Conference in Durham

Treasure in Heaven, Treasures on Earth: the secular world and material consumption in Western European Monasticism, c. 1050-c. 1250.

This three-day interdisciplinary conference took place at Hatfield College, Durham University, on Wednesday 21st to Friday 23rd September 2016. Inspired by work produced as part of the ‘Religion and Money: the Economy of Salvation in the Middle Ages’ project and kindly funded by the Cultural Historical Museum, University of Oslo, the conference explored monastic economies in the central medieval period in Western Europe. It was organised by Rosalind Green and Stephanie Britton, both third-year PhD candidates at Durham in the Department of History. 

Key note speaker Alf Tore Hommedal.

The conference explored the interactions of monastic communities with secular society and material possessions, with an emphasis upon their connection to money and physical goods. Despite the rejection of private ownership by key legislative monastic texts and the perceived dangers of engagement with secular society, the accumulation of wealth and relationships with the world outside the cloister were inevitable for most monastic communities in this period. The eleventh and twelfth centuries particularly saw both the growing wealth of monastic institutions and closer interactions with lay society, alongside increasing divisions in the interpretation of St. Benedict’s Rule, especially in the sphere of wealth and its appropriate use. How monks endeavoured to maintain their adherence to monastic expectations in this shifting atmosphere was the chief concern of this conference.

Over three days, speakers presented a range of interdisciplinary papers exploring this topic. Keynote speakers included Alf Tore Hommedal, Economy of Salvation project member and Associate Professor at the University Museum of Bergen, who presented a paper entitled ‘’A cave by the ocean’: The Benedictines and their role in the creation of the Sanctuary at Selja, Norway’, which explored the construction and position of the shrine of St Sunniva. Our second keynote speaker, Stephen Marritt, lecturer at the University of Glasgow, spoke on the topic of ‘Monk Bishops and Secular Society in Anglo-Norman and Angevin England’ with a paper examining the differences and similarities between the behaviour of secular and monastic bishops in this period. A broad range of topics were further discussed, with papers offering insights into financial debt in monastic houses, monastic property conflicts, and the material impact of wartime upon monastic communities. Other key points of interest were relationships between monks and women, the effect of secular patronage upon monasteries, and changing identities of monks as they moved into positions of power such as archbishops or landowners.

As part of this conference, speakers and delegates visited the Open Treasures exhibition at Durham Cathedral. Additional funding was provided by the Royal Historical Society, as well as the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, the Centre for Academic and Researcher Development, and the Institute of Advanced Studies, all Durham University. Especial thanks go to Professor Svein Gullbekk and Dr Giles Gasper for their invaluable support.





Tags: Monastic, conference, Durham By Rosalind Green and Stephanie Britton
Published Oct. 8, 2016 10:57 AM - Last modified Mar. 24, 2020 3:19 PM