School of History, Classics and Archaeology



ChroMoLEME - The Character of Monastic Landscapes in Early Medieval Europe


The desertum is a regular motif in narrative accounts of the foundation of early medieval monastic sites – a remote wilderness, where the holy man and his followers can extricate themselves from the distractions of secular life and achieve a greater level of spirituality.

While there is a general acceptance among both archaeologists and historians that the desertum found in western sources was a hagiographical conceit, aimed at emulating the example of the original desert father, St. Anthony, there is a lack of empirical data with which to carry out a full critique of the motif.

This project aims to provide such data by carrying out a comparative analysis of the landscape settings of a number of early medieval monastic sites in the Post-Roman West. Building on the research fellow’s previous work at the monastic site of Annegray (Haute-Saone, France), founded in 591, the project involves a meticulous, multilayered analysis of of the site, including remote sensing (photogrammetry, geophysics, laser scanning), excavation, pollen core sampling and Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) to build up a picture of the landscape in which the monastery was established. This core study will then be compared with contemporary monasteries in France, Switzerland and Italy to provide a clearer image of the reality of the desertum.

The major output of the project will be a monograph on the comparative study of Annegray and its contemporary continental sites. The project will also organise a major international conference of the theme of early monastic landscapes, bringing together researchers working on the topic from across Europe.