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The Afterlives of St. Edmund and his Medieval Colleagues: The World of Medieval Relics

The finding of the king’s head – from John Lydgate’s 15th-century metrical account of the martyrdom of St Edmund (British Library, Ms Harl.2278)

with Charles Freeman

in The Old Court, Sutton Hoo (map)
on Saturday, 28th January, 2012

Saints’ bodies were not simply bones or dust but many had a continuing life of their own. In this study day Charles Freeman will explore the afterlives of the saints’ bodies across medieval Europe. Some extracts from contemporary sources (in translation!) will be provided as illustration as well as some visual material.

Provisional Programme
  10.00 Coffee on arrival  
  10.15 1. The World of Medieval Relics. What were
Christian relics, what were they supposed to do and why did they become so important in medieval Europe? An introduction to the key themes of the subject, including incorruptibility, the rituals of the translation (transferring the body to a new shrine), and feast-days.
  11.15 Coffee  
  11.45 2. The Cult of St. Edmund. The great shrine of St
Edmund at Bury St. Edmunds was one of the major pilgrimage sites of Europe. The legend of Edmund was embellished over the centuries to meet different needs. This section will feed the themes of the first session into a specific Suffolk cult of international importance.
  12.45 Lunch break (bring picnic or eat in NT restaurant)  
  14:00 3. Pilgrims and Pilgrimage. Bury St. Edmunds was
just one of many shrines on the international circuit. This session will explore some of the others including Jerusalem, Rome and St. James at Compostela. What did pilgrims hope to gain from the experience?
  15:00 Tea break  
  15:15 4. Hostility to the cults. We will start with the
Treatise on Relics by the twelfth century monk Guibert of Nogent and the first attacks on the luxury of the shrines (e.g. by the Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux). More theological criticisms come with John Wycliffe and Jan Hus and culminate in the Reformation destruction of the shrines. We will conclude with a short discussion of why relics were so important in medieval Europe and why they retain their power in Catholic Europe today.
  c.16:20 Close  

About Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman is a freelance academic author. His published works include The Closing of the Western Mind (2002) and A New History of Early Christianity (2009). His most recent book, Holy Bones , Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (Yale University Press 2011), is the first systematic history of relic cults in English. He is also Historical Consultant to the Blue Guides series and has led study tours to Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Some suggestions for further reading
(useful but not essential)

Anthony Bale, St. Edmund, King and Martyr, Changing Images of a Medieval Saint (2009) especially the introduction (Suffolk Libraries have two copies).
John Calvin, Treatise on Relics (1543) - entertaining critique of relic cults by leading Protestant reformer (easily found online).
Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (1992) - classic account of the destruction of the English shrines.
Charles Freeman, Holy Bones, Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (2011) - thematic history of medieval relic cults, 380-1600.
Guibert of Nogent, Monodies and On the Relics of the Saints (Penguin Classics 2011).
M. Staunton (ed.), The Lives of Thomas Becket (2001) - uses contemporary sources on the murder of Becket to reveal how his cult began at Canterbury.
Benedicta Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind (revised edition, 1987) - excellent survey of cults.
Diana Webb, Pilgrims and Pilgrimage in the Medieval West (1999) - has good contemporary extracts.


Please phone or email to check the availability of places. Study Days are 38 per person, which includes a full day of lectures, access to the NT site, parking, coffee and tea throughout the day, and access to the NT exhibition. Once you have reserved your place please send a cheque to confirm the booking. For your first booking please complete the application form to ensure that we have recorded your contact details correctly.

Wuffing Education,
4 Hilly Fields,
Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4DX
tel : 01394 386498

Email cliff AT wuffingeducation.co.uk
(replace 'AT' by '@' in order to send email - we used 'AT' to avoid spam robots automatically sending us emails)
Website www.wuffingeducation.co.uk

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