The Medieval Review 11.10.15

Tinti, Francesca. Sustaining Belief: The Church of Worcester from c.870 to c.1100. Studies in Early Medieval Britain. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2010. Pp. xvii, 358. $34.95. ISBN 978-0-7546-0902-5. . .

Reviewed by:

Richard Pfaff
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The only seriously adverse criticism to be offered about Francesca Tinti's superb monograph has to do with its main title. Sustaining Belief suggests a book of theological reflection or even religious devotion: a minor aspect of what this book is about, its broader subject being indicated by the sub-title. I begin with this cavil in the hope that, duly warned, potential readers--and scanners of "new book" lists from libraries and their suppliers--will not overlook this immensely valuable contribution to the history of both Anglo-Saxon England and the medieval church.

Some rationale for the misleading title may be discernible in the way Tinti has headed her first, introductory chapter: "Sustaining Belief through Memory, Land and Pastoral Care." That trio of hefty topics forms the meat of the volume, occupying the third, fourth, and fifth chapters respectively. But before each is considered in great detail, she offers (in chapter 2, "Personnel: Bishop and Cathedral Community"), a remarkable overview of the dramatis personae, so to speak: remarkable in that concentrating first on the people involved in ostensibly dry activities--like record-keeping and which piece of property is dependent on whom for what--gives a human dimension to material that might otherwise seem paralyzingly technical.

So this chapter is both the key to the book's accessibility and a kind of mini-history of the diocese. The book proceeds by episcopate: bishops of Worcester from Waerferth (c. 869-c. 873) to (St.) Wulfstan (1062-95), with fullest attention given to the latter figure and to the see's other saint, the monastic reformer Oswald (961-92). Some, and welcome, attention, is also given to the cathedral community, particularly to the titles given to its heads ("prior" became standard usage only after a long period of variation of titles like "primus" and "decanus").

"Worcester has preserved the largest surviving collection of Anglo- Saxon charters" (75): these succinct words both open, and act as a kind of ground bass to, chapter 3, "Archival Memory and Record- Keeping." These documents--that is, copies of the originals--are for the most part preserved in three great cartularies. (There are also a number of leases on single sheets, six of which are helpfully illustrated in full-page images.) The first, which has the distinction of being the earliest extant English cartulary, is the Liber Wigorniensis (now London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius A.XIII, fols. 1-118): "possibly planned and certainly completed," according to Tinti, during the episcopate of Wul(f)stan I (1002-16), and in a sense "the first surviving attempt at filing a very high number of documents" (124). A second such collection was produced during the episcopate of his namesake (St.) Wulfstan; only a few folia survive of this (now called Nero-Middleton: bits in British Library, MS Cotton Nero E.I, part 2, and MS Additional 46204, the latter formerly owned by Lord Middleton), but enough to show that the vigorous record-keeping activity demonstrated in the Liber survived the Norman Conquest. And at the end of the eleventh century, after Wulfstan's death, a third collection (fols. 119-200 of MS Cotton Tiberius A.XIII) was partly written and perhaps coordinated by the Worcester monk Hemming, and is commonly called by his name--at least since the time of Thomas Hearne, who edited the manuscript in 1723 and mistakenly ascribed the whole manuscript to Hemming; the matter was cleared up in a masterly analysis by Neil Ker in 1948.

Tinti scrutinizes each of these three big collections minutely, not only in narrative but also with numerous tables of structure and contents, both as they are at present and putatively as they were originally ordered. The most striking analysis is that of the fragmentary Nero-Middleton collection. Here, if I understand Tinti's argument correctly, the originals of the leaves that now comprise the cartulary were copied into "an ancient and special Bible" (135)--just as (although the parallel is not mentioned here) a key privilege of Christ Church, Canterbury, was copied on blank leaves between the gospels of Luke and John in a precious and rather ancient Continental gospel book (now British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A.II), probably in 1006. Such a practice testifies to one of the author's central concerns: the importance of record-keeping in the making of communities ("Hemming's Cartulary thus becomes the first instrument to give voice to the monks' preoccupations through a much more explicit and deliberate manipulation of the past," 149).

The fact, noted at the end of chapter 3, that a primary method of organization of these charters was by the shires to which they applied, provides a useful transition to the next chapter, "Land, Lordship and Justice." Viewed one way, this is Anglo-Saxon tenurial history at its driest: episcopal estates shire by shire, estate by estate; then the lands of the monks, also estate by estate. The thrilling phrase "the triple hundred of Oswaldslow" is about as exciting as the chapter gets. Viewed more broadly, however, it becomes easy to discern large topics illuminated by the minutiae of these analyses. Bits of light shine, for example, on the relevance to the vexed question of ship-soke of a celebrated (forged) charter for this so-called triple hundred; on the far-reaching if sometimes murky processes by which bishops gained control of property held by ancient minsters; and on the proclivity of (post-Conquest) bishops to subinfeudate. Pressures from powerful post-Conquest rivals like the sheriff Urse d'Abitot and abbot Æthelwig of Evesham spurred the bishops to aggressive documentary activity in defending the properties of their church--activity which, Tinti goes on to argue, has a reflex in the broad area of pastoral care.

Hence the somewhat surprising title of her final substantial chapter, "Ecclesiastical Organization and Pastoral Care." Its central focus is "the delivery of pastoral care," a phrase that, as well as being a bit modish ("delivery of higher education" and the like), is potentially somewhat misleading. By pastoral care Tinti means primarily matters connected with baptism, visitation of the sick, and burial--almost the hackneyed "hatch, match, and dispatch" formula, although steady involvement of the church in marriage rites was only beginning in the period she covers--and, on the episcopal level, mainly confirmation and the consecration of churches. Much less attention is paid to the staples of Christian life in the century or so on either side of the year 1000 (before auricular confession became a regular, nearly universal practice), namely, the Mass and various seasonal celebrations. That these are relatively neglected here is not surprising, especially given the fine collection of studies which Tinti edited and contributed to, Pastoral Care in Late Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge, 2005). But a word of caution may be in order, lest events that take place only a handful of times in the lives of the faithful overbalance the humdrum facts of the week-by-week, year- by-year, practice of medieval religious life.

That caution uttered, it must be stressed that this chapter is no less useful, and the amount of fascinating detail packed into it no less profuse, than the previous three. Among the matters considered are the tensions inherent in a shifting of balance from minster churches to nascent parish, or at least proto-parish, churches. Tinti emphasizes "the existence in late Anglo-Saxon England of churches with different types of pastoral responsibilities and jurisdictional rights" (227) and deals with the resulting complexities with specificity and skill. Her presentation here is vastly enhanced by a small number of well- chosen photographs printed on the relevant pages and a generous number of maps.

But the main value of the book lies in having shown (in words drawn from the conclusion) "how the church of Worcester handled documents attesting its own history and that of its estates and how successive bishops and members of the cathedral community saw the preservation and interpretation of that past as integral parts of their mission, not as something separated from their religious and pastoral work" (315). Several intelligent production decisions--above all, proper footnotes as well as exactly placed illustrative materials--make reading this long and dense work as easy as it can be. The writing, too, is generally smooth, though there are occasional moments of awkwardness. In the bibliography, "McC. Gatch, M." should be "Gatch, M. McC.", and the 1989 second edition cited for F.E. Harmer's Anglo-Saxon Writs is merely a reprint of the 1952 original with a fourteen-page 1959 article by Harmer appended. There are a few other inconsistencies and inaccuracies. A surprising omission is any mention of Everett Crosby's Bishop and Chapter in Twelfth-Century England (Cambridge, 1994), of which pages 234-46 directly address matters dealt with by Tinti. The index is admirably full, with separate indices of charters and of manuscripts. Overall, the production of the book does credit to its contents--and the contents add lustrously to our knowledge of late Anglo-Saxon England.