Jonathan Rotondo-McCord

title.none: Coue, Hagiographie im Kontext (McCord)

identifier.other: baj9928.9808.007 98.08.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jonathan Rotondo-McCord, Xavier University of Louisiana,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Coue, Stephanie. Hagiographie im Kontext: Schreibanlass und Funktion von Bischofsviten aus dem 11. und vom Anfang des 12. Jahrhunderts. Arbeiten zur Frühmittelalterforschung. Schriftenreihe des Instituts fuer Frühmittelalterforschung der Universitaet Münster. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1996. Pp. xi, 204. DM 158.00. ISBN: ISBN 3-110-14825-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.08.07

Coue, Stephanie. Hagiographie im Kontext: Schreibanlass und Funktion von Bischofsviten aus dem 11. und vom Anfang des 12. Jahrhunderts. Arbeiten zur Frühmittelalterforschung. Schriftenreihe des Instituts fuer Frühmittelalterforschung der Universitaet Münster. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1996. Pp. xi, 204. DM 158.00. ISBN: ISBN 3-110-14825-0.

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Rotondo-McCord
Xavier University of Louisiana

The acquisition of power through the use of objects, institutions, persons, concepts, or other means has received much attention from medieval historians in recent years. Many have argued that the unpredictability and violence of life in medieval Europe led individuals and groups to seek "means to ends." Conflict resolution in the Middle Ages, for example, took on a distinctly instrumental character. The tools used to attain a goal assumed various shapes. In a now classic study, Patrick Geary illustrated how saints' bodies, when treated as passive objects of humiliation, could become active tools used by monks against their adversaries. Property was another medium through which not only economic advantage, but also social and political power could be attained; Timothy Reuter has set property and power as "two sides of ... (an) equation," in his contribution to Property and Power in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre (Cambridge, 1995). Even a concept such as immunity could be employed as a "flexible instrument" of power, as Barbara Rosenwein has recently and eloquently proposed (plenary lecture, 33rd International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 5/8/98).

Given these trends, it comes as no surprise that medieval texts themselves can be examined as tools of power, instruments used to attain specific ends. Stephanie Coue's Hagiographie im Kontext undertakes such a study (incidentally, Coue's own article-length synopsis of the monograph appeared in volume 3 of the monumental anthology Die Salier und das Reich, ed. Stefan Weinfurter [Sigmaringen, 1992]). Examining eight episcopal vitae from eleventh- and twelfth-century Germany, Coue argues that such bishop's lives were written for specific purposes in concrete historical contexts, and in her study sets out to identify purpose and context for each vita she considers. As implied by the book's title, Coue accepts the categorization of her sources as part of a wider body of hagiographical writing. However, she insists that these narrative lives--composed usually by cathedral clerics and monks--were not chiefly mirrors of saintly behavior, but rather were primarily intended as "spiritual weapons" used to solve "concrete problems" faced by their authors and the groups to which these authors belonged. Hagiographical and historical writings placed in their medieval contexts thus assumed not only an exemplary character, but also, and for Coue more importantly, an "instrumental" function. To be sure, as Coue explains in the introduction, exemplary and instrumental modes of expression and comprehension were by no means mutually exclusive. The allegorical or typological approach to reading texts would have been second nature to medieval readers (and listeners), who would not have shared the compunctions about historical "accuracy" held by many a modern reader (Coue explicitly follows here the work of Le Goff and others on medieval mentalites).

For each vita, Coue proposes to identify the function intended by the author for the text, the audience to which the vita was directed, and the particular historical context which elicited the composition of the text in the first place. Coue's method is straightforward: she combines close attention to the language and style of the text with careful historical sleuthing aimed at recovering the political circumstances surrounding the composition of each life. Noteworthy is the variety of contexts which she uncovers, chapter by chapter, investigating each vita in turn.

Coue's approach is clearly illustrated in her analysis of the vita of Bishop Burchard of Worms, probably composed by the Worms cathedral canon Ebbo soon after Burchard's death in 1025. Earlier generations of medieval historians deemed it a poor biography for its lack of detail about the actual life of Burchard. Coue, however, suggests that the real purpose of the text was to inspire the canons of Worms at a critical moment in the development of "canonical" (as opposed to monastic) self- consciousness. The text's frequent use of direct discourse conveying Burchard's encouraging speeches to his cathedral clergy, along with the consistent designation of canons (but not monks) as fratres, stamps the vita as an effort to create an "ethos" particular to the life of the canons, placing their lifestyle on par with--or at least proposing it as a worthy alternative to--that of monks, who still enjoyed the highest spiritual prestige of all. The historical context of this vita, then, was nothing less than the nascent challenge to monasticism brought about by revived or altogether new forms of religious life after the turn of the millennium.

Coue next turns to two lives of Bishop Godehard of Hildesheim (1022-1038). Much of the vita Godehardi prior, composed by the Hildesheim canon Wolfhere ca. 1037/1038, deals with the notorious Gandersheim dispute, during which women religious of imperial birth sought to transfer jurisdiction of the Ottonian foundation Gandersheim from Hildesheim to Mainz. Several eleventh-century authors discuss the dispute, which quickly placed the bishops of Hildesheim and the archbishops of Mainz in direct conflict to each other. In Coue's analysis, Wolfhere's vita of Godehard set out not to describe the life of the bishop in detail, but rather to establish the image of Godehard as a just man who always acted in accord with the law, be that customary or canonical. This vita, however, did not simply have a general exoneration of Godehard's characters as it only aim. Wolfhere seems to have written the text in response to a request by Ratmund, Godehard's nephew and abbot of Niederaltaich, which Godehard himself had been before his elevation to the see of Hildesheim. Coue's careful detective work reveals that during Ratmund's abbacy in the 1030s, Niederaltaich was challenged by the strong local power of the Aribonid family, which counted among its members Archbishop Aribo of Mainz (1021-1031), Godehard's rival in the Gandersheim dispute. Thus, Wolfhere's text was a justificatory piece in both local and supralocal levels of conflict, intertwining family and ecclesiastical politics.

The vita Godehardi posterior, written by the same Wolfhere but some decade and a half later (ca. 1054), had an entirely different purpose, according to Coue. Neither Gandersheim nor Niederaltaich figure prominently in this version. Rather, Wolfhere is at pains to depict Godehard as an exemplary bishop who cared generously for the needs of his flock, meaning here chiefly Hildesheim clerics. He is contrasted rhetorically with greedy successors who neglected what was of utilitas to the Hildesheim canons. Who was the intended audience? Hezilo, the new bishop of Hildesheim at the time of the text's composition, who presumably was being exhorted by this vita to take care of his own.

Coue's subsequent chapters proceed similarly. The vita of Archbishop Heribert of Cologne (999-1021) was intended to elevate the prestige of the Cologne archsee in the course of its dispute with Trier and Mainz for primacy within the realm; the intended audience was none other than Pope Leo IX himself, who issued an important privilege for Cologne in 1052, possibly drawing on this vita as a direct source. Vulculd's life of Archbishop Bardo of Mainz (1031-1051) was similarly composed as a result of the Cologne-Trier-Mainz rivalry, as a somewhat pathetic attempt to salvage Mainz prestige after the reign of Bardo, a politically weak but personally virtuous metropolitan. A second life of Bardo was later written in Fulda, to demonstrate the strength of that foundation's position in relation to Mainz. The twelfth-century vita of Bishop Altmann of Passau (1065-1091) was built upon the rhetorical contrast of those who build in the service of Christ (especially to the advantage of the monastery Goettweig) and those who destroy in the service of the devil. Altmann, as the representative of the former, was held up as an example for the intended audience of the vita, Bishop Reginbert of Passau (1138-1148). The new bishop was thus reminded to be generous to the monks of Goettweig, who had recently suffered depredations at the hands of the Babenberg margraves. Finally, Coue discusses a twelfth-century life of that most controversial of prelates, Archbishop Anno II of Cologne (1056- 1075), often reviled by medieval contemporaries and later historians. Coue categorizes this vita Annonis maior as a "defensive composition," whose purpose was to rehabilitate the memory of Anno as the reforming influence of the monastery Siegburg (Anno's most favored foundation and final resting place) began to spread in the early twelfth century.

Coue's study is appealing for its directness, discovery of revealing historical details, and confident (perhaps at times overly so) reading of the vitae. Originally a Freiburg dissertation (1988), Hagiographie im Kontext owes much to the historiographical legacy of the 1950s Freiburg Working Group, whose studies did so much to draw attention to issues of medieval self-awareness and perception (it is no accident that Coue's study was guided by Gerd Althoff). This is not intended as a criticism; Coue brings a wide range of reading, in both regional and topical terms, to her investigation. Comfortable with German, French, and English-language scholarship on self- consciousness and mentalites, the introductory chapter of Hagiographie im Kontext shows Coue familiar with theological and philological literature as well. As implied at the beginning of this review, Coue's interests inherently overlap with those of British and North American medievalists currently pursuing the study of power in the Middle Ages. Given the traditional chasm of mutual ignorance between German medieval historians on the one hand and French and Anglophone ones on the other, Coue promises in her future work to contribute to a constructive closing of this gap.

If any one criticism is to be made of Hagiographie im Kontext, it might be that the study at times cries out for further development. Compared with many dissertations, this monograph is refreshingly brief, but perhaps too much so. At the end of the chapter on the vita Godehardi posterior, for example, Coue mentions in passing that the intended function of the vita and the actual response of its audience (Bishop Hezilo of Hildesheim, as summarized above) constituted two poles of a "communicative situation." An extended analysis of this concept would have been fascinating, but is not offered. Also, Coue's commitment to find an explanation for every text, while convincing at first reading, may not do justice to recent trends in the study of medieval hagiography as a genre, admittedly sketched by Coue in her introduction. However, Coue is to be commended for producing an engaging study and thoughtful introduction to a body of texts as useful to their authors in reaching particular goals as they are to us in our efforts to understand medieval attitudes.