Ritual: Practice, Performance, Perception
Matthew Firth – Editor’s Foreword
Rituals surround us. They divide our days and mark significant moments in our lives, we witness them in memorialising ceremonies and in the grand ceremonial of state. Rituals are, in short, ubiquitous to the human experience, and our encounters with them are wide and varied, a fact demonstrated by the range of topics and approaches our authors bring to volume 9 of Ceræ, themed ‘Ritual: Practice, Performance, Reception’. I am pleased to present, on behalf of the editorial team, the largest volume of the journal to date, comprising seven themed articles, one unthemed article, and one varium.
In our opening article, Solveig Marie Wang heeds recent calls to Indigenise medieval studies in her analysis of Saami ritual performance. In so doing, she brings nuance to the depictions of Saami in Old Norse texts, reveals the often-neglected roles of Saami characters, and exposes how their rituals could at once be perceived as normative and transgressive in the cultural milieux of medieval Fennoscandia. What Wang brings to light is a dynamic ‘cultural interface’ in which social boundaries between the Saami and their neighbours was far from clear-cut. Staying in the north, our second article comes from Caroline Wilhelmsson who examines royal ceremonial across five centuries of Swedish history. Specifically, she analyses the royal procession known as the eriksgata, in which the king-elect undertook a journey across the realm to have his kingship confirmed by provincial assemblies. Wilhelmsson takes the position that the eriksgata served a dual purpose as a political tool, both uniting the realm under one ruler, while also reaffirming and legitimising regional identities and governance.
For our next two articles, we journey across the North Sea to England. Grace Catherine Greiner offers an essay on Chaucer’s fourteenth-century dream vision, The Book of the Duchess, undertaking an analysis of the narrative framing of the lyric. Greiner suggests that Chaucer is here musing on the nature of performance and loss, that the poet invites the reader (or listener) to both participate in public commemoration and to experience loss on a personal level through the ephemeral performance of elegiac lyric. Michele Seah also turns her attention to performative rituals, but takes as her subject one with significant political overtones: the 1174 pilgrimage of King Henry II to the shrine of St Thomas Becket. Seah argues that Henry’s penitential pilgrimage was directed to a wide audience, designed as a visual display to express both the king’s humility and to demonstrate his genuine contrition.
For our final three themed articles, we head to continental Europe. Giulia Torello-Hill examines the ritual performance aspects of dynastic weddings in northern Italy by focussing on cassoni, or wedding chests. Through her examination of the iconography of these ritual objects, Torello-Hill demonstrates that they served a dual didactic purpose for the young brides for whom they were made. Samantha Happé turns her attention to almanacs produced during the reign of Louis XIV, and the role the images they contain played in disseminating knowledge of events during the Sun King’s reign. Happé’s article pays particular attention to the visual framing of the ceremonial welcoming of various foreign embassies into the French court. Finally, Elisabeth Niederdöckl undertakes an analysis of how portable altars were used and staged in the days between Maundy Thursday and Easter. Niederdöckl explores how the very specific liturgical ceremonies associated with these objects during this period of the Church calendar served as allegories for Christ’s passion and death.
In addition to these themed articles, Yianni Cartledge and Brenton Griffin offer a full-length study of the ‘heretical’ Paulician and Tondrakian movements that emerged in medieval Armenia. In turn, Jennifer Perkins supplies a varium on human-bird interaction in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde.
As ever, thanks must go out to our peer-reviewers for offering their time and expertise, and to our committee for their tireless, voluntary efforts in keeping the journal running. Especial thanks must go to my deputy editors, Zoë Enstone and Jenny Davis Barnett for their help in processing the more than twenty submissions received for this volume. And finally, congratulations to our authors on the publication of their fascinating and varied research. It is thanks to all these people that working as Ceræ’s editor has been such a rewarding experience, and I look forward to continuing in that capacity for the journal’s tenth anniversary edition in 2023.
Matthew Firth, Flinders University
Solveig Marie Wang – Finnvitka: The Cultural Interface, Identity Negotiation, and Saami Ritual in Medieval Fennoscandia
Abstract: In the medieval Eastern Norwegian law codes of the Borgarþing and the Eiðsivaþing, seeking out Saami people to receive divination, believing in their power and participating in their rituals, is prohibited, and, in the latter, equated with outlawry and unlawfulness. The transcription of these laws stipulate that the Saami were indeed sought out for such ‘magical’ help by people understood as Christian, and interestingly, the transgressor is never presented as the Saami, but rather, those Christians that sought out these rituals. Simultaneously, a multitude of instances from saga story-worlds demonstrate that such transgression occurred (or is presented as occurring) regularly, in different contexts and with different outcomes, and even the saintly King Óláfr Haraldsson is portrayed as seeking out the Saami to participate in Saami ritual performance. The delineations between normative and transgressive activity are therefore not sharp when it comes to this performance, as is also suggested in interpretations of archaeological material from the medieval period. In the proposed paper I will investigate the ambiguity associated with Saami ritual performance in medieval Norse texts, balanced with interpretations of archaeological material as representing similar aspects. Recent calls to ‘Indigenise’ Medieval Studies will be incorporated as a methodological framework for the investigation.
Solveig Marie Wang, Universität Greifswald
Caroline Wilhelmsson – The Eriksgata in Medieval Sweden c.800–1300: A Political Ritual, a Legal Necessity, or an Identity Marker?
Abstract: This article is about the eriksgata, a journey undertaken by a Swedish king‐elect across the realm to be confirmed as new leader by the local provincial assemblies. The focus is on the centuries between 800 and 1300, which saw a period of state formation, and important socio‐economic and religious developments. The aim of the article is to look at the eriksgata from several perspectives, including as a ritual, but also as a political and diplomatic act. It seeks to answer several questions about the intent behind the tradition, and its practical consequences. In a first section, further details about the eriksgata will be given. Its history and development will be explained, and comparisons will be made with similar traditions in other Germanic kingdoms during the same period. In a second instance, the question of whether the eriksgata should be seen as a ritual and/or religious act, as medieval coronation ceremonies often were, will be addressed. The journey’s legal aspect and necessity in enabling a smooth power transition will be scrutinised too. The third part will look at the more concrete role that the eriksgata played in enabling the political minority to have a say in the election of their leader. Following a brief overview of the ancient rules governing the election of kings in medieval Sweden, it will also be suggested that the eriksgata allowed the people outside of Svealand to reaffirm their own ethnic identity. It will be concluded that rather than being a diplomatic effort to unite the realm, the journey could also have served to accentuate regional differences.
Caroline Wilhelmsson, University of Aberdeen
Grace Catherine Greiner – ‘Song withoute song’: Lyric Ritual and Commemorative Performance in the Book of the Duchess
Abstract: This article argues that, in Chaucer’s fourteenth-century dream vision, the Book of the Duchess, Chaucer’s narrative framing of the elegiac lyric, in which a mysterious ‘man in blak’ divulges the death of his beloved, suggests that the best — and possibly the only — way to reflect on and record another person’s experience of loss is, in fact, to meditate on another kind of loss: the ephemeral, original performance of lyric. The Chaucerian dreamer, by classifying the lyric as a ‘song […] withoute song’, performs a sort of mourning in language for the lyric’s original performance, which he recalls and ‘reherses’ for us. In doing so, he reflects on the lyric’s absences (particularly, song and color, and both of which are figured in material and also temporal terms) and prepares us for what will be missing from the lyric when it is turned into a textual record; these absences in turn reflect the absence around which the entire Book is built: the deceased lady White. In proffering what, to modern readers, may seem like a radical vision of sound and sight as having material properties (but which, I show, has a basis in medieval color theory, the medieval science of perspectiva [optics], and philosophical conceptions of vox), Chaucer pushes us to think carefully about the material conditions of textuality as closely allied with the physical experience and bodily expressions of grief — both visual and oral/aural. Urging us to contemplate loss in this material, corporeal way — as an experience of different forms of sound and sight, presence and absence, time and tense — he forges a sense of the conduciveness of lyric record in matters of private consolation and ritualized public commemoration, theorizing the elegiac lyric as a space able to be filled — quite literally — by anyone.
Grace Catherine Greiner, University of Texas at Austin
Michele Seah – Rituals as Performative Tools for Persuasion: Henry II’s 1174 Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Thomas in Canterbury
Abstract: In 1174, Henry II, king of England, undertook a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury. This act was widely acknowledged as an additional penance by the king in expiation for his perceived guilt in the 1170 murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury, who had since been canonised as the aforesaid St Thomas. With some notable exceptions, the king’s visit to this shrine has garnered little scholarly attention and been dismissed either as superficial and politically expedient or as wholly propagandist in intent. This article aims to explore the use of medieval pilgrimage as a performative tool for persuasion. It examines the king’s pilgrimage and compares it with contemporary expectations of penance and penitential pilgrimage. While doing so, it references persuasion as a framework to re‐visit and reassess the king’s motivations for embarking on a pilgrimage to this particular location. It argues that the personal and the political dimensions cannot be considered mutually exclusive for medieval kings and that we can use religious rituals as an additional way of understanding how they managed their public personas and personal aspirations. Pilgrimage as performative ritual was a highly effective tool for persuasion that could be employed in the service of medieval politics and public relations. It thus offers additional entry points into our understanding of twelfth century politics and public relations, and the tools that could be used for their management.
Michele Seah, University of Newcastle
Giulia Torello-Hill – Performing Marriage Rituals: The Iconography of North Italian Cassoni 1480–1520
Abstract: This essay examines the role played by Northern cassoni, or wedding chest, produced between the 1480s and 1520s in the ritual celebrations of dynastic weddings that cemented the alliances between the Este family in Ferrara and the rulers of neighbouring states. The detailed account of Sabadino degli Arienti of the nuptial celebrations for Lucrezia d’Este and the son of the ruler of Bologna Annibale Bentivoglio in 1487 sheds light on the ritualistic aspects of these celebrations. These included triumphal arches that personified the cardinal virtues and concluded with a pantomime in which the nymph Lucretia, the protagonist and bride’s alter-ego, ended up choosing marital love over lust and chastity. It is argued that rather than elicit sentiments of wifely submission in the bride, the tales of heroines that possessed inherently manly virtues depicted on the cassoni aimed at empowering the young elite brides and prepared them to acquire the agency required to exercise political power in their husband’s absence.
Giulia Torello-Hill, University of New England
Samantha Happé – Almanacs Illustrating Extraordinary Embassies During the Reign of the Sun King
Abstract: Almanacs produced in eighteenth-century France were inexpensive, large, broadside calendars squarely aimed at the developing literate middle-class. They were both functional and aesthetic, generally consisting of a large single image depicting the key state event of the previous year with a smaller section at the bottom of the page including the months of the year and working days. While they were issued through the reign of Louis XIII, almanacs reached an apogee during the reign of Louis XIV, as more than five hundred were produced over the course of sixty years. Working separately to the propaganda machine that manufactured the public image of Louis XIV, these almanacs were an effective tool in disseminating knowledge of important events of the Sun King’s reign. This is particularly evident in the grand depictions of extraordinary non-European embassies, where I argue there was a conscious continuity of visual motifs employed in the almanacs. The deliberate manipulation of imagery served to enhance the legibility of the depicted diplomatic exchanges, reinforcing the public demonstration and expression of Louis XIV’s magnificence – or gloire. By placing the illustrations of extraordinary embassies that arrived at the court of Louis XIV in a chronological sequence, I establish patterns of representation suggestive of an established and conventionalised visual vocabulary. Beginning with standards of representation established with the 1668 reception for the Muscovy ambassadors, I analyse almanacs depicting welcoming receptions of embassies from Morocco, Algeria, Genoa, and Siam, demonstrating references to earlier calendars to create a system of legibility. This article emphasises the importance of almanacs as a burgeoning form of news media during late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century France.
Samantha Happé, University of Melbourne
Elisabeth Niederdöckl – Theological Elaboration, Portable Altars and their Ritualised use on Maundy Easter Days
Abstract: This article focuses on the medieval ritualistic use of portable altars during the three days preceding Easter Sunday. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, following the Maundy Thursday evening service, the priest removed the liturgical objects and the linen tablecloth from the altar. After being stripped, the altar structure was left uncovered for three days. On these days, the ritual was elaborated in a different way than it was for the rest of the liturgical year. The mass on the Maundy days served to commemorate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ through a medieval allegorical interpretation. Scholars have shown that the staging and usage of liturgical artifacts in the Easter observances were understood as emblems of Christ’s life. This specific theological elaboration influences the conceptualisation, perception, and use of the liturgical object. The purpose of this investigation is to examine the extent to which the use of portable altars relates to this reasoning. After assessing their use inside the church, the intended meaning of their distinctive features throughout medieval liturgical commentaries will be analysed. To close, this article turns to the meaning of portable altars as emblems of the Universal Church as promoted by the papacy.
Elisabeth Niederdöckl, École des hautes études en sciences sociales Paris and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Yianni Cartledge and Brenton Griffin – ‘Sunk in the…Gulf of Perdition’: The ‘Heretical’ Paulician and Tondrakian Movements in the Periphery of the Medieval Byzantine Empire
Abstract: This article explores two ‘heretical’ movements, the Paulicians and Tondrakians, both of which originated in medieval Armenia and subsequently spread throughout the Byzantine Empire. These movements became the target of elites from both Armenian and Byzantine power structures and, as a result, acolytes were subject to excommunications, forced resettlements, and mass violence. This article investigates the ways in which church and imperial authorities represented and, by extension, marginalised these heretics, as both religious and political threats, which ultimately led to their persecution. This research further examines the way in which adherents of these peripheral heresies were perceived by ecclesiastical and political hierarchies throughout the Middle Ages, whether Byzantine, Armenian, or Islamic. How these heretics viewed themselves and their place within the universe will also be recreated from the historical literature. Although, this is somewhat difficult, as many of the scriptures, sermons, sacred sites, and religious artefacts of these heretical movements were consigned to the flame over centuries of hostilities. Through an examination of primary sources, predominantly from orthodox cleric-chroniclers hostile to the Paulician and Tondrakian movements, this article will explore the ways in which the marginalisation of these heretics led to their excommunication, dispossession, and death.
Yianni Cartledge and Brenton Griffin, Flinders University
Jennifer Perkins – Chaucer’s Twitter: The Human-bird Interface as Emotional Practice in Troilus and Criseyde
Abstract: This article concerns the human reception of and interaction with birds in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde as an emotional practice that promotes self-reflection and emotional regulation. It aims to contribute to the field of the History of Emotions a new understanding of the role of animals as signifiers in medieval emotional narratives, which have hither to largely been interpreted as static and separate from the human psyche. This article aims to elucidate the human-bird interface in Troilus as an example of how the animal as signifier can be consciously engaged with by characters within a text as an emotional practice, as, in the case of Troilus, one of self-reflection resulting in emotional regulation. The two instances of the human-bird interface are first measured against Monique Sheer’s criteria for emotional practice, and then examined in the context of comparison with Gower’s Tale of Philomene, which is itself directly referenced in Troilus. Additional context for reading of the birds themselves is then gleaned by the reading of their entries in medieval bestiaries. Ultimately, this research presents a thorough case study of the human-bird interface in Troilus as an example of how animals can operate as signifiers within the context of an emotional practice, and how, in this text, it presents as a psychological ritual of self-reflection and emotional regulation.
Jennifer Perkins, University of Melbourne
This section is currently in production.
Featured Image: The Trier Adventus Ivory, c. 4th century CE, Trier Cathedral Treasury, Trier, Germany, photo by Ann Münchow.