Jarbel Rodriguez

title.none: Lappin, The Medieval Cult of Saint Dominic (Jarbel Rodriguez)

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.036 04.02.36

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jarbel Rodriguez, San Francisco State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Lappin, Anthony. The Medieval Cult of Saint Dominic of Silos. Series: MHRA Texts and Dissertations, vol 56. Leeds: Maney Publishing, 2002. Pp. xiii, 445. ISBN: $96.00 1-902653-91-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.36

Lappin, Anthony. The Medieval Cult of Saint Dominic of Silos. Series: MHRA Texts and Dissertations, vol 56. Leeds: Maney Publishing, 2002. Pp. xiii, 445. ISBN: $96.00 1-902653-91-2.

Reviewed by:

Jarbel Rodriguez
San Francisco State University

Anthony Lappin's The Medieval Cult of Saint Dominic of Silos is a study of the "various phases and transformations of the cult" (ix) of Saint Dominic, the abbot of Silos who in the thirteenth century became the principal patron of Castilian captives. The text, published by the Modern Humanities Research Association, is part of the MHRA's "Texts and Dissertations" series and is an expansion of the author's doctoral dissertation. Although elements of the dissertation at times still show through in the finished manuscript, this is an ambitious, well-crafted, and insightful book that also makes a significant contribution to the recently growing literature on medieval captives.

The word that may best describe Lappin's monograph is "exhaustive" in both its depth and analytical detail. Those expecting a book mostly on the redemption miracles for which Dominic became so famous in medieval Castile will be surprised with the half of the book that is devoted to other aspects of Dominic's cult. The book is divided into roughly two equal parts with an appendix wedged in between. Part One focuses on the hagiographical Vita Dominici Exiliensis, ascribed to the monk Grimaldus, a contemporary of Dominic (3). The first chapter is a thorough study of the manuscript tradition of the Vita Dominici. It is in Chapter Two, entitled "Dominico Abbas: Dominic in Hagiography and History," that the saint makes his first appearance. Most of this chapter focuses on the biography of Dominic and his energetic reforms. The heart of the chapter revolves around Dominic's time at the monastery of Silos, with which he would forever be associated, and the extensive analysis of a vision. Although the scholarship is excellent and Lappin's grasp on hagiography is quite up to the task, the most outstanding part of this chapter is the author's sympathy and humanity toward his subject. The Dominic that emerges from these pages is one that goes well beyond the traditional hagiographic model.

The third chapter traces the development of Dominic's cult. Lappin argues that the cult developed much differently than popularly accepted models. Instead of the monks being responsible for any early success, Dominic owed his initial fame to secular patrons who petitioned the local bishop to investigate his sanctity after numerous miracles were performed at his tomb. Throughout the chapter, Lappin continuously provides creative and perceptive interpretations of the miracles such as the connection he draws between the geographic origin of pilgrims and the time it took to effect a cure (104) or his argument that the miracles were gender biased (110). He concludes the chapter on a similar note as he began, pointing out how the cult was exceptional, in particular, the longevity of its "thaumaturgic life." (120) It is with this argument that he sets up the next two chapters that, in part at least, seek to find the reason for that longevity.

Chapters Four and Five deal with particular types of miracles: exorcisms and escapes. The chapter on exorcisms begins with some lengthy descriptions of the exorcisms performed by the saint and the author's conclusion that "the number of exorcisms at Dominic's shrine, then, was in no way unusual for Spain during the Middle Ages." (149) Exorcisms were not the reason behind Dominic's extraordinary fame. Lappin devotes the second half of the chapter to explain the frequency and reasons behind exorcisms. Using psychoanalysis, psychiatry and anthropology, the author's explanations focus on the role of the shrine in its community as the exorcisms "allowed the monks of Silos an opportunity to communicate to themselves and to others, who they were." (163)

The chapter on escapes, "Ille Promptissimus Deliberator: Escapes" is the turning point for both the monograph and the cult of Dominic. In terms of the monograph, most of what remains will be focused on Dominic as a liberator of captives. For the cult, the first escape miracle "transformed the cult of Dominic, enlarging Dominic's role and persona far beyond the figure of the saintly reforming abbot, whose cult, apart from a burst of enthusiasm before his translation and a small flurry of exorcisms, was characterized solely by the modest number of miracles that had, up to this point occurred at his tomb." (171) In fact, the escape miracle "set Dominic on the road to be a saint with a national profile, fixing him in the minds of Castilians as the liberator of captives and, eventually, as a saint with a special role in the maintenance and protection of Castile itself." (171) Considering that Grimaldus' Vita Dominici contains only a handful of escape miracles, Lappin wisely decided not to use them as a window through which to study captivity, which will come later, in Chapters Eight and Nine. Instead, he opts to use them to examine attitudes towards Muslims. His conclusion is that "the view that the Vita Dominici offers [toward Muslims] is remarkably balanced." (188) However, his comment that "it would be worthwhile to compare this balance with the attitude which democratic governments have adopted towards their enemies during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries," (189) seems out of place as does his use of the word "racist" a few pages earlier. (185) This may be a matter of semantics, but it is hard to think of confrontation in eleventh century Spain as a question of race.

Chapter Six is a brief interlude on visions of Dominic experienced by individuals after the saint's death. The chapter, though short, is well crafted as Lappin uses the visions to determine "how far the elements of an earlier vision or cure could affect subsequent visions and the depiction of Dominic therein." (197) Lappin concludes Part One with a look at how the cult changed over the forty or fifty years after Dominic died.

"Part Two: Santo Domingo. The Cult of Dominic in the Thirteenth Century and Beyond" shifts the attention from the work of Grimaldus to Gonzalo de Berceo's La Vida de Santo Domingo and the Miraculos Romancados, a collection of (mostly escape) miracles recorded at Dominic's shrine at Silos. La Vida de Santo Domingo is the most famous work typically associated with Dominic and Lappin dedicates much of this chapter to challenging the work of other scholars concerning the dating, purpose of the work, and its place among Gonzalo de Berceo's other hagiographies. The most important of his counterarguments centers on why Gonzalo de Berceo wrote the Vida. It was not, as has been commonly assumed, for "propagandistic purposes in the service of greedy monasteries." (254) Instead, Lappin argues, "the primary purpose...was to present Dominic as the liberator of captivesbindeed...we may go as far as to say that the poem's primary purpose was precisely to explain the holy abbot's reputation as the liberator of captives." (255)

Captives were also the center of attention in the Miraculos Romancados, a series of escape narratives retold by the captives themselves upon their visits to Silos to offer their thanks and ex votos to the saint for their freedom. The narratives were "the result of the precise questioning by the monks at the shrine, an interrogation which might be considered a de-briefing." (277) As such, the Miraculos offer a rich font of information regarding captives and their experiences. Chapters Eight and Nine are fully devoted to the Miraculos, with Chapter Nine in particular, focusing on "the manner in which the text was constructed." (xi) In the process Lappin also recreates much of the experience of captivity describing subsequent stages such as "Capture", "Sale", "Captivity" and "The Escape". Tables that categorize all the escapes are a useful addition to this chapter. Interested readers could enter this data into an EXCEL file and come up with their own conclusions about relationships between price and occupation or the most common destinations for captives, for example.

By this time, Dominic's fame was beginning to work against him and his shrine. The escapes, Lappin argues, became so common, that "captives felt themselves less bound to attend the shrine in person" (361) with the last recorded miracle occurring in 1287. Consequently, the author seems to be suggesting that part of the reason we have no additional miracles after 1287 is that escapees simply stopped coming to the shrine. I would point out that there might be more at work here than just the miracles becoming more common and less reported. We may also be witnessing the increased effectiveness of non-miraculous ransoming efforts such as the work of the Mercedarians and Trinitarians, as well as efforts by royal, civic and ecclesiastical authorities. Where such efforts were successful, the need for miraculous intervention by the saint lessened. The absence of the escape miracles led to the decline of the cult and it is to this decline and some additional works on Dominic that the author devotes the last chapter. By the late Fifteenth Century, "Dominic's cult would seem to have been all but forgotten." (xi)

This monograph, although a strong effort, does have some flaws. Perhaps the most obvious is its length and scope, with the author attempting to do too many things in a single work. Some editing and cutting would have been in order. Moreover, considering the author's own claim that "the saint's lives of Spain and Portugal are understudied," it would be a bonus if this book could be used in the classroom. That is not the case as it is beyond the range of undergraduates and one would have to think twice before assigning it in a graduate seminar. On the other hand, individual chapters may prove useful in a teaching environment.

The text sometimes gets bogged down giving us numerical facts and figures--pp. 104 and 361, for example--when tables would have been a better choice. The tables and graphs that he does include are quite useful. Likewise, the constant quotations and English translations that are placed within the text slow down the narrative pace. One or the other--preferably the original language quotations--would have been better off in footnotes. The same can be said for the ubiquitous interlinear citations that after a while begin to look like so much numerical code interspersed within the narrative. Again, placing these in footnotes would have improved readability. Finally, a deeper look at the rich literature on captives compiled by historians of the Crown of Aragon would have provided some comparative context as well as complementary sources against which to judge the historicity of the mostly hagiographic sources found in Lappin's work. These faults, however, are minor and should not detract from what is an original, thoughtful and much needed contribution to the fields of Spanish hagiography and captivity.