Maria Dobozy

title.none: Petersen et al., eds., The Appearances of Medieval Rituals (Maria Dobozy)

identifier.other: baj9928.0801.018 08.01.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Maria Dobozy, University of Utah,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Petersen, Nils Holger, Mette Birkedal Bruun, Jeremy Llewellyn, and Eyolf Østrem, eds. The Appearances of Medieval Rituals: The Play of Construction and Modification. Series: Disputatio, vol. 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2004. Pp. xiii, 219. 60 EUR (hb). ISBN: 2-503-51513-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.01.18

Petersen, Nils Holger, Mette Birkedal Bruun, Jeremy Llewellyn, and Eyolf Østrem, eds. The Appearances of Medieval Rituals: The Play of Construction and Modification. Series: Disputatio, vol. 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2004. Pp. xiii, 219. 60 EUR (hb). ISBN: 2-503-51513-4.

Reviewed by:

Maria Dobozy
University of Utah

Book titles can be misleading, but this one is as accurate as it is enticing and responds to a critical need. Ever since Victor Turner's work (From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982) we have known that ritual is not irremediably fixed but undergoes a process of re-signification, that rituals are continuously added to and restructured dramatically. With this knowledge in mind, the next step, studying ritual as historical process, has been taken only by a few scholars.

The introduction explains the point of departure for all contributors: the process of construction, modification, and re-signification of a specific ritual or ritual aspect. Ritual has long been treated as a stabilizing activity because it appears to preserve repetitive and traditional modes of behavior by constructing its own narrative or myth of authority and continuity as it changes. As these studies show, rituals actually allow for integration of newer forms of representation so that they may preserve old cultural memory but also create new ones. For example, the Carolingian period constructed the myth that a stable liturgy had been maintained intact since Pope Gregory the Great (end of the sixth century) whereas liturgy was slowly being created and constantly remodeled during the entire period form the sixth to the tenth century, so that performativity was extended gradually into public celebrations throughout the Middle Ages. The volume encompasses cultural, religious and social practices that began in late Antiquity/early Christianity in the fourth century and continued changing until the sixteenth century but some studies also hark back to earlier foundations of the ritual elements they examine. The broad question addressed is how and what aspects of ritual have contributed to the European cultural heritage. More specifically, each contributor attempts to ascertain the pressures and processes that lead to change in ritual performance and thinking. Answering these questions requires a multi-disciplinary approach that here includes literary history, art and architectural history, and musicology. The ten contributions are grouped in three sections according to media discussed: literary arts, music (also including liturgical music), and visual representation. Each contribution examines a topic or aspect of ritual that undergoes change and influences broader cultural developments.

Nils Holger Petersen ("Carolingian Music, Ritual, and Theology") focuses on theological significance of song and the influence of musical notation on liturgy. He describes a change from an emphasis on the congregation's participation to ritual performance that becomes formally institutionalized because musical notation influences the possibility of stabilizing and codifying liturgy. Beginning with the myth propagated that the Carolingians inherited the liturgical form unchanged from Gregory the Great, he deposes it by demonstrating that a shift from congregational participation to institutional composition of liturgical music occurred once knowledge of musical notation added greater authority to the clergy. This insight, that gradually after the fifth century, the clergy began to carry an ever greater responsibility for the performance of rituals and began eliminating lay participation, supports the conclusions of some of the other contributors.

Donnalee Dox ("Roman Theatre and Roman Rite: Twelfth Century Transformations in Allegory, Ritual, and the Idea of Theatre") questions Honorius Augustodunensis's comparison of Greek drama to the mass by comparing it to Amalar of Metz and his allegorical interpretation of liturgy. She summarizes the very significant changes in the theological discussion from the ninth century to the twelfth regarding mimesis and enactment, that is, the performative nature of the mass and the degree to which performative aspects and embellishments should be maintained or even elaborated. She concludes that Honorius wanted to illustrate the structure of the mass as a cohesive experience rather than a set of individual events and "lift the mass out of its eternal sacredness in order to present it as a human construct" (43). As the priest takes center stage and moves from struggle to victory to celebration himself, Honorius stresses the division between priest and the congregation of the faithful. What is highlighted here is the insight that performative techniques are in the twelfth century acknowledged by some as an essential part of the mass and entice parishioners to attend.

Wim Verbaal ("Bernard of Clairvaux's Sermons for the Liturgical Year") and Mette Birkedal Bruun ("Procession and Contemplation in Bernard of Clairvaux's First Sermon for Palm Sunday") both discuss the ritualization of literary-liturgical texts. They find the assumption in Bernard's sermons that contemplative embodiment is a useful tool for understanding scripture and therefore for a mimetic approach to ritual and to comprehending sacred truth. Thus Bernard is shown to find it important to experience personally the re-created mystical event, especially when experienced in the body as well as in spirit. The intended audience are monks who are to understand the words as ritual practice. Bernard's sermon cycle for the liturgical year presents the word made incarnate by means of his narrative exposition of "corpus meum." The words of the Palm Sunday sermon evoke through by their corporeal existence the ritual procession itself as a tropological progress. Important here is the demonstration that the sermon functions as a ritual in words and as a result, the words lead to a physical experience of the sacred.

Andreas Haug ("Ritual and Repetition: The Ambiguities of Refrains") considers ritual repetition and forms of refrain. He follows the shift from the old refrains to virtual refrains after 1300 (84) to demonstrate the changing roles of participants in the liturgy as the function of these refrains changes. The virtual refrain appears much like a literary formula in the sense of Oral Formulaic theory where the repetition recurs in the same metrical pattern and resonates in the song without being an exact repetition. Thus what was a response by the congregation has become an aesthetic experience for the audience. This very interesting development he interprets as a secularization of ritual actions of the congregation. If the significant actions are limited to the clergy, it may also be seen as increasing sacralization of the clergy since the ritual function of the refrain is no longer performed by the congregation. From either perspective, the faithful are no longer participants in the sacral acts and yet whoever sings the new refrain becomes an element of composition in the song (93, 96).

Jeremy Llewellyn ("A Paulinus of Aquileia versus in Eleventh-century Italy") offers an important contribution to the reception of Carolingian versus in Italy in which he demonstrates a shift from monastic to educational and devotional use. The manuscript examined is generally attributed to Paulinus who is also known to have composed music but only in private masses. This particular manuscript is unique because it is intended for public Christmas festivities. The article outlines the process of re-signification and ritual re-contextualization of the initial text by greatly expanding the narrative and adding eleventh-century music. Llewellyn maintains that the poetic narrative containing the birth of Jesus Christ with angels, wise men, the slaughter of innocents, and death of Herod actually contextualizes the ritualized action.

Eyolf Østrem ("Palestrina and Aristotle: Form in Renaissance Music") evaluates the role of the text in renaissance music paying careful attention to the multiple voices in the text and changes in polyphony. Specifically he examines the composition of a motet by Palestrina and has found that the reception of Aristotle had a significant impact on the well-known Tridentine reforms. Thus the two influences together formed the intellectual background and arguments that played a determining role in redefining the form and function of music in church ceremonies under stricter ecclesiastical authority.

Jens Fleischer ("Living Rocks and the locus amoenus: Architectural Representations of Paradise in Early Christianity") offers a number of very interesting examples of architectural details with images of paradise (locus amoenus) from several church buildings of the fourth to seventh centuries. He then links the images with the heavenly city concept. His thesis is that the effect of viewing such images in their architectural frame creates an artificial but stable memory of the original paradise for the entire community, a memory never experienced by the community in historical times. However fascinating the examples, the thesis does not entirely convince because the link between the earthly and heavenly paradise is not adequately explained. What leads the viewer to move from the literal to the anagogical level?

Hans Henrik Lohfert Jørgensen ("Cultic Vision-Seeing as Ritual: Visual and Liturgical Experience in the Early Christian and Medieval Church") also argues that changes in church architecture promoted a particular way of seeing. He traces down the central axis of an early church the procession towards the altar, towards the sacred. Later as the view to the sacred is blocked, the process of moving towards the sacred, and of moving from the literal to the allegorical leads to new ritual practices such as the elevation of the host. This entire process, the increasing hagioscopic control of the gaze within ritual space thus enhances within the spectator the desire to see and by that means reach or touch the sacred. Jørgensen maintains that the "cult of vision" generates specific actions to the point that the way of viewing is itself ritualized. But this reader finds additional influences that can govern this phenomenon. For example, allegorical thinking also governs seeing because what one knows or expects is what one sees. Thus allegory may well be the necessary link by which the literal vision and experience of space translates into the mystical.

Kirstin Kennedy ("Alfonso's Miraculous Book: Patronage, Politics, and Performance in the Cantigas de Santa Maria") turns to the four versions of the Cantigas commissioned by Alfonso X of Castile that contain both songs and miracles in narrative form to demonstrate a shift from personal devotional use to public worship; some songs were to be performed on Marian feast days. Kennedy's major argument centers on the book itself having talismanic value. Several miracle-working codices are known from the Middle Ages but this case is double layered: The narrative and the image show the book curing him, but the book working the miracle is the very one the king himself commissioned in devotion to the Virgin. Thus the physical product of devotion returns to him to produce an act of ritual healing (206). Since repetition is so important for establishing new ritual practices, and the Cantigas codices are multi-media productions with words, images and musical notation, what remains unclear, however, is the way the images in this codex may have been used for public ritual. Perhaps the use of these books was discontinued because the images and gestures were never incorporated into existing ritual performance.

The contributions form a most fortunate complementarity making the volume an excellent, relatively unified, multi-disciplinary study of the process by which medieval ritual acts and the underlying thinking behind them were constructed and modified. Coherence is achieved because all studies begin with process in their attempt to understand what elements contribute to ritual and how actions and objects can be understood in a ritual framework. Thus each contributor, regardless of the media and artifacts addressed, examines the processes that contribute to ritual performance and re-signification.

The book is a successful group effort precisely because it illuminates a single set of issues from the various disciplines. The two major issues repeatedly developed are the changing role of celebrants and congregation who eventually are reduced to spectators, and the process and justifications needed for incorporating new practices into the liturgy. A bit more attention to the implications of the gradual division between the priest class and congregation would have been welcome. And if a priest class develops and controls access to the sacred, then does it not also attempt at times to manipulate it? A related question, whether the changes noted result in secularization or sacralization, also recurs but is left open; often the author's perspective dictates whether a change is sacralization or secularization and the opposite could equally be argued. Rather less attention is paid to changes made as concessions to popular interests. For example, mention is made of several influences putting pressure on liturgical and ritual practices and their justifications, yet these studies barely mention the needs or demands of the congregation. It could be suggested that much of the re-signification and performative embellishment of liturgy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is pressured by the faithful and their concerns about personal devotion, and the need to attract the faithful to mass in greater numbers.

The sophisticated interpretations in this volume uncover multi-layered meanings as ritual performances are revamped and reevaluated. Together the interpretations demonstrate that meanings or explanations behind the representations are never completely defined by any codified ritual. This joint discovery then leads this reader to the important conclusion that no single definition can encompass or confine a particular ritual practice; instead, ritual bursts its space as soon as the attempt is made to codify and confine it. Hence process is the primary way to understand ritual and its performativity. The processes and changes discussed from several disparate viewpoints and disciplines are one very useful attempt to reveal the complexity of the issues involved. Therefore, the findings are still subject to debate. As the editors note, their goal is to present useful yet contestable interpretations of the chosen topics.

Ritual is so broad, so all-encompassing culturally, it is easy for a reader to criticize and list what has been omitted here. My intention however is to demonstrate how rich and suggestive this book is and how the debate hoped for can stimulate additional questions and areas of research. It is a welcome addition to the field for all medievalists.