Constant Mews

title.none: Rasmussen, Spear, and Tillotson, eds., Our Medieval Heritage (Constant Mews)

identifier.other: baj9928.0404.012 04.04.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constant Mews, Monash University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Rasmussen, Linda, Valerie Spear, and Diane Tillotson, eds. Our Medieval Heritage: Essays in Honor of John Tillotson for His 60th Birthday. Cardiff: Meron Priory Press, 2002. Pp. 235. $42.00 1-898937-55-9. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.04.12

Rasmussen, Linda, Valerie Spear, and Diane Tillotson, eds. Our Medieval Heritage: Essays in Honor of John Tillotson for His 60th Birthday. Cardiff: Meron Priory Press, 2002. Pp. 235. $42.00 1-898937-55-9. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Constant Mews
Monash University

This Festschrift brings together, under a very broad title, a range of studies offered to John Tillotson, an authority on medieval women's religious houses, who has taught for many years at the Australian National University. It thus provides a valuable window into the strength and diversity of medieval studies as pursued in Australia. The volume has a particular weighting towards late medieval religious history, but with contributions from literary and intellectual history, as well as archaeology and web-based manuscript studies. Both younger and more established scholars are represented. The general standard of the scholarship is very good. A bstracts of chapters as well as ample illustration to each chapter are accessible online at This online access provides a potentially interesting way of overcoming the prohibitive printing costs associated with illustrating a volume, as well as an opportunity for authors to record insights gained subsequent to publication.

The Festschrift includes three papers in an area close to Tillotson's specific area of research interest, medieval women's communities. In "Change and Decay? The Nunnery and the Secular World in Late Medieval England," Valerie Spear questions a traditional assumption that nunneries at the time of the English reformation had little to contribute to their wider society. Her analysis of a number of wills and other documents relating to nunneries like Marrick Priory, Stratford Priory, and Romsey Abbey reinforce a sense of their close involvement with a wider community even until their dissolution in the 1530s. An intriguing picture of their effective autonomy is offered by Linda Rasmussen in "Order, Order! Determining Order in Medieval English Nunneries." She studies how the nunnery of St Michael's outside Stamford was variously described as Benedictine, Augustinian, or Cistercian during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This case history provides an excellent illustration of how the desire of a female community to call themselves Cistercian, while not being officially recognized by the Cistercian Order, reflects a desire for autonomy not always sanctioned by the traditional patrons of a nunnery. A similar contrast between male and female perception of female religious life is discussed by Julie Hotchin in "Abbot as Guardian and Cultivator of Virtues: Two Perspectives on the cura monialium in Practice." She considers the witness of a fascinating twelfth-century letter collection, preserved by Sindold, librarian at Reinhardsbrunn, which includes a number of letters by nuns from Lippoldsberg (including his own sisters). Hotchin focuses in particular on two letters that bring out well contrasting ways in which the religious life could be perceived in the twelfth century. One is from the papal legate to Rudolph, abbot of Reinhardsbrunn (1144-68), urging him to provide suitable provision for religious women entrusted to his care. The other is from an unidentified abbess, writing to Rudolph's successor, asking for a priest to serve her community. While the papal legate emphasizes the abbot's duty of care, and his fear of dangerous proximity between the sexes, the abbess asks for a priest who will serve rather than protect her community.

The volume also contains a number of other papers of interest to students of medieval religion, from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Richard Campbell, "And This We Call God", compares the arguments of St Anselm and Thomas Aquinas about the existence of God. Campbell is acutely aware of the danger of an anachronistic reading of these arguments, in particular of assuming that a small chapter of St Anselm's Proslogion provides a flawed logical demonstration that God is a necessary being. While Aquinas does make this claim, Campbell holds that St Anselm is offering a rational reflection on religious commitment, rather than a logical proof as such. Libby Keen, author of a recent doctoral thesis on the De proprietatibus rerum of Bartholomew the Englishman and its influence, introduces us to a more popularizing theological perspective, that uses the natural world as a means for introducing moral and spiritual lessons. She opens up a fascinating vista in the originality of a pedagogy based as much on observation as on the Bible. Not all medieval preachers were as successful as Bartholomew in getting their message heard. Yvonne Parry, in "Dangerous Persuasion: Bishop Reginald Pecock and the Vernacular Instruction of the Laity," introduces a fascinating figure, committed to offering theological instruction in English, but condemned by episcopal colleagues fearful of lay intellectual and spiritual developments. Bill Craven speaks about Savanarola, a different kind of preacher, in "Vanities, Bonfires, and Popular Religious Culture in Florence," but one whose influence also was feared by authorities. Craven examinines the bonfires of luxury items in 1497 and 1498 (in particular luxury chess-sets, on which there is a fascinating follow-up discussion on the linked website).

Issues of gender are also important in a number of papers in this volume. In "Moral regulation and Civic Identity in London 1400-1530," Stephanie Tarbin examines the rich documentation from late medieval London that condemns sexual depravity. She shows how period efforts to assert moral censure served to reassert ideals of masculine virtue and civic honor in the body politic, without ever actually enforcing their practice. Tania Colwell, in "Medieval Masculinities: Transgressions and Transformations," considers similar issues by exploring how transgressive behavior is presented in Amis and Amiloun, Sir Gowther and Gawain and the Green Knight, as disrupting the body of the male hero, taken as a symbol of the social order.

The Festschrift also includes studies with a strong topographical focus. "Sir Gawain and the Wallabies: A Mystery in Seven Scenes," by Ralph Elliott, is a slightly whimsical piece, documenting (with photographs on the website) locations that may be alluded to by the Gawain poet. Also with photographic illustration, Alexander Grishin, in "Acik Saray and Medieval Military Campaigns," documents a very different archaeological site, Cappadocian rock churches from the tenth century. Graham McLennan, in "The Lady of Caesarea: A Colonist of Outremer," introduces us to Emma of Caesarea, a rich young lady of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. His study is informed by vivid awareness of the affluent and corrupt world inhabited by those who wielded power in that early outpost of Empire. By comparison, the study of Pam Kelloway, "A Significant Friendship" (titles should be more informative than this), deals with a much more respectable environment: the marble sanctuary pavement of Westminster Abbey, derived from Roman Cosmati marble work, and commissioned by Henry III. Kelloway argues that it was the product of his friendship with the papal legate 1265-68, Cardinal Ottobono.

This is a Festschrift that covers a wide range of interests. The final three papers deal with the contribution of databases and the internet to teaching manuscript studies. Judith Pearce, "Finding Medieval Manuscripts: Discovery and Citation in the Digital Era," documents the revolution that is taking place in manuscript studies, as learned scholarly reference works give way to on-line catalogues, now overtaking CD-ROM products. Dianne Tillotson's paper, "Multimedia Medievalia: The Fate of Traditional Scholarship in a Post-Modern World," should be read in conjunction alongside the related webpage, which includes a link to her own online course on medieval writing, the building of which she discusses in her paper. In "Viderunt omnes: A Computer Teaching Package on the Transcription of Eleventh-century Aquitanian Chant Notation," Greta-Mary Hair also comments on a program that she has developed, in her case to teach transcription of unheightened neumes. Those involved in developing such software will certainly find these pedagogically oriented studies of interest.

There is a fascinating diversity in this volume. The title chosen is perhaps too broad to attract immediate attention. Yet there is much in this volume that may attract the interest of specialists in a range of fields. It will be interesting to see whether the practice of publishing illustrations to a book on an accompanying website will in time become more widely established. In any case, this is a Festschrift that deserves attention, worthy of the scholar to whom it is dedicated.