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Visions of heaven at Bristol University

Press release issued: 16 October 2003

Ideas of heaven in the Middle Ages will be the focus of a public lecture at Bristol University on Wednesday, October 22.

Ideas of heaven in the Middle Ages will be the focus of a public lecture at Bristol University on Wednesday, October 22.  Called The Completeness of Heaven in Medieval Thought, the lecture will be given by Emeritus Professor Peter Dronke of the Universities of Cambridge and Florence.

The lecture is part of a two-year research programme, Envisaging Heaven in the Middle Ages, hosted by the University’s Centre for Medieval Studies.  The programme includes several public lectures, delivered by distinguished guest speakers from other universities, and culminates in an international and interdisciplinary conference to be held in July 2004.

Sponsored by the Read-Tuckwell Foundation for the Study of the Afterlife and the Institute for Advanced Studies, the research programme will address such themes as how medieval artists and thinkers envisaged heaven, the relationship between the ideals of heaven and the realities of earth, and how representations of heaven changed in the medieval period.

During the Middle Ages, the reality of heaven was never in serious doubt.  Medieval representations of the cosmos located heaven beyond the spheres of the planets and the fixed stars, and in numerous medieval maps of the world, the earthly paradise was given an exact location in the Far East.  The precise conditions of life after death were also the focus of intense speculation and controversy among medieval writers and thinkers.

Dr Ad Putter, who is co-organising the programme with Dr Carolyn Muessig,  said: “If you’ve ever wanted to find out more about heaven – would like to know, say, what colour of shoes is in fashion there, whether people there have bodies and, if so, what they do (and don’t do) with those bodies – I can recommend the art and literature of the Middle Ages.

“The subject of medieval heaven is a vast one, and serious study of it calls for expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including history and art history, letters, music and theology.  This is why the Centre for Medieval Studies at Bristol University, which brings together medievalists from all relevant disciplines across the Arts Faculty, is so well placed to host a research programme into this fascinating subject.”

The lecture takes place at 2.15 pm in LR1, English Department, 3-5 Woodland Road, Bristol.  Admission is free.

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