1st Edition

The Arma Christi in Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture With a Critical Edition of 'O Vernicle'

Edited By Lisa H. Cooper, Andrea Denny-Brown Copyright 2014

    The Arma Christi, the cluster of objects associated with Christ’s Passion, was one of the most familiar iconographic devices of European medieval and early modern culture. From the weapons used to torment and sacrifice the body of Christ sprang a reliquary tradition that produced active and contemplative devotional practices, complex literary narratives, intense lyric poems, striking visual images, and innovative architectural ornament. This collection displays the fascinating range of intellectual possibilities generated by representations of these medieval ’objects,’ and through the interdisciplinary collaboration of its contributors produces a fresh view of the multiple intersections of the spiritual and the material in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It also includes a new and authoritative critical edition of the Middle English Arma Christi poem known as ’O Vernicle’ that takes account of all twenty surviving manuscripts. The book opens with a substantial introduction that surveys previous scholarship and situates the Arma in their historical and aesthetic contexts. The ten essays that follow explore representative examples of the instruments of the Passion across a broad swath of history, from some of their earliest formulations in late antiquity to their reformulations in early modern Europe. Together, they offer the first large-scale attempt to understand the arma Christi as a unique cultural phenomenon of its own, one that resonated across centuries in multiple languages, genres, and media. The collection directs particular attention to this array of implements as an example of the potency afforded material objects in medieval and early modern culture, from the glittering nails of the Old English poem Elene to the coins of the Middle English poem ’Sir Penny,’ from garments and dice on Irish tomb sculptures to lanterns and ladders in Hieronymus Bosch’s panel painting of St. Christopher, and from the altar of the Sistine Chapel to the printed prayer books of the Reformation.

    Contents: Introduction: Arma Christi: the material culture of the Passion, Lisa H. Cooper and Andrea Denny Brown; The Arma Christi before the Arma Christi: rhetorics of the Passion in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, Mary Agnes Edsall; Figure and ground: Elene’s nails, Cynewulf’s runes, and Hrabanus Maurus’s painted poems, Seeta Chaganti; Mapping virtual pilgrimage in an early 15th-century Arma Christi roll, Richard G. Newhauser and Arthur J. Russell; The footprints of Christ as Arma Christi: the evidence of Morgan B.54, Ann Eljenholm Nichols; The Arma Christi and the ethics of reckoning, Martha Rust; Memorial technai, St Thomas the Twin, and British Library MS Additional 22029, Ann W. Astell; Arma Christi as landscape in Hieronymus Bosch’s Saint Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, Suzanne Verderber; Liturgy and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment: reframing the Arma Christi, Lee Palmer Wandel; The Arma Christi in medieval and early modern Ireland, Salvador Ryan; Early modern afterlives of the Arma Christi, Shannon Gayk; O Vernicle: a critical edition, Ann Eljenholm Nichols; Index.


    Lisa H. Cooper is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Artisans and Narrative Craft in Late Medieval England (2011) and co-editor, with Andrea Denny-Brown, of Lydgate Matters: Poetry and Material Culture in the Fifteenth Century (2008).

    Andrea Denny-Brown is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. She is the author of Fashioning Change: The Trope of Clothing in High- and Late-Medieval England (2012), and the co-editor, with Lisa H. Cooper, of Lydgate Matters: Poetry and Material Culture in the Fifteenth Century (2008).

    'It is genuinely a pleasure to welcome as innovative, wide-reaching, and thoughtful a study of the now-familiar Arma Christi tradition as this one, which breaks new ground while also offering a useful edition of a centrally related text.' Renaissance Quarterly

    ’The interaction between private devotional practices, texts, and images was particularly fascinating, giving a convincing account of the practicalities of using the roll format, which an older tradition saw as a form of public display... The collection traces the shifts in devotional practices in the later medieval period through this single theme. It is also an excellent example of the role an interest in material culture can play in opening up new questions for scholars in the range of disciplines represented in this anthology.’ Parergon