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  Written by
  Jenny Adams

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  of Chicago Library,
  The David and
  Alfred Smart


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Coming of age
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Positively medieval
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The University is one of the foremost places in the United States for medieval studies. Here's why.

image: "Positively Medieval" headlineAssistant professor of history Rachel Fulton is trying to discern exactly what caused a marked shift in early Christians' views of Christ. In her sixth-floor office in Harper Tower, surrounded by medieval motifs, she searches for clues in the writings of 11th- and 12th-century church theologians such as Anselm of Canterbury and Peter Damian.

image: Jacques de Cessoles' Treatise on Chess (c.1370); University of Chicago LibraryThe shift, she explains, occurred around the turn of the first millennium. Before that time, pious Christians prayed to Christ as the all-powerful King of Heaven rather than as the man who had died a humiliating death. According to many early church authorities, the crucified Christ was an image not of reassurance but of judgment. In their view, when Christ came to judge the living and the dead at the end of time, only the damned would see him emblazoned with his wounds. Shortly after the millennium, however, this image began to change. By the mid-11th century, some Christians began to meditate on Christ at the moment of the Crucifixion. Once avoided as an image of damnation, the crucified Christ would become the central symbol of later medieval Europe.

"This image came into being at a particular point in European history, and it was refined and developed for centuries thereafter," says Fulton. "It survives in altered form today in the continuing search for the human, historical Jesus, and it was, I would argue, at the root of the development of modern methods of historical criticism."

Fulton, who joined Chicago's faculty in 1994, is one of many scholars across campus who study Europe's medieval era, the 1,000--year period from 400 to 1400 a.d. Though the era has been studied for centuries, U of C medievalists believe there are thousands of mysteries still to unravel, whose answers would shed light on today's culture. For example, what can we learn from images displayed in the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral? What audiences listened to medieval motet music and why? How did European society's conception of evil change over the course of several centuries?

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