Gresham College Lectures

Pilgrimages, Pandemics and the Past

November 09, 2023 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
Pilgrimages, Pandemics and the Past
Show Notes Transcript

Between us and the medieval men and women who went on pilgrimage there stand many impediments to understanding: the Reformation, the Enlightenment, secularisation.

This lecture will explore how tracing ancient routes on foot, and experiencing travel as people did in an age before trains and cars, can offer insights into the past. But is the sense of being accompanied by ghosts a delusion?

Tom Holland will draw on experiences of reading Chaucer and undertaking pilgrimages during and after the pandemic.

This lecture was recorded by Tom Holland on 7 October 2023 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

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It is absolutely fantastic to actually be inside Gresham College because about two and a half years ago, I came here, um, pressed my nose against the gates only to find that they were locked and dreamed of being inside this gust place. So it, it, it's an absolute thrill, but I, I, I want to begin by talking about, um, a another trip, another kind of walking tour that was, um, it was less, um, abortive than aborted. Uh, and it was, um, a pilgrimage that my brother and I wanted to undertake. Um, early in 2020, this was our plan, um, to go to Stonehenge. Um, and our aim was, um, very overtly political. We wanted to draw attention to what we regarded as a shameful government policy, the construction of a road tunnel, a highly destructive road tunnel through the sacred landscape that surrounds Britain's most celebrated pre-historic monument. So we knew where we wanted to go. We wanted to go to Stonehenge, but of course, there was a problem. Um, where were we going to start our pilgrimage? Now, there's no question. I think that Stonehenge was indeed a place of pilgrimage for people across Britain, and perhaps, uh, even further. Um, and the evidence for this is, uh, provided by Dorrington Walls, which is, um, a settlement about a mile or so from the Stones, um, was inhabited for maybe 50 to a hundred years. And it's been posited that this was a place for the living as opposed to Stonehenge, which served as a place for the dead. And we know that people from across Britain had settled there because, um, the skeletons of animals, particularly pigs, have been found that came from as far afield as Northern Scotland. Now, my brother and I did not want to start in Northern Scotland. That was way too far a, a, a journey. Um, and obviously there was a problem because we had no way of knowing if there were particular locations, say, in Britain, um, from which pilgrims were inspired to travel to Stonehenge. So what we did as, uh, boys who had grown up in Salisbury is that we took inspiration from, um, a prize exhibit in the, the excellent museum in Salisbury. Um, and this is the, so-called Amesbury Archer. Um, so-called from the many arrowhead that were found surrounding, uh, the skeleton when it was discovered on what was then, um, a building site and is now, uh, a, um, cul-de-sac in out of town Amesbury. Uh, now the Amesbury Archer, intriguingly was not from Britain. Um, tests on the teeth. Don't ask me to go into the scientific details, um, reveal that this man, this Amesbury Archer had actually seemed to have come from, um, the Austrian region of the Alps. And so on the assumption that he probably, uh, took ship from the nearest point to the continent, we decided that we would start our pilgrimage from Dover. So this was the plan. We were, we were gonna do it in April, 2020. We were gonna start from Dover, and we were gonna go head to Stonehenge. But then, of course, on the 23rd of March, a certain virus and a certain Prime Minister intervened, and we were unable to do our pilgrimage. And I found myself, I immuned in London with no prospect whatsoever of escaping the Capitol or of tramping the Kent Downs, or of, you know, breathing in the fresh April Air. Um, the weather, as I'm sure all of you will remember, that April, 2020 was kind of tantalizingly beautiful, um, and the more that beautiful day succeeded, beautiful day. So my sense of regret for what might have been for the pilgrimage that I might have undertaken, deepened. And so with my wife, who is in the back, bless her, um, we began to tramp across London, um, going on kind of increasingly extensive walks. And it was as part of a walk that I devised looking at, um, 16th century London, for instance, that we found ourselves pressing our noses to the Bard Gates of Gresham College. Um, but the thi the, the, the, the journeys that I most enjoyed were those that, um, kind of evoked stories, evoked narratives. So, for instance, uh, this one, anyone who has seen 28 days later, where Britain gets overtaken by zombies, and it begins with Killian Murphy waking up in St. Thomas's hospital, finding there's no one there. And walking across a deserted Westminster Bridge will realize how eerie it was to go to Westminster Bridge and see it that empty. Um, we also, uh, followed in the footsteps of the narrator of the War of the Worlds, as he walks from his meeting with David Essex in Putney, uh, all the way to Primrose Hill, where he discovers that the Martians have died, ironically, of a virus. Um, so this, and, and it's full, you know, you, the, the, the description of his journey is so detailed that you can follow it pretty much street by street, uh, and it's full of descriptions such as South Kensington's Tube Station was deserted, very, very eerie. But perhaps the one that moved and unsettled and inspired me most was one that, um, took me to Tall Bit Yard in Suffolk, um, and then down the old Kent Road, uh, and up to Blackheath. And there I had to stop, um, because I had to get all the way back to our house in Brixton. And I yearned to carry on with that walk I yearned to follow the road as it led onwards to Canterbury, a pilgrimage that would've taken me out of London, away from the pandemic hit city, and out into that clear air of Kent that I had hoped to be breathing, um, before the lockdown was imposed. And of course, by following that road to Canterbury, I would've been following in the footsteps of the most celebrated pilgrims in English literature. And that ap with his Sure Suta, that April, which for everyone suffering lockdown, was indeed the cruelest month. Uh, I've returned to reading the Canterbury Tales, which I hadn't read since I was a teenager. And the Canterbury Tales are the work of a man who lived in the shadow of an infinitely more terrible pandemic than we were in that spring of 2020. Ch was a, a very young boy when the Black Death arrived in England in the summer of 1348. Um, his family, he'd been born in London, his family were very wealthy, very well regarded figures in London. But, um, his father, who was in the wine business, had been sent to Southampton, basically to serve as a kind of royal, uh, wine importing agent. And so he wasn't, the choices weren't actually far, um, from Weymouth, which is supposedly where the first, um, case of plague was reported in England. And actually being in Southampton probably saved them because, um, in April, 1349, it seems that the, the, the Black Death wipes out pretty much all of Cha's other relatives. Um, they're all killed. Um, and in some ways it's the making of of Chaa because, um, his mother and his father both inherit substantial properties as the result of this horrific sizing. Um, and although there's nothing to compare with the horror of the first visitation of the Black Death, it returns again and again over the course of Cha's, uh, lifetime. And although as Chaa reaches, um, maturity, uh, as he kind of enters, uh, he, he, he becomes, um, a civil servant very intimately involved in the, the, the business of London. Uh, and he lives in a city that is palpably recovering from the impact of the pandemic. So the docks are teeming, the cranes are going up everywhere, houses, they're expanding upwards, loft conversions everywhere. Nevertheless, despite this, the, the plague remains a constant. And by the time that choice comes to write, um, the Canterbury Tales, it is endemic. Um, it is, you know, it's not going to go away. It is, it is a feature of living in the capital. Um, now, although the Black death, therefore is a constant background presence in Cha's life, it has often been pointed out that the plague does not seem to play this role in the Canterbury tales, or at least Chauser very rarely mentions it. So there are a few references, um, in the, the tale told by the night, the first of the, the, the tales in the Canterbury Tales, the terrifying figure of, of Saturn boasts to his daughter Venus. My looking is the father of Pestilence. And in one of the very greatest of the Canterbury Tales, kind of terrifying and, and unbelievably moral com morally complex tale told by the, the, the, the sinister figure of the pardon there is an even more explicit re reference to, to the Black Death. So, um, the pardon describes how three friends who he describes as rioters kind of lads out on the lash. Um, a told news of a friend, um, and this is the report, there came a privy thief men clip of death that in this country, all the people sl and with his spear, his smote, his head to, to, and went his way without a word as more he half a thousand slain this pestilence. So that is presumably it's another recurrence of the plague of visitation. And the rioters are pulled to be told this. And so they decide that they will go in search of this sinister figure death, and they boast that death shall be dead. And they're told by an enigmatic figure, um, who, who, who many critics have thought might perhaps be, uh, a kind of riff on the figure of the wandering Jew. That death is to be found under a tree. And so the, uh, rioters go to where the tree is, and there they find a great hoard of golden Florence, and they decide how are they gonna divvy this up? So one of them goes off into town, um, to, uh, get a cart to bring the, the Florence away, where he buys a load of poison, puts it in the wine to take it back.'cause he wants the whole lot. Meanwhile, his two friends, I use the friend, the word friends, lightly, uh, decide that they're gonna kill him and share it between the two of them. So they kill the guy who's come back with the poisoned wine, and then they celebrate killing him by drinking the wine, and they're all dead. And sure enough, death has been found under the tree. And it is a, a haunting and fabulous tale with deep roots in folklore, but it is also clearly rooted in the experience of the pandemic. So Choa has often traveled to Italy, speaks fluent Italian, deeply influenced by Italian art and literature, and the great exemplar of a man writing short stories is of course, achio. And, um, in the, in the, in the Decameron, his achio iss great collection of short stories, wild Living is shown as a response to the pandemic, the sense of, you know, drink now enjoy life, because tomorrow you may be dead. And this is a theme, not just in Italian writing, but in English writing as well. So Moralists are forever complaining in England, that immorality, um, has become a symptom of the age of pestilence. So Thomas Walsingham, um, sensationally, censorious, uh, chronicler, um, in that the, uh, the Abbey of St. Albans, who's very, very rude about the, uh, peasants in the peasants revolt as well. Um, he says, of the, the people in London after the plague, that of all people, they were the proudest, the most arrogant, the most greedy. And these, of course, are the people that chaa himself is living among. But, um, if riot, you know, drinking, being a ladd is, is one, uh, response to plague. Then there were there, there were others, of course, and one of them was undoubtedly pilgrimage. And that April in lockdown reading the Canterbury Tales, I found myself alert to the goal of cha pilgrims, that shrine of St. Thomas, as I had never been before to Canterbury. They went to Chaa writes in the, the, the opening lines of the poem, the holy blissful martyr thought to seek that him hath hoppen when that they were sick, when that they were sick. The desire to be redeemed from the threat of illness is what motivates the entire pilgrimage. And we know that Choa had very, very personal reasons to hold the figure of St. Thomas Beckett martyred by knights acting supposedly as they thought on the orders of the king Henry ii. We know that Chaa had particular reason to hold the, uh, the holy blissful martyr in particular reverence because, um, the, uh, the parish church, St. Martin Ventry, where he grew up as a boy, um, had an altar for St. Thomas. And so he would've seen that every week when he went to church. Um, and as an adult, he was an experienced diplomat. He was endlessly being sent by Edward iii and then by Richard II on missions that required him to cross from Dover to Cali, and then onwards, perhaps to Navar or to France or to Italy. Um, and so he would've made that journey from London to Canterbury. Many times he would have passed, he would've crossed London Bridge. And on London Bridge, there was a shrine to St. Thomas. And this is where traditionally pilgrim setting out from London to Canterbury would, um, depart. And of course, he would've gone through Canterbury, and he would've seen the sumptuous, the spectacular shrine to St. Thomas that was built there on the spot where Beckett had been murdered. Now, famously, CHAA pilgrims never actually arrive in Canterbury. Um, CHAA describes them reaching the limits of the city, but then they never go any further. And it's as though they're kind of airplanes being held in a ho holding pattern over Heathrow when there is fog or something. But what I hadn't appreciated, um, until I started reading, um, around, uh, the Canterbury Tales, was that actually they never leave the starting point either. So they never get to Canterbury, the shrine of St. Thomas in Canterbury, and they're never described as leaving the shrine of, of St. Thomas on London Bridge, which was the traditional starting point. Um, instead they start their pilgrimage in of all places, a tavern, an inn, befall that in that season, on a day in South at the Tabard, as I lay ready to wind and on my pilgrimage, the Canterbury with full devout courage at night were calm into that hostile ray. Well, nine and 20 in a company of sundry folk by Aary fall in fellowship and pilgrims, were they all that toward Canterbury wouldn't ride the chambers, and the stables were, and wide, and well, we were in East at best and shortly when the sun was to rest. So had I spoken with them every c that I was of their fellowship and on, now when we went to the Tabart, the site of the Tabart, uh, where the inn had stood, um, so Tolbert Yard, that's where it stood. Um, it was all shut up. Everything was empty and deserted. Sorry, I forgot to show you the, uh, the beauties of, uh, St. Thomas being attacked. But there is, um, there is the road leading from, uh, the Inn down, um, through Suffolk that CHOA would've followed. Um, and there were no, you know, there were no crowded bars, there were no strangers meeting up. Uh, there was no socializing of any kind. Everyone was having to socially distance. And it struck me anew in a way that I'd never appreciated before, that the Canby Tales serve as celebration of pretty much everything that comes from not having to socially distance. And I wondered anew at that famous first line of the poem, the insistence on the month of April. Was there something more, I wondered more than just the lengthening of the days that made people in April in the late 14th century long to go on pilgrimage? I mean, bear in mind that Chaa famously specifies that it's always raining in April, so it seems an odd time to go out, can't be the weather. And I think that, and I think this in a way that I would not have done before, um, the spring of 2020 that Cho said, did not need to specify for his readers that April was also the month traditionally, when the plague that was endemic in London began to abate. Because we know from the records of deathbed wills in the wake of the initial pandemic, that the peculiarly lethal months in London were January, February, and March. And this was true not just of London, but for all the regions, um, uh, across Northern Europe. I mean, interestingly, and, and, and kind of intriguingly, uh, in Italy, it seems to have been different. I Italy it, the, the, the plague, um, fatalities start to rise precipitously in the month of May. And Chaa, who would travel to Italy probably knew that as well. So again, there's this strange sense that whether you are in the South or the north of Europe, April is the month when plague is at, seems to have been at its least dangerous. Now, of course, the, uh, people in the 14th century had no notion of germ theory, but undoubtedly they understood the concept of social distancing. This is what provides the entire motor for, uh, pachios to Cameron. The, the, the people who tell the stories have retreated from Florence to, to get away from the, the, the, the, the heaving crowds and the threat of infection and retreat to, uh, to, to a walled villa. And so I've, I kind of began to wonder, well, is this why Chaa chooses to specify the time of year when his pilgrims meet at the Tabard and embark on their journey in Canterbury in the very first line? In which case, perhaps is the whole great cycle of the Canterbury tales a eulogy to the joys in a time of endemic plague of social mixing? Now, we don't know. I don't know. There's no way of knowing ultimately. But what I found when I was reading the Canterbury Tales was that I desperately wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe that Chauser had in some way been where I had been and where everyone in the country had been. And that in a way, the country tales were articulating an experience that we were all going through. Um, and I think that that sense that by walking down an empty borough, high Street, and down the old Kent Road, and seeing nobody and up onto a deserted black heath, I was in some sense getting closer to choa. I think that is not an inherently reasonable idea. And I have sanctioned for thinking that, um, from the author of By Miles, the best, most recent, uh, biography of Chaa, um, Marian Turner, whose chaa a European life is, is absolutely superb. Um, and she writes in her introduction that to try to understand the imagination of the poet throughout this book, I explore the things that surrounded him, the streets he walked, the communities in which he participated, and the structures that he inhabited. But at the same time, I felt with a kind of renewed ache, a sense of the distance that separated me from the late 14th century, Because If I felt in my, my kind of longing for a vaccine that would enable us all to get our lives back, perhaps an echo of the yearning that the pilgrims might have had the longing to reach the shrine of St. Thomas that helps the sick, that, you know, that cures them, then I guess that that only brought home to me how utterly, how utterly dissolved upon the reformation and all that had followed it, that age of pilgrimage had become. And I realized that it was essentially my secularism, my materialism that had prevented me from taking Cha's pilgrims and indeed chaa himself, perhaps seriously, in the way that Chaa had wanted them to be taken seriously. Maybe I had been too seduced by the aspects of the Canterbury Tales that still, you know, in the 21st century are immediately vivid to us, the comedy, the romance, the sublimely deft and, and subtle characterization to recognize what was also a, a profound theme in the Canterbury Tales, the ache of need, the yearning for consolation, the desire to be healed of sickness. Now, in the, the very last, if I've said that, you know, the first line of the Canby tales with its emphasis on the month, does this have a peculiar significance? I think it must have done then? So also, of course, must the conclusion of the Cany Tales. Chaon never finishes it in its entirety, but he does write, uh, the conclusion that he wanted. Um, and in it, he, he praised to Christ, to the virgin, to all the saints of heaven for salvation, through the benign grace of him that is king of kings and priest over all priests that bought us with the precious blood of his heart, so that I may be one of them at the day of doom that shall be saved. Now, I'd read that when I was young and discounted it as the, you know, dreary convention. But now when I, in, in, in the spring of, of 2020, in an eng in, in an England that seemed horribly stalked by that thief that men call death, I actually found that conclusion very moving, and I found it very revelatory. So here is the question, you know, two and a half years on from that was I right? Um, history of course is absolutely not a science. Every historian is shaped by the experiences that we have in the present. Um, they inevitably inform the, the perspective that we bring to, uh, what happened in the past. So, fa famous and favorite quote illustrating this is from Edward Gibbon, the great historian of the decline of all of the Roman Empire, who in his autobiography wrote that the, and he had served, um, with the Hampshire militia, and he wrote that the captain of the Hampshire Grenadier, the reader, may smile, has not been useless to the historian of the Roman Empire Gibbon's idea that his military service had enabled him better to understand that great military autocracy that was the Roman Empire in its heyday, and then in its decline. But equally, of course, it is absolutely incumbent on us to respect the strangeness of the past, um, the way in which actually people who lived long ago were not like us. And I think that the, the status the Canterbury Tales enjoys as the, you know, the first great masterpiece of English literature is, is due not to its distance from us, but to its seeming closeness. So the pilgrims offer us for the first time in English literature, a cross section, if you like, of Middle England. We are not getting, uh, the people who traditionally had featured in medieval literature, the, uh, the, the high born, the noble. Uh, we are getting people who have actually prospered from the devastation of the Black Death. Um, it's the first time that they are given a voice and the multiplicity of perspectives that is enshrined within the Canterbury Tales. The range of voices, I think is appealing to, um, to, to, to, to an audience that has kind of, you know, familiar with novels in a way that say the allegories of, I dunno, piers Plowman simply aren't. And this is why, you know, still today in the 21st century, you think of Zadie Smith or whoever, um, the country tales has an immediate, uh, appeal to novelists, to script writers and so on. And yet, I do think that at the same time, these seeming similarities can be very deceptive. And there are two very obvious reasons, I think, why in the 21st century, um, many of us, and I absolutely include myself in that may be ill qualified to comprehend the significance, the resonance, the tambour of the pilgrimage that choices companions as they set out on the road to Canterbury may have been feeling. One reason is that we live in a culture that for half a millennium has been deeply Protestant. The cult of St. Thomas is gone from Canterbury Cathedral, the agents of Henry viii, who, you know, Henry VIII was not the kind of man to put up with chancellors called Thomas. Uh, you know, he had a track record in getting rid of them. Um, and he destroyed what, uh, what Erasmus, you know, Thomas Moore's friend, great friend, had hailed as one of the greatest shrines, not just in in England, but in the whole of Europe, of Christendom. And, you know, nothing remains of the holy blissful martyr sought by Joice pilgrims. Those of you who may, may have been to the, the show that was laid on in the British Museum, a couple was it year ago, so ago, I think, um, you know, there was this great absence at the heart of that show, the fact that all the relics of St. Thomas and all the Shrine had vanished. But I think possibly even more saliently than the fact that we live in a, a Protestant culture. Um, we also live in a culture and perhaps especially an academic culture that is determinedly and I would say proudly materialist. So I've read a, a fair number of books on the Canterbury Tales, and I can't think of one, one of them, uh, in none of these books have I ever come across, um, a suggestion that miracles might actually have been performed at the shrine of St. Thomas. That the hope the pilgrims had in setting out for his shrine might actually have been been true. But I mean, it seems to me no doubt that Chauser did believe that miracles happened at the shrine of St. Thomas. Um, he was a man who, you know, for all the, the kind of the venom of his portrayal of certain figures from the church in the Canterbury Tales. I mean, the, that venom derives from disappointment, I think, not from a, a, a, a kind of 21st century Richard Dawkins esque skepticism. Um, CHAA was a man who throughout his life, had enjoyed very intimate ties to a whole range of religious institutions. Um, and when in due cause he died and was buried in Westminster Abbey. This wasn't because he was a poet. The idea of Poets Corner came much later. It was because, um, it was counted by the monks of Westminster, as, you know, as a friend, as someone that they, they valued and wanted to have buried in their abbey. Uh, and and I think that, you know, if you think of the, the, the portrait of the partner, which is perhaps the most venomous, it, of all the choices portraits in the Canterbury tales, it, it's, it's precisely his disappointment that explains it. And of course, it's the fact that the, the, the pardon gives this brilliant moral tale, and yet is himself so morally contemptible. I mean, that is, that's expressive, it seems to me of a deep religious sensibility, not a skeptical one at all. Um, and I, I think that pilgrimage in the Canterbury Tales is a, a lot more than a mere plot device. And that to assume otherwise, I think, is absolutely to be guilty of a, a, a pretty grievous anachronism. And if that's the case, then I think the further back in time we go, so the greater the challenge becomes for us in the 21st century of making sense of kind of entering into the, the minds of people who are going on pilgrimage. So I, I think of another, a pilgrimage that I've written about. Um, and it's, it's one that happened at the beginning of the 11th century. Uh, there was a great upsurge in pilgrimages then over the first three decades. Um, and this was seen by contemporaries, um, as, as something extraordinary. So, um, there was a monk in the great famous Burgundi Abbey of Clooney, and he wrote that these pilgrimages, portended nothing other than the advent of the cursed antichrist, who according to divine testimony, is expected to appear at the end of the world. And what that monk recognized in these, this yearning for pilgrimage was a yearning for Christ, a yearning for earth to be joined to heaven. That paralleled the yearning felt by the monks of Clooney themselves, because it was the ambition of the monks in Clooney. And it was a novel ambition. It was one that, that inspired wonder, not just across Burgundy, not just across France, but across the whole of, of Latin Christendom. It was their ambition to emulate on earth the angelic choirs of paradise. And they did this by singing hymns, Psalms, praises all day, to a degree that was completely, at that point, unprecedented. Um, and the truest mark of their angelic status was that they were not beholden to a local Lord. They were essentially free. And that freedom was interpreted by the monks of Clooney as a kind of moral purity, um, a purity that was appropriate to angels. Um, the only Lord they had was St. Peter himself, the prince of the apostles and his far off de deputy, the bishop of the Bishop of Rome, which was a long way from, from Burgundy. Now, these mass kind of enthusiasm for pilgrimage that swept, uh, Latin Christendom in the first three decades of, um, the 11th century, saw its climax in 10 33 when a huge mass of pilgrims from across Latin Christendom set off for Jerusalem itself. And the monk in, in Clooney wrote that an innumerable multitude gathered from across the whole world, greater than any man before could have hoped to see set off. And what were they expecting? Well, he, he said they were expecting the advent of antichrist. And if antichrist comes, then Christ cannot be far behind, and they are heading to Jerusalem because according to multiple traditions, it was in Jerusalem that this great drama was destined to play out. But of course, they get there and well, they're disappointed. Are they disappointed or are they relieved? Certainly there is no appearance of antichrist, but then there is also no joining of heaven to Earth. But that impulse, I think, is not, you know, it, it, it is' intended. And we can see that from looking at Clooney, this great abbey that yearned to emulate the purity of the angels in heaven because it endures and everything that had made its admirers. See, in the monks, a model of angelic behavior is still completely current. And there are many across Christendom who look at this purity of the monks and think, well, I'd quite like a bit of that. And the key place where there is this desire to emulate the purity of Clooney is actually in Rome, the home of the, the Bishop of Rome, the, the one earthly person who, who who who stands superior to the Abbott of Clooney. Um, and there a host of reformers kind of dream of doing as the monks of Clooney have done, of, of cleansing themselves, of the kind of the greasy grubby fingerprints of earthly lords, um, and themselves being pure and independent of all earthly control. Now, a project like this, of course, was going to need leadership. And the Bishop of Rome, the most senior bishop in the Christian world, is ideally placed it seems to reformers and to a succession of extraordinary popes themselves to take on that role. Um, and so, um, a a an office that in the 10th century had been kind of at, its an, a area, it had been either the play thing of, of kind of vicious Roman aristocrats, or moving into the 11th century of domineering and overreaching emperors. Over the second half of the 11th century, the papacy emerged to become something very different, the focus for an attempt to redraw the very fabric of the world. And the result was what has been described variously as the papal revolution, or perhaps the Gregorian revolution after the, the, the greatest. And, and most charismatic of these reforming popes, Gregory vii, the guy who, um, the Pope who famously, uh, brings the emperor Henry ViiV to kneel in the snows before him at the, the Apennine fortress of Kanoah. And the popes and their servants embark on a great reform of cleansing the church of any hint of earthly control. This is why the emperor has to be made humiliated in the snow. This is why kings and lords have to be forced to let go of their traditional hold over the church. This is kind of what Henry II and Beckett are fighting about. And Beckett as Gregory II had done, emerges triumphant from the Great Clash. And the long-term effects of this extraordinary process of reform are seismically enduring and still with us, because what the church is doing, it's casting itself as belonging to the dimension of reig, which in Latin meant the bond that joined the church to the radiant eternity and purity of heaven. While earthly rulers are cast as belonging to the dimension of the Siam. And the Siam is, um, the dimension of all those who are doomed to be born and then to be swept along on the currents of time and then to die. And Gregory and his reformers do not invent the distinction between religio and the cyclo between the sacred and the profane, if you want to put it like that, between religion and the secular as over the course, you know, in due course it will become, but they do render it something, um, fundamental to the future of the West. In the words of Ra Moore, the great historian of what he has termed the first European revolution, they do it for the first time and permanently. And historians in the 21st century, like everyone else in the West, are the heirs of this revolution. The secular character of the discipline of history owes everything to it. And this perhaps, ironically enough, may help to explain why there has been, I think, a certain squeamishness among scholars when it comes to acknowledging just what the significance of the pilgrimage is that marked the early years of the 11th century might have been, and especially that one great pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 10 33. For 10 33 was of course the millennial anniversary of the death and resurrection of Christ. Now, the notion that this date might have had any significance to Christians in the 11th century has been widely seen by historians throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century as a kind of febrile and flamboyant, uh, concoction of the romantic era. Um, so, uh, the fourth terrors of the year 1000 is the title of one book on them. Um, the notion that, you know, this is kind of on a par with Atlantis or something like that, still remains quite deeply rooted. But I think that over the past few decades, the consensus on that has, has begun to change quite dramatically. And I think that just as the experience of, um, C-O-V-I-D has provided historians with a certain corelative for the great catastrophe that was the Black Death. So also have two recent developments, helped to, uh, enable historians to wonder whether perhaps there was indeed a millennial aspect to these, you know, the, the, the, the craze for pilgrimage and the yearning for purity on the part of the Roman Church. Um, and I think the first of these was of course, the fact that we have lived through a millennium. You know, this only turns up once every a thousand years. So it's unsurprising. And I think, uh, you know, entirely to be expected that, um, that historians would be influenced by the experience of living through a millennium. And I think the other factor that has influenced how people, how historians, um, are, are now increasingly willing to see something kind of radically different in the expectations of the end of the world that I, that I think did haunt, um, Christians in the early 11th century, is our own experience of climate change. So when I wrote about this, uh, back in, in 2006, James Lovelock had just written a book, uh, in which he predicted basically that the world would've ended by 2020. So I'm quite relieved that hasn't, but he, he, he writes about the process of, of climate change. Our future is like that, of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail. And shortly before the millennium, one of the, the Great Abbotts of Clooney Odo wrote in almost identical terms, he, he, he said that the vessel that bore sinful humanity was beset all around by gathering storm surge. And he wrote perilous times a menacing us. And the world is threatened with its end. So the, the parallels of course are, are, are not exact. I mean, no, no, no one would say that they were, but I think they are sufficiently suggestive that historians have kind of been able, perhaps to overcome a kind of instinctive materialism and to recognize that the, the spiritual anxieties and yearnings that people, it seems to me indisputably experience that these might have been vivid enough that they could indeed have powered what Arimar called, uh, the first European revolution. That they do indeed offer reflections perhaps that do kind of flicker and twist in a distant mirror. But what if we go back even further in time, back to a time before materialism, before secularism, before Protestantism, before Christianity itself. So I want to end by, um, going back two and a half thousand years, um, and to undertake, if not a pilgrimage, then, um, certainly a journey to a a, a fearsome and potent shrine. Um, and this was a journey that was, uh, undertaken in, um, classical Attica, uh, by young girls born in the city of Athens. And every four years, all the girls, um, girls under the age of 10, um, probably between the ages of seven and 10 would process from Athens. And they would head out across the olive graves and fields of Attica to a shrine called brow on, on the, um, on the eastern coast of Attica. And here we see some of them, the shrine of brow on was sacred to Artemis, the Virgin Huntress, the mistress of beasts, the, the, the sister of Apollo, um, who was a, a a a, a very menacing and intimidating goddess capable of inflicting absolute, uh, horror on a city if she was, um, in any way insulted and, um, particularly plague. So when plague came, often it was feared that Artemis had been offended. And in fact, according to some of the, well, the, the, the, the traditions that were preserved by, uh, by historians and, and kept over many, many centuries, it does seem that the origins of this procession of girls from Athens to Broon did originate in a time of plague. Um, 'cause it was said that, um, a a a group of Athenian men had killed a bear that was sacred to Artemis. And so this was why the goddess had sent a plague to devastate, um, Attica. And the Athenians had sent emissaries to Delphi to, um, to consult with Artemis brother Apollo, the God of prophecy. And, um, they, these emissaries were informed, and I I quote from, um, a Byzantine history, but which clearly preserves authentic, um, traditions. They were informed that the plague would only be brought to an end if their young daughters as blood price for the death of the bear were themselves obliged to become bears. So it was that the law of the Athenians for bad any girl being given in marriage unless she had first turned into a bear and served Artemis. So what is going on here? You may be wondering, well, there've been lots of, of, of explanations. Uh, maybe it was a puberty, right? Maybe it was an initiation, right? Clearly an expiration writer in some way. But obviously what no scholar, I think would, and if there has been one I haven't read him or her, uh, what no scholar today would dream of suggesting is that actually the girls might actually have turned into bears that this is what was going on. And that's, you know, again, hardly to be surprising because if, if scholars today, uh, tend not to, uh, foreground the possibility that miracles might have happened at the shrine of, of St. Thomas of Canterbury, then it's infinitely more unlikely that they are going to accept the reality of the goddess who is worshiped at brow run and of the possibility that young girls might literally have turned into bears. But I think the problem is that by refusing to countenance that possibility, we immediately place ourselves outside the lived experience of the ancient Athenians, the lived experience, that it is the ambition of scholars to, to try and understand. Scholars are basically laying claim to an understanding and a knowledge of the classical past that is superior to those who actually experienced it. But the problem is that how, how can we be sure of this? How can, how accurately can we possibly hope to understand the Athenians if, if we kind of assume that beliefs that were so important to them have no foundation whatsoever? We are like, you know, a leopard doist who has stuck a pin through a butterfly, but never gets to see the butterfly fly. Um, and I just wanna end by quoting, um, a a a brilliant historian of ancient Athens, um, Greg Anderson, who wrote a wonderful account of the, the formation of democracy, but then went on to write, um, a very, a most unexpected book called The Realness of Things Past, in which he essentially advances precisely this argument, the fact that by not acknowledging the possibility that the gods might have existed and extraordinary things might have happened, we are inevitably shutting ourselves off from potential avenues to understanding the, uh, the, the, the ancient Athenians. And so he's talking about the, um, the Athenians and their democracy. What would their celebrated aire look like? He Anderson asks if we no longer viewed it through the lens of conventional historicism using our standard modern analytical template, how different does the Athenians Deia appear when we try to see it more on their terms in the world of their experience? And in his attempt to answer this question, Anderson touches on the, the Bra of the Great Festival. Um, and he, he points out, uh, and again, I quote, a general perception that God's felt a special affinity with human females, that women and girls are closer to the divine than men and boys. And the two salient features of the Boronia are firstly that the, the girls become bears. And secondly, that they spend time with Artemis in a way that no boy ever does. And every, you know, that, that that specification, that that only someone who has spent time as a bear, only a girl who has spent time as a bear can be, can then marry. And the consequence of that is that every Athenian man who marries an Athenian woman knows that his wife had spent time as a bear with Artemis. And I would suggest that that would've fostered a certain nervous respect <laugh>. And I think the implications of this for our understanding of Athenian democracy are quite profound. Um, men have the vote in the Democrat here for the same reason that they fight, because it is their duty to maintain the viability of their city in the dimension of the earthly women perform rituals that enable them to ensure divine protection for Athens. And this, I think when you see the world through Athenian eyes, is actually not less important than voting or fighting. And perhaps in many ways it is more important because if you offend Artemis, she will send a plague. And if you offend Athena, the goddess after whom Athens, of course takes its name, then who knows what disasters may ensue. Um, and that's why I, I have written about the founding of the democracy, um, the culture of Athens in the, the early decades of the democracy. But actually the book, I think, in which I came closest to a arriving at a sense of the truth of what that democracy may have been, was when I wrote a book for children in which I could absolutely portray Athenian girls becoming bears. Thank you very much, Tom. Thank you for an absolutely fascinating lecture. I'm sure we can all agree that was really intriguing stuff and amazing how you wove in so many different elements. I think we're gonna have time for our couple of questions. I'm sorry, I went on far too long. No, no, my pilgrimage was too long.<laugh>. Um, but we'll start over here. So Tom, you talk about in that in your lecture you talk about what I would call affective history, um, on two levels. Firstly, that historians, academic historians might have a lot to learn from taking more seriously, beliefs, emotions, states of mind and, and, and treating them with the due seriousness. But then you also talked, I mean, in the beginning bit when you're talking about walking through London and being in the places where choa have been, that's another sort of effectiveness. Yeah. And actually in some ways, isn't that why so many people who are not necessarily academic historians isn't that sense of the livingness of the past, what attracts so many people to history? I think it is, and I think that, um, there is obviously a danger in that. I mean, that's what kind of what I was saying, that I might have been overly seduced by the experience of walking in choices, footsteps, and experiencing pandemic. And this is the, this is the, the, the problem and the fascination and the frustration and the temptation. There is no way for us, I think, I mean even if you are the devout as Catholic, to get back into the mindset of those pilgrims and to believe that this might be the best chance you have of combating a pandemic. I mean, that is not what, how people felt in the pandemic, but I think that perhaps that sense of yearning we had to get our lives back, perhaps that does kind of open, I mean, it certainly, it opened up for me a sense of what CHOA might have been doing with the Canterbury Tales. And I think that that is, I think it's probably a valid, valid perspective. It's obviously much, much, you know, as I said, it's much more difficult when you come to say the a you know, the ancient Greeks. Um, we cannot, I mean, even, even if you are absolutely off your face on drugs, I suggest you, it would be very difficult to get back to a, a literal belief in Artemis. Don't try it at home kids. Um, but I think that there is a place for that kind of perhaps kind of imaginative venture, which is why I do commend Greg Anderson's book. Um, I think it's on the reading list. Um, it's, it's a really, really stimulating book by a scholar who is thought very, very profoundly about these issues. And I think kind of poses a, a, a challenge to the, the kind of the entire materialist framing of history as it is currently practiced. Thank you. So we have time for please join me and thanking our speaker, Tom Holland. And thank you to yourself. Thank you.