Richard Pfaff

title.none: Sharpe, Thacker, eds., Local Saints and Local Churches (Richard Pfaff )

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.013 04.01.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard Pfaff , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Sharpe, Richard, and Alan Thacker, eds. Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. xiii, 581. $135.00 0-19-820394-2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.13

Sharpe, Richard, and Alan Thacker, eds. Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. xiii, 581. $135.00 0-19-820394-2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Richard Pfaff
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

It happens only very seldom that a volume of essays becomes a standard work of reference; but that, it is safe to predict, will become the fate of this collection. Six of the fourteen chapters (which six is not specified) began life as papers at a conference held at Oxford in November of 1991. Though it is somewhat hard to imagine listening to any of these offerings, they are individually and uniformly a pleasure to read. It is, however, the collective impact of them all that qualifies this as a work of permanence rather than being, as so many volumes of this sort are, ephemeral.

Not all the chapters are of equal magnitude or importance, of course, and it would be neither useful nor feasible to devote equal consideration to each here. An attempt will be made to engage with three or four of the most substantial, but first it may be helpful to lay out the structure of the book. After substantial introductory pieces on "The Significance of Place in the Study of the Saints" and "The Making of a Saint," the volume proceeds both somewhat chronologically and, more plainly, geographically: from Late Antique Britain (the capitals are taken from the chapter-titles) to Burgundy and the Auvergne, then to Francia as a whole as compared with England. The next six chapters are concerned mainly with saints in and of Celtic areas: Celtic Saints and Early Medieval Archaeology, Irish saints' cults (two pieces), Local Saints and Place Names in Cornwall, Saints of South Wales and the Welsh Church, and Scottish Saints. The antepen- and penultimate pieces concentrate on Anglo-Saxon England: on the question of Universal and Local Saints and on Local Cults as related to Minsters, and the volume closes with a blockbuster Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Saints.

The overall context is provided by Alan Thacker's lead-off piece, which plows through a mass of complex material under the heading "The Significance of Place in the Study of the Saints." Here, though in a sense all roads tend to lead from Rome, a fascinating dichotomy is made patent, one which underlies much of the book. On the one hand there are the saints of Rome itself, who vary between being Roman-local (and non-exportable, both through obscurity and through conservatism about the dismembering of corpses), and Roman-tending-towards-universal by means of diffusion of awareness of them in terms of relics, of liturgical commemoration, and of literary celebration. On the other hand there are the non-Roman saints, figures rooted in places both of considerable importance-- Milan, Naples, Ravenna, Vienne, Langres, Tours-- and in places of very little intrinsic importance, like Whithorn in Galloway. Thacker draws out the dynamics of the resulting tensions expertly. If he seems to downplay the liturgical aspect, this may be because most of the evidence that might be deployed for this is later than the period he deals with, which is mostly up to about 650. Nonetheless, the reader is a bit tantalized by the statement, "It is scarcely possible to speak of a cult without a feast- day" (27), when so little is made of that dimension.

Thacker's second chapter, "The Making of a Local Saint," begins with the translations in the 690s of Aethelthryth (Etheldreda) at Ely and Cuthbert at Lindisfarne and uses these as springboards to discuss both the early history of translation (and elevation of tombs: to put it bluntly, saints being raised rather than lowered) and how these developments work out in what he calls the great cults of Francia, some of which of course antedate anything Anglo-Saxon. The discussion of the various types of enshrinement is particularly absorbing (but does everyone but me know what a "skeuomorph" (64) is?).

The longest, and probably weightiest, chapter in the book, Richard Sharpe's "Martyrs and Local Saints in Late Antique Britain," is of truly monographic scale, with 320 notes by way of documentation. His ambitious aim is to "look to the veneration of martyrs and local saints as one thread that will lead us from the martyrdom of St Alban under a Roman governor, through the sixth-century writer Gildas's interest in martyr- cults, to the use of words associated with such cults in the sites of veneration of local saints in early medieval Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and Ireland" (76). Striking here is the use of a great deal of archaeological evidence and its presentation in a kind of running dialogue with scholars of the whole of the period from about 1900 on. This is really an historiographical tour de force.

As Sharpe emphasizes the archaeological, so a major stress of Ian Wood's "Constructing Cults in Early Medieval France: Local Saints and Churches in Burgundy and the Auvergne, 400-1000" is toponymic. Here we have saints in such abundance that one almost feels a quantity discount to be appropriate. In the Libellus de Ecclesiis Claromontanis, for example, which he relies on heavily for his Auvergnat evidence, there are listed fifty-four churches containing a total of 112 altars, so that "All in all, over two hundred dedications are listed, referring to close on one hundred named saints" (165). Consideration of the cults of such saints as Stremonius, Praeiectus, and Bonitus (who pops up, quite unaccountably, in later medieval calendars from Norwich: not mentioned here) leads to the unsurprising conclusion that "the cult of the saints in Clermont was predominantly local" (168)-- but then Gregory of Tours is no Bede.

The picture is widened in John Crook's "The Enshrinement of Local Saints in Francia and England." Here, where the focus is again archaeological (in the sense precisely conveyed by the title of the Cabrol-Leclercq multi-volume Dictionnaire d'archeologie chretienne et de liturgie, eighteen useful illustrations of crypts and tombs carry a good deal of the argument. Each of the cases studied is instructive: for example, the treatment of the small church at Deas in Loire- Atlantique to which the body of St Philibert was translated in 836. As might be expected, Martin of Tours and Wilfrid of Hexham play important parts, as does Germanus of Auxerre.

No reader is going to bring an equal degree of antecedent knowledge to all of these essays, and my unfamiliarity with many of the basic terms in the essays dealing with Celtic matters made them harder to get through. Nancy Edwards, in an impressive gathering of information about exotic shrines and reliquaries, pursues the archaeological thread in relation to Celtic saints as a whole. Thomas Charles-Edwards puts a puzzle about one such term at the center of his contribution, which is devoted to drawing out various possible meanings of the Irish word Erlam [with acute accent on the initial "e"]. Changes are rung, in part through deft use of hagiographical genealogy, on this obscure term, for which (or rather, whom) he identifies five distinctive characteristics. The strongest seems to be a correspondence with the Latin term patronus (284)-- with overtones of the Potteresque sense of the word (I was reading volume V of that saga at the same time). Padraig O Riain extends the Irish dimension by inquiring into the relationship between some saints' cults and certain ecclesiastical families. His piece is much the shortest in the volume, and whets the appetite for the history of the entire martyrological tradition in Ireland, which he acknowledges is in preparation. Particularly striking is his suggestion that "the diffusion of cult in Ireland may have been a professional matter, in the control of hereditary ecclesiastical families who appear literally to have travelled with the stories of their saints" ( 297).

John Reuben Davies goes hagio-toponymically in pursuit of the elusive word-element "llan-" in connection with the saints of South Wales. This is the piece most deeply rooted in manuscript study, with a welcome plethora of references (but it is somewhat confusing to call Salisbury Cathedral MS 180 the "Salisbury Psalter,' a nickname widely applied to the late- tenth century MS 150, p. 377). Thomas Owen Clancy's discussion of "Scottish Saints and National Identities" pushes the chronological boundaries a bit farther than the other essays, in part because he deploys evidence from later medieval liturgical books. Oliver Padel's essay again studies local saints in relation to place-names, this time in Cornwall. His survey leads to the conclusion that "in the Celtic world there was a particularly strong principle that saints were quintessentially local phenomena" (351)-- a refreshing corrective to the occasional tendency of hagiograpy to become a self-referential discipline.

Applying the main theme of the volume specifically to Anglo- Saxon England from Bede's time on, Catherine Cubitt offers an abundant supply of common sense, for example, as to why its hagiography is so overwhelmingly concerned with persons of high-status (428). She also has a section, based largely on the evidence of calendars, with the thought-provoking heading, "the role of texts and liturgy in promoting local and native cults"-- a subject that deserves many more pages than could be devoted to it.

For a number of years John Blair has been the leading investigator of the nature and role of minsters in the Anglo- Saxon church, and here he extends his investigations to ask to what extent is seems probable that there was, as his title puts it, a saint for every minster. The sober answer seems to be that there could have been, but big gaps in the necessary evidence must leave much to be taken as a matter of possibility rather than proof. Staring at the wonderfully useful map of "The sites of Anglo-Saxon saints' cults" spread over pages 457- 8 prompts in me the reflection that, given the numbers potentially involved here, it must at some point be asked what is meaningfully to be understood by the designation "saint"? Is it a burial place regarded as a shrine, with some indication of offerings; and/or reports of miracles, at that shrine or elsewhere; or signs of liturgical commemoration which will at some point have to be fitted into a yearly scheme? Blair's overall answer, at least by implication, lies in the fullness of the Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Saints he provides as the volume's conclusion. This (which deserves to be photocopied and bound separately for consultation in reference rooms) is a marvelously comprehensive repertory of all the "saints whose principal cult sites are known to have existed, or can reasonably be inferred to have existed, in pre-Conquest England"(495). It supplies full listings of literary and documentary references, including mentions in calendars. This, used in conjunction with E. Gordon Whately's massive "Acta Sanctorum" component which takes up most of the initial volume of the Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture series (2001), gives students immediate access to troves of information that even five years ago would have taken hours to assemble.

As this review has stressed the reference aspect of this excellent volume, it is necessary to bring up two editorial points at which it fails to reach the highest standards. The first concerns cases where the date of a reprint is given with no indication of the original date of publication. The two most glaring are on adjacent footnotes on p. 3: the massively influential Les Origines du culte des martyres by Hippolyte Delehaye, who died in 1941, is not meaningfully cited as having been published in 1993, nor the two volumes of the standard edition of the Liber Pontificalis, that of Louis Duchesne (d. 1922), as publications of 1955-7 (the latter being the year of the supplementary volume by Cyrille Vogel) rather than in 1886-92. It is hard enough for modern students to master the intricacies of scholarship, and especially the delicate matter of the sequence of publications (almost as tricky as the sequence of tenses, now virtually a lost art) even when provided with the most accurate information; it is both impossible and unreasonable to expect them to intuit that such dates as instanced above for Delehaye and Duchesne are seriously awry. The other matter has to do with inconsistency in the provision of information about series. Important Henry Bradshaw Society publications are so specified in one essay but not in the next, while a third identifies HBS but not Liturgiegeschichtliche Quellen und Forschungen publications. Since libraries often shelve such publications by series, and since standards of cataloguing are occasionally imperfect, it is important that scholarly series be identified clearly and consistently.

These points aside (and that "Michigan" is no more a sufficient place of publication than would be "Shropshire," p. 4, n. 14), only two misprints that might make for confusion obtrude themselves: the modern editor of the Old English Martyrology is Kotzor, not Kotzer (p. 441, n.78), and the authority on the Book of Cerne disguised as M. Grown (p. 444, n.84) is in reality M(ichelle) Brown. Otherwise the volume is produced to a high standard, with wonderfully rich bibliographical information provided in the footnotes to each chapter. The editors have indeed provided us with a tool of lasting value.