Historical Society Spring Speaker Starts Off Dark

Professor Lauren Mancia at Whitby Abbey Ruins in England. / Courtesy of Lauren Mancia

Professor Lauren Mancia, the Historical Society’s first speaker of the spring semester, lectured on medieval history on Feb. 21 in Boylan Hall.

Although she hoped her lecture would interest students who have not taken a course with her, the ideal goal for the professor was to help students and the historical society “in understanding non-resource histories.”

Non-resource history refers to lost records in the Dark Ages, most of which are probably incomplete or provided as an exclusive copy.

It is these sources that Mancia is collecting, as a specialist of the 11th-12th century and of monastic lifestyles. She is studying with the help of a fellowship to complete a book, for which she is currently studying what the medieval monks truly desired as a community of people.

Mancia is starting her studies around the era when people started developing “issues of sense of self, perception of what we deserve, origins of capitalism, and dealing with different people,” she said.

Professor Lauren Mancia comparing the size of a personal prayer book of monks. /
Courtesy of Lauren Mancia

In a world where a monastery defined education until at least the 12th century, Mancia’s lecture focused primarily on an abbot named John from a church tucked away in a city called Fécamp in Northern France.

The lecture painted John as a figure who helped develop the interior self and is known to historians for revising the same treaty three times. He also published a small collection of prayers with referential diagrams, different from the Bible most Christians and Catholics use today.

Many of the diagrams include chain sequences and some are even read from the bottom up, which Mancia showed and translated in one slide to show how the eyes would ascend on the page as a monk would read.

One prayer talked about maintaining heat from the prayer, meant to invoke passion from a monk as well as honor the architecture of a church. Warming rooms were always closest to a church, making the heat a bit of a play on words as well as a requirement.

A notable difference for Mancia between the churches back then and those today also included the type of service, which she said was an audience-inclusive activity that had to do with a multi-sensical devotion to God.

Professor Lauren Mancia in a library archive in Metz looking at a manuscript. /
Courtesy of Lauren Mancia

In certain liturgies, Christ would be removed from the cross for three days and hidden away, and Icarus would not be allowed for the monks so long as he was not on the cross.

John of Fécamp is also different from other abbots in the sense that he dealt with the commercial revolution. At one point he had taken a trip to England, which according to Mancia also highlights the “movement” of the coming age.

Ultimately, what Mancia said she looked forward to was going through the archives. They are not in chronological order, but Mancia said the archives were essential to her research. For now, she is currently getting ready to leave the country to continue her studies.

In the meantime, the Historical Society will continue introducing various speakers of different subjects and is getting ready to release a publication in the coming weeks with submissions from students in the history, classics and art history departments.

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