Monastic Europe: Landscape & Settlement – Abstracts

Edel Bhreathnach, The Discovery Programme, Dublin

The sources for medieval Irish monasticism, AD900-1200

What makes a monastic community and what imprint does that community leave on the landscape? This paper considers the diversity of monastic communities in medieval Ireland mainly from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries. It draws on textual evidence such as monastic ‘rules’ and hagiography  and also attempts to read the monastic landscape as text to trace change in monasticism during this period in Ireland.



Janet Burton, University of Wales, Trinity St David

Tension in a border abbey: Strata Marcella, its patrons, friends and enemies

Recent historiography has argued that the traditional division between the Welsh Cistercian houses located in the March, which were usually under Anglo-Norman patronage, and those of Pura Wallia, which were founded and supported by the native Welsh rulers, should be re-evaluated. One Welsh abbey that seems ripe for investigation in this respect is Strata Marcella. Founded by a native Welsh ruler, Owain Cyfeiliog, it was geographically located in the marcher region, in the valley of the River Severn, not far from the founder’s castle of Pool. Owain’s commitment to the abbey is shown by his burial there, and his son continued his father’s patronage of the house. It has been said that the career of Owain’s grandson, Gruffudd, provides a remarkable illustration of the way in which a territory under Welsh lordship became a marcher barony, and in due course the patronage of Strata Marcella passed into English hands. This paper seeks to investigate the implications, for Strata Marcella, of the shifting political alliances of its patrons. Particular attention is paid to a series of events in the 1320s and 1330s when conflict arose between the abbey and its patron, John de Charlton, which hints at tensions arising from the linguistic and ethnic character of Strata Marcella.


Tracy Collins, University College Cork and Aegis Archaeology Limited


Transforming Women Religious?

Church reform and the archaeology of female monasticism in medieval Ireland

Ecclesiastical reform in medieval Ireland in the twelfth century has been described as nothing short of a complete ‘transformation of the Irish church’ (M. T. Flanagan 2010 The Transformation of the Irish Church in the Twelfth Century). Churches and monasteries across the country were impacted by this reform, for example through the introduction of new European monastic observances, while the medieval landscape was restructured by new diocesan boundaries and the creation of parishes.

Using the archaeological evidence of female monasticism, this paper explores the possible impacts that this reform may have had on the lives of women religious of medieval Ireland and the physical layout and architecture of their religious houses. Attention will be given to those female religious houses that were important monastic centres for female religious at the end of the early medieval period, for example Kildare and the large male ecclesiastical centres where nuns lived adjacent, for example, Annaghdown Co. Galway or Clonmacnoise Co. Offaly, which embraced reform and continued in use well into the later medieval period. Examples of the archaeology of ‘new’ nunneries established during and after the church reforms will also be considered. Some conclusions will be drawn from the archaeological evidence presented in order to answer the question of church reform and its possible transforming effects on the women religious of medieval Ireland.


Kimm Curran, University of Glasgow


Invisible Places: Female religious in the Medieval and Modern Landscapes of the Scottish and English Border

Dotted across the modern landscapes of the Scottish Borders are the remains of monasteries – connected by ancient roadways and networks, crossing boundaries, rivers and valleys- denoting the picturesque, the visible remains of a bygone age. To some, this is a sacred landscape. To others, these places form part of the cultural distinctiveness of a frontier society as well as national identity linked to the forming of the Scottish nation. What’s invisible in these monastic (and sacred) landscapes are the structural remains of the communities of female religious on either side of the Scottish and English border; they are there but you would not know without thoroughly looking at place names on maps, analysing aerial photography, combing through historical documentation and exploring these places on foot. What is also invisible is the part these female religious communities played in the larger narrative of monastic settlement in the Middle Ages and the framing of a cultural identity of these places.

Scholarship on material culture and remains of female religious has illuminated our understanding of these communities, the women who lived there and connections to the outside world. There has been some tangential incorporation of ideas of landscape but these have not addressed the wider issues of how female religious communities have contributed to the cultural and symbolic landscape of place. This paper will firstly address the impact female religious communities had on the medieval landscape, identifying them in their locality and then looking at settlement patterns and estates. This will indicate how these communities fit into our understanding of the proliferation of the foundation of monastic communities in this frontier region during the period 1100-1250. Secondly, it will provide evidence of how the study of the historic landscapes of female religious communities allows us to reconsider their place in the wider narrative of the cultural and symbolic landscapes of this region. This will allow us to see how the transformation of these places over time has influenced our modern perception of their function and importance, but also provide a framework by which to study the landscapes female religious communities across Europe. By employing landscape theory, it is hoped that what was once invisible –not only physically and historically –will become visible.

Frederik Felskau, independent scholar

Urbanisation and Implementation of New Orders – Religious Institutions During the Constitution of Prague as Town, ca. 1220 – 1250

Under the last Přemyslids, the lands of the Bohemian crown faced a rise in economic, cultural and (geo-)political aspects. This boom basicely was shaped by an urbanization process and a commercial growth from the 1220s onwards. Together with the Military Orders, the two biggest Mendicant Orders became active components of this process in important settlements of the Kingdom and above all in Prague, Its royal episcopal seat.

While the Military Orders settled in the agglomaration already at the end of the 12th century, the Franciscans and Domincans arrived between 1220 and 1232. On the one hand, this second arrival of ordines novae at the river banks of the Moldave can be seen as part of a broader religious movement entailing the establishment of female religious institutions and charitable institutions (hospitals). On the other hand, this religious regeneration is accompanied by the legal and topographic devolopment of the Old Town of Prague as civitas, which was started in the early 1230s. The (re-)confirmation of urban rights firstly to the German settlers in 1231, the erection of a city wall commencing probably in 1232, the establishment of an independent community ad St Gaul within this newly built fortification line and, moreover, the replacement of entire agglomeration centers and religious houses from extra muros to core positions and town gates intra muros illustrate the complex dimensions of urbanic development. When the Old Town of Prague was consolidated, its market places fixed, first stone houses built and important lanes drained (in the 1250s), the settlement had been reshaped by a well-ordered topography which served spiritual intensions, socio-economic interests and defense strategies very effectively.

This paper aims to sketch this radical change, to decipher its most important players and to describe the role the religious houses played in these dynamics.


Victoria Hodgson, University of Stirling

The Cistercians of Coupar Angus: Landscape, Economy, and Hunting in Glenisla, Scotland

Traditionally, the Cistercians have been viewed as ‘frontiersmen’: pioneers toiling in the barren wilderness to ‘make the desert bloom’. Involved in land-reclamation and improvement, they imposed their distinctive system of grange-based agriculture on the landscape, characterised by manual labour carried out by a class of lay brothers. Emerging from a larger research project examining the landholding and economy of Coupar Angus Abbey, a case-study of Glenisla will be used to assess the accuracy of this now much-challenged view in terms of this particular area of Cistercian control, determining to what extent, if at all, any of these aspects hold true.

Throughout its existence, Coupar Angus Abbey developed and maintained extensive upland interests in Glenisla (in the southern Cairngorms), from King Alexander II’s initial endowment in 1233 up until the evenual dissolution of the abbey after the Reformation. Far from being passive recipients of benefaction, the monks actively procured and enhanced their holdings in Glenisla to their economic advantage. This paper will examine the monks’ long-term exploitation and management of their upland resources and will illustrate the nature and extent of their impact on the environment and economy of Glenisla. Particular focus will be given to the monks’ pursuit and hunting of wild game.

Alf Tore Hommedal, University of Bergen

St. Alban’s Abbey. The Benedictines and the Sanctuary at Selja, Norway

The paper discusses the Benedictine Abbey of St. Alban’s at the small island of Selja on the Norwegian west coast, and deals with its relations to the Sanctuary of Saint Sunniva and her followers on the same site. Selja is part of a wild and barren landscape, and with the sanctuary and monastery facing the open sea, in the most treacherous navigable waters along the entire Norwegian coast. The Benedictine monastery was probably founded in the 1090s and it appears to have been discontinued in the 1460s, but priests have probably made their home on the island until the Lutheran Reformation in the 1530s. The location, structure and function of the monastery is discussed, especially the Benedictine’s situation after the relic shrine of Saint Sunniva was translated to Bergen in AD 1170.

Visa Immonen, University of Turku

Border landscapes and monasticism- religious orders in medieval Finland

The medieval Diocese of Turku, covering more or less the area of present-day Finland, was a border area for which the religious orders constituted a major cultural force. The diocese formed a sparsely populated eastern province of the Kingdom of Sweden where permanently settled areas changed into the vast northern wilderness. Finland also lay at the border of the cultural spheres of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. None of the old monastic orders made their way into the diocese, but according to written sources, the Dominicans were the first to arrive in the region in 1249. Altogether two Dominican and three Franciscan convents, and one Bridgettine monastery were founded in Finland before the Reformation. Despite their small number, the impact of the convents and the monastery on the cultural makeup of the diocese was significant. For instance, the official liturgy of the diocese was Dominican. The religious orders also played a crucial role in the foundation and development of four of the six medieval towns in Finland. While the urban setting was characteristic of the Dominican Order, the Franciscans were more active in the coastal areas of Southwest Finland. This paper explores the relationship between the border landscapes and the religious orders. On the one hand, monasticism left a considerable imprint on the culture and landscape of the diocese, but on the other hand, the very particular environmental and political circumstances of the border area required the orders to modify their conventional practices, for instance, the utilization of the landscape, and the design of monastic architecture.

Johnny Jakobsen, University of Copenhagen


At Blackfriars Priory: Topography of Dominican priories within urban geography in medieval Scandinavia

With their predominant allocation to the urban districts, the friars of the mendicant orders generally had less free terms to decide exactly where and how they wanted to build their houses than did their monastic colleagues in the open, rural countryside. Perhaps partly therefore, the mendicant orders had relatively few, if any, formal regulations about location and form of their houses, and when studying these questions, no matter where in Europe, one will soon find that houses even of the same order and within the same province have taken a number of individual variations; hardly any two houses are completely alike. However, all such minor differences aside, it is also possible to detect a number of recurrent tendencies and common features. This paper will focus on the topography of Dominican priories within the urban geography of medieval Scandinavia, where the order had about 30 houses allocated to the province of Dacia from the early 1220s to the late 1530s. Based on recent studies for a forth-coming book, the paper will present and discuss the physical location of the priories in regard to other potentially relevant features in the urban geography, as well as the differing form and geographical orientation of the priory complexes. The observations from Scandinavia will be compared to familiar studies from other parts of Northern Europe.


Nere Jone Intxaustegi Jauregi, University of the Basque Country

Convents: The image of the Basque patronage network power

The aim of this paper is to analyse the reasons why the Basque elite built convents. In order to explain it, on one hand I will introduce the different types of families that constituted the Basque elite. On the other hand, I will show the convents and explain the reasons of their construction, the motives of their location and the consequences of this religious architecture. This conventual building period took place, mainly, in the Early Modern Ages in urban areas, and marked the society of that time.


Christop Keller, LVR – Amt für Bodendenkmalpflege im Rheinland

New light on Caesarius’ Abbey – Recent excavations at the Cistercian Monastery of Heisterbach (Germany)

The Cistercian monastery at Heisterbach near Bonn was home to Caesarius of Heisterbach, a Cistercian writer and hagiographer in the early 13th century. He gave a vivid account of the foundation of the abbey in AD 1189 on St Peter’s Mountain in the Siebengebirge upland range and the move to a more suitable location at the foot of the mountain (Petersthal) soon afterwards. There the abbey church and its ranges were constructed in the first half of the 13th century.

Historical sources document the changing fortunes of the abbey with periods of economic strain alternating with internal reforms and prosperity; however, with the monastery itself being demolished after its dissolution in 1803 and only few historic references to building activities and no pre-dissolution images surviving, archaeological excavations are the only means of reconstructing the plan of the cloister ranges.

This paper is going to present the results of recent excavations at Heisterbach (2008-2011) which were conducted in order to shed new light on this key Cistercian site. Of particular interest was new evidence relating to the establishment of the abbey at its new site in Petersthal: When the monastery was moved from its original site on St Peter’s mountain a number of older farmsteads were abandoned and extensive landscaping was conducted, in order to fill in the steep cut valley and provide suitable ground for the claustral buildings. Furthermore, the excavations revealed not only the layout of the 13th century monastery and significant alterations in the 18th century, but also a programme of rebuilding in the 14th and 15th century.

The paper will describe the changes in the layout and function of the cloister ranges from the 13th to the early 18th centuries and explore the impact of Heisterbach Abbey on the local environment.

Colmán Ó Clabaigh OSB, Glenstal Abbey, Co. Limerick

Monasticism after dark: the dormitory and associated features in Late Medieval Irish monasteries

As with all aspects of medieval monasticism, the sleeping arrangements of religious communities were hedged around with ritual, custom and taboo. This paper examines what surviving monastic legislation can tell us about this aspect of late medieval Irish monastic life, examining how it expressed notions of decorum, deviance and control. It will also demonstrate how changing attitudes to privacy and personal space impacted on Irish monastic architecture.


Tajana Pieše,  Croatian Conservation Institute


Ordo Sancti Pauli Primi Eremitae: Monasteries and the shaping of the late medieval Salvonian landscape prior to the battle of Mohács (1526)

During the beginning of the reign of king Béla IV (1235-1270) territory of Slavonia (present day NW Croatia) was defined by both political and economic turmoil. However, that turbulent period was also a time of initial spatial expansion of newly constituted Pauline Order (Ordo Sancti Pauli Primi Eremitae). In order to secure legality of the Order, Paulines had to obtain additional assets. Due to many privileges and benefits from the Crown and by numerous bequests and charters from both the local noble families and powerful, politically influential individuals, it was possible for the young Order to obtain the permission of the Holy See to adopt the Rule of St. Augustine. The Pauline Order spread rapidly through Regnum Hungariae, and ten monasteries in Slavonia alone were founded prior to the Battle of Mohács (1526).

Our knowledge on late medieval Slavonian Pauline monasteries was scarce up till the end of the 20th century due to their transformation during 17th and 18th century in Baroque style, change of purpose from sacral to profane or military, or due to complete disintegration. To amend this deficiency of information Croatian Conservation Institute begun with interdisciplinary project “Slavonian Pauline monasteries founded prior to the Battle of Mohács (1526)”. Eight monasteries (Moslavina highlands, Remete, Zlat, Streza, Šenkovec, Lepoglava, Kamensko, Donja Vrijeska) have been ascertained and (partially) examined, while two are still only known on the basis of archival data (Dubica and Bakva).

Objective of this paper proposal is comparative analysis of the characteristics of above mentioned Pauline monasteries’ spatial organisation (deduced in compliance with the results achieved thus far through archaeological excavations) represented through the significant role they played in the shaping of the both historical-political and spatial landscape of late medieval Slavonia.

Alasdair Ross, University of Stirling

This belongs to us!

In 1366 thirty-one named burgesses and fishermen from the royal burgh of Stirling destroyed all the artificial fish traps on the River Forth that belonged to the Augustinian community of Cambuskenneth, the latter located just across the river from the burgh. No surviving document explains how long this dispute over control of fisheries on the river had been raging but we do know that it continued in various violent guises for another 200 years into the sixteenth century until the abbey was secularised under the control of the Erskine earls of Mar. It is also quite clear that although the good people of Stirling often seem to be the aggressors during this long dispute, in fact abbots of the abbey were at least equally to blame for the periodic escalations of violence.

At the heart of this long-running fight between these secular and ecclesiastic communities lay access to and control of Salmo salar (Atlantic salmon). Across the western and northern European range of this fish during the Middle Ages, it was a highly prized object of elite human consumption, of intense seasonal fishing, of human competition, and, by the 1200s, a victim of evident depletion. From this time medieval Europeans increasingly appear to have turned to importing salmon from both Scotland and Ireland and this might help explain why Scotland possesses some of the earliest salmon protection legislation in western Christendom. It is the contention of this paper that the evident decline of salmon in European river systems and a rising export market for such fish helps to explain both the viciousness and the longevity of the dispute between abbey and burgh over salmon fishings on the River Forth.

Dany Sandron, Université Paris-Sorbonne

Benedictine abbeys: Exemption from Episcopal power

Exempted Benedictine monasteries are by definition independent from the bishop’s power, being directly under the authority of the Holy See. They are often venerable abbeys the foundation of which goes back to the high Middle Ages. Intially implanted in a rural environment, these establishments joined the movement of urban expansion from the 11th-12th century. They were even often one of its driving force.

In episcopal cities, it is striking to find an acute monumental emulation between exempted Benedictine monasteries and neighbouring cathedrals, two types of buildings that have often experienced complete reconstruction between the 11th and the 14th century. We propose to tackle this very dynamic building phase through a number of examples in France at this period, to show how architecture and its décor support the respective ambitions of ecclesiastical institutions protective of their antiquity, their prerogatives and their privileges. The examples of Paris, Rouen, Tours, Noyon Limoges or Auxerre could be brought up to illustrate this essential component of a medieval urban landscape marked by monastic architecture.

Eva Schlotheuber, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften

Female Dominican convents in Europe

The crucial role played by mediaeval monasteries as religious, intellectual and cultural centres has long been one of the major preoccupations of scholarly research in the Arts.  However, with regard to convents we must ask ourselves to what extent the women, who frequently lived in strict claustration, were really able to participate in, let alone actively shape, the social developments of their age.  In this connection the numerous women’s houses founded by the Dominicans in the first half of the thirteenth century are particularly interesting, as the Order wished to create a completely new social and religious model:  women from all social backgrounds and of all ages were to be granted entry into a Dominican convent.  This Dominican concept of a new form of spiritual and social life proved most attractive; and by the beginning of the fourteenth century there were already at least 141 Dominican convents in Europe.  Initially  they housed a mixed bag of widows, women often with their children and girls.  Naturally, considerable difficulties arose when women entered a convent with very different intellectual abilities and financial circumstances, some provided for, others not; and the Dominicans tried their hardest to solve these problems.  This is particularly the case where education was concerned, especially mastery of the educated Latin so necessary for services of worship; and here the Dominicans and the women worked together to develop unconventional solutions, such as a new recognition of the importance of the vernacular in the day-to-day religious life of the nuns.  At the same time the highly educated Dominican monks raised the standard of the women’s education, with the result that as early as the thirteenth century Dominican convents enjoyed a reputation as exemplary in religious matters.  Using selected examples, this paper will discuss the momentum developed by the Dominicans‘ new social and religious model in its founding years and its revolutionization of the convent landscape.


Karen Stöber, Universitat de Lleida

Tales of war and pilgrimage: the archive of Santa Maria de Vilabertran in Catalonia

This paper will provide an overview of the different types of sources available for the study of monastic history in medieval Catalonia. These will include, first of all, the extensive body of documentary sources scattered about the archives of Catalonia, the rest of Spain, and France, with some monastic archives still accessible in situ, at least partially.

Furthermore, I will address the issue of non-textual sources, in particular the rich array of surviving art deriving from Catalan monasteries, and their architectural remains, which are often very extensive indeed. It is hoped that this presentation will be a useful introduction to a particularly rich and extensive body of sources for medieval monastic history which is not yet very widely appreciated in the English-speaking world.

Oana Toda, University of Alba Iulia

The river island monastery: long distance connections and micro-regional isolation in the case of Bizere Abbey (Romania)?

The monastic geography of the Lower Mureș area (western Romania) was highly conditioned by its physical features mainly dominated by the watercourse, thus the almost exclusive positioning of such sites in close proximity of the river. The location of the Benedictine abbey from Bizere, that nowadays unfolds as a rather dry landscape in the Mureș River floodplain, was in fact prone to flooding during the Middle Ages due to the various river branches stretching across the lowlands. It actually appears to have had the features of an island, resulting in a particular monastic landscape that can be thought of as either isolating (on a local scale, due to the island), or as favouring long distance connections (due to its central positioning on the region’s main navigation axis).

This paper will verify whether the scientific data can back up these first glance assumptions. Various types of available sources (archival, cartographic, archaeological, geological, and geophysical) could allow valuable assertions about the relation between the abbey and the river in terms of both local and long distance communication possibilities, while retracing the watercourse configuration prior to the Habsburg river regulations. Moreover, Bizere abbey is, so far, the only medieval site of the region where archaeological research retrieved data pertaining to the topic of inland navigation and water transport (the remains of watercrafts and a pier), perfectly fitting both the economic environment of the abbey and the local topography of the site.

Elizabeth Valdez del Alamo, Montclair State University, New Jersey

The cloister, heart of monastic life

This study examines the ways in which the cloister space is employed by a monastic community, using the examples of Santo Domingo de Silos, Saint-Pierre de Moissac, and Saint-Trophîme d’Arles. The basis of the analysis is the text by Bernard of Cluny, Consuetudines Coenobii Cluniacensis, a customary written in approximately 1085. The cloister is the center for circulation from one building to another and its decoration expresses the ideals of the monks within.


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