The Medieval Review 10.04.09

Sot, Michel. Les Gestes des vques d'Auxerre. Vol. 1. Ed. and trans. Guy Lobrichon, Monique Goullet, Pierre Bonnerue, Marie-Hélène Depardon, Noëlle Deflou-Leca, Alain Dubreucq, Klaus Krönert, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Michel Sot, and Anne Wagner. Les classiques de l'histoire de France au Moyen Âge 42. . Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2002. Pp. lvii, 338. . 41 euros. ISBN: 2-251-34053-X.

Vol. 2. Ed. and trans. Guy Lobrichon, Marie-Hélène Depardon, Monique Goullet, Christiane Veyrard-Cosme, Noëlle Deflou-Leca, Alain Dubreucq, Klaus Krönert, Michel Sot, and Anne Wagner. Les classiques de l'histoire de France au Moyen Âge 43. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2006. Pp. 372. . 41 euros. ISBN: 2-251-34054-8.

Vol. 3. Ed. and trans. Pierre Bonnerue, Noëlle Deflou-Leca, Marie-Hélène Depardon, Alain Dubreucq, Monique Goullet, Klaus Krönert, Guy Lobrichon, Christiane Veyrard-Cosme, and Anne Wagner. Les classiques de l'histoire de France au Moyen Âge 47. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2009. Pp. xli, 297. . 43 euros. ISBN: 978-2-251-34058-6.

Reviewed by:

Constance B. Bouchard
University of Akron
cbouchard@uakron.edu

Les gestes des évêques d'Auxerre. Vol. 1. Ed. and trans. Guy Lobrichon, Monique Goullet, Pierre Bonnerue, Marie-Hélène Depardon, Noëlle Deflou-Leca, Alain Dubreucq, Klaus Krönert, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Michel Sot, and Anne Wagner. Les classiques de l'histoire de France au Moyen Âge 42. Paris: Les belles lettres, 2002. Pp. lvii, 338. 41 euros. ISBN: 2-251-34053-X.

Vol. 2. Ed. and trans. Guy Lobrichon, Marie-Hélène Depardon, Monique Goullet, Christiane Veyrard-Cosme, Noëlle Deflou-Leca, Alain Dubreucq, Klaus Krönert, Michel Sot, and Anne Wagner. Les classiques de l'histoire de France au Moyen Âge 43. Paris: Les belles lettres, 2006. Pp. 372. 41 euros. ISBN: 2-251-34054-8.

Vol. 3. Ed. and trans. Pierre Bonnerue, Noëlle Deflou-Leca, Marie-Hélène Depardon, Alain Dubreucq, Monique Goullet, Klaus Krönert, Guy Lobrichon, Christiane Veyrard-Cosme, and Anne Wagner. Les classiques de l'histoire de France au Moyen Âge 47. Paris: Les belles lettres, 2009. Pp. xli, 297. 43 euros. ISBN: 978-2-251-34058-6.

The Gesta of the bishops of Auxerre is a series of episcopal biographies begun in the ninth century, when the vitae of all bishops from the see's foundation up until then were composed, and continued (with some gaps) until the seventeenth century. It is one of the most complete runs of such Gesta anywhere and yet has been remarkably little studied, due to the absence of a good modern edition. Pierre Janin prepared a critical edition of the Gesta of Auxerre some forty years ago for his thèse at the Ecole des chartes but never published it, so scholars have had to continue to rely on the 1850 edition by L.-M. Duru, a serviceable transcription that did little more than print the text. [1] That lack is now filled with the publication of the third and final volume of the edition of the complete Gesta pontificum Autissiodorensium.

The Gesta were first composed in the 870s, starting with the legendary figure of Peregrinus, who supposedly introduced Christianity to the region in the third century, and bringing the account up to Bishop Christian (d. 871). Additional vitae, composed by members of the cathedral chapter, were added in subsequent generations. The original Carolingian-era manuscript, with its later additions, was copied in the middle of the twelfth century. The ninth-century original is long lost, so the twelfth-century manuscript is the earliest witness to the Gesta. This manuscript, now MS 142 at the Bibliothèque municipale in Auxerre, had later bishops' vitae added, generally within a few years of each bishop's death, until the 1270s. At this point the custom fell into disuse for close to a century. The entries for the bishops up until the 1370s were then written in a separate booklet, which became detached from the rest of the Gesta and are now in the Vatican, in MS Reg. lat. 1283A. There is then a gap in the episcopal Gesta, so that there are no vitae for the late fourteenth- and fifteenth-century bishops. Entries for all but four of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century bishops, however, written in their own booklets, were later attached to Auxerre 142. The third volume of this edition includes the vitae in the manuscript now in the Vatican, but for the rest the edition is based on Auxerre 142.

The team of editors, under the direction of Michel Sot, has been very efficient, bringing out the three volumes in under a decade. The first volume includes all the bishops from Peregrinus through Robert of Nevers (d. 1084), the second the bishops through Erard of Lésignes (d. 1278), and the third the bishops through Nicolas Colbert (d. 1676), the brother of the famous royal counsellor. In spite of the number of different scholars involved in the project, based in Paris, Auxerre, and Nanterre, the different contributions have been combined seamlessly.

Each of the volumes begins with an introduction to the bishops covered, then gives the text of the Gesta, the Latin on one page and a modern French translation on the facing page, and is completed with indexes of people and places. The final volume's indexes combine references for all three volumes and also include a helpful Latin-French concordance of place names. Extensive footnotes on almost every page discuss the events, identify people and places, and note, where appropriate, the existence of a charter that records comparable information as the Gesta. Maps both of the city of Auxerre and of the diocese appear at the end of each volume, showing churches, towns, and villages in, respectively, the ninth century, the twelfth, and the seventeenth.

The three volumes are intended to be used together; a long Introduction to the first volume gives information useful for all the vitae. Here the editors treat the manuscripts, the history of the bishops of Auxerre, and such questions as the sources used by the biographers, and whether the ninth-century manuscript of the Gesta might have been copied in the eleventh century, more than a hundred years before Auxerre 142 was first put together. Anyone studying either medieval bishops or medieval Burgundy will want to own all three. It is an excellent edition, and the revived series Classiques de l'histoire de France au Moyen Âge is to be commended for bringing out such valuable works as this.

My quibbles are minor. The major weakness of the edition is that the editors have continued to rely on the old and not entirely reliable information about family relationships and political influences in Burgundy such as is found in the works of Maurice Chaume and Jean Richard--great scholars in their time but not now to be followed slavishly. [2] For example, Richard, due to misquoting the Gesta, said that Bishop Hugh of Chalon (d. 1041) obtained the castles of Varzy and Cosne from his mother. [3] The editors repeat this detail without question (1:xvii) and go so far as to mistranslate the Latin to support it. The Gesta reads, "apud Varziacum castrum, sue et antecessorum suorum proprium ditioni... In Conada similiter castello sue matris sedis..." (1:259). The clear meaning is that Varzy castle belonged to him and to his predecessors, and that the castle of Cosne was attached to the bishop's see. Indeed, according to the earlier vita of Bishop Heribald, Cosne had been attached to the cathedral since at least the early ninth century (1:151). [4] And yet the translation provided is, "dans le château de Varzy, qui apparenait en propre à ses ancêtres et à lui-même...dans le château familial de sa mère à Cosne..."

In addition, it would have been useful if the editors could have consulted the thirteenth-century cartulary of the bishops of Auxerre (now in Berkeley, Boalt Hall, Robbins MS 48). This codex (of which I am presently preparing an edition) contains a number of charters that illuminate some of the episcopal concerns referred to in the Gesta, such as the bishops' repeated and unsuccessful efforts to persuade the counts of Nevers that they were required to carry the bishops through the streets of Auxerre on the day of their consecration. But these are minor points, far outweighed by the great many virtues of this edition, which should do much to make the Gesta of the bishops of Auxerre better (and deservedly) known.

Previous generations of scholars primarily used the Gesta for factual information about the bishopric, but so much more is possible. The vitae are revelatory of such themes as the evolving relationship between the bishops and the secular powers, whether kings or counts, or the changing meanings of monastic religiosity. They also suggest how ninth-century authors created their history, using as sources everything from old letters to saints' lives to conciliar pronouncements to an engraved goblet. The original authors, the canons Rainogalus and Agola, were consciously trying to create a comprehensible history of the first six hundred years of their see, one which would underscore the importance of Auxerre in the ecclesiastical and political history of Francia. Later biographers often seem to have been commenting on the current bishop by their choice of what to praise and what to criticize in the account of his predecessor.

It is especially striking to see how strange and distant the cathedral canons of the Carolingian era found the bishops of the Merovingian era. They expected unmarried bishops who lived like lords, whose diocese had a number of Benedictine monasteries, and who, at least intermittently, had reference to the pope, and they found nothing of the kind. At least four of their early sainted bishops also had Merovingian-era vitae,[5] to which the authors of the Gesta referred, but accounts of ascetic miracle-workers would not answer for their purposes. They respected these vitae, but they wanted capable administrators who would defend cathedral property, not saints--except as they would increase Auxerre's prestige. As this suggests, there are many fascinating questions that can be asked of the Gesta, and this excellent edition should make them possible.

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Notes:

1. L.-M. Duru, ed., Bibliothèque historique de l'Yonne, vol. 1 (Auxerre, 1850), pp. 309-509.

2. Maurice Chaume, Les origines du duché de Bourgogne, 2 vols. (Dijon, 1925-37). Jean Richard, Les ducs de Bourgogne et la formation du duché du Xe au XIVe siècle (Dijon, 1954).

3. Jean Richard, "Origines féodales: Les Chalon, les Vergy, et la Puisaye d'après une charte du Xe siècle," Annales de Bourgogne 18 (1946), 112-13.

4. I first made this point in Sword, Miter, and Cloister: Nobility and the Church in Burgundy, 980-1198 (Ithaca, NY, 1987), pp. 311-12.

5. Analyzed by Wolfert S. van Egmond, Conversing with the Saints: Communication in Pre-Carolingian Hagiography from Auxerre, trans. Betsy van der Hoek (Turnhout, 2006).