The focus of the PhD project is on the cult of Willibrord, an Anglo-Saxon monk now famous as ‘the apostle of the Frisians’. The wealth of sources, both textual and material, and the reputation of their creators make his cult an interesting case study to investigate the role of matter in Christian devotion and the debates it caused. Alcuin (c. 800), one of the leading scholars at the court of Charlemagne, wrote a vita of Willibrord, both in prose and verse. Alcuin was involved in some fierce controversies regarding Adoptionism and iconoclasm. This raises the question if and how questions about the nature of Christ and the intermediary role of images had repercussions on Alcuin’s ideas about saints’ cults and the uses of relics to mediate the divine.
The PhD-student will compare Alcuin’s texts with the work of Thiofrid of Echternach (1081-1110), who wrote several saint’s lives, among which a prose and verse life of Willibrord, sermons, the text inscribed on what supposedly had once been Willibrord’s abbot’s staff, and, last but not least, the Flowers Scattered over the Graves of the Saints.1 Of particular interest is the latter text, according to some scholars the only medieval treatise that tries to define the nature of relics (Ferrari 2005), making use of
Aristotelian logic. This raises the question why Thiofrid wrote this text. Did he respond to contemporary anxieties regarding relic piety? What was the impact of his scholarly method, and how does his work relate to contemporary discussions on the Eucharist, another hotly debated theme concerning sacred matter?