• 31 October 2014
  • 6:00 – 6:30 pm
  • British Museum

In his Annals for the year 1188, the English chronicler Roger of Howden (d. 1201) records a vision of a bleeding, crucified Christ appearing in the heavens above Dunstable.  Roger describes the vision as portraying Christ wearing the crown of thorns on the cross, despite the fact that no crucifixion images depicting Christ wearing the crown of thorns can confidently be assigned to England before the thirteenth century. The few extant examples that may have been in existence in Western Europe prior to Louis IX's acquisition of the crown in 1238 are ambiguous, to say the least.  The Bible makes no reference to Christ wearing the crown of thorns after his mocking, and nor does any pre-thirteenth-century Western theologian.

Such images almost certainly did exist in the East, however, and Roger was a crusader. Is it possible that his description of the vision relies on an iconographical innovation that he had seen in the Levant? If so, to what extent might high medieval accounts of visions and apparitions be understood to offer us access to iconographical developments otherwise lost from the art-historical record more generally? This paper will begin to explore the extent to which the written records of apparitions might offer evidence of the influence of visual art on the imagination, and so shed light on specific innovations in the visual arts of twelfth-century Europe.

At the heart of the investigation is a concern for the possible recovery of visual record by textual means. Explicit descriptions of medieval buildings and works of art, such as those found in the writings of Gervase of Canterbury or Abbot Suger, for example, are frequently used (albeit with proper historical-critical awareness) as evidence by medieval art historians. This paper will consider the extent to which texts less-consciously concerned with the description of material images might, nevertheless, offer insights into their origins and nature. Well-known continental figures whose imaginary record might be explored in this context would include Rupert of Deutz, Hildegard of Bingen and Bernard of Clairvaux, but this paper will concentrate on British examples. Amongst these (and besides Roger) instructive insights might be discerned from the accounts of figures such as Godric of Finchale, the Monk of Eynsham, and Christina of Markyate.