Monastic retreat and workshop report

In early December, I (Benjamin Pohl) spent one week living amongst the Benedictine monks of Downside Abbey.

During this monastic retreat, I had the fantastic opportunity to take part in the community’s daily life and routine – incl. the liturgy of the hours (horarium) -, to experience the monastic way of life first-hand and, not least, to speak and listen to the monks about the role that history plays in their various activities inside and outside the monastery. This experience has provided me with invaluable insights into the close relationship between history, liturgy, identity and time within a religious communal setting that will feed directly into the project’s research outputs (incl. my forthcoming monograph).

What is more, I also arranged and hosted the first in our series of project workshops at Downside on the subject of ‘History & Community’. The workshop was very well attended and, besides the monks and myself, included participants from the University of Bristol (PGT and PGR students as well as staff) and the regional non-academic community. Together we spent a half-day discussing the various ways in which a sense of history (or ‘historical consciousness’) informs communal communication and memory formation both past and present. The next workshop will take place in the spring of 2020 and serve to continue and expand these conversations with a specific aim towards setting up a special exhibition at Downside Abbey in late 2020/2021. Make sure to subscribe to our email alert (link at the bottom of this blog) and follow us on Twitter to keep up-to-date with our event schedule and the latest announcements.

As a special bonus, I was invited to attend the Advent Carol Service inside Downside’s magnificent abbey church, which I watched from the exclusive angle of the monks’ gallery – best seats in the house!

Podcast: Äbte, die Geschichte(n) schreiben/Abbots writing history (public lecture by Dr B Pohl)

Podcast „Äbte, die Geschichte(n) schreiben: Beobachtungen zur historiographischen Produktion durch mittelalterliche Klostervorsteher (unter besonderer Berücksichtigung Abt Eigils von Fulda)“
(öffentlicher Gastvortrag, gehalten am 27.11.2019; Vortragssprache: deutsch; Zusammenfassung s. u.).

Podcast “Abbots writing history: Some considerations concerning the role(s) of abbots in medieval historiographical production (with a particular emphasis on Abbot Eigil of Fulda)”
(public lecture, delivered 27/11/2019; language: German; synopsis below).

Image credit (right): Portrait of Abbot Eigil of Fulda (818–22) by Georg Andreas Wolfgang (1631–1716), Austrian National Library (ÖNB) © Public Domain – Europeana collections (

Zusammenfassung: Dr. Benjamin Pohl (Projekt-PI) ist ein in Bamberg promovierter und an der Universität Bristol (Großbritannien) als Senior Lecturer tätiger Mittelalterhistoriker und Handschriftenforscher. Im November 2019 war er als Gangolf-Schrimpf Visiting Fellow am Institut Bibliotheca Fuldensis and der Theologischen Fakultät Fulda zu Gast. Im Rahmen dieses öffentlichen Gastvortrages (gehalten am 27.11.2019) geht Dr. Pohl der Frage nach, in welchem Rahmen und zu welchem Zweck mittelalterliche Benediktineräbte selbst zur Feder griffen, um die Geschichte ihres Klosters und das kollektive Gedächtnis der Mönchsgemeinschaft zu Pergament zu bringen. Welche Ressourcen und Handlungsspielräume standen diesen Äbten bei der Geschichtsschreibung von Amts wegen zur Verfügung, über die ein einfacher Mönch oder ein anderer Schreiber inner- wie außerhalb des Klosters eben nicht oder nur bedingt verfügte? Welchen Unterschied machte es, wenn der Geschichtsschreiber ein Abt war? Im Vortrag wird neben vergleichenden Beobachtungen vor allem Bezug zur speziellen Situation Fuldas im frühen neunten Jahrhundert genommen. Eine erweiterte Version des Vortrags wird als Kapitel in Dr. Pohls neuer Monografie, Medieval Abbots and the Writing of History (Oxford University Press) erscheinen. Außerdem bereitet Dr. Pohl einen themenverwandten Zeitschriftenaufsatz für das Archiv für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte vor.

Synopsis: Dr Benjamin Pohl (project PI) is a medieval European historian and manuscript scholar. Having received his PhD from the University of Bamberg (Germany), he is Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Bristol. In November 2019, he held the Gangolf-Schrimpf Visiting Fellowship the Research Institute Bibliotheca Fuldensis at the Faculty of Theology in Fulda. In this public lecture (delivered 27/11/2019), Dr Pohl explores to what degree and to what end(s) medieval Benedictine abbots engaged first-hand with the writing of history to codify the traditions and collective memories of their monastic communities. Which means and opportunities were available to these abbots when writing history that ordinary monks or other writers in- and outside the monastery did not have at their disposal? What difference did it make when the historian was himself an abbot? Following some general observations, the talk specifically addresses the particular situation at Fulda during the early ninth century. An extended version of this talk is going to be published as a chapter in Dr Pohl’s new monograph, Medieval Abbots and the Writing of History (Oxford University Press). Dr Pohl is also preparing a related journal article for the Archiv für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte.