Elizabeth Dachowski

title.none: Gazeau, Normannia monastica (Elizabeth Dachowski)

identifier.other: baj9928.0810.018 08.10.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Elizabeth Dachowski, Tennessee State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Gazeau, Véronique. Normannia monastica (Xe-XIIe siècle). 2 vols. Caen: Publications du CRAHM, 2007. Pp. 512, 416. $96 978-2-902685-38-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.10.18

Gazeau, Véronique. Normannia monastica (Xe-XIIe siècle). 2 vols. Caen: Publications du CRAHM, 2007. Pp. 512, 416. $96 978-2-902685-38-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Dachowski
Tennessee State University

With these two volumes on Norman abbots Véronique Gazeau hopes to fill a gap in monastic history. The first volume, Princes normands et abbés bénédictins (Xe-XIIe siècle), provides an overview of Norman abbots from the cession of Normandy to Rollo by Charles the Simple (911) to Normandy's conquest by the French crown under Philip Augustus (1204). Gazeau covers this material in three broadly defined sections, "Les élections abbatiales," "Portraits d'abbés," and "Abbés et ducs." The second volume, Prosopographie des abbés bénédictins (Xe-XIIe siècle), provides a catalog of abbots, arranged by monastery, giving a systematic overview of the background and career of each abbot, as far as can be known, with comments on lacunae in the sources. Prefaces to the first volume by David Bates and Michel Parisse emphasize the usefulness of her work. Bates notes that for many areas the most recent reference works are the large enterprises of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, such as Gallia Christiana. Parisse seconds this sentiment, noting that abbots and abbesses, unlike bishops, have not received adequate study. Gazeau explicitly excludes abbesses and early Cistercian abbots from her study, either one of which merits a study in itself, in order to create a more coherent study. Her sources are wide-ranging, including acta, necrologia, annales, catalogues of abbots, rouleaux des mortes, and notices (such as found in the Gallia Christiana), narrative sources, correspondence, the Rule of St. Benedict, and church councils. Taken together these two volumes provide a useful introduction to Norman monasticism and a handy reference work for anyone contemplating research on abbots during this period.

Gazeau begins Princes normands et abbés bénédictins (Xe-XIIe siècle) with an examination of abbatial elections. Her first chapter summarizes the role of the abbot in the Rule of St. Benedict, the normal procedure for selecting an abbot according to the Rule, and the authority of the Rule in Benedictine houses. She notes that the chronological parameters of her study coincide not only with political events in Normandy but also follow roughly the period of monastic reform begun at Cluny, Brogne, Gorze, and Fleury, and spreading into Normandy through new foundations, refoundations and exchanges among religious houses in the 900s. Her assumption here and elsewhere on the normative value of the Rule is understandable given the relatively meager survival of monastic consuetudines in Normandy, but occasionally seems exaggerated, especially when she later makes clear that many monasteries made little effort to institutionalize all aspects of the Rule. Even explicitly reformed monasteries in Normandy, for example, did not always have (or claim) the right of free election of the abbot. Apart from having to contend with external politics in the selection of an abbot, monasteries also faced blatant exploitation by bishops and nobles. Dukes often allowed long vacancies after the death or departure of an abbot so as to be able to use a monastery's revenues for their own purposes in the interim. Nepotism was also common, though Gazeau found little evidence of simony in Normandy. On the other hand, all but the most self-serving secular overlord would make sure that he chose an abbot with leadership ability and rudimentary monastic virtues.

Gazeau rounds out the first section of her work with a discussion of the "Destin final des abbés." After discussing the many exceptional ways an abbot might leave his post, including being driven out, taking a more prestigious or lucrative appointment elsewhere, going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or being murdered, Gazeau describes the expected death from old age or illness of a good abbot, surrounded by his flock and participating in his last rites. Even in death, however, abbots continued to influence their communities. The most popular burial places were in the cloister, the abbatial church, and the chapter house--constant reminders to the monks of their departed spiritual father. Their names remained before their communities in memorial masses, rouleaux des morts, and epitaphs.

In the second major section of her study Gazeau examines the characteristics of Norman abbots. She first considers social class. Although the origin of only a few abbots (50 out of 327) is known, all of these came from the aristocracy. Except for a minuscule number from the ducal family, most came from the great families before the eleventh century and from the lesser nobility afterwards. This is in contrast with bishops, who continued to come from the highest levels of Norman society throughout the period. Most abbots came from within the communities that they eventually ruled, but about half the monastic houses had at least one abbot of non-Norman origins. Most often they came from England, Italy, and the Ile de France, but they could also come from the Holy Roman Empire, Burgundy, Maine, and Vasconia. These abbots often came to head new foundations or newly reformed houses, both in the first wave of reform in the early 900s and in the second wave a century later. Abbots might also come from other communities within Normandy. Fécamp sent 24 abbots to other houses, mostly its own dependent daughter houses. Bec and Saint-Etienne of Caen, however, led the way when appointments to daughter houses were taken out of consideration. The patterns of movement between monasteries suggest to Gazeau that monastic networks were anything but rigid. Finally, Gazeau considers the education and upbringing of abbots. In the first half of the period abbots were more likely to have risen through the monastic ranks, often beginning life as a child oblate, and to have been educated in grammar and at least some of the liberal arts. This was the era that celebrated the scholar-abbot. By the end of the period, however, abbots were more likely to be chosen based on administrative skills. Child oblation was disappearing, and abbots were more likely to have held a number of lesser administrative positions, such as cellarer or prior before taking up the abbatial staff.

In the final section of Princes normands et abbés bénédictins (Xe-XIIe siècle) Gazeau provides the reader with a chronological overview of relations between Norman abbots and dukes. The variable survival of evidence and the differing levels of attention accorded to monasteries by each duke makes this section quite uneven. Her chapter on the age of the first dukes (Richard I, Richard II, and Robert the Magnificent) consists largely of a list of abbots who subscribed witness lists for each duke. The next chapter, on William the Conqueror and his sons, is more detailed for William I and Henry I, but sketchy for the intervening rulers. She follows her discussion of William with a short catalogue of acts, something not given for any other duke. The chapter ends with a comparison of William and Henry: William patronized reformed abbeys (which Henry seems to have neglected); William had abbots as advisors, while Henry generally did not; both had special relationships with the abbots of Le Bec, Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives, and Saint-Evroult; and Henry paid more attention to the western part of his holdings than his father had. Gazeau concludes this section with a discussion of Stephen of Blois and the Plantagenets. More so than in the immediately preceding chapters Gazeau tells the reader how political and military events, including the Angevin invasion of Normandy under Geoffrey and the Thomas Becket controversy under Henry II, impinged on the well-being of Norman monasteries.

Gazeau's approach provides a bottom-up look at the sorts of major events that form the basis of doctoral prelims and lectures in survey courses. Her discussion of the attempts of bishops to impose an oath on new abbots gives a personal face to events usually agglomerated under the imposing title of "Investiture Controversy." Anselm of Bec's arguments lose their abstract quality when put in the context of actual practice in the Norman milieu. Although Gazeau barely alludes to the Norman Conquest of England, she repeatedly reminds the reader of its effects by her frequent discussion of movements of monks and abbots to and from English religious houses. She also provides vivid illustrations of the economic costs of the invasions by Geoffrey of Anjou and Philip Augustus.

Finding common themes in such a broad study is not easy. One theme that recurs in her work is the relative unimportance of abbots in secular politics when compared to bishops. Another overarching theme is that two major changes in the preparation of abbots occur midway through the period of study: the change in the proportion of abbots from the upper and lower nobility, and the increasingly administrative background of abbots. On the other hand, Gazeau's efforts at comprehensiveness occasionally leave the reader wondering about the significance of her observations. Sections within chapters often consist of a string of examples without even a concluding sentence to bind the examples together. At other times she ends a section with an additional observation that seems largely irrelevant. For example, she ends a section on three abbots from the ruling family (p. 169) with a comment on the long abbacies of the abbots (38, 50, and 47 years respectively) but without discussing whether these long regimes were mere coincidence or somehow inherent in the choice of abbots from the ducal family (perhaps because they were very young when appointed or less likely than most to be driven out for political reasons).

In her general conclusion Gazeau reflects on the huge variety of abbatial experience in Normandy from William of Volpiano, arguably in a class by himself, through well-read scholarly men such as Robert of Torigni to political abbots such as Nicolas of Saint-Ouen to the abbots who served as judges and legates towards the end of the period. Her overall conclusion is that the office of abbot in Normandy was in a state of constant flux.

The second volume of this set, Prosopographie des abbés bénédictins (Xe-XIIe siècle), is a welcome companion to the first. This volume, organized by abbey, gives biographical notices of all known Norman abbots, as well as priors and others performing abbot-like functions during vacancies. For each abbey she notes the state of the surviving evidence, sometimes laconically, ("La liste des abbés de Saint-Martin d'Auchy ne pose pas de problème") but where necessary at great length. For each abbot Gazeau provides (if available) information on: I) Dates associated with the abbacy, II) Family origins, III) Education and religious background, IV) Process of becoming abbot, and V) Summary of the deeds of the abbot. Abbeys are organized alphabetically by modern name of their commune (somewhat confusing as the name of the abbey, not the commune, is what appears in large print at the head of each entry) with abbots listed chronologically under each heading. Names of people and places are given in their modern French forms, though the Latin name of each abbot (with any variations) is given in parentheses. A list of abbots by abbey at the back allows the reader to see at a glance the sequence of abbots. More valuable is a list of abbots by name with page numbers on which their main entries appear. Regrettably, there is no general index of names or places, so a researcher could not go through to see which abbots had ties to Cluny or owed their appointments to Henry I. Nevertheless, the scrupulous documentation of sources, both printed and archival, makes this a valuable starting place for research on Norman abbots, as well as a handy reference for anyone needing to keep track of abbots of the region.

Both volumes open with a helpful map showing Norman abbeys and diocesan boundaries. The first volume concludes with nine maps each showing the destinations of monks from one of the nine principle monasteries of Normandy who became abbots of other houses. The thickness of the arrows appears to indicate the number of monks going to each location, but as the maps have no legend, this is conjecture on my part.

Although these are handsome volumes, attractively laid out, and printed on high-quality paper, there are a couple of unfortunate problems with them. The most disconcerting is a superscript note number in the text of Michel Parisse's preface without any corresponding footnote at the bottom of the page (or anywhere else). Parisse gives the authors and titles of the works in the text (and full publication information appears in the bibliography), so the reader is not left completely in the dark, but a mistake such as this so early in the book could well cause a reader to spend considerable time trying to discover whether the missing note will perhaps be found at the end of the section or end of the work. Less troublesome but still confidence-shaking is the fact that the table of contents of the first volume is off by a page or two in a couple of places.

Despite these minor problems, however, these volumes should be a welcome addition to the shelves of any research library or to the desktop of any serious student of Anglo-Norman religious institutions.