The Medieval Review 10.06.37

Rubin, Miri. Medieval Christianity in Practice. Princeton Readings in Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. Pp. xvi, 346. $80.00 hb ISBN 978-0-691-09058-0. $22.95 pb ISBN 978-0-691-09059-7.

Reviewed by:

Constance H. Berman
University of Iowa

In this volume Miri Rubin has provided us with a collection of new documents and up-to-date commentaries on medieval religious practice which will be a useful volume to have on hand for those of us who teach the history of medieval religion, or the history of the medieval church. Its documents, almost all of which were not earlier available in English translation, will be useful for classroom discussion. They span the medieval centuries, the geographical expanse of western Christendom, and a variety of genres. Its insights on how the boundaries between secular and religious individuals and their practices were breached in late medieval religiosity, as were the boundaries more generally between religious and magical practices, and those practices that were empowering or disempowering , particularly with regard to medieval women are a running subtext throughout the volume.

The book's new insights and "boundary-cracking" may be especially obvious in some of the following items, alphabetically arranged; each struck me as useful for my own teaching.

Alexandra Barratt in "Creating an Anchorhold," pp. 311-18, provides a document for the later fourteenth century foundation of an anchorhold for his daughter by a father who "believed that anchorholds should be financially secure." In her comment, Barratt cites other authors who did not think that anchoresses should be fully funded, but who may have been less realistic.

Caroline Barron's "Mass on the Election of the Mayor of London, 1406," pp. 333-38, describes an innovation in that year in the sanctification of public office in London.

Peter Biller, "Interrogation of Waldensians," pp. 231-37, not only provides texts revealing communities of Waldensian women, but then interrogates his sources. His concluding comment: "We are being given a keyhole view of the 'lived religion' of these persecuted Sisters, as they tried to follow the spiritual ideal of poverty . . . because of inquisitor's interest in individual acts of charity, and our final reflection must be this. In what ways are the texts this curiosity produced shaping this keyhole--and skewing our picture of their 'lived religion'?"

Daniel Bornstein, "How to Behave in Church and How to Become a Priest," pp. 109-14, contains two interesting selections. The second, on becoming a priest, is an apprenticeship contract from 1340 between the cleric, Giovanni, and the priest, Pietro, for five years of training. The first, "About the way one should act in church, and what church one should go to, and in whose company, and in what manner one should go, and what prayers one should say at various times," not only describes proper, but also improper, practices. It also shows how much the lay-person knows Psalms and Gospels. One sets out with Psalm 27 and enters the church with Psalm 5, and then undertakes quiet activities, while avoiding "making any uproar the way some people do."

Olivia Remie Constable, "Storms at Sea between Rhodes and Venice, November 1470," pp. 81-85, an account from the travel narratives of Anselm Adorno, a Genoese merchant born in Bruges in 1424, describes travelers calling on Saint-Catherine for aid in the midst of a storm in the eastern Mediterranean. It reveals the propinquity of the saints in the face of disaster or potential disaster and will be equally valuable to religious history, economic history, or courses that consider Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Sharon Farmer, in "A Deaf-Mute's Story," pp. 203-08, translates the account of a miracle experienced at the tomb of Saint-Louis and recorded by William of Saint-Pathus, confessor to Marguerite of Provence, Louis IX's widow; this is one of the many such accounts of such miracles that led to Louis IX's canonization, but it is a particularly well-chosen account of the experience of disabilities in medieval France and the recourse to saints for aid.

Joseph Goering in "A Layman's Penance," pp. 151-55, provides an excerpt from Chr├ętien de Troyes' Story of the Grail, which is described as, "in large part, a depiction of the religious education of a layperson." Perceval, fully armed, encounters ladies on foot en route to the cave of a hermit; they instruct him on how, this being Good Friday, he should not bear arms. . . .

Thomas Head, "Translation of the Body of St. Junianus," pp. 217-21, describes how relics in being moved from one place to another might create a geography of sites of religious significance and even informal shrines for the agricultural laborers of a district "adapting" ecclesiastical practices.

Katherine Jansen provides a sermon on Mary Magdalen, "A Sermon on the Virtues of the Contemplative Life," pp. 117-25. Her comment is a primer on thirteenth-century and later preaching, discusses the use of the Italian vernacular in the preservation of such sermons in Florence that anticipates Dante, and discusses the conflation of Mary Magdalen with Mary of Mary and Martha.

Gbor Klaniczay, in "On the Stigmatization of Saint Margaret of Hungary," pp. 274-84, provides illustrations as well as short texts on the brief-lived assertion that Margaret of Hungary, even before Catherine of Siena, had been blessed with the stigmata. The longer discussion of women's reception of the stigmata is most revealing, however, of the rivalry between Franciscans, whose founder Francis had the signs of Christ's passion, and the Dominicans, whose founder, Dominic, had not.

Sara Lipton, "Images in the World: Reading the Crucifixion," pp. 173- 185, provides four texts--from Anselm, middle English lyric, Jewish chronicle and a text for English anchoresses--along with three plates, images of an altar cross from Spain, a wooden crucifix from Scandinavia, and a painting of the crucifixion from a Parisian missal. She argues for a diversity of medieval emotional responses in viewing images and reading or hearing about Jesus on the cross.

Janet L. Nelson, "An Anglo-Saxon Queen's Ordination," pp. 327-32, uses descriptions of royal consecration to argue that the ordination ritual for a queen was based on that for the highest women in the Church, the abbesses. She provides a brief history of such rituals.

Frederick S. Paxton's, "Agius of Corvey's Account of the Death of Hathumoda, First Abbess of Gandersheim, in 874," pp. 53-58, is a selection from an early medieval woman's Life that is part of his larger volume, Anchoress and Abbess in Ninth-Century Saxony: The Lives of Liutbirga of Wendhausen and Hathumoda of Grandesheim (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2009); it is also an apt selection for this volume, stressing as it does the unusual state of the nuns at Gandersheim at the time--one of the few houses of nuns in Saxony at this time where the women took permanent vows. Description of ritual is important, but also striking is the description of the emotions of Hathumoda's mother, torn between staying constantly at the bedside of her dying daughter, and her inability to tolerate the distressing events of that daughter's death.

Susanna A. Throop, "Rules and Ritual on the Second Crusade Campaign to Lisbon, 1147," pp. 86-91, not only provides us with information about a campaign of that Crusade that usually gets ignored, but a different picture of the Crusaders, attempting to agree on behavior before departure, but also on the prayers and rituals before the final assault on Lisbon, and the behavior of Crusaders after the city's surrender, which Throop describes as their "unanimous spiritual experience." A relief from discussions of Bernard of Clairvaux's preaching and attacks on the Jews.

John Van Engen presents a text not before translated, "The Life of Albert Ter Achter," in his contribution, "The Practices of Devotio Moderna," pp. 256-62, describing in his comment how such lives "modeled, confirmed, and encouraged a way of living," and its "powerful communal impulse."

Nancy Bradley Warren in her comment on "The Ritual for the Ordination of Nuns," pp. 318-23, contends that in later medieval England there were indeed opportunities for the exercise of autonomy by a women's religious community in deciding when to allow a novice to be examined before her profession and in their discussion of the texts and instruction of that novice. The implication is that the religious community is not just a dumping ground for unwanted daughters.

Joseph Ziegler's text on "Fourteenth-Century Instructions for Bedside Pastoral Care," pp. 103-08, is an interesting one for the medical questions involved, but even more interesting to me is the thoughtful commentary by Ziegler on why the text is important and how we should approach it. As he says "By cautiously using these manuals, [the historian] can reconstruct parts of those precious moments of encounter between the learned cleric and the ordinary believer. . . . Visiting the sick was therefore a locus of education and moral guidance, but it was also a platform for the cleric to show off his practical medical knowledge. . . . This suggests perhaps . . . a cooperative division of labor between clerics and medical practitioners at the patient's bed."

There is more: on magic, safe harbors, sick animals, weddings, baptism, coming of age and so on. Overall this is a very useful volume that can provide new insights to us all. Kudos to Rubin and her contributors!