Staff Spotlight: Bridget Heal

Blog written by Professor Bridget Heal. Professor Heal’s research focusses on the long-term impact of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations on German society and culture. She has published two monographs: The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500-1648 (2014) and A Magnificent Faith: Art and Identity in Lutheran Germany (2017).

I came to St Andrews in 2002. Before that (long, long ago) I studied history and art history in Cambridge and London and had a postdoctoral research position in Cambridge. St Andrews has been home for nearly 20 years now, and I’m very grateful for the colleagues and students who make it such a fantastic place to live and work. As a historian of Germany, I try to spend as much time as possible there. I’ve lived in Nuremberg, Munich, Cologne and most recently Berlin. Much as I love St Andrews, it’s great to escape to a big city now and again. My son, Tom, was born in 2007. Because of my work he’s spent 3 years living in Berlin and has developed a strong liking for Currywurst.

A bronze statue of Martin Luther, in front of the Frauenkirche in Dresden. Ad Meskens. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

My research focuses on the long-term impact of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations on German society and culture. I’ve always been particularly interested in images, and in the ways in which historians use visual evidence. My first book, based on my PhD, drew on both visual and textual sources to investigate what happened to the medieval cult of the Virgin Mary during the Reformation era. My second explains why Lutheranism, a confession that is usually understood as being built around the spoken and printed word, made such extensive use of images. It originated in my desire to explain seeming paradoxes like the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden, a Lutheran church that deployed the visual idioms of the Catholic baroque and was compared by eighteenth-century observers to St Peter’s in Rome. If you want to know more, I wrote a blog.

Epitaph for Christian Lehmann and Euphrosyna Lehmann, born Kreusel, parish church, Scheibenberg (Saxony). Credit: Bridget Heal

I’m working now on a very different project: a religious history of the Thirty Years War (1618-48). During my research on Lutheran art I came across a wonderful set of sources written by a pastor, Christian Lehmann. He served in a small mining village in southern Saxony for 50 years from 1638-88 and witnessed the worst predations of the war and its difficult aftermath. I am using his writings and the records relating to his parish as the basis for a book that examines the role of religion in the survival and recovery of individuals and communities during Germany’s first ‘Great War’. Lehmann’s writings are excellent to work with, as he recorded all kinds of interesting things, from local gossip to ghost stories. And he had nice handwriting – something historians of early modern Germany can never take for granted.

Since lockdown, and the temporary end of research trips to Germany, my main achievement has been the acquisition of a kitten, Clio. I’m hoping that someday she’ll grow into her role as a muse of history and stop bouncing off the furniture. In the meantime, she’s made some star appearances on Teams…

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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