contributor.author: R. I. Moore

title.none: Herrick, Sacred Past (R. I. Moore)

identifier.other: baj9928.0805.006 08.05.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: R. I. Moore, Newcastle upon Tyne, RIMoore1@aol.com

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Herrick, Samantha Kahn. Imagining the Sacred Past: Hagiography and Power in Early Normandy. Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 2007, 2007. Pp. xiv, 256. $49.95 (hb) 0-674-02443-5 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.05.06

Herrick, Samantha Kahn. Imagining the Sacred Past: Hagiography and Power in Early Normandy. Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 2007, 2007. Pp. xiv, 256. $49.95 (hb) 0-674-02443-5 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

R. I. Moore
Newcastle upon Tyne
RIMoore1@aol.com

The imaginations which are the subject of Samantha Kahn Herrick's elegant and interesting study are those of the authors of the lives of SS. Taurinus of Evreux, Vigor of Bayeux and Nicasius of Rouen. All three survive in several mss from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and none earlier, though all their subjects were ostensibly active in the earliest times, Nicasius and Taurinus as first bishops of their cities, who came to Gaul as companions of Dionysus the Areopagite at the behest of Pope Clement I, and all three as the first evangelists of their regions. Herrick picks her way skilfully through the confused and fragmentary traditions associated with them to show, with varying degrees of confidence but entirely persuasively, that the Vita Taurini was probably composed in the 1020s, when the cult began to spread from Evreux, the Vita Vigoris in association with the foundation of Cerisy by Duke Robert I, in 103032, and the Passio Nicasii shortly after the translation of his relics to St. Ouen, Rouen, in 1032. While there are signs that all three had been venerated in their regions well before this period, none was burdened by any surviving record or knowledge of their lives or deeds (if any), so the eleventh-century authors could start with clean slates, of which they took full advantage.

All three, as we might expect, had similar though not identical agendas, which fit the increasingly comprehensive account of the uses of the holy in early eleventh-century Europe that has been developing in recent years, while tailoring it to the specific needs and interests of their region and patrons. Herrick makes discerning comparative use of the literature to bring out those particularities. Thus, for example, it is to be expected that the hagiographers should have been at pains to establish the legitimate authority of their subjects by demonstrating their apostolicity. But they did so not, as their counterparts in other regions, most obviously the southwest, were doing, by seeking to insert them directly into the company of the apostles themselves, but through association with Clement I and Dionysus and hence the early evangelisation of Gaul, suggesting that they were concerned not to outshine the claims of others but, more modestly, "to integrate their region into the accepted heritage of its neighbours." (121) The ways in which the hagiographers envisaged the process of conversion are interesting in themselves and often illuminating. When Nicasius and his companions clean up the waterways of the French Vexin, for instance, by expelling dragons and demons who prey on the traffic of the river they are reflecting not only the suppression of Viking piracy, but the general social upgrading which comes with the drawing of newly converted regions into closer and more complex relations with the wider world. The efforts of Vigor to purge the Bessin of paganism offer vivid sidelights on conversion as a two-way process, in which the eventually converted appear not as the passive objects either of miraculious persuasion or coercive force, but as working out on their own intiative the terms upon which they will submit.

The common, and major, theme of these works, however, is the intimate and legitimising connection between conversion and ducal power. "All three boasted association with key regions: frontier zones where the dukes sought to strengthen their authority or fortify their borders, neighbouring territories where the dukes looked to increase their influence and solidify alliances." (49) The particular ways in which each did so are worked out in three central chapters which form a valuable addition to the early history of Norman expansion, and of the relations between the dukes and their neighbours to the south and west. Of particular interst here will be Herrick's discussion of how the Passio Nicasii tried to correct (from the Norman point of view) the anomaly created by the political division of the Vexin when Normandy was created in 911, while the whole of it remained ecclesiastically under the jurisdiction of the archbishopric of Rouen. The Passio's account of the original conversion of the region, Herrick proposes, was designed to link it closely to the duchy through its subordination to the archbishopric. "Royal grant thus becomes irrelevant: heaven itself has united the Vexin with Normandy." (110) It is an ingenious and well argued suggestion, of obvious importance for the next two centuries, though one might wonder why more use was not made of the case if it had been deliberately constructed.

This is a short study (and might have been shorter still if repetition had been rigorously avoided), but it is no less welcome for that. Anyone in search of a satisfyingly concise and specific illumination either of the deployment of spiritual power and the moulding of new memory at the beginning of the millennium or of the establishment and expansion of ducal power in early Normandy will read it with both profit and pleasure.