Tag Archives: Cathedrals

Examining Becket

Reflections on the Thomas Becket Study Day, 7th June 2017, Canterbury Cathedral

There could scarcely be a more appropriate setting for a study day on the theme of Thomas Becket than Canterbury Cathedral, the location of the archbishop’s martyrdom nearly 850 years ago on the 29th December 1170. In the Cathedral Library and Archives, just metres from the site of Becket’s murder in the North West Transept, experts from universities, museums and Canterbury heritage organisations gathered to discuss the saint’s life and cult.

The day began with a series of ‘quick fire’ presentations, each focusing on one theme or object related to Thomas Becket. The range of material gave an immediate sense of the scale and popularity of Becket’s cult in the Middle Ages and beyond. Some objects discussed have likely existed in the vicinity of Canterbury since they were produced, including a fragmentary sandstone ampulla mould discovered in the garden of 16 Watling Street (Dr Paul Bennett, Canterbury Archaeological Trust), a thirteenth-century cartulary made for Christ Church containing charters for the shrine of Thomas Becket (Professor Louise Wilkinson, Canterbury Christ Church University), the seal of Archbishop Simon Sudbury showing Becket’s martyrdom (Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh, University of Kent), and the spectacular miracle windows in the Trinity Chapel of the Cathedral itself (Professor Michael A. Michael, Christie’s Education).

Thomas Becket ampulla (or vessel), now in the British Museum, similar to the kind that would have been produced by the Watling Street mould discussed by Dr Paul Bennet. See more 3D models of pilgrim souvenirs here

Image 2, Sens Chasuble

Chasuble in Sens Cathedral treasury thought to have been worn by Thomas Becket and venerated as a contact relic

Other delegates discussed geographically dispersed objects which originated or were believed to have originated in Canterbury. For instance, pilgrim souvenirs depicting Becket were bought by visitors to Canterbury and, it would seem, lost on the way home. These badges, with their intricate and compelling imagery, would have been worn on the bags, hats and garments of pilgrims as signs of their visit to Becket’s shrine and are now excavated from sites across Britain and Europe (Amy Jeffs and Dr Gabriel Byng, University of Cambridge and convenors of The Digital Pilgrim Project). Likewise, Dr Emily Guerry (University of Kent) discussed a series of vestments owned by Sens Cathedral that were reputedly worn by Becket and possibly used at Sens as contact relics.

 

A number of  significant objects pertaining to Becket originated from further afield, both geographically and chronologically. Dr Tom Nickson (Courtauld Institute of Art), for example, presented on a c. 1200 altar frontal depicting Becket’s martyrdom found in the church of San Miguel in Almazán, which bears early witness to the popularity of Becket’s cult in Spain.

Image 1, San Miguel altar

Altar frontal from the church of San Miguel in Almazán, showing Becket’s martyrdom

Becket’s later legacy was then examined. Lloyd De Beer (British Museum) assessed the sixteenth-century political and religious connotations of the saint’s martyrdom through the lens of Alberti’s The Martyr’s Picture (1581), displayed in the Venerable English College in Rome, and Naomi Speakman (British Museum) discussed Becket’s memory in post-Reformation England and his representation as an anti-martyr.

These evocative objects and themes provoked a lively concluding discussion that centred on the international nature of Becket’s cult and the extent to which the art associated with it imitated and/or innovated in order promote the saint and potency of his cult as a political tool.

Image 4, Cathedral Archives

Examining the Professions of Obedience in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives

This discussion was followed by an opportunity to see first-hand some of the extraordinary items associated with Becket. Cressida Williams, head of the Cathedral Archives and Library, had organised for an array of Becket-themed documents and objects from the Cathedral collections and various heritage organisations in Canterbury to be displayed together in the reading room of the Cathedral Archives. Among this impressive collection were two fragments of pink Tournai marble, discovered during excavations in the Cathedral grounds, which are thought to have come from the shrine of St Thomas himself. Also on display were a number of medieval seals from the Cathedral’s collections, including those of Archbishops Hubert Walter and Stephen Langton, which both depict Becket’s martyrdom. Dr Helen Gittos from the University of Kent discussed a particular treasure of the Cathedral Archive, the Professions of Obedience, a series of 170 documents now bound into a single volume that record the vows made by bishops during their consecration. These small vellum statements, which would have originally been sewn together in a continuous roll, contain the dates of bishops’ consecrations, and are thus immensely helpful in dating other contemporary documents based on a comparison of their palaeography. Becket’s entry is especially marked in the Professions by a statement in red noting his archiepiscopal status.

 

The later half of the afternoon saw the group move to the Cathedral stained glass studio, where Leonie Seliger, Head of the Stained Glass Conservation Department, led us in a discussion of the representation of Becket in the Cathedral glass. Notably, only three original thirteenth-century panels depicting Becket’s head survive, which Leonie encouraged us to find among her printed reproductions – a task that proved surprisingly difficult. We also had the opportunity to see some of medieval stained glass currently under restoration in the studio, and to hear from Leonie about the techniques that would have gone in to making these panels. A particular highlight was seeing how the colour of nine hundred year old stained glass was still bright and vivid when held up to the light.

Image 7, Sudbury's tomb

Kneeling at the resonant prayer niches in Archbishop Sudbury’s tomb, Canterbury Cathedral

A subsequent tour of the Cathedral offered a chance to see the miracle windows we had discussed in the glass studio in situ, along with the site of Becket’s shrine and several archiepiscopal and royal tombs. The tombs of Archbishops Sudbury and Mepham in the south aisle of the Choir afforded a particularly interactive experience; kneeling down at one of the vaulted prayer niches carved into the tombs’ exterior, penitents (or indeed academics) can experience an amplification not only of the music performed in the nearby Choir, but also their own whispered prayers and thoughts.

 

Professor Paul Binski (University of Cambridge) brought the study day to a close with a public lecture entitled ‘Thomas Becket and the Medieval Cult of Personality’. Drawing on many of the objects seen and discussed throughout the day, Professor Binski reflected on the idea of Becket’s ‘persona’ (as opposed to the modern notion of ‘personality’) and its importance in the formation and development of his cult. Much like a mask that can be put on or taken off, the medieval concept of an individual’s persona was related to their outer countenance, and formed by certain archetypal characteristics – both good and bad – often rooted in character types in biblical stories or saint’s lives. Becket’s persona and outer image, Professor Binski argued, was imitated in the art and architecture produced in response to his martyrdom, an aspect that was vital to the rapid dissemination and spread of the cult. Due in part to the accessibility of this image through objects made both for the elite and for the ordinary person, Becket’s persona transcended social as well as geographical boundaries, transforming his cult into a widespread, international phenomenon. Professor Binski’s concluding remarks on the appeal of the Becket’s cult in the Middle Ages had a particular resonance amidst of the full lecture theatre where the lasting legacy of Thomas Becket’s life and death was still very much felt.

Sophie Kelly

PhD Candidate, University of Kent

 

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CfP: CITIZEN CATHEDRALS IN THE MIDDLE AGES; Templa Winter School 2017

Please, see the call for papers of the Templa Winter School, “Citizen Cathedrals in the Middle Ages. Image, institutions, networks” (Girona, December 18th-19th 2017), organized by members of our Research Team (V. Debiais, X. Granero, A. Moreno, G. Boto).

It is addressed mainly to young researchers whose studies are focused on medieval Cathedrals related to their cities, and vice versa.

As with the Templa Summer School 2015 and 2016, the Templa Team will cover the expenses of all researchers whose papers have been accepted.

 

Book round up: L’aventure des cathédrales, Le cloître de Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines, La scultura in Valnerina tra i secoli XIV e XVI: Scoperte e nuove proposte, Cisterciensi: Arte e storia & Byzantine Art and Italian Panel Painting: The Virgin and Child Hodegetria and the Art of Chrysography

Five recent publications that may be of interest to our readers:

aventure-cathedrales-289x330

GÉRARD DENIZEAU.  L’aventure des cathédrales, Larousse, 2015, 128 p. ISBN: 978-2035923455

The story of cathedral construction, told through the involvement of the artisans (carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, masters of stained glass and more).

 

 

 

scultura-valnerina-239x330DIEGO MATTEI. La scultura in Valnerina tra i secoli XIV e XVI: Scoperte e nuove proposte. Dal Formichiere, 2015, 103 p. ISBN: 978-8898428564

New research into the sculptural traditions of the Valnerina region,  containing  many hitherto little known or unpublished works.

 

 

 

cloitre-genis-184x330GÉRALDINE MALLET. Le cloître de Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines, Trabucaire, 2015, 80 p.ISBN: 978-2849742167

A study of the medieval cloister of Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines, often described as a “jewel” of the Romanesque.

 

 

 

 

cisterciensi-arte-253x330TERRYL N. KINDER; ROBERTO CASSANELLI (ed.). Cisterciensi. Arte e storia, Jaca Book, 2015, 432 p. ISBN: 978-8816604414

An analysis of Cistercian art, culture, contribution and life from the twelfth century to the present, with 40 contributions from international scholars.

 

 

 

byzantine-hodegetria-238x330JAROSLAV FOLDA. Byzantine Art and Italian Panel Painting: The Virgin and Child Hodegetria and the Art of Chrysography, Cambridge University Press, 2015, 424 p. ISBN: 978-1107010239

Tracing the transformation of the Hodegetria, from the Byzantine virgin as human mother of God, to the Italian Madonna enthroned as Queen of Heaven.

CFP: Heraldry in Medieval and Early Modern State-Rooms

Münster, Germany, March 16 – 18, 2016
Deadline: Dec 15, 2015

Heraldry in Medieval and Early Modern State-Rooms: Towards a Typology
of Heraldic Programmes in Spaces of Self-Representation

Heraldry was an ubiquitous element of state-rooms. Whether in palaces
of kings and princes, castles of noblemen, residences of patricians,
city halls or in cathedral chapters, heraldic display was a crucial
element in  the visual programme of these spaces. Despite its
omnipresence, however, heraldic display in state-rooms remains largely
understudied so far.

Given the fundamental role of heraldry in medieval and early modern
visual communication, it seems essential to incorporate the study of
heraldry into our understanding of the state-rooms and their functions.
The heraldic programmes appear to have been intimately tied to the
functions of those rooms and the strategies of self-representation and
communication employed by commissioners and users of such places.

This workshop aims to explore these heraldic programmes in state-rooms
in medieval and early modern Europe and to suggest an initial typology
of this phenomenon. We would like to include case studies showcasing
different social and institutional examples. In the context of the
workshop, we understand state-rooms to be rooms used for ceremonies and
receptions, and spaces able to construct and express identity that were
meant to be witnessed by  members of a community itself as well as by
outsiders.

Heraldry in state-rooms was displayed in a variety of media, including,
but not limited to, paintings, stained-glass, sculptures, tiles,
tapestries, curtains, furniture. As part of ceremonies, it also
appeared as ephemeral decor. The topics of such heraldic programmes
were diverse. They could represent genealogical, chivalric, legendary
as well as historical and commemorative themes, reflect political
networks and convey political and imaginary  ideas.

We particularly welcome comparative papers on the heraldic display of
state-rooms and groups of state-rooms from different geographical,
social and institutional contexts. Rather than only identifying the
displayed coats of arms, contributions should address the heraldic
ensembles in their entirety and locate them in their specific social
and institutional contexts, aiming to further our understanding of the
functions of heraldic display in the state-rooms and their visual
programme.

Papers can be presented in English or French. Proposals (200 words in
French or English) should be sent to heraldica@uni-muenster.de by 15
December 2015.

The workshop is organised by Miguel Metelo de Seixas (Lisbon) and
Torsten Hiltmann (Münster) as part of the Portuguese-German research
project “In the Service of the Crown: The Use of Heraldry in Royal
Political Communication in Late Medieval Portugal”, funded by the
VolkswagenFoundation.

Conference review: Microarchitecture and Miniaturized Representation of Buildings (INHA, Paris 8-10 Dec 2014)

Search for “microarchitecture conference” on Google, and you will mostly be returned results concerning gatherings of computer programmers. This would doubtless make the concept of a conference on medieval microarchitecture entertaining to many. Even ignoring this parallel nomenclature, the sort of microarchitecture art historians are interested in is not an easy concept to explain, and perhaps one of the primary goals of the conference held at the Institut Nationale d’Historie d’Art in Paris was to actually work out what we had all come together for. I doubt wasn’t the only one who wondered whether my own material actually qualified.

Professor Timmermann with his pocket cathedral

Professor Timmermann with his pocket cathedral

Achim Timmermann (University of Michigan), a man who could indeed be dubbed “Mr. Microarchitecture”, gave an exciting overview of the concept in Early, High and Late Middle Ages, so epic in its scope of fantastic structures that the screen ought to have expanded into Imax proportions. His account demonstrated how microarchitecture transformed from the idea of a “pocket cathedral” into such an isolated ontological sphere that it crossed into convolute monstrosity with its self-mimesis by the late fifteenth century. An alternative and quite staggeringly rich oration, based on his new book Gothic Wonder, was given by Paul Binski among the medieval statuary in the ancient Roman baths of the Museé de Cluny. For Paul, the medieval intellectual aesthetic condensed great and small, magnificent and minificent, into an idea characterised by a single playfulness of embellishing surface with ornament. A more formal account, jointly delivered by Javier ibàñez Fernandez (Universidad de Zaragozza) and Arturo Zaragozá Catalán (Universidad de Valencia), introduced a 7-part taxonomy of microarchitecture in Spain: from functional maquettes to decorative miniaturisation of large-scale forms.

Sebastian Fitzner and some extraordinary medieval tile ovens

Sebastian Fitzner and some extraordinary medieval tile ovens

In this framework of ideas of categorisation, many new genres of object were introduced to the conference room. The present writer, of course, had packed a selection of sedilia, which by now I am certain always prove novel to continental audiences. But we also had stone tile ovens like traceried office blocks from Sebastian Fitzner (LudwigMaximilians-Universität München), Orthodox chivots for Eucharist reservation that mimic the forms of their parent building from Anita Paolicchi (Università di Pisa) and Renaissance elevation drawings that were originally intended to be folded and constructed into paper models from Giovanni Santucci (Università di Pisa).
These models are sort of things we would love to have more evidence for in the Middle Ages to explain the transmission of ideas, but alas, even presentation drawings and plans are difficult to come by. The miniaturisation of large forms into the decorative or representational was covered in papers by Sabine Berger (Sorbonne) on votive churches in the hands of donor statues and Peter Kurmann (ETH, Zurich) on relationship of tabernacle canopies to the geometry and form of great chevets.

Matthew Sillence with cardinals' seals

Matthew Sillence with cardinals’ seals

P1940231

Final panel with Alexander Collins, Julian Gardner (chair), Sophie Cloart-Pawlak and Sarah Guérin

There was also consideration of the desirability of microarchitecture and its meaning beyond the artists’ play with novel forms. Matt Ethan Kalaver’s (University of Toronto) account of the earliest transmission of classical forms into the Netherlands by the high nobility on their tombs was reflected in the earlier centuries considered by Julian Gardner (University of Warwick) and Matthew Sillence (University of East Anglia). Their papers both focused on how influential medieval prelates and cardinals were for spreading new forms on their seals, which, quite thankfully, was a big part of my paper where also bishops seem the first to stick pointy gables over sedilia in chantry chapels they have endowed.
Perhaps one drawback about the novelty of much of the material is that it is only in retrospect to draw many of these parallels across sessions. One panel however that held together very well that at the end of the final day, between Sophie Cloart-Pawlak (IRHiS, Lille), Alexander Collins (University of Edinburgh) and Sarah Guérin (University of Montréal) who all explored the function and symbolism of microarchitecture on the spectator.
This was my first international conference, and it was a highly convivial experience with high-quality papers throughout. There was a healthy mix of postgraduates, early career researchers, established scholars and some legendary old hands. It is planned that the proceedings will be published, and therefore it should provide a much-needed general framework for the minificent microcosm of the fiddliest bits of the decorative arts.

The international conference Micro-architecture et figures du bâti au Moyen-Âge: l’échelle à l’épreuve de la matière was at the Institut Nationale d’Historie d’Art from the 8-10 Dec 2015. Here is our original post of the call for papers, the full programme and the INHA’s official page.

We also had a bit of fun tweeting the conference because we’re so Web 3.0.

Resources: Images of English Cathedrals before 1850

Gloucester Lady chapel (Britton 1828)

I have been recently working on sedilia in cathedrals and as an art historian, I enjoy little more than a game of spot-the-difference. Here are some resources I have found very useful for a glimpse of that state of our greatest medieval buildings before the Gilbert Scott-led frenzy of restoration mania. They are available copyright-free on archive.org so I could not help sharing them.

Browne Willis – A survey of the cathedrals of York, Durham, Carlisle, Chester, Man, Litchfield, Hereford, Worcester, Gloucester, Bristol, Lincoln, Ely, Oxford, Peterborough, Canterbury, Rochester, London, Winchester, Chichester, Norwich, Salisbury, Wells, Exeter, St. Davids, Landaff, Bangor, and St. Asaph : containing an history of their foundations, builders, antient monuments, and inscriptions, endowments, alienations, sales of lands, patronages … : with an exact account of all the churches and chapels in each diocese, distinguished under their proper archdeaconries and deanries, to what saints dedicated, who patrons of them, and to what religious houses appropriated : the whole extracted from numerous collections out of the registers of every particular see … : and illustrated with thirty-two curious draughts … : in three volumes (1742)

Browne Willis YorkBrowne Willis is the sort of Antiquarian mega-achievement that puts the fear of death into you. The title alone is long enough. It is mostly the names of every holder of every stall in the Cathedral, but there are also short descriptions of the fabric, monuments, as well as a plan and at least a side view of every cathedral. A few have extra views, such as the now sadly collapsed west front of Hereford. They are remarkably detailed for their time.

Volume 1 York, Durham, Carlisle, Chester, Isle of Man (!), Lichfield, Hereford
Volume 2 Worcester, Gloucester, Bristol, Lincoln
Volume 3: Ely, Oxford, Peterborough

James Storer – History and antiquities of the cathedral churches of Great Britain : illustrated with a series of highly-finished engravings, exhibiting general and particular views, ground plans, and all the architectural features and ornaments in the various styles of building used in our ecclesiastical edifices (1814)

Storer Lincoln RemingusWith Storer we are in a different world. The interior views are much more picturesque, and one might assume, cleared of excess clutter. Except, unlike modern-day photographers, antiquarian engravers actually prefered people in their images, to give a sense of scale, grandeur, and also perhaps, a Romantic sense of audience and perception. The accounts of the buildings now attempt to place the structure more firmly in a historical framework, and its construction history, rather than the more topographical and ancestral approach of the antiquarians. archive.org has all the cathedrals in alphabetical order in its descriptive contents, but such is the inconvenience of using this resource. The actual contents of the volumes are as shown below.
v. 1: Canterbury, Chichester, Lincoln, Oxford, Peterborough, Winchester
v. 2: Chester, Gloucester, Hereford, Salisbury, Lichfield, Rochester, Worcester
v. 3: St David’s, London, Ely, Llandaff, Bath, Bristol, Carlisle
v. 4: Wells, Norwich, Durham, Bangor, Exeter, St Asaph, York

John Britton – Cathedral antiquities (1821)

Britton canterburyBritton again, gives us a whole different view on the cathedral – measured cross-sections, details, specimens and elevations, startlingly accurate and rather ahead of their time. There is also a suitably more rigid text, a historical account followed by a topographical tour of the major features.

v. 1. Canterbury. 1821. York. 1819
v. 2. Salisbury. 1814. Norwich. 1816. Oxford. 1821
v. 3. Winchester. 1817. Litchfield. 1820. Hereford. 1831
v. 4. Wells. 1824. Exeter. 1826. Worcester. 1835
v. 5. Peterborough. 1828. Gloucester. 1829. Bristol. 1830
v. 6. Bath, St Mary Redcliffe Bristol.

Winkles’s Architectural and picturesque illustrations of the cathedral churches of England and Wales (1851)
Lincoln - Judgement porchWinkles is full of uncomprimisingly Romantic views: many so distant to be completely useless for assessing the fabric. However, the interiors are full of charming incident and also a more palpable sense of decay, as well as the sense of the grand vistas into which these buildings had been often opened up to, to the expense of medieval screens and furnishings. The text is also has rather more of a tendency to dwell on his own aesthetic opinion than the others and submit us to rather purple passages at times: not always a bad thing.

Vol. 1: Salisbury, Canterbury, York, St. Paul’s, Wells, Rochester, Winchester

Vol. 2: Lincoln, Chichester, Ely, Peterborough, Norwich, Exeter, Bristol, Oxford

Vol. 3: Lichfield, Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Durham, Carlisle, Manchester

The great thing about archive.org is that you can download and save individual images as well as full PDFs as much as you wish, and the text is even OCR’d so you can search it. Marvellous.