Line Cecilie Engh

Line Cecilie Engh works on the intellectual history of the middle ages, with focus on hermeneutics, metaphor theory, cognitive theory, gender, and marriage. She was awarded her PhD from the University of Oslo in 2011, and currently holds a three-year postdoctoral research fellowship granted by the Research Council of Norway. A red thread throughout her research is the biblical image of the bride of Christ, that most versatile and powerful of metaphors in medieval imagination, capable of representing the church as a whole as well as individual believers. Her theoretical interests include the activation of cognitive images in medieval texts: Medieval images – tangible and non – did not merely convey theological ideas or serve didactic ends: rather, they were “thinking machines”, closely related to the mnemotechnics of ancient rhetoric. Born in Oslo, raised in London, she lives in Rome since 2001, working and teaching at the Norwegian Institute in Rome whenever she’s not searching the Vatican Library or marvelling at medieval and ancient remnants in Italy.


Title of Talk: Seeing and knowing with the bride of Christ: How a metaphor shaped thought and action in the middle ages

Teaser: My talk is about how and why a specific metaphor – the bride of Christ – emerged from the world of theological texts and came to shape central aspects of the ideological and institutional development in later medieval Europe. As bridal imagery moved between the ideological hothouse of the cloister and the political and pragmatic arena of the reform papacy, it engendered complex ideological models that established and negotiated both the institution of marriage and structures of political hierarchies in Western Europe. Imbued with specific inferences regarding nurturance, fecundity, femininity, and sexuality, bridal imagery was then distributed to the wider population by means of marriage sermons.

Here it seems we have a clear instance of figurative language impinging on political, cultural, and institutional processes, rather than just vice versa, as is more commonly construed. But how are we to assess implications of imagistic thinking as being intrinsic to broader cultural processes? How did bridal imagery produce and propagate cultural meaning? In what ways were concepts and representations of mystical marriage mapped onto other ideas, and how did those mappings result in new conceptions and representations? And more broadly still: How can visual thinking have social and political impact?

Line Cecilie Engh