Louis I. Hamilton

title.none: Miller, The Bishop's Palace: Architecture and Authority in Medieval Italy (Louis I. Hamilton)

identifier.other: baj9928.0207.004 02.07.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Louis I. Hamilton, Villanova University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Miller, Maureen. The Bishop's Palace: Architecture and Authority in Medieval Italy. Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2000. Pp. xv, 307. 49.95. ISBN: 0-801-43535-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.07.04

Miller, Maureen. The Bishop's Palace: Architecture and Authority in Medieval Italy. Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2000. Pp. xv, 307. 49.95. ISBN: 0-801-43535-8.

Reviewed by:

Louis I. Hamilton
Villanova University

Maureen Miller's The Bishop's Palace: Architecture and Authority in Medieval Italy is an exciting beginning for the new series on the "Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past". It is a book worth praising because it attempts to integrate the study of the built environment with the culture and politics of northern Italy in the central Middle Ages. As Miller rightly observes, "Interest in material and visual culture--interpretive approaches influenced by cultural studies and critical theory--has been much stronger among scholars of the eras before and after the Middle Ages . . . ." (6) (It is not clear why medievalists have been so reluctant to adopt the methods of scholars of late antiquity and the early Modern period. It is odd that scholars of the Investiture Conflict and the so-called Gregorian reforms, military and polemical struggles for control of the symbols of authority, have been hesitant to fully explore symbolic expressions of power. [1]) Miller's stated primary objective is to open up a debate among medieval historians about this relationship, and The Bishop's Palace offers many rich possibilities for further research, ranging from the technical to the theoretical. (7) Hopefully, the publication of such a sophisticated study of episcopal domestic space and its relation to clerical and communal culture will spark increased interest in these questions by medieval historians. Miller combines a clear writing style, an extensively illustrated text (many illustrations the product of her own skillful photography), and an enviable knowledge of the physical space of northern Italian cities to produce a great number of insights into episcopal and communal culture in the thirteenth century.

Miller's thesis is that the emergence of the bishop's palace was an extension of the bishop's increased reliance "on the coercive use of spiritual authority to retain status and public influence." (5) Thus, her critique of R. I. Moore's The Formation of a Persecuting Society (Oxford, 1987) is that he fails to precisely locate the increased persecution of the later Middle Ages in episcopal power in particular, rather than in increasing bureaucratic power in general. (6)

Miller effectively demonstrates that a change in the domestic architecture of bishops, and the language used to describe it, occurs from late antiquity through the central Middle Ages. The change from episcopium, to domus, to palatium reflects the changing nature of episcopal authority and the bishop's relationship to the city. [2] The late antique episcopium was physically attached to the cathedral (more correctly the domus dei, domus ecclesiae, or domus orationis) as an extension of it. (49) The episcopal residence had the same relationship to the cathedral, Miller suggests, as outer receiving rooms had to the inner rooms of late antique Roman domus. Thus, there would have been a range of receiving areas ranging from the church itself, to increasingly intimate, but still public reception areas on the interior of the episcopium. The term episcopium was preferred to distinguish the two, otherwise untied, domestic spaces and their respective patrons: the episcopium and its bishop separated from the domus dei. Even as their titles distinguish the two spaces, they are physically blended to assert episcopal authority vis-a-vis the domus dei, and to trace an episcopal lineage through consecutive architecture. The relationship with the contemporary Roman domus also reveals the role of the late antique bishop as patron of his city. (52-3) Finally, it should be noted that these structures were intramural, but often at the limits of their city, a characteristic suggestive of the extramural, missionary interests of the bishops. (19)

Not surprisingly, the residences of bishops become increasingly fortified in the early Middle Ages as the peninsula became more volatile. These fortified residences, equipped with towers, were physically separated from the bishop's cathedral. The cathedral chapter became increasingly independent (with their own buildings and endowments), and the primary liturgical functionaries of the city. (56) The bishops, in turn, were increasingly powerful local lords and counts within the Carolingian regnum. In the absence of direct royal authority, the bishops invented that authority as they constructed their domus. (79) Their fortified residences were most like those of their fellow counts. (85)

Most interesting, and sure to prove most controversial, is Miller's depiction of the creation of the bishop's palace. She observes that even as bishops were losing wealth and urban authority to the emerging communes, they were building increasingly elaborate palaces. (100) The use of the term palatium may precede an actual building campaign significantly, however. (91) This is because the term, as much as the building, Miller maintains, reflects the episcopal interest in reasserting authority against that of the emerging communes, even as these nascent communes used episcopal structures (cathedral and palace) as meeting places. (95-6) In the thirteenth century, the bishops reasserted themselves through their larger and more ornate palaces, into the public life of the city, as "supercitizens among citizens". (115) Whether the city would develop distinct episcopal and communal centers, or a unified center depended on the length of time the two had shared power, i.e., on the strength of the bishop as count, prior to the rise of the commune. (120)

These new buildings were no longer fortified, since the concealed private chapel that was also created within the palaces now constructed the bishop's authority. This novelty within the episcopal residence, according to Miller, is the product of a reimagining of the bishop's authority during the Gregorian reforms. Clerical authority in general, and the bishops' in particular, was to be the product of their spiritual worthiness. There resulted, Miller contends, a greater sense of a distinct clerical culture and a greater reliance on "spiritual powers . . . to achieve temporal ends". (124) In fact, the bishops were engaged in a competition not just for power but for spiritual authority in particular. They were trying to assert themselves as boni homines, worthy spiritual leaders, in the same manner as the Cathars, and even as were the communal leaders themselves (the latter two groups, in some instances, were one and the same). (165, 145) Thus, the hidden chapels in the more visible palace were intended to imply a spiritual worthiness at the heart of episcopal citizenship. The bishops used this authority to suppress "heretics" who were, in actuality, their political rivals within the cities. After the Peace of Constance recognized the communes in 1183, in particular, the papacy and bishops began to pursue heresy more vigorously. The bishops, "used a spiritual prerogative of the church (the defense of orthodox belief) to place the leaders of the commune in a relationship of subservience and enforced obedience to the bishop." (164-5) Therefore, Miller sees the rise of persecution of heresy as an expression of the bishops' desire to reassert themselves in civic life, just as their new palaces asserted themselves in civic space. It is no wonder, Miller reflects, that the Fascists were drawn to them in the 1930's. (9-10)

There are many interesting avenues of interpretation presented in The Bishop's Palace, too many to be captured in this synopsis, and many that will be further considered by future historians, especially as the archaeological record is developed. This should be considered a strength of this thoughtful work and Miller regularly recognizes the limits of her evidence. We can only hope that an increased interest in medieval urban archaeology will be one of the many fruits of this work. Surely this book will become required reading in graduate seminars on the Italian communes as an example of the possibilities of interdisciplinary work.

Among the points that will be revisited by future historians are a variety of chronological concerns that deserve and reward closer scrutiny. For example, the Appendix reveals that the relationship between domus and episcopium may be more fluid than it seems from the text itself, while palatium is clearly the word of choice in the twelfth century. Other points of specific chronology deserve closer attention. Anselm of Lucca is offered, rightly, as an example of the ideal Gregorian monastic bishop of the eleventh century. I saw no reference to the intense struggle between Anselm and his chapter (with their strong urban connections), or to Anselm's exile at Mathilda of Canossa's court. Interestingly, palatium first occurs in Lucca in 1086, suggestively, the year Anselm died. Domus also appears in that same year in Lucca. The complex relationship between Lucca, Matilda, Anselm, and his cathedral chapter deserves much closer scrutiny as it may, or may not, bear out Miller's thesis. A similar problem occurs in her discussion of the life of Bruno of Segni (1040/50-1123). Bruno is portrayed as an exemplar of the Gregorian spiritual bishop. In many ways this appears to be correct, but Bruno's own relationship to the papacy and to papal authority was much more complicated than is represented here, and far from uniformly positive. [3] In addition, Bruno's Vita (written 1179 x 1206) was composed long after his death and may well represent a different kind of episcopal authority than Bruno ever held. (It is not clear, for example, that there was ever a window overlooking a piazza out of which Bruno could have preached, as suggested by the Vita and accepted by Miller.) For these reasons Bruno's Vita and the tiny town of Segni in Lazio may or may not provide the best explanation for the construction of a palace in Parma in the thirteenth century. (180) These chronological questions are worth pursuing because Miller has provided us with such an interesting framework in which to consider them.

Finally, I wonder how this book might have been written if the approach were less functionalist. Historians tend to create a series of binary oppositions that need to be negotiated via ritual or, in this case, symbol. [4] Such an opposition, therefore, require an a priori separation between what is "properly" religious or political. Cultures exist, however, as complex dynamics and we ought to recognize the interdependency of contemporaries and their culture. Thus, the portrait of bishops using the mechanism of their palace as a tool to exert a complicated form of coercive power within their cities is not completely satisfying. Why did people listen to these bishops preach if they lacked the wealth and power of the communes? As Miller herself notes the impetus for the Gregorian reforms comes from a popular concern for a more monastic, and so more pure clergy. (3) Thus, the bishops were competing with Cathars and even the communes for distinction in purity within their hagiography and through their pursuit of orthodoxy. Bishops held coercive spiritual authority because there was an expressed need for "pure" spiritual authorities to reform society. That bishops used this for a variety of ends that we moderns may perceive as more or less political, or more or less religious is clear, but the coercive power reflects its source: the desire for more pure societies. For example, while Salimbene de Adam receives much scrutiny in The Bishop's Palace, the Franciscans and mendicants, as a whole receive less attention. This is unfortunate, since it was the success of the Franciscans, not the bishops, that was responsible primarily for what uniformity of Roman liturgical practice achieved in the Middle Ages. [5] In fact, their churches competed strenuously for dominance in the religious landscape of the Italian city, as well as for the souls of Italians. It was the Franciscan reputation for purity as well as their preaching that made them popular and powerful, and, in turn, suspicious to bishops. [6] It was the mendicants who, in turn, became the agents of religious purity in Europe. Coercive power has to have a source other than the ritual or symbol that expresses and enforces that power; i.e., the symbol or ritual must have an attractive meaning.

Closer comparison with the rising mendicant orders, as well as the domestic and public space of the signorie, might have revealed something of the sources of twelfth- and thirteenth-century episcopal authority. The thirteenth century witnessed the construction of palaces that bear the name of popolo, signorie, and comune, as well as by private magnates, all competing to define urban public space and their authority within it. Miller does not provide the reader with a comparison of chronologies of these palazzi or a framework to understand what distinguished the bishop's palace from the palaces being built elsewhere in the city. Such a comparison may have resulted in a portrait that appears less "fascist," or "oppressive", and may have offered greater nuance to the nature of Italian "anticlericalism". [7] In fact, such a comparison may reveal that the bishop was out-competed by the collective "supercitizen", i.e., the commune, the popoli, or the magnates, on the architectural front as they were economically and politically.

If we consider the example of the Bonacolsi family, we find a much more integrated picture than the model presented by Miller. The Franciscan inquisitor, Filippo, a member of the Bonacolsi, is supposed to have burnt over one hundred heretics before becoming Bishop of Trent in 1289. Clearly he was exercising precisely the kind of coercive power Miller is interested in, although palatium had been first used in Trent some two hundred year earlier in 1086. (271) Is this bishop to be considered more oppressive than his father, Pinamonte? By 1285, he had come to rule Mantua "by his will" alone. Pinamonte did this by the violent defeat of opposing factions, the exile of their members and the destruction or confiscation of their properties. In 1283, Franciscan emissaries of peace were rebuffed by Pinamonte with the warning that in the future such emissaries would be beheaded. The Bonacolsi were important forerunners of the emerging signorie and the thirteenth century was a period of intense and bloody urban violence in the Northern Italian communes. [8] Nor were the Bonacolsi the most violent of the thirteenth-century communal tyrants. [9] The familial bond between the Franciscan inquisitor and bishop and the communal tyrant are illustrative. The bishops need to be studied within the context of their typically urban, magnate families. The bishops were competing with, and losing real power to, capable fellow citizens, and relatives. It is not clear from the Bishop's Palace in what way the signoria is to be considered less oppressive as an institution than its episcopal counterpart or how the two interact.

More to the point, the absence of such considerations significantly limits the usefulness of Miller's critique of Moore's thesis. Without comparative study to map out the civic architecture of the thirteenth century, it is impossible to say to what extent the bishops were setting an example for, or imitating, their fellow citizens and magnates. Moore's study, with its broad assertion of a persecuting society, is imprecise, as Miller observes. But in its broad net, it captures something of the interdependence of a culture and those who seek to control it, and of the broad and escalating desire for social discipline that seems to have its origins in the later Middle Ages and characterize the Modern period.

Even with these serious concerns, The Bishop's Palace is a fascinating and intricate study that poses many worthwhile and stimulating questions. I hope this long review makes clear that Miller's work should lead to greater consideration of the political topography of the medieval Italian cities. I look forward to revisiting this work regularly and fruitfully for many years, and I know many historians of Italian civic and religious history will do so also.


[1] Miller also observes this at p. 245. Recent work has begun to address this gap; Mary Stroll, Symbols as Power: the Papacy Following the Investiture Conflict (Leiden, 1991); Susan Twyman, Papal Ceremonial at Rome in the Twelfth Century (London, 2002). Note that the full title of William North's dissertation is, In the Shadows of Reform: Exegesis and the Formation of a Clerical Elite in the Works of Bruno of Segni (1078/9-1123), Ph.D. Diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1998.

[2] It should be noted that this is not a rigid chronology of usage as her appendix makes clear: episcopia continue to occur through the eleventh century (with one twelfth century example) and domus appear in earlier sources; palatium appears as early as 1038 in Florence, and notably 1086 in Lucca and elsewhere but appears to be primarily used exclusively after 1150.

[3] Louis I. Hamilton, The Power of Liturgy and the Liturgy of Power in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Italy, Ph.D. Diss., Fordham University, 2002, pp. 136-62.

[4] Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (Oxford, 1997), pp. 80-82; Hamilton, ibid., p. 38.

[5] While the reformers may have aimed for greater uniformity of the liturgy as Miller suggests, p. 245, it was the Franciscans who actually brought it about, S. J. P. Van Dyk, The Franciscans and the Origins of the Modern Roman Liturgy (Westminster, Md., 1960). This ought not be confused with absolute uniformity of the liturgy either.

[6] Lester K. Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (Ithaca, 1978), most directly stated in the foundation of the Dominicans, at 153-54.

[7] Miller, pp. 9-10, 256, and 258 respectively. For an excellent study of Fascist use of medieval civic architecture and ritual, see D. Medina Lasansky, The Italian Renaissance refashioned: Fascist Architecture and Urban Spectacle, Ph. D. Diss., Brown University, 1999.

[8] John Larner, Italy in the Age of Dante and Petrarch, 1216-1380 (London, 1980), pp. 142-43.

[9] Philip Jones, The Italian City-State, From Commune to Signoria (Oxford, 1997), 628-30, 648-49.