The Project and its Aims

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Reconstructing Monasticism



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The Project and its Aims

The Wesleyan-Brown MONastic ARCHaeology Project at the Abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, Soissons was conceived in 1980, and begun in 1982, as a multi-disciplinary project that takes monasticism rather than the monastery as its object of study.

This approach treats the monastic complex at Saint-Jean as an integrated, corporate whole rather than as a cluster of related buildings; as the physical expression of spiritual, social and economic motives rather than simply as a construction site. MonArch considers not only the form of the abbey’s buildings and the style of their decoration, but also the functions of those structures; the men, and sometimes the women, who used them; and the quality of life carried on within and around them. MonArch studies not only the site of the abbey itself, but also the farms, mills, priories and parishes, as well as other holdings that constituted its domain and provided its revenue base. Moreover, MonArch considers these phenomena not as constants but as changing elements within the history of the abbey’s existence.

The archaeology of monasticism at Saint-Jean-des-Vignes also considers the abbey, its buildings and its community, as part of local, regional and sometimes interregional networks of power and influence. In brief, the archaeology of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes is the archaeology of monastic sites rather than a history of monastic buildings. The MonArch project aims, ultimately, to provide an archaeological definition of monasticism, as that evolved at Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, a definition that forges its chronologies and perspectives from stratified evidence and scientifically dated material culture. The MonArch project seeks to complement and enlarge definitions of monasticism provided by the allied disciplines of history and architectural history.