Magic and Religion in Medieval England.

Exeter historian is runner up for the Folklore Society's Katherine Briggs Award 2013

Dr Catherine Rider, Senior Lecturer of History at the University of Exeter, has been recognised as runner-up for the Folklore Society’s Katharine Briggs Award 2013 for her book Magic and Religion in Medieval England.

On Wednesday 6 November, the Folklore Society announced the winners of their annual Katherine Briggs award. The prize commemorates the life and work of folklore scholar Katharine Mary Briggs who served as President of the Society from 1969 – 1972. The award was open to all books on a folklore topic that were published between June 2012 and May 2013.

From today's perspective it is hard to comprehend just how complex the relationship was between religion and magic in the Middle Ages. Many unofficial rituals and beliefs existed alongside ones sanctioned by the Church. Educated clergy condemned some as magic, but it wasn't always easy to do this because many magical and superstitious practices employed religious language, rituals or objects.

In Magic and Religion in Medieval England Dr Catherine Rider unearths previously unpublished evidence and new information concerning the widespread use of magical practices and the clergy's response. She asks how educated churchmen, when faced with a wide range of popular religious practices, decided which were acceptable and which were magic.

The book traces the change in the Church's attitude to everyday forms of magic from the turbulent era of King John to the time of Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. These three centuries brought educated clergy into closer contact than ever before with unofficial religious practices and prompted them to draw up more precise guidelines on how to distinguish magic from legitimate religion. Magic and Religion in Medieval England provides a detailed picture of religious and lay life, including clerical education and pastoral care.

Dr Rider comments, “Most of the writings the book draws on are unpublished and survive only in the original manuscripts, and so the book uncovered a lot of detail about popular practices for healing, predicting the future, and beliefs relating to elves and fairies, which had not been studied before. My previous book (Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages, published in 2006) won the same award so it's wonderful that the Folklore Society continues to be interested in my work.”

To find out more about the Katherine Briggs Award, please visit the Folklore Society website. The Department of History pages and the research pages of the University website contain additional information on the latest publications and research undertaken by the Department.

Date: 14 November 2013

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