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IMC 2023: Sessions

Session 1109: Holy Places, Holy Bodies: Religious Topographies in the Early and Central Middle Ages

Wednesday 5 July 2023, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Albrecht Diem, Department of History, Syracuse University, New York
Paper 1109-aThe Entangled Fates: Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Award in 6th- and 7th-Century Female Hagiographies
(Language: English)
Cherry Hiu Ki Chan, St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies University of St Andrews
Index terms: Hagiography, Monasticism, Religious Life, Women's Studies
Paper 1109-bHisperic Cosmographies: Adamnán's De locis sanctis and the Cosmographia of Aethicus Ister
(Language: English)
Tiffany Beechy, Department of English, University of Colorado, Boulder
Index terms: Language and Literature - Celtic, Language and Literature - Comparative, Language and Literature - Old English, Language and Literature - Latin

Paper -a:
The paper explores the connection between the physical body and the heavenly reward described in Merovingian female lives and Bede's Historia ecclesiastica. It demonstrates the mingled tie between the women's earthly bodies and future rewards, as displayed in the depictions of tripartite hierarchy, ascetic behaviours, and virginity. The paper argues that women's sanctity in the 6th and 7th centuries was primarily defined by their physical bodies, despite a prolonged emphasis on the importance of spiritual purity over bodily perfection.

Paper -b:
This paper proposes to place together two early texts associated with Irish learning whose very different reception histories bely many similarities. Both are apocryphal, have shadowy narrators, and articulate topographies largely constructed by language, in a strikingly ornate and obscure 'hisperic' style. Yet scholars have largely taken Abbot Adamnán at his word, whereas the Cosmographia has been relegated to outskirts of intelligibility. This is perhaps due to Adamnán's more acceptable subject matter, being concerned with the holy lands as opposed to fantastical realms farther flung, and it is no doubt also due to Bede's approval of the work, even though he saw need to abridge and emend it.

I propose to take both the De locis sanctis and the Cosmographia at their word, asking, in the mode of speculative fiction, what premises would make them 'true', as in, serious attempts at describing a world, and then further, whether the resulting worlds appear compatible or contradictory. My working hypothesis is that Adamnán's revelatory topographies of the holy lands and the Cosmographer's etymological geographies of the East are in some way consistent or harmonious. The body of Christ touched the land of Palestine, and thus the very dirt acts in curious ways. The lands of the East are defined instead by the authoritative and quasi-authoritative words of the grammatical tradition, which function as adjuncts to the Incarnate Word. The two works are thus united by their relation to the Logos, a relation with particular properties in the context of early medieval Britain.