Ben Withers

title.none: Barrow and Brooks, eds., St Wulfstan and his World (Ben Withers)

identifier.other: baj9928.0509.026 05.09.26

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Ben Withers, University of Kentucky,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Barrow, Julia S., and N.P. Brooks, eds. St Wulfstan and his World. Series: Studies in Early Medieval Britain. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. xix, 242. $89.95 (hb). ISBN: 0-7546-0802-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.09.26

Barrow, Julia S., and N.P. Brooks, eds. St Wulfstan and his World. Series: Studies in Early Medieval Britain. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. xix, 242. $89.95 (hb). ISBN: 0-7546-0802-6.

Reviewed by:

Ben Withers
University of Kentucky

Derived from the 1995 symposia that marked the 900th anniversary of his death, this collection of eleven essays explores the many facets of Wulfstan II of Worcester (1008?-1095): "the politician and survivor... the lord of a great institution and of numerous peasants and townsfolk... the patron of artists and skilled workmen... the devout and obedient monk... the beloved champion of his community, and Wulfstan the preacher and miracle-working holy man" (18). Well-edited and informative, the various contributions in this volume broaden our understanding of the social circumstances, literary conventions, documentary contexts, and physical environments known to St. Wulfstan as well as those in subsequent generations who preserved his memory.

Nicholas Brooks' "Introduction: how do we know about St Wulfstan." succinctly reviews Wulfstan's long career: his initial education at Evesham, his studies at Peterborough, his service in the household of Bishop Brihtheah of Worcester and as an ordained priest at Hawkesbury (Glos.) to his elevation to "first monk" at Worcester under Bishop Ealdred, whom he succeeded in 1062. Brooks' straight-forward emphasis on facts and documents sets the tone for the essays that follow. Readers will want to take note of his discussion near the conclusion of the essay of the evidence for Wulfstan's family connections, stressing the potential nepotism in the succession of the Worcester see.

In his introduction, Brooks outlines four basic categories of the surviving evidence for Wulfstan's life: narrative, documentary, books, and buildings. The essays generally follow this lead by concentrating on one of these categories. The contributions by Ann Williams and Andy Orchard deal with narrative sources, particularly the Vita Wulfstani, William of Malmsbury's Latin reworking of the Old English Life by Wulfstan's contemporary, Coleman. (Worcester's own version of a universal world chronicle, the Chronicon ex Chronicis, written by John of Salisbury, is discussed to a lesser extent by Williams). Williams argues ("The cunning of the dove: Wulfstan and the politics of accommodation") that while Wulfstan's biographers were primarily concerned to explicate his holiness, "it is, however, possible to be both good and intelligent and even shrewd into the bargain. The life of a medieval bishop required more than piety alone..." (24). Williams weighs Wulfstan's performance in worldly matters, particularly as a defender of Worcester's lands and honors. She demonstrates how he actively pursued Worcester's interests, producing written evidence in the form of charters, forging an alliance with abbot Aethelwig of Evesham and Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, and even resorting to loans and bribery to press the case for the return of manors claimed by Thomas, first Norman archbishop of York. In another dispute, Wulfstan leveraged his local knowledge to bring a dispute against the inexperienced abbot of Evesham, Walter of Cerisy, to successful conclusion.

Andy Orchard ("Parallel lives: Wulfstan, William, Coleman, and Christ") concentrates on the literary substrata of William of Malmsbury's Vitae Wulfstani, describing it as "the last layer of a complicated sequence, behind which can be dimly perceived Coleman, and Nicholas, and Wulfstan, and a whole community of saints..." (57). Orchard devotes the bulk of his essay to what can be learned of Coleman's text and his authorial stance. Despite William's diligent pruning and editing, key aspects of Coleman's attitudes and approaches can still be discerned. One of the most important is Colman's profound interest in saints' Lives: his portrait of Wulfstan is itself layered with complex parallels with older texts, expressed in an interest (bordering on the pathological) in explicit hagiographical comparison to Old Testament figures such as Joseph, patristic saints, and Christ himself. Thus exposed, Colman is revealed as a rather needy hagiographer, one whose accounts often explicitly or implicitly place himself at the center of many miracles, either as a witness, an intermediary for petitioners, or even an instigator. In Orchard's words, "the Vita Wulfstani has been shaped and manipulated by Coleman for his own purposes, as much as his subject's" (54).

A second category of evidence is comprised of documentary sources: a small number of surviving original charters from Worcester, the Domesday Book, and two compilations of documents, the Liber Wigornensis and Hemming's cartulary (early and late eleventh century, respectively; both now found in BL Cotton MS Tiberius A.xiii). Two essays explicitly mine this material. Julia Barrow offers a new perspective on charters in her "The chronology of forgery production at Worcester from c. 1000 to the early twelfth century." Moving past "credulousness and indifference" (105), Barrow argues that forgeries can be important sources for information concerning polemical or propagandistic preoccupations as well as for the historical awareness on the part of their fabricators. She compares the Liber Wigornensis, Hemming's cartulary, and a thirteenth century Worcester cartulary (MS A 4 in the cathedral library, dated to c. 1240). Although she carefully outlines principles identifying forgeries, her main interest lies in the features those in each collection have in common and how those features change over time. In the end, she detects three distinct emphases in the documents: an early phase (Liber Wigornensis) dominated by monastic interests in Hermeneutic Latin, liturgical innovations, and the literary style influenced by the texts of Brythferth of Ramsay; a second phase (Hemming's cartulary) influenced by Domesday and by interest in historicization; and the third, belonging to the later thirteenth century, characterized primarily by its historicization, possibly as Worcester monks' contributed to the studies of the contemporary historians, William of Malmsbury and Eadmer.

Christopher Dyer's contribution, "Bishop Wulfstan and his estates," focuses on the administrative challenges faced by Wulfstan in his role as a great landholder. "Landed wealth was the basis of all the cultural achievements of the Middle Ages," notes Dyer, yet the daily grind of running an extensive network of estates is not a focus of the narrative sources for Wulfstan's life (137). He supplements the "sober testimony" of the Domesday accounts with reference to "occasional and not always reliable hints" in the narrative sources. Dyer maps (literally; see figure 13) the wide extent of the manors of Church at Worcester, spread out as they were across the diocese. He demonstrates that these manors represent a wide variety of soil types, terrain, population densities, and crop potentials, a fact that he attributes not merely to chance but to long-term management that sought to diversify produce needed for the bishop's household and to reduce risk through diversification (141). The Wulfstan that emerges from this account is hardly an innovator; he did not demand increased production but was rather concerned to defend and protect his estates from encroachment of others rather than expand them (147-48).

Brooks' third and fourth categories of evidence fall into the realm of material culture, including the significant number of books added to Worcester's library during Wulfstan's reign, as well as buildings including the urban fabric of a growing Worcester and Wulfstan's own ambitious construction of the Cathedral. Two essays focus on books. The first is Richard Gameson's "St. Wulfstan, the library of Worcester and the spirituality of the medieval book." Gameson demonstrates that monks at Worcester maintained a conventional outlook during Wulfstan's episcopate. Surviving books demonstrate that reading interests inherited from Carolingian and Anglo-Saxon past, with the majority of the texts copied during Wulfstan's pontificate reflecting his interests in preaching and liturgy. Gameson's thorough study contains not one but two appendices, one cataloguing manuscripts and texts associated with Worcester, the other listing scribal connections between them. Five of the remaining essays deal with the larger physical remains of buildings and cityscapes. Richard Holt ("The city of Worcester in the time of Wulfstan") focuses on the changes in the city, particularly its transformation from ecclesiastical center to town and the parallel development of the decline of the secular authority of the bishops. Two very helpful and much appreciated maps (figures 11 and 12) illustrate what is presently known of Worcester's defenses and parishes. Holt's text briefly surveys the Romans' defenses, the refurbishment of the city's defenses under the burh system in the 890s, and the leveling of the northern bank of the old Roman defense around 960 before settling in on the developments during Wulfstan's lifetime and later centuries. The eleventh century was a time of substantial growth for the city, with evidence for expanding suburbs both to the north in the Foregate region and to the southeast at Sidbury and the addition of three new parish churches (bringing the total to ten) during Wulfstan's episcopate. Even as the city grew, the secular authority of the bishops declined (measured not only by the relative amount of the bishop's revenue recorded in Domesday, but also in the construction of a castle incorporating part of the monastic cemetery by sheriff Urse in 1069). But unlike other cities, Holt explains, the cathedral was able to maintain its central role in spiritual life of the city until the Reformation. Perhaps, He suggests, this was in part due to the foundation provided by Wulfstan's pastoral activities and reputation. Michael Hare, "Wulfstan and the Church of Hawkesbury," contextualizes an appealing story (told in William of Malmsbury's Vitae Wulfstani and Gesta Pontificum) of Wulfstan's temptation by the mouth-watering smells of a roast goose. This temptation is reported to have occurred at Hawkesbury while Wulfstan served there as a priest. Hare situates this story by reviewing the history and status of the church at Hawkesbury (a a description and drawing of a previously unpublished fragment of a stone cross, dating perhaps to the tenth century). His main approach is to locate the topographical relationships of places mentioned in surviving records, with an eye toward demonstrating Hawkesbury's status as an early minster. Because Hawkesbury belonged to Pershore in the tenth and eleventh century, records from that abbey play a key role, especially a Pershore charter (S276, of disputed accuracy). This charter lists several estates including south Stoke/Hawkesbury which together form a coherent block of land in the Forest of Kingswood in South Gloucestershire. He concludes by returning to the story of the goose in the Vitae, which in his view supports Hawkesbury's status as a minster church since it gives the impression of the presence of a sizable household at Hawkesbury, one "more appropriate to a small community rather than to an isolated rural priest" (166)

Philip Barker, "Reconstructing Wulfstan's cathedral" reviews the surviving physical evidence for the size and scope of the cathedral built under Wulfstan's orders. Though apparently reluctant to do so, Wulfstan replaced the two venerable churches he inherited, his plans necessitated by the growing numbers of the chapter, which had increased from twelve to fifty during his tenure. Starting in 1084 with the crypt, Wulfstan constructed a large, ambitious church with Norman features; William of Malmsbury tells us that enough was completed by 1089 for the monks to move in. Except for the crypt, however, only fragments of Wulfstan's church survive, incorporated into the (primarily) thirteenth century reconstruction. As would be expected, Barker incorporates evidence from the excavations of the crypt in 1974 and 1986-87; but what most impresses here is Barker's expert visual survey of fragments in the current fabric. Well-selected illustrations, discussed concisely in the text, detail the evidence and lead directly to a plan and conjectural elevation, perspective drawing, model of Wulfstan's cathedral which "was as wide as the present church, the nave was as long, and the western transepts were the same area as the church that replaced them" (169).

"The physical setting of the cult of St Wulfstan," by John Crook is a very well-researched and informative essay, but one that wanders far afield from "Wulfstan and his World." This is not to blame the author; reconstruction in the thirteenth century and restoration in the nineteenth have largely obliterated the evidence for the physical context of Wulfstan's cult in the years immediately after his death. Even the earliest of modern witnesses, a seventeenth-century copy of a sixteenth-century chronicle, could not be sure either where the tomb was placed or what it looked like due to the zeal of the Protestant Reformers to remove all traces of the cult. Crook does find some evidence for Wulfstan's death and the ceremonies that accompanied his burial in documentary sources (in Wulfstan's own treatment of the relics of St. Oswald and in William of Malmsbury's eye-witness account of the appearance of Wulfstan's tomb). Crook bravely considers what can be determined at several key steps in the history of Wulfstan's tomb and subsequent shrine, from his Elevation in 1198, his canonization in 1203, the burial of King John between Wulfstan and Oswald in the same year, and the reconstruction of the cathedral in the thirteenth century. The collection concludes with Susan Rankin's essay, "Music at Wulfstan's cathedral," which concentrates on two manuscripts, the "Portiforium of St. Wulfstan" (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 391, an office book reputed to have belonged to the saint himself), and an Antiphoner copied circa 1240 (Worcester Cathedral Library F. 160). The "Portiforium" is discussed only briefly, but in such a way that evokes the traditional, yet "healthy" state of music at Worcester in Wulfstan's day. The bulk of the essay is a rich and effective (in spite of the specialized musical terms) comparison of the offices for Oswald and Wulfstan found in the thirteenth century Antiphoner. Rankin explains how the musical treatment of the office for Wulfstan creates an ordered narrative, relatively more complete and detailed when compared to that composed for Oswald. The text and music of the Wulfstan office displays a "sophisticated composition, full of literary conceits and rhetorical figures" (225). The contrast between the two offices demonstrates the diversity of approaches and talent available at Worcester. In sum, these solid essays contribute useful observations and perspectives on the life and times of St Wulfstan. They extend the work on Worcester found in the earlier collection edited by N.P. Brooks and C.R.E. Cubitt (St Oswald of Worcester: Life and Influence, Leicester, 1996) and complement the biographical and at times psychological method of Emma Mason's earlier study (St Wulfstan of Worcester, Blackwell, 1990). The collection presents an admirable amount of unity thanks to Brook's introduction and the frequent cross-references between the individual essays. Looking back, I am left with only two substantive criticisms. First, it has been nearly a decade since the conference for which these papers were prepared; we would have benefited from having access to these results sooner. Second, ten years should have been enough to prepare, and even demand, some form of summative essay, one that draws together conclusions constructed through the considerable skills of these scholars. Wulfstan's life was indeed one of many facets and each of these essays serves as a lens to magnify and illuminate a few particular characteristics. The reader is left wanting someone's vision and some one perspective to put these observations into a coherent whole.