Saturday, January 28, 2012

UPCOMING TALK with Karen Overbey, Friday, 2/3!

Post Anglo-Saxon: St Kenelm in Pictures and Performance
Karen Overbey, Tufts University

Friday, February 2, 2011

CUNY Graduate Center • 365 Fifth Avenue
English Department Lounge • Room 4409

Wine and cheese reception following the talk

St Kenelm, a ninth-century boy king murdered by his scheming sister, enjoyed a lively cult in post-Conquest England and into the later Middle Ages. He appears in liturgical calendars and genealogies alongside Edward, Oswald, Edmund, and Aethelbert, representing Mercia in the map of royal martyrs. His vita was written in the eleventh-century by Goscelin for Winchcombe Abbey in Gloucestershire, where Kenelm was buried and where his shrine drew pilgrims seeking miracles. The child-saint remained popular into the late fourteenth-century: the ‘life of St Kenelm’ read by Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest could have been the version in the South English Legendary, or perhaps in the Golden Legend.

The visual culture of St Kenelm, however, is much less familiar -- and in fact, very little remains. The only known narrative representations are fourteenth-century wall paintings at a small chapel in Worcestershire, which were destroyed in the nineteenth century, and survive only in partial drawings and a few textual descriptions.

It is impossible to reconstruct the entire painting cycle, but the traces suggest that the cult in Worcestershire -- where there were neither relics nor shrine, and no record of healing miracles -- was grounded in the local landscape, in holy wells and sacred trees and pastures; although Winchcombe held the saint’s relics, the chapel stood on the site of his martyrdom. The relationship between the “lost” wall paintings and the textual hagiography of Kenelm is not straightforwardly iconographic, and understanding the function of the pictures requires us to consider not only what we see, but also what we don’t see.


Please join us--we hope to see you there!

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