At the beginning of March, students of the History of Art at the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University – who had decided to explore French medieval monuments on foot just like medieval pilgrims – had a staggering 1500 kilometres before them.
So far, they have been more than successful. They have walked over a thousand kilometres and spent three weeks at the Abbey of Conques in the south of France, taking part in a workshop given by leading experts on the Middle Ages. At the moment, they are staying at the Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire Abbey and they have started a crowdfunding campaign that would allow them to publish a book when they return home.
Anyone can support their campaign through the Indiegogo portal, where you can also find other details and a video report about the students’ journey made by a French TV station. On Wednesday, the “pilgrims” had an online chat session with their fans on YouTube, where you can also find a teaser for a planned film about their journey as well as videos of lectures that various experts gave the students during their journey. The students are also working on several short documentary films focused on various aspects of their journey and pilgrimages in general.
From the scholarly point of view, the Migrating Art Historians project is a singular experiment. Their intimate encounter with these medieval monuments allows the students to experience them similar to how they would have been experienced at the time when they were created.
“One of the biggest achievements of our project so far has been an exclusive encounter with a 9th-century statue of Saint Faith, the oldest Christian sculpture, outside of the usual museum environment, allowing us to experience this piece of art face to face”, reports Ivan Foletti, the leader of the journey, from France.
Besides the interest of scholars and the media, the students have also met with some extraordinary hospitality on their way. “We have seen this France, where it is normal to invite twelve pilgrims in, feed them and let they stay for the night. In the recent weeks, the media has been showing France in the throes of an aggressive election campaign. However, we have experienced mainly an incredible wave of solidarity,” stresses Foletti.
Migrating Art Historians is an education and research experiment in the form of a four-month journey. The participants travel on foot, following a 1500-kilometre route through France and Switzerland, from Lausanne to Mont Saint-Michel. The project is led by Ivan Foletti, an associate professor at the Faculty of Arts and assistant professor at the University of Lausanne, and aims to examine the medieval heritage of France and Switzerland from a perspective that is normally not provided in a university study environment.
The eleven participating students from the Masaryk University are following the medieval pilgrimage routes, stopping at three major centres of monastery culture: the Sainte-Foy Abbey in Conques, the Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire Abbey, and the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey in Normandy. During these breaks, they attend lectures by leading experts on the Middle Ages including Hans Belting, Cynthia Hahn, Éric Palazzo, Cécile Voyer, and Michele Bacci.