Teresa Witcombe (Exeter), Scouloudi Fellow (6 months)

Between Paris and Al-Andalus: Bishop Maurice of Burgos and his world, 1208-1238 (Exeter)

Teresa Witcombe is a doctoral student at the University of Exeter, researching thirteenth-century Spanish episcopal culture through the figure of Maurice, bishop of Burgos from 1213 until 1238. 

Despite being a key figure in Castilian society under Fernando III, Bishop Maurice has been paid little attention by historians. This thesis provides the first scholarly biography of Maurice, revealing him to be an intellectual, writer, builder, politician and reformer, whose life and work raises new and important questions about the relationship of the Spanish clergy with Islam, the French schools, and the papacy. Examining his largely unknown early life in the city of Toledo (from c.1208) as well as his career in Burgos, this work addresses Maurice’s origins and education, his connections with the Mozarabic population of Toledo, his intellectual and theological interests, his priorities and vision for his cathedral, and his relationships with his fellow bishops, abbots, secular powers, and the papacy. Maurice had an active interest in Islam, commissioning Latin translations of Islamic doctrinal texts in an attempt to enrich Christian debates with specific Islamic ideas, a very important addition to the study of Christian perceptions of Islam in the thirteenth century. Maurice’s career also reflects a strong influence from north of the Pyrenees, as he not only founded Burgos cathedral, the first Gothic cathedral in Castile, in 1221, but also reshaped its liturgy and practices to mirror the most up-to-date French ecclesiastical developments, bringing new ideas and foreign scholars to Burgos. His writings reveal an interest in the NeoPlatonic theology of Pseudo-Dionysius, and this thesis concludes by posing the question of whether Maurice might be the unidentified ‘Mauricius Hispanus’ censored by the university of Paris in 1215. 

Teresa completed her BA at Oxford University, and her MA at the Sorbonne Paris-IV and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris). Her doctorate has been supported by the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership. Teresa’s broader research interests include the construction of Christian perceptions of Islam in medieval Spain, translation and the movement of ideas between Arabic and Latin, and the relationship between philosophy, theology, and heresy in this period.