A recent study of Marian iconography in relation to The Lord of the Rings pithily notes that Mary, ‘in many respects is the central figure of the Middle Ages’. There is a vast body of surviving texts, statues, pictures, rosaries, misericords, icons, etc., relating to Mary, and even in their vastness they are but a small portion of what existed during the middle ages. This fact underpins this exploration of Marian devotion, which aims to see what sense can be made of the varied but fragmentary evidence for that practice in medieval Perth. It assesses how that evidence fits the broad pattern of such devotion in medieval Europe and whether we can see any kind of gender dimension to that devotional practice. Mary is a figure both human and quasi-divine, both a virgin and a mother, the Church's feminine ideal. As Marina Warner observed, women are equal in God's eyes but not in men's, and ‘Whether we regard the Virgin Mary as the most sublime and beautiful image in man's struggle towards the good and the pure or the most pitiable production of ignorance and superstition, she represents a central theme in the history of western attitudes to women.’
In mid-1206, a group of six inquisitive lay brothers at the Cistercian house of Melrose made an exciting discovery. The brethren had been preparing a tomb for the recently deceased Abbot William II, who was to be buried alongside the tomb of his saintly predecessor, Abbot Waltheof. Waltheof's most famous attribute was the miraculous preservation of his body, a state that had last been witnessed over thirty years previously in 1171. Overcome by the desire to witness this miracle for themselves, the brothers urged the abbey's mason, Brother Robert, to raise the marble cover of St Waltheof's tomb and peer in.
This second discovery of Waltheof's incorruption was an event that must have both re-awakened interest in the saint's cult and re-opened older questions surrounding its promotion. The immediate response of the house appears to have been to commission the well known Cistercian hagiographer, Jocelin of Furness, to write an official account of Waltheof's life and deeds, a work that was begun during the brief abbacy of William's successor, Abbot Patrick (ob. 1207). The Vita's main intention was to raise the profile of Waltheof's cult. The possession of an incorrupt corpse was, as the Vita makes clear, no common claim. Waltheof joined a select group of only six English saints, the shrines of whom were major sites of pilgrimage in the religious landscape of Britain: Canterbury, Bury St Edmunds, Durham, Ely, and London.
In the past few decades there has been a great deal of interest expressed in the history of the family in medieval Europe, particularly the emotional bonds between parents and children. Analysing royal families is one place to start exploring familial bonds. Lois Huneycutt has begun the process for Scottish history by studying St Margaret of Scotland (ob. 1093) and her children. Investigating the portrayal of the relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus is another route to understanding affective familial relations. Scots were children of Mary and siblings of Jesus, believing that a fuller understanding of Mary and Jesus's relationship brought them closer to salvation. They were taught that Mary and Jesus shared a close emotional bond forged through a lifetime of interaction. Jesus began life as a nursing infant clinging to His mother's arms, and ended it as a voluntary sacrifice for human sin. His ascension into heaven, and Mary's later assumption, did not break this tie. Mother and son remained close, working to rescue humanity from sin. Lay people were taught about the Trinity, but tended to distinguish between Jesus and God; Mary was believed to have allied herself with the Son rather than the Father. This mother-son alliance gave humanity hope for salvation, for Mary's determination to help people at Judgement was matched by her influence over Jesus. Whether as human son or resurrected king, Jesus appeared willing to forgive sinners at His mother's request.
In this chapter, the focus is primarily on the problems that beset investigating saints' cults in the early medieval period, something approached also in Rachel Butter's incisive case-study of St Munnu. The Survey of Dedications to Saints in Medieval Scotland is one of the most welcome developments in such investigations. First, it will help us understand the dynamism and evolution of saints' cults during the later medieval period, a period for which there remains a great deal of work to do, and much headway to be gained in refining and opening out our understanding of medieval Scottish piety and the nexus between society and religion. Second, and more importantly for this contribution, it will help to clarify for us what we do and do not know about the later medieval position of the cult of those saints already present in the Scottish landscape in the period before the twelfth century. It has become increasingly apparent in recent studies that no real progress can be made in our understanding of early medieval saints' cults without a firm grasp of the nature of the later medieval evidence for those cults. This is especially so, given the paucity of clear documentation cited for the likes of church dedications or fair days by key secondary sources like Mackinlay's Ancient Church Dedications and Watson's Celtic Place-Names of Scotland. This chapter primarily addresses the evidence provided by one source which has had to remain largely outwith the remit of the Survey: place-name evidence.
This volume arises from a conference held in Edinburgh in September 2007 to mark the conclusion of an AHRC-funded project, The Survey of Dedications to Saints in Medieval Scotland. The publication includes chapters based on papers delivered at that conference, supplemented by a number of invited contributions. This is the second edited volume arising from the ‘Dedications to Saints' project, the first, Saints' Cults in the Celtic World, having been published by Boydell and Brewer in 2009. The database compiled by the project team can be consulted at http://www.shca.ed.ac.uk/Research/saints/. The main aim of the project is to stimulate and facilitate research into the cult of saints and the associated themes of piety and religious enthusiasm in medieval Scotland.
The present volume contributes to this endeavour in two discrete, but interlinked, ways. First, the contributions of Clancy and Ditchburn have been designed as wide-ranging reviews, providing general comment on, and challenges to, the paradigms governing the scholarly study of saints and their cults in the early and late middle ages. Clancy's article concentrates on the various ways in which place-name evidence has been used to trace or analyse the development of saints' cults in early medieval Celtic societies. Clancy suggests that the investigation of place-names, church dedications, and hagiographical material relating to saints has too often been moulded to fit established scholarly paradigms, particularly through the tendency of earlier historians to treat these sources as useful guides to the ‘real’ lives and achievements of early medieval missionary saints in northern Britain or by the privileging, in both the surviving evidence and modern scholarship based on it, of those cults adopted and propagated by powerful ecclesiastical figures or institutions.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this to your organisation's collection.