‘Subterranean’ is a two-day interdisciplinary conference, organised for the 17 and 18 of May, 2014 at the University of York. It is not an overstatement to suggest that much of the material culture associated with the medieval world (including artefacts, objects and spaces), are identified with the ground in some way. From the famed grave goods of the high-status burials such as Prittlewell and Sutton Hoo, the ship burials of Sutton Hoo and Oseberg, to Wilfrid’s much-studied subterranean spaces of the crypts built at Hexham and Ripon, to the recent metal-work finds in Staffordshire and Yorkshire, to the dramatic discovery of the Faddan More Psalter, as well as the multiplicity of objects uncovered by antiquarian and archaeological digs which form the mainstay of the corpus, the field of the medieval is suffused with objects which are irrevocably associated with the earth. The idea of such treasures being hidden from the view of the modern world, just beneath its surface is intriguing and these subterranean spaces (and the objects they hide, hold or reveal) exert a fascination for today’s viewer. In addition to these objects, medieval material culture is also rife with sites and spaces which connect the earth, the ground, to the heavens, such as churches which connect subterranean spaces with those of the heavens, or the monumental carved stone crosses of the Insular world, embedded within the earth, but pointing to an eschatology beyond it.
This conference seeks to explore, through the consideration of visual, textual and material evidence, the idea of the ‘subterranean’ within the medieval world, both in terms of the objects and spaces located there, beneath the surface, but also in terms of that which is hidden or secret, reconsidering the ‘subterranean’ as concept, object and location for discussion. The idea of the ‘Dark Ages’, though largely dismissed in the scholarship, is nonetheless an idea which has a prevalent hold on the public conception of the medieval, chiming with the dark, unknown of the subterranean. This conference seeks to enquire whether, by looking again at well-known objects, artefacts, texts and spaces, further light may be shed on them; unearthing new meanings, ideas and references. The conference crosses various disciplines and periods, bringing together emerging scholars working across several fields of research with established academics, to provide a platform for the reconsideration of the idea of the ‘subterranean’, in all its forms. The conference aims to provide a forum for new avenues of thought around how the idea of ‘subterranean’ is conceptualised within the medieval period, allowing for flexible, shifting and changing attitudes to the art, objects, places, ideas and histories which currently define it in both popular and scholarly consciousness.