It’s been a busy summer for the Bearers of the Cross project. On Friday 3 June William gave a keynote lecture at Histfest, the annual conference organised by and for postgraduate students at Lancaster University. Two weeks later William, Rosie and Abi were completing preparations for the project’s research workshop on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Medieval Material Religion, which was held at the Museum of the Order of St John on 21 and 22 June. And the week after that William and Rosie travelled to Denmark for the quadrennial conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, where the project sponsored two sessions on Material Religion in the Crusading World.
All three occasions provided valuable opportunities to present and discuss research taking place under the Bearers of the Cross project umbrella. In Lancaster William spoke about ‘Cuts, Brands and Tattoos: Interpreting the Crusader’s Marked Body’, a subject that he revisited in his paper at the London workshop and will be discussing again in the second of the project’s three public events, to be held at the Museum on Wednesday 28 September. At the SSCLE conference in Odense, William shifted topic to talk about the devotional practices associated with the Holy Lance of Antioch – the most notorious relic in the history of the First Crusade. Picking up on a theme that is central to Brent Plate’s recent A History of Religion in 5½ Objects, William argued that the Holy Lance relic’s custodians failed in their role as ‘religious technologists’, not least because they were unable to cultivate an appropriate material environment for this particular sacred object to be venerated in.
In both London and Odense Rosie gave a presentation about her work on the pierced crusader coins within the Museum’s medieval collection, situating them within a wider context of other known examples and demonstrating how they might be used as evidence for lived religious practice in the Latin East. Rosie explored how through their transformation such coins could have been used as items of jewellery with new apotropaic properties.
The Interdisciplinary Approaches to Medieval Material Religion workshop was among the highlights of the project so far, with fourteen colleagues from the UK, Europe and the USA gathering in Clerkenwell to discuss shared research interests, findings and methodologies. Proceedings began with an excellent opening paper by Miri Rubin (Queen Mary University of London) on ‘Material Religion: How We Got Here and What Comes Next’, which set the tone and agenda for the two days of discussion that were to follow. The sessions were organised thematically, on ‘Bodies’, ‘Things’ and ‘Spaces’, with speakers addressing topics such as the meaning of monastic clothing, the movement of relics from East to West, and the design and construction of ecclesiastical architecture. There was much rewarding and insightful discussion throughout the workshop, especially in the closing session which began with a formal response from one of the editors of the journal Material Religion, David Morgan (Duke University). The full workshop programme is available here, and if you’d like to review proceedings from the perspective of participants, #MedMatRel tweets have been storified here.
Several of the #MedMatRel participants reconvened a few days later for #SSCLE16 in Odense. This was an excellent conference, and it was exciting to share news of the project’s approaches and outputs (especially the database of the Museum of the Order of St John’s medieval collection) with experts in crusading studies from around the world.
The trip to Denmark also presented William and Rosie with opportunities to visit various other museums and sites, including the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen and Bjernede Church (which, like the priory church of St John in Clerkenwell, was modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem).
While on their travels William and Rosie spotted a number of depictions of St John himself, including at the Nationalmuseet and the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen and, rather more bizarrely, in a burger bar in Odense …