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IMC 2016: Sessions

Session 1106: Monks and the Mundus: Concerns about the Material World in Spiritual Houses

Wednesday 6 July 2016, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Steven A. Walton, Department of Social Sciences, Michigan Technological University
Paper 1106-aMaterial Supply and cibus spiritualis: The Short Poems of Venantius Fortunatus to St Radegund and Agnes in Their Socio-Historical Context
(Language: English)
Lorenzo Livorsi, Centre for Early Christianity & its Reception, University of Kent
Index terms: Language and Literature - Latin, Religious Life, Social History
Paper 1106-bMonastic Astrolabes: Interest in Astronomy in Late Medieval England
(Language: English)
Seb Falk, Department of History & Philosophy of Science, Cambridge
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Medicine, Monasticism, Science
Paper 1106-cThe Subjunctive Language of Medieval Alchemy
(Language: English)
Zachary Matus, Department of History, Boston College, Massachusetts
Index terms: Ecclesiastical History, Learning (The Classical Inheritance), Religious Life, Science

Paper -a:
Venantius Fortunatus, a skilled Gelegenheitsdichter, priest and bishop, and, last but not least, passionate gourmet, addressed a number of short elegies to his spiritual patron, the influential ascetic St Radegund, foundress of the cloister of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, and to her spiritual daughter Agnes. Some of these poems, in which he thanks the nuns for sending him many tasty dishes, provide a valuable insight into the relationship between the poet and his 'ladies' and into the everyday life at the Holy Cross, under the strict Rule of Caesarius of Arles. In the humoristic tone of these short elegies we nevertheless detect a wavering attitude towards religious fast. Moreover, the supply of food played a major role in the day to day material dependency of the pauper Fortunatus on the nuns: the traditional language of the Roman epigram and love elegy is bent to express a theory of Christian charity which has close correspondences with other Carmina written for secular addressees.

Paper -b:
This paper will discuss monastic astronomy as a distinctive science. Monks were influenced by their interaction with universities and secular patrons, but they were also able to develop their own forms of knowledge, appropriate to their cloistered context and motivations for investigating nature. Monastic astronomy went far beyond familiar utilitarian concerns with timekeeping and calendars, and reflected the monks's interests and training, and unstable relationships with universities. In order to establish what was distinctive about monastic astronomy, this paper will assess the evidence of monastic books and especially instruments, discussing their functions for communication, computation, observation, and demonstration, and comparing the activities of monks with those of other groups, especially friars.

Paper -c:
Medieval alchemy is ripe with claims of wondrous substances, whose effects have been verified through reason and observation. Coping with those claims without reinforcing outdated characterisations of medieval gullibility has required scholars to consider them as rhetorical devices or to bracket them off in a manner akin to visionary experience and simply consider their cultural significance. In this paper, I examine two Franciscan alchemists who claim to have concocted the elixir of life and witnessed its efficacy. I argue that the 'truth' of these claims is not merely rhetorical nor in need of bracketing. Instead, these authors provide a model for understanding their alchemical claims where efficacy and empiricism are contingent upon the spiritual attitude of both alchemist and observer.