The Legacy of The Cult of St. Swithun: In Honor of Michael Lapidge
N.B. Please send questions, comments, and abstracts to Erica Weaver, Jennifer Lorden, and Justin Park at Swithun2017@gmail.com.
Just over a decade ago, Michael Lapidge’s magisterial The Cult of St. Swithun presented authoritative editions of the medieval uitae of Swithun—ninth-century bishop of Winchester and posthumous miracle-worker—spanning over six centuries, as well as historical sources and essays on the art, liturgy, and architectural developments associated with the flourishing of his cult. The breadth of The Cult of St. Swithun testifies to the importance of the saint in late Anglo-Saxon England and beyond, and its publication has proved an invaluable aid to further study. This session will celebrate Lapidge’s volume through the new work it makes possible. Indeed, since Lapidge’s publication, numerous articles and book chapters have appeared. This panel will provide the space for scholars to explore how they may continue to build upon this important work.
We welcome paper proposals on any era of the development of Swithun’s cult. Papers might include or focus on literature, law, material culture, art and architecture, history, liturgy, music, politics, theology, monastic culture, etc. Our primary aim is to bring into focus the wealth of resources Michael Lapidge’s work has made available to scholars and how The Cult of St. Swithun continues to inspire innovative scholarship.
For medievalists, study of Swithun’s cult has implications for many areas of inquiry. His sanctification was instigated in 971 by Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester (963–84), and the Benedictine reformers at the Old Minster. Swithun’s cult is at the heart of the tenth-century monastic revival. At a moment of increasing scholarly interest in the Benedictine Reform(s), we must take into consideration Swithun’s cult when studying the reach and significance of the reformers’ efforts. The foundation of the cult provides insight into the reign of King Edgar (r. 959–75), as well as into the influential figure of Æthelwold himself, not to mention King Cnut, buried at Winchester, whose court resided there for a time (and whose thousand-year anniversary is upon us). Moreover, the incipient cult soon inspired the production of works of visual art, musical compositions, building projects, and literary texts, including Wulfstan Cantor’s Narratio metrica de S. Swithuno, the longest extant Anglo-Latin poem from before the Conquest, and Ælfric’s Life of St. Swithun, the first in the vernacular.
Swithun’s cult is significant for the study of later periods, as the faithful continued to produce hagiographies, hymns, portraits, and poems through the time of Caxton’s Gilte Legende (1483). The antiquary John Leland (1506–52) took note of the earliest lives of Swithun in his Collectanea, and they were also included in the Index Britanniae Scriptorum of John Bale (1495–1563). Swithun’s cult spanned a wide geographical as well as temporal distance; the saint was widely culted not only in southern England but also in Scandinavia and at certain places in France and Ireland. Indeed, in the nineteenth century, Jane Austen even wrote a poem for St. Swithun’s Day, as his legacy continued in popular memory.