Category Archives: Research

University of Kent medievalists’ collaborative project awarded funding from Flemish Research Foundation

We’re delighted to announce that ‘Literatures Without Borders: A Historical-Comparative Study of Pre-Modern Literary Transnationalism’, a collaborative project involving medievalists at the University of Kent, has been awarded 62,500 euros by the Flemish Research Foundation.

This grant will be used to establish a new international network to examine the interactions between Latin and other cosmopolitan languages and literatures of the pre-modern world, including Jewish-Ladino-Yiddish, Arabic and Byzantine-Greek.

This new project is led by RELICS (Researchers of European Literary Identity, Cosmopolitanism and the Schools), based at Ghent University, and it will bring together researchers from sixteen partner institutions, including Kent. This project will be an exciting opportunity to expand and deepen the intellectual collaborations between medievalists at Kent and scholars elsewhere in Europe.

Dr Emily Guerry co-organising international conference on Thomas Becket: Life, Death and Legacy

The year 2020 marked the 850th anniversary of the brutal martyrdom of St Thomas Becket inside Canterbury Cathedral and, in a matter of months, Becket had become one of the most popular saints in all of medieval Europe, attracting hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and inspiring countless legends and works of art, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. To commemorate Becket’s legacy, Dr Emily Guerry (Co-Director of MEMS) is co-organising an international online conference 28-30 April (Thomas Becket: Life, Death, and Legacy) with papers from over 40 speakers from around the globe.

Emily is working with colleagues at Christ Church University and Canterbury Cathedral to host this conference, with generous support from the British Academy. You can reserve a ticket, please note that ALL Kent students can book for free.

Our conference coincides with the launch of an exciting exhibition on Becket at the British Museum, which will feature a 6-meter-tall 800-year-old stained glass window showing the miracles of Becket, on loan from Canterbury Cathedral. For any queries about either of these events, please get in touch with Emily Guerry.

Dr Robert Gallagher and Dr Edward Roberts publish new book on medieval charters

We are delighted to share the news of Dr Robert Gallagher and Dr Edward Roberts’ new book, The Languages of Early Medieval Charters.

The Languages of Early Medieval Charters, co-edited with Professor Francesca Tinti (University of the Basque Country), is the first major study of the interplay between Latin and Germanic vernaculars in early medieval records. Building on previous work on the uses of the written word in the early Middle Ages, which has dispelled the myth that this was an age of ‘orality’, the contributions in this volume bring to the fore the crucial question of language choice in the documentary cultures of early medieval societies.

Dr Robert Gallagher is a historian of early medieval Britain, particularly Anglo-Saxon England. Much of his current research focuses on uses of the written word, multilingualism, and cultural and political identities in early medieval societies.

Dr Edward Roberts’ primary research is in political, social and cultural change in Western Europe between c.850 and c.1050. His first book, Flodoard of Rheims and the Writing of History in the Tenth Century, was published with Cambridge University Press in 2019.

They are both active members of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, a multidisciplinary group of researchers focussed on the study of Medieval life, both the everyday and the extraordinary.

Dr Gallagher and Dr Roberts share their thoughts on the publication of their new book, “This book is the product of an interdisciplinary research project we’ve been involved in over the last few years on the role of language in early medieval documents. It brings together exciting new research by scholars from a variety of different backgrounds working on such topics as literacy, historical linguistics, administrative practices, legal cultures and more. We’re delighted that this research can now see the light of day.”

Thomas Becket Life, Death, and Legacy – Call for Papers

We would like to draw your attention to our call for papers for the international conference ‘Thomas Becket: Life, Death, and Legacy,’ which will take place from 11–14 November 2020 in Canterbury Cathedral, coinciding with the 850th anniversary of his martyrdom and the 800th anniversary of the translation of his relics into the Trinity Chapel. This conference is co-organised by scholars at the Cathedral, Christ Church University, and the University of Kent, and we are very grateful to the British Academy for supporting us. 

The Becket 2020 conference will be one of many cultural celebrations that commemorate and re-examine the legacy of Becket next year, so stay tuned for more news about exciting exhibitions, publications, research projects, and various public engagement events.

We would be delighted if you would please consider submitting an abstract to before the deadline on 21 October 2019. We hope that your papers offer new, interdisciplinary approaches to the study of Becket (both locally at Canterbury and within a wider European context) and we want to offer an inclusive chronology of scholarship on Becket that stretches across medieval, early modern, and modern history.

Thomas Becket – Life, Death and Legacy Conference

Thomas Becket – Life, death and legacy

A conference to commemorate the extraordinary life, death and legacy of Thomas Becket will take place between 11-14 November 2020 at Canterbury Cathedral, 850 years after Becket’s martyrdom and 800 years since the translation of his body into a shrine at Canterbury Cathedral.

When Becket was murdered by four of King Henry II’s knights inside Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170, news of the sacrilegious violence spread quickly. In a matter of months, this merchant’s son from Cheapside had transformed into one of the most famous martyrs in medieval Europe.

The Thomas Becket – Life, Death and Legacy conference will provide a platform for showcasing important and innovative new research on Becket. We welcome participation from delegates interested in history, visual and material culture, archaeology, architecture, literature, liturgy, musicology, and/or reception of Becket’s cult both at Canterbury and within a wider European context. In addition to being interdisciplinary, this conference also embraces an inclusive chronology of scholarship on the medieval, early modern, and modern period.

If you would like to share your research on Becket on this special occasion, please submit an abstract of no more than 350 words with your proposed title, name, and affiliation to by Monday 21 October 2019. Each paper will be 30 minutes in length and we are hoping to produce an edited collection after the conference. If you have any questions about this conference, please contact Dr Emily Guerry ( or Professor Louise Wilkinson (

The conference is being co-organised by academic partners at the University of Kent, Christ Church University, and Canterbury Cathedral with support from the British Academy. As well as the conference an exhibition at the British Museum is being planned.

Jessica Schwindenhammer on the Lyghfield Bible workshop

Jessica Schwindenhammer |
Taught MA student, Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, University of Kent

On 4 March 2019, MEMS lecturers, Dr. David Rundle and Dr. Emily Guerry organized a workshop celebrating the return of the Lyghfield Bible to Canterbury. The workshop focused on the production of the Lyghfield Bible in Paris and its reception in Canterbury. Over the course of three hours, attendees listened to six guest speakers associated with Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent, as well as visiting speakers from other universities. Additional events that took place included participating in Evensong and viewing the Lyghfield Bible at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives. The day concluded with a public lecture at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge by Dr. Alixe Bovey.

Cressida Williams (Canterbury Cathedral Library) introduced the workshop by discussing how the acquisition of the Canterbury Trussel Bible (now Lyghfield Bible) was achieved. The Lyghfield Bible was spotted in an auction catalogue and acquired with the help of a private donation and a six-figure donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Dr. Alison Ray (Canterbury Cathedral Library), Dr. Emily Guerry (University of Kent), and Dr. David Rundle (University of Kent) placed the Lyghfield Bible into the context of book production in Paris by examining its illumination, illustrations, and marginalia.

Book production in Paris was centred on the studies that took place at universities such as the arts, theology, and scripture. Both secular and vernacular texts were created alongside the sacred and Latin texts. Additionally, people began to desire ‘pocket bibles’ similar to that of the Lyghfield Bible. In terms of illumination and illustration, the Lyghfield Bible was similar to other manuscripts produced in Paris. These other manuscripts seem to have been created by the Johannes Grusch Atelier. This group of artists created manuscripts in short periods of time by following a template that the artists knew would look aesthetically pleasing. The shared characteristic between the Lyghfield Bible and these other Grusch Atelier manuscripts included flat figures, C-shaped chins, and thick, spaghetti curls for hair. The marginalia provided in the Lyghfield Bible should provide information about previous owners and dating when it was in someone’s possession. What the marginalia does provide, however, is evidence of how it can misdirect us: early modern hands add a date of writing of 1353 and this has been thought to be based on an inscription that ends with ‘Aug.’ and a set of figures which have been read as a date. In fact, the inscription is a quotation from a work of Augustine, and the following figures a citation – there is no date there, and no basis for the claim elsewhere that it was produced in 1353. More work needs to be done to gain a complete understanding of the production and history of the Lyghfield Bible.

In the second session, Dr. Emily Corran (University of Oxford/University College London), Dr. Claire Bartram (Christ Church Canterbury University), and Dr. Eyal Poleg (Queen Mary University of London) examined the study of bibles and book culture in Canterbury. The study of bibles was inspired by the Parisian approach to education, so to read the book, people had to read both the actual text on the page as well as interpreting its spiritual meaning. While the text provided an understanding of biblical characters, events, and what people thought, the spiritual meaning provided theology and morality.

To obtain bibles as well as other books, markets were used to transmit information. People could own books, copy them, and trade them with other people. In Canterbury alone, there were 200 shops with various trades and workers. Some of these various shops enhanced book culture through the production of books. Looking at bibles, there is a typical layout which is also shared by the Lyghfield Bible. Every point is connected and is divided using chapter divisions. For the Lyghfield Bible, there is plenty of space for marginalia, but there is little evidence of annotations in the text. On the back flyleaf, there is a liturgical calendar paired with a list of biblical readings. To conclude, the Lyghfield Bible was used for individual use rather than public lectures. Despite the interest in bible study and book culture, readers did not leave many annotations in the Lyghfield Bible although there was space to do so.

The day culminated with a public lecture by Dr. Alixe Bovey, ‘Illuminating the Bible in Medieval Canterbury.’ Held in the Claggett Auditorium at the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, Dr. Bovey’s lecture did not seem to have an empty seat in the room. In her lecture, Dr. Bovey examined Canterbury’s exchange of information through people and books, the sense of material culture which existed in the bible by using translations of text, images, stained glass, etc., and the concept of scale. To examine these themes further, Dr. Bovey incorporated various manuscripts that were recently featured in the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition such as the Codex Amiatinus, the Paris Psalter, and the Utrecht Psalter to name a few.

Throughout her lecture, attendees were told about the exchange of books and ideas between Canterbury and various other areas of Europe. In the case of material culture, by examining the Utrecht Psalter, Harley Psalter, and Eadwine Psalter similarities are shared between all three in the form of illustrations. Additionally, in the Eadwine Psalter, there are various Latin versions as well as Old English and Anglo-Norman French translations.

Lastly, scale was examined by including images of the manuscripts alongside her ruler. Dr. Bovey showed the evolution of scale for bibles starting with the notably large Codex Amiatinus to the ‘pocket-sized’ Lyghfield Bible. To conclude, Dr. Bovey made the same statements about the Lyghfield Bible that were made during the day’s earlier sessions such as its origins, similarities in illumination with other Johannes Grusch manuscripts, and that more is to be learned about its production. Dr. Alixe Bovey’s lecture was received well and was followed by a wine reception to celebrate the event.

This workshop has proved to be exciting for both the Canterbury Cathedral and MEMS at the University of Kent. The speakers provided insights on the future work that can be done on the Lyghfield Bible to be able to fully understand its production, contents, and history over time. Since the acquisition of the Lyghfield Bible, work has been completed to understand a small bit of its production and history. Now students, lecturers, and professionals can continue studying the Lyghfield Bible in its entirety. Additionally, what this workshop provided was insights into the work that can be done for manuscripts in general.

Reflections on the Lyghfield Bible workshop and lecture

In March 2019, a workshop and public lecture took place to celebrate the return to the City of Canterbury, a late-thirteenth century Parisian Bible (the ‘Lyghfield Bible’) which was acquired last year by the Cathedral’s Library and Archives. In the afternoon of Monday, 4th March the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) hosted a workshop, From Paris to Canterbury: the Lyghfield Bible in Context, bringing together experts on manuscript culture and the Bible in the thirteenth century. The same evening, Canterbury Cathedral held a public lecture, Illuminating the Bible in Medieval Canterbury, given by Dr Alixe Bovey of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Here, two current MEMS students – Cassandra Harrington and Jessica Schwindenhammer – reflect on the day and share the insights which they gained from these two events:

Read Jessica’s report | Read Cassandra’s report


Conference Report: Liminality and Early Performance Culture

Liminal Time and Space in Medieval and Early Modern Performance

5th-7th September 2014, University of Kent

Human experience of time and space has been the focus of much critical enquiry since philosophers such as Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau and Michel Foucault (to name but a few) suggested that both are subjective, dynamic and socio-culturally constructed. In light of the so-called ‘spatial’ and ‘temporal’ turns, scholars of medieval and early modern performance have examined the ways in which writers, actors and other artists have shaped and been shaped by shifting constructions of time and space. England’s Reformation, the establishment of permanent playhouses in early modern London, and the advances of cartography and travel across Europe are just some examples of specific historical events and cultural phenomena in which thinking about time and space has been central. In September 2014 the ‘Liminal Time and Space in Medieval and Early Modern Performance’ conference held at the University of Kent offered scholars the opportunity to think beyond these more specific, identifiable, and well-documented phenomena. The conference asked delegates to examine the more ambiguous, unidentifiable, transitional times and spaces and to establish the ways that early performers and performances created and responded to such liminality.

One of the aims of the conferences was to focus on non-traditional sites and times, and explore performance in all its complexities. Professor Carol Symes (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) opened the conference with a keynote address that encouraged us to expand what we think of as ‘performance’, as well as to push at the division between ‘page’ and ‘stage’ which, she reminded us, was not helpful to our understanding of early performance culture. The page might have codified existing performance practices, but the making and reading of text was also its own form of performance. The approach proved immensely fruitful as alongside more traditional forms of drama, such as plays, delegates did examine an eclectic range of practices/texts which included pageants, rogation processions, pilgrimage, liturgy, legal testimony, ceremony and hagiographical rituals. Beyond the playhouse or the pageant wagon, the field, the street, the church, the country house, the monastery and the library were considered as contested sites for cultural play and acting out. Within these sometimes overlooked spaces for performance, many papers focussed on liminal architectural details, such as the half-opened door, the window, the tiring house or the pathway to the church, places that often embodied contradictory qualities, both public and private, inside and out, onstage and off.

Grand narratives of theatre history, Professor Symes noted in her opening keynote lecture, often marginalise the medieval, placing emphasis on the early modern and specifically Shakespeare. The conference questioned such grand narratives, not least through its cross-periodised approach which encouraged delegates to identify the changes and continuities between medieval and early modern temporalities, spaces and performance practices. Certainly the commercialisation of drama through the establishment of playhouses in London was confirmed as a well-known rupture between the two time periods. However, delegates also considered similarities in thinking about time and space brought about through, for instance, continuities in gender identity, material culture and dramaturgical practice. The conference concluded that it was important to resist the traditional disciplinary and institutional boundaries between medieval and early modern performance scholarship as doing so results in engaging discussion that reflects the realities of the early period. To that end, Professor Andrew Hiscock’s (Bangor University) closing keynote address, entitled ‘Liminal Times and Spaces in the Prodigious Early Modern Polity’, brought together many of the medieval and early modern strands of the conference. Professor Hiscock discussed, for example, different categories of space, such as “erring space”, “thinking space” and “immanent space”, how such spaces might be defined through various cultural and corporeal practices of space, and the sociological and semiotic effects of the “stacking” and “texturing” of inhabited times and spaces.

Professor Symes’ thoughtful response to the closing keynote lecture exemplified the energising conversation between the medieval and early modern which took place over the conference. In particular an ‘Open Space’ session half way through the conference provided the time and opportunity for more in-depth discussion between delegates. Based on a new technique for meetings, conferences and symposium that has emerged in the last ten years, in this session delegates were invited to write short answers to key questions on Post-It notes – including ‘what are the gaps in this research area?’; ‘what are the ruptures and continuities in space and time across the medieval and early modern periods?’; ‘what are the most useful theoretical tools to discuss liminal time and space?’. These notes were displayed on several whiteboards situated around the conference space and delegates were given time to view and discuss their collective response, as well as ask questions of each other.

An important feature of the broad approach to performance and periodization in the conference was the ‘Early English Performances Cultures and Contemporary Creative Practices’ session. Here delegates heard from a selection of modern artists who are inspired by medieval and early modern culture and texts. The session included readings from poet Chris McCabe’s forthcoming collection Speculatrix (Penned in the Margins, 2014) and novelist David Flusfeder’s John the Pupil (Fourth Estate, 2014). McCabe’s sequence of sonnets draws on Jacobean city comedy to examine twenty-first century London; while Flusfeder’s novel is a ‘medieval road movie’ inspired by a journey from Oxford to Rome in 1267. In addition to readings, theatre director and Professor of Drama (Kent) Paul Allain introduced Gavin Carver’s documentary about Fourth Monkey’s recent production of Christopher Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris at Canterbury Cathedral (2014). McCabe, Flusfeder and Allain answered delegates’ questions about the reasons for their engagement with early English culture, language and drama, as well as the difficulties and creative potential of anachronism, reconstruction and re-enactment. For the conference, it was enlightening to hear a different and fresh approach to very familiar texts, and indeed texts that had been discussed in other sessions throughout the conference. McCabe and Flusfeder spoke of the nuances of medieval and early modern syntax and vocabulary that had influenced their own writing in Speculatrix and John the Pupil respectively. Delegates agreed that creativity and informed speculation is a way of thinking about early performance which is sometimes unfairly overlooked in favour of more traditional forms of research.

The most striking and urgent point to emerge from the conference is (to adapt Professor Hiscock’s phrase) the apparent need to develop a new ‘lexicon’ for medieval and early modern performance, one that adequately reflects the ambiguities, anachronisms and slipperiness, indeed the inherent liminality, of early English performance culture.

Social media response to the conference can be viewed at

Sarah Dustagheer and Clare Wright, University of Kent

Report from ‘Knowledge Machines: The potential of the Digital’ Symposium

On 27th September, the University of Kent hosted Knowledge Machines, a one-day symposium that showcased different approaches to using digital methodologies in the humanities. A collaboration between Kent’s TEEME programme and Coventry University’s Centre for Disruptive Media, the event was a somewhat unlikely collaboration, bringing together Renaissance research and disruptive digital technologies. That was, however, precisely its aim—to explore unlikely connections and collaborations, and hopefully entice alternative practices in the humanities.

Knowledge Machines sought to acknowledge, but also to move away from the discourse of crisis and negativity that is currently encompassing the field of humanities. It showed that multidisciplinary cooperation is breaking down field-specific boundaries within institutions of knowledge and cultural production, and creating more scope for affirmative engagement between the digital sphere and the traditional Humanities.

The day was divided into three major themes: digital humanities, posthumanities and collaborative humanities. What bound these together was a focus on the way we do scholarship and how new digital tools and methodologies are changing research practices. The three keynote speakers, Julianne Nyhan of UCL, Gary Hall of Coventry University, and Alixe Bovey of the University of Kent, gave introductory presentations about these three topics, and raised important questions on the current state of the field, as well as proposing alternative modes of operation that could transform the creative gridlock humanities scholars sometimes face. All the lectures are currently online at the “videos” section of the project’s wiki, for you to see here at:

All three intriguing keynotes showed that old systems and epistemologies are currently changing and how potentially promising this change may be. Some radical reappraisals of scholarly practices were suggested and new models of thought and practice were addressed. We were reminded that the humanities with the help of the digital (as well as vice versa), could act as a disruptive force. We were also reminded that there is a need for a more pronounced interconnectivity not only between scholars within the Humanities, but also across disciplinary boundaries, through collaborative scholarship.

[e.g. of tweets from day: ]

The keynote lectures were followed by a series of showcases in which participants presented projects that illustrated the practical outcome of the event’s three main topics. Six separate presentations took the attendants deeper into the possibilities of digital, post and collaborative humanities, by showcasing examples as diverse as manuscript digitising and the building of a digital dance archive. The attendants of the symposium came from a large selection of backgrounds. Along with people working in Digital Humanities, media studies, or performance studies, we welcomed early modernists and medievalists, and other seemingly more “traditional” humanities researchers. The lively and stimulating discussions focused on subjects as diverse as open access publishing, digital humanities and disability, and the definition of the book.

One of the major areas of overlap were questions about the formal aspects of the book, both authorial and textual—and as the discussion unfolded, historical and present practices yet again benefited from mutual elucidation and proved to be more connected than we often assume. For instance, early modern print culture involved collaborative writing processes as well as reading practices. Readers often bound different texts together along thematic lines, thereby making their own personal book. Authors were freely “remixing” past books, sometimes by continuing a past story, or by fragmenting and reassembling found texts. Such practices are currently reappearing, which Knowledge Machines showed by exploring how new opportunities to engage with past books are appearing in a digital environment. For example, materials can now be provided more widely through open access, digitised sources; collaboration is now more open via the “liquid books” project or ‘wikis’, which form fluid publications which are continually being edited and updated. “Doc Explore”, one of the projects presented, for instance, allows the use of digitised images from manuscripts from Canterbury and Rouen archives, to which the user can append their own notes, or even “remix” the manuscript pages into a new order, effectively making a singular presentation copy out of fragmented pieces of the past, without actually interfering with the original historical object. The showcases raised issues of what all this means for our idea of authorship, and intellectual property.

One of the things machines primarily are is connective and the results of the symposium are most visible in the new connections we made, but also in the future ones we will be making. The project’s Wiki—a digital resource that aims to stimulate discussion, cooperation and a sense of community that reaches beyond the confines of a temporally bound event— is still accessible to add your own resources to. It also holds all the participants’ presentations, materials and videos, which you can access, edit, and comment on by visiting:

Martina Pranic, Kate De Rycker, Janneke Adema


Civic Pride and Stairways to Heaven, KAS Churches Committee Study Day on 5th April 2014

Programme:           prima

Medieval Hythe & civic uses of sacred space by Sheila Sweetinburgh

Church upper spaces and their uses by Toby Huitson

Masonry sculpture: Hythe’s carved stone fragments by Heather Newton, Canterbury Cathedral

Church tours by Imogen Corrigan and Andy Mills

Document workshops: Jackie Davidson and Sheila Sweetinburgh


This was a terrific Study Day; excellent speakers and guides; immaculately planned; well-attended (by over eighty people) and not least splendidly catered by kind, generous and caring people. Even the sun shone – St Leonard clearly smiled upon the Churches Committee. Mary Berg gave a warm welcome to the speakers, guides and delegates, principally from KAS and MEMS and we began straightaway.

Image1Dr Sweetinburgh first gave some brief background on medieval Hythe and its magnificent church.

Medieval Hythe & civic uses of sacred space by Sheila Sweetinburgh


Hythe was and is one of the Head Ports of the Cinque Ports and should not be studied in isolation since the privileges of this group of towns permitted its members greater self-governance over several centuries and thus the Cinque Ports collective and individual town records provide an insight intoseveral aspects of medieval urban identity. Although the Anglo-Saxon origins of Hythe are unclear, there is evidence that the area was of some importance before the Norman Conquest, specifically for salt production, trading and fishing. Recent excavations by Reading University’s archaeological team at Lyminge have uncovered evidence of a royal court and a monastic community too. A charter of Alfred the Great gave lordship to Christ Church, Canterbury. Hythe was linked to Saltwood, the man or held by the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose tenant held by knight service. The value of this man or doubled during the eleventh century, and some of the nine mills recorded at Domesday may have been at Hythe, and likewise, perhaps, one or two of the churches in Lyminge manor because the town’s 231 burgesses were answer able to either Saltwood or Lyminge. Norman and Angevin Hythe enjoyed a growing population and a thriving economy –a mint first began operating between 1042 and 1100. Saltwood Castle was rebuilt and cross-channel and coastal trading increased as the other Kentish Head Ports of Dover, Sandwich and New Romney grew in importance too. From the 1230s the town sought greater self-governance, with its own officers, own common seal, and its own town courts so it was no longer answerable in the manor courts. The provision of ship service to the crown brought exemption from royal taxation (lay subsidies),nor were the Ports men required to appear in other courts, privileges that aided the mercantile and fishing activities of the towns people who increasingly grouped together in similar activities, with the fishermen in the west part near to St Nicholas chapel (at New Romney, too, St Nicholas’ was their church), Our Lady in the east and St Leonard’s chapel in the centre. These differing areas of activity and their separation are an important aspect of town development, one also noticed not only in Dover and Sandwich, but also in Thanet and North Kent, and in West Country medieval towns. In Hythe, the well-to-do jurats and freemen (or barons as they were called in the Cinque Ports)interacted with the local aristocracy, fellow secondaCinque Port officials, the archbishop and the king, a substantial achievement for a small fishing and trading port, its four chapels (St Nicholas’, St Michael’s, St Leonard’s and Our Lady) numerically on a par with Dover.

However, matters were to deteriorate substantially in the later fourteenth century, due to plague, a great fire, and the inexorable silting of the haven as a result of long shore drift. In 1412 the jurats petitioned to abandon the town. Yet the town did not die, and during the later fifteenth century the local records, the Maletotes, indicate some families were doing rather well even if the town itself had not recovered. For example, from 1366 only one chapel continued in Hythe, St Leonard’s, like its ‘lost’ fellows a daughter house of Saltwood’s parish church.

Civic Uses of Sacred Space

Yet chapel hardly does justice to St Leonard’s. Connections to Christ Church, Canterbury and the Archbishop of Canterbury meant that St Leonard’s received some serious archiepiscopal and architectural attention in the Norman and Angevin period, probably by the same local masons who worked on the cathedral’s new quire and Trinity Chapel in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. They forged a unique sacred place that dominated the town and served as a landmark for shipping. No wonder Hythe’s civic customs were interlocked so securely into the sacred space. It was this interconnection that formed the core of the lecture – drawn from extensive research into the Cinque Port custumals, wills and churchwardens’ accounts, and the church fabric itself, using the documentary evidence to contextualize the varied usages of the medieval building. The key adjective in understanding these medieval usages is ‘performative’ – actions, speeches and knowledge were all needed to form a collective and individual identity for the town – a civic performativity given a sharp prod by the quo warranto activities of Edward I eager to reclaim crown privileges which had lapsed in his father’s reign and, of course, outsidequinta lordships such as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Hythe did not have a mayor until the late sixteenth century – but it had a number of ritualised elements – just as the other Cinque Ports such as Sandwich and Dover. Hythe jurats swore oaths and were chosen from the franchise of the town – the freemen, in-dwellers and householders – the venue for the election, the muniment chest and civic paraphernalia, all lent legitimacy to the proceedings, as did the moot horn summoning all those eligible to elect the jurats in the town’s liberty. This then was a blend of ritual and oral, aural and visual traditions held on particular dates – Hythe’s held its elections on the Purification of the Virgin Mary on 2nd February; New Romney on 25th March – the Annunciation; Dover on 8th September – the Nativity, and Sandwich for two days after 30th November St Andrew’s Day – these dates also linked into the fishing seasons. At election jurats were chosen by counting pinpricks in a paper against the electors’ names. The vote was made in front of the outgoing jurats and eligible townspeople who could fit inside St Edmund’s Chapel in the north transept of St Leonard’s. The newly-chosen jurats then swore oaths to uphold the town and its people and kissed the Bible before their audience and witnesses. The ancient and sacred space gave the civic event an added piety. In New Romney a tomb of a former jurat formed the table for the election. Performance in the ancient chapel of Hythe also made the dead witnesses to the devotion and civic pride of the living; and was thus both a celebration of the town and a commemoration of their forefathers. As the oaths may have been sworn in front of an altar, or image (there was one to the Blessed Virgin Mary in St Edmund’s chapel) this election gave the civic authority sanction from God – jurats were in some sense divinely appointed too, adding sacrality to the customs of the town that had been performed ‘time out of mind’. The ceremony was possibly followed by a mass, a procession, and a feast. As Sheila Sweetinburgh summed up; St Leonard’s was a political as well as a sacred space symbolising the importance of the relationship between the town officers and the church in Hythe.

Church upper spaces and their uses by Toby Huitson

terzaAlthough Toby Huitson’s paper concerned upper spaces in churches in general, it worked very well in adding context to St Leonard’s because this church has such a wealth of glorious upper spaces, such as the tower, the porch, the galleries, and wall passages, and still bears evidence of other upper areas which are no longer extant, such as the rood loft. Toby also briefly ran through the functions of each upper space using examples not only from Hythe but other English churches too – not all of which would spring readily to mind.


For example, a tower was chiefly to house bells. The Hythe churchwardens’ accounts for 1413 mention 5 1/2d for greasing the bells. However, the fabric of the tower cannot be used as evidence for medieval practices since it was rebuilt in 1750s, after it fell down on 24th April, 1749, possibly as a result of earthquake damage sustained in 1580. Towers were also used for clocks from the fourteenth century although Elham records mention an orologium in 1290. Churchwardens’ accounts for Hythe in c.1481 note the expenses for repairing the clock and making the ‘chyme’ as 48s/10d. Other uses included dovecotes in Sarnesfield, Herefordshire and even tightrope walking at Durham.

Porch Chambers

These are the rooms or lofts built above some porches generally in high status late medieval churches, some have two such as Chilham in Kent. The functions of these rooms are poorly recorded, but occasionally they might be used by a nightwatchman, for example in 1481 when the belfry, the clock and the organ were all being repaired. There were also used as vestries and sacristies, as at Walberswick where the priest’s vestments were kept in the loft over the porch inquarta 1492. It was sometimes used to store books and documents too – i.e. a secure muniments room, also used by parishioners, as in Outwell, where Nicholas Beaupre’s will stipulated his wooden chest be set over the porch. More actively, the porch chamber was used as a schoolroom in Saffron Walden in 1513, and even as a dovecote in Hawkinge. The porch chamber at Hythe is a well-lit space so may have had various uses.

Galleries and Wall spaces

It is are for a parish church to have three levels and a wall passage, but Hythe (not even a parish church but a chapel under Saltwood until the nineteenth century) has a clerestory, a triforium and a connecting wall passage accessed by a spiral staircase with a small but distinctive domed roof, which can be seen on the skyline above the north transept. Believed to be an iconographical copy of Canterbury cathedral quire, perhaps built by the same workers around 1200 (see Berg & Jones, Norman Churches in the Canterbury Diocese, 2009, p.106), the soaring chancel space was not finished until the nineteenth century. Toby did not speculate on why St Leonard’s has in effect a monastic style of chancel. It certainly made a fitting setting for the archbishops’ ordinations of priests (for example by Archbishop Pecham) and Hythe was close to the archiespicopal residence at Saltwood, sometimes used before travelling to the Continent. I, perhaps unwisely, speculate that this has connections to the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. The manor of Saltwood was taken briefly from Thomas Becket by Henry II and given to Ranulf de Broc but the king returned it to Becket in July 1170, amidst much ill-feeling – the de Brocs attacked the archbishop’s lands, occupied his churches, mutilated his horse and killed deer in his park, and were unsurprisingly excommunicated on Christmas Day, 1170. It was at Saltwood castle that Ranulf de Broc then met with the knights to plot against the archbishop on 28th December, the day before his martyrdom at their hands. Although Ranulph did not sestaparticipate in the murder, he was an instigator who went with them to the cathedral and returned to Saltwood with them afterwards. Could links to the martyrdom have led to the rebeautification of St Leonard’s in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century and explain why it was modelled on the Canterbury cathedral quire? Feel free to disagree with me. To return to the functions of the space, there is again no evidence for how it was intended to be used – and indeed Toby mentioned that some architectural historians regard these upper spaces as redundant. Other ideas assume that access was needed merely for maintenance. However, if liturgical performance is considered, especially in conjunction with the rood loft space, then these areas either lit by candlelight or lined with tapestries or draperies, or occasionally with a choir on feast days, the performative (that word again) aspects of the space might be inspiring. Toby’s film of the candlelit upper spaces showed a dramatic but soft up lighting – imagine the painted church, full of praise and incense, the five senses employed to turn the church into a vision of the celestial Jerusalem. The wall passage with its high window might have also allowed a single soloist to sing on high above the Rood Cross.

Rood Lofts

Hythe has an internal spiral stair in the north transept pillar which gave access to the top of the rood screen. Most date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but this is very early, integral to the splendid chancel. Again Toby has managed to gather much from scattered documentary sources (which makes his new book so valuable) and thus we know that some rood screen settimaupper spaces housed organs, or were used for reading from the Gospel, for example the Passion narrative as happened in Wingham in 1544, before the processional cross was seized from the priest. Often the screen was draped with Lenten veils, or on feast days lit with candles, there is also sixteenth century reference to young girls sitting on pews on the rood screen.

Masonry sculpture: Hythe’s carved stone fragments by Heather Newton

These two stimulating lectures were then followed by a trip outside for the third of the specialist talks, this time by Heather Newton, in charge of Canterbury Cathedral stonework. Heather had taken several examples of medieval stonework out to the sun-filled south side of the church. The pieces are usually stored in the ambulatory with the ossuary – that being such a relatively small space (and also it must be admitted one with more than a touch of Gothic horror about it) she had kindly carried up a dozen heavy exemplars to allow us to visualize Romanesque methods of masonry preparation and stonecarving.

ottavaHeather’s lecture was very detailed and fascinating as she explained how quickly and freely Romanesque masons worked using various sizes of adze, rather than a mallet and chisel which came in later. You can still trace the marks of the adze on the stone and Heather explained that this quick, natural style is very difficult for modern stonemasons to copy as they have been trained to work to perfection and much stricter parameters. Each piece was examined in turn so the change in methods of carving could be plotted over time, as the adze gave way to the mallet and chisel to enable more detailed relief work to be achieved. Many of the pieces were Caen stone, from Normandy, an excellent material for carving, with a beautiful rich colour. The last head, of local stone, was undated and something of a mystery is shown here, in case anyone can help date it.

Church tours by Imogen Corrigan and Andy Mills

The afternoon was taken up by tours of the church by Andy Mills, a structural engineer and Imogen Corrigan, a medievalist and expert on foliate heads – of which there is a perfect example in the Norman doorway which formed the entrance to St Edmund’s Chapel, although it may originally have been the west door of the Norman church. This splendid entrance to the chapel must have further enhanced the civic authority of the town’s jurats as this was where their elections were held. There was some discussion on whether the narrowness of the doorway nonamade it more Anglo-Saxon, as Andy discussed it may have been heightened at one stage, others thought it possible that there is a fusion of styles between those trained in Norman styles and those still using Anglo-Saxon ones, an overlap that can be found in Canterbury illuminated manuscripts of the same period. Asked if he would have built the church on this ancient landslip, Andy bluntly replied, ‘No!’ and showed how the Victorian roof masons in the chancel had had to achieve some difficult angles in their vaulting, perhaps evidence for some movement – as, of course, is the fact that the medieval church tower fell down in 1749. He then kindly led us down to the ambulatory where the ossuary now is, and invited us to look up at the beautiful medieval vaulting which I had failed to notice until he pointed it out, the 2,000 skulls and 8,000 bones being something of a distraction. These are believed to have been kept when the church was extended in the early thirteenth century.

Little else is known about them although pinprick holes in the eye sockets of nearly 30% may indicate anaemia linked to malarial swamps. We then set about the documentary evidence with Jackie Davidson from the Cathedral Archives and Sheila Sweetinburgh who had kindly transcribed some of the wills and accounts while Jackie stood guard over the originals which were indeed wonderful to see. We spent a happy hour pouring over the evidence to build up a picture of lay piety in Hythe – Alice who left a gold ring to the statue of the Virgin Mary in St Edmund’s chapel, did her gift offer her not only a form of commemoration in the sacred space undicesimabut also meant her donation could witness the elevation of the Host not from the priest’s back but from the altar, something she would never have seen. Similarly John Honeywode’s burial, like that of his grandfather and later his brother, placed the family at the heart of this sacred-civic space, the interrelationship of the living and the dead through memory and commemoration providing continuity and a sense of stability.

This was a fantastic example of outreach and rigorous academic discussion, where documents complemented architecture and all gained from the learning experience.

For more information please refer to the KAS Churches Committee