Heather Wilson's Major Paper Presentation: Title: Which Others Dreaded to Visit”: Encountering the Remote in the Lives of St Cuthbert and St Columba
Date and Time
MacKinnon Extension, Rm. 2020
From the sixth through ninth centuries, Christianity gradually took over as the dominant religion in Northern Britain. Scholars have long been interested in how this process took place. While the conversion of kings has been particularly well studied, the question of how Christianity spread beyond the king’s court has also attracted interest. However, in addressing this question, scholars have had a tendency to lump the countryside together as a single entity, neglecting to separately consider the more remote areas. Before this problem can be addressed, one must first establish what remote meant to the contemporaries of this period. This paper considers select seventh and eighth century hagiographical texts, looking at how their authors perceived and portrayed remoteness: Anonymous’ Vita Sancti Cuthberti (written c. 699-705), Bede’s Vita Sancti Cuthberti (c. 721) and Adomnán’s Vita Sancti Columbae (c. 697). The conception of remote suggested by these works is shaped by the geographic, political ideological, and religious factors of their time, with themes of ignorance, supernatural encounters, wilderness and seclusion being prominent. Ultimately the imperfect penetration of Christianity into the remote areas of the countryside was perhaps the most significant factor in shaping their views. The authors used their portrayals of remote communities to highlight their own messages, including the extraordinary abilities of the Saints, the need for proper pastoral care and the superiority of the Christian church.
Advisor: James E. Fraser
Committee: Elizabeth Ewan