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Pearls from the Pend No.9

Bearers of the Cross

Duncan McAra

History is not a branch of tourism. Through knowledge of the past, history anchors or roots a person in the present, establishing reference points; without it, one is simply bobbing helplessly along on the surface of ever-changing currents of ‘novelty’, of ‘fashions’, of ‘trends’.

The Librarian has recently learned of an interesting research project Bearers of the Cross: Material Religion in the Crusading World, 1095 – c. 1300  [see http://www.bearersofthecross.org.uk], being led by Dr William Purkis of the Department of History, University of Birmingham, and author of Crusading Spirituality in the Holy Land and Iberia, c. 1095 – c. 1187 (Boydell & Brewer, 2008). The project is being funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Its primary aim is to develop new knowledge and understanding of the lived, material religion of medieval crusaders through a wide-ranging analysis of the texts, art, architecture and material culture associated with crusader belief.

Dr Purkis and his team have been exploring the devotional worlds that those who ‘took the cross’ inhabited, examining the ritual practices crusaders observed, the religious objects and images they treasured, and the sacred spaces they shaped and were shaped by.  Central to this work has been a fresh examination of the medieval collections of the Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell.

The principal output of the project will be a monograph, Bearers of the Cross: Violence and Devotion in the Crusading World, to be published by Yale University Press later next year.

Dr Purkis’s research has involved a partnership with the Museum of the Order of St John [see http://www.museumstjohn.org.uk]  – ‘a hidden jewel in the City of London’ – which houses an important but little-known collection of medieval material culture, including seals and seal casts, manuscripts, and a substantial number of coins originating from the crusader states.

The project’s Research Fellow, Dr Rosie Weetch, and Inventory Officer, Dickon Whitewood, have been working with one of the Museum’s curators, Abigail Cornick, to study, catalogue and photograph this collection for publication  as an online open-access database.

A tie-in exhibition at the Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell entitled Holy City, Holy War: Devotion to the Sacred in Crusader Jerusalem, which presents some of the artefacts from the Museum’s medieval and post-medieval collections, opened on September 2 and runs until December 22 2017.

The Librarian expresses his gratitude to both Dr William Purkis and to Abigail Cornick for providing the information about this fascinating project and exhibition.


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