Constructed landscapes and social memory: tales of St Samson in early medieval Cornwall
University of Exeter
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space
In this paper I consider the historical geography of place and space within the context of medieval Britain. Through examining the geography invoked within a particular hagiographic account about the life of St Samson, I explore how the medieval 'natural' world is both rendered understandable through its sacred symbolism, and reified as a familiar 'map' of instruction and collective social memory. Following a general discussion of the meaning of medieval hagiographies (which are comprised of curious compilations of factual and imaginative material relating to the 'lives' of saints from an even earlier time), I focus on their role as mediators of cultural identity. It is my premise in this paper that hagiographies are profoundly geographical, and are shot through with environmental metaphors and references to spaces, places, and landscapes. I examine how they both served as crucial tools of religious instruction, and carried geographical coordinates that helped to establish a sense of place. Through instilling local identity and collective memory with references to an imagined landscape of religious order, these saintly legends literally showed people how to experience the familiar landscape that they inhabited.
This is the author's post-print version of an article. The definitive, peer-reviewed and edited version of this article is published in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Volume 20, Number 2 (2002), pp. 231-248. DOI:10.1068/d303
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 20 (2), 2002: pp. 231-248