Constant Mews

title.none: Gorecki, Parishes, Tithes, and Society in Earlier Medieval Poland

identifier.other: baj9928.9403.004 94.03.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constant Mews, Monash University, Australia

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Gorecki, Piotr. Parishes, Tithes and Society in Earlier Medieval Poland, c. 1100-c. 1250. Series: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Vol 83 Pt 2. 1993. Pp. x + 146. ISBN: ISBN 0-87169-832-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.03.04

Gorecki, Piotr. Parishes, Tithes and Society in Earlier Medieval Poland, c. 1100-c. 1250. Series: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Vol 83 Pt 2. 1993. Pp. x + 146. ISBN: ISBN 0-87169-832-3.

Reviewed by:

Constant Mews
Monash University, Australia

Taxation through tithing is a not subject that excites the imagination of every student of medieval society. Its obligations nonetheless weighed heavily on by far the greater proportion of its population. This monograph of Gorecki looks in detail at Eastern Poland, a region often neglected in studies of medieval Europe or considered simply as a 'frontier zone'. His study is model of how close attention to relatively sparse records can throw light on demographic expansion and the assertion of lordship during a formative phase of Eastern European history.

Gorecki's point of departure is a well documented dispute between Duke Henry of Silesia and Lawrence, bishop of Wroclaw, adjudicated by Pope Honorius III in 1226. The bishop was accused by the Duke of illegitimately imposing tithes on settlers introduced by the Duke into uninhabited regions to bring them under cultivation. At issue behind such a dispute about tithe ownership, typical of similar conflicts throughout Europe in this period, was a struggle by both secular and ecclesiastical authorities for lordship over an expanding society. Gorecki skilfully documents the bewildering range of obligations covered by the tithe, as well as different ways in which the Church collected tithes to maximise their profit.

Documentary evidence for the existence of parishes in the first two hundred years after the conversion of Duke Mieszko I in 966 is sparse. Gorecki does not concern himself with the fruitless task of searching for lost 'origins', but with interpreting the surviving evidence. Early documents frequently observe the lack of ecclesiastical provision for the Polish population. A network of parishes, established largely through secular initiative, albeit with the participation of the bishop, was certainly in place by the early twelfth century. However, they only become clearly visible by in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries when many parish churches are taken over by monastic or newer religious communities. In Wroclaw, the cathedral chapter also grew rich on the tithes it acquired.

Gorecki is aware of the risk of ignoring those churches not so appropriated by monks, often hidden from the historical record. The situations of conflict and complaint which he examines nonetheless throw light on tensions within a visibly prosperous society. He shows how the transfer of tithe revenues to monastic ownership was part of a broader process by which ecclesiastical authority established itself in society, sometimes overriding the complaints of individual parish priests. His study carefully balances the trend towards ecclesiastical appropriation of tithes against the privileges enjoyed by the knightly class, traditionally exempt in Poland from tithe. The tithes in their control they treated as a form of taxation enjoyed by hereditary right.

While such a micro-study is exemplary in its study of individual documents, a little more commentary on the broader European context of these issues might have helped substantiate the theme articulated at the beginning and end of this study that what was happening in Silesia was comparable to what was going on elsewhere. By restricting so rigorously the geographical and chronological confines of this study, its value may not be so obvious to scholars interested in the establishment of patterns of authority and control in other parts of Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Nonetheless, the achievement of this study is to make better known economic and political developments in a region, all too often neglected in our picture of European medieval society as a whole.