Material Culture in Teaching Christianity

This is a panel discussion. I am here to get some ideas for my own teaching and to take notes for a friend who is both ill and trying to present in the next time slot.

In live blogging this conference, I am following the conventions for conference blogging.

This session was put together by Christianity and Culture, Centre for Medieval Studies, at the University of York in England.

The organizer is Dee Dyas of Uof York. The speakers are from U of York and U of London.

Katherine F. Giles
Rosalind Field
Sarah Brown
Louise Hampson

English Parish Church through the Centuries 2011

Katherine F. Giles
How they approach teaching and the resources that they use.
a bldg archaeologist.

tell people what material culture is:
archaeology considers material culture major resource
rich way of bringing the stuff of the past into our teaching
buildings they created (lot in common with architectural history)

“Teaching Christianity through material culture at The University of York”

buildings archaeology is a branch of below-ground archaeology
develops from antiquarian origins and architectural history
1960s redundanct churches encourage systematic application of below- and above-ground recording
not always applied to fabric repairs

Then she began introducing various projects which have involved students and the extent to which students were involved. Obviously these were master’s and PhD students. This work is very nice. I am sure she only showed the best, but still it was fascinating.

Worked stone inventory
CCM (govt) requires list to be made of all collections
CFC (another govt thing) provides guidelines for marking and proforma
At York, all worked stone is listed, photographed, and archived.
York Minster has a stone disposal policy.
The archaeologists working on the project decide what to keep and what should be sold.
York Minster Stone is sold.
Students are stunned/appalled at this when they learn of it.
Students create poster for the annual auction.
This helps us teach the students poster and presentation skills. Students speak of their projects at the auctions.

Chapter House Vestibule: restoration and recording work
Vestibule exterior
construction methods
evidence of hoists and winches to use as a source, link to mss illumination

Engineering and water management
Lots of questions here in material culture:
How to get the water from (off?) the roof?
In medieval times, the water was channeled through the gargoyles.
This gives other questions:
Should we open them up and use them again?
What are the risks and benefits of these choices?

The Masons’ Loft
This was a point where we could work with the students in enhancing understanding/teaching roof truss construction.
The students recorded the roof trusses.
One looked at and marked every location of carpenters’ marks.
Alex Horton = master’s dissertation was on the systematic documentation of the loft’s roof trusses

the mystery of the craft 🙂
This is a fancy way to say loo.
A garderobe was cut into back of Buttress 9.
(This is a picture of the garderobe.)
This was one of first flushing toilets.
There was a water chute.
When they (she and the students) excavated the toilet they found bird nests and bones. The bones were large and they were concerned that they might be a person’s bones. They were mutton.
The students got very engaged in this excavation.
While gargoyles were often used to drain the water off the churches, a gargoyle was diverted for the first flushing toilet. They are trying to decide whether to restore the gargoyle to the original use or for the toilet.

Tracing Floor
John Harvey’s drawings of the designs in the Tracing Floor
Mason’s Loft: tracing floor laser scanning
student actually used laser scanning on the floor

Laser scanning of carvings, corbules

Historic repairs:
archive evidence plus fabric survey reveals
-need for high-level repairs since 15th C
-frequent high-end renovation

protective coating trials- application and recording project with the Stoneyard masons
Lee Godfrey MA conservations studies project
east windows- how to save the sculptures

detailed mapping of condition and previous intervention
plotted the changes on the photograph in colors

Historic mortar analysis
PhD dept chemistry, Cardiff
looking at composition of historic mortars to inform decisions on what historic mortar mixes

East End: to conserve or replace?

MA students record graffiti in the east end passageways (historic graffiti from tourists)
17thC graffiti

Recording Sculpture
Sarah Duffy- recording sculpture pi-3000 (billiard balls, etc)
worked on angels on east end

Digitising Torre:
Hilary Gould & GIS, This was a MA project.

They were looking at the way Burlington pavement (? burial topography?) and how it could be stretched to show the changes based on the medieval burial; found a way to stretch the Torre burial topography to show where the burials are in modern Minster, so no one will decide to put a drain there.

Guild Buildings of Shakespeare’s Stratford
Clifford Davidson (on paintings)
been working on guild buildings
Chapel next door was also added

Visualising the Guild Chapel
There is a DVD of this.

state of the chapel today
wonderful sentimental antiquarian drawings
could we combine arch. survey with the drawings? Result.

Showed these in early stages.
pasting the paintings into the pictures of the chapel
reformation plays an important part in telling this story
John Shakespeare defaced the pictures in the chapel. (Wm’s father)
wall was built between chapel and other part, so it was rented out.
A vicar was censured in early 17th C for letting pigs be in there and children play and mess up pictures. So it wasn’t totally defaced after the Reformation and the coming of the Anglican church.

As an archaeologist process, teaching Christianity is a challenge. Students aren’t interested in the religion; in fact, they are often hostile. Instead we can encourage them to think about history and cultivation of religious buildings. Then they learn about the religion without feeling that they are being indoctrinated.

She had great slides, but I was not able to find all of what she showed.

Sarah Brown
specializes in stained glass
director of MA in Stained Glass and Heritage Management
York Glazes Trust, so oversees the window restoration

She said that she fully believes that there are aspects of the past we can hope to discover.

One challenge is that students also imagine that people in the past thought of things in the same way as we in the 20th C.

Using different types of evidence can challenge these assumptions.

We have access to the Great East Window at York Minster.
This is a famous work and our students are excited about being in contact with this amazing piece of stained glass.

The Great East Window is the single largest window at York Minster. In fact, it is the biggest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain.

subject matter = beginning and end of all things
achieves this at the apex of the window

God sits and has a book on his knee
which says “I am the beginning and the end” (Latin)

bottom of window is about place of York Minster in this story

3 registers Genesis
rest are on Revelation/apocalypse (biggest presentation in Europe of apocalypse)

James Torre know about the contract with the man responsible for making it.

3 versions of the contract: 2 Latin, 1 English (how translated and what lost)
how have 17th C antiquarians changed?
the document original was gone

extract from the English version shown

brought to York to make the window, glazier
career as a glazier, Thornton had a workshop in York and Coventry

Thornton was paid 56 pounds.
to make
to glaze
to find all sufficient workmen (what is sufficient? look at other contracts and teams. How many workmen involved?)
disposed at the Costs of the sd Dean & Chapter
obliging himself with his own hands to portrature the sd window
in the best Mannor
and likewise paynt the same where need required
if he performed his work well & truly, & perfect it according to the tenor of these Covenants, then he should receive … 10ll in silver
(This was not the cost of the window, but his bonus payment for being the general contractor and painting.)

Life of St John falling asleep at Patmos

take the window and look at what we know about the mechanisms through which windows were made and executed

small sketch designs from 16th C in Brussels
small sketches for Woolsey’s chapel

glazier might have been supplied with these

What is the relationship in working these out to scale?

“White-washed table”
did not create full-size cartoons or paper
most of medieval period, the full-size was worked up on a trestle
-worked as a cartoon and as a practical workbench
-jolly annoying if you reused it and then discovered you needed an extra

14th C Westminster glazing accounts
all sorts of references to the “white-washed table”
read this and think, Why did they wash with beer?

Made our own white-washed table
Used Theophilus’ 12thC description to create it

small beer was used to create an effective worktop
limestone doesn’t blow away after that because the beer is sticky

consider the role of the craftsman

where is the dichotomy of craftsman and artist?
Thornton was both artist and craftsman.

For modern observer.

Who is John Thornton?
Can we identify him in the window?
Contract: required to paint with his own hands “considered most needful”

detail of the head of Christ and the lion mask
East Window is so good, so superbly created
can’t go with a sliding scale of quality—all levels the quality is exceptionally high

Christ and lion
style specialist
stylistic methodologies from conventional art history is useful

Head of Christ is central iconic.
Repeated details (lion mask- is it a stock product?)

Evangelists from the same panel are both entertaining and exquisitely painted.

in trying to engage students in study of the middle ages

struggling to teach Chaucer without marriage, church
SGGK without sin and penance is difficult.
friend used visual images to introduce these concepts
(CDs are for this exact purpose.)

Rosalind Field
edited Christianity and Romance in Medieval England

Piers Plowman
interested in what Kate said. Field has a piece of York Minster stone.

not an art historian
to get students to the point where they can begin to recognize things that medieval authors assumed their audiences would recognize

that’s the problem with reading literature
none of the folks are going to be medieval Catholics reading the literature (This was repeated often by others in answers and in discussion.)

Piers Plowman
difficult and rewarding
engage the students and give them help
Langland expects his audience to be familiar with complex material.
Need to be able to spot the point where he surprises them out of their familiarity.

De Lisle Psalter
Christ on the cross.
14th C mss
Then in class we begin comparing how the images of the crucifixion change and develop.
In art, choices are made all the time—there’s not a standard picture.

In art the aesthetic quality works for you. Pictures do attract/create visual pleasure.

Christ on the cross
angels holding blinded sun and moon
figure at bottom holding chalice capturing blood of Jessu

most people only read the 7 deadly sins (Passus V)

Piers Plowman Passus V: 492-5
Passus V includes the prayer of vengeance
Langland doesn’t translate the Latin that he interjects.
What is going on here?
Who is being fed with blood?
How does the Latin fit in?
Why does light blow? Who is it blowing?
Passus V doesn’t give the answers.

Note: I was unable to find images of all the slides she showed.
We begin to get the answers with the Psalter pictures.
complicated psalter mss picture
Portrait of Lady Holy Church
crucifixion and cross are much more brutal and stark

sun losing sight in top right hand corner

fresh blood of Christ feeding the forefathers in darkness
medieval belief that Christ’s blood fell on Adam and raised him from the dead.
Adam, Eve, and Abel(?) are in the mss bottom middle, drinking Jesus’ blood (the forefathers)

Passus 18
“can get away with anything but must read Beowulf and Passus 18” some famous medieval professor

harrowing hell is in Passus 18
Students won’t have met harrowing hell, aren’t familiar.
Harrowing Hell is built on a small biblical basis but very important to medieval mind and culture. (breaking of the gates of hell)

Tiberius Psalter
Hell mouth
rescuing of Adam and Eve
beautifully draped into the frame the nurturing and welcoming figure of Christ (bent over)

nurturingness is gone from Christ, now he’s a warrior
De Liesle Psalter
devil mask/head on ground, blue background, Jesus has a sword he’s poking the devil with
Hellmouth is broken
“breaking of the gates of hell”

plenty of other illustrations of this

Passus XVII: 315, 320-6
Not just using images to elucidate and illuminate, but compare what visual imagery and verbal imagery can do.

“eft the light bad unlouke…
breeth helle brak, with Beliaalles barres
Lucifer loke ne myghte”

gates are broken with a breath in this written imagery.
Echo of the quote in Passus V.
Lucifer can’t look at the light because it blinds him.
We’ve gone beyond usual iconography, because Lucifer can’t look at the light.

solution to the puzzle in Passus V is found in Passus XVII
We know what blowing breath is (Jesus breathing and breaking the gates)
We know that Lucifer is blinded to the light.
Not understanding Passus V is okay. It’s how Langlan wrote it. But it’s a journey.

Jesus as light is not in Gospel of Nicodemus nor in the drama.
The body of Christ is in the tomb, but the incarnation of Jesus as light breaks Hell. Langland can do, but the artist can’t.

Christ’s Descent into Hell. Style of Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, about 1550-60), New York in the Met and on their website
Madrid said 18th C. (Was in the Prado)
–much closer to Langland
–picks up Langland things, like the Tower of Truth
–devils alarmed, like bees from a hive
–saved are in a line, going out of hell and towards the Tower of Truth
–in the middle of the line, you can see the naked Christ carrying the standard of the resurrection
–sense of light, both flames of hell and proper light of Paradise
–those saved from hell are moving to the light of Paradise
–closest to Langland in mood and conception
leaves us realizing that we can help students think about what literature can do that art cannot
what can writing do that art cannot?

You can understand how to read imagery, and fiction, and allegory. Pick up the imaginative power of what Langland is doing, but can only do that if you have the basis of visual reference that Langland assumed his readership had.

Louise Hampson
development officer for Christianity and Culture
collections manager for 14 years
working on PhD in art history, stained glass

Glimpses of Daily Life
Using Stained Glass as an Historical Resource: Week 5
adult learners “back” into education—can have people who quit school at 14 and other who has two PhDs
course is of interest to them, that’s why they are there.

medieval things is what I teach about

challenges I face

1. tend to, if think about historical sources, think about it in compartmentalized way—Need to look at whole range of a material. Can’t only look at stained glass or sculpture or literature. The people of the time wouldn’t have lived in boxes.
2. getting students to understand the extent to which Christianity permeated every aspect of people’s existence—Even modern church-goers think of religion as outside their normal, every day life. But medieval, even dreaming, was governed by and influenced by the church.

Roos family, St. Wm window, York Minster, c. 1425
talk about the window, who its from and why they might have paid for it
look at the armor, the heraldry, the clothing that the woman is wearing (status and relationship), drapery, hangings behind them (damask cloths), church interiors, aristocratic interiors

St. Thomas Becket miracle scene c. 1200
might think people lived in a carport
not a comfortable-looking bed
but surrounded by pillars with a tiled roof (telling you it is an interior shot)
at face value, might think everyone lived outside
Thomas is very physically present in the window.

Woman at St. Wm’s Shrine, York Minster
in this window, it is folks coming to the shrine
blue dress, yellow belt, hat, and sleeve cuffs
maybe a form of the shrine visible
clothing and status of different people
what the people might have done when they got there?
guy has a sheath dagger—Can you take weapons into a church?
begin to build a picture, based on … bldgs, archives, stained glass, mss.
all the types of evidence can inform each other

I could not find this stained glass. I did find two of other women at St. William’s shrine.

Confirmation scene (Buckland, Glos.) 15th C
children being brought to be confirmed
current Anglican tradition is about 11 or 12
but clearly in this representation, these are at best very young children
confirmation is coming very close after baptism
What does this tell us about the practice of liturgy? figure holding book open for bishop to read, Bishop putting his hands on the child’s head

look at it and learn from it
begin to use the windows as a visual resource
then begin to think why there? who paid? why paid?
Many students surprised that the Reformation had windows, too.

roots into exploring other avenues
working their way through the various material cultures that are taught at the center

build the student confidence as they begin to come to the new evidence

My students, wide majority, are Catholic, though not practicing.
No working knowledge of vocabulary: sin, confession…
Know Easter and Christmas, but not necessarily main players in this experience.
No exposure to art, music, architecture…
Do you create a list for vocabulary? Do you explain what these things are? I have to explain that stained glass is a visual art.
They don’t understand the CDs, because they are still abstract.

My students are actively hostile to the idea of being taught about religion.
An advantage of archaeology is that it’s a different culture that we are studying.
Even at York can’t assume students have the vocabulary.
“Do you know what Purgatory is?” talk about that. Show images via Google.

art historian and theologian come in and explain art history in medieval and theology in medieval period

What do we know about Christmas in the 21st C?
time of work, holiday…
Once upon a time, the year was punctuated by these holidays. Impacted national productivity. (Which is part of why Henry VIII got rid of some of this.)
None of us are medieval Christians, so we have a level playing field for ignorance.

only 10 weeks—limited time
an advantage in UK, literature is set up to appeal to an audience.
Chaucer and Langland were writing to intrigue, entertain, shock…
People want to know what is going on (even if they are atheists).
Dangers with the images. They shortcut the understanding. But the students get terribly respectful because they don’t want to insult the religion. Then they get Chaucer and its funny and they don’t know what to do with the humor.

marginalia concepts are funny
defecating on head of a priest, Is that subversive or part of the discussion?
Can move the class to the chapel and point out the architecture and ask them questions about it.
Always want more time.

Question 2:
“permeated every aspect of life” = Hampson said
beginning to think that medieval studies should be required for everyone
if we can conceive that the permeation did exist, perhaps it would help people to relate to modern Islam, where there is that permeation of every aspect of life?
“It took us 400 years to change” from permeation. Assumption that we want it to change and that it should change.

Is it true that Christianity no longer permeates our lives? Let’s think about that. This would be an interesting point to come in on.

Can you imagine when a picture would be so evil, that no matter how beautiful, that it had to be destroyed?

Pick up on Islam.
Margery Kempe, everyone gets impatient.
3 or 4 years ago, when anxiety came up about the veil, whole business about wearing white… The students think she should be able to wear what she wants. But it means something. The veil and wearing of that might be “self-expression of the same sort.”
Cultural situation brings you round to relevance.

Other tension to face… extortionist fees… You must intrigue the students immediately or they feel they’ve wasted their money.
We are treading a balance between making it interesting and relevant, but we need to let them know that learning is hard. Don’t dumb it down too much.

Challenge is particularly strong for any discipline that requires students to acquire tools that are outside the norm… French, Latin… Pressure to teach subjects that can just be delivered in English.
We don’t want passive learners, but we need to find ways to bridge the things we do that are hard.

Question 3:
Did I have the time to play 15-minutes of the York play of the Crucifixion?
One of the actors was really terrible, playing the Roman soldier.
But it brought home to the students that this really was community performance, community participation. Got thoughtful discussions in the final exam by their continuing integration of this into their framework.
This reminded me of the Second Shepherd’s Play that we watched in Humanities. However, the students liked the 5-minute version of Everyman better.

Question 4:
“permeating all elements of your life” imagine it was like that in the Middle Ages
clearly there were bumps. There were heretics.
The thing in modern life, that permeates every aspect, is technology. (internet—she said but maybe the lights and the microwave, etc— my niece could not even go half an hour without texting)
Whatever the reason is, technology permeates their whole lives. Carry this on their body. Icon (iPhone). Email and look up questions and participate and their fingers are still going. Do their homework on the iPad. Download music and never think about paying for it. Whole culture of it that they have bought, lock, stock, and barrel.
This might be a basis, an entry point, for teaching that concept.
Story of the technology you are most grateful for in kitchen

all-pervasive, but people kicked against it (Margery Kempe)
Modern scholarship is interested in subversive elements.
19th C thought medieval “everyone’s happy”

simple introduction
neither monolithic nor monochrome
incredibly diverse

as historians, picture we get is partial
answers we get to see as evidence is limited (Who creates? Who kept?)
sacred and the secular
liturgical outfits emblazoned with merchant heraldry (like advertising McDonald’s in the church–Catholic newsletter)

30-pg essay John van Engen at Notre Dame U
medieval church life from birth to death
“The Christian Middle Ages as an Historiographical Problem,” The American
Historical Review
91 (1986): 519-52.

Relate it to them. Start with grandmother.
trees and cemeteries and grandmothers?

mission’s teacher for archaeology
We presume our students come with a basic understanding of the toolkit of historic research.
The idea that they might look at an image in that critical way, we’ve gone in the UK we’ve been depressed that they don’t know how to do that or how to write an essay…
What do we have to do in the discipline?

Related to that, whatever our students are permeated with, it’s not aesthetic appreciation or aesthetic understanding.
Don’t understand how to explain music, so you can’t spend that much time.
Trying to work with the assumption that a picture is worth a 1000 words
getting cynical about it
Years ago going to seeing the Imperial Crown.
A friend who was with me “didn’t know much about art in those days.”

Elementary practical suggestions:
What first steps would you do to bring a moderately intelligent class of students?

model of the parish church
struggled to see how the parish church changed
This is a technology that the students can relate to.
It’s why we’ve gone to making the CDs interactive.
Like a game.
Clicking and moving around.

Taking you round a church and showing you all the different aspects of the church. being a detective. Show the church in class.

Customize a glossary. Turn into a vocabulary list. But then the images are starters.

Students bring something. Muslim student whose life is patterned by prayer, etc.

What you have to do is set the agenda? Take five paces back because none of you is a medieval Catholic.
We’re not teaching you religion. We are just trying to give ourselves the wherewithal to understand what is going on in this ____ (space, work, text).

Scholarship is about a dialogue.
Show students how they can be engaged as part of the dialogue.

One thought on “Material Culture in Teaching Christianity”

  1. Wow. I was quite intrigued by this post as we toured York and its cathedral and environs a couple of years ago, so I felt like I had some grounding in what was being presented. I was quite intrigued in the Q&A about the church permeating the people’s lives and the comparison of that to technology permeating ours. I still am in a religion that permeates my life, or so I think, but after reading this I realize that technology may be trumping that. But while religion is a series of ideas and of dogma, technology is only a vessel to carry those ideas and dogma–this to me, is a profound difference. However I do admit to irritation when, in a church service, I see teens AND adults texting away during the sermons. Geesh! I just want to say. Give it all a rest and listen.

    Thanks for posting. (Loved the “Conference Blogging Booklet” you linked to–excellent!)

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