Rituals to Mould Her: accessing the emotional experiences of medieval people

Without understanding the day-to-day emotions and experiences of medieval people, we cannot hope to fully understand the world they lived in.

For many medieval folk, the church was the centre of their lives. As a core institution, it sought to appeal to its congregations through a multisensory experience of music, text, movement, and visual objects like wall paintings. However, the question remains: how did people respond to them? 

Historian Kati Ihnat and composers Effy and Litha Efthymiou created a performance and public lecture series to help audience members consider a series of questions: when people took part in rituals, what message might they have taken away? How might the performance have made them feel?  

What did the project involve? 

The project focused on an early medieval celebration of the Virgin Mary in Spain, a unique ritual that transmitted a powerful message about virginity as the highest feminine ideal. They reimagined the ritual from a modern perspective, exploring the tension between male ideals for women and women’s reinterpretation of these ideals for themselves. Addressing the legacy of early Christian archetypes for female identity and sexuality, the performance and public lectures engaged audiences on issues that continue to have a profound impact on well-being, even today.  

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Kati Ihnat is interested in medieval ritual and religious devotion. She has also engaged with composers from across Europe in an online forum for the Old Hispanic Office Composition Competition, inspiring them to write new music in response to her research 
  • Litha & Effy Efthymiou (composers) research composition. Their multimedia piece Myisi was informed by work with Ihnat on an early medieval ritual for Palm Sunday.  
  • Jane Chapman (harpist), Esme Patey-Ford (actor), and Harriet Parker-Beldeau (dance artist) all contributed to Myisi, and were able to bring this project to life alongside Kati Ihnat and Litha and Effy Efthymiou. 

What were the results?

Premièring in November 2016, Rituals to Mould Her With is a new multimedia venture inspired by Dr Kati Ihnat’s research.

Dr Ihnat explored how prominent men used the figure of the Virgin Mary to encourage particular behaviours in women in early medieval Iberia.

The twin composers Effy and Litha Efthymiou created a work in response to Ihnat’s research, scored for harpsichord, electronics and percussion, and incorporating theatre and dance. This project united the composers, whose work had been described as ‘deeply immersive’ (Simon Cummings, 5against4, 2015), with Jane Chapman – ‘Britain’s most progressive harpsichordist’ (The Independent on Sunday), and two rising stars of the theatre and dance worlds, actor Esme Patey-Ford and dance artist Harriet Parker-Beldeau.

Dr Ihnat’s research is part of the Old Hispanic Liturgy Studies, funded by the European Research Council and led by Dr Emma Hornby (University of Bristol, Music department). Dr Hornby said: ‘I am really excited to see the genesis of this collaborative art work. It explores aspects of gender politics in a thoroughly modern way, but through the lens of Kati Ihnat’s discoveries about early medieval culture.’

The collaboration was supported by the Brigstow Institute, Hinrichsen Foundation, RVW Trust and Bristol University’s Impact award. A series of performances were held at:  

  • London: King’s Place 
  • Bristol: Royal West of England Academy 
  • London: Non-Classical Club Night 
  • London: Handel House 
  • Southampton: Turner Sims