The Medieval Review 17.12.18

Ó Carragáin, Tomás, and Sam Turner, eds. Making Christian Landscapes in Atlantic Europe: Conversion and Consolidation in the Early Middle Ages. Cork: Cork University Press / Oxbow Books, 2016. pp. xvi, 622.

Reviewed by:

Bradford Lee Eden
Valparaiso University

As stated in the introduction, this book is one of the outputs of the Making Christian Landscapes project currently funded by the Irish Heritage Council under the Irish National Strategic Archaeological Research (INSTAR) program, which is based at University College Cork. The mission of Making Christian Landscapes is an interdisciplinary collaboration between commercial and academic archaeologists and historians to map and document the process of the Christianization period in Ireland and neighboring regions. The project shifts focus away from first-hand accounts that have survived (i.e., the writings of St. Patrick) towards a landscape approach incorporating a bottoms-up examination of the archaeological and cultural evidence. In addition to a relational database analyzed by GIS technology, Making Christian Landscapes also constructed nine detailed case studies or microhistories visualized by a map (5). This book takes these microhistories, and then expands the research agenda into Atlantic Europe, examining the conversion to Christianity process during the time period of c. AD 400-1200 along continental Europe's western shore from Galicia up to Norway, and from Iceland and Ireland to the northern islands of Britain (shown by the map on p. 3).

The scope and content of the volume is taken from at conference at University College Cork in late 2012. The content consists of five geographic sections (Ireland, Wales and Scotland, England, Gaul and Iberia, Germanic and Nordic Lands) divided into twenty case studies. As each of the case studies are detailed, the introduction provides some overarching patterns that have emerged for further discussion and research related to landscape studies in Christian conversion from the early Middle Ages: the importance and use of pre-Christian monuments and changing burial practices, the growth of ecclesiastical estates, the relationship between royal landscapes and church centers, the density of churches in ordinary landscapes, and the late medieval formation of parishes.

Section I focuses on Ireland, with six chapters detailing geographical and landscape examinations related to Christianization in Rathdown between c. 400-900 AD, ecclesiastical and secular power in the kingdom of Ui Faelain, consolidation and conversion in Leister's royal heartland, the cult of Saint Ciaran of Saigir and territoriality, and early ecclesiastical precincts and landscapes of Inishowen, County Donegal. Section II on Wales and Scotland presents three chapters within these geographical areas, focusing on Christianization on the island of Anglesey in early medieval Wales, early Christian landscapes in west Wales, and death and the formation of early Christian Scotland. Section III on England also has three chapters which explore technologies of social change in the conversion period of medieval Northumbria, Whitby and its satellite churches and lands, and the conversion of the Peak District with its mix of Britons and Angles. Section IV contains four case studies related to the geographic regions of Gaul and Iberia, on topics such as the funerary patterns in towns in France and England between the fourth and tenth centuries, parish formation in early medieval Brittany (Rennes, Dol, St. Malo), the illusion of territorial continuity in parish boundaries in the Touraine area, and the creation of ecclesiastical landscapes in northwest Spain from the fifth to tenth centuries. Section V on Germanic and Nordic Lands has four case studies examining conversion to consolidation in eighth-century Hessia, the religious landscape transformation at Drenthe in the Netherlands c. AD 800-1600, the introduction of Christianity into Norway and its subsequent challenges, and alternative histories on the making of the Christian landscape in early Iceland.

Having spent much of my current reading exploring early pagan and Christian Irish research and scholarship, as well as visiting Ireland itself twice recently in order to see and experience the ancient and medieval monuments and church ruins for myself, I am excited to see this type of interdisciplinary collaboration and depth of study surrounding the conversion of the Atlantic Europe cultures and peoples in the Middle Ages. Much has been gleaned from the first-hand and hagiographical accounts that survive, but so much more can be yielded from actual scientific and archaeological research, and this volume contributes substantially to that body of knowledge. For instance, the Leinster chapter and its archaeological focus on the Killashee and Kilcullen ecclesiastical sites in Ireland brought back the wonderful memories of recently discovering and visiting these locations myself (in spite of the local populations, who had no idea where to direct me to find them). Those involved in Bede and Northumbrian scholarship will find new information in the three case studies contained in the England section. The maps and photographs contained in the Peak District chapter were intriguing and fascinating, along with the discussion related to the "cunning woman" burial. The fact that there are numerous photographs of these ecclesiastical sites and monuments as they currently exist, as well as the extensive geographical maps, church and building reconstructions, tables, burial and field plans, and color plates of archaeological finds, along with the one hundred pages of notes and bibliography makes this a critical new resource for scholars involved in the subject areas of conversion theory and landscape analysis related to Atlantic Europe populations in the Middle Ages.

Copyright (c) 2018 Bradford Lee Eden

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