Early Christian Churches and Landscapes (ECCLES): Co-creating a public digital resource

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Collaboration with University College Cork and University of Chester.

Early Christian Churches and Landscapes (ECCLES) is a research project focused on Christian churches established in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and England before 1100. This was the period in which the peoples of Britain and Ireland converted to Christianity and first established the landscape of local churches. ECCLES brings together historians, archaeologists, art historians, and experts on place-names to identify the different types of evidence for those churches. It will provide a more comprehensive picture of the nature, location, distribution, and landscape settings of those churches. It will produce a Public Web Resource housing a database of the evidence, allowing users to search for places, discover their historical context, identify the surviving evidence relating to them, and download information to produce maps.

The project is significant because churches have played a central role in economic, social, cultural, and political change. Christianity is a global faith, but it is practised locally: churches are places where local Christian identities are constructed as aspects of that global faith interact with local economic, social, cultural, and political conditions. Christian worship has involved communal participation. Churches have therefore also been places where members of local communities could show off economic wealth or social standing, or where rulers could seek to exert power. Thanks to their roles in local society, churches have often received land to support their work. The churches established before 1100 often remain significant sacred places and community centres today, where local communities curate the evidence from this period and where that evidence remains meaningful to them.

Despite the significance of these churches to academic researchers and to local communities, our knowledge about them is incomplete. It is only from 1100 onwards that our evidence for churches of all kinds becomes more common, as a result of the foundation of reformed monasteries, the great rebuilding of local churches, and the beginning of diocesan and parish- records. First, there is no comprehensive catalogue of the different types of evidence for churches established before 1100,so we do not know how many churches once existed. Second, though we know that there are regional variations in the evidence for early Christian churches, we do not know whether this reflects the original distribution of churches or is down to differences in the types of evidence available or the destruction of evidence in intervening periods. Third, in the period before 1100 the modern nations of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England did not exist, but the evidence for churches is often inappropriately researched according to those modern national boundaries. Fourth, the evidence for those churches is usually under the care of heritage agencies, ecclesiastical bodies, or charities, but there is no publicly accessible resource where they can identify that evidence, explore its context, or investigate its social values.

To consider how the ECCLES Public Web Resource should meet the needs of academic researchers and non-academic stakeholders, the AHRC funded a Research Network. We observed that an existing European database focused on the needs of academic researchers; instead, we required a new Public Web Resource to meet the needs of non-academic stakeholders. We identified a demand for additional resources - an Online Exhibition Space where members of local communities can create exhibitions about their churches, and Model Teaching Packs to help teachers use the ECCLES database in schools. This AHRC Follow-On Funding project will allow us to program the ECCLES Public Web Resource, enter Pilot Data, and co-create an Online Exhibition Space, a Pilot Online Exhibition, and Model Teaching Packs with members of heritage agencies, ecclesiastical bodies, ecclesiastical charities, teachers, and local communities.

Total award value £9,801.54

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Professor Sally Foster

Professor Sally Foster

Professor, History