Early Christian Churches and Landscapes (ECCLES) is a collaborative interdisciplinary project investigating Christian churches and landscapes before 1100 across the Isles – Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and England. Churches were central to historical transformations in this period. They were spaces for negotiation between universal and local Christian identities. They contributed to the projection of social status and political authority. They had a role in the stabilization of settlement. They were foci for economic activity and innovation.
Researchers of early Christian churches and landscapes before 1100 – prior to the foundation of reformed monastic communtiies, the great rebuilding of local churches, and the inception of diocesan and parish records – face three key problems. First, there is no comprehensive catalogue of the textual, material, and onomastic evidence for churhes for any region of the Isles. Second, there are regional variations in the nature, quantity, and quality of that evidence. Third, early medieval linguistic, ethnic, religious, and political boundaries did not correspond to modern national boundaries, yet research often proceeds by nation. Basic questions lack conclusive answers. How many types of church existed? What were their defining characteristics? What was the chronology of church building? What regional patterns exist? Are these genuine patterns or the result of differential survival of evidence?
ECCLES will address these research questions by creating a web portal housing national databases of the evidence for pre-1100 churches with mapping facilities – Early Christian Churches and Landscapes Inter-Active (ECCLESIA). This will enable the identification of regions rich in evidence for regional comparative studies to answer these questions. ECCLES is one part of a pan-European project – Corpus Architecturae Religiosae Europeae (CARE). An existing CARE database will be adapted and the CARE model of national databases compiled by regional contributors will be pursued.
This Arts and Humanities Research Council funded Research Network will support events to explore four issues that must be resolved before this work can proceed. First, the current state of knowledge about Christian churches and landscapes before 1100 across the Isles – the types of churches, their defining characteristics, the chronology of church building, the distribution of churches. Second, the categories of evidence for Christian churches and landscapes to be included in the databases. Third, the existing textual and digital resources to be harnessed. Fourth, the needs of stakeholders that will shape adaptations to the database.