The Medieval Review 12.05.21

Obermair, Hannes and Volker Stamm. Zur Ökonomie einer ländlichen Pfarrgemeinde im Spätmittelalter: Das Rechnungsbuch der Marienpfarrkirche Gries (Bozen) von 1422 bis 1440. Verffentlichungen des sdtiroler Landesarchivs pubblicazioni dell'archivo provinciale di Bolzano. Bozen: Athesiadruck, 2011. Pp. 122. . . . 978-88-8266-381-0.

Reviewed by:

Shami Ghosh
Magdalen College, Oxford

The parish of Gries, in the Middle Ages located close to the town of Bozen (Bolzano; it has now been absorbed within the town) in what is now known as Südtirol or Alto Adige in northern Italy, lies at the southen end of the Alps. Like Bozen, Gries was in the Middle Ages closely linked to the economy of transalpine trade and the dioceses of Bavaria, particularly Freising, on the other side of the mountains. It was the site of a market from 1295, and even though it lost this market to Bozen in the following century and was primarily a rural community, little more than a village, Gries remained connected to wider networks of commerce, and was well integrated into the rural-urban economy of the region of which Bozen was the centre; the parish church of Gries was, as these accounts show, embroiled in economic relationships within and beyond the region until well into the following century. In the period in which this account book was compiled, the parish had its spiritual needs attended to by a community of regular canons, although like most other parish churches in German-speaking Europe, its economic affairs were controlled by the community, and the provosts whose words begin this document state clearly that they had been elected by the whole community of Gries. Relatively few records survive from this period from Gries itself (as opposed to Bozen); the volume under review is an edition of the single extant account book, which only came to light as recently as 2008.

The role of the provosts was to administer the endowment of the church, which was intended both to support the priest, and also to covers the costs of maintaining the fabric and other expenses such as the purchase of items necessary for regular and special services. It appears to be the case, however, that the provosts did not necessarily keep accounts themselves, as this account book mentions payments to a notary and citizen of Bozen who checked and wrote down the accounts for the provosts. The account book records income from rents (almost exclusively recorded in cash values), and expenses of various kinds, from the payment of labourers to the purchase of various items needed for the church, including a new bell; also noted are various charitable expenses, and it seems to be the case that the parish church was responsible for basic welfare provisions in this community. Rents are paid for small plots of land and meadows, but also for cows; there were also specific rents of wine and oil that might have been paid in cash, though it seems possible that they were paid in kind. Tithes could also be paid in kind, and the cash value was, in such cases, not always noted. On the whole, though, most of the church's income was in coin rather than in kind, which is not surprising, since the church would not have had the infrastructure to deal with large volumes of natural rents. It does, however, seem to have had a vineyard under its own control, and was also engaged in the sale of wine, and received some income from its vineyard in kind rather than in cash; wages are also recorded for labourers in the vineyard. Rather oddly, although rents must have been intended to be paid regularly, it does not seem possible to discern any regularity of payments from specific individuals over the years. While many people are recorded as paying rents in arrears, it seems quite clear that this account book is not a complete set of accounts, which might suggest that the economic organisation of the parish had not yet fully moved to a literate mode. The editors suggest, on the basis of an analysis of charters pertaining to the church, that the grants of rents to the church did not also indicate a grant of the properties from which those rents came; a number of charters record only the grant of rents, but not of any lands.

This volume presents a diplomatic edition of the text with careful and full annotations pertaining to the script and corrections in the manuscript. The editors have also provided a thorough introduction to the manuscript itself, as well as the historical context; a brief analysis of the accounts; a useful bibliography of research on the region, and on medieval accounts from German- speaking Europe; maps; two indices (personal and places names, as well as a subject index); and facsimiles of some pages from the manuscript. This is, in other words, a well-produced and useful source for the economic history of the region in this period. Particularly given that in German scholarship, accounts, especially rural accounts, have so far been relatively little studied and edited in contrast to the situation in, for example, England (although this situation is now beginning to be rectified), the publication of this volume is very welcome, and it will hopefully contribute to stimulating further scholarship on the economy and society of the southern Alps in the later Middle Ages.