Peter Fergusson

title.none: Jamroziak, Rievaulx Abbey and its Social Context (Peter Fergusson)

identifier.other: baj9928.0602.006 06.02.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Peter Fergusson, Wellesley College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Jamroziak, Emilia. Rievaulx Abbey and its Social Context, 1132-1300: Memory, Locality, and Networks. Series: Medieval Church Studies, vol. 8. Turnhout: Brepols, 2005. Pp. xii, 252. 60 EUR (hb). ISBN: 2-503-52177-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.02.06

Jamroziak, Emilia. Rievaulx Abbey and its Social Context, 1132-1300: Memory, Locality, and Networks. Series: Medieval Church Studies, vol. 8. Turnhout: Brepols, 2005. Pp. xii, 252. 60 EUR (hb). ISBN: 2-503-52177-0.

Reviewed by:

Peter Fergusson
Wellesley College

The once extensive archives of Rievaulx Abbey, the Cistercians' first foundation in the north of England established in 1132, were mostly destroyed at the Suppression in 1539. A rare survival was the Rievaulx Cartulary, now in London, British Library, Cotton Julius D. i. Compiled in the 1180s, and comprising 245 charters, it is one of the oldest Cistercian cartularies in Europe, and the earliest of any religious order to survive in England. The compilation may best be linked to a turning point in the abbey's history when its identity shifted from that of a struggling pioneer to that of a substantial land owner. With the change the monks began encountering unfamiliar problems. Neighbors turned litigious, heirs of the abbey's early benefactors contested their ancestors' generosity, and competitors for land and donations made growth much more complicated.

The Cartulary was first published in 1889, edited by James Atkinson for The Surtees Society. Atkinson's work was of high quality but he employed many standard editorial practices of the period such as 'improving' the original order of entries to achieve more logical chronological groupings, omitting formal phrases which were deemed formulaic, and rounding out twelfth century material with additional later documents. Behind such decisions lay the nineteenth century's conviction that charters were first and foremost a source of information, a directory of land holdings, donors, and witnesses. Emilia Jamroziak's most welcome new study exposes the limiting aspects of these decisions and demonstrates how they contradict the intentions of the original medieval compiler. Her book is not a new edition of the charters; rather, it uses their language, contents, and contexts to construct the first in depth study of Rievaulx's social history. Where Atkinson only saw information, Jamroziak sees mirrors of social interaction, institutional memory, and familial networks geared towards the abbey's benefit. In addition, she can draw on a wealth of recently published comparative material based on Cistercian houses in Europe (with notable contributions from her native Poland). The result adds hugely to our understanding of the first century of the Rievaulx's life.

Jamroziak organizes her study around six chapters: the Rievaulx Cartulary; Good Neighbors: Benefactors and Supporters; Bad Neighbors: Disputes and Conflict Resolution; Rievaulx Abbey and the Monastic World; Rievaulx Abbey and the Ecclesiastical World; Friendship and Commemoration. If Cistercian reform ideals remain the prompting stimulus for land gifts and the support of benefactors, they reveal as well the exigencies of local circumstance in North Yorkshire and the pragmatic means devised to deal with them. Jamroziak argues that Rievaulx's monastic ideology embraced personal contacts, friendships with extended families, mutual prayers and commemorations. Such relationships spanned the social strata. They are understood not only vertically in terms of hierarchy stemming from Rievaulx's founder, the imposing Walter Espec, and moving down the social scale to lesser knights, but also laterally to resemble a three-dimensional social web. Only a few of the abbey's patrons came form the aristocratic families of the north, unlike its competitor and contemporary, Fountains Abbey. Apart from the Mowbrays and Gants and their tenants and sub- tenants, Rievaulx relied heavily on the generosity of less privileged knightly families such as the Birkins, de Meinils, Bulmers, and Tunstalls. From them came the majority of the abbey's agricultural lands--arable and pasture (for sheep)--its forests, and the mines which were to play an important role in community's 400 year history and again after its Suppression. Tracking the changing fortunes and shifting allegiances of these families and their tenurial supporters during the far from stable mid and late twelfth century is one of the book's major satisfactions and achievements.

In addition to the families, Jamroziak examines the abbey's co- existence with neighboring religious institutions, Cistercian and other, illustrated through the friendships between abbots and monastic communities. Similarly, Rievaulx's ecclesiastical contacts involving the nearby archbishops of York and the bishops of Durham demonstrate their value as potential supporters. The author skillfully weaves both subjects into her broader narrative.

The limits of social history are hard to pin down. Accepting this, it is ungracious to ask for a more spacious development in some parts of the book. Rievaulx served as the mother house of an important family of nineteen daughter houses which stretched from the north of Scotland to the south of England. The process of colonization and site selection, and the realities of balancing patrons' wishes with the community's stretched manpower (for instance in supplying the founder monks and laybrothers for a new settlement) are aspects of the mother house's economic and social development. Examination of Rievaulx's colonies would add dimension to its own internal history. Similarly, Jamroziak's social history suggests parallels with other histories, such as those established in recent years by archaeologists and architectural historians. Many of Rievaulx's standing buildings can now be shown to date with some precision to the middle years of Aelred's rule (1147 - 67). His social connections, particularly to the court of King David of Scotland, led to significant increases in the abbey's land holdings and doubled the size of its community which counted over 600 men (including monks, laybrothers and mercenaries) at his death. His successor, Sylvanus (1168 - 88), raised further buildings, notably the famous refectory, and expanded the abbey's lands. Over this critical forty year period, to what extent do social and architectural histories converge? Was physical growth the consequence of gifts, or did gifts follow from growth, or is there no discernible correlation between gifts and growth?

Material and social histories intersect in at least one area. Lay burials provide an important marker of prestige, friendship, and association. Although on rare occasions, burial could take place within the church or cloister (where it is believed Espec was lain at his death in 1153), more often, it was confined to the principal cemetery within the precinct wall. Until recently, these practices were tracked mainly through the General Chapter's fulsome legislation on the subject. Within the last generation, however, the entire subject has been opened up thanks to archaeology. The most interesting work has been carried out in northern Europe. In England, exemplary excavation of the moderate size Cistercian foundation at Stratford Langthorne close to the City of London occasioned by the extension of the subway system has yielded important results over the past four years. Examination of 667 graves shows laymen and members of the community buried side by side, and some women among the men, and prompts fresh investigation about lay presence within the monastery. Additional material comes from documentary mention of lay confraternities, and, in turn, from lay involvement in the early and mid twelfth century. As more emerges, the proscriptions of the Order issued at Citeaux need to be set against local practice.

Jamroziak's intelligent and valuable study of Rievaulx is particularly notable for the examination of the mechanisms for the interaction of lay interests and monastic community in the first century of the Order's history. At the same time it contributes importantly to the current wider debate on the shaping of Cistercian practice. Work by other scholars in recent years has adjusted, and sometimes revised, our understanding of the Cistercians' early history. Although it is not the primary purpose of Rievaulx Abbey and its Social Context to wrestle with this broader historiographical issue, the book has much to contribute to it. The older paradigms of Cistercian history such as the centralized, top- down bureaucracy model, or the more recent ideals-reality model, are in need of qualification. Increasingly, the spotlight falls now on the contingencies of local circumstance and the pragmatism of the monks in adapting to them.