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IRH Lecture: Heather Blurton “‘Slyn in Childhood’: Robert of Bury St. Edmunds and the Cult of the Holy Family”

October 19, 2020 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Heather Blurton, Solmsen Fellow (2020–2021), English, University of California, Santa Barbara

[Due to COVID-19, this event has been moved to a digital conferencing platform. For more information about participation, contact IRH at info@irh.wisc.edu.]

Robert of Bury St Edmunds is one of a small group of English boy martyr “saints” whose cults originated in the second half of the twelfth century when they were falsely purported to have been ritually murdered by Jews. The popularity of these cults varied over time, but it seems clear that they were never hugely or widely popular. The late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, however, witness a re-vitalization of these twelfth-century cults, particularly in their East Anglian heartland. This talk will suggest that one key context for the revival of Robert of Bury St Edmunds’ cult in the late Middle Ages is the strong identification of East Anglia’s urban elite with the cult of the Holy Family. More generally, it asks: what are the local contexts and literary forms that give this antisemitic libel life, and which enable it to mutate to outlive its original forms and to continually inhabit new ones? As this libel has recently been appropriated by conspiracy theorists attempting to influence the current presidential election, these questions are not simply academic.

Heather Blurton is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research interests include literary cultures of the long twelfth-century, medieval alterities, and the history of the discipline of medieval studies. Her most recent book, co-authored with Hannah Johnson, is The Critics and the Prioress: Antisemitism, Criticism, and Chaucer’s “The Prioress’s Tale” (University of Michigan Press, 2017).