An Investigation of Ecclesiastic Architecture as an Historic Source for the Christianisation of Northumbria, c. 500-800 AD: An Interdisciplinary Study

Bartley, Elizabeth Ashlyn (1996) An Investigation of Ecclesiastic Architecture as an Historic Source for the Christianisation of Northumbria, c. 500-800 AD: An Interdisciplinary Study. MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

An Investigation of Ecclesiastic Architecture as an Historic Source for the Christianisation of Northumbria, c. 500-800 AD: an Interdisciplinary Study. This thesis is an investigation of architecture which uses the 'problem' of the analysis and reconstruction of the architectural remains, existent and archaeological, of the church of St. Andrew's Hexham, founded c. 673 as a framework for a wider contextualisation of architecture as part of human praxis with pragmatic, symbolic and socio-cultural dimensions. The context for the building of Hexham covers the traditions and concerns of Christianity developing over several centuries in Rome, Gaul, Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England. Architecture here is seen as more than a collection of stones serving a simple purpose but as a transformation of a nexus of intersecting activities and practice. The crypt at Hexham served as the focus for an assessment of what type of themes can be investigated in an architectural analysis. Specifically, the cult of relics is seen to have spatial implications not only through the need for access to virtus, but also through the practice of informal canonisation from the initial burial in a porticus or near the church to the process of translation of the 'saintly' remains into a shrine on the floor of the main body of the church, the disinclination of the Anglo-Saxons to dismember and distribute primary relics as well as the significance of relics for the resonance with the Gregorian ideal of unity-in-diversity. These attitudes and practices which effect the creation of architecture such as the crypt at Hexham are similar in some respects to Gaulish and Roman practice but are combined uniquely and differently in Anglo-Saxon England. Similarly, while there is no direct unequivocal evidence for liturgical procession in mid-7th century Northumbria, a combination of manuscript evidence, physical evidence and historical events such as Wilfrid's sojourn to Rome where he would have participated in the Roman station liturgy all seem to indicate that the crypt's primary function would have been as part of the liturgical performance of the offices and therefore casts a different view upon the paths of movement and the spatial organisation of the crypt. An assessment of previous analyses and reconstructions of the superstructure of Hexham concentrates upon the distortion and biasing of the archaeological and historical interpretations derived from a reading of the description of Hexham in the Vita Wilfridi. An analysis of the evidence for basilican form churches in Anglo-Saxon England, the definitions and textual uses of the term basilica and modem misconception of the development of the 'basilica' in general, lead to the conclusion that there is no significant evidence for basilican churches in the repertoire of form for early Anglo-Saxon churches and therefore should not be allowed to bias analyses and interpretations of fragmentary remains. Following from this deconstruction of the normative typological models, I turn to the application of a methodology for the analysis of plans derived from an understanding of the process of design and the application of proportion grounded in surveying and building practice rather than in aesthetic or mathematical reasoning. My comparative analysis of the churches at JaiTow, Wearmouth, Escomb and the crypts of Ripon and Hexham lead to the conclusion that a proportioning system based upon the geometry of the equilateral triangle was used to design and set out these particular sites. Applying this system to Hexham worked very well with the remains (including the problem of the interpretation of those remains only recorded at the turn of the century) and I put forth a reconstruction of the church. A contextualised discussion of this particular system of design leads to an investigation of the transmission of geometrical skills as practical knowledge both handed down and through texts and through the needs and education of the Church. The conclusions this lead to are that there is a strong possibility that there was a Vitruvian manuscript available in 7th century Northumbria, or if not that, there is evidence for the inconclusion of Vitruvian knowledge in manuscripts and texts available in the 7th century, such as in Pliny, Isidore, and the agrimensores. Therefore, church construction is placed within the context of a literate sub-culture espoused by the ecclesiastics and nobility.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: John Barrett
Keywords: Medieval history, Religious history
Date of Award: 1996
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1996-75932
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2019 09:15
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2019 09:15
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/75932

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