Summer Postcard: Crusade Historians in England and Denmark

Ceiling Frescoes at Ringsted Abbey, Denmark

Ceiling Frescoes at Ringsted Abbey, Denmark

During the second half of June, Fordham Faculty Member Nicholas Paul and PhD candidate Christopher Rose to their respective research projects concerning the history of the crusades to conferences in England and Denmark. You can read more about their adventures, which involved the headquarters of a crusading military order, royal Danish castles, and viking ships, below. 

St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell

St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell

Medieval Material Religion at St. John’s Gate

From June 21-2 specialists in a variety of different types of medieval material culture met in London for a workshop entitled Medieval Material Religion. The conference was hosted by the AHRC funded project “Bearers of the Cross: Material Religion in the Crusading World, 1095-c.1300” led by Dr William Purkis of the University of Birmingham. The conference venue was St. John’s Gate, since about 1140 the site of the headquarters of the crusading military order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. Taken from the order at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, the site fulfilled a variety of functions, including as the home of the Master of the Revels, a coffeehouse, a publishing house, and a pub called The Jerusalem Tavern. Finally, after the establishment of the modern (Anglican) Order of St. John by royal charter in 1888, the gate and some other surviving parts of the medieval priory were given to the order. Today they act as the Order’s headquarters and the Museum of the Order of St. John.

Dr. Nicholas Paul in the Council Room at St. John's Gate

Dr. Nicholas Paul in the Council Chamber at St. John’s Gate

Today, the Museum of the Order has a large collection of medieval objects, including hundreds of coins, documents, and other materials related to Jerusalem and the crusades. Clearly, this was an ideal site for a conference about the crusades and material religion. Papers were presented seminar-style in the Council Chamber of the order, with portraits of the Order’s Grand Masters and its royal patrons looking down. Presenters included some of the leadings authorities on medieval religion, the crusades, and material culture. They discussed the roles that material things (including architecture, relics, and objects encountered on crusade) could play in religious culture, and in particular in shaping the experiences of medieval lived religion. Dr. Paul’s paper considered the value attached to sacred relics brought back to Europe from the Holy Land. Could they mean different things to different communities? How did the lay aristocracy, obsessed as they were with holding and possessing land and rights in different ways, understand this special type of possession?

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You can find more details about the London workshop here.


Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East Conference 2016 , Odense Denmark

Following the workshop in London, Dr. Paul and a group of other participants from the Workshop moved on to the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East Conference in Odense, Denmark. The Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East (SSCLE) conference meets every four years, usually in locations associated with the history of the crusades. Having met in Israel (Jerusalem), Turkey (Istanbul), France (Avignon), and Spain (Cáceres), the conference moved to Denmark. From the twelfth century onwards, Danish kings and nobility were leading participants in the so-called “northern crusades” in the Baltic region. Although it is not usually seen this way, crusading is in fact central to Danish national mythology as the Danish flag (“Dannebrog”, the oldest national flag in existence), was believed to have fallen from heaven during the battle of Lindanise, as King Valdemar II participated in the crusader conquest of pagan Estonia. In the last thirty years, Danish scholars, most prominently the conference organizers Kurt Villads Jensen and Torben K. Nielsen, have been among the most active historians of the crusade movement, showing how Denmark and Scandinavia were part of the much wider crusade movement.

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PhD student Christopher Rose prepares for a medieval feast at the SSCLE dinner at Nyborg castle in Denmark

The SSCLE conference features five days of parallel sessions touching on all aspects of the history of the crusades and the crusading frontier. Among the presenters was Fordham PhD candidate Christopher Rose, who presented a paper showing the relationship between an Old French narrative text composed in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in the middle of the thirteenth century and the powerful Ibelin family. The conference featured many events introducing participants to Denmark’s medieval heritage including a day trip to some of the best painted churches around Denmark and to the Vikings ship museum in Roskilde. The last night of the conference saw a dinner held at Nyborg castle, the oldest royal castle in Denmark.


All in all it was a very successful conference, and an excellent opportunity to meet with colleagues and discuss the state of our field in a stimulating and enjoyable environment.

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