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Church Building as Industry in Early Medieval Western Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CHISEL (Church Building as Industry in Early Medieval Western Europe)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

The research project “Church Building as Industry in Early Medieval Western Europe [CHISEL]” intended to interrogate the early medieval ‘construction industry’ with a specific focus on the ecclesiastical workshops responsible for producing masonry buildings in the Early Middle Ages (8th-11th centuries) in Western Europe. Using state-of-the-art analyses of selected religious buildings that survive as standing structures in Spain (Santa María de Melque, Toledo), Portugal (São Frutuoso de Montélios, Braga) and England (St Peter’s Wearmouth, Durham; St Paul’s Jarrow, Durham; St John’s Escomb, Durham; and St Lawrence’s Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire) the overarching aims of the proposal were threefold:
- Firstly, to study the industry of construction of masonry churches through analysis of the building processes, technologies and the material and skills-based investment at selected churches.
- Secondly, to develop an understanding of the architecture as a product in its social and economic context, and to measure its contribution to the early medieval economy.
- Thirdly, to establish a suitable methodology for the analysis of the construction industry at this time across Western Europe.
Although the project has run for only 25% of the planned timetable, progress has been exceptional and the following main activities have been undertaken:
• Background research on all selected case studies and their general context;
• archaeological visits to nearly 20 churches and sites of Roman and Anglo-Saxon date in England;
• analytical drawn survey and archaeological analysis of the churches of Escomb, Wearmouth and Jarrow;
• geological assessment, the cost calculation task and the dissemination of preliminary results have also all been initiated.
As part of the research programme, the experienced researcher (Utrero) has acquired complementary knowledge in the field (mainly relating to Anglo-Saxon architecture); has been trained in new techniques (mainly in GIS/informatics and LiDAR) and methodologies (cost calculation); has researched traditional masonry techniques by visits to current masons workshops; and has interacted with researchers in the host organisation and at others universities (York, Newcastle, Oxford) with common research expertise.
Some of the results obtained so far have been disseminated via peer reviewed publications and different activities, and a plan for publication of further papers in high-impact journals and participation in other activities (scientific seminars and joint publications) has been established.
A combination of traditional and novel methodologies, including architectural survey, archaeological techniques for standing buildings, structural and retrogressive analyses of standing remains (or reverse engineering), historical research, landscape history and archaeology, geology and cost calculations, aimed to achieve a new assessment of Early Medieval church-building technologies. This combined approach offered a unique opportunity to redefine the economy and history of the Middle Ages by taking into account this industry in the context of other industrial sectors, charting the period from a new perspective and transcending the boundaries of traditional research.