The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities presents


21 March 2019 

Traces of the Past: Materiality, Memory, and Connection at the Time of the Fifth Crusade

The importance of material culture in communicating memory is especially evident in the context of the Crusades. Crusaders on pilgrimage carried with them objects from home and brought back souvenirs from the Holy Land as tiny as stones or as large as reliquaries. Those on the home front, especially women, were gifted and cared for rings and reliquaries, cups and crosses. Objects like these affirmed kinship and ancestral identity and perpetuated family associations with the crusading movement. Such objects also created and communicated a sophisticated temporality that brought together past and present in highly individuated ways. They linked people, places, and earthly and eschatological time, and those who possessed or viewed objects associated with crusading became witnesses to and participants in a trajectory of sacred history. Thus objects provided tangible connection to and evidence of the distinctive spatial and temporal qualities of the Crusade.

This paper elucidates these broad points by focusing on three items—a parchment miter, a portable altar, and ivory and glass relic containers. These were objects that were given to the priory of Oignies by Jacques de Vitry - a preacher and participant on the Fifth Crusade (1219-21) - and that now form a part of the famous treasury at the Musée de Namur in Belgium. My aim here is to consider how these objects connect Jacques de Vitry’s life before, during, and after the Crusade and what they might tell us about the material qualities of remembrance at the time of the Fifth Crusade and its aftermath. These three objects express personal links between Jacques de Vitry and the community of Oignies, especially his close relationship with the holy woman Marie of Oignies, who had died just before Jacques set off on Crusade. The items were not just valuable objects to add to the treasury at Oignies in order to further the priory’s prestige, but were also deliberate and meaningful conduits of connection between Jacques’s own past, present, and future remembrance. The Namur objects, their collection, and their meanings thus provide a fruitful way of linking the multiple stories of Jacques’s experiences as preacher, friend, member of the Crusade, and senior ecclesiast. 

Megan Cassidy-Welch is Professor of History and Head of the School of Historical of Philosophical Inquiry at UQ. Her research concerns medieval cultural and social history, particularly the history of the crusades, histories of memory and violence, and spatial history. Her most recent book is War and Memory at the Time of the Fifth Crusade (Penn State UP, 2019). She has degrees from the University of Melbourne and the University of London, and has held appointments at the University of Tasmania, the University of Melbourne, Monash University, and UQ. 


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The University of Queensland
St Lucia
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