Line of Duty: Reflections from Lincoln

Lines, angles, and shapes in the roof of Lincoln Cathedral

Why is the natural world saturated with constant movement, and how do we make sense of this perpetual fluctuation of material things? What principles and methods are most suited to find order and coherence in this ever-changing world? From May 13th to 16th, the Ordered Universe gathered at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln to read, analyse, and debate Robert Grosseteste’s answers to these questions in a series of texts. The scope of these texts ranges from the geometrical and optical principles of natural causality in the twinned treatises On Lines, Angles, and Shapes and On the Nature of Places, via the labyrinthine search for the unifying causal factor in bodily movement in On Bodily Movement and On Light, to the condensed metaphysics of On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies. If the principles of heavenly movement remained obscure, the clear skies allowed the rays of the sun full freedom to give leafy Lincoln a summery sparkle. The staff and amenities at Bishop Grosseteste University were as welcoming as the weather, and provided ideal surroundings for activity and movement as well as for rest.

As always, our twofold task was to beat draft translations into shape and figure out what arguments the sometimes highly obscure Latin texts were meant to establish. We were fortunate to have in our midst scholars from a range of discipline corresponding to the breadth of Grosseteste’s interests and talents. BGU did not only contribute hospitality but also scholarship, in the form of Dr Jack Cunningham and his PhD students Ros Gammie and Adam Foxon at the theology department at BGU, and Dr Gioacchino Curiello, who is a British Academy Post-Doc at the same department. Gioacchino also brought some welcome variation into our work schedule through presenting his ongoing research on Grosseteste’s translations of and commentaries on the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus of texts, and how these can be linked to his pastoral care as Bishop of Lincoln.

V1frCU+MSD6TfHlrChh0Aw_thumb_c9e2The texts we worked on this time draw heavily on geometry and optics to explain natural phenomena and natural causation. Professors Tom McLeish from York and Brian Tanner from Durham produced extremely helpful diagrams of the reasoning implicit and explicit in the texts, and Oxford Vision Scientists Professor Hannah Smithson and Dr Rebekah White brought clarity and focus to our reading by refracting Grosseteste’s opaque words through the lenses of their expertise. Professor Clive Siviour and Joshua Harvey, also of Oxford, showed how useful their training in Engineering and, in Josh’s case, Experimental Psychology, is for elucidating medieval texts with precision.

2sreRYt1TJGWO41egFjr+Q_thumb_c9e8Professor Cecilia Panti (Rome, Tor Vergata) had produced wonderful new editions of On Lines, Angles, and Shapes and On the Nature of Places, and Dr Neil Lewis’s (Georgetown) translation of On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies was based on Cecilia’s already published edition of that work. We also revisited Neil’s meticulous edition and translation of On Bodily Movement and On Light, which continues to fascinate and puzzle us. Since these texts draw heavily on other medieval works, we were delighted to welcome back Dr Nicola Polloni (Berlin) and Dr Seb Falk (HPS, Cambridge), who made essential contributions from their expertise, respectively, in medieval philosophy and medieval science. Dr Sarah Gilbert, who recently completed her PhD in History at Durham, had helped organise the workshop and added her valuable Latin skills to her administrative contributions. We were also joined by Karen Monid of The Projection Studio. Karen and Ross have used Grosseteste’s texts as inspiration for their wonderful projection shows, using the movement of light and of sound to make the most profoundly moving projection shows.  We are very much looking forward to seeing what this creative team will do next!

UTAYnaCbR5mSU014QdBASA_thumb_ca084lr5T4I6QoKpCSRUIb1RdQ_thumb_ca02Grosseteste assumed as axiomatic that a unitary effect must have a unitary cause and origin. The union of these disciplines in a unitary debate, while dependent on all participants, can be traced back to the unifying leadership of Professor Giles Gasper (Durham), who once again managed to make numerous disparate impulses and energies pull in the same direction. Giles also gave a public lecture, together with Sig Sønnesyn (Durham) and Cecilia Panti, with the title ‘Creation and the World Machine: 13th Century Science and Theology’. In this lecture, Giles framed Grosseteste’s life and work within the overarching theme of creation theology and natural science. Sig gave a case study of this from the perspective of the short treatise On the Six Differentiae, and Cecilia presented her recent edition of a text, quite possibly and plausibly authored by Grosseteste, on the importance of astronomical time-keeping for the art of medicine and healing.

One of the central lessons of Grosseteste’s geometrical account of natural causality is that while a single rectilinear influence from cause to effect can be effective, the effect is many times stronger when several such lines converge on the same point to concentrate their efforts. This workshop, converging on Grosseteste’s episcopal seat and final resting place, has reminded us how this is applicable, with the necessary modifications, to scholarship as well. By coming together to concentrate our efforts towards a shared goal, we were able to produce effects that none of us would have been capable of on our own. Grosseteste would not have been surprised at this, convinced as he was that nature is the best guide for art and academic pursuits.

Movement Terrestrial and Celestial




Our next Ordered Universe symposium, the eighth under the aegis of our current funding from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, and 24th overall in a series stretching now over a decade, takes place 13-16 May, at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincon. It has been a fascinating journey, and from tomorrow, we broach the two treatises remaining for all of Grosseteste’s shorter scientific works to have been edited, translated, and patiently and collaboratively read. On Lines, Angles, and Shapes, and On the Nature of Places, brings the canon to its completion, with reading on-going for On the Movement of Celestial Bodies, and a final read-through of On Bodily Motion and Light. Two symposia remain for our current sequence which will revise the latest treatises and revist On Colour and On the Rainbow.

The programme for the symposium is available for downloand here and online:


It is a great pleasure to be back at Bishop Grosseteste University. BGU has been a fabulous partner, supporter, and advocate for the Ordered Universe project, principally through the energy and tremendous good offices of Dr Jack Cunningham. We will look forwad to the hospitality and welcome at BGU, and getting on to the most stimulating experience of collaborative reading and exploring the world of early 13th century science.




The Geometrical Principles of Movement and Place: Lincoln Symposium

Next week, Grosseteste scholars from a wide radius will make straight lines for Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University, converging to concentrate our efforts on unpicking Grosseteste’s understanding of movement and change in supercelestial and sublunary bodies, and the geometric principles governing how the former influence the latter. We will read four treatises together: On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies, On Lines, Angles, and Shapes, and On the Nature of Places, all edited by Cecilia Panti, and On Bodily Movement and On Light, edited by Neil Lewis.



These treatises approach a complex set of questions from different angles: at the heart of all of them is the search for order in the universe, that is, for the principles that can make an ever-changing world intelligible. On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies draws heavily on Averroes to explain and account for the unchanging circular movement of the heavenly spheres, and how this movement can be caused by an unmoving ultimate mover. On Bodily Movement and On Light seeks a unifying factor of all bodily movement, and finds it in light. In this way, the rectilinear and changing movements of sublunary bodies can be linked to the unchanging movements of the luminous bodies of the heavens. On Lines, Angles, and Shapes provides an account of the geometric principles according to which heavenly bodies exert causal influence on the world below, while its companion treatise On the Nature of Places applies these principles to explain how the causal influence of the heavens has different effects in different places on earth. Reading these treatises together will allow us to penetrate more deeply into the ways Grosseteste understood the order that governed and connected the supercelestial and sublunary realms.

The team are deeply grateful to Cecilia and Neil for preparing new and improved editions of these texts, and to Jack Cunningham and BGU for hosting us us in a place of such a congenial nature. We are greatly looking forward to intense and fruitful days of reading, discussion, and companionship.

Congratulations to Giocchino Curiello


All at the Ordered Universe Project are very glad to congratulate Dr Gioacchino Curiello who has been awarded a highly sought after British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, to be held at Bishop Grosseteste University  for the next three years.  He will be mentored by Jack Cunningham, who describes the award as, ‘not only enormously important for BGU’s research environment, but hugely important for the world of Grosseteste studies in general. I am very much looking forward to working with Gioacchino. ’

Gioacchino studied for his doctorate at Salerno and and Louvain where he was supervised by Alessandro Conti and Jean-Michel Counet respectively. The BA Fellowship will enable Gioacchino to work on an edition of Grosseteste’s translation and commentary on Pseudo-Dionysius’s 5th-6th Century work, The Divine Names, which will make a significant contribution to our understanding of Grosseteste Corpus Dionysiacum.

We look forward to seeing these results, and to working further with Gioacchio.

Moving objects, and heavenly bodies: Ordered Universe at McGill, Montreal

Last week the Ordered Universe team met at McGill University, Montreal. Some 18 members of the core group, from Durham, York, Oxford, Lincoln, Beirut, Siena, Berlin, Washington DC, Toronto, and the home team from Montreal, gathered together in the Continue reading

Public Lecture at the Redpath Museum, Montreal

OU Montreal Poster

A free public lecture from the Ordered Universe team on the world of Robert Grosseteste, sounding objects, how contemporary science finds its cultural and intellectual identity, the importance of listening to the past and how delicate what we know turns out to be, science, religion and Grosseteste’s contested legacy between English Protestant and Catholic authors – all in an hour!


Montreal – McGill – and the Guidance of the Stars

Ordered Universe is off on its travels. Fresh from our project conference, Easter School and participation in other conferences and colloquia, the next  symposium takes place in Canada, at McGill University, Montreal. We are delighted to be hosted by Professor Faith Wallis, a core team member, and are very much looking forward to four days of collaborative reading in such a stimulating environment. Three texts are on the menu, a re-reading of Grosseteste’s On the Six Differences edited and translated by Sigbjørn Sønnesyn on notions of the horizon and up/down/left/right/back/front, and two new ones. The first is On the Supercelestial Motions, edited by Cecilia Panti, and newly translated by Neil Lewis, the second On Corporeal Motion and Light, edited and translated by Neil. These are the tenth and eleventh of Grosseteste’s scientific opuscula to be tackled by the team, thirteen in total.  As we work through the texts, the sense of the intricacy and intensity of Grosseteste’s thought comes to the fore time and again. In the texts to be considered roots of characteristic aspects of his later thought emerge, for example the identification of nature with the first form, namely light. More than shades of On Light

The symposium will also feature a public lecture to be delivered in the Redpath Museum, by Tom McLeish, Giles Gasper and Jack Cunningham, with details to follow. The symposium will be followed by a graduate conference at McGill, and then by members of the team making their way steadily westwards to Kalamazoo and the International Medieval Congress. We are very grateful to Faith and to Shameem Mooradun for expert organisation, and for helping to shape our twentieth collaborative reading meeting. And they get better every time!

Saving Catholic Grosseteste…Public Lecture

Next week, Thursday 22nd February, Dr Jack Cunningham from Bishop Grosseteste University will be delivering a public lecture, at Ushaw College, County Durham, as part Ushaw Lectures Series run by Durham University’s Centre for Catholic Studies, and in association with the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

Saving Catholic Grosseteste: Fr Philip Perry’s Lost Biography

The lecture will explore the wonderful new discovery of a late 18th century life of Continue reading

e-Luminating Colour

Yesterday, February 9th, was the opening of the 6th Cambridge e-Luminate Festival. Members of the Ordered Universe team were delighted to be asked to give an afternoon of talks, demonstrations and interactive activities as part of the opening events. Seb Falk (Cambridge), Jack Cunningham (Bishop Grosseteste University), Josh Harvey (Oxford), Giles Gasper (Durham), and Alexandra Carr (Multi-Media Sculptor), Continue reading

Cambridge e-Luminate Festival: Master of Colour

Friday 9th February sees the opening of the 2018 Cambridge e-Luminate Festival, and the Ordered Universe project is delighted to be taking part once again. In tandem with Ross Ashton and Karen Monid of The Projection Studio and their installation ‘I see’ on Senate Continue reading