Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 3174
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Hirsh , John C.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Tangled Webs: Weaving and the Supernatural [analysis of burials with bracteates].
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 29, 3 (Spring 1996):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Archaeology Bracteates Grave Goods Supernatural Weaving
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: General
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  • Abstract: This paper takes its cue from Michael Enright's 1990 article on a possible weaving goddess (Früh-mittelalterliche Studien 24:54-70, Tafel I) in which he describes how future research with bracteates will allow the identification of persistent elements of belief and of those which are abandoned. I began to track the "tangled web" of connections, being particularly interested in repercussions for gender roles and whether any supernatural contexts or cultural interplay could give information about real women in history and their relationship to weaving and the supernatural. Beginning with Continental burials accompanied by bracteates, the paper develops a context for possible weavers' graves linked to divination or prophecy as background for comparison to both pre- and post-Christian Anglo-Saxon contexts. In Anglo-Saxon contexts, evidence on weaving swords in female graves with elaborate grave goods is supplemented by more recent work on cremation data. The work of Richards and others on decoration and fmds in cremation urn studies has shown that fmds such as spindle whorls are not sex specific; nevertheless, it seems that both Anglian and Saxon sites confirm a core of ritual practice in which particular grave goods are symbolic of common beliefs. Such symbolic practice may be the Anglo-Saxon reflex or "translation" of the later Continental bracteate burials. The bracteate burials themselves link to major cult sites and identifiable female graves with reinforcing accessories for a context of weaving; the bracteates are "translations" of a Byzantine model (6th-7th cent.) depicting Mary spinning at the Annunciation. The next context examined therefore concerns Christian depictions. The Cœdmon manuscript and the Benedictional of Œthelwold contain rare depictions in Anglo-Saxon Christian culture of supernatural links to weaving. The link for the latter may come from the "Protoevangelium of James," but the tales of Mary spinning have far older seeds nevertheless connected to real women and weaving as a practice. Constas' recent work on Archbishop Proclus of Constantinople (early 5th) argues that his images of the Virgin as textile loom may have been authored by the Empress Pulcheria and her elite weavers. The connection of women in history to weaving and the supernatural is carried back for a final example in Europe, that of the Oseberg burial, seen here as a late reflex of the context set up by weaving goddess bracteates [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
  • Author's Affiliation: Georgetown University
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1996.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
  • Material/Technique :
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