Saturday 26 January 2019

An Icelander in Lincoln

My latest column for History Today is now available to read online at this link: Learning in Lincoln. Here's a taste:

Some time around 1160, a young Icelander arrived in England to study at the cathedral school in Lincoln. His name was Thorlak Thorhallsson. Before coming to Lincoln he had spent a few years studying in Paris; in his future was a career as a bishop back in his native Iceland, then, after his death in December 1193, veneration as Iceland’s first homegrown saint. This short spell in Lincoln was only a brief period in his life, but it provides an intriguing moment of connection between two worlds which were – geographically, at least – very far apart. What did Thorlak make of 12th-century Lincoln, and what did Lincoln make of him?

Because Thorlak became Iceland’s first native saint, admired by his contemporaries for his pastoral care as bishop and his role as a moral leader, several posthumous accounts of his life were written in Latin and Old Norse. From these we know of his time in Paris and Lincoln, but they give few details, saying only that there he ‘learned a great deal, valuable both to himself and to others’. Therefore, we can only speculate about what he studied or whom he met, but we do have plenty of information about medieval Lincoln, which can help us to imagine how it might have looked through Thorlak’s eyes.

If you're interested in learning more about St Thorlak's life, take a look at this new book about the saint: Thorlak of Iceland by Aimee O'Connell.