Join us at 18.00, next Tuesday (25 October) in the World Heritage Visitor Centre for our second seminar, on Anglo-Saxon churches, barrows and other monuments, given by visiting scholar, Ana Moskvina. The seminar will be preceded by tea and coffee, starting at 17.40.
We chatted with Ana about Russia, medieval churches and a ‘frustration and fascination with life’ generally.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?
I am from St Petersburg, Russia, although my passport says ‘Leningrad, USSR’, because this is what it was in 1989 when I was born. Ironically, this is what I still have to state on all official forms as my place of birth. It is a weird thing being from a place that doesn’t even exist on the map anymore but I find it quite fascinating!
What brought you to Durham?
Oh, this is a long story. I am doing my PhD at UEA in Norwich, but a lot of the sites I am writing about are concentrated up north, and Durham was a perfect place to use as a base to travel to all the wonderful places like Jarrow, Wearmouth, Escomb, Lindisfarne, Hexham, Bywell and many others. I learned to drive and bought a car specifically for this. Then I discovered that the Department of Archaeology did a programme called ‘Visiting Scholars’. I applied, got it, received some generous funding from UEA and spent two months in the department as a researcher. Dr David Petts very kindly agreed to supervise me during this time!
I’d only seen Durham from a train before and it always looked magical, and finally stepping into this magic was wonderful! Sadly, I couldn’t stay, but I am sure I will be going back again one day.
What do you love most about the medieval/early Modern period?
I have moments when I wonder why I am not a scientist. I could be doing research in, say, microbiology or oceanography, working towards a better future for the people and the planet. Having read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Man’s Place in Nature’ quite recently, I started to wonder even more, as he suggests that biological research is the only way forward for us as humanity. And then it occurred to me that equally, there is no future without the past. Looking back is just as important to know who we are, where we came from and what we’ve been through. I am sorry this is lengthy and probably irrelevant but I suppose this summarises both my frustration and fascination with life in general: I like to look to the future but I choose to dig through the past. To me, it doesn’t even matter how distant this past is, but Late Antique to Late Medieval period somehow feels right for me. I think Christianity, its development, its understanding by the people throughout history, and the inspiration it has always generated might be a part of it.
What does your research focus on?
My subject is very OCD and very easy to explain: basically, it is groups of Saxon buildings – both secular and ecclesiastical – arranged in a single line for no evident reason. I am trying to explain what it means (if anything!) and how all this came about.
What do you plan to focus on with your seminar?
I will be putting forward a hypothesis that the Anglo-Saxons appropriated linearity as a symbolic language of presence and power already in existence in the man-made landscape in England. Basically, it is about how pits, barrows and henges arranged in a single line were seen as so influential that it made sense to borrow this idea of linearity to make similar claims of power and dominance at the time when the Anglo-Saxon rulers and elite were establishing themselves.
If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
I was first trained as an architect, and for a while this looked like my chosen career path, until I decided to be an art historian with a bit of an archaeologist thrown in. I am also a part-time verger in a gigantic Medieval church in the centre of Norwich and I like it so much that I could have easily be doing this for the rest of my life. Maybe I will, if academia and I part ways one day!
Do you have a favourite medieval/early Modern text?
Oh dear. I ought to say ‘De Abbatibus’ or ‘Beowulf’… With great embarrassment, I have to confess I have never thought of appreciating a text for its literary qualities. I read lots of lives of saints and historical accounts but tend to treat them as information, although the narratives are often very gripping!
Just because I can, I have started to read Sir Thomas Brown’s ‘Religio Medici’ and it is good so far. Does this count..?