« A Self Beyond Death. The Metamorphosis of Seals in Medieval Europe ». The purpose of this essay is to trace the ramifications and implications of a specific ceremony in use at Durham (Northumbria, England) from the late eleventh century onward, wherein the seals of the bishops of Durham were officially destroyed and their remains liturgically offered to St Cuthbert. Cuthbert, a celebrated saint-bishop of the seventh century, was the patron of Durham cathedral where his tomb attracted crowds of pilgrims. By the midfourteenth century, retired episcopal seals were not only broken but reworked into chalices or votive images, all bearing a rhymed inscription which featured the name of the dead bishop and proclaimed that the origin of the object was his seals. So far, very few such cases of seal metamorphosis are known ; they will be analyzed in this paper along lines of enquiry aiming to place them within the context of broader practices Thus, attention is paid to the various manipulations seal-matrices underwent throughout western medieval Europe, and to the relationships between seal-matrices and self such non-sealing utilization seem to have conveyed. The essay also focuses on the place of seals within medieval spirituality and their role in funeral rites. Finally, returning to the seals of Durham, the analysis considers the cult of St Cuthbert, pilgrims to Durham and their signs, episcopal sealing practices, and local death rites. The conclusion advances ideas about the role seals played among the various signs meant to assure the continuing identity of the self, even in the afterworld.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Visual Arts and Performing Arts
- Literature and Literary Theory