The Church in Fourteenth-Century Iceland: Ecclesiastical Administration, Literacy, and the Formation of an Elite Clerical Identity

The Church in Fourteenth-Century Iceland: Ecclesiastical Administration, Literacy, and the Formation of an Elite Clerical Identity 

Sigurdson, Erika Ruth

PhD thesis, The University of Leeds Institute for Medieval Studies, 11 November, (2011)


This thesis examines the development of elite clerical culture in fourteenth-century Iceland. Following ecclesiastical reforms of the late thirteenth century (staðamál), a small number of clerics gained access to large farms (staðir) as benefices, and gained wealth and power from their new benefices. Over the course of the century, this small group developed a shared identity, one based on clerical values such as familiarity with canon law, as well as on a shared sense of interdependence and a new, clerical set of personal networks and connections. This thesis examines the development of this shared identity, particularly as expressed through clerical narrative writing, and through the role of ecclesiastical administration at the sub- episcopal level (diocesan officers and the holders of major benefices).

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to current scholarly approaches to fourteenth-century Iceland, while discussing the historical context for the study of ecclesiastical administration and clerical identity. Chapter 2 surveys the primary sources which form the basis of this thesis. Chapter 3 is a study of the structure of the Icelandic Church, with a focus on the role of individual agents in shaping the development of ecclesiastical institutions. Chapter 4 consists of a social and cultural study of the sub-episcopal elite clergy in Iceland. The first part of this chapter examines the economic and social basis for the development of an elite clergy, while the second part provides an analysis of the social and cultural history of the sub- episcopal elite, with a focus on the social networks of the sub-episcopal elite, and different types of relationship within these networks. Chapter 5 consists of a thematic study of Icelandic clergy in Norway; through an analysis of evidence for voyages to Norway undertaken by the sub-episcopal elite, I provide insight into the particular relationship between Iceland and Norway in the fourteenth century.

Click here to read this thesis from The University of Leeds Institute for Medieval Studies

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