The Cross and the Body in Early Medieval England, Rachael Vause
From Priyanka Mondal on April 15th, 2021
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Adornment has often been considered little more than frivolous baubles resting on the surface of the profound and more essential human. Though designed to complement the body, jewelry pieces are divorced from it in museum displays, isolated like curios behind glass. Just as significantly, the “essential” human is divorced from its physical body, reduced to an essentialized “idea” of the human. My dissertation attempts to reconcile the duality between human and material culture, and body and mind through a study of jewelry, particularly power-objects like amulets and talismans. In fifth-century England, jewelry contributed to the construction of personhood, memory, and societal structure, and operated as amuletic protection in life and in the grave. Following the introduction of Christianity in the late-sixth century, the cross began to appear in burials of the mid-to-late-seventh century. Assessment of such changes to ornamentation, burial practices, and grave goods has focused on larger abstract concepts of political, social, or religious transition; less consideration has been given to the body as the primary driver of human action. Cognitive and phenomenological methodologies provide a new perspective in interpreting cultural changes like the transition from a non-Christian to a Christian paradigm. By combining these methodologies with art historical approaches, medieval jewelry pieces are reanimated as active, experienced things, rather than inaccessible showpieces in museums. Furthermore, this interdisciplinary approach presents a range of possibilities for understanding the cognitive impulses that have prompted the creation and use of material culture not only in the medieval period, but throughout history.