Dr. Francis R. Swietek

title.none: Keats-Rohan, Cartulary of Mont-Saint-Michel (Dr. Francis R. Swietek)

identifier.other: baj9928.0802.020 08.02.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dr. Francis R. Swietek, Professor of History, University of Dallas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Keats-Rohan, K. S. B. The Cartulary of the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. Donington, UK: Shaun Tyas/Paul Watkins Publishing, 2006. Pp. xiii, 320. $39.95 1-900289-69-5. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.02.20

Keats-Rohan, K. S. B. The Cartulary of the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. Donington, UK: Shaun Tyas/Paul Watkins Publishing, 2006. Pp. xiii, 320. $39.95 1-900289-69-5. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Dr. Francis R. Swietek
Professor of History, University of Dallas

Cartularies are among the most precious sources for the institutional history of medieval monasticism, and the house of Mont-Saint-Michel, located on a rocky tidal island off the northwest coast of Normandy, was an important establishment from many perspectives. Its significance in Norman religious history-first as sanctuary and church served by canons and then as community of Benedictine monks- was unquestionable. So was its political and military importance, both as a recipient of ducal patronage and as a strategic stronghold; it is appropriately depicted, for example, on the Bayeux Tapestry. Its Abbot Robert of Torigny (1155-1159) was one of the most notable local chroniclers of the twelfth century. And architecturally it's a marvel -no accident that today it's one of France's most notable tourist attractions, with more visitors annually for any site except Versailles and the best-known Parisian locales.

K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, therefore, deserves thanks for devoting more than a decade to the edition and analysis of the sole surviving cartulary from the monastery, the twelfth-century codex preserved as fols. 5r- 112r of MS 210 of the Bibliotheque municipale d'Avranches. The manuscript is well known to art historians for four illuminated drawings, most famously the frontispiece on fol. 4v depicting the vision in which the Archangel Michael reportedly appeared to Bishop Aubert of Avranches in the early eighth century, instructing him to build a church on the islet. But while the illustrations-three of which are reproduced in this volume, though not in color-have attracted a good deal of scholarly attention, the text has never before been published in its entirety, and Keats-Rohan offers a printed version of it that, on the basis of a preliminary inspection, appears careful and reliable as well as complete, based on sound editorial principles that she clearly enunciates on pages 50-51 (though the phrase supp[levit] man[u] rec[entior] that occurs there should surely be emended to read man[us]).

The cartulary text per se covers pages 63-186 of the volume. It consists of 119 discrete items, the first of them an introductory history of the abbey cobbled together from a ninth-century liturgical lectio for the feast of the church's dedication and an eleventh-century pseudo-historical account of the refounding of the sanctuary as a monastery, complete with two forged documents, one a bull attributed to Pope John XIII (965-972) and the other a royal diploma purportedly issued by the Frankish King Lothar (954-986). The remaining 118 texts comprise charters dating between ca. 962 and 1149, primarily conventional local grants of lands, rights and revenues. Keats-Rohan offers a sound diplomatic edition of all of them, preceded by a summary table of contents. Each entry is also accompanied by a brief English precis and notations on surviving originals, previous publications and calendarings, and scribal interpolations. Taken together these make for an exemplary presentation of the whole compilation.

The usefulness of Keats-Rohan's work is further enhanced by supplementary data: a concordance between the cartulary contents and an inventory surviving in a second Avranche MS, a table of major secular and ecclesiastical figures of the period, a select bibliography of printed sources and two indices (although in the running head the index nominum at pages 302-320-unfortunately given, both here and in the table of contents as index nomina- is subsumed within the general index actually filling pages 275-301). Three appendices complete the edition proper. The first (187-192) is composed of materials related to the text of the cartulary, the second (192-203) of pertinent texts omitted from it and edited from other sources, and the third (203-267) of notes on persons named in the individual charters.

Keats-Rohan precedes her edition of the documents proper with an introduction that considers the cartulary in terms of its codicological characteristics, date, and purpose. Her analysis in these respects is generally sound, but there are several matters on which her conclusions might be questioned. One has to do with her insistence that this or any cartulary must be considered as a unified text-a genre of institutional memory, in effect-rather than merely as a species of archive that can be plundered for individual documents. In this regard she leans heavily on Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 81-114, and in principle it's a point well taken. A cartulary, being the result of selection, arrangement and-in some cases-outright fabrication, should be recognized as a literary creation in its own right; despite its cumulative character it has an overall shape and purpose, which should be properly acknowledged and appreciated. At the same time, however, it remains a collection of particular documents, and though the copies cannot be treated as if they were archival material, their content can certainly be mined for factual information, though the process requires sensitivity and care including, of course, a comparison with any surviving originals to test for accuracy. In defending the unitary character of cartularies Keats-Rohan goes too far in arguing against their proper employment as sources of data.

Question may also be raised concerning Keats-Rohan's characterization of a document not included in the cartulary but included by her as part of Appendix II (200-202)-the "solemn bull" issued for the monastery by Pope Eugenius III on December 15, 1150. She characterizes this document as the culmination, or as she puts it, the "great triumph" (12) of the campaign by Abbot Bernard (1131-1149) and his successor Geoffrey (1149-1150) to restore and reorganize the abbey's properties, many of which had been usurped by local laymen. In fact, however, the solemn privilege was not so exceptional an issuance as her description suggests. Assuming payment of an admittedly heavy fee, the papal chancery would provide such confirmations as a routine matter to any monastic house that could present a supplicatio- a dossier that would include a record of the house's properties authenticated by the local bishop or an appropriate secular authority. One need only consult the pages of the magisterial volumes of Johannes Ramackers, Papsturkunden in Frankreich (Abhandlungen des Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu G_ttingen, philologisch-historische Klasse) to recognize that like privileges were issued for innumerable French monasteries during the twelfth century, and often reissued for the same houses in later pontificates; Keats-Roberts herself notes (202) that the Mont-Saint-Michel privilege was subsequently reissued by Adrian IV in 1155 and Alexander III in 1179. It was not, therefore, quite the extraordinary document suggested here.

This fact is connected to another of Keats-Rohan's conclusions-about the dating of the cartulary-with which one may take issue. She is undoubtedly correct in dismissing the suggestion, often made, that the volume was initiated by Abbot Robert of Torigny. But one might choose to dispute, or at least to qualify, her assertion that the date of its composition must have been during the brief abbacy of Geoffrey (13), which began with his election on May 9, 1149, and ended with his death at the end of December the following year. She bases this conclusion in large measure on the assumption that so major a document as Eugenius' bull would certainly have been included in the cartulary were it already in the possession of the monastery at the time of its compilation. The bull's date of December 15, 1150, in conjunction with the presence of other texts that can be securely dated to 1149, must, she concludes, mean that the volume was hurriedly prepared at Geoffrey's instruction.

Although Keats-Rohan is undoubtedly correct that Eugenius' bull would have been included in any compilation made as late as 1155, however, its absence alone cannot prove that the cartulary was created on Geoffrey's initiative. It is far more plausible that it was begun during the reign of Bernard, who was after all the instigator of the abbey's reorganization, and compiled in conjunction with the preparation of the supplicatio that had to be presented to the papal curia as part of the evidence justifying the issuance of the bull. Work on the volume may well have continued into Geoffrey's tenure-indeed, the presence of documents in it datable to 1149 suggests that it did-but to assign him sole credit seems unwise. It may be added in this connection that Keats-Rohan's observation that the purpose behind the cartulary involved not only protection of the abbey's temporalities but the furtherance of a claim that, as Benedictines, the monks had the right in accordance with their Regula to freely elect their abbot does not invalidate this suggestion. The right of free abbatial election might have been, as she says, a burning issue during Geoffrey's reign, as he had in fact been chosen by the monks immediately Bernard's death (on May 8, 1149) without reference to any external authority. But it would have been an equally pressing issue in Bernard's last years, since all the evidence suggests that the election of Geoffrey, who had apparently been one of his predecessor's chief aides, was prearranged to continue the project Bernard had started; and the necessity of defending his accession against outside forces would have been understood well before it had actually happened.

Scholarly debate over matters such as these, however, will now be facilitated by the availability of Keats-Rohan's able and exhaustive edition-a work in which one can find a few minor flaws and some conclusions one might wish to modify, but which overall is a worthy addition to the corpus of important medieval cartularies.