Thursday, April 29, 2010

Viking necklace discovered in Ireland

An 1150-year-old Viking necklace has been discovered in a cave in Burren National Park, which is located in western Ireland. The discovery has surprised archaeologists, as their has been little evidence of Norse settlements in this region.

The find was announced this week by Dr. Marion Dowd, an archaeologist from the Institute of Technology Sligo, who is leading the excavation of Glencurran cave in the Burren National Park. She said to reporters, "The necklace is the largest Viking necklace to have been found in Ireland. Normally, Vikings necklaces that have been found have five to six glass beads, but this has 71 glass beads covered with gold foil."

She added "It is really bizarre how this necklace from a high-status Viking came to be in a cave in the Burren. There is no parallel for it in Ireland and it is puzzling on a number of fronts. The necklace would have been imported into Ireland from Scandinavia in the late 9th and early 10th century.

"Small numbers of these beads have been found with Viking burials at Kilmainham, Dublin, but nothing like the number found in Glencurran Cave. Such necklaces were worn by high-status Viking women and they might denote a woman's cultural and religious affiliations. These were certainly prestigious items."

Dr Dowd believes that the 9th century necklace may have come to Irish town of Limerick, and from there was sold or traded to Gaelic chieftains living in Burren.

The Burren National Park is small in size, approximately 1500 hectares in size. The cave is located in a remote site in the Burren National Park and according to Dr Dowd "has been the site of important archaeological discoveries since 2004. It is the largest cave excavation in Ireland and the finds have been enormously significant."

Click here to see more news, articles and resources about Medieval Ireland

Sources: Irish Times, Irish Herald, Independent

Virtual Medieval Museum created in Second Life

Local residents and history enthusiasts will now have the opportunity to explore Newport’s medieval past and see how the medieval castle and ship may have looked in the 15th century, by visiting an online virtual museum.

The University of Wales, Newport will this week reveal an interactive visualisation of the ship that allows people to walk around the ship’s underwater remains and visit a 3D museum containing historical information and publications.

Matt Chilcott, Development Director at the University of Wales, Newport’s, Institute of Digital Learning, (pictured left), said, “This innovative digital approach enables Newport to share its rich heritage with a range of audiences all over the world in a new and exciting way. For example, tourists planning to visit Newport can now have fun exploring the area’s history before they even arrive in Wales.”

This project forms part of the University’s new Digital Heritage Zone in Second Life, a virtual world that can be accessed through the internet in which it is possible to explore virtual places and interact with other people through a 3D character.

The online 3D museum shows how the ship would have fitted into the medieval historic landscape of Newport, and tells the story of the ship and mysteries surrounding it that are still being unravelled.

Matt Chilcott added, “This cutting-edge project in the field of digital heritage is an example of the work we are doing here at the University to explore how online 3D technologies can be used to help visualise history, and bring it to life as an effective learning, teaching and public engagement medium.”

The project will be unveiled at the University’s South Wales Centre for Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies lecture entitled ‘Digital Heritage in Action’ taking place on Thursday 29 April, 5pm at the Caerleon Campus, University of Wales, Newport.

The virtual museum has been developed in collaboration with the Friends of Newport Ship, Newport Past, and the People’s Collection Wales. The Institute of Digital Learning works in partnership with industry, government, academia and charities to develop flexible learning experiences to meet knowledge and skills development needs. The Institute specialises in innovating creative approaches to learning and knowledge exchange online, on mobiles and in virtual worlds, such as the Digital Heritage Zone.

Click here to go to the Newport's Virtual Medieval Museum

Click here to watch a video about the project

Source: University of Wales

Conference aims to bring medieval, early modern and Latin American historians together

An interdisciplinary conference to be held at the University of Notre Dame this fall is making a final call for papers to explore the issue surrounding similarities between late-medieval Iberia and its colonies in the New World. “From Iberian Kingdoms to Atlantic Empires: Spain, Portugal, and the New World, 1250-1700” is being hosted by the university's Nanovic Institute for European Studies and will take place on September 17-18, 2010.

The conference organizers hope that their interdisciplinary theme will lead to better co-operation and research between historians of different periods. John Moscatiello, chair of the conference planning committee, said, “The committee settled on this topic right away because we feel strongly that medievalists, early modernists, and Latin Americanists must coordinate their teaching and research programs.  Right now, these groups tend to conduct their research in relative isolation from one another, even though scholars have long suggested important links between late medieval Spain and the New World.  Part of the problem is built into the structure of universities themselves because graduate students are trained in either medieval studies or Latin American studies with little reference to the other field.  The result is that the current historiography has not provided the specific contours of what a comparative, global history of late medieval and early modern Iberia might look like.  What are the methodological pitfalls of integrating medieval and Latin American historical research?  What are the best sources for deeply comparative work?  How do we periodize Iberian history in a global context?  Or, conversely, are such comparisons overdrawn and not worthwhile? This conference hopes to be one step in the direction of answering these questions and bringing these disparate fields into a meaningful dialogue.

“Here at Notre Dame, there has been a dramatic series of transformations in both our medieval Iberian and Latin American programs. For the first time ever, the Medieval Institute is under the leadership a specialist in medieval Iberian history, Remie Constable, who is busy overseeing the expansion of our programs in Byzantine and Islamic studies. Dayle Seidenspinner-Núñez, a professor of medieval Spanish literature, now serves as a dean in the College of Arts and Letters and Sabine MacCormack has been a tireless and highly effective advocate of developing the program in Latin American studies.  Our undergraduate students are enrolled in Quechua courses and have drawn from the resources of the Nanovic and Kellogg Institutes to conduct original research in Europe and Latin America.”

The conference organizers also have announced that the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies will be publishing a special issue of the conference proceedings in 2012 which will include six to eight articles that originate from this conference. John Moscatiello adds that the journal's editors “have been enthusiastic about the conference from the outset because they are committed to bringing medievalists, early modernists, and Latin Americanists into meaningful dialogue with one another.  In fact, the recent obituaries for convivencia and Reconquista that have appeared in the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies (and other journals) have further underscored how unreliable these categories have become for our research programs.  The future of medieval Iberian history, like the future of medieval studies in general, will have to be comparative and global in its orientation and will have to push medievalists out of their comfort zones”

The final day to submit a proposal for a paper is May 1st. You are asked to email an abstract of 250 words, a cover letter, and a curriculum vitae to For more information about the conference, please go to

See also our earlier article: From Iberian Kingdoms to Atlantic Empires: Spain, Portugal, and the New World, 1250-1700

See also our Interview with Olivia Remie Constable

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Caferro and Gerstel awarded Guggenheim Fellowships

William Caferro, a professor of history at Vanderbilt University, and Sharon E.J. Gerstel, Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology at UCLA, have been named 2010 Fellows by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

The two highly regarded medieval scholars are among 180 recipients in the United States and Canada selected for the coveted fellowship. Artists, scholars and scientists in all fields are eligible to apply for the fellowships, which are awarded on the basis of impressive achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. This year’s recipients were chosen from a group of more than 3,000 applicants.

Caferro will use the funding to complete a book project on the intersection of war, culture and economy in late medieval and Renaissance Italy, which was during the time of the Black Death. The research represents the culmination of his many years of work in Italian archives, he said.

“As an economic historian, I look at the Italian economy of the 14th and 15th centuries and try to understand what aspects of that economy would fall under the category of Renaissance,” he said. It’s also very important to me to look at the impact of violence and war on society in Italy at that time.”

Caferro’s other books include Mercenary Companies and the Decline of Siena (Johns Hopkins, 1998) and John Hawkwood, English Mercenary in Fourteenth Century Italy (Johns Hopkins, 2006), which won the Otto Grundler Prize in 2008 as the best book on medieval studies. His most recent book, Contesting the Renaissance (Blackwell, 2010), explores the meaning and use of the term “Renaissance” in historical writings.

Caferro teaches a variety of courses in European history, including upper-level courses in pre-modern European economic history and 14th century English literature and history. He received his doctorate from Yale University and is a previous recipient of the Madison Sarratt Prize for Excellence in Teaching at Vanderbilt.

Sharon E.J. Gerstel will use her fellowship to complete a book Landscapes of the Village: The Devotional Life and Setting of the Late Byzantine Peasant, which will be published by Cambridge University Press. She is analyzing the devotional lives of the area’s Eastern Orthodox Christian villagers between the 13th and 15th centuries. Her previous publications include Thresholds of the Sacred: Architectural, Art Historical, Liturgical, and Theological Perspectives on Religious Screens, East and West and A Lost Art Rediscovered: The Architectural Ceramics of Byzantium.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation was founded in 1925 by U.S. Senator Simon Guggenheim and his wife as a memorial to their late son.

See also our earlier article Research reveals new details about mercenaries in 14th century Italy

Sources: Vanderbilt University, UCLA

Anglo-Saxon treasures revealed by Parker Library website

One of the most important collections of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts – for centuries kept at Corpus Christi College – has been entirely digitised, making it the first research library to have every page of its collection captured.

The Parker Library was entrusted to the College in 1574 by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Elizabeth from 1559 until his death in 1575, and one of the primary architects of the English Reformation.

From today, the Library's treasures have been made available online to anyone with access to the Internet at

Within newly constructed vaults, the Parker Library holds more than 550 manuscripts including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest history written in English, and the sixth-century St Augustine Gospels - used at the enthronement of the Archbishops at Canterbury.

The ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is thought to have been commissioned by Alfred the Great as he pushed for greater use of the language through his educational reforms. The Chronicle is the principal and original source of English history during the Dark Ages. There are various versions, but the Parker Chronicle, known as the A-version, is the oldest manuscript surviving. It is a detailed record of events in English history, year by year, until 892 AD. Additions to the manuscript include events such as the Battle of Hastings.

The St Augustine Gospels may have been brought from Rome by St Augustine in 597 on his first mission to convert the English. In 1982 it took the place of honour between Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert Runcie during the first papal visit to England since the Reformation.

Donnelley Fellow Librarian Christopher de Hamel said: "It is the oldest illustrated Latin Gospel Book in existence. It has been in England longer than any other book. The Archbishops of Canterbury still take their oath of office on it. As a symbol of religion, history and literacy, it is one of the most evocative books in Christendom.

"The Library also includes everything from monastic books from the early Dark Ages to autograph letters from Anne Boleyn, Martin Luther, and the bill for burning Cranmer in 1556."

As well as a free website service for the public, a comprehensive licensed access service exists for institutions and experts around the world who wish to study the manuscripts in the greatest possible detail.

Between them, teams from the College, University Library and Stanford University in the US, digitised almost 200,000 separate pages.

John Hatcher, who oversaw the project, said: "The four-year digitisation and research project has been a triumph of collaboration between Corpus Christi, Cambridge University Library and Stanford University in the United States."

Stanford University Library built and hosts the user-friendly, multi-functional Parker Library website. The US institution also provides electronic storage for images used in the web application.

Other jewels of Parker's collection include the Corpus Glossary (MS 144), one of the earliest witnesses to the English language. Written in the first half of the ninth century, the celebrated alphabetical dictionary includes definitions of well over 2,000 words in Anglo-Saxon, including ones still recognisable today, such as herring and hazel. It remains one of the most important surviving records for the origins of the English language.

Elsewhere, anyone with an interest in art history would be well served in studying the pages of the Bury Bible. Dating from c. 1135, it is one of the greatest illuminated manuscripts and among the most famous books in the Parker Library. It is believed to have been produced by Master Hugo, one of the earliest documented professional artists in England whose works have survived to the present day.

The project, funded by almost $6 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will allow scholars, researchers and anyone interested in Anglo-Saxon, later medieval and Reformation history, theology and literature, to gain almost complete access to one of the world's most important collections. A new reading room has been built under the Library, along with an alarmed vault for the manuscripts. Tours are also to begin later this year.

Source: University of Cambridge

Cultural Memory and the Resources of the Past, 400-1000 research project gets funding

A new research collaboration involving historians from Cambridge is to examine how early medieval societies used the past to form ideas about identity which continue to affect our own present.

The project will cover six centuries of western European history, from 400 to 1000 AD, and will investigate how earlier cultural traditions, coupled with other sources, such as the Bible, influenced the formation of state identities following the deposition of the last Roman emperor in the West in the fifth century.

It will also consider how, in turn, the concepts about ethnicity and society that emerged continue to influence the shape of modern Europe.

The three-year study, entitled "Cultural Memory and the Resources of the Past, 400-1000", is a joint research project between the University of Cambridge, Vienna, Utrecht and Leeds. It is being funded with a grant from the HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) Joint Research Programme worth one million Euros.

It will focus on two principal issues - the ways in which texts were "transmitted" from one individual centre to another, and the problem of identity formation itself in the complex social, political and religious melting pot of early medieval Europe.

The early middle ages were a formative period in western European history, but their cultural inheritance, the way in which those ideas were absorbed and the lasting impact of that process, remain little-studied to date.

The period 400 to 1000 witnessed the spread of Christianity and the formulation of new ethnic identities and new ideas about different western European societies, which were often put forward by the emerging elites of the time.

Many of these rulers referred to the Latin Bible as a source not just of supreme law, but as one of authoritative history and commentary on the present. At the same time, they also revered the classical world. Rome, the source of Latin texts which could open up an enlightened interpretation of the Bible, became associable with cultural and religious power. During the period, classical texts themselves developed an authoritative status as a source of traditions and ideas.

Researchers argue that as this happened, the roots of a number of modern myths which still affect European societies today were formed. Current ideas about national origins, the perceived dangers of mass immigration, the "otherness" of cultural and religious groups, the Christian identity of Europe as a whole, and the cultural consequences of its Christianity all find their foundations in the early medieval period.

The research project will examine how this happened and what its effects have been. Scholars will investigate issues such as how the Roman imperial past affected the early medieval mindset, and the complex processes by which ideas were exchanged between the Greek-speaking Byzantine world to the East, and the Latin-dominated West.

The Cambridge team will be led by Professor Rosamond McKitterick. Two fully-funded PhD projects will examine the way in which Roman and Byzantine cultural concepts were adopted, and interpreted, during the earlier part of the period (the sixth and seventh centuries) as well as during the Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth and tenth centuries.

In particular, they will study the transmission and translation of ecclesiastical history with reference to the Historia Tripartita - the sixth century history of the Church, compiled by the scholar Epiphanius, under the direction of Cassiodorus. This will be cross-referred with the later, ninth century Frankish chronicle by Freculf of Lisieux, which described the conversion of Gaul.

The project is one of a number funded by HERA to examine questions of inheritance and identity in Europe. Further information about the grants can be found at The project team will, in addition, be setting up a website enabling public access to preliminary reports, materials and results as their work progresses.

Professor McKitterick has also been named one of six new Heineken Prize Laureates for 2010. These international prizes, which are funded by the Dr. H. P. Heineken Foundation and the Alfred Heineken Fondsen Foundation, are awarded every other year to internationally acclaimed scientists and scholars for outstanding contributions in their field. She is the first historian in a British university to be awarded this prize. Other Heineken prizewinners in the sciences from the University of Cambridge include Aaron Klug and Sir Michael Berridge.

Professor McKitterick has held the Chair in Medieval History at the University of Cambridge's Faculty of History since 1999 and is the author of numerous publications on the political, cultural, intellectual, religious and social history of Europe in the middle ages. The award panel's notes observe that "her research has fundamentally changed how we view the Carolingians and the interplay of politics, religion and scholarship in their time.

Source: University of Cambridge

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Viking Thomasinas: Cross-gender name elements in Viking naming practices

Vikings had the same concerns about choosing their children’s names as we do, says a researcher from the University of Leicester who delivered his paper at a recent Viking conference. The sixth Midlands Viking Symposium was held at the University of Nottingham on April 24th, with eight talks by Viking experts.

Dr Philip Shaw, a Lecturer in English Language and Old English, offered his expertise on how the Vikings named their children. He discussed the practice of giving names derived from male names to female children, which was commonplace in the Viking Age.

He said, “My paper on 'Viking Thomasinas' examines the use of female names developed directly from male names, similar to the more recent name Thomasina. Viking Age Scandinavia saw a remarkable surge in the creation of such names, reflecting in some cases a need for a new way of signalling relationships between female children and their fathers. In other cases, the female versions of new male names are actually more popular than the male originals, suggesting a more conservative attitude to naming boys than girls.

“Such conservatism is, in fact, still with us today. Anxieties about the masculinity of names are very much alive and well: witness the switch of Evelyn from male to female during the twentieth century - and expect Jo(e) to follow suit in due course. This says a lot about our - and the Vikings' - attitude to the importance of male children, and the relative impact of experimental/cross-gender naming on boys and girls."

The symposium sought to broaden the picture of Viking men, opening up the range of ways in which men were men in the Viking world. Dr Shaw added, “The Midlands Viking Symposium brings cutting edge research to a wider public, but it's just as important that it brings the wider public to the researchers - looking beyond academia opens up ways of thinking about the Vikings and their legacy that feed back into and enrich research.”

See also our earlier article Midlands Viking Symposium takes place Saturday

Source: University of Leicester

The Medieval Churches of the City of Norwich

A beautiful and definitive new guidebook on Norwich's outstanding collection of medieval churches has been published this month, celebrating what is the largest collection of urban medieval churches in northern Europe.

The Medieval Churches of the City of Norwich published by Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART) reveals the city's compelling ecclesiastical set, celebrating the churches as medieval works of art and valuable social documents, as well as ancient places of prayer. Author Nicholas Groves, an acknowledged authority on the subject, describes the 31 surviving medieval churches in Norwich city centre, as well as many that have been lost since the Reformation.

Contemporary photography and fascinating archive material capture the churches' history, architecture, stained glass, monuments and other exquisite features. Many of the contemporary photographs were entries to HEART's 2009 photography competition on the city's medieval churches, reflecting how the buildings are viewed and valued by local people today. Others have kindly been provided by various local organisations and photographers. The book also contains specially commissioned interviews by Christina Lister with people closely associated with each church, providing personal reflections on each church and an absorbing insight into their surprising variety of uses today.

HEART is publishing the book as a follow-up to its award-winning and popular Norwich 12 guidebook, published in 2008. The book's original and stunning design has been created by local publishing agency East Publishing, which also produced the Norwich 12 guidebook for HEART.

Michael Loveday, Chief Executive of Norwich HEART, said: "We are incredibly proud to be publishing such a beautiful and informative book celebrating one of our city's most remarkable heritage treasures. We hope it will appeal to visitors, local people and indeed anyone with an interest in history or archaeology, religion or culture, architecture or crafts."

Nicholas Groves said: "Although many of the churches have their own guidebooks, it is over 30 years since there has been a readily available single book with details of all of them. I am very pleased that HEART has agreed to publish this one, and I hope that it will appeal to a wide variety of people."

Nicholas Groves, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the Ecclesiastical History Society, has written several works including a study of St Fursa, a seventh-century Irish missionary who worked in Norfolk.

Anthony Denny, Publishing Director at East Publishing, said: "Creating this book was both a challenge and a pleasure. There was an enormous amount of detail to work through, photographic and otherwise, but it was great to engage with subject matter that required all our skills, from planning and editing to design and print management. And in the end, it's wonderful to have produced a book that will be of such value to local people and to visitors to Norwich."

The 160-page colour book is priced at £12.95 for the paperback version and £19.95 for the limited edition hardback version and is available from stockists including: Jarrold, Norwich Tourist Information Centre, Colman's Mustard Shop & Museum, Norwich Cathedral, Hungate Medieval Art Waterstones Norwich and the Norwich Christian Resource Centre. It can also be purchased by calling HEART on 01603 305575 or visiting their website.

Source: Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sacred music of medieval Nottinghamshire revived

Choral music from a unique medieval manuscript, some of which hasn’t been heard for hundreds of years, will be ringing out at The University of Nottingham when an internationally acclaimed vocal ensemble performs at the Lakeside Arts Centre.

The Binchois Consort will be performing a varied programme of choral music, including a selection of chants from the Wollaton Antiphonal, a huge 15th century illustrated medieval service book. They will demonstrate vividly in sound the rich legacy of the Antiphonal, and of English sacred music of the time.

The concert in the Djanogly Recital Hall at Lakeside on Saturday May 8 at 7.30pm will bring to life some of the medieval music contained within the 412 vellum leaves of the manuscript.

The Antiphonal was made in about 1430 for Sir Thomas Chaworth of Wiverton, the richest man in Nottinghamshire. When he died it was bought for the Parish Church, St Leonard’s in Wollaton. It survived the Reformation when many such service books were destroyed because it was moved into Wollaton Hall library for safekeeping. It was then returned to the church in 1924 when the family sold the Hall but its deteriorating condition prompted St Leonard’s to place it in the care of the University where work is being carried out to conserve and protect it.

Several leaves from the Antiphonal will be on display in an exhibition Saints Sinners and Storytellers, which can be viewed at the Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre on University Park from April 30 until August 8 2010.

Early music expert, Philip Weller, from the University’s Music Department, is one of the few scholars who has had the opportunity to view the Antiphonal owing to the fragile state of the leaves. Once the preservation of the manuscript is complete it will be possible for scholars to make a detailed study of the contents.

He said, “The Antiphonal is a rare survival, not only for its physical size and visual splendour but also for the valuable information it has to offer us. It gives us a vivid idea of the religious culture of the time, and how it was expressed musically — and also, not least, how incredibly varied it was. In the Binchois Consort recital, we’ve tried to show how the chants contained in the Antiphonal relate more widely to the kinds of polyphonic music (music arranged in several parts) that might have been heard during the various phases of its early history, from its origins up to the time of its arrival, and subsequent use, in Wollaton.”

It is known from preliminary study that the Antiphonal contains music for the daily services of the medieval church, and has chants that were standard in the Sarum Use of the medieval English liturgy, as well as some later additions of chants that derive from the York Use, and which point, interestingly, towards evidence of Nottinghamshire ownership. The manuscript also includes chants for a whole range of special feasts and saints’ days.

The Wollaton Antiphonal is particularly famous as the only known source for the chants written in honour of a little-known English saint, St John of Bridlington. He was a local English saint from Thwing in East Yorkshire. Known then as John Twenge, the cleric held a number of posts with St Mary’s Abbey in Bridlington and died in 1379. He was canonised in 1386, the last English saint before the Reformation, after he ‘appeared’ to five sailors from Hartlepool whose ship was in danger of sinking. The story goes that he appeared to them wearing his habit and brought them back to the safety of the shore. The men left their vessel at the harbour and walked to the monastery where they thanked John in person for saving their lives. The stained glass window in the priory church in Bridlington depicts St John as a teacher and prior. He is also the patron saint of women in difficult labour.

Henry V's victory at Agincourt was attributed to the aid of Saint John of Bridlington and Saint John of Beverly and in 1415 King Henry V made a pilgrimage to St John's tomb in Bridlington to give thanks for victory at the battle of Agincourt.

The Binchois Consort will perform several chants and also sections of the three-voice Mass which is one of the earliest known masses to be unified by a single plainchant melody, the ‘Quem malignus spiritus’. This mass exists in a source in Cambridge University Library, but also, more intriguingly, in Continental manuscript sources as well: the Trent Codices in northeastern Italy, and a fragment of a manuscript in Lucca, originally from Bruges. So the survival of the Bridlington chants in Nottinghamshire proves to have a thoroughly international resonance!

The polyphonic works that will be performed together with the chants from the Antiphonal were written by musicians associated with the household chapels of the Lancastrian kings: Henry V (r.1413-1422) and Henry VI (r.1422-61, 1470-1) and their close associates. The composers include the famous twin lights Leonel Power (d.1445) and John Dunstable (d. 1453), as well as others such as Thomas Damett, John Cooke (d.c. 1442) and Nicholas Sturgeon. A later generation is represented by the great figure of Walter Frye (d.1474), one of whose motets was known the length and breadth of Europe. The concert opens with a Gloria ascribed to ‘Roy Henry’, very probably Henry V himself.

After the concert at Lakeside Arts Centre on May 8 the Binchois Consort will record the ‘Quem Malignus Spiritus’ Mass for release on the prestigious Hyperion label in late 2010.

More information is available from Sofia Nazar, Lakeside Arts Centre on +44 (0)115 846 7393,; or Dr Catherine Hocking, Lakeside Arts Music Manager on +44 (0)115 951 3959,

Source: University of Nottingham

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Irish Walled Towns Initiative receives €850,000

The Irish government announced last month that the Walled Towns Initiative will receive €850,000 in funding this year. The news came as part of an announcment by John Gormley, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of over €11.5m to support built heritage projects in Ireland.

The Minister stated “This funding package underlines the continued commitment to the preservation and conservation of our rich built heritage by the State. Our built heritage is inextricably linked with our sense of pride in this country and affirms our cultural and historical identity. It is essential that we continue to invest in built heritage conservation to ensure the ongoing preservation of Ireland’s renowned heritage. Investment in the heritage stock can also bring economic benefits in the form of cultural tourism and employment.”

The funding for the Irish Walled Towns Initiative will allow conservation works to continue to be carried out on Walled Towns in Ireland. The Minister said that ”Walled Towns are a significant tourist attraction and contribute positively to the areas that have such iconic features.”

The Irish Walled Towns Network was established by The Heritage Council in 2005 and currently comprises 21 walled towns and villages throughout Ireland. Their aim is to coordinate conservation and management efforts, as well as help boost interest in these historic areas.

Among the work they have done is:

Trim Town Walls Conservation Plan

Rindoon, Co. Roscommon: A Management Plan

Carlingford and Derry - A Tale of Two Historic Irish Walled Towns

Medieval Walls of Kilkenny City

The other funding announced will go to a variety of projects, including the conservation of historic churches as well as money handed over to local authorities for heritage projects. Minister Gormley added “local authorities are best placed for recognising structures at a local level that are deserving of funding and make a significant impact on our built heritage as a whole. Many of the protected structures that receive funding are a valuable and irreplaceable element of our heritage and give character to our cities, towns and villages.”

Source: Ministry of Environment, Heritage and Local Government

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Museum's digitization projects offers access to medieval manuscripts

An impressive project in digitizing manuscripts is proving that online resources can be created that will meet the needs of academic scholars and find an audience with the general public. The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, which is completing a database of digitized Islamic manuscripts, has now received funding to begin a new project which will create online versions of dozens of medieval manuscripts.

Earlier this month the Walters Art Museum announced that they received a $315,000 grant from that National Endowment for the Humanities for a two and a half year project to digitize, catalog and distribute 105 illuminated medieval manuscripts. When completed, the project will cover over 38,000 pages of text and 3,500 pages of illuminations (see our earlier article The Walters Art Museum to digitize 38 000 medieval manuscript pages for more details).

Both projects are innovative in how they are building these digital resources; they are scanning and putting online high-resolution images of every page of these manuscripts. Furthermore, the Walter Art Museum is also publishing the raw data for these manuscripts, including detailed cataloging information; this allows scholars from around the world to research these manuscripts.

At the same time, the museum is also finding ways of bringing their digital manuscript to a wider audience by making use of Web 2.0 technology. Will Noel, the Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters Art Mueum, has been responsible for creating an account on the popular photo sharing website Flikr, where every day a new image is added from the Islamic manuscripts.

Thus far, 267 images have been uploaded to Flikr, and through promoting their existence with other web resources like Twitter, the collection has now been viewed over 90,000 times. Will Noel explains to that this approach is delivering on the museum's mission to bring art and people together. He adds that the resource they are creating is both "good for the scholar, and also caters to a Web 2.0 audience."

The Walters Art Museum has also placed these images under Creative Commons Licensing which allows anyone to use these images for non-profit purposes. This can include medieval scholars who want to create databases for particular topics, or other Flikr users who want to include some images in their collection.

The Islamic manuscripts project will be finishing in six months, and when complete will include 128 codices, ranging from copies of the Koran to a manuscript containing the Bāburnāmah - the famous 16th century autobiographical memoir of Babur, founder of the Mughal Dynasty. According to Will Noel, interest in these Islamic manuscripts has increased among patrons of the museum. "People will find out what we have and come to visit us," he explains.

The project to digitize the medieval manuscripts will begin in October of this year, and will continue until December 2012. Among the 105 manuscripts to be digitized will be illustrated copies of the Gospels, a 14th century Book of Hours, and the Claricia Psalter from the late 12th century.

Click here to go to The Digital Walters

Friday, April 23, 2010

Conference to expose the hidden history of underwear in the Middle Ages

A topic that so far has received little attention from historians gets its moment in the open tomorrow when Binghampton University hosts a one day conference on Underpinnings: The Evolution of Underwear from the Middle Ages through Early Modernity. The conference, organized by the undergraduate students of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Medieval Studies Club, will feature seven speakers who will look at various aspects of undergarments from the medieval to the early modern periods.

The broad scope of the conference is described by organizers as: "From the trailing sleeves and towering headdresses of the High Middle Ages to the ornate, jewel-encrusted ensembles of Elizabethan England and the elaborate turbans of the Mamluk and Ottoman empires, clothing and headgear have captured the imagination of historians for decades. Few, however, have given thought to what lies beneath, which, even while having a functional role, comprises a system of sartorial signs that tell much with respect to social mores and shifting views of the body.

"This conference aims to explore the evolution of undergarments from the Middle Ages through the early modern era in a variety of contexts, from the material forms of the garments themselves to their symbolic associations and latent meaning."

Among the speakers will be Kristen Stewart of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who will discuss “His and Hers: What can underwear tell us about evolving concepts of gender between 500 and 1750 AD”. Hattie Presnell of High Point University will give a paper on “Expanding a Nation: The evolution of farthingales during the reign of the Tudors”, while Carole Frick of Southern Illinois University will tackle the is“Under-Over-Under: the curious case of codpieces”

The conference takes place on April 24th, from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. The lectures will be followed by an exhibit and dinner. For more information about the conference, go to

Lecture looks at environmental changes in medieval Scotland

Professor Richard Oram of the University of Stirling will be delivering a lecture next week where he examines environmental changes in northern Scotland during the Middle Ages and how medieval people had to cope with climate shifts. His talk, ‘Environmental Heritage in the Highlands and Islands’, will take place in Inverness on Thursday 29 April. The event is free and open to all, and takes place at the Centre for Health Science, Raigmore Hospital, at 5.30pm.

According to Professor Oram, there is a remarkable concurrence between some of most dire events in human history and the depths of the episodes of climate change taking place at those times. “Climate change occurs when global warming increases weather instability and variability,” he explains. “While these weather changes may be subtle year on year, they can be profound over just a few decades. This can affect every aspect of people’s livelihoods – whether that’s fishing, working the land or rearing livestock – so inevitably, it affects their lives.

“Archaological evidence shows that, throughout history, major environmental events have occurred which have dramatically impacted human culture and society. In almost every case, society has demonstrated resilience and the ability to adapt to its changing circumstances in sustainable ways.

“We have enjoyed a long period of relative environmental stability. But nothing stands still – especially not Nature,” says Professor Oram. “Things definitely began to change in the 20th century: before this there had been a measure of predictibility about the pace and scale of environmental change but our current situation is unprecedented because everything is changing at a much faster speed.

“The good news is that this time around, the Highlands and Western Isles are well placed to develop what is potentially a positive side to the hand we’re now being dealt by Nature. Wind and water are elements which, together with our technological edge, can be turned to communities’ advantage.”

In 900 AD the Medieval warm era had just begun, bringing to the Scottish Highlands a climactic pattern of relative stability, with average temperatures around 1.5% higher than they are today. For almost 300 years, this encouraged a Highland pastoral society in which livestock numbers greatly increased, cereals such as wheat could be grown and crops generally were more abundant, owing to the dryer, warmer climate conditions. The result was higher populations, a buoyant economy and more tax revenues.

According to Professor Oram, the European population reached a peak in 1300 AD. But conditions were changing and the period now known as the Little Ice Age had begun. The spread of sea ice caused a change in north Atlantic surface temperatures, which in turn altered the high pressure systems throughout the year. This created a ‘refrigerator’ effect and caused temperatures to drop dramatically. By the middle of the 14thcentury, the growth period for crops had started two weeks later and stopped two weeks earlier. With animal grazing now restricted to lower altitudes, feed became scarcer. Crops began to fail and there were outbreaks of livestock disease, famine, and human epidemics.

Meanwhile storms and winds eroded the machair and the cultivated land beyond, so that whole areas became overwhelmed by sand. Economically, this was the final catastrophe for many on Scotland’s west coast and evidence from archaological sights of that period point to the sudden abandonment of villages – such as the herring fishing communities of Bornish.

Subsequent centuries were marked by environmental extremes, accompanied by widespread famines, and epidemics of influenza, cholera and malaria. Social unrest led to revolution and wars and it wasn’t until the 18th century that population numbers began to recover.

Professor Oram has published widely on aspects of Scottish medieval history and archaeology, including books on The Lordship of Galloway c.900 to c.1300Domination and Lordship: Scotland c.1070-c.1230, Viking Empires, David I and an edited volume on Alexander II. He is currently working on Holy Frontiersmen? The Monastic Impact on the Northern European Environment c.1100-c.1350.

Professor Grant Jarvie, Deputy Principal of the University of Stirling, said: “We have a long-standing commitment to the Highlands and Islands, and our world-class scholars and researchers are focused upon key areas of life in the area. The Stirling Lectures this year focus on the environment, bringing this research to a wider audience.”

The lecture was orginally scheduled to took place on February 25, but was postponed due to adverse weather conditions. To reserve a place or for further information, telephone 01463 255649 or email

Source: University of Stirling

Birmingham celebrates St.George's Day with medieval battle

A battle between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings will be at the centre of this year’s Birmingham St George’s Day festivities on Saturday 24 April in Chamberlain Square.

The free event organised by Birmingham City Council and Birmingham St George’s Day Association will host an exciting mix of new and traditional activities in the city centre.

New for 2010 is the creation of an Anglo-Saxon village in Chamberlain Square where history re-enactors ‘Regia Anglorum’ will recreate an Anglo-Saxon Slave market, give warrior demonstrations and stage a main battle between Saxons and Vikings. In keeping with the Anglo-Saxon theme the now world famous Hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure will also be on show at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Earlsdon Morris Men will also be dancing in Chamberlain Square, and there will be storytelling and family folk dancing at the Centre for the Child at the Central Library.

Partners BBC WM will compere the stage in Victoria Square with live music and entertainment including Sovereign Brass, the Demon Barbers, The Old Dance School, Roxy Magic and Hannah & Sam, plus performances by local school children.

Another feature will be a traditional English market at the Victoria Square end of New Street, where food and crafts will be on sale. In Victoria Square refreshments, will include a whole pig roast, fish and chips, cakes and pasteries and event sponsors Davenports will have a bar in serving ales and English wine with cider provided by Hogans Cider. The free day-time celebrations will be concluded with a sell-out concert of English music at the city’s world class Symphony Hall in the evening.

Cllr Martin Mullaney, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport & Culture said, “Birmingham’s St George’s Day event grows every year in celebration of England’s patron saint. It is an exciting part of our annual calendar of events that makes our city such a vibrant place to live e to live, work or visit. As we bid for UK City of Culture this event shows our ability to bring people together in celebration of the city’s great heritage and culture.”

Professor Carl Chinn MBE, Chair of Birmingham St George’s Day Association said, “The West Midlands is the real epicentre of the St George’s Day celebrations. Now in its 13th year the range of events and activities on offer underline our English traditions in an innovative and exciting way. The Association is proud to be taking the helm with Birmingham’s annual festivities.

The St George’s Day Celebrations are organised by Birmingham City Council in partnership with Birmingham St George’s Day Association. The Association are also organising the annual Celebrating England Concert at Symphony Hall in the evening. For more information call 0121 303 3008 or go to

Source: Birmingham City Council

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Medieval Guildhall to be redeveloped into heritage centre

A medieval guildhall dating from the 13th century looks set for an exciting future with the launch of a new project to see it developed as an exhibition and heritage centre.

Bury St Edmunds, in the English county of Suffolk, is more often associated with the great Benedictine Abbey that once dominated the spiritual, administrative and artistic life of much of medieval East Anglia. The Abbey controlled vast resources throughout the region and enjoyed a sometimes strained relationship with the medieval town that grew up in its shadow. The Guildhall was built by the townspeople of the borough as their own civic centre and was often the focus for on-going disputes between the monks and their secular neighbours.

“The Guildhall was constructed by the townspeople”, states project manager Matthew Champion, “as a focus for their own civic pride and ambitions. It was a symbol of both their defiance and wish for independence from their powerful monastic neighbours”. On several occasions this uneasy relationship between the two authorities developed into direct confrontation. In both 1327 and 1381 the tensions erupted into violence and resulted in large scale rioting and bloodshed. In the earlier dispute the townspeople went as far as capturing the Prior and several of his fellow monks and holding them prisoner in the Guildhall itself.

The earliest recorded reference to the Guildhall within Bury St Edmunds dates from 1279 and at least sections of the present building date back to this period. The Guildhall was largely rebuilt in the 15th century and both the roof and elaborate decorative porch date from this rebuilding. Today the building is recognised as being of national historic importance and is a grade 1 listed building. The 15th century porch is regarded as a rare late medieval survival and has been accorded the status of a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM).

“Despite being extended and re-faced in the recent centuries”, continues Matthew Champion, “the core of the building remains essentially medieval. From the street the building may look 19th century, with a very fine late medieval porch, but as soon as you walk through the door it becomes obvious that you are standing in a medieval building of some magnificence. When it was first constructed the Guildhall would have been amongst the finest found anywhere in England”.

The town of Bury used the Guildhall as its council chambers from the early 17th century until 1966. One of the main chambers also served as a courtroom for the borough for over two centuries. The building has also acted as the home for the town library, a theatre and a shop. Today much of the building is empty and un-used.

The aim of the Guildhall Project is to reopen the building to the public as an exhibition and heritage centre. The proposed development will include three major exhibition spaces, courtyard café, education centre, garden and comprehensive displays on the history of the building and medieval Bury St Edmunds. It is anticipated that the building will display parts of the collection from the former Manor House museum, travelling exhibitions and become a venue for both corporate events and small conferences. The project is being led by the Bury St Edmunds Heritage Trust, in association with the Guildhall Feoffees who own the property. “The Feoffees are a unique survival in their own right”, continues Matthew Champion, “that have their origins in the medieval Candlemas Guild that once thrived within the borough. Today they carry on an over 600 year old tradition in promoting the best interests of the town. In effect, one medieval survivor is helping to ensure the survival of another”.

Despite being in the early stages of the project the Trust are already keen to draw attention to the Guildhall. “The Guildhall was built by the townsfolk of Bury St Edmunds”, stated Trust chairman Robert Lamb, “and it was central to life within the town for over five centuries. The building has seen so many events over the years and has played an important part in the town’s history. Our project aims to bring the Guildhall back into the mainstream of the town’s life. We want it to become, once again, a centre for all that is best about Bury St Edmunds, both past and present”.

The Guildhall is planned to be open to the public during the Heritage Open Days in September when the public are invited to come along and find out a little more about its fascinating history. For further information on the Guildhall Project please contact:

Matthew Champion (Project Manager)
07810 677723

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Saints, Sinners and Storytellers: Exhibition at the University of Nottingham

A treasure trove of medieval manuscripts from a rarely-seen and much-prized East Midlands collection goes on show this month at the University of Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre.

The exhibition, ‘Saints, Sinners and Storytellers’ will showcase a selection of some of the manuscript books which were part of a large private library at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, built up by its owners, the Willoughby family, during the middle ages. The items on show from Friday April 30 at Lakeside’s Weston Gallery give a rare insight into the literary tastes and religious beliefs of our medieval ancestors. Visitors will be treated to a colourful and fascinating glimpse of part of this historically important regional collection.

The principal volumes and items in the exhibition are the subject of an ongoing Heritage Lottery Fund project to conserve and catalogue 10 works from the Wollaton Library Collection. Staff at the University’s Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections have been engaged in a range of activities to enable the volumes to be displayed together for the first time. A web resource on the theme of medieval women will also be launched and digital copies of the key texts will eventually widen research access to the fragile manuscripts.

Among the fascinating exhibits is a wonderful French manuscript dating from about 1200, now believed to be the earliest illustrated manuscript of romances anywhere in the world. The book is a collection of seven French romances and 10 fabliaux (bawdy comedies), delicately illustrated with 83 miniatures; the volume includes the unique copy of Le Roman de Silence by Heldris de Cornuälle. It tells the story of Silence, the only daughter of the King of Cornwall who is brought up as a boy because the King of England denies women the right to inherit property.

Stories by a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer also appear in the exhibition. John Gower’s Confessio Amantis (Confession of a Lover) is a series of tales, written in about 1390, illustrating the ‘sins against love’, such as jealously and hypocrisy. This manuscript was owned by Henry Willoughby who died in 1528 and whose tomb, with his four wives, lies in Wollaton Church. On some of the pages pen sketches of leaves and animals have been added in ink to cover blemishes in the parchment.

Another exhibit which illustrates the move of medieval literature away from Latin to native languages is a single precious leaf from the English life of St Zita of Lucca, the Italian patron saint of housewives and lost keys! Dating from around 1475, no other fragment or copy of the medieval English translation of the story has ever been found. Zita was the faithful servant of a Tuscan family in the 13th century whose piety led the family to a religious awakening. Although not canonised until later, she became the object of a cult in the East Midlands and East Anglia in the later middle ages. A 15th century alabaster figure of her from Nottingham’s Castle Museum will also be on show.

The huge and magnificent Wollaton Antiphonal is a further highlight of the exhibition. This is a beautiful and highly-decorated medieval service book which St Leonard’s Parish Church in Wollaton has placed in the care of the University. Leaves from it will be on show for the first time since conservation work began in 2001. Enlarged digital images show the extent and quality of the decoration, revealing details which are otherwise difficult to see.

The Antiphonal was made in about 1430 for Sir Thomas Chaworth of Wiverton, the richest man in Nottinghamshire. When he died in 1459 it was bought for the use of Wollaton Parish Church but was taken into Wollaton Hall library for safekeeping at the time of the Reformation when many such service books were destroyed. It was returned to the Church in 1924 when the family sold the Hall. A special concert of some of the Latin chant from the Antiphonal, performed by the Binchois Consort, is being held at the Djanogly Recital Hall at Lakeside on Saturday May 8.

Keeper of the University’s Manuscripts and Special Collections, Dr Dorothy Johnston said: “This exhibition is central to our Heritage Lottery Fund project on the Wollaton manuscripts. We are delighted to have the opportunity to share the knowledge that we have gained about these volumes during the process of their study and conservation. It’s unusual to have medieval books that retain so much of their early history. The skill and artistry that went into their production is clear and, although they are now fragile and challenging to display, they provide a wonderful introduction to the medieval world.”

Thorlac Turville-Petre, Professor of Medieval English Literature from the Department of English Studies, is carrying out a wider research project on the Wollaton Manuscripts, funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This will culminate in the publication of a book later this year as well as the development of web-based resources. He said:

“The opportunity to study these wonderful manuscripts and to relate them to the history of the Willoughby family has been a tremendous privilege. We have learnt so much about the manuscripts themselves and the context of medieval culture in the East Midlands”.

To accompany the Saints, Sinners and Storytellers exhibition, a series of talks and events is being held.

More details can be found on the Lakeside Arts Centre’s website.

Source: University of Nottingham

Midlands Viking Symposium 2010 takes place Saturday

The macho world of the male Viking will be brought to life at an event taking place at The University of Nottingham this weekend. The Midlands Viking Symposium 2010, taking place on Saturday April 24, will bring together some of the country’s leading experts to present the latest research findings on Viking culture and history.

This year’s theme 'Viking Masculinities' will focus on what it meant to be a man in the Viking age and the programme of talks will cover some of the most recognisable symbols of Norse culture, including runestones, burial rituals and the passage of warriors into Valhalla.

Professor Judith Jesch, Professor of Viking Studies in the School of English Studies at The University of Nottingham, said: “We’re all familiar with the Viking stereotype and the theme of the symposium this year is looking at how, as with many stereotypes, there is often a strong grounding in the truth.

“Women played an important role in Viking society — after all, every Viking warrior must have had a mother, most had a wife or a sister too. Despite that, in many aspects such as religion and warfare, it was still very much a man’s world.”

Among the highlights of this year’s programme will be a lecture by Professor James Graham-Campbell of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, one of the UK’s leading authorities on Viking archaeology. His talk entitled Dead Men Walking will focus on the archaeology of Viking burials, in which warriors were interred with a full set of armour and weaponry to enable them to take their place in Valhalla and fight among the army of the Norse god Odin.

Dr Carl Phelpstead of Cardiff University will be examining how the advent of Christianity in Scandinavia brought with it a new age of male domination through the church in his talk on The Masculine World of Bishop Laurentius of Hólar.

Nottingham’s Dr Christina Lee will speak on Moving Men: Migrations Around the Irish Sea, which will discuss some of the Viking activities in Ireland, where the Vikings were not previously believed to have a strong foothold.

The importance of women in Viking society will be acknowledged by Dr Philip Shaw of the University of Leicester, whose lecture Viking Thomasinas: Cross-Gender Name Elements in Viking Naming Practices will look at the use of male name compounds in naming female Viking children. He will argue that the practice was employed to signal relationships between male and female relatives or to promote familial cohesion through marriage.

The event will also draw on research being produced by postgraduate students at Nottingham including John Quanrud, who will speak on the victim’s point of view in Viking Armies Through Enemy Eyes: Scandinavians in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. His talk will examine the terminology used by the Anglo-Saxons to describe the Scandinavian invaders, who were variously known as the Danes, Norsemen and the Heathen Army.

The event will also feature an exhibition and talk by poet Tessa West, whose works in The Other Vikings focus on the important role of women in Viking society.

Organised by the universities of Nottingham, Birmingham and Leicester, the event is now in its sixth year and is open to the general public as well as the academic community.

Professor Jesch added: “We really want to stress that this event is open to all and we would welcome anyone with an interest in the Viking age, whatever their background. In previous years we have had a very varied audience — everyone from academics and students to primary school teachers and even Viking re-enactment enthusiasts.

“We strive to produce a stimulating programme that features talks from some of the country’s leading authorities on the subject, while also offering access to ideas coming out of current research by postgraduate students.”

Click here for more details about the symposium (PDF file)

Source: University of Nottingham

England's 700 year old Coronation Chair to be restored

Westminster Abbey has commissioned conservation work on the Coronation Chair in which nearly every British monarch has been crowned since 1308.

Only three sovereigns were not crowned seated in the large oak chair - Edward V, Edward VIII and Mary II. But wear and tear has taken its toll since the royal seat, housed at Westminster Abbey, was commissioned by Edward I in 1300.

Much of its rich paintings, ornate gold gilt and glasswork has been lost over the centuries and the wood damaged by the graffiti of 18th and 19th century schoolboys.

Dr Tony Trowles, head of the Abbey Collection, said: "At first sight it looks an odd chair for a monarch to be sat in but it originally had foliage and birds and the image of a king.

"It's a slightly battered object but what does survive is particularly fragile and needs to be stabilised.

"The work is really conserving the original medieval paintwork and gilding, much of which was lost over the centuries."

Work will be carried out in a specially-built enclosure in St George's Chapel in the Abbey which means that visitors to the Abbey will be able to see the work taking place. Marie-Louise Sauerberg, a painting conservator from the Hamilton Kerr Institute, part of Cambridge University, will be working with colleagues on the oak artefact.

She said, “This is such a unique and rare object we need to have it somewhere like here where we can we really have a look.It’s difficult to say whether there will be any great finds. We’re right at the beginning of the process and people have already looked at it in the past – before the Queen’s coronation in 1953 they did a very good study.”

A survey of the Coronation Chair carried out at the end of 2003 revealed that although the original structure was relatively sound, much of the surviving medieval paintwork and gilding needed conservation. In April and May of 2004 conservators from the Hamilton Kerr Institute worked on the chair in its normal position in the Abbey to re-fix and consolidate areas of paint and gilding which had gradually become detached from the wooden surfaces to which they had been applied more than 700 years previously.

At that time further desirable conservation work was identified which could only be carried out in a studio environment where temperature and relative humidity are controlled and where the conservators would have proper access to all of the chair’s surfaces. This is the delicate and painstaking work which is about to begin. In addition to the consolidation of further fragile areas of paint and gilding the work will include the careful removal of later unsightly layers of polish and wax which now dull the appearance of the chair.

The opportunity will also be taken to remove areas of brown paint applied when the chair was prepared for use at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee service, held in Westminster Abbey in 1887. In some places this Victorian paintwork obscures surviving portions of the chair’s original medieval gilding.

As the Coronation Chair is only definitely known to have left Westminster Abbey on two previous occasions it was decided to undertake the conservation work at the Abbey. So, the chair has been moved to the enclosure in St George’s Chapel at the west end of the Abbey’s nave. Conservation work is expected to take approximately one year. Before the chair was moved the condition of the painting and gilding was checked for further deterioration, and X-rays were taken to identify any structural weaknesses.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has given Westminster Abbey a £150,000 grant towards the project, with the abbey contributing a further £50,000.

The Coronation Chair was made on the orders of King Edward I in 1300–1 to enclose the Stone of Scone (also called the Stone of Destiny), which he had brought from Scotland in l296 and placed in the care of the Abbot of Westminster. Until the removal of the Stone to Scotland in 1996 the Chair was the oldest piece of furniture in England still used for the purpose for which it was made.

Edward I commissioned Master Walter, a court painter, to decorate the chair with patterns of birds, foliage and animals on a gilt background. The figure of a king, either Edward the Confessor or Edward I, his feet resting on a lion, was painted on the back.

The Stone was originally totally enclosed under the seat but over the centuries the carved wooden panel at the front was torn away. In the early sixteenth century four gilt lions were added at the base of the chair; the present lions are replacements dating from 1727.

While the medieval Coronation Chair is being conserved the replica chair, which was the one used by Queen Mary II as Queen Regnant at her joint coronation with King William III in 1689, will take its place on display in the Abbey. This later chair, which has never subsequently been used at any coronation, is normally displayed in the Abbey’s Undercroft Museum.

Visitors can see the work taking place in St George's Chapel during normal opening hours. Work is due to start at the end of April.

Sources: Westminster Abbey, Press Association