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Introduction: Sacred Space and Place in Arthurian Romance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2021

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Summary

The eight essays in this volume of Arthurian Literature explore, from a variety of different perspectives, the construction and semantics of sacred space and place in Arthurian writing. Taken individually, each offers a new reading of the textual practice of space in a work (or group of works) of Arthurian literature, as well as how this use of space intersects with or alludes to sacred practices, knowledge or systems. As a collection, however, the aim is to bring into dialogue current lively and fruitful work on Arthurian spaces, places and (imagined) geographies with the persis-tently complex question of the sacred in the Arthurian world. On the one hand, the Arthurian sacred in itself is never a straightforward matter, with the frequent interference of Christian and supernatural forms of sacrality. On the other, the perhaps superficial secularity of much Arthurian writing has sometimes pushed the significance of its religious dimensions away from the centre of scholarly interest, leading Barbara Newman to argue recently that it ‘urgently needs to be reconceptualized’. Exploring the sacred through the lens of space is also a response to Newman's plea and throws new light on the complex dynamics of religious thought and practice in the Arthurian canon. Equally, the focus on the sacred takes existing work on the textual practice of space and place in new directions, illuminating, for instance, the intersection between the narratological structuring of space and the progression of the protagonist, or the way in which space functions as a political construct.

In this short introduction we set out first some theoretical approaches to space before turning briefly to the sacred, concluding with an overview of the essays that follow. In putting this special issue together we have endeavoured to showcase the richness of Arthurian literature, not just in terms of the works themselves but also in terms of contemporary scholarly approaches. As such, essays explore Irish, Welsh, English, French and German works from throughout the Middle Ages and bring into dialogue different modes of interpretation – not just from our different disciplines but also, and in particular, from the scholarly communities of the German-speaking and Anglophone worlds. Common to all contributions, however, is an insistence on both space and the sacred as meaningful constructs: constructs that are exploited by the texts in question in order to fulfil a specific function or to ask a question.

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Arthurian Literature XXXVI
Sacred Space and Place in Arthurian Romance
, pp. 1 - 12
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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