Sacred Springs and Shiny Things

Course InstructorShelly Nordtorp-Madson holds a Ph.D. in Design History from the University of Minnesota.  She has been at St. Thomas in various posts since 1994, and is currently Chief Curator and Clinical Faculty with the Art History Department (and is therefore to blame if Selim Center students do not like the exhibitions in OEC!).  Her current research is on the conversion period in Scandinavia and the non-Christian images that are used on Christian objects, including shape-shifters.

Course Information:  Wednesdays, September 10-October 15, 2014, 9:30-11:30 a.m., O'Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium, UST St. Paul Campus

Course Description:  This seminar explores the conversion of northern Europe and its visual culture in Ireland, England, Scandinavia, and the north of Europe to the Baltic Sea (c. 100-1000 CE).  It includes the sacred spaces and objects from Celtic Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England, Viking Scandinavia, making a short trip to the Baltic shores.  From Pagan shrines and springs to stone churches, as well as decorative arts such as woodwork, metal, manuscripts, and stone, we will look at what made these areas special and how they contributed to greater Europe.

Registration fee for the series:  $80.00 per person

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To complete the registration form on-line and then mail in a check payment, click on this link

To register by check or cash through the mail or in-person, click on this link for the printable registration formFall 2014 Printable Registration Form

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Detailed Course Syllabus (subject to change):

September 10


This session tracks the art of Christianity from its Mediterranean beginnings to Europe.  It includes the borrowings from pre-Christian cultures that become significant to the visual vocabulary of the Middle Ages.  Early Irish monasteries are included, due to their early dates.

September 17


Celtic Christianity, an updated version of which is making itself felt today, was a product of isolation and therefore different in its visual expression than Europe.  Their churches, metalwork, and manuscripts had personalities of their own, which they brought with them as missionaries to England and the continent.

September 24


In some ways, this art is a bridge between Celtic and Germanic art styles.  The Anglo-Saxons took over much of England, at first as pagans and then Christians.  Two faith interpretations, Celtic and Benedictine, met and melded at the Synod of Whitby in 664, although the art remained separate for several generations and was a period of great productivity in the monasteries.

October 1

Norsemen in the West

While producing a regional form of art that was little changed by the conversion (9th-13th centuries), there were also influences from the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons and even the Carolingians.  It is an active artistic time where pre-Christian images make their ways onto Christian buildings, much like Mediterranean Christianity had borrowed from the Romans.

October 8

The Eastern Baltic

Swedish Vikings traveled east, establishing a kingdom in Russia, where that culture and the Byzantine styles became part of the imagery.  The Finns, the Saami, and the Baltic states were the last non-Christian holdouts in Europe, and so their art was also a regional amalgamation of all of those cultures.

October 15

Northern Medieval

The Normans, whose ancestors had been Vikings bribed to prevent other pirates from raiding the northern French coast, established control over England in 1066, and even held lands in Sicily and southern Italy, taking influences from the Mediterranean and Islam.