Richard W. Pfaff

title.none: Lapidge, The Cult of St Swithun (Richard W. Pfaff)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.005 05.01.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

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

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Lapidge, Michael. The Cult of St Swithun. Series: Winchester Studies, vol.4, pt. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. xxvi, 811. $350.00 0-19-813183-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.05

Lapidge, Michael. The Cult of St Swithun. Series: Winchester Studies, vol.4, pt. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. xxvi, 811. $350.00 0-19-813183-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Richard W. Pfaff
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The vast Winchester Studies series is proceeding with magnificent leisureliness across the decades to attain to its full stature--eleven "volumes," amounting actually to a total of eighteen, are listed as either published, forthcoming, or projected. The work under review appears more than a conventional generation after the publication of the first volume, an edition and discussion of the Winton Domesday, in 1976. Everything about the current one is to scale with the enterprise as a whole, from the page size to the quality of the seventeen plates to the opening statement of Michael Lapidge's preface: "The present volume represents the results of some thirty years' work on the hagiography and cult of St Swithun."

Expansive also is the sweep of the scholarly expertise it has drawn on. Lapidge pays tribute to the generosity of Daniel Sheerin, who supplied him with a large trove of material and removed himself from a project which was initially his, and has also had the good fortune to enlist contributions by three colleagues: a short section by John Crook on the rediscovery of the (a?) saint's head, possibly that of Swithun, thought to have been at Evreux since at least the fourteenth century and on accounts of the saint in the writings of five later medieval Winchester historians; a substantial essay by Susan Rankin on St Swithun in Medieval Liturgical Music; and a short treatment by the late and much-lamented Robert Deshman of representations of the saint's cult in medieval art. Those sections aside--and it is to Lapidge's credit that he did not try to cover areas where there was such tried expertise available elsewhere--it is the range and depth of his own learning which supply the ultimate congruity for the spaciousness and massiveness that characterize the entire book: qualities which would have been absurdly disproportionate if the author had been less than a consummate scholar.

These qualities are most apparent in part II, the Hagiography of St Swithun, which takes up more than two-thirds of the book. This part consists of eleven source-pieces--lives, translations, miracles (in the familiar Bollandist taxonomy)--plus half a dozen minor bits of Latin verse. First comes Lantfred of Winchester's prose Translatio et Miracula S. Swithuni, composed c. 974-84; then, by far the longest of the eleven pieces, a poetic rendering of this, Wulfstan of Winchester's Narratio metrica Sancti Swithuni. For the latter work the introductory considerations, text, facing translation, and notes occupy some 218 pages: the size of a respectable volume in the now venerable Oxford Medieval Texts series. Even the Lantfred weighs in at well over a hundred pages. It is of course splendid to have these hagiographica available in such an overwhelmingly ample context. Equally, it is arguable that a greater service to scholarship might be rendered if they were more accessibly, as well as less expensively, available. Even if students (or, more likely, their teachers) are aware that these works by Wulfstan and Lantfred are contained in the present volume--and with the tremendous boon of translations--only those fortunate enough to have access to major research libraries are likely to be able to benefit from this; research libraries that do own the volume will be understandably chary about sending such an outsize and expensive item on interlibrary loan, and the poor (often literally) student may well be left with, as the only option, self-funding a trip to such a library in order to consult not a venerable and rare treasure but a book currently in print.

There follow, among the other pieces presented in the section on hagiography, two from only slightly later: an Epitome (again in the Bollandist sense) of Lantfred's work, probably, Lapidge argues, by AElfric, and that writer's Old English Life of Swithun. The others are all post-Conquest: a Vita shown convincingly not to be by Goscelin (as has been frequently stated since the sixteenth century); a lengthy collection of miracles, also from the late eleventh century; and accounts in later sources like the South English Legendary and the Sanctilogium of John of Tynemouth.

Part I comprises six discrete "Studies on St Swithun": relatively brief treatments of the historical figure, the origins and then, in a separate chapter, development of his cult, Swithun in hagiography (a bit oddly placed in relation to the massive dossier which is part II), and Swithun in the liturgy, in the medieval historians, in medieval art, and in music (the last three including the contributions from other scholars noted above).

The section on St Swithun in the liturgy exemplifies in equal measure the comprehensiveness of what is presented and the drawbacks connected with the lavishness of its presentation. The stated aim, "to provide as full a dossier as possible of liturgical texts illustrating the cult of St Swithun in the period before 1100, and of such texts as elucidate their survival or transformation in subsequent centuries" (74), is pursued with maximum thoroughness and clarity, through separate analyses of forms integral to the mass and then to the office. It is possible to quarrel with some of the statements in this section, such as that "There are no post-Conquest benedictionals" (89), which is simply not true (they survive, though not in great number, all the way to the early sixteenth century); or that in the late fourteenth-century Westminster missal there are no blessings for Swithun and that its masses for him are taken from the Sarum missal, whereas the pattern of transmission is likely to have been a good deal more complicated. But such points are negligible in comparison with the marvellously succinct summary-introductions to the various parts of the liturgy represented in the Swithun cult; these introductions are so sure-handed that it is again a great pity that the altitudinous price necessitated by the book's format is likely to prevent them from becoming widely available. Whether some savings might be affected by a less lavish use of space than that on, notably, pages 129-33--a rhymed office from Stavanger, printed in a single column never more than four words wide, all the rest being white space--is something the General Editor of the series might want to consider for future volumes.

This review should not be read as a one-note complaint that a subject as (it is fair to say) arcane as the cult of St Swithun is not presented in a way, or ways, appropriate to a wide readership. Indeed, I hope that I am wrong in fearing that access to its scholarly treasures will be unduly limited by its costly production (as has been the case with a somewhat comparable but collaborative volume, The Cult of St Cuthbert, edited by Christoper Battiscombe, 1956, which now tends to repose in the rare book rooms of such libraries as own it). For it should be emphasized that within its genre there is nothing remotely as generous in quantity or impressive in quality as the present volume. Swithun is now better served than Cuthbert, and vastly better than Dunstan or Etheldreda. Even the cult of Becket, by most measures a vastly more significant figure than Swithun, cannot be studied in a single volume anything like as completely conceived and magnificently executed, despite fine monographs on the Becket liturgy and other specific aspects. If the overworked adjective "definitive" can still be applied usefully to a book in the wide field of medieval studies, it should be so applied in the case of Lapidge's Swithun.