Stephen G. Nichols

title.none: Bonde, Fortress-Churches of Languedoc

identifier.other: baj9928.9610.006 96.10.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Stephen G. Nichols, Johns Hopkins University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Bonde, Sheila. Fortress-Churches of Languedoc: Architecture, Religion, and Conflict in the High Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xv + 270. $90.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-45084-5..

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.10.06

Bonde, Sheila. Fortress-Churches of Languedoc: Architecture, Religion, and Conflict in the High Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xv + 270. $90.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-45084-5..

Reviewed by:

Stephen G. Nichols
Johns Hopkins University

The Church militant cast a large shadow across medieval culture. Religion undergirds heroic epics like the Chanson de Roland as it provides justification for the crusades and their chronicles. In the early eleventh-century crypt of Fulbert's Romanesque cathedral at Chartres, embryonic pictures of knights fighting infidel giants next to church buildings may still be seen. Joseph Bedier elaborated a theory about the origin of the chansons de geste by linking them to the sanctuaries of pilgrimage routes.

It comes as something of a surprise then to discover that the most prominent manifestation of the church militant, the numerous fortified churches that still beguile the curious tourist in the South of France, have little in common with the warrior ethic of epic or crusade. Far from signaling an offensive church, fortress-churches "would seem to have been principally intended to discourage violence rather than to participate in it" (176). These fascinating monuments attest rather to the pervasive domestic insecurity of the Middle Ages than to the fervor of soldiers of Christ: "A fortified church made a striking visual statement by the bishop or abbot in his capacity as the local advocate of peace. ...[T]he more functional a fortress-church was, the less likely that it would ever have to be employed in military conflict" (176).

Sheila Bonde, historian of art and architecture at Brown University has filled a serious lacuna in the architectural history of the medieval church with a fascinating and informative book. Although Church authorities had serious reservations about fortress-churches, outlawing them in theory towards the end of the twelfth century, they continued to be built as bishops and abbots of the region sought to exert control in the "face" of threats from "outsiders" identified as "Saracens," pirates, heretics, & brigands. So fortress-churches, she shows, shared with castle fortifications not only an analogous raison d'etre, but also the same architectural principle: machicolation over arches.

Thus, once a decision had been made to build a fortified church, the secular logic of defense determined that there would be no difference--so far as the perimeter of the church was concerned between castle and church to the point where even the church tower could function as a donjon, a place of security for persons and goods. Machicolation is the functional feature demarcating the defensive and sacerdotal architectural aspects of the churches, interior from exterior. Bonde properly describes how the presence of defenders, armed men whose function is not sacerdotal, must be imagined. Similarly, to complete the picture of the "active" fortress-church, we must envision them surmounted by hoarding--wooden platforms built into the top of the wall (a kind of "machicolation written in timber" as Bonde puts it)-- and portcullises--openings which normally allowed doors to be raised and lowered through vertical slots.

In five lucid chapters, Bonde describes the fortress-church, situates it in the larger context of 12th-century Languedoc, analyses three specific examples (Maguelone, Agde, Saint- Paul) along with surviving documents, describes how the monuments were manned, and, finally, examines sources and parallels in the architectural context. The book is richly illustrated with maps and drawings, and buttressed by appendices of primary documents. Medievalists generally will appreciate this book whose accessibility also assures its feasibility for undergraduate background reading.