The seventh-century monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow and the bones of the Northumbrian landscape

Sam Turner (University of Newcastle)
11 February 2016

Most historical accounts of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria focus on religious conversion as key driving force in 7th-century social change. As a counterpoint to this approach, I suggest that the examination of certain 'technologies' can help explain more specifically what changed, why it changed and how change was effected. I will examine these themes with reference to the famous monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, where I have undertaken new research in collaboration with a team of colleagues.

In this talk I will focus on specifically on technologies witnessed at Wearmouth and Jarrow and through other Northumbrian sources, such as the parcelling of land and the use of writing, building in stone, the use of relics and sainthood, and changing locations and forms of burial. I will suggest that the coalescence of these technologies enabled the emergence of key concepts for later periods, such as possession, kingship, saintliness, and the enduring community of the dead. Such transformations were supported by changed perceptions of the material properties of objects, substance, places and persons.

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