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McDonald Annual Lecture 2018

The Thirtieth McDonald Lecture, Professor Roberta Gilchrist (University of Reading) - The Medieval Ritual Landscape: Archaeology and Folk Religion
When Nov 07, 2018
from 05:00 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Mill Lane Lecture 9, Mill Lane, Cambridge, CB2 1RX
Contact Name
Attendees All welcome. This event is followed by a reception at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Researh
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The 30th McDonald Annual Lecture
British Library Egerton 1069 f. 145


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This lecture explores the value of archaeology in reconstructing lived religion as it was practised and experienced by medieval people.  Archaeological sources of evidence reveal ritual practices that were never documented in historical texts: archaeology demonstrates how ordinary people expressed their religious agency as part of everyday life, independent of the clergy and institutional religion. The main source material is archaeological evidence for the deliberate deposition of objects in the landscape, in water and in medieval settlements, as part of Christian rituals.  Until recently, these practices were not recognised or were dismissed as superstitious behaviour or echoes of pagan survivals.

Ten years ago, a foray into ‘folk religion’ might have been regarded as eccentric or at least marginal to medieval archaeology.  But the past decade has seen an explosion of interest in folk religion across Europe and spanning the disciplines of history, archaeology, anthropology and museum studies.  ‘Folk’ religion is a contested concept, arising from 19th-century scholarship and rooted in colonial ideologies.  But recent approaches share common ground with archaeology’s concerns with agency, gender, power and relationality.  There is now a compelling case to rethink our assumptions about medieval ritual and belief and to propose new archaeological approaches for their study.  Key  to interpreting ‘folk’ practices is an understanding of the different types of agency that were integral to the medieval world view – the perceived causal relationships between humans, objects, the divine and the supernatural.

Roberta GilchristRoberta Gilchrist FBA (DPhil York 1991) is Professor of Medieval Archaeology and Research Dean at the University of Reading.  She was a pioneer of both gender and life course studies in archaeology, publishing Gender and Material Culture: the Archaeology of Religious Women (1994) and Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (2012).  She has published on medieval monasticism, burial and magic, including major studies of Glastonbury Abbey (2015) and Norwich Cathedral Close (2005).  She won the Scholarly Book Prize from the British Archaeological Awards for Requiem: the Medieval Monastic Cemetery in Britain (2005, with Barney Sloane) and the Martyn Jope Prize for her article ‘Magic for the dead’ (Medieval Archaeology, 2008).  Roberta is an elected Fellow of the British Academy (2008), a trustee of Glastonbury Abbey and a former president of the Society for Medieval Archaeology.  She was voted Current Archaeology’s ‘Archaeologist of the Year 2016’ and delivered the prestigious Rhind Lectures in 2017 (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh), shortly to be published with CUP: Sacred Heritage and Monastic Archaeology: Interpreting Identities and Beliefs (2019).