Space/Place in the Medieval Imagination
The following article examines representations of Ireland in the late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Acallam na Senórach, arguing that the author of this work constructs a highly textual version of Irish identity by linking the people of Ireland with their geographic space through the narratives told about both. This way of thinking about Irish identity responds directly to claims made by colonialist texts such as Gerald of Wales’s Topographia Hibernica, which attempted to separate the people of Ireland from their land in order to justify the Anglo-Norman invasion. The Acallam is notable for its self-conscious approach to collecting and reworking materials from several different textual traditions. Consistently throughout the text, the reader is reminded of the intersections between oral and written, secular and Christian, past and present narratives. By repeating stories in which heroic individuals give their names to geographic features of Ireland – often literally merging their bodies with the land through internment – the Acallam argues for a version of Irish identity in which the stories told about the old heroes are mustered in order to demonstrate the inextricable links between the inhabitants and the physical geography of Ireland, in which place names are textual as well as material. This reading of the Acallam suggests the important roles that colonialism, literary traditions, and geographic space played in the emergence of medieval Irish identities.
This article explores how the Christian community (understood here as a spiritual community, not a geographical one) is represented in Piers Plowman, especially in terms of spatial metaphors, and shows that the poem actually depicts the impossibility of the ideal it supports. Indeed, Christians are depicted as forming a safe and stable community separated from the tumultuous mass of non-Christians, and yet, the boundary between the two groups is also represented as tenuous and ultimately meaningless. This contradiction is symptomatic of the pessimistic outlook Langland had on the society he lived in and ultimately shows what a problematic figure the narrator is, since he does not seem able to live according to the precepts about which he wanted to learn.
The ivory plaque of the Ascension in the collection of the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich has been identified by scholars of the early Middle Ages as one of the most important Christian images of the period. Though it is considered to be formative in the evolution of medieval Christian art, very little scholarship gives more than a passing nod to its significance, and even less has attempted to analyze the meaning of its content and design. This study aims to identify the events and figures present in the work of art through a comparison with canonical and extra-biblical texts, and to locate the symbolic meaning and function of the image as a whole through an interpretation that relies on theories of medieval visuality and pilgrimage. These theories suggest that the gap between the past and the present could be eliminated through the proper arrangement of space, and medieval viewers could become eyewitnesses to important Christological events through a process of symbolic transportation to the Holy Land. Through its composition, its selection of figures, and their gestures, the Munich Ivory of the Ascension implicates the viewer and symbolically transports them to the Mount of Olives to act as witness to the sacred event.