Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Trip to the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

ASNC undergraduate Maura McKeon writes:

On Wednesday 15th January, a group of eighteen committed ASNCs braced themselves for a 7am start to travel to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. The library is currently hosting a unique exhibition entitled 4 Books: Welsh Icons United, displaying some of the most important manuscripts surviving from medieval Wales.

After a five hour minibus journey we arrived at the National Library, giving us just enough time to enjoy a quick lunch and some essential caffeine before the real fun began. Within the exhibition room the excitement was palpable, as we all came face to face with the books themselves. The list included the poetry manuscripts Llyfr Taliesin, Llyfr Aneirin, Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin and  Llawysgrif Hendregadredd, as well as the newly-acquired Boston Manuscript of Welsh law, and both Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch and Llyfr Coch Hergest, the latter of which usually resides in Oxford. The experience of standing in the same room as both the Llyfr Gwyn and the Llyfr Coch, usually separated by such a great distance, is something none of us will forget. Some of us wandered out of the Four Books exhibition to view the Library’s impressive collection of Welsh landscape paintings, as well as some of the other displays.

The workshop begins

Together with some students from Oxford, we were then  beckoned into the education room for a workshop on some of the other manuscripts in the library’s collection, led by ASNC’s own Professor Paul Russell, with Daniel Huws and Professor Thomas Charles-Edwards also offering the fruits of their experience and  wisdom. After a welcome and introduction from Maredudd ap Huw, the Manuscripts Librarian, Paul took us through a wide variety of books including a facsimile Peniarth 28 (a Latin version of the Welsh laws asspociated with Archbishop Pecham), the educational  facsimile of the Llawysgrif Boston, both the Welsh and Latin lives of Gruffudd ap Cynan, some of the transcriptions of John Davies of Mallwyd, and (for some the highlight of the day), the Book of Llandaf. We were able to pass them around and get a closer look. Other ASNCs took a leading role including PhD students,  Myriah Williams, who discussed the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin with the aid of a facsimile, and Benjamin Guy, who gave an introduction to the Book of Llandaf.

After the workshop some students took advantage of the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Library led by Maredudd ap Huw. Some also chose to take advantage of the opportunities provided at the gift shop, and left slightly lighter of pocket. The day was finished by a visit to the promenade where, after much searching, we found a chippy that was still open. A chorus of ‘happy birthday’ was sung to undergraduate Ella Watts, who turned twenty that day, and quickly proclaimed it to be the “best birthday ever”. We once again boarded our minibuses for the journey home, with a rekindled enthusiasm for all things ASNC.

Under the watchful eye of Maredudd ap Huw, manuscripts librarian at the National Library of Wakes

We are very grateful to the National Library of Wales for such a memorable day, and especially to Maredudd ap Huw and Huw Bonner for all their hard work and willingness to make the day such a success. Thanks also to Phil Dunshea and Paul Russell for driving us there and back.

For another version of events, see the Library's own blog.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Workshop Report: ‘The Hagiography of Conversion'

From Robert Gallagher and Sarah Waidler (both ASNC PhD students):

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and the Leverhulme Trust Project ‘Converting the Isles’ supported a workshop that took place in the English Faculty on November 27th, 2013. The aim of the workshop was to consider recent, on-going and future research concerning Insular saints, their cults and hagiographies. The day began with a wonderfully thought-provoking presentation by Professor Pádraig Ó Riain, who argued that the Irish O’Donohue Lives make far more sense as products of the twelfth century (or later) than the eighth or ninth centuries, for which Richard Sharpe previously argued in his book Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives. Professor Ó Riain presented further evidence, concerning the cult and Life of Colum of Terryglass, to augment his recent article on this subject in Gablánach in Scélaigecht: Celtic Studies in Honour of Ann Dooley and significant discussion followed which addressed the implications of his thesis. The second speaker of the day was Dr Barry Lewis, who offered an overview of his current collaborative research project, ‘The Cult of Saints in Wales: Medieval Welsh-Language Sources and their Transmission’, which aims over the next four years to construct a comprehensive database of vernacular material on medieval Welsh saints. He in particular focused on a the corpus of vernacular poetry which has previously remained unedited, and allowed us to see a sample of some of the poetry on which he is currently working. Following lunch, Gilbert Márkus treated us to a preview of the newly constructed online database of ‘hagio-toponyms’, which is the culmination of three years’ work by a team of researchers at the University of Glasgow on the project ‘Commemorations of Saints in Scottish Place-Names’ and which, as Gilbert demonstrated, has tremendous potential for understanding the development of cults and their relationship with the Scottish landscape. Both Gilbert’s and Barry’s projects received an overwhelming response from the audience, and one participant summed up the general feeling with ‘I only wish this was available before!’. Clearly, the tools for the study of hagiography and the cult of saints are still being crafted and are much appreciated by the scholars of the field!

After an afternoon tea break, two more projects were introduced, one making its debut onto the academic stage. Julianne Pigott presented the project ‘Mapping Miracles’, which is in its very first stages and is being shaped by four PhD students in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and the School of English at the University of St Andrews. This project seeks to create an online database and taxonomy of miracles found in saints’ Lives in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the early and central medieval period. Julianne was joined by Robert Gallagher and Sarah Waidler in answering questions about the proposed project, which met with a very positive response. The day was then rounded off by a roundtable conversation on the depiction of conversion in saints’ Lives, which has been one of the topics explored by the three-year Leverhulme Trust project ‘Converting the Isles’. This was led by Dr Rosalind Love and Sarah Waidler and texts such as the Life of Cadog and Life of Ninnian were discussed in detail, along with such concerns as how depictions of the conversion period changed in hagiography and how hagiographers imagined conversion to have taken place.

Each of the presentations stimulated much discussion amongst the workshop participants. Points of comparison were drawn between varying hagiographic traditions, while the logistics and potential values of online databases and collaborative projects provoked lively debate. All in all, this was an extremely fruitful day for those interested in all aspects of the cult of saints and demonstrated how much is being done and still needs to be done in this vibrant field. The organisers are very grateful to all speakers, participants and the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and ‘Converting the Isles’ for making this such a successful day!