contributor.author: Richard Cusimano

title.none: Bissegger, Une paroisse raconte ses mortes (Richard Cusimano)

identifier.other: baj9928.0410.007 04.10.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard Cusimano, University of Louisiana-Lafayette, rccusimano@cox-internet.com

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Bissegger, Arthur. Une paroisse raconte ses mortes: L'obituaire de l'eglise Saint-Paul a Villeneuve (XIVe-XVe siecles). Series: Cahiers Lausannois d'Histoire Medievale, vol. 33. Lausanne: Universite de Lausanne, 2003. Pp. 204. ISBN: 2-940110-46-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.10.07

Bissegger, Arthur. Une paroisse raconte ses mortes: L'obituaire de l'eglise Saint-Paul a Villeneuve (XIVe-XVe siecles). Series: Cahiers Lausannois d'Histoire Medievale, vol. 33. Lausanne: Universite de Lausanne, 2003. Pp. 204. ISBN: 2-940110-46-8.

Reviewed by:

Richard Cusimano
University of Louisiana-Lafayette
rccusimano@cox-internet.com

In this book Arthur Bissegger edited and reproduced the Latin text of the Obituary that Antoine Gappet, the curé of the church of Saint-Paul in Villeneuve, Switzerland, ordered the notary Louis Bouvier recopy and reorder from the church's records. Bouvier reordered by month and day the death notices of the church's parishioners and the bequests that they left Saint-Paul during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries up to the year 1468 when Bouvier completed his task. The University of Lausanne published Bissenger's work in its Cahiers lausonnois d'histoire médiéval, a series that, although local in nature, is valuable for those interested in the history of the Lausanne area. The series has some interesting titles--for example, S. Strobino's, Françoise sauvée des flames? Une Valaisanne accusée de sorcellerie au XVe siècle, 1996 and L. Lavanchy's, Ecrire sa mort, décrire sa vie. Testaments de laics lausannois (1400-1450), 2003.

The Obituary itself contains no surprises. It starts "Jesus Mary January has XXXI days" followed by a preamble that provides the information contained in the above paragraph, and then proceeds with a month-by-month, day-by-day account of who died on each day of every month. Under every entry is listed the gifts that the deceased left to the church of Saint-Paul. No one is listed who did not leave a bequest to the church. Only very infrequently does the Obituary give the year of that person's death. The only surname that somewhat catches the eye of the reader is "Medici," and there are eight persons listed with that last name. Bissegger made it easy for his readers to locate the first and last names of each deceased person by providing a helpful index. His glossary and list of abbreviations, sources, and bibliography that precede his index are complete, and they supply a valuable tool for researchers interested in the regional history of Switzerland during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Obituary ends with an altar-by-altar account, often listing the provisions for that altar (candles, altar cloths, etc.) and what divine services should be conducted on that altar by which clergyman on what day of the week. The account also frequently describes the types of vestments the clergyman should be wearing during those services. There were two major altars in the church, the great one dedicated (obviously but not so specified) to Saint Paul and the second to Our Lord. The founders and donors for these altars are named, and the services held on them on behalf of the benefactors are enumerated. In addition, the Obituary says that the church had five chapels dedicated to Saints John, Nicholas, Peter, Katherine, and Sulpicius. However, the record from the pastoral visitation of the Diocese of Lausanne in October 1453 indicates that Saint-Paul also had altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary as well as Saints Stephen and Michael. Such visitations of a diocese occurred on occasion in order to report to the bishop the physical condition of the churches, the moral fitness of the clergy, and the amount and type of services being provided to the laity. Bissegger frequently and helpfully compares and contrasts the information given in the pastoral visitation record of 1453 with the information given in the Obituary.

In his introduction Arthur Bissegger discusses the founding of Villeneuve near the fortress of Chillon in 1214, when Count Thomas I of Savoy gave the village its charter of liberties. The church of Saint-Paul began to appear in the surviving records at about the same period of time. The introduction also gives in detail the circumstances that led to the production of the Obituary. The next part of Bissegger's work, his analysis of the Obituary and other archival material kept at the Cantonales Vaudoises à Chavannes-près-Renens, is indeed valuable. His patient and careful research has yielded a wealth of information about Villeneuve and its surrounding area from the end of the fourteenth to the end of the fifteenth centuries. In terms of social status the region was composed of 2% nobility, 5% clergy, and 93% bourgeoisie and other inhabitants. The Obituary itself yields interesting information. The number of men and women listed together as donors occurred 3 times, men alone 157 times, women alone 97 times, and the sex of one donor cannot be discerned. In terms of the types of gifts listed, 49% was money alone; 44% were goods such as grain, wine, and oil as well as property yielding revenue or objects intended for liturgical services; and 7% was some sort of combination of the above. Bissegger also provides his readers with an account of the rivalry among the several religious foundations in Villeneuve as well as an analysis of the clerical and lay lifestyles in the village. In the section immediately preceding the Obituary itself, Bissegger concludes that the archival records of the region, including the Obituary, yield solid information about what religious life in a parish such as that of Saint Paul was like at the end of the Middle Ages. The church of Saint-Paul itself was well off in several aspects. The church building was in good repair, and the parishioners provided financial stability through their generous bequests. Saint-Paul had a goodly number of clergymen attached to it. Some of them had high status in the diocese of Lausanne, but others of them needed a reformation of their way of life. Certain families in the parish were well-to-do and influential in the region, the Baumes, the Bourgeois, and the Bouvier. All in all, the Obituary and the other records of the region provide a good view of parish life in one church and one region in Switzerland on the eve of the Reformation.

Arthur Bissegger's book Une paroisse raconte ses morts: L'obituaire de l'église Saint-Paul à Villeneuve (XIVe-XVe siècles) is at times deadly dull reading because of the extreme locality of its focus. However, it is regional history at its finest. Bissegger has done his research and has presented it in a well-organized format. His Latin text of the Obituary has excellent footnotes that give further information on the people listed. Of their nature works such as this one are tedious to read, but if they are not done the larger story cannot be told. Therein lies the value of Arthur Bissegger's work.