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2015 Saturday 25th April. Talk by Lynda McGuigan on The Cult of the Bull and Pictish Symbol Stones.
2014 October 30th. Richard Ingham’s ensemble Strangeness and Charm and the Book of Deer Music Suite he composed.
2010 February 5TH. “18TH Century Perceptions of the Vikings in North East Scotland” by Dr Clare Downham.
2009 JULY 22nd and 23rd. “Cultural Icons of Medieval Scotland” Conference at Aberdeen University, Kings College, Aberdeen
2015 Saturday 25th April. Talk by Lynda McGuigan on The Cult of the Bull and Pictish Symbol Stones. in Kemp Hall, Old Deer.
Pictish Symbol stones have been the focus of many scholarly studies since the nineteenth century, yet our understanding of the Pictish Symbols is still limited. New research was carried out at the University of Liverpool by PhD student Lynda McGuigan. Part of Lynda’s research focused on the way in which early Iron Age cult was appropriated in order to legitimise political power in the north east of Scotland during the early mediaeval period. Lynda’s work offered new insights into the use of the symbols particularly those found in Aberdeenshire. Lynda had already given this paper at the University of Liverpool and also at the University of Aberdeen and now we have had the benefit of it locally at the Kemp Hall, Old Deer. A fascinating talk with a lively discussion afterwards.
2014 October 30th. Richard Ingham’s ensemble Strangeness and Charm performed a suite of jazz music which he had composed specifically for the Book of Deer. This took place at the Blue Lamp, Aberdeen.
Strangeness & Charm
Inspired by the extraordinary tenth century Aberdeenshire portable gospel book, Richard Ingham leads an evening of plainsong, reels and electronic soundscapes: a sonic rollercoaster, with bells. The performance features the band Strangeness & Charm, with Richard Ingham (saxophone, whistles, bass clarinet, wind synthesiser), Maarten Verbraeken (trumpet, flugelhorn), Fraser Burke (keyboards, accordion), Kenny Irons (bass) and Andy James (percussion).
The Book of Deer twelve part suite, commissioned by the Book of Deer Project, creates musical images of the book itself, the early monastery in Deer, and the local working community. Movements include The Light of Columba, Cathal’s Banquet, St Drostan at Deer, This Splendid Little Book, Song of the River –bend, Charlie’s Rant, Aikey Brae, A Prayer for the Soul of the Wretch Who Wrote It, A Monastery Among the People, As Far as the Birch Tree, Dancing in the Margin and Still Shining.
The Book of Deer is one of Scotland’s most important manuscripts, equally famous for its gospel extracts and for the Gaelic insertions written two centuries later. These insertions give an insight into land grants and the workings of society in North East Scotland at the time, and are the earliest surviving examples of Gaelic literature in Scotland.
‘…composer Richard Ingham’s rumbustious take on Scottish traditional music, Mrs Malcolm, Her Reel.’ (Scotsman).
‘…Ingham’s potent saxophone, intensifying the poignancy of this species of Highland lament to searing effect.’ (Herald).
‘…Richard Ingham’s Traditions Old and New, the pipes’ plangent lament joined by fiddle and accordion, then by a stirring heterophony of reed voicings.’ (Scotsman)
images can be found here
2010 February 5TH. “18TH Century Perceptions of the Vikings in North East Scotland” by Dr Clare Downham. This Seminar was held in the Aberdeen University Chaplaincy, Old Aberdeen. Doors opened at 3pm for registration and light refreshments and the talk started at 3 30.
Clare completed her PhD at Cambridge in 2003 and held a postdoctoral scholarship at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. Since September 2004 she has been a lecturer in Celtic in the School of Language and Literature in Aberdeen University. She also has teaching duties in the department of History; and her current teaching responsibilities include Vikings!, Vikings in Scotland, AD 795 – 1266 and Vikings in Britain and Ireland. At present Clare is working on the Viking Age in Ireland and Britain. She has given lectures at various locations in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Norway. In 2009 she presented papers in Aberdeen, Cambridge, Reykjavik and Utrecht and organized the highly successful Conference “Cultural Icons of Medieval Scotland” in Aberdeen last July.
The author of many articles, Clare has also authored a monograph “ Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014” which attracted praise such as “Clare Downham should be congratulated particularly for her deftness in handling exceptionally difficult source material and the clarity she brings to its interpretation” – this in the Journal of the Historical Association.
2009 JULY 22nd and 23rd. “CULTURAL ICONS OF MEDIEVAL SCOTLAND” CONFERENCE AT ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY Kings College Aberdeen
Here is Louise Yeoman’s excellent summing up of the Conference: Icons of the North
I often try to pitch history programmes to people who think history ought to be modern and ‘relevant’. They love 20th century history with its wars and familiar newsreels and sound recordings, but sometimes ‘relevant’ ends up being just another word for ‘safe’ or ‘well-worn’: history that doesn’t take us very far from home. Sometimes I don’t want things for their ‘relevance’, I want things for their wonderful otherness. That’s the kind of thing that our medieval history can give us.
But what is this strange and wonderful otherness that I’m talking about? In the ‘Miracula of St Margaret’, a book of the miracles of the famous Queen of Scotland, there’s a tale that really stuck in my mind because of the way it upset my preconceptions. It told how the saint intervened on behalf of one of the local Dunfermline criminals, William, a carpenter who had carried out a rape. He was forced to undergo a trial by ordeal: carrying a red hot iron and then having his hand bound up – so if it blistered, he was guilty and if it didn’t he was innocent. Knowing he was guilty, he prayed to the saint to help him. She appeared, blew on his hand and healed the burn – so he was found innocent, and he was so grateful he promised her he would go on crusade to the Holy Land. When you think about it and the whole story is full of fascinating and alien assumptions. How could people think that making someone carry a red-hot iron would show their guilt or innocence? Did people really believe that saints could cure people by appearing in their dreams and blowing on their hands? Why is a saint helping a guilty man when she knows he’s guilty? Why doesn’t she smite him? Was his hand really healed? Why did he think going on crusade was the right way to say ‘thank you’ to Margaret? How strange!
Yet it’s also familiar and human: we can all understand a guilty man desperately praying, hope beyond hope, for supernatural aid. Part of this story is something we can instantly relate to. We meet people we can recognise, yet they’re doing and saying and believing things that require great leaps of imagination for us to understand, and we have much less to go on to bridge that gap. Our written sources become increasingly fragmentary and difficult to interpret, and then they don’t exist at all. But that doesn’t mean the history stops, there is archaeology and material culture too, telling their stories, but getting at those stories requires greater ingenuity and there is much we can’t know because we have so few survivals from very early times. Instead of a wealth of films, newsreels, photos, we have a few iconic images and texts, and you’ll often see and hear the same ones appearing in nearly every history programme, because they’re what we’ve got – we have to work with them, and yet the fresh insights into what even these most famous pieces tell us never stop.
Look at how much we can glean about the stone of destiny, which looks just like a big lump of stone with a handle attached. How do we begin to elicit knowledge from such a blank page? Ewan Campbell has given the stone a wonderful life story, beginning as a link to the power and prestige of Rome, perhaps as an altar stone in a Roman fort like Carpow, then becoming a much-loved focus of devotion perhaps in a Pictish monastery, and showing that long before Edward I’s task force grabbed her, ‘Destiny’ the stone had led a long and complex life. You wouldn’t think a stone could speak, but in the right hands it can.
Metal might not seem more promising than lumps of stone, yet Gareth Williams of the British Museum has opened up the Skaill hoard to us, the largest silver hoard found in Scotland, showing us how in the pre-modern world, connections by sea were of the utmost importance. The Orkneys, where the hoard was found, sat at a busy sea-crossroads in Viking times and silver could come from very far away, down trade routes reaching into the Baltic and from there into the great rivers of Russia, all the way to the Muslim caliphate in Baghdad. Susan Young has looked at the earlier 8th-9th century St Ninian’s Isle hoard from Shetland showing us the wealth and sophistication of our almost forgotten Pictish church, so often obscured by our focus on Iona. This treasure too shows us something unexpected to non-experts: the extensive cross-over between metalworking designs and manuscript art: the way Pictish church artists working in a variety of media all manage to ‘sing off the same hymn sheet’ of design.
This crossover take us back to Pictish stones. You can almost think of
the great Pictish cross slabs as manuscripts in stone – art works that couldn’t have been produced except by people deeply engrossed in their gospel books.
I still remember the shock of realisation when I looked at the Nigg stone in that little church in the North East and was told what I was looking at was one of the earliest depictions of the mass – two of the desert fathers Saints Paul and Anthony with a bird bringing them the bread to the celebrate the eucharist. Now Pictish art historian Jane Geddes has shown us even more about Paul and Anthony: those Pictish ideals of the perfect monk, with her interpretations of the St Vigeans stones. Here they are again contrasted with another character, the baddie of the piece Simon Magus. The flying magician of legend is shown on the stone plummeting to his death after apostolic prayers shot him down. This instructive work of art shows us both what to do and ‘what not to do’ – pagan bull sacrifices were also right out – please stick to praying in a seemly and non-airborne fashion and leave the prize Aberdeen Angus and spell book at home! Joking aside, the St Vigeans stones take us into an unexpected world of magic and wonder and yet we still have a place to stand as Scots to comprehend them. We’re part of a culture that after over a thousand years still knows some of these stories and can recognise them. We’re beginning to realise what we can know about the Picts.
When I was growing up the popular image of them was still of a mysterious pagan people who all painted themselves blue and spoke a language like Basque and had matrilineal succession, so it was reasoned that they must have had strong women! In my own lifetime that’s been washed away – some of it by people here in this room like Alex Woolfe. We’ve seen a new vision of Pictishness emerge – Fortriu has moved north to Moray, the mysterious language has disappeared to be replaced by a less romanised form of British, and we’ve started to think much more of our Pictish church and its monasteries. It’s been one of the major achievements of Scottish historical scholarship in recent times .
Alex began this morning by urging us to think of our medieval ‘icons’ as things which help us focus the mind, giving not answers but questions and this is exactly what I think Raghnall Ó Floinn has done, building on David Caldwell’s work on the Monymusk reliquary – the tiny gorgeously-worked little silver casket you see when you enter the National Museum of Scotland’s ‘Kingdom of the Scots’ exhibition. It was formerly accepted that some of relics of Columba once lay in this little Pictish-style art-work, and that it was the Breccbennach, the