Cover image for A Place to Believe In: Locating Medieval Landscapes Edited by Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing

A Place to Believe In

Locating Medieval Landscapes

Edited by Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing

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$35.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02860-6

288 pages
6.125" × 9.25"
18 b&w illustrations/13 maps
2006

A Place to Believe In

Locating Medieval Landscapes

Edited by Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing

“This stimulating and provocative essay collection picks up the recent interest of medieval scholars in the political, social, and religious meanings of place and space, but it goes far beyond the work so far done in the field. What makes it unique is that it is so wide ranging across disciplinary and temporal boundaries. The book could make a wonderful addition to courses in Anglo-Saxon or later medieval texts that focus on female spirituality or monasticism.”

 

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  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
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Medievalists have much to gain from a thoroughgoing contemplation of place. If landscapes are windows onto human activity, they connect us with medieval people, enabling us to ask questions about their senses of space and place. In A Place to Believe In Clare Lees and Gillian Overing bring together scholars of medieval literature, archaeology, history, religion, art history, and environmental studies to explore the idea of place in medieval religious culture.

The essays in A Place to Believe In reveal places real and imagined, ancient and modern: Anglo-Saxon Northumbria (home of Whitby and Bede’s monastery of Jarrow), Cistercian monasteries of late medieval Britain, pilgrimages of mind and soul in Margery Kempe, the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in 1940, and representations of the sacred landscape in today’s Pacific Northwest.

A strength of the collection is its awareness of the fact that medieval and modern viewpoints converge in an experience of place and frame a newly created space where the literary, the historical, and the cultural are in ongoing negotiation with the geographical, the personal, and the material. Featuring a distinguished array of scholars, A Place to Believe In will be of great interest to scholars across medieval fields interested in the interplay between medieval and modern ideas of place.

Contributors are Kenneth Addison, Sarah Beckwith, Stephanie Hollis, Stacy S. Klein, Fred Orton, Ann Marie Rasmussen, Diane Watt, Kelley M. Wickham-Crowley, Ulrike Wiethaus, and Ian Wood.

“This stimulating and provocative essay collection picks up the recent interest of medieval scholars in the political, social, and religious meanings of place and space, but it goes far beyond the work so far done in the field. What makes it unique is that it is so wide ranging across disciplinary and temporal boundaries. The book could make a wonderful addition to courses in Anglo-Saxon or later medieval texts that focus on female spirituality or monasticism.”
“The scope of the volume is exemplary. The topics which constitute the ‘matter’ of this fragmentary, histiography open up the conceptual place of what the volume could have been. The editors knew that: some of the contributors, however, did not match the aspirations of Lees and Overing. Be that as it may, A Place to Believe In is a worthwhile addition to the discourse on the medieval practices of space/place.

Clare A. Lees is Professor of Medieval Literature and the History of the Language at King's College London.

Gillian R. Overing is Professor of English at Wake Forest University.

Contents

Acknowledgments

Anglo-Saxon Horizons: Places of the Mind in the Northumbrian Landscape

Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing

Part I: Place Matters

1. At the Bewcastle Monument, in Place

Fred Orton

2. Bede’s Jarrow

Ian Wood

3. Living on the Ecg: The Mutable Boundaries of Land and Water in Anglo-Saxon Contexts

Kelley M. Wickham-Crowley

Part II: Textual Locations

4. Gender and the Nature of Exile in Old English Elegies

Stacy S. Klein

5. Spatial Metaphors, Textual Production, and Spirituality in the Works of Gertrud of Helfta

(1256–1301/2)

Ulrike Wiethaus

6. Strategies of Emplacement and Displacement: St. Edith and the Wilton Community in Goscelin’s

Legend of Edith and Liber confortatorius

Stephanie Hollis

7. Faith in the Landscape: Overseas Pilgrimages in The Book of Margery Kempe

Diane Watt

Part III: Landscapes in Time

8. Preserving, Conserving, Deserving the Past: A Meditation on Ruin as Relic in Post-War Britain in Five Fragments

Sarah Beckwith

9. Changing Places: Rapid Climate Change and the Cistercian Settlement in Britain

Kenneth Addison

10. Visible and Invisible Landscapes: Medieval Monasticism as a Cultural Resource in the Pacific Northwest

Ann Marie Rasmussen

Contributors

Index

Anglo-Saxon Horizons:

Places of the Mind in the Northumbrian Landscape

Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing

In an essay first published in 1977, Yi-Fu Tuan, the cultural geographer, offers a rich meditation on human cognition and the meaning of landscape. If we train our eye, he argues—if we look ever more closely—a landscape can reveal its singular ordering of reality, and we see “how various and complex are the ways of human living.” For Tuan, the reading of a landscape is always a dialogue between physical environment and human perception. A sense of place is thus construed as dynamic, lived experience—or, put another way, as a window onto human activity. Others have since translated the creative premises of cultural geography into a dizzying array of registers and disciplines, from the now-familiar Foucauldian analyses of spatial power relations, to the work of Michel de Certeau and Pierre Bourdieu, to the “new geography” that is increasingly incorporated into sociohistorical and literary work in many fields of scholarship. But Tuan’s evocation of being there—of what it might mean to be “in place”—and his insistence on kinetic connection remain particularly compelling.

We share places with the past, and medievalists, perhaps especially, have much to gain from a thoroughgoing contemplation of place, an ever more layered and complex understanding of landscapes in and through time. From the disciplinary perspectives of, for example, art history or landscape and settlement studies, the notion of “landscape” is post-medieval, but that of locus or place is thoroughly medieval—a familiar element of monastic habits of thought and knowledge. Concepts of landscape and of locus converge in the ways in which both can open the mind to considerations of place, time, and memory. These considerations are explored by a number of contributors to this book and in a variety of contexts, such as Goscelin’s Life of Edith, as Stephanie Hollis argues in “Strategies of Emplacement and Displacement,” or the later thirteenth-century writings of Gertrud of Helfta examined by Ulrike Wiethaus in “Spatial Metaphors, Textual Production, and Spirituality in the Works of Gertrud of Helfta (1256–1301/2).” Ideas of place, whether those of the past or of the present, offer new imaginaries, new possibilities for connection, invention, or consolation (and perhaps all three operate in Goscelin’s desire to link people and place in his Life of Edith). Such imaginaries offer, in turn, the lure of storytelling, of continuing the story of the past into the present, which has attracted all the contributors to this volume. Sarah Beckwith’s “Preserving, Conserving, Deserving the Past,” which takes as its beginning the significance of the ruined Abbey of St. Mary for the staging of the York mystery plays in 1951, provides just one instance of the relation between medieval and modern that is central to A Place to Believe In.

If, as Tuan argues, landscapes are windows onto human activity, they are places where we in the present might be connected, unsentimentally, with those in the past. In this book we ask questions about medieval notions of space and place, certainly, but we also consider how medieval concepts and practices might challenge modern assumptions, and we even glimpse moments of continuity between the medieval and the modern. Even as Beckwith uses medieval concepts of relic to underline modern meanings of ruin as transformation and possibility, Ann Marie Rasmussen’s “Visible and Invisible Landscapes” demonstrates how the medieval period (however misconstrued) illuminates contemporary understandings of environmental theory and practice in the Pacific Northwest. In a similar vein, Kenneth Addison sets out a methodology that combines contemporary environmental studies with detailed assessments of medieval practices for sustaining and renewing the land in his “Changing Places.” The “heritage” industry, Beckwith, Rasmussen, and Addison agree, does not represent the only way to think about the ruins of the past. Indeed, this book argues that medieval and modern viewpoints can be negotiated through and in an experience of place. These negotiations frame a newly created space where the literary, the historical, and the cultural are in an ongoing conversation with the geographic, the personal, and the material. Concepts of place, the essays in this book indicate, offer shared forms of meaning.

It is worth pausing here to consider how the chapters of A Place to Believe In relate to each other. This book explores concepts of place in and through time using the discourses of a number of disciplines—preeminently literary studies, history, art history, and religious studies. It conceives of its project by respecting these different discourses but also drawing on interdisciplinary perspectives and a trans-temporal framework. Our project, then, is a shared one, but as editors, we did not strive for uniformity for the sake of mere cohesion; rather, we aimed to study place from a number of different perspectives. Some points of connection and contact across the essays are highlighted in this Introduction, but we have also divided the essays into groups entitled “Place Matters,” “Textual Locations,” and “Landscapes in Time.”

Later in this Introduction, we will contribute to these ongoing conversations about the meaning of place, taking Anglo-Saxon Northumbria as our example. We examine the possibility of locating this particular place from a number of perspectives, two of which are worth mentioning here: a perspective on Northumbria in the Anglo-Saxon period and a perspective from Northumbria, both then and now. Our Northumbrian journeys unfold in place, in time, and on paper in a manner reminiscent of Margery Kempe’s pilgrimages, as Diane Watt reminds us in “Faith in the Landscape.” Cognitive, temporal, and spatial perspectives (in place/in time, on paper, in Northumbria/on Northumbria) combine to produce a relational space wherein we may begin to view medieval writing in the landscape. In The Book of Margery Kempe, Watt points out, place is both origin and goal (as it is for Goscelin in his Liber confortatorius, Hollis notes). Kempe’s foreign pilgrimages chart spiritual and natural (“real”) places that enable us to read in the landscape a journey of the mind and soul. These are places to believe in. The Anglo-Saxon poets famously took the metaphysics of travel very seriously, combining the literal voyage with its spiritual resonances, as Stacy S. Klein demonstrates in “Gender and the Nature of Exile in Old English Elegies.” Concepts of exile are ways of asking what it means to be in as well as out of place; these are limit zones, or, to use Kelley M. Wickham-Crowley’s phrase, “mutable boundaries” as well as modes of cognition. In her essay for this volume, “Living on the Ecg,” Wickham-Crowley tackles the interdependence of land and sea to offer insight into Anglo-Saxon perceptions of place and identity, which are poised between a firm apprehension of the stubborn materiality of place and an equally firm grasp of its metaphorical, spiritual, and poetic reflexes. What it means to be in place adds another dimension to the perspectives on and from place. In positing a Northumbrian horizon or a sense of Northumbria as a region, we, like others in this volume, ask questions about place and time, about places in time.

A sense of the north of England and more particularly of early Anglo-Saxon Northumbria is central to two other essays in this collection: Fred Orton’s “At the Bewcastle Monument, in Place” and Ian Wood’s “Bede’s Jarrow.” Both deal with aspects of this northern culture familiar to many. The Bewcastle monument is one of the best-known examples of pre–Viking Ages stone sculpture in Anglo-Saxon England, while Bede and his monastery of Jarrow (or Monkwearmouth-Jarrow) offer us a monk and monastery virtually iconic for the early medieval period. We explore other icons of Northumbria (Lindisfarne, Yeavering, Bamburgh) below, but Orton and Wood bring new and rich perspectives to our sense of this region and its perhaps too-familiar spaces. In the region of the lower Tyne, close to Jarrow, Wood proposes a new “heartland” for the Northumbrian kingdom (one “overlooked” by Bede) and thus redraws the complex and ever-shifting map of peoples and places crucial for our knowledge of both Bede and his world. Orton, in place at Bewcastle—now a place without a name, at least according to the Ordnance Survey map—reconstructs the history of this place quite literally from the ground up and, in so doing, restores to the Bewcastle monument its place. Re-placing the monument in the site of one of the largest Roman forts on Hadrian’s Wall reminds us how often places are forgotten and lost in our memories of the medieval world. Orton asks the question of how places are made—a question that reverberates throughout the essays in this collection.

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