NCS, a final post

First, a request for more information from any who were there. Bizarrely, at least to me, I heard this only at the very end of the conference (from Miglior Acque): apparently Scribe D was identified early in the conference by Estelle Stubbs (here here’s an earlier paper she wrote on this; she is working with Linne Mooney). From what I heard and overheard, he’s John Marchaunt, who was an associate of John Carpenter (about whom John Brewer wrote a book in 1856), which ties him in with various London book-lending circles as well as the big literary projects. But this is all second hand, so chime in if you heard about this? It perhaps doesn’t have the same thrill as naming Adam Scriveyn as Adam Pinkhurst, presumably because no lyrical lament remains about Marchaunt, but this remains a very big deal. The full evidence won’t come out in print until they publish a book, it seems, so we’ll have to wait for a full presentation of the evidence. The possible implications here for learning about how books actually circulated, and connecting this to actual scribal production, are fascinating . . . . (It’s a good thing I didn’t name the blog “Scribe D.”)

Second: most of the panels I gravitated towards appeared in the threads on “Religious Practices, Institutions, and Theology” and “Insular Multi-lingualisms.” (Go figure–see an earlier post for more on what I heard.) The threads provided a neat way to construct a conference, though I’m not sure it matters as much for attendees during the conference–I noticed that I attended these threads more than others only after the conference was over–as it does for the organizers beforehand: using them meant that there weren’t three panels at the same time on an explicitly similar topic. That they were also noted in the program was interesting but only secondarily relevant, to me at least.

Cain and Abel

Kudos to the organizers. The visit to romanesque cloister at Chiesa della Santissima Trinità e di Santa Mustiola in Torri (also see here) was a real treat. The capital on the left is one of a series of Old Testament scenes. And I’ve been to I think four NCS conferences now, and even by the high standard of NCS receptions (anyone remember the reception in the Greek temple at the Getty in 1996? with the museum open?), the dinners were wonderful. Actually, food in general was wonderful–I really miss the ricciarelli. Maybe it was inadvertent, but not having a seated lunch meant that socially there was a lot more mixing than otherwise. The final dinner was one of the most outstanding venues I’ve ever been to. Thanks again to the organizers for their work.

St. Catherine's head
The head of St. Catherine of Siena

Finally, the head of St. Catherine I think will remain for a long time about the most arresting artifact of medieval religious life I’ve ever seen. It’s above the altar in a chapel off of the nave of the Basilica di S. Domenico in Siena. It is actually kind of hard to see: it’s in the reliquary to the right, and behind a big metal grill, about 20 feet or so from an altar rail to keep worshippers away (no doubt they are worried that some disturbed worshipper may repeat what happened to the Pieta in Rome in 1972–and this would be much less reparable). In a case next to the side chapel are more reliquaries, one containing her thumb and another holding the chains she used to discipline herself. In another chapel dedicated to her lay followers under the old hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, across from the Duomo, are other objects of meditation and devotion, including more whips hanging off of the wall (I was told this later; they looked to me like large rosaries). I understand that medieval Christianity is about bodies, beginning with Christ’s body; and that we are today greatly divorced from the medieval experience with bodies–birth, death, and all in between; and that our culture today fetishizes the clothing and hair and seeing and touching “stars”; and that suffering is a way of imitating Christ and his saints who also suffered. All of this I get. The devotional preservation of her head remains astonishing and, I confess, just a bit ghoulish.


Author: Derrick Pitard

I teach medieval and early modern literature, the history of the language, introductions to literature, Latin, and writing at Slippery Rock University.

3 thoughts on “NCS, a final post”

  1. Ooh, you beat me to the “relics” post (although I have a modern relic to give it a twist…you’ll see)! But hey, you saved me the trouble of having to scan my own photo of St. Catherine’s head — I link to you instead. And ghoulish, indeed, even from those of us who should/do expect such objects.

    And thanks for the shout-out to the 96 NCS in LA. I was a mere graduate assistant at that conference, but I still think it was the best!

  2. Yeah, I was there for Estelle’s paper. Indeed it was huge –to me at least. It didn’t help that her title didn’t indicate the topic. But in a way it’s more exciting than Pinkhurst cos he’s, you know, Scribe D, and we’re finally building up this big body of knowledge. It all seems pretty convincing to me but there is also the big backlash brewing –not quite sure what’s behind it, but Fletcher’s (pre-published, RES) “reply to Dr Horobin” gives a taste. Hey “gladly wolde he” I’m happy to have found your blog!

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