Category Archives: Research

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














Cultural Exchanges between Persian and European Travellers in the C17th

At the latest meeting of the Early Modern Research Group, Maryam Ala-Amjadi, presented her research into cultural exchanges between Persian and European travelers in the C17th.

In particular, she talked about the travelogue of a nameless female writer (known as ‘The Widow of Mirzah Khalil’) who wrote of her experiences on the Hajj. As Persian female travelogues are extremely rare, however, Maryam’s work also includes those written by male travellers, including Mohammad Ali Hazin Lahiji (a late Safavid poet and traveler) who traveled widely within Iran, also going to Mecca and then went to India. He wrote his autobiography and travel account in poetic prose, interspersed with verse and emigrated to India in 1734. She also discussed the work of Abdollah Beheshti Heravi , author of  ‘Noor al-Mashreghayn’ (The Light of Two Easts) who travelled to India, and also went on the Hajj, and also wrote his travel narrative in verse. European travellers who recorded their experiences of Persia included Jean Chardin, Thomas Herbert and Pietro dell Valle. The differences between Persian and European travellers’ motivations for their for travel and the way they expressed their experiences form a key part of Maryam’s work and her explanations brought a fascinating new angle to the topic of travel writing and cultural exchange in the C17th.

Frontispiece from The Travels of Sr John Chardin into Persia and the East Indies… – available on EEBO. I strongly recommend anyone  who is even remotely interested in this topic to look this up, as it has wonderful descriptions and many lovely illustrations.

The image below illustrates Safavid women as depicted in the travel account of French missionary and painter Père S. N. Sanson, who travelled to Persia in 1683

The Early Modern Research Group will have two further meetings next term – the first one on the 15th of May.

– Rebecca Warren, MEMS



MEMS Friends Visit to Saint John’s Hospital, Canterbury

On a dry but blustery March day a group of almost thirty MEMS friends and postgraduates joined Centre staff members Helen Gittos and Jacqueline Basquil on a guided tour of this The Gatehouse - Resizedfantastic medieval institution led by Douglas, one of the brothers at the hospital, and Sheila Sweetinburgh. Situated on what had been archiepiscopal land in the Northgate suburb of Canterbury, St John’s was founded almost a thousand years ago in c.1084 by Archbishop Lanfranc. Together with its sister house at Harbledown, these hospitals may be the first specifically designed buildings to provide charitable care for the poor, infirm, and, at St Nicholas’ in Harbledown, the leprous. Both houses were sited abutting main highways into Canterbury, good places for the collection of alms from passing travellers and pilgrims, and even though the Tudor gatehouse at St John’s is a later replacement, the group was able to see medieval collecting boxes that may have been used by the hospital’s gatekeeper as he kept watch from the little first-floor window that gives on to Northgate.

Initially there were sixty brothers and sisters, cared for spiritually by a community of regular priests who lived across the road in Northgate [from the mid 12th century it became St Gregory’s Priory, a house of Augustinian canons, who continued this charitable work]. The brothers and sisters at St John’s lived communally in two separate splendid, stone-constructed dormitory halls, and were similarly kept apart in the adjoining chapel. Now open to the sky, the group Group shot 2examined part of probably the female northern dormitory hall, which includes early features such as a corner spiral stair-turret, a complete first floor window and an original doorway, with timber lintels and a ‘tympanum’ area. The group also noted the pinkish colour of the Caen stonework, the result of the mid 14th century fire when much of the building was presumably badly damaged, although whether there were still a hundred brothers and sisters [the hospital’s peak] at the time is unknown.

The surviving necessaria [multi-seat privies] caused considerable comment, not least because the ‘women’s’ late 11th century privy block continued as originally intended until the 1940s. However there had been some modifications over the centuries as can be seen – somewhat more comfortable, perhaps, but still drafty! Nevertheless much of building was as Lanfranc had dictated, and again the group saw several early features like windows and arches, for water channels to take away the effluent – the forerunner of modern plumbing.

Much less survives from the original double chapel, but the group was able to admire the 13th century font and the early south door that had been relocated to the west end. Sadly the medieval glass has gone but it is known that the great east window had had the Twelve Apostles, and similarly the Lady Chapel had contained high-quality stained glass. The latter had been provided by John Roper [of the wealthy St Dunstan’s Roper family – visit the fine Roper gateway and the reputed head of Sir Thomas More in the church there] in 1526 when he founded a post-mortem chantry of two priests, an expensive undertaking which makes his presence at the hospital especially interesting.

The RefectoryFinally the group trooped up the Tudor spiral stair turret to the refectory [the building constructed using the rear wall of the ‘men’s’ dormitory and the front wall of the corresponding necessaria], to view the three medieval chests, the great table, a number of pewter dishes and the almsboxes. By the 16th century much of the earlier communal living had ceased, but the brothers and sisters still held feasts together: Lanfranc’s obit day, the Nativity of St John the Baptist and to commemorate their deceased brothers and sisters, the latter involving dining on bread, ale and cheese. Some feasts were more extensive, roasts prepared on the spits in the kitchen below the refectory, parts of this apparatus still visible in the great fireplace, but, as Douglas observed, although the community continues certain of these traditions the brothers and sisters celebrate in the comfortable, modern refurbished ‘kitchen’ not the refectory above.

So as the group Our guidesgathered on the Green to thank Douglas for showing them this hidden gem, there may have been some within the group who had noted the attractions of the place for future reference.



Sheila Sweetinburgh 25.03.14.