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A collaborative research programme
The Transnational Database and Atlas of Saints' Cults aims to establish a parish-by-parish, commune-by-commune inventory of religious devotion in Europe and beyond. Evidence of cults saintly, angelic and divine is built up from documentation and other sources, and centres on the dedications of churches and chapels and of subsidiary foci of devotion such as side altars, images and lights.
The evidence is being mapped electronically, using Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and together with a third dimension, commentaries on the spatial, temporal and thematic patterns revealed by the investigation, the atlas and database is being made available to other researchers and to the public at large.
Even without the mapping, the user is able to move place-by-place across the landscape, and forwards and backwards over time, observing and analysing the identity and patterns of the cults venerated. TASC's objective is scientific: the construction of a systematic, comprehensive record, which will then form a tool for academic research, as well as a public work of reference. By representing collaborative, interdisciplinary research, linking the humanities and the social sciences across national and institutional borders, and open to constant up-date and up-grading, TASC is synergetic and organic. By definition, it will always be work-in-progress.
The object is to build a geographically-ordered inventory recording all evidence for the presence and the absence of cults saintly, angelic and divine, in every locality of a given region. This should be done in a 'flat', spreadsheet database (using a software program compatible with Excel), so that the data can be quickly and easily added to, rearranged, and sorted for immediate, low-level but essential analysis and distribution. It also ensures maximum inter-operability and availability to other researchers, plus ease of subsequent electronic mapping in GIS (Geographic Information Systems), and import into relational, inter-operable databases, such as Access, for more sophisticated interrogation together with storage of additional information, linkage to digital libraries, and publication on the Internet.
Geographic ordering is a sine qua non for the following reasons:
TASC is a project for an Atlas and Database and TASC datasets are intended to allow ease of mapping, whether on paper or in GIS.
Religious devotion cannot be divorced from the societies and communities (at all levels) in which it is found. From its earliest centuries, bishops have been territorial and dioceses have been set up to serve political entities, lordships, and peoples. Likewise, at the most local level, individual churches have been provided by lords or groups of inhabitants to serve particular communities.
The more persistent cultural boundaries are those which follow watersheds, and the most frequent areas of discrete colonisation are those which coincide with river systems. TASC datasets are therefore organised, within dioceses, topographical by river-system.
Experience shows that dedications are hierarchical in the same way that groups of settlements are hierarchical - that is, there are superior settlements (primary or central places, call them what you will) and there are lesser settlements. Choice of dedication often reflects the status of the settlement.
Patronal cults relate to each other within large and small landed units, within individual parishes, and even within church buildings.
TASC records should therefore be ordered by diocese; within each diocese by river-system; within each river-system by archdeaconry (or its equivalent); within each archdeaconry by deanery (or its equivalent); within each deanery by parish; within each parish by location (such as town, village, hamlet, hermitage, bridge, shrine, monastery, etc etc); within each location by status (that is, the most important church comes first, and so on in what seems to the researcher to be the most appropriate order; and within each building by status likewise (e.g. chancel before nave) and generally in a clockwise order beginning in the north.
Recording absence of cult is as important as recording presence. If we do not know the extent of our ignorance, we cannot assess the knowledge we have, or the amount of work still to be done. All known or likely places of veneration, therefore (such as east ends of aisles, whether or not there is structural evidence for an altar), need to be recorded, and where the cult is not known, the word 'Unknown' must be entered in the column for 'Dedication'.
How this geographical ordering works can be seen from the samples available in these web pages.
Dated and sourced information is collated from as many categories of evidence as are relevant and available. Landscape features, fair and feast days, and wells are included, as well as chapels, altars, images and lights. All are recorded, even where the cult's identity is not yet known, since it's important to know the limits as well as the extent of our knowledge. By this means, evidence in depth is obtained. The records are ordered spatially, following the geography of administrative and topographic units (with the parish as the basic building block) and the layouts of individual buildings. Related contextual data supplements the raw evidence of devotion: place-name elements, for example, or the names of principal land-holders at key dates.
Inclusion of such additional data is at the discretion of the individual researcher and will frequently depend on the availability of information. Local circumstances may also dictate the range and identity of geographical units which can be recorded, ecclesiastical as well as secular. In both cases, however, a series of core data fields is agreed by TASC's partners and enables data to be compared across regions and periods. Thus it is crucial to know the form which the observance of cult takes in any given instance: the dedication (patrocinium) of a church, for example. A common spatial ordering of the records is also essential: by and within parishes where these are known, for example, and at least by and within river catchment areas, the single immutable division of the landscape.
Because the spelling of names can differ so widely, over time and locally as well as internationally, two extra electronic archives must be set up. One, a gazetteer of place-names, is likely in many areas to be ready to hand. Elsewhere this list must be created from scratch, though its compilation will be a help to many other groups besides the workers in TASC. The other necessary archive is a thesaurus of saints' names. Universally there is the problem of identifying a saint by his or her local name or its Latin version. In some areas this is compounded by the co-existence or development of 'pet'-names, many of which look nothing like the original.
Electronic mapping of the database material is achieved by using GIS coverage of basic, usually parochial boundaries of the earliest available period (or as point data, identified by latitude and longitude, for example, or national cartographic agency grid-references where these are internationally compatible and/or covertible to lat/long). Within a common GIS software the database information can be sorted, interrogated, and spatially presented as variously as it is categorised. Thus by interrogating both the database and the mapping, information can be built up on individual cults, loci or types of devotion, and snapshots obtained of devotions at any given period.
An important means of enriching this knowledge lies in the construction of a relational database, which can hold large amounts of information in separate compartments and which allow sophisticated searches, sorting, and interrogation. Records from the spreadsheet database can be imported, and enriched data exported in spreadsheet form for electronic mapping. The spreadsheet database and select GIS mapping in atlas form can be disseminated electronically via the Internet and on CD-Rom, as well as by paper publication. However, publication on the Internet of the relational database allows a much richer and deeper use of the material, namely access to on-line collections of relevant texts and images, thus creating an interactive digital library.
Since additions and revisions will be continuously sought and submitted, the inventory will be held by internationally recognised and accessible academic data archives, such as the British Historical Data Service at the University of Essex, and ECAI, the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative administered by the University of California at Berkeley with technical support from the University of Sydney, Australia.
Also under development (but still in its earliest stages of construction) is a mapping programme under which information from TASC datasets from across Europe can be viewed, together with relevant images, from a single cartographic base. The author of this programme, European History of Religion, is Dr Rain Simar of the University of California at Berkeley. The cartographer for the Image maps is Dr Christos Nuessli. A site using comparative tools for contemporary studies is also at University of California at Berkeley.
TASC is a tool for research. It does not, of itself, provide answers to academic questions or address issues of public policy and information. Nevertheless, the purpose of the database and maps is to form a resource which underpins TASC's raison d'être: a better knowledge and understanding of the material as it bears upon a range of historical, literary, artistic, geographical, cultural, archaeological and anthropological themes. A number of essays based on this work have already been published. Also, most TASC investigators will themselves include commentaries as the third leg of their research outcomes, alongside database and mapping. Few researchers can be expected to resist the urge to deploy their particular specialist knowledge in order to test or explain their provisional findings. In any case, most funding bodies and institutions look for interpretive meat on dataset bones. A number of essays based on this work have already been published, with others to follow.
There are many specific advantages in having such a resource. Its usefulness is wide-ranging. For example:
It enables single cults to be examined comprehensively across time and borders, or in defined periods and places, and in comparison with others. It also allows such cults to be profiled according to the relative frequency, distribution and dating of specified categories of devotion.
It enables snapshots of devotion to be taken of particular places at particular times and in particular circumstances.
It provides a wide-canvas panorama of devotion, a view of the wood as well as the trees which makes it possible to avoid the 'blind' selectivity of assessment and analysis on the basis of 'cherry-picking'.
It allows significant patterns to emerge which are susceptible to investigation and hence open to explanation. Such patterns may be spatial, temporal, or thematic. Why do certain cults turn up at certain types of places? What processes of choice are indicated? What is the 'meaning' of a cult and its subject to its devotees? How often and in what manner are cults supplanted and why? What relationships between individual cults can be observed? Are hierarchies of settlement matched by hierarchies of cult? And so on.
It proceeds from an interdisciplinary base and finds use across disciplinary borders. It aims to assist, and bring together historians (general, cultural, local and regional, of art and of religion), geographers (historical, human and economic), social scientists (cultural and social anthropologists, ethnographers and folklorists), students of the written and spoken word (hagiographers and scholars of literature and diplomat generally, linguists and etymologists), and those concerned with material culture (archaeologists, curators, and architectural historians).
The use of common data fields enables investigators to be drawn from varied backgrounds and to pursue individual lines of inquiry. Though most current partners share an interest in medieval society, some are concerned also or solely with later periods, including the modern. Some work on single religious traditions or phenomena. Any risk that such cases would distort the overall dataset is avoided by the requirement that research parameters be declared in the accompanying commentary. Users of TASC may then include or exclude these tranches of evidence at will.
TASC also has a role in relation to aspects of public policy, including the provision of general public information.
Religious devotion is a key component of 'European culture' (as it is for other cultures) and numerous forms of its expression are widely shared. Thus the same saints have been venerated for centuries by groups of people in different parts of Europe, often ignorant that they shared their devotion with populations far away and little known, if at all. At the same time, regions of Europe, even individual communities, have claimed and celebrated their own local saints, without realising that associated legendary motifs, forms of commemoration, and expected benefits of veneration are often identical, springing from common roots. Detailed information on saints' cults can therefore shed significant light for policy advisers and decision-makers on the balance and tensions between the universality of 'European culture' and cultural particularity in Europe's component regions.
Contemporary public interest in saints and their cults generally (regional and universal) has never been greater, resulting in a huge demand for information. Yet scholarly response to this demand, linked so intimately with issues related to regional culture on the one hand, and overarching 'European culture' on the other, is hampered. Knowledge and understanding of local saints, so crucial to the sense of identity of regions and communities, has greatly diminished over the last two centuries; while the deep commonalities of meaning attached to the veneration of the universal cults of Christendom remain largely unexplored. Both fields suffer from the absence of a corpus of evidence which underpins, contextualises, and stimulates scientific research (while at the same time providing a source of academic and public reference). Such a corpus as TASC would also assist significantly the preservation of a core element of the European cultural heritage, and its enhancement as a means for more clearly and deeply understanding that shared heritage as a whole, including inter alia its regional components, its origins (often outside Europe as historically defined), and the patterns of its development, character, and meaning.
Europe is part of a wider world, a fact it must willingly grasp as its union develops. European religious culture is rooted both in the Continent and beyond, informed by pre- and non-Christian systems as well as by early forms and expressions of Christianity itself. The study of this early diffusion is already reflected in TASC, as is the transmission of religious culture to the New World and elsewhere. One of TASC's North American partners is exploring dedications planted in Canada by migrants from France. From an Australian scholar with a Middle Eastern background has come a survey of pilgrimage sites in Coptic Egypt, to be supplemented in due course by the computerisation of a thirteenth-century list of churches and monasteries. It is against this background that TASC is represented in the international multi-cultural metadata and mapping enterprise known as the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative.
TASC is a long-term enterprise which will outlive the present partners. Nevertheless a start has already been made with the aid of competitive national and institutional funding. Now the next phase is being planned by partners and associates in more than a dozen countries.
A key proposal is to cover a number of transects of Europe, composed of contiguous areas of neighbouring countries. One may link Germany, the Low Countries, northern France, and one of the regions of England closest to the Continent. Another might include areas of two or three countries in central and eastern Europe, Romania, Hungary, and Croatia, for example. A third transect might involve Finland and parts of Russia, notably Karelia. Alongside these transects, individual regional investigations (in Spain, Italy, Iceland, and Ireland, for example) would generate a series of comparative studies from contrasting areas.
This programme will build on work achieved in a number of countries. A mapped version of the following material is also available.
England and Wales.
Here the pre-Reformation dioceses of Lincoln and Worcester have been covered by Dr Graham Jones (twelve historic English counties), together with the parochial and monastic dedications of the dioceses of Hereford, St David's, Llandaf, St Asaph and Bangor, and part of the dioceses of Lichfield and Chester. Work is also well in progress by Dr Michael Costen and associates at the University of Bristol, Centre for the Historic Environment, on the dioceses of Bath and Wells, Salisbury, and Southwell. The database records, to be made publicly available at the British Historical Data Archive, University of Essex, so far number about 20,000. Work completed up to December 2001 can be found on the TASC Database pages. Completion of the GIS maps is still in the pipeline. However, some examples of mapping from the database are available for viewing.
Finland. Pre-Reformation Roman Catholic parochial dedications have been identified and analysed by Prof. Jukka Korpela.
Germany. Work is well advanced at the Max-Planck-Institut fur Geschichte, Gottingen, where a team headed by Dr Helmut Flachenecker is computerising and mapping the church and altar dedications of the German-speaking lands, beginning with north-western German dioceses and the southern diocese of Eichstatt.
Iceland. A comprehensive survey of parochial and other dedications has been published for Iceland down to AD1400 by Prof. Margaret Cormack, who is now working on extending her work chronologically and mapping the results.
Italy. A survey of parochial cults has been made for the diocese of Bologna by Prof. Paolo Golinelli.
The Netherlands. The pilgrimage sites of The Netherlands have been surveyed by Dr Charles Caspers and Dr Peter-Jan Margry and published by the P. J. Mertens Institute. The parochial dedications of Frisia, west of the Lauwers Zee, have been researched by colleagues at the Friske Akademy and computerised for TASC by Dr Graham Jones.
Romania. Dr Maria Craciun and colleagues have surveyed the sources for dedications in Transylvania.
Spain. The titular dedications of Catalunya have been committed to database by Dr Graham Jones (together with a more comprehensive coverage of a representative comarca, the Conca de Barbera), and a large inventory of saints' cults exists for Navarre. The parochial dedications of Galicia have been collated by Prof. James d'Emilio of the University of South Florida.
Successor countries of the former Yugoslavia. Prof. Neven Budak and colleagues, including Dr Stanko Andric, have begun work on compiling the parochial dedications of Croatia. Discussions have begun with a view to making a similar start in The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. TASC is associated with the project, 'Christianity in the Balkans', at the Centre for Balkan Studies, Belgrade, Serbia, and Dr Graham Jones has computerised some pilot material for Kosovo.
Republic of Georgia. Collaboration with colleagues in the Georgian Academy of Sciences centres around the development of the GIS-based survey, Sacred Places of Georgia, compiled by Dr Medea Abashidze, Secretary of the Commission for Historical Sources, whose project, like TASC, is an associate of the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative.
new book information
SAINTS OF EUROPE
Studies Towards a Survey of Cults and Culture
Edited by Graham Jones
Dedications of churches, and a range of other religious locales in honour of saints, angels and the Godhead, are universal across Europe. Together with the celebration of heavenly patrons in the names of wells, bells, villages and towns, feast- and fair-days, even rivers and mountains, they offer an unparalleled basis for the systematic, localised study of cultural history – and much else. Whether ecclesiastical (a church of St Andrew, for example), secular (a Michaelmas fair) or superstititious (St John’s Eve bonfires), such evidence can provide insights into contemporary belief systems, customary practices, processes of cultural change, politics, art history, architecture, anthropology, and the evolution of landscape and settlement, from the oldest periods of Christianity to the present day.
The Trans-national Database and Atlas of Saints’ Cults seeks to put these studies on a scientific footing, and to build what has never before been attempted: an international inventory of religious devotion at the most local level, comprehensively recording instances of dedication in every town and village, every church – and at every period. This book gathers for the first time data and discussion of the sources for dedications across large areas of Europe and beyond. The authors are scholars working in a number of disciplines, but sharing an expertise in religious history and culture.
The book contains sixteen essays, ranging geographically from Iceland to Egypt and from Louisiana to Finland. Graham Jones himself introduces with a general, theoretical piece and offers a study of dedications in Catalunya. A useful aspect of the book is its ability to offer English-language introductions to the study of regions of medieval Europe which are rarely covered by English writers, such as Slavonia, Karelia and Transylvania. Each essay offers an excellent review of the historiography of an area, always in footnotes but sometimes also in appendices. Medieval Europe had a unified culture in its overall acceptance of Christianity and many local saints became international figures (such as Oswald of Northumbria); this book is a contribution to the modern understanding that there is such a thing as ‘European culture’.
Graham Jones Diverse Expressions, Shared Meanings: Surveying Saints in the Context of ‘European Culture’, 1–28; Charles Caspers and Peter Jan Margry Saints’ Cults and Pilgrimage Sites in the Netherlands, 29–42; Maria Crãciun and Carmen Florea The Cult of Saints in Medieval Transylvania, 43–68; Stanko Andric Possibilities of a Parish-by-Parish Survey: The Case of Slavonia, 69–74; Helmut Flachenecker Researching Patrocinia in German-Speaking Lands, 75–91; Michael Costen Pit-falls and Problems: Sources for the Study of Saints’ Cults in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, 92–102; Margaret Cormack Evidence for the Cult of Saints in Iceland, 103; Bart Minnen Dedications of Churches and Benefices in Northern France and the Low Countries, 113–114; Paolo Golinelli The Geography of Sacred Places in the Diocese of Bologna (Italy) in 1300: Cults of the Countryside between the Influences of History and Popular Religion, 115–131; Rodger Payne Saints of Europe in the New World: a Note on the Evidence in South Louisiana, 132–134; Irina Tcherniakova Churches and Monasteries on the Shores of Lake Onego, Karelia, 135–170; Youhanna Nessim Youssef Pilgrimage Sites and Patronal Cults in Coptic Egypt, 171–184; Marie Rowlands The Patronal Dedications of Churches in England and Wales: The Roman Catholic Contribution, 185–198; Jukka Korpela The Patronal Saints of the Medieval Finnish Churches and Altars, 199–209; Graham Jones Comparative Research Rewarded. Religious Dedications in England, Wales and Catalunya, 210-260; Susan Pearce Saintly Cults in South-Western Britain: A Review, 261–279.
ISBN 1 900289 57 1, £35 retail.
Shaun Tyas / Paul Watkins Publishing, 1 High Street, Donington, Lincolnshire, PE11 4TA.
Tel: 01775 821542. E-mail: email@example.com
The strength of TASC lies in its partners and associates (corresponding institutes and scholars). Additional workers are welcome in the vineyard, whatever their field of interest. Please join us at our next Colloquium.
TASC's present Director, Graham Jones, will be delighted to hear from anyone interested. His e-Mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org