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IMC 2006: Sessions

Session 1016: The Wider Meaning of Gesture in Three Hagiographical Texts from England, c.1000-1125

Wednesday 12 July 2006, 09.00-10.30

Organiser:Alexander Vaughan, Robinson College, University of Cambridge
Moderator/Chair:Susan B. Edgington, School of History, Queen Mary, University of London
Paper 1016-aGesture and the Benedictine Ideal in Wulfstan's Life of Athelwold
(Language: English)
Debby Banham, Department of History & Philosophy of Science,
Index terms: Hagiography, Monasticism
Paper 1016-bA Repeated Gesture in Eadmer of Canterbury's Saints' Lives
(Language: English)
Alexander Vaughan, Robinson College, University of Cambridge
Index terms: Ecclesiastical History, Hagiography, Historiography - Medieval
Paper 1016-cGesture in William of Malmesbury's Life of Aldhelm
(Language: English)
Neil Wright, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
Index terms: Hagiography, Language and Literature - Latin, Learning (The Classical Inheritance), Monasticism

This session will explore how gestures, both miraculous and mundane, are depicted in hagiographical texts, and what these depictions can tell us of the world outside the text. Debby Banham will discuss the significance of monastic sign language for the depiction of 10th-century Benedictine reforms. Sandy Vaughan will look at a single gesture repeated within saints' Lives by Eadmer of Canterbury. Neil Wright will examine fear, humour, and miraculous gesture in a miracle of St Aldhelm recalled by William of Malmesbury. All three papers will show that what is communicated through gesture is not always what it might seem.

Abstract paper -a: Wulfstan of Winchester's Life of Athelwold, (Bishop of Winchester between 963–984), is a highly ideological work. In the first place, of course, as the main plank of the (unsuccessful) campaign to create a cult of Athelwold at Winchester, it seeks to present its subject as a holy man. But it is also part of a major effort to promote reformed Benedictinism as the best, and indeed the only true, form of monasticism for England. In this latter capacity, it presents the life of Athelwold's communities at Abingdon and Winchester as adhering as closely as possible to the ideal prescribed by the Rule of St Benedict and the Regularis concordia. One feature of that ideal (almost certainly new to England in the 10th century) was the observance of silence in church (other than as required for worship, of course), in the refectory, and in the dormitory – that is to say, in a reformed Benedictine house, with its ever-expanding liturgical commitments, for most of the day and night.

At some point during this period, very possibly from within Athelwold's own circle, a collection of texts was assembled that has been described as the 'manifesto of the reform movement', now preserved in British Library MSS, Cotton Tiberius A.iii (s. xi m). This includes the Regularis concordia, substantially Athelwold's work, the Rule in both Latin and Athelwold's English translation, his pupil Alfric of Eynsham's Colloquy for teaching Latin, and among many other texts, a list of manual signs in Old English, entitled Monasteriales indicia. This was the reformers' technological fix for the prolonged periods of silence required by the Rule. Was it's existence in Tiberius A.iii another element of the reform's ideology, or were such signs actually in use in English reformed houses? Some conclusions about this can be drawn from the sign-list itself, but external evidence is needed to confirm these (or otherwise). References to signs being used in England are not common; in fact they are confined to a single episode in the Life of Athelwold. Is this also part of reformist ideology, or did Athelwold and his monks really use signs in their daily life? Might the use of signs have been associated with the exceptional rigour of Athelwold's branch of the reform, rather than with the English movement as a whole? These questions will be explored further in my paper.