Steffen Hope

My project aims to investigate how the identity of a religious institution was constructed through that institution’s production of text material pertaining to the cult of saints. In the Middle Ages, the cult of saints was an omnipresent aspect of daily life, and some saints gained greater popularity than others. At the centre of a cult – most often the saint’s burial place – there was very often a significant production of texts and iconographic material through which the saint was presented (for instance wall paintings), and through which the devotees communicated with the saint (the liturgy). By investigating this material I wish to explore how a religious institution positioned itself in the texts and in the iconography it produced, and to explore what this can tell us of how they saw themselves in the grand scheme of things, i.e. how they constructed their own identity through deliberate and carefully executed texts.

In my project, I seek to use this focus to investigate three religious institutions in twelfth-century Northern Europe: Bury St Edmunds in England, Ringsted in Denmark and Nidaros in Norway. These places – two monasteries and one archbishop’s cathedral – all were important cult centres in the Middle Ages, and they all were the centre of an important textual output in the twelfth century. In the case of Bury and Nidaros, the textual output strengthened an existing cult (Edmund Martyr and Olaf respectively), while in the case of Ringsted the textual output was caused by the establishment of a new cult, that of Canute Lavard the Duke.

The surge in textual output found at these religious institutions comprise a range of different texts, including histories, saints’ lives and liturgical material. In my research I will not only investigate these texts individually, but also see how material is transmitted from one category or genre of text (like hagiography) and into another (such as liturgy). By investigating this transmission we see which aspects of the saint were retained in the new liturgical image. This will allow us to see which aspects were the most important to the institution, and in this way we might be able to get a clearer sense of how the institution formulated itself. This investigation will also be performed in light of the political and religious currents in twelfth-century Europe, such as the reformist movement of the Church, the schism, and the ongoing struggle between secular and ecclesiastical powers.

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