Tag Archives: Cistercians

Cistercian architecture a joy to behold: Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds


Folks, I have been a bad, bad, blogger: not posting much lately, I know.

I offer in my defense the following proof that I have been using my time wisely and productively, on a two-week visit to England that my wife Sharon and I are now halfway through.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of visiting an old and surprisingly mostly intact Cistercian Abbey here in Leeds (where I have been attending sessions at the International Medieval Congress and Sharon has been taking day trips to Thirsk–home base of the late lamented James Herriott–and medieval York).

The Abbey is called Kirkstall, founded in 1152, and you can get a small taste of how amazing it is from the following images. They reveal buildings largely unchanged from their first construction in the 1150s, though some sections are “late” (i.e. later 12th or 13th c.) and there are minor Victorian and later restorations of a few sections damaged in the vicissitudes of subsequent centuries.You’ll get a sense of why the 19th-century romantics flipped over this place, painting it repeatedly (sez Wikipedia: “The picturesque ruins have been drawn and painted by artists such as J.M.W. Turner, Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman.”)

Here are a few more of the 150+ pix I took while there: Continue reading

Can the study of history have value for the church? Reflections after the Kalamazoo congress


A few reflections on my experience at Medieval Congress 2010, dictated as I drove from Kalamazoo to Midway Airport (through Michigan Wine Country–and stopping at a few tastings!) to return to the Twin Cities:

Sitting in that last session [where I heard the paper “The Beauty of the Person in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas,” by Margaret I. Hughes of Fordham Univ] reminds me again of the apparent integrity and usefulness of Thomistic moral categories and moral analysis (this first came across me at the conference in Rebecca DeYoung’s session on vainglory).

I’m aware always of David Steinmetz’s off-handed dismissal, in a class one day, of virtue ethics as something, as I understood him, inherently Pelagian. But I think again that there’s a high value in an anatomizing of the heart as an ultimately spiritual as well as intellectual discipline, and I think Aquinas works in that mode do many other ethical thinkers in the medieval period . . . and as do the penitential manuals and so on and so forth.

Do they always do it well or in ways we can appropriate today? I’m sure they don’t. But to examine closely our personalities, who we are as moral beings, how we are tempted, how we sin, and how we recover from sins and become purified through a life-long process of sanctification—there is great value in this; it’s a value that was captured in the Methodist movement, has been captured by the Pietists, the Puritans . . . It seems it’s inherently and faithfully biblical and worthy of further study. Continue reading

Peering into the cloister: Where shaving was accompanied by psalm-singing and bloodletting was more frequent than bathing


Learning about medieval monasticism is a joy, not a chore, with the beautiful and engaging book I reviewed last summer for the Christianity Today history blog:

Peering into the Cloister

Where shaving was accompanied by psalm-singing and bloodletting was more frequent than bathing.

by Chris Armstrong

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Last week was a good one: we spent it at our friends’ Wisconsin cabin, enjoying swimming, boating, fishing, tubing, and even a close encounter with a bald eagle.

What made the week even better was the book I took with me to relax with on the dock as our kids swam. This was Christopher Brooke’s The Age of the Cloister: The Story of Monastic Life in the Middle Ages (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist/HiddenSpring, 2003).* A few samples:

The razors for shaving were kept by one of the monks under the chamberlain’s jurisdiction, locked in a box in the cloister near the door to the dormitory. At the appointed time he organized a group of monks in two rows in the cloister, one row to shave, the other to be shaven, and the task was performed to the accompaniment of a psalm. (79) Continue reading

Getting an “Inkling” of the medieval world


My forthcoming book Medieval Wisdom for Today’s Christians will use C S Lewis and “the Inklings” (including Tolkien, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers, and by extension others such as G K Chesterton) as guides to a usable medieval past. This is a good thing, because I myself am not a medievalist! So I’m having to do a LOT of reading on the period, and it’s good to have guides on this sort of journey. I’ve also traveled to the gargantuan Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo (and hope to do so soon again). Yesterday I re-posted my anticipatory Christianity Today history blog post on my first trip to that conference (“The monks did it: Mining medieval resources“). This is my follow-up to that post.

Oh, and, in case you’re interested, here are some other posts dealing with the same theme of “the Inklings and the medieval”: A piece on how Lewis, Charles Williams, and Dorothy Sayers were all inspired (in very different ways) by the great medieval poet Dante Alighieri. A piece on the medievalist work and thought of G K Chesterton. A posting of the summary of the introductory chapter from my Medieval Wisdom book proposal. A consideration of how the “Inklings” hated modernity and used medieval ideas against modern malaises. A summary of the medieval historian Norman Cantor’s assessment of C. S. Lewis as medievalist.

Now to the post at hand . . .

Getting an “Inkling” of the Medieval World

How to excavate a usable medieval past.

by Chris Armstrong | June 3, 2009

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Well, I promised to report back on the Kalamazoo Congress on Medieval Studies, and so I will, at least for a moment before turning to another set of lenses on a “usable medieval past.”

In a word, the congress was overwhelming. With over 3,000 scholars and over 600 sessions (averaging 3+ papers each) stuffed into a few days, many of them on topics very esoteric and technical, my head was swimming. Navigating the sessions became an exercise in close reading and careful exegesis of the program-book. Fortunately, more often than not I did manage to hit pay-dirt. Continue reading

Summary of chapter 7: Heart religion as a medieval tradition


Charles Williams was captivated by Dante Alighieri’s belief that he had been led to salvation by a young woman with whom he had become infatuated with when he was a boy. From Dante’s vision of Beatrice, Williams elaborated a “romantic theology.” Chesterton discovered a similar romantic dynamic in the life of “God’s troubadour,” Francis of Assisi. Lewis described his conversion as the surprising discovery of joy. Each of these writers was drawing on a distinctively medieval tradition of affective theology, exemplified especially in such late-medieval mystics as Julian of Norwich. Continue reading