St. Robert in his Time

Over 30 people met on the afternoon of the 14th July to hear four academics describe their research into the ‘High Medieval Period’ and how this threw light on the life of St Robert.  A short report from the event can be downloaded here.

The sessions can be summarised as follows:

Hazel Blair’s PhD studies, where she introduced us to three hagiographies of St Robert (hagiographies are saints’ lives, written posthumously to promote the Saint). Through an interactive discussion she helped the group to recognise different nuances and purposes behind the way that St Robert’s life was presented for subsequent generations.  Hazel's blog about the event, including links to other areas of research in the field, can be found here.

Dr Ruth Slater then described the nature of healing miracles claimed for the saints of the High Middle Ages. Whilst she did not draw directly on texts concerning St Robert (of which there is only general comment about healings) her talk illuminated the way in which the tombs of saints such as Robert were regularly visited for all sorts of illnesses and ailments.

Dr Laura Slater provided an intriguing insight into the connection between the Holy Land and sites such as St Robert’s cave – was it truly fashioned on the traditional site of the temptations of Jesus? The desire to recreate both the life and physical context of Jesus life provided a powerful image and opportunity for the Christian to show their own dedication when a pilgrimage to the Holy Land itself proved either too dangerous or too costly (or both) for most people.

Finally, Professor Lindy Grant described the contemporaries of St Robert and the influences that could have been significant in his own life, including the widespread belief (as has been common in many different periods of the Christian Church) that the end of the world was approaching! Notwithstanding, Lindy described the repeated efforts of people like St Robert to return to the simple life of the early Christians in varying degrees of solitude and in service to the poor and needy, only to find the Church then (over-)organising these efforts toward simplicity, thus resulting in enrichment and laxness and encouraging the cycle to repeat itself!

An interesting question and answer session followed – why was St Robert never formally canonised, and did that make a difference? What about the healing miracles that Robert performed – are the specific examples in the medieval texts? And, what’s the evidence about the journey’s people made to visit St Robert?