Meg Boulton completed her AHRC funded PhD on The Conceptualisation of Sacred Space in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria in the Sixth-Ninth Centuries, in the History of Art Department at the University of York in 2013, working with Dr Jane Hawkes. She is an early career scholar currently affiliated with the History of Art Department at York as a researcher, and working as a freelance lecturer teaching multiple aspects of Art and Architectural History, Visual Culture and Museology between York, London and Oxford. She has recently co-edited a volume on ‘The Art, Literature and Material Culture of the Middle Ages’ with Jane Hawkes and is currently researching the role of microcosmic architecture and the visualisation of Jerusalem in the early church.
“The Foundations Were Laid”: (re)considering the symbolic significance of spolia in Anglo-Saxon material culture
(Re)use in Anglo-Saxon art and architecture is perhaps most readily embodied through the widespread use of spolia across the period; from the reused Roman fabric featured so prominently in Anglo-Saxon churches, to the evocative skeuomorphic forms found in ecclesiastical architectural features and furnishings, to the repeated, iconic form of the stone crosses scattered across the landscape of Anglo-Saxon England; themselves a (re)use and (re)construction of a multivalent symbol that powerfully recalls other places and times – belonging to both the past and the future. The (re)use of stone is a prominent aspect of the discussion of Anglo-Saxon architecture, tied to romanitas, associations of power and institutional identity; however, in its very materiality stone plays with time as well as space, and thus evokes other symbolic significances that have perhaps been neglected in the scholarship to date.
This paper (re)considers the surviving material evidence from the seventh-ninth centuries of use and reuse of stone in architectural and sculptural contexts in Anglo-Saxon England to suggest that such (re)use promotes a sophisticated and nuanced conceptualisation of space and time within this milieu – exploring how spoliated architectonic spaces and structures render time and space, at a point when earthly time was believed to be drawing to a close. Further it suggests that through deliberated and designed use of spolia (in both actual and imagined contexts) stone, in Anglo-Saxon England, creates a complex nexus of sacred spaces which were understood to perform within the overarching structure of the Universal Church, and its eschatological context.