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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

IMEMS/CCS, USHAW Lecture:The Materiality of Christian Pilgrimage, Medieval to Modern: Reflections from a Church Historian and Sometime Pilgrim

26th February 2020, 18:00 to 19:15, Ushaw College, Professor Salvador Ryan

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Pilgrimage has been a constant feature of Christian life since the earliest times; it has also been encouraged as a means of dealing with sin and frowned upon as a possible “occasion of sin” in equal measure over the centuries. This paper examines, in particular, the material aspects of the devotion exhibited by pilgrims, both on route to their chosen shrine, and once they arrived there. Some of our earliest accounts of Christian pilgrimage place great emphasis on how pilgrims interacted with the shrines they visited: touching, rubbing, licking and, even in some cases, biting off parts of the objects of their spiritual desire. The lecture will explore a number of historical accounts of how pilgrims managed to get up close and personal with the sacred objects they visited and, indeed, will relate some tales of how these objects sometimes “responded” to these displays of fervour. Adopting a trans-historical approach, it will also examine just how long-lived some of these devotional practices surrounding pilgrimage have proved to be.

Salvador Ryan is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and has published widely in the area of popular devotion from the Middle Ages to the present day. He is Review Editor of Irish Theological Quarterly and a member of the Editorial Board of the Cambridge University Press journal, British Catholic History. He is also a member of the European Network on the Instruments of Devotion and a volume editor for their publications.

Among his recent edited and co-edited works are The Materiality of Devotion in Late Medieval Northern Europe: Images, Objects and Practices (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2016); Death and the Irish: a Miscellany (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2016); Remembering the Reformation: Martin Luther and Catholic Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017); The Cultural Reception of the Bible: Explorations in Theology, Literature and the Arts (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2018), and Marriage and the Irish: a Miscellany (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2019). He has recently edited a special issue of the journal Religions on the topic of Domestic Devotions in Medieval and Early Modern Europe.