Doctrine, devotion, and cultural expression in the cults of medieval Iberian saints

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Arts


Saints were the heroes of medieval culture, the centre of lively cults which presented them as active intercessors and examples for their fellow Christians. We will explore how devotion to medieval saints was constructed through the combination of liturgical, musical and material elements, in an area that has received little scholarly attention despite its rich culture: early medieval Iberia. Our study of the development and transmission of Iberian saints' cults from the Visigothic period to the 14th century will integrate hagiography, liturgical texts, chant, and material culture for the first time. This will offer a new perspective on how saints were constructed by and experienced by the communities that venerated them. We will publish a series of peer-reviewed journal articles and a team-authored monograph, as well as inviting an international general public to gain a new appreciation of this unique heritage via an interactive, multilingual and multimedia exhibition.

We know that saints were proudly defended elsewhere in Western Europe as local patrons and community figureheads, and that veneration of saints was gendered: women were commemorated for virginity; and men were celebrated for leadership. Iberian saints, however, have not been analysed for their socio-cultural significance and integrated into wider European paradigms. This is the result of inaccessible manuscript sources, and lack of scholarly familiarity with the distinctive Old Hispanic rite. 'Iberian saints' brings together an interdisciplinary team to address these gaps in the research agenda, and to produce the first holistic study of saints' cults in early medieval Iberia, straddling multiple disciplinary specialisms, and engaging with how the veneration of Iberian saints shifted over the centuries, in particular during and after the 11th-century imposition of the Roman liturgy across much of Iberia.

Our work will open up new research avenues for scholars in multiple disciplines, modelling an interdisciplinary approach that can shed new light on historical moments about which only fragmentary evidence survives. By adding a significant body of Old Hispanic material to and, we will facilitate integration of Old Hispanic liturgical evidence into the wider European context. Further, this data sharing will make the Old Hispanic materials widely accessible, with the (intricate and unfamiliar) liturgical structure ready parsed. We will undertake innovative transcription work in our web-based Chant Editing and Analysis Program ( Old Hispanic notation is unpitched, which poses significant challenges to scholars engaging with the melodies. In Iberian Saints, we will continue to develop analytical tools and methods that break new ground in our understanding of medieval monophonic melodic languages, available to all through our software and exemplified in our publications.

Beyond academic discourse, our interactive digital exhibition will significantly increase the cultural value of our research findings. The exhibition will reconnect locals who visit archives and museums in Lamego, Coimbra, Salamanca and Toledo with this almost-forgotten aspect of their cultural heritage, as well as reaching out to tourists, and being available online. It will raise consciousness of Old Hispanic liturgy and its manuscripts, while communicating our new findings to the general public. The exhibition will engage audiences in ways that go far beyond superficial appreciation of the beauty and antiquity of the materials: they will be taught to navigate the texts, melodies and liturgical context, performing basic forms of analysis through interactive games, and navigating the GIS maps of each saint's cult. For some, there will be devotional and spiritual benefits as well; they will re-examine their own religious practices in the light of the thousand-year old culture to which we are drawing their attention.

Planned Impact

Our new research findings will be brought into outward facing dialogue with new liturgical materials, through enhancement and expansion of our existing digital exhibition. These new findings will be of value to: our Iberian partners (archivists and their institutions); archivists in other institutions; and the general public. Our database activities will benefit: the Cantus Index and CANTUS ULTIMUS teams; and those interested in chant and liturgy worldwide (researchers, especially medievalists; church musicians; and amateur fans).

1. Our partner archivists will gain familiarity with the contents and context of the manuscripts in their care, because they will liaise with our research team about material that has previously had little exposure. Project researchers will learn from the archivists about issues of preservation, and the codicology of these manuscripts, sharing that newly acquired knowledge within the exhibition.

2. Other archivists will be invited to become part of our wider network. In AH/P002757/1, we laid the ground for the new partnerships in 'Iberian saints'; here we will build relationships with further stakeholders by inviting heritage sector professionals to attend launch events, exploring future opportunities to incorporate their own Old Hispanic holdings in the exhibition. They will learn more about Old Hispanic chant and liturgy through their contact with our work.

3. We will use our new research findings to enhance and expand our existing digital exhibition. This will benefit participating institutions (both established and new partners) by significantly enriching visitor experience.

4. Visitors can find it hard to appreciate medieval musical manuscripts in an exhibition space, beyond registering their beauty: the script, language, liturgy and musical notation are all far removed from everyday life. Our trilingual exhibition introduces visitors to the historical background, contents of each fragment, musical notation, melodic language, and interaction of Latin text and melody. Summary information is combined with more detailed interactive materials. The exhibition will introduce visitors to our latest research findings, in an accessible form. In the immediate term, this will be an unusual encounter with a medieval music fragment. Longer term, visitors will gain new understanding of how musical languages work and can be communicated through writing, and how this relates to the case study saints' cults, making known and giving value to this neglected cultural heritage.

5. Cantus Index is the pre-eminent global chant database, now bringing together material from multiple smaller regional databases, including Both databases will benefit from including more Old Hispanic materials. We will also pioneer the inclusion in Cantus Index of GIS maps for individual saints.

6. The Cantus Ultimus research group will benefit from collaboration with 'Iberian Saints'. We will pilot application of Optical Music Recognition (OMR) to Old Hispanic notation. Our existing database of transcriptions will provide a large body of ground truth data with which to train the OMR.

7. There will be increased opportunities for users of Cantus Index and its satellite databases to become aware of Old Hispanic texts, among the (more familiar) Gregorian uses of particular chant texts. These databases are used not only by scholars but also by amateur enthusiasts who perform chant or practise liturgy. Old Hispanic chant is fascinating to many of these people but, because it cannot be performed, it remains mysterious. Our work will enable these enthusiasts to explore the Old Hispanic materials in more detail than hitherto, including through the online exhibition. Over time, this will lead to increased understanding and appreciation of the Old Hispanic materials by non-academics already interested in chant or in veneration of saints.


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