Cloisters and Culture in Iceland and the North 
in the Middle Ages

Elizabeth Walgenbach

Clerical Immunities in Icelandic Context

Fimmtudaginn 31. október 2013 kl. 16.30
Árnagarði 423

Johanna Olafsdottir
Elizabeth Walgenbach

This talk focuses on medieval cloisters in Iceland, and the clerics in them, from the perspective of legal history. I will concentrate on two interrelated issues: the legal protections against violence enjoyed by all clerics under canon law and the related protection of sanctuary within churches. In theory, by the high middle ages all clerics enjoyed legal protections from violence under canon law. One incurred automatic excommunication for assaulting a cleric. Moreover, all churches in the Christian west, again at least in theory, in addition to being spaces where bloodshed was strictly prohibited, provided sanctuary for accused criminals to seek refuge from secular justice and its punishments.

My lecture will examine some of the ways that we can see these rules being expressed (and flouted) in specific cases in Iceland, especially in the context of Icelandic monastic foundations. It will also provide an assessment of the evidence for the practice of sanctuary in Icelandic monasteries and churches in the medieval period. I will concentrate on the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, connecting this evidence with more general trends and developments in canon law.

Elizabeth Walgenbach is a Ph.D. candidate in Medieval Studies at Yale University. Her dissertation “Forms of Community Exclusion in Medieval Iceland” focuses on excommunication and outlawry in Icelandic legal and literary sources. More broadly, her research concentrates on canon law in Scandinavia.
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