Apologies for the extended silence over the last few weeks. I’ve been busy completing my paper on ‘Demonic mutilation of the body in Anglo-Saxon England’, which I presented at the 7th Annual MEMSA Conference in Durham on ‘The Mutilated Body’. The conference was an incredibly enjoyable affair as a gathering of like-minded people, but also represented a stimulating session for the mind. The quality of papers was excellent all round, not to mention a series of excellent talks by Professors Faith Wallis (McGill), Richard Gameson (Durham) and Charlotte Roberts (Durham). I will get round to posting a summary of my paper here shortly. Overall, I was greatly impressed both by MEMSA and the organisation of the conference. The MEMSA website can be found here, and the link to the conference programme (if you’re interested in the many excellent topics that were covered) can be found here.
While this wasn’t my first visit to the city, I had a particularly memorable time in the north-east. Travelling from the south into Durham by rail gives you the spectacular view of Durham Cathedral perched imposingly over the rest of the landscape as the train pulls into the station. I also had the opportunity to pay homage to two Anglo-Saxon individuals whom I read and write about extensively: Cuthbert and Bede. St Cuthbert’s shrine and body can be found in the Cathedral, as is the tomb of the Venerable Bede. The display in the Monk’s Dormitory beside the Cathedral also contains casts of the Ruthwell and Bewcastle standing crosses, which captured my interest for a good length of time. My only regret was that the exhibit containing Cuthbert’s coffin was under renovation, so I didn’t have the opportunity to see it.
This summer, Durham University is also hosting a special exhibition about the Lindisfarne Gospels, a beautiful copy of the four gospels in Latin produced in early eighth-century Northumbria. If you are in the UK, I cannot recommend it highly enough. For specialists, it is an absolute delight, showcasing not only the Lindisfarne Gospels but also other related works, such as Bede’s prose Life of Cuthbert and the Durham Gospels, which served as the model for Eadfrith as he produced the Lindisfarne Gospels. But for the casual observer, the exhibition is certainly no less interesting: the displays have been carefully arranged and documented in such a way that someone with no knowledge of Anglo-Saxon history will still be able to appreciate the importance of Durham and the Lindisfarne Gospels. I was quite blown away by the digitised retelling of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and the journey of Cuthbert’s body from Lindisfarne to Durham – a rare combination of accessibility and historical accuracy. The exhibition was so popular that we had to queue for 20 minutes in the sun because it was so packed. An excellent exhibition all round. More information can be found here.
I suppose it’s difficult to visit Durham and not fall in love all over again with Anglo-Saxon history. I can scarcely think of any single location that offers such a convincing advertisement for my subject of choice. I wish I had brought my camera along, but I guess a strong verbal recommendation will have to suffice. Look forward to plenty more about the fascinating demonological beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons as dissertation research goes into overdrive.