Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski

title.none: Rollo-Koster, Raiding Saint Peter (Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski)

identifier.other: baj9928.0812.006 08.12.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, University of Pittsburgh,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Rollo-Koster, Joëlle. Raiding Saint Peter: Empty Sees, Violence, and the Initiation of the Great Western Schism (1378). Series in Church History. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Pp. 265. 978-90-04-16560-1. ISBN: $140.25.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.12.06

Rollo-Koster, Joëlle. Raiding Saint Peter: Empty Sees, Violence, and the Initiation of the Great Western Schism (1378). Series in Church History. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Pp. 265. 978-90-04-16560-1. ISBN: $140.25.

Reviewed by:

Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski
University of Pittsburgh

One man's crime is another man's ritual. This is one of the major lessons we learn about looting and pillaging in this meticulous study by Joëlle Rollo-Koster, the author of a number of excellent articles exploring the symbolism and ritual aspects of various events surrounding the Great Schism of the Western Church (1378-1417). The author begins with the question whether the violence that took place around the conclave in Rome 1378 could be interpreted as a real threat, in which case the cardinals who elected pope Urban VI in April of that year would have been justified in declaring the election invalid after a few weeks (claiming to have acted under duress) and proceeding to elect another pope, Clement VII. Thus the origins of the Great Schism, a crisis that lasted almost forty years, are linked to a question of interpretation. Rollo-Koster's goal in this study is to reveal the dialectics between a long-standing tradition of looting the Empty See and the particular events of 1378.

The author's methodology is indebted to cultural anthropology, especially the notion of liminality. Thus the first chapter explores the Empty See as a catalyst for liminal violence. Tracing the different ways in which popes were elected Rollo-Koster focuses on the establishment of the conclave in 1274, a procedure that was meant to prevent long vacancies of the papal throne. The centerpiece of this chapter is a long analysis of the funerary ceremonial authored by François de Conzié at the time of the Great Schism which contains a number of precautionary measures against pillaging, thus showing that pillaging was to be expected. At this time ritual pillaging seems to become a rite.

Chapter two describes the Empty See as a liminal phenomenon. Going back to the fourth century, Rollo-Koster demonstrates that the death of a ruler and the ensuing power vacuum and instability required a redressing of the social order through staged disorder. At these moments "voices usually silent are heard" (79). Two case studies serve to buttress the author's points: that of Damasius and Liberius (352- 366) and of Gregory X and the creation of the conclave in 1274. At this point any popular participation in papal elections ceases and the cardinals become targets of ritual violence. Plundering is seen here as a means of negotiation and a distinction has to be made between spontaneous and ritualized violence. Many examples culled from many different historical moments of transition demonstrate that liminal situations routinely brought forth violence and carnivalesque role reversals (100).

Chapter three offers a chronological study of looting the Empty See, based on conciliar legislation against violence and various narratives of lives of the popes. Rollo-Koster here asks the question that, according to her, previous scholars have not asked: why is this pillaging part of the Empty See phenomenon? She shows that the transformation of the custom of looting into a ritual empowered the actors or perpetrators. It is a "tolerated form of control" that allows people to let off steam (135) in a stressful transitional period. Several case studies again buttress these points: the sacking of the treasury of pope Boniface VIII and the insurgency in the city of Viterbo after the death of cardinal Albornoz in 1367. In each case, as Rollo-Koster shows very well, looting belongs to the "process of negotiation of power and consensus" (165).

Chapter four finally brings us to the Great Schism. The violence surrounding the conclave of April 1378 both drew on and influenced the custom of pillaging. Gregory X's return to Rome in 1377 set the stage for the violence after his death: for the first time in a century the Romans felt that they could participate in some way in a papal election and they made this clear by surrounding the conclave, brandishing arms and chanting that they wanted a Roman as the next pope, or else... Rollo-Koster demonstrates that this violence has to be classified as part of the ritual violence that dates back many centuries. But this is not how the cardinals presented it once they found that Urban VI was a truly bad choice for them: they claimed, against the evidence, that they had feared for their lives and that therefore Urban's election was invalid.

The beginning of the Great Schism is the official endpoint of this study, but the author pursues her topic a bit further into subsequent centuries where some of the meanings attached to ritual pillaging were expanded to include the creation of consensus by acting in unison (235) or satisfying the desire to possess sacred objects. In many cases these violent actions, though clearly limited to a specific time and space, enabled the people excluded from the electoral process to make their voices heard: "looting and sacking functioned as the voice of contention and cohesion" (242). This is a study rich in detail that deals with fascinating episodes in the history of the church. It offers many detailed and convincing readings of important sources and is successful in both surveying vast amounts of material stretching over many centuries and zeroing in on the origins of the Great Schism as one crucial part of the great complex of ideas tied to ritual looting and pillaging.

As much as I enjoyed reading this study and admired Rollo-Koster's scholarship, I must say that this book could have benefited from more careful copy-editing and proofreading. There are many typos and a number of irritants occur throughout the text: for example, Kantorowicz is often spelled as Kantorowitz; the author's late thesis advisor is both Trexler and Texler; Dale Kinney appears on the same page (109) twice as Kinney and twice as Kenney; R. N. Swanson is cited as Norman (last name) on p. 176, n. 33. The words lay and laid are constantly misused. The author's occasionally idiosyncratic use of vocabulary makes some sentences very difficult to understand. A book that costs $140 should have been given more care by the publisher.