Clonmacnoise was among the busiest, most economically complex, and intensely sacred places in early medieval Ireland. In Animals and Sacred Bodies in Early Medieval Ireland: Religion and Urbanism at Clonmacnoise, John Soderberg argues that animals are the key to understanding Clonmacnoise’s development as a thriving settlement and a sacred space. At this sanctuary city on the River Shannon, animal bodies were an essential source of food and raw materials. They were also depicted extensively on religious objects. Drawing from new theories about the intersections between religion and economics, John Soderberg explores how transformations emerging from animal encounters made Clonmacnoise a sacred settlement and created the sacred bodies of early medieval Ireland.
John Soderberg is visiting assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Denison University.
Chapter 1: Enclosure, Cattle, and Sanctuary Cities in Early Medieval Ireland
Chapter 2: Excavating Clonmacnoise
Chapter 3: Grounding the Archaeology of Religion
Chapter 4: Animals and the Rise of Clonmacnoise
Chapter 5: Animals, Tabernacles, and Towns: The Iconography of Sanctuary
Chapter 6: The Animals of Clonmacnoise in a New Millennium
Ireland’s early medieval monastic centers, particularly the large ones like Clonmacnoise, enable an understanding of early Irish Christianity, the early Irish economy, and the church’s role in society. Soderberg’s study demonstrates that daily life and practice—e.g., the tasks of provisioning food to the monks, clerics, craftworkers, and laborers at monastic settlements—are as significant as the decisions and machinations of abbots, bishops, and kings. This book, exploring the intersections of religion and economy in early medieval Ireland, and beyond, will be a key publication.
The origins of early medieval cities have been of interest to both medieval historians and archaeologists since the beginning of the last century. Most of the archaeological research has focused on the coastal trading communities or 'wics' that developed in many parts of Northwest Europe beginning in the Carolingian period. Ireland was traditionally seen as non-urban until the appearance of the coastal Hiberno-Norse towns that were founded a century or two after the wics. John Soderberg has made a strong case for an earlier form of urbanism in Ireland, monastic sanctuaries, based on archaeological research from the site of Clonmacnoise in county Offaly. Soderberg's argument is based primarily on his careful analysis of the animal bones recovered from the excavations at Clonmacnoise, but his approach is interdisciplinary, drawing on data from fields as diverse as art history and cognitive psychology. Soderberg makes a convincing case that Clonmacnoise was a sanctuary city in the early medieval period. His book is a refreshingly innovative approach to early medieval urban origins. I plan to use this book in my medieval archaeology and Irish archaeology courses, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the archaeology and history of urban origins. It is a tour de force.
This challenging book uses zooarchaeological evidence to take the reader on an exciting theoretical journey towards a wholly new level of understanding of Clonmacnoise and early medieval Irish monasteries.
In many senses, this is a welcome addition to the archaeology of religion, as well as a contribution sure to revitalise a somewhat moribund debate surrounding ‘monastic towns’ in Ireland. Soderberg’s is an excellent volume, with much to commend it, notably its probing account of wider analytical frameworks and of how scholarship currently approaches archaeologies of religion in complex, multi-faceted fields of discourse.
3/24/23, New Books Network Podcast.