Learning and Scholarship in Medieval Northwestern Europe

A conference on learning and scholarship in medieval Northwestern Europe (April 15-16, 2021)


April 15–16 2021

Ulster University, Magee Campus

The foundation of Iona by Colm Cille in 563 was the pinnacle moment in the spread of Christianity and Christian learning in Ireland and Britain in the early Middle Ages.

Monastic libraries and the use of their collections, especially by those such as Bede and Adomnán, marked the importance of textual learning, as well as the production and preservation of both secular and religious texts.

As 2021 marks the 1500th anniversary of Colm Cille’s “birth” in 521, using the role and influence of Iona in medieval learned culture as an example, this two-day online conference seeks papers focused specifically on learning and scholarship in early to late medieval northwestern Europe.

Broadly defined, this includes Ireland, Britain (England, Scotland, Wales), and Scandinavia.

  • Registration
  • Programme
    Day 1 (15/04/2021)
    TimeItem
    10:15–10:30 Welcome
    10:30–12:00

    Session 1 (Chair: Courtney Selvage)

    Poetry Lessons with Dallán Forgaill: Making a Mockery of Learning in Tromdámh Guaire — Anna Chacko (University of Cambridge)

    The thirteenth century is a patchily understood period for medieval Irish learning and scholarship; however, the formation of bardic grammatical tracts which prescriptively lay out rules for poetic language has received some scrutiny. These innovations point to underlying tensions which provoked renewed self-definition; this partly involved outlining an emphatically demarcated and exclusive relationship to knowledge. The opening of the late medieval Irish tale Tromdámh Guaire offers a presentation of poetic ignorance which is revealed, paradoxically, through elite poetic learning. Dallán Forgaill (c. 560–645), putative author of Amra Columb Chille, performs three praise poems for a king, followed by an unjust satire. The effect is somewhat dampened by the complexity of his language: the king does not understand the poems. Dallán responds with an impromptu poetry lesson; unfortunately, his linguistic powers provoke reflexive results and the satire redounds on the poet, who dies three days later. In this upended spectacle of poetic learning an adaptation of educational materials for poets becomes the tool through which the status of poets as learned paragons is questioned. I will discuss the ways Tromdámh Guaire displays poetic education as ego-centric and redundant. I suggest that parodying learning materials for poets is one factor indicating that the text is responding to scholarly innovations undertaken by bardic schools. It is possible to glimpse creative tensions underpinning certain literary developments during the thirteenth century, here oriented against poets by, perhaps, other learned professionals similarly concerned with self-identification as true and meaningful transmitters of exclusive knowledge.
    Contention at Mag Léne: Identifying paries dealbatus — Patrick McAlary, University of Cambridge
    In c. 630 a synod was called to deal with one of the great issues that rocked the Irish Church in the seventh century, the dating of Easter. For knowledge of this gathering we are indebted to De controversia Paschali, a text written by a certain Cummian in c. 632/3. Cummian tells us that the gathering took place at Mag Léne and the great and good who had gathered agreed to celebrate Easter in unison with the Universal Church. However, it was not to last, and the unity achieved at the synod was shattered by an agitator, a paries dealbatus (l. 271).  This paper sets out to consider this great disruptor and will propose a tentative identification. This is more difficult than it may seem at first. We owe all of our knowledge of the paries dealbatus (and the Synod of Mag Léne) solely to Cummian’s letter. Of all the local persons mentioned in the letter (Cummian included), only its primary recipient (Abbot Ségéne of Iona) can be identified beyond question. Previous attempts to identify the paries dealbatus have incriminated an affiliate of Clonmacnoise or Saint Fintan. This talk will approach the issue by setting Cummian’s letter in its proper context, and it will be suggested that the paries dealbatus should be affiliated with Durrow, and may have been none other than Cumméne Ailbe, the nephew of Ségéne and his eventual successor as abbot of Iona. Such an identification has important implications for how we understand events at Mag Léne as well as the structures of authority that underpin the Columban network.
    12:00–12:30 Lunch Break
    12:30–14:00

    Session 2 (Chair: Darán Ó Dochartaigh)

    ‘Nuair a bhí Colm Cille i nDoire Chalgaigh’: an naomh i scríbhneoireacht na gConallach — Duane Long, Ulster University

    Níl aon amhras ach go raibh ról lárnach ag Colm Cille i scaipeadh léinn sna luath-Mheánaoiseanna. Naomh é seo a bhfuil bunadh mainistreach luaite leis go tréan—an ceann ar Oileán Í ar an cheann is cáiliúla. Aithnítear bunadh na mainistreach, agus na leabharlanna/cnuasaigh iontu, mar ghníomh a chur borradh suntasach faoi léann idir thuata agus chráifeach. Tá sé le glacadh, mar sin de, gurbh fhigiúir lárnach i léann na hEorpa é Colm Cille. Cíorfar, sa chaint seo, an dóigh ar léirigh scríbhneoirí cruthaitheach (.i. aon rud nach bailiú béaloidis é) as Tír Chonaill an naomh agus an léann a bhaineann leis. Cuirfear ceisteanna faoin dóigh ar amharc na scríbhneoirí seo (agus a léitheoirí) san fhichiú haois ar Cholm Cille mar fhear, mar naomh, agus mar spreagadh nó ábhar dá scríbhneoireacht. Aidhm na cainte seo ná, tríd an cheist seo a chíoradh, léargas a thabhairt ar nua-léiriú an naoimh. Tabharfar comhromaíocht don nualéargas, é le maíomh gur gá dúinn scríbhneoirí san aois seo caite a chur ar aon leibhéal leis an ábhar níos sine (.i. Adomnán nó Maghnas Ó Domhnaill) le tionchar an naoimh a phlé ina iomlán.
    Íomhá an Naoimh in Úrscéal Nua: Colm Cille mar spreagadh scéil — Proinsias Mac a’ Bhaird, Taighdeoir Neamhspleách/Údár
    Leabhar gradamach is ea Tairngreacht, úrscéal ar bronnadh an chéad duais i gComórtais Liteartha an Oireachtais air. Foilsithe ag LeabhairCOMHAR sa bhliain 2018, tá sé ar cheann den méid beag d’úrscéalta bleachtaireachta na Gaeilge atá lonnaithe thar lear. Cé gur leabhar nua-aimseartha é ar go leor bealtaí, agus roinnt mhaith de lonnaithe san Iodáil, tá sé soiléir ón tús go bhfuil an leabhar fréamhaithe i dtraidisiún, i seanchas, agus i mbéaloideas na hÉireann. Tá na Céilí Dé, Naomh Maolmhaodhóg agus Colm Cille fite fuaite i gcomhcheilg atá ag titim amach sa lá atá inniu ann. Tá idir fhoinsí scríofa stairiúla in úsáid sa leabhar seo, mar atá sliocht as Betha Colaim Cille le Maghnus Ó Domhnaill ag tús an leabhair, agus seanchas a cheantair féin múnlaithe ag an údar le scéal nua faoi Cholm Cille a chur os ár gcomhair, le ceisteanna nua faoi ghníomhartha an naoimh a ardú agus le húrscéal snasta a chur le chéile. Sa chaint seo, pléifidh an t-údar féin an dóigh ar chruthaigh sé an scéal nua-aimseartha seo le cuidiú ón bhéaloideas agus ón tseanchas thart air ar a oileán dúchais agus maraon leis na foinsí scríofa.
    14:00–14:30 Break
    14:30–16:00

    Keynote Speech (Chair: Dr Peter Smith)

    Learning and Scholarship in Northwestern Europe: A View from Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh — Professor Rob Dunbar, University of Edinburgh

    16:00–16:30 Break
    16:30–18:00

    Session 3 (Chair: Gregory Darwin )

    More Than a Geographer: The Irish Scholar Dicuil — Christian Schweizer, Trinity College Dublin

    Dicuil probably received his education on Iona in the late 8th century, which would make him one of the last representatives of Iona’s scholarship. His learning gave him access to the Carolingian court. Commonly, he is mostly known for and judged by his geographical text Liber de mensura orbis terrae, even though several other of his works have been transmitted to us. This paper argues that, if we want to understand Dicuil’s scholarship, it is crucial to look at the five untitled books he wrote for Louis the Pious between 814 and 818. These have been labelled as Liber de astronomia or Computus by modern scholarship, only to be then dismissed as chaotic and nonsensical. If we, however, look at them as five books written under specific circumstances to achieve specific purposes, not only do their structure and topics begin to make sense — they also become a valuable source on western European scholarship of their time, comprising a broad range of form (prose, metre, and rhythm) and content (computus, arithmetic, astronomy, measurements, grammar, poetry…). Therefore, they not only provide us with an insight into various individual fields of learning, but might also shed light on the relationship contemporary scholars saw between them. Additionally, they give an insight into the way scholars did and presented research at the Carolingian court. Concerning Iona, they indicate how its computistical tradition developed after the Easter controversy, in which it had played a famous role.
    Epistemologies of Law in Pre-Conquest England — Andrew Rabin, University of Louisville
    The emergence of the Inns of Court in the thirteenth century marks a new concept of law as a formal profession requiring specialized knowledge and training. As the first Statute of Winchester decreed in 1275, what came before held no authority; it was beyond “the limit of legal memory.” Yet if the Inns of Court signal law’s professionalization, the complex interaction of laws, customs, and norms that characterized English legal culture before the Norman Conquest likewise demanded both an awareness of their history and a nuanced understanding of their application. Although our understanding of early English legislation and legal practice has advanced rapidly over the past few decades, law’s status as a specific category of knowledge to be studied and taught remains largely unexamined. The purpose of this talk, then, will be to consider how concepts of “legal learning” were defined and communicated. In particular, it will focus on two competing versions of what it meant to “know” law: first, it will use the three surviving versions of the law code VII Æthelred as a case study in the ways in which royal legislators asserted the sovereignty of king and court; second, it will consider how the records of pre-Conquest legal disputes define “law”, not as an expression of royal power, but as adherence to community norms. In doing so, it will argue that in each case, the learning and transmission of legal knowledge became a means of generating two different — at times competing — models of legal subjectivity.
    Day 2 (16/04/2021)
    TimeItem
    10:30–12:00

    Session 1 (Chair: Jonathan McGibbon)

    The Reception of St Patrick’s Works and the Spread of his Cult in Northwestern Europe, c. 600–900 — Samuel Cardwell, University of Toronto

    While much has been written on the construction of a narrative about St Patrick in seventh-century Ireland for the purpose of establishing the claim to primacy of the Church at Armagh, relatively little has been written about the reception of the “apostle of Ireland” in England and on the continent. This is especially true when it comes to the transmission of his writings and writings about him. Patrick has been acknowledged as an original and innovative figure in the history of the Western Church, but it is often assumed that ‘he left no model for future generations… no one learned from him…’ In this paper, I will challenge this view of Patrick’s reception history by surveying evidence for the spread of Patrick’s name, story and writings in Anglo-Saxon England and Merovingian and Carolingian Francia (c.600–900). I will demonstrate that, while there is a significant delay between Patrick’s career in the fifth century and the spread of his cult from the 630s onward, by the tenth century Patrick was a well-known figure outside Ireland – not merely as a name but as a model of evangelisation.
    Kollumkilli or Kolbjørn? The Norse Cult to Columba in Medieval Scandinavia — Courtney Selvage, Ulster University
    This paper will examine the textual representations of Columba and the presence of his cult in medieval Scandinavia. Venerations to Columba in medieval Iceland and Norway are referenced under various Norse versions of both his Latin and Irish names: Kolumba, Kollumkilli, and a possible distinctly Norse version of the saint known as Kolbjørn. As one example, in the medieval Icelandic texts Landnámabók and Kjalnesinga saga, a presumed version of St Patrick presents Orlyg, a Norse settler wishing to migrate to Iceland, with several gifts intended to allow the successful foundation of a church dedicated to Columba upon arrival. This would not only indicate the presence of a cult to Columba within Iceland and Norway by extension, but the existence of a church dedicated to Columba in this area. It further considers the evidence for litanies dedicated to Columba and other Irish saints in both Norway and Iceland. It further will consider the possible origins of the cult to Columba to medieval Scandinavia. While the strength of the cult to Columba and its role in the Gaelic and cultural identity of both Ireland and Scotland is undeniable, from where the Scandinavian cult ultimately derived is uncertain. In considering the historical context of Norse settlement in the Hebrides, it would appear more likely that the cult was adopted and readapted into medieval Scandinavia from Scotland; but the possibility of spread from Ireland will also be discussed.
    12:00–12:30 Lunch Break
    12:30–14:00

    Session 2 (Chair: Dubhán Ó Longáin)

    Seacht dtroighthe do thalmhain: Memento mori agus an léann Clasaiceach i litríocht na Nua-ghaeilge Luaithe — Gregory Darwin, Aarhus Universitet

    Téama a bhfuil a bhfréamha sa tseandacht Clasaiceach is ea é an memento mori: machnamh ar dhíomuaine an tsaoil agus ar dhosheachantacht an bháis. Chuaigh an téama seo i gcion go mór ar ealaín agus litríochta na meán-aoiseanna déanacha tar éis slad agus scrios na Plá Móire, nuair a tháinig íomhá an danse macabre agus an móitíf ubi sunt? chun cinn. Is cosúil gur tháinig na móitífeanna seo chun cinn i litríocht na Gaeilge sa 17ú haois, go háirid i saothair le scríbhneoirí a bhfuil baint acu le coláistí ar an Mór-roinn, cuir i gcás, Seathrún Céitinn agus Giolla Brighde Ó hEoghusa. Cosúil leis an bPlá Mhór sa 14ú haois ar an Mór-roinn, spreag suaitheadh polaitíochta agus creidimh na móitífeanna seo i litríocht na Gaeilge sa 17ú haois. Sagairt ab ea iad a scríobh cuid mhaith de na saothair atá i gceist anseo, a ndeachaigh smaointeoireacht Chaitliceach iar-Thriontach, agus a béim ar aitheasc agus seanmóireacht, i bhfeidhm go mór orthu. Is féidir tréithe seanmóireachta a aithint i gcuid mhaith den litríocht seo, agus bhaineadh sagairt na linne ábhair seanmóireachta aiste go minic. Tréith eile na litríochta seo ná tagairtí don Bhíobla nó don léann Clasaiceach, mar shampla, nuair a chuirtear caithréim laoich stairiúla i gcodarsnacht lena bhfuil aige anois san uaigh. Sa léiriú seo, pléifear an dá thréith seo, .i. an tseanmóireacht agus an clasaiceachas, i Trí Bior-ghaoithe an Bháis le Céitinn agus i roinnt dánta siollabacha a bhfuil tionchar an memento mori le braith orthu, agus déanfar fiosrú ar na saothair seo mar bhealach tríd a ndeachaigh léann daonnachach isteach i nÉirinn agus go háirid i mbéal an phobail.
    “Guidh liom féin, an peacach bocht”: an Teagasc Críostaí in dhá dhán siollacha ón 17ú haois — Philip Mac a’ Ghoill, Trinity College Dublin
    Maireann an dá dhán A naomhMuire, a mháthair Dé agus Éist mh’osnadh, a Mhuire mhór i roinnt lámhscríbhinní éagsúla a scríobhadh idir na blianta 1679–1831. Sa lámhscríbhinn is luaithe acu siúd (.i. Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann 24 L 6, a scríobh Eóghan Ó Caoimh sa bhliain 1679), tá an dá dhán taobh lena chéile ar leathanaigh 12–14. Dánta diaga atá iontu ina labhraíonn an file leis an Maighdean Mhuire faoi na peacaí ar fad a rinne sé lena shaol, agus iarrann sé uirthi trócaire a dhéanamh ar a anam agus é i mbéal an bháis. An file céanna a chum an dá dhán, de réir an scríobhaí, don phátrún céanna agus ar an ábhar céanna. Is foinse an-luachmhar iad na dánta seo a thugann léiriú dúinn ar an teagasc Críostaí i leith na bpeacaí sa 17ú haois, agus ar an dóigh a úsáideadh an fhilíocht shiollach chun an teagasc Críostaí a scaipeadh. Tá eagarthóireacht chuimsitheach chomh maith le hanailís chriticiúil agus aistriúcháin go Béarla déanta ar na dánta seo anois don chéad uair.
    14:00–14:30 Break
    14:30–16:00

    Session 3 (Chair: Lauren O’Neill)

    Canu Tysilio and Meifod: Saints’ Cults, Religious Communities, and Ecclesiastical Supremacy in 12th Century Wales — Amy Reynolds, Bangor University

    The twelfth century was a period of religious change for the church in Wales; mother churches, who had previously enjoyed prominence in the Pre-Norman period, jostled for supremacy in a developing parochial system, whilst the introduction and spread of the reformed monastic orders in Wales threatened their dominance in lay patronage. Promotion of saints’ cults, through hagiography and material culture, was a policy adopted by various Welsh churches in the 12th and early 13th century to emphasise their supremacy in a locality. At Meifod church, the prominent early medieval church in Powys, this included an ambitious rebuilding programme, accompanied by a hagiographical poem praising the virtues of the church and its most important saint, Tysilio. The aim of this paper is to explore how the community of religious at Meifod emphasised their supremacy in the face of political, societal, and religious change, through the 12th century text Canu Tysilio. Composed by the poet Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr c. 1150, the poem epitomises Welsh language Gogynfeirdd poetry in medieval Wales. Whilst compiled for a lay patron, the emphasis on Tysilio and Meifod, and the detail in the organisation of the 12th century community, strongly indicates the church’s involvement in the patronage. The paper will explore this text in the wider context of religious change and analyse the impact it made to Meifod’s supremacy in Powys.
    The Composition of the Life of Saint Patrick in MS RIA C iv 3 — Nicholas Thyr, Harvard University
    Saint Patrick has more lives than a newborn cat: there’s the seven John Colgan counted and collected in his Trias Thaumaturga, plus the seventh-century pair of Tírechán and Muirchú, several miscellaneous Latin pieces, and a number of short Lives in Irish — not to mention all the modern scholarly attempts at writing Patrick’s biography. Much of the scholarship dedicated to this hagiographical dossier has sought to uncover the oldest portion of the tradition; texts composed after the late ninth century, therefore, have received relatively little attention. Yet these later Lives are valuable in their own right: the sheer number of surviving versions of Patrick’s later-medieval Lives allows for a minute comparison between them impossible for other, less well-attested, hagiographical traditions. The focus of this paper is on an Irish-language Life of Saint Patrick preserved in RIA MS C iv 3. Ludwig Bieler, to my knowledge, is the only scholar to have discussed this text at any length, but it deserves further attention. I will demonstrate, through comparison with other surviving texts, how the author of this text combined previous versions — Latin and Irish — of Patrick’s Life into a new work. I will pay particular attention to the literary quality of the new text, which rationalizes conflicting information present in earlier sources, and adds direct speech to many scenes. Most work on Irish hagiography views the text through a historical lens; I hope to show the care a particular author took in the craft and skill of literary composition.
    16:00–16:15 Closing Remarks
    16:15–16:45

    Special Event

    Irish Harp Performance — Lauren O’Neill, Ulster University

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    Learning and Scholarship in Medieval Northwestern Europe
    Celtic Section
    Modern Languages and Linguistics
    Magee Campus
    Ulster University
    Northland Road
    Derry/Londonderry
    BT48 7JL
    Northern Ireland

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