Elizabeth Parker

title.none: Clegg, The Medieval Church (Elizabeth Parker)

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.031 04.02.31

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Elizabeth Parker, Fordham University, PARKER@FORDHAM.EDU

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Clegg, Justin. The Medieval Church in Manuscripts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. 64. ISBN: $20.00 0-8020-8598-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.31

Clegg, Justin. The Medieval Church in Manuscripts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. 64. ISBN: $20.00 0-8020-8598-9.

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Parker
Fordham University

This thin paperback offers a concise general introduction to the organization and functions of the two major branches of the medieval Church and to aspects of its relation to the lay population it served, with a particular emphasis on England in the later Middle Ages. The text is generously interspersed with a selection of fine color images from the collection of manuscripts in the British Library, of which the author is curator.

The presentation is divided into seven short chapters that follow an introduction delineating the scope of the study and the division between ecclesiastical and secular in medieval society: "Church Structure: Pope, Cardinals and Curia"; "Church Structure: The Secular Church"; "Church Structure: The Regular Church"; "Church and Laity: Sacrament, Ceremony and Show"; "Church and Laity: The Calendar of the Church"; "Church and Laity: Devotion, Pilgrimage and Popular Feasts"; "Church and Laity: The Laity's Contact with the Church."

Given the potential minefields of such an undertaking, the author has on the whole managed to steer a judicious course through the material, where circumstances were not fixed but where general statements for the most part hold true. He only occasionally cites a specific event: the provision of the third Lateran Council of 1179 for the election of the pope by the cardinals, and the 1409 council when cardinals deposed rival popes (12). His outline of the hierarchy of the Secular church gives a reasonable sense of its structure through the example of England. The juxtaposition of the more commonly used "secular" in the introduction versus the more technical term "Secular"--with a capital S, as opposed to Regular--assumes an understanding of a frequent source of confusion, not least because of the potential for crossovers from the latter to the former. The discussion of the hierarchy for male members of the Regular Church and how this branch also intersected with the Secular at times is also well done, again through English examples. For the women, a word about the consequences of the fourth Lateran Council of 1215 that resulted in the increased dependency on (and the expense of) the liturgical services of male Seculars would help readers appreciate why the Benedictine prioress of an established Regular tradition was "more well regarded" than the less wealthy, and less socially prominent nuns belonging to Orders, such as the Gilbertines founded in the thirteenth century. The importance of the devotional shifts spelled out in that Council, especially for the emphasis on the sacraments of the Penance and the Eucharist, is also key to the evolving forms of lay piety in the later medieval period. The author devotes a chapter to the duties of the Church toward the laity in the performance of the sacraments and another to an explanation of the annual celebration of feasts recorded in the Church calendar (see chart on p. 60). In his final two chapters he aims for the perspective of the laity toward the Church in terms of more private devotional activities and communal participation in pilgrimage and religious festivities.

Clegg's approach to the material is on the whole neutral, although he raises a flag with his allusion to the "arguably, most flawed" form of the Medieval Church in the later period's "emphasis on elaborate ceremonial and show" (9). The final two segments on the "perspective of the laity" hint at a conflict between "authorized" Church observances and the popular "pagan" forms of devotion, and the growing trend toward the secularization of essentially religious celebrations. But his main aim, by suggesting some of the complexities of the relationship between the social and the religious aspects of the Church as an institution, along with the financial burdens of tithing and taxes it imposed, is to sketch out in bold strokes a picture that indeed does "capture something of the medieval Church's spirit."

This publication will be most useful for the interested layman. Academics may feel their students need greater amplification and a clearer sense of chronological development. Art historians may be the most disappointed by the handling of the images, given the promise of the publication's title. Of varying liturgical and artistic interest, they do best as a straightforward illustration of a point in the text, the single image of a bishop or other church figure (figs. 11, 18), or of a ceremony--a wedding or procession (Figs. 14, 15, 28, 29), for example. For the author's purpose, scenes that serve the text by a simple representation of a Church function (e.g. Figs. 10, 12, 13, 16, 19) are preferable to more complex--and more interesting--images which invite a fuller explanation but which might not be appropriate to the summary tone of this abbreviated text. Greater use of expanded captions is one way for the author to have addressed this challenge, to give a broader reading of the image and its setting (e.g., Figs. 23, 35, 36, 39, 42), for they offer an opportunity to discuss practices other than the English ones he discusses in his text, since his choices are French, Flemish, German, Spanish as well as English, and range from the eleventh to the fifteenth century. The author's lament on p. 37 that images cannot permit a real appreciation of church buildings can be appeased by his own choice of a frontispiece or the cumulative effect of the church interiors on pages 5 and 8, and Figs. 15, 25, 28, 36, 37, 41, 42. A misidentification (the king in Fig. 46) and a "flopped" excerpt of Fig. 19, one of many such framed details used to mark the beginning and end of a chapter are minor editing problems. Some images seem to be misconstrued, however, such as the one described as a funeral (Fig. 5, for which the figure on p. 4 would be better), or only tangentially related to the point made in the text (Figs. 7, 38, 31).

In any case, only a very few manuscripts are specifically mentioned in the text: one is an English processional from Norwich (Fig. 30) that maps out the positions of the priest in a Palm Sunday service, for which the author gives a helpful reading. He cites a late fifteenth-century Flemish author portrait of Vincent of Beauvais in his study (Fig. 48) in order to correct the frequent misidentification of the Dominican's costume as that of a Carmelite. His final image (Fig. 49) is another example of an artist's "error": to represent an adult baptism in a scene from a twelfth-century French life of John the Baptist. The image shows John the Baptist baptizing a nude male in a wood tub, with two clerical figures with candles on the left and four men in elaborate robes holding a cloth on the right. Contemporary dress and setting is standard in Biblical narrative scenes, as seen in the example of David and the musicians as theatrical performers in a fifteenth-century Flemish breviary (Fig. 41). In Figure 49, the real anachronism would be for John the Baptist, who is singled out by his short fringed tunic as a spiritual presence among the contemporary mortals, to be performing infant baptism, on Christ or anyone else. This book does not claim to be a study of manuscripts, however. Rather, the manuscript images serve as colorful illustrations to a general introduction to the workings of the Church in late medieval society.