Early Medieval Stone Sculpture

Early Medieval Stone Sculpture

The study of early medieval inscribed and sculpted stone monuments is a vibrant and interdisciplinary sub-discipline of early medieval archaeology in its own right (for a review of previous research on Anglo-Saxon material, see Cramp 2010). In recent years, studies have drawn upon a range of theoretical perspectives from anthropology to art history to interpret stone monuments in rich and sophisticated ways (e.g. Hawkes 2003a). A firm basis for considering stone monuments as commemorative technologies is provided by those studies that move beyond the typology, styles and iconography to consider the roles of stone sculpture in socio-political discourse (Driscoll 2000). Yet only a few studies have begun to tap the vast potential for more detailed considerations of the complex forms, decorations and material qualities of monuments in combination with the immediate environs and landscape contexts of early medieval stone monuments (e.g. Edwards 2001a & b; Driscoll (et al. 2005; Gondek 2007; 2010).

Early Medieval Stone Crosses as Multimedia Commemorative Programmes.

In Britain at least, many studies have fallen short of their potential for exploring the interconnections between different media used for memory-making by stone sculpture. Certainly the theorised contextual studies of monuments explored for Gotlandic picture stones (e.g. Andrén 1993) and Scandinavian rune-stones (e.g. Andrén 2000) are only beginning to be written. It can be suggested that exploring the interaction between media is a promising yet challenging undertaking. This is because stone crosses and cross-slabs are often incomplete, damaged and eroded. Moreover, crosses are rarely in their original landscape locations, being essentially semi-portable material culture regularly reused in later times.

The Challenge of Studying Early Medieval Stone Crosses

There are also interpretative challenges we face in how to discern their form and decoration and decipher their images and text. Stone crosses are also difficult to interpret since their commemorative functions will often be synonymous with, and deeply entwined with, their other roles in liturgical rituals, judicial and social gatherings and their roles in marking boundaries and routes for those traversing the landscape. Moreover, the associations and uses of crosses could have changed rapidly, accruing new commemorative roles and associations over time (see MacLean 1997: 83) and being co-opted into uses and associations very different from those conceived by their commissioners and creators (Moreland 1999).

Stone Crosses as Commemorative Agents

Despite these challenges, early medieval stone crosses were commissioned and designed to be effective and varied commemorative technologies. In particular, it can be argued that their agency as commemorative material culture drew in part from their ability to harness many different media together with their strategic use of location and landscape settings. Hence, many sculpted stones gained their mnemonic significance and efficacy from the interplay of media, materiality and space, providing a prominent commemorative environment for early medieval secular elites within ecclesiastical and monastic contexts and the wider landscape.

Project Eliseg: the Study of Early Medieval Memory Work

Project Eliseg aims to study three linked aspects of early medieval stone crosses as a commemorative media by:

– Understanding the multimedia characteristics (employing text, stone and mound) of the monument.

– Exploring the cultural biography of the Pillar from its ‘prehistory’ of adopting an early monument as its location, through its initial use in the 9th century, to its ‘reception’ in subsesquent centuries to the present day.

– Investigating the landscape context of a significant early medieval monument that has survived at or close to its original location.