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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Wilhelm Levison Memorial Lecture

Wilhelm Levison, born in Düsseldorf in 1876 of a Jewish family, was one of the greatest historians of the early middle ages. Lecturer at Bonn in 1903 and professor in 1909, the Nuremberg laws of 1935 forced him as a Jew to resign his chair, and in November 1938 he was debarred from the use of libraries. In early 1939, Durham University, which had in 1931 awarded him an honorary doctorate, offered him a fellowship. In April 1939 he and his wife Elsa moved to Durham where he continued his research until his death in 1947 and prepared for publication his most important work, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century. He and his wife are buried in the Bow Cemetery.

This lecture series was inaugurated in 2008 in order to celebrate the scholarly vision and achievements of Professor Levison. Each year a speaker is invited to build upon the foundations of cross-Channel cooperation and understanding in medieval history which Professor Levison did so much to establish.

7th Wilhelm Levison Memorial Lecture and dinner: Jews in Early Medieval Penitential Literature: Between Hermeneutical Jewry and Real People

28th November 2014, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Rob Meens (Utrect University)

Early medieval handbooks for confessors were composed from the sixth century up to the eleventh. They first appear in Insular circles and by the eleventh century are found in most parts of Western Europe. Wilhelm Levison discussed not only the role of the Anglo-Saxons in the development of this kind of literature but also their contribution to the distribution of these texts on the European mainland. This lecture will review how Jews are being depicted in these sources and what sort of behaviour is expected from Christians in their relations with Jewish people. The texts discussed show remarkable differences in their attitude to Jews, whether real or not. This variety of approaches can be related to the specific historical circumstances in which these texts originated.

Rob Meens (PhD Nijmegen University, 1994) is currently Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Utrecht. His work focuses on the cultural history of the early Middle Ages, with particular emphasis on the history of penance and penitential books, but also on topics such as violence, sacred space, food and Christianization. His publications include Het tripartite boeteboek, Overlevering en betekenis van vroegmiddeleeuwse biechtvoorschriften (Hilversum 1994) and Penance in Medieval Europe, 600-1200 (Cambridge 2014). He is general editor of the series Paenitentialiae Franciae, Italiae en Hispaniae Saeculi VIII-XI of Corpus Christianorum and edited The Bobbio Missal. Liturgy and Religious Culture in Merovingian Gaul (Cambridge 2004) with Yitzhak Hen and Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages (Vienna 2006) with Richard Corradini, Christina Pössel and Philip Shaw.

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception and there is an option to dine with the speaker in the Senate Suite at Durham Castle for £35pp

We are pleased to be able to offer five dining places for postgraduate students for a reduced price of £17pp: these will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. 

Places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Click here to book.

Contact admin.imems@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.


Past Lectures