Charlotte A. Stanford

title.none: Andas, Cathedral of Trondheim (Charlotte A. Stanford)

identifier.other: baj9928.0804.012 08.04.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Charlotte A. Stanford, Brigham Young University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Syrstad Andås, Margrete, Øystein Ekroll, Andreas Haug, and Nils Holger Petersen, eds. The Medieval Cathedral of Trondheim: Architectural and Ritual Constructions in Their European Context. Ritus et Artes: Traditions and Transformation, vol. 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xii, 375. 978-2-503-52301-9 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.04.12

Syrstad Andås, Margrete, Øystein Ekroll, Andreas Haug, and Nils Holger Petersen, eds. The Medieval Cathedral of Trondheim: Architectural and Ritual Constructions in Their European Context. Ritus et Artes: Traditions and Transformation, vol. 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xii, 375. 978-2-503-52301-9 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Charlotte A. Stanford
Brigham Young University

The third volume of Brepols' new interdisciplinary series focusing on ritual and cultural practices of medieval and post-medieval Europe, this work comprises nine essays on the liturgical and devotional aspects of the Gothic cathedral of Trondheim, or Nidaros (its medieval name). It is a timely study that illustrates the fruitful nature of cross-disciplinary collaboration in approaching living cultural artifacts such as cathedrals. While an architectural structure is the core of this work, the methodologies and insights shared in this volume reach far beyond the concerns of traditional art history, embracing anthropological and liturgical practices in particular. These approaches complement the specialized, but rigid, concerns of traditional monographs, and provide several excellent models for scholarship that take a fresh approach to a work as an organic cultural whole.

The introduction helps frame the medieval functions and constructions of the northernmost Gothic cathedral of Europe. A short sketch of the history of the building and the recent scholarship on it (nearly all in Norwegian) provides a quick but lucid picture for a wide audience of multiple interests. The contributions echo this multiplicity, as the individual authors remain primarily within their own areas of expertise, allowing for a dialogue of depth and exchange within the volume as a whole.

Paul Binski, "Liturgy and Local Knowledge: English Perspectives on Trondheim Cathedral."The opening essay is a particularly welcome addition in its methodological approach to old problems of architecture and liturgy. This chapter maps out, first, his concept of "local knowledge" as it develops from and relates to trends in art historical scholarship. After sketching the shift from scientific, formalist archaeology of the late nineteenth century to more recent reconsiderations of the relationship between buildings and liturgy, local knowledge is presented as a concept beyond mere mediation between form and function. Rather, local knowledge is something that is "lived" in the community, a "discourse of words and ideas as well as actions" (22) as Binski expresses it, that moves beyond mere organized ritual into customary use and imaginative content. The concept helps bridge some methodological gaps in dealing with the chicken or the egg problem often constant in architectural study, namely the problem of whether liturgy shaped architecture or the other way around--a problem often grappled with in English Gothic studies, which, due to historical and formal circumstances, form a natural background for the circumstances of Nidaros cathedral. With this in mind, Binski briefly illustrates local knowledge through case studies, focusing on the cathedrals of Canterbury (following his recent book on the subject), and Nidaros. Neither are conventional structures for stylistic analysis, and both are major shrine churches where liturgical practice can be demonstrably shown in symbiotic relationship with the building that housed it. The famous white and pink columns of Canterbury's choir, allegorically rendering the white brains and red blood of Canterbury's martyred St. Thomas, instances this kind of local knowledge moving beyond merely liturgical (and hagiographical) practice: "The architecture in some sense 'is' Becket and Canterbury" (36). Similar idiosyncrasies inform the English cathedrals of Lincoln and Ely, Binski argues, in the shafting at the east end of Lincoln (indicative of growth and flourishing in Biblical accounts such as the stem of Jesse) and the progressive budding on the corbels of Ely as the visitor approaches the shrine of St. Etheldreda, whose staff miraculously bloomed. In the case of Nidaros, formally indebted to Canterbury and Lincoln, Binski tests the idea of local knowledge in the feature of the "Trondheim pillar" (a shaft with vertically placed crockets, also used at Lincoln) along with connections between English saints' liturgy and that of St. Olav, or the problematic placing of the main altar beneath the eastern octagon at Nidaros as a local solution to multiple (English) models. Binski himself admits that much of his final discussion is highly speculative (44), but this essay urges not only the importance of rethinking our notions of liturgy and architecture; it implicitly urges scholars to stretch beyond traditional geographic bounds to include serious consideration of less well known, but highly thought, provocative, monuments such as Nidaros cathedral.

Margrete Syrstad Andås, "Art and Ritual in the Liminal Zone."This essay focuses on an iconographical reading of the north and south portal sculpture at Nidaros, dating from the early thirteenth century, in light of the notion of liminality. Andås devotes the first half of her article to defining and exploring the concept of the liminal zone as a transition zone between expulsion and reincorporation from the group, a concept familiar to readers of Van Gennep and Turner, but one which Andås treats from a spatial rather than a temporal point of view. In addition, she sketches most of the major liminal rites celebrated at Nidaros cathedral: Candlemas, the churching of women, baptism, marriage, penance and Ash Wednesday, and finally a ceremony known as "konungstekja". This last was a pre-Christian ritual appropriated by the higher clergy in which the new king was acclaimed and legitimized prior to his coronation, and which had special significance at Nidaros, which held the shrine of St. Olav, the king who brought Christianity to Norway. Indeed, the churchyard at Nidaros held a monument known as the king's chair, where the ritual took place in an outer liminal zone that functioned as the first of two transitions between the secular realm of the city and the sacred cathedral interior. This twofold liminal space can be seen again in the transept portal porches, where the iconography works with the space itself to heighten the effect of "between-ness." The scheme to the north incorporates the head of Moses (representing the Law) and the heads of a king and a bishop as prominently placed label stops, indicating that power is shared by secular and ecclesiastical rulers. The southern portal, more elaborate, is a metamorphosis of the commonly-employed Adam and Eve story, though here the imagery is set up to emphasize the fall and especially the subsequent judgment of man. Andås examines the unusual elements of the iconography, such as the inclusion of fallen Lucifer paired with Adam, in light of medieval Norwegian literary sources, as well as the placement of St. Olav (saint and judge) prominently in the tympanum, and argues that this penance and judgment scheme was highlighted by the use of this porch for the expulsion of penitents on Ash Wednesday. The example of Nidaros thus becomes a case study for the concept of liminality in space.

Jens Fleischer, "External Pulpits and the Questions of St. Michael's Chapel at Nidaros."This chapter also urges the exploration of liminal space in the church, this time in the feature of the external pulpit. Fleischer's suggestion that the lack of artistic adornment in such pulpits was compensated for by the drama of preaching performance is intriguing, but unfortunately is not pursued further. The bulk of the essay focuses instead on comparing external pulpit types with the north transept chapel of St. Michael at Nidaros and examining the Moses and Michael imagery there, a seemingly straightforward program, but one that relies in the end on suggestion rather than firm connection. While the essay raises several subjects worthy of further investigation, it is disappointing that the author does not lead the way with a stronger investigation of his own.

Øystein Ekroll, "The Shrine of St. Olav in Nidaros Cathedral."St. Olav's shrine, highly venerated in the middle ages, captures the imagination even today as an important legend of Norwegian patrimony. Ekroll's essay is the first study to analyze both written sources and the architectural setting of the shrine in an attempt to better understand the relationship between the building and this vital object. The picture that emerges from scraps of poetry, sagas and inventories is that of a three-layered shrine set on a tall, niched base and covered by a silver-sheeted superstructure, similar to the large stationary English shrines of the twelfth century (such as Becket's at Canterbury). From this setting Ekroll demonstrates how the shrine's inner two shells might have been removed to be carried in procession, and how the eastern octagon's original configuration would have enhanced the late twelfth century single-aisled Christ Church. Despite a few unfortunate typing errors (in particular the omission of a plate number on 163 and of the name St. Denis on 171) the evidence is carefully presented and the narrative compelling, down to the final burial of the royal saint in the cathedral and the subsequent erasure of markers that keeps his tomb site anonymous to this day. This study of the grandest medieval reliquary in Scandinavia is a positive contribution to all inquiries of saints, reliquaries, liturgy and architecture.

Klaus Gereon Beuckers, "Zu den Obergeschosskapellen am Querhaus der Kathedrale von Nidaros und ihrer Liturgischen Nutzung."For the ease of English speaking readers, Beuckers' essay is followed by a three-page summary at its conclusion. Both essay and summary are welcome indications of the international character of the volume and the breadth of Nidaros studies outside Scandinavia. This essay investigates the function of the two story chapels in the transepts at Nidaros, especially the north chapel, which may have been the site of an Easter Sepulcher. The chapels were completed before the new choir of the 1170's (and long before the later Gothic nave), so Beuckers suggests that they were interim sites for liturgical performances. While liturgical sources are not specific to actual practice at Nidaros, the existence of Easter texts such as the Depositio Crucis in which a pyx with the host would be placed on an altar "tomb" and the subsequent Visitatio scene that dramatized the risen Christ were commonly practiced in related liturgies, like that of Essen which also employed two story chapels. (The book's first appendix provides a helpful tool in demonstrating these textual relations). The Nidaros Northern chapel, dedicated to St. Mary and St. Hippolytus (known for his creation of an Easter calendar) seems the most likely site for an Easter liturgy, its storage niches able to accommodate a canopy and other accoutrements during the remainder of the year. The southern chapel, dedicated to Saints John the Baptist, Sylvester, Stephen and Olav, indicates an ideal pairing of church and state, and possibly (through St. Stephen) a Christmas connection as well. The focus on the liturgical performances of Easter and the connections between the north chapel's accoustics, incense openings and storage space for out of season furnishings provides a vivid example of treating a medieval cathedral as an organic and living construction.

David Chadd, "The Ritual of Palm Sunday: Reading Nidaros."Chadd's article successfully navigates many of the pitfalls of liturgical studies in his study of the Nidaros Palm Sunday processions. Given his clear demonstration that ceremonial rubrics cannot simply be read as "directions" for action, the unpacking of any actual performance is a tricky job, requiring judicious comparison with other texts in the same family (including those provided in the second appendix) as well as consideration of local history. As an example of this, the carrying of relics in the Palm Sunday procession at Nidaros is not mentioned, but Chadd makes a persuasive case for the inclusion of relic-carrying based on customs elsewhere. At heart, Chadd's study cautions us as to the slippery nature of liturgical texts which form narratives about the "story" of the liturgy, rather than being the liturgical story themselves. Reframed in this way, this essay argues for a promisingly rich potential of meaning within liturgical texts that allows wide, if careful, application to medieval monuments.

Christopher Hohler, "The Palm Sunday Procession and the West Front of Salisbury Cathedral."Hohler's essay is a puzzling contribution. It is prefaced by a short contextual note from M. S. Andås as a riposte to Pamela Z. Blum's influential article "Liturgical Influences on the Design of the West Front at Wells and Salisbury," Gesta 25 (1986): 145150, which attempts to defend its inclusion in the present volume. However, the posthumous publication of this short piece connects only obliquely with Nidaros, which, like Wells and Salisbury, contains a passageway over the rather short west front portals (although at Nidaros this has been much restored). Though Hohler's criticism of Blum's work is firmly justified in his short note, and though noting errors of fact and questioning imprecision in methodology in a piece that continues to be widely read should prompt response, the framing of this particular critique cannot but seem biased. Though the methodological inquiry of this piece provides an addendum to Chadd's article, the very loose connections to Nidaros (the framing concept of the volume) do make this excursus seem out of place; its point would be better taken if it were less singularly applied.

Nils Holger Petersen, "Baptismal Practices and Understanding in Medieval Nidaros."The question placed at the beginning of this essay, whether a study of the late twelfth century Ordo nidrosiensis ecclesie liturgy can help illuminate contemporary architectural practice, is answered at last by a definite "no." Petersen is more successful in his exploration and comparison of blessings of renewal and water imagery in Pentecost, Easter and baptismal services. Nevertheless, though honest in its consideration of the limitations of the source material, especially the imprecision of the liturgy, it is disappointing that the author's discussion of textual nuance makes little if any attempt to connect to the architectural space of the cathedral.

In summary, while not all the essays follow the framing concept of the volume, the overall goal of the editors to provide multiple and intersecting views is a commendable one and a challenge that, despite some unevenness, many of the essays in this work do achieve. The essays by Ekroll and Andrås struck this reviewer as particularly helpful examples of interdisciplinary exploration. The benefits of this work outweigh its shortcomings. Medieval scholarship needs more series such as these.