religious reform; the translation and/ or interpretation of religious texts; the creation and proliferation of images and material objects; drama, ritual, and performance; defining or redefining the Reformation; the relationship between gender and religious practice; the relationship between Jews, Muslims, and Christians; the dissemination of doctrine and theology among elites and non-elites; narratives about individuals or groups in text and image (one thinks of saints’ lives and foundation narratives as well as art concerning these); narratives that define or defy heresy; images and structures that index religious skepticism or heterodoxy; the printed image and religious dissent; religion in the early modern New World. We also welcome papers that address how narratives about medieval/ early modern religion have informed and continue to inform our contemporary moment.

Submission Deadline for Abstracts:  May 15, 2015

Abstracts (of 300 words) accompanied by a brief biographical paragraph should be sent to: Anne E. Lester, Department of History, OR Katie Little, Department of English, More information can be found at the website of CMEMS

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