Christopher Thomas John Wilson
University of Exeter: Doctor of Philosophy in History, April (2012)
This thesis examines the dissemination of visions of the otherworld in the long thirteenth century (c.1150-1321) by analysing the work of one enthusiast for such visions, Helinand of Froidmont, and studying the later transmission of three, contrasting accounts: the vision of the monk of Eynsham (c.1196), the vision of St. Fursa (c.656) and the vision of Gunthelm (s.xiiex). It relies on a close reading and comparison of different versions of these visions as they appear in exempla collections, religious miscellanies, history chronicles and sermons. In considering the process of redaction, it corrects two imbalances in the recent scholarship: a focus on searching for, then discussing ‘authorial’ versions of the narratives and a tendency among students of literature to treat visions of the otherworld as an independent sub-genre, prefiguring Dante’s later masterpiece.
Instead, by looking at the different responses of a number of authors and compilers to visions of the otherworld, this thesis shows how they interacted with other elements of religious culture. On one hand it reveals how all medieval editors altered the narratives that they inherited to fit the needs and rules of genre. These rules had an important influence on how visions were spread and received by different audiences. On the other, it explains how individual authors demonstrated personal or communal theological and political motivation for altering visions. In doing so, it notes a divergence in the way that older monastic communities and travelling preachers responded to the stories.