Medieval monastic houses as formative influences in the political, economic, social and cultural development and transformation of Wales
The Monastic Wales project.
The religious houses of medieval Wales have long been overshadowed by their more numerous, generally more prosperous, and normally better documented neighbours east of Offa's Dyke. Yet their history is inseparable from the religious, cultural, economic, political, literary and urban history of Wales during the period between the arrival of the Normans in the late eleventh century and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth.
In an attempt to identify more firmly Wales's place on the monastic map of Europe, this project seeks to establish a comprehensive monastic history of medieval Wales, the findings of which will be made available to scholars and students, as well as the wider public, both electronically and in print. Initially this comprised monasteries and houses of canons which were active in Wales for some or all of the period from the late eleventh century until the Suppression of the religious houses in the sixteenth century. At present the database is being extended to include the friars.
The Project seeks also to encourage new research into aspects of Welsh monastic history and to provide a platform for unpublished material and new work. Essays and articles will be available to users on the website. A comprehensive history of monastic Wales, with contributions from leading scholars in the field, will be published in book form.
The first phase of the project was the creation of a database and Monastic Wales website which can be used as both a research and a teaching tool. The Monastic Wales website has now been completed – insofar as a project such as this is ever ‘complete’; we anticipate that it will regularly be updated with new publications, photographs, and news. The project team would like to thank those who have written in to congratulate us on the site, and to offer contributions. We are able to monitor the use of the website though Google Analytics and interest remains high.
New journal launch.
Janet Burton and Karen Stöber (University of Lleida) as general editors launched the international Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies, published by Brepols (Turnhout, Belgium) in 2011. Volume 3 was published in 2013 and volume 4 is being prepared for press. The journal has attracted wide acclaim, and volume 4 is planned to include contributions from scholars in Ireland, Iceland, Portugal, England, Germany, Sicily and Germany. An indication of the success of JMMS is that the general editors have been invited by Brepols to begin a book series, Medieval Monastic Studies to complement the journal. Already several authors have expressed their interest.
ESF Exploratory Workshop:
Monasteries in the Shadow ofEmpires: Comparative Approaches to the Role of the Cistercian and Franciscan Orders in European State Building (12th to 15th centuries)
Eichstätt (Germany), 7 – 9 Oct. 2013
Convened by: Janet Burton, Karen Stöber, David Austin and Anne Müller
This workshop was held at Eichstätt in Germany over 3 days from 7 to 9 October 2013. Participation involved 21 people from nine different countries. The meeting aimed to promote a new transnational research programme entitled ‘Monasteries in the Shadow of Empires’, which explores the role of religious orders in the processes of state building among smaller aspirant states outside of the ‘imperial’ centres of medieval Europe. At the core was the character of religious houses in these regions and their role in the creation of distinctive and often competing cultural and political identities. Through looking at various forms of encounter and representation, the workshop debated new concepts, methods and data and tried to establish appropriate tools for a more specifically comparative and multidisciplinary investigation of medieval monasticism.
In particular, the intention of our workshop was to explore the role of religious houses and orders, notably Cistercian and Franciscan, in the process of medieval state building. This is a new and critical issue in historical studies and central to the current debate about the transformative powers of institutions, such as monasteries, in the building of regional identities and cultural traditions.
What we tried to achieve during our debates was to set a firm base for a comparative exploration of the character and impact of monasticism in relation to the wider development of regions, and in particular to those regions or aspirant states that emerged in the shadow of stronger neighbours and had clear ambitions to preserve their own political coherence and cultural traditions. There is evidence that monasteries, in the Middle Ages, played an active role in shaping and developing the distinct polities and identities of these discrete regions. Here some monasteries, through patrons often of local royal or aristocratic lineage, actively engaged in this process by drawing on local narratives and symbols of ‘native’ culture (for instance historical writing, artistic production) and binding them, syncretically, into the international agendas of the Western Church. This involvement of religious houses in preserving cultural traditions strengthened the authority of rulers seeking to resist powerful neighbours. It also acted reciprocally to the advantage of individual houses in their strategies of consolidation. Monasteries in these contexts could be recruited to projects of resistance, but other houses, even from the same order and in the same region, could also be instruments of political and cultural domination.
Our aim was to articulate perspectives for a comparative investigation of these complex relationships across time, orders and context within different examples of such regions, namely medieval Wales, Ireland, Catalonia, Galicia, Hungary, Bohemia, and representative regions from Transylvania, the Balkans, and Scandinavia.
In our discussions we have also tried to break down the disciplinary boundaries often inherent in monastic studies and have engaged a wide range of scholarship in the fields of history, archaeology, historical geography and literary and art history. We have addressed historical and theoretical issues through looking at a broad range of historical, archaeological and topographical source material, indicating the expression of identity and power, and examined their form and content in the context of political and social action in the chosen regions.
There are three key themes that were addressed in great detail and in separate sessions during the workshop:
1) Regional aspects of monasticism and state building
● this looked on the complex impact that religious orders and communities had in processes of state and identity building at a regional level
1) Cultural communication and narrative
● this considered processes of memorialisation, including the promotion of saints’ cults, burial, the naming of places, teaching and preaching, as well as the contribution of monasteries to the production of cultural narratives or regionally focused history
● there was also a session that dealt with society, encounter and the engagement of monasteries with local rights and traditions through the adaptation of estate organization, farming methods and industrial production
2) Spatial impacts: landscapes, art and iconography
● this discussed the role of art and architectural form within sacred spaces and adjacent landscapes as representatives and symbols of wider political and ideological meaning and context; in particular the uses of local style, where it was placed and how it was perceived. It also reflected on the meaning of monastic topographies as well as on art, décor, iconographies and their potential for symbolization
These issues were evaluated in the context of the actions taken by monks and monastic agents, to construct a rounded understanding of how the monasteries may have created a presence and a role for themselves in the political and social life of distinct European regions. This presence and role would thus reflect local aspiration on the one hand and international ideologies and systems on the other: cultural fusions with a political intent. The overarching goal was to stimulate a debate to explore whether the idea of monasteries acting in the Shadow of Empires is a sustainable concept on the European scale, allowing us to build towards a major pan-European project.
Funders of research include:
- Mark Finch Foundation
- European Science Foundation
Through the work in this research area the School has active research links and collaborations with researchers:
- Prof. Lutter, Christina (Institute of Austrian Historical Research, University Vienna)
- Dr. Hornícková, Katerina (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)
- Dr. Pavlína Rychterová (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)
- Prof. Kostova, Rossina (University of Veliko Tarnovo)
- Prof. Kubín, Petr (Charles University Prague)
- Prof. Signori, Gabriela (University Constance, Dep. Of History and Sociology)
- Johannes Schütz, M.A. (University Göttingen)
- Dr. Mersch, Margit (University Kassel, Dep. of Medieval History)
- Prof. Laszlovszky, József (Central European University Budapest)
- Prof. Romhányi, Beatrix (Calvinist University Budapest)
- Ferenczi, László, M.A. (Central European University Budapest)
- Dr. Breathnach, Edel (University College Dublin, Micheál O'Cléirigh Institute)
- Prof. O’Keefe, Tadgh (University College Dublin, School of Archaeology)
- Dr. Florea, Carmen (University Babes Bolyai, Cluj; Faculty of History and Philosophy)
- Dr. Claudia Florentina Dobre (University of Bucharest)
- Dr. Stöber, Karen (University of Lleida; Faculty of Philosophy)
- Pascua Echegaray Esther, M.A. (Madrid Open University)
- Dr. Jamroziak, Emilia (Univ. Of Leeds, Dep. of History)
- Prof. Johnston, Dafydd, (Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth)
- Dr. Müller, Anne (University of Wales Trinity Saint David)