Constructing community from corpses in Medieval English and Icelandic Literature
Author(s)Kissick, Erin C
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AbstractI argue that the bodies of the dead interred within medieval texts are used as focal points for the communities created within those texts. The most famous textual medieval corpses are the relics of saints as described in hagiographies, relics which, outside of these texts, became the centerpieces of many medieval communities, both religious and secular, as demonstrated by Patrick Geary and Carolyn Walker Bynum. More broadly, material culture scholars such as Howard Williams have shown that the graves of nonsaints played a significant role in the preservation of communal memory. In medieval communities, ancestors and other long-gone ancient communities left barrows and grave mounds, which became used as markers in land charters. More recent dead were buried around or within the church where the relics were housed, so that the living worshippers were unable to segregate themselves from the dead. The dead within a medieval community were welcomed as neighbors, albeit dangerous ones to be embraced at arm's length. Because previous scholarship has primarily taken a historical and sociological perspective, the work of medieval authors reflecting the process of community creation based on the bodies of the dead within text has not yet been explored.