The Medieval Review 10.10.17

Malone, Carolyn Marino. Saint-Bénigne de Dijon en l'an mil, 'totius Galliae basilicis mirabilior': Interprétation politique, liturgique et théologique . Disciplina Monastica 5. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Pp. 331. . EUR 85.00 ISBN 978-2-503-52938-7.

Reviewed by:

Caroline Goodson
Birbeck College, University of London

This book opens with a manifesto for the study of architecture as history. The book is based upon the conviction that "architectural forms, understood as signs for those who contemplate them, are prone to generate a cluster of associations and that the configuration of the church can help us reach a better understanding of the cultural attitudes of the year 1000. In addition, this book aims to highlight the material church at Dijon as a component of visual culture of its time, which had, itself, an impact on history" (12). [1] As such, Carolyn Marino Malone's analysis of the church of Saint-Bénigne built by Bishop Bruno of Langres and Abbot William of Dijon is a careful history of medieval religious culture with special attention to its material culture. Her introduction lays out the means by which architectural signs were encoded or produced and then decoded and received, following U. Eco's now canonical theory of semiotics of architecture and invoking Augustine on signs and medieval neoplatonists on signification and interpretation (13-21). This is not pushing forward the field of semiology, but it is carefully constructing a working theory by which the church was meaningful in the eleventh century, which she later goes on to explain with close relation to the patrons both episcopal and monastic, to Ottonian imperial politics and to Capetian power plays.

The evidence upon which she draws is really quite extraordinary for a central medieval building. A near-contemporary Chronicle describes the church and its rotunda (this part is reproduced in Latin with French translation in Annex I). Three customaries of the monastery date from the eleventh to early thirteenth centuries, providing further near-contemporary information about the monastic use of the church, processions between the church and the three-leveled rotunda. Charters and documents from the monastery and its dependencies exist and have been recently edited. Antiquarian descriptions, early excavations, and more recent systematic excavations provide information about the original structures and their reconstructions in the later middle ages and early modern period. The characters involved in the church's construction were among the best known figures in Burgundy around the year 1000. All of this adds up to quite a lot of evidence.

Chapter 1 provides a detailed reconstruction of the church. At its core was the tomb of Saint Benignus, the "apostle of Burgundy" who was martyred in the 3rd century and buried in a sarcophagus in a Christian burial ground. The earlier churches on the site of his tomb were entirely rebuilt; the Chronicle reports the beginning of construction of the basilica and the rotunda attached to its apse on 14 February 1001 (32). The nearly finished church was consecrated in 1016, and the rotunda and the atrium were consecrated in 1018 (33). The monastic cloister, built a few decades later, was located to the south of the church. The lower level of its eastern wing has its original 8 bays with its piers and vaults in the Lombard fashion, following those of Saint-Philibert of Tornus. On the south side of the cloister was the chapter room, one of the oldest preserved, also from the mid-eleventh century. Malone reconstructs the other buildings preserved around the cloister as the auditorium and camera, following Cluniac customaries, and dorter. These identifications of rooms seem reasonable, if difficult to confirm, based as they are on customaries from other monasteries. The actual customaries of Saint-Bénigne, on the other hand, provide clear indications of the location of the infirmary cloister and the chapel of Saint-Benoît for the ill to the east of the dorter (39), and other later sources indicate the presence of the monastic cemetery there, too. The plan is compared to the plan of St Gall (Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen, ms 1092), with very little attention to how or why this similarity should be (40).

The plan and elevation of Saint-Bénigne are diligently reconstructed, previous hypotheses are discussed and corrected. Much of this analysis depends on the reading of the Chronicle, at times corrected by the results of Malone's own excavations. The excavations provide interesting new information. For example, no textual sources mention the western apse of the church, but it can be reconstructed on the basis of a 1978 trench (46). Malone makes a compelling case that this apse was intended to be the resting place of one of the patrons of the church, Bishop Bruno (134-5). The church was a longitudinal basilica, with continuous transept in the east, open to a hemicycle to the east, in turn open to the rotunda. In the nave, there was a raised tribune for the monks' choir. The elevation is reconstructed as a church of two levels with rectangular piers and, perhaps, a wooden roof, not the vaults suggested by K. Conant. The plan and elevation of the rotunda are also reconstructed on the basis of the material remains, the Chronicle, and antiquarian drawings. The circular building rises on three levels: the crypt, the gallery and the upper vaulted level of the rotunda. Malone reconstructs their original forms within a Lombard context. The masonry of small lightly dressed stones laid in mortared courses, the exterior decoration of blind arches with thin pilasters and Lombard bands with triple arches, windows with double embrasures on the rotunda, the shapes of the bases of the crypts, and the combination of groin vaults and barrel vaults supported by flat pilasters all find counterparts in contemporary churches in Northern Italy, a similarity attributable, according to Malone, to Abbot William's visit to Italy with Rodolfus Glauber between 1026-28 (49-50). So too the sculptures of praying figures, animals and other sculpted capitals on the columns of the crypt are in Lombard fashion, novel for Burgundy. Malone avoids classifying these as pre-Romanesque, however, preferring instead to situate them in the tradition of Carolingian and Ottonian churches in Franchia. Malone rightly identifies Roman precedents for some of the Carolingian and Ottonian churches like those at Fulda and Seligenstadt, which have continuous transepts much like those of the Roman fourth-century churches of St Peter and St Paul, the latter of which had a transept in the east, like Saint-Bénigne (57). There is unfortunately no discussion of the relic cult which surely informed the use of Roman prototypes for those Carolingian churches. [2] Malone identifies the source of this traditionalism in the choices of the Bishop Bruno of Langres, "one of the last Carolingian bishops" (60), who entertained and then ultimately rejected the Capetian interest in Burgundy. She argues that the crypt's Carolingian features, such as the exterior two-level crypt reflect familiarity with the ninth-century crypt of Saint-Pierre at Flavigny, and the church of Cluny II; the builders were interested also in local Burgundian traditions. As well there was the need for a design solution which would permit pilgrimage while preserving the tranquility of monastic life and prayer (99).

Saint-Bénigne's domed rotunda relates very specifically in form to the Roman Pantheon, converted to a church in 609 (or 613), and the fourth-century rotunda at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (61). Here we enter a large and complex patch of historiography, where R. Krautheimer, C. Heitz and the other great thinkers in medieval architecture have laid out theories whereby the significance of medieval churches is based on formal relationships, parallel dedications, and parallels in liturgy. Malone argues against previously posited connections between the Holy Sepulchre and the rotunda (68) in favour of a direct relationship to the Pantheon, established through the dedication of the rotunda to Sancta Maria ad martyres, on calendar dates connected both with the local saint, Benignus, and the feast of All Saints. Consulting work more recent than Henning's 1948 article on the cult of All Saints would have helped Malone to see that some Carolingians were particularly interested in the feast and its relationship to the dedication to the Pantheon for promotion of the royal house, a point that would probably have helped her larger argument. [3]

The chapters laying out the form of the building and its association with other buildings follow Malone's 2008 book, which focused very precisely on the building and its relation to the Chronicle of Saint-Bénigne, written around 1060. [4] That book also situated the reconstructed church of Saint-Bénigne in the traditions of Carolingian, Ottonian and Lombard architecture, while the claimed aims of this book are to examine the political, liturgical and theological significance of the church (13). Indeed, once the shape of the building is laid out, and a case for the "Roman" forms and their meaning is made, the following five chapters discuss the political significance of the building and its liturgical and theological resonance.

The church was built both by the bishop Bruno of Langres and Abbot William of Dijon. Malone provides biographies of these figures and draws out events or interests which may have informed their choices as patrons and builders. Of note is William's interest in music, which in the middle ages was a study of proportion. The lengthy discussion of Bruno's parentage and his allegiances and enmities in the 980s and 990s attempts to set the stage for Bruno's use of the rebuilding of Saint-Bénigne as a political gesture of allegiance with the last of the Carolingians (91). The chronicler Rodolfus Glaber famously described the years after 1000 as a rush on church rebuilding, with the faithful outdoing each other for the most beautiful churches. As Glaber is also the biographer of Abbot William, Saint-Bénigne has long been seen as an example of Glaber's famous "white mantle" of beautiful churches. The abbot was energetically involved in the blanketing of France not just with pretty churches but also with a new order, the reformed Cluniac houses. There were ultimately some forty daughter houses to the monastery under the abbot, though surprisingly their architectural forms are not here considered. More to Malone's point, the use of Roman references in Saint Bénigne and the other churches of the "mantle" "may have corresponded to a desire to express the aspirations of the Church to a spiritual order of the world based on an alliance between pope and emperor" as it occurred under Charlemagne and his popes and previously under Constantine and Sylvester (101). For MALONE, "because of the shape of the rotunda, the forms of Saint-Bénigne approximate the architectural forms of Ottonian or Salian imitations of Early Christian [Roman] architecture, and the date of the design of the building more than any other building in Europe, coincides with apex of the imperial dream of union of pope and emperor, before the death of Otto III in 1002 and Gerbert in 1003" (113). Further, the architectural forms of the church "represent the traditions of the protectors of the church before the invasion of Southern parvenus in league with the Capetian king" (140). Quite apart from its shape, the fact of the building remains a significant expression of reformed monastic power in association with episcopal authority. Glaber's report of the sermon at its consecration is adduced for particular anti-Capetian sentiment, which would have been particularly relevant in the years 1015, when Robert II besieged Dijon and 1016 when Bishop Bruno, his adversary, died (117, 129).

Three chapters examine the liturgy of the building, including the consecration of the altars known through the customaries of the monastery and the processions described in the monastic customaries of Saint-Bénigne. The altars and their dedications are all described by their location, starting with the altar and fenestella over the tomb of Saint Benignus himself (149-50) and ending at the top of the rotunda with the altar of the Trinity and the altar of Saint Michael above it (160-1). Frustratingly none of the altars are even generally located on any of the plans at the back of the book. Many of the saints were also celebrated in the second abbey church at Cluny. Malone describes the church as populated by saints (169) and the numbers of saints who were venerated in this church is impressive, and must have been so for a medieval visitor. Her interpretation of the altars' organisation is one of a programmed "hierarchy of intercession" culminating in the altars of the Trinity and Saint Paul (170).

The first customary of Saint-Bénigne is among the earliest Cluniac customaries, and it places particular emphasis on liturgy and liturgical processions, which may reflect William's interest in them (175). The dedication of the rotunda to the Virgin may have pointed to the Roman church of Sancta Maria (the Pantheon), but the liturgical processions to the church relate strictly to the Cluniac movement. The description of movements through the church and the locations of altars, stairs, and doors is very detailed, and at this point in the book it useful that such information has already been discussed for what it tells us about the building itself; here the reader can focus on the shape of the liturgy and most importantly the ways in which it places the church, and those inside it, in the reforming community of Cluny.

Malone ultimately interprets the elevation of the rotunda, its altar dedications and its processions as a programme for monastic prayer and meditation (227), a practice of increasing importance in the Cluniac movement. The first customary of Saint-Bénigne is among the earliest to distinguish between places of private and group prayer. The rotunda encouraged personal anagogical interpretation for the monks, a programme of meditation which focused on the world to come, and this was achieved through the passage through the church, the ascent through stairwells and galleries, past altars with specific dedications and by reflecting upon associations established through liturgical performance. The other perhaps more communal significance of the building is adduced through the Glaber's account of the dedicatory sermon: the rotunda is Ecclesia, the celestial church, often understood symbolically through the representation of the Virgin, to whom the building is dedicated. The sculpted monstrous figures, the lions and eagles, and the praying figures on some of the capitals in the crypt are here interpreted as invocations of Ecclesia and the Church Triumphant, though it may have been more satisfying to read these interpretations if the reconstruction of the sculpture on the basis of antiquarian watercolours and the like had already been established. The significance of the building comes full circle here, as the construction of this church, and the other churches in the Millennial mantle were, for the reforming monks, "a kind of realized eschatology [5]" (270).

The relationships between texts and buildings in the middle ages are not straightforward. A biographer's account of a sermon tells us more about the aims of the biographer than the ideological programmes of a building, and a sermon was a very different beast than a monumental church. [6] Customaries were not primarily aimed at providing architectural historians with detailed information about the forms of buildings. This book is unchallenged by such theoretical issues, though not unaware of potential complications in the written sources. At one point, Malone does demonstrate that architecture can shape history, and indeed texts, part of the manifesto at the beginning. The prominence of the altar of the Trinity in the rotunda, and in the liturgy, may have influenced the writings of one of the disciples of Abbot William, Jean of Fécamp, as many of his prayers address the Trinity (229). Malone does not stress the significance of this for her central argument, however. She makes an important case for patrons using architecture for political and theological purposes, but does not convincingly argue that any one else understood the building in such a way: an indication of the reception of the building and its meanings would have completed the argument. This may be a minor point, but an important one. I agree with nearly all of the points of her argument, and certainly agree that buildings were arguments in the middle ages. But most historians would be skeptical of the argument that a building that had an impact on history without evidence of that impact.

This work is an important addition in a small but important field of research, medieval material-cultural history. There are methodological precedents for this work, especially in the study of medieval monasteries, which tended to, though did not always, leave significant textual and architectural records. Starting in 1980, Richard Hodges began the excavation of the monastery of S. Vincenzo al Volturno guided by the description of the buildings and their history in the monastery's Chronicle. [7] Sheila Bonde and Clark Maines have spent part of the past two decades excavating and analysing the documents, including customaries of the Augustinian abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, Soissons. [8] Peter Fergusson's work on Cistercian monasteries has made a careful claim about the shapes of monasteries and the shape of monastic practice. [9] A team of historians, art historians and archaeologists, myself included, analyzed the standing remains of the monastery of San Sebastiano (Alatri) in conjunction with its preserved documentary record. [10] The fact that Brepols has published a significant number of these studies is worthy of comment; the publication quality is of very high standard, though just why the plans--even the archaeological plans--are reproduced with no attention to rational scale is a mystery. This book argues a very important point about architecture's role in medieval society and argues it well using a range of evidence.

-------- Notes:

1. "...les formes architecturales, appréhendes comme des signes pour ceux qui les contemplent, sont susceptibles d'engendrer un faisceau d'associations et que la cofiguration de l'église peut nous permettre d'acceder à une meilleure comprehension des attitudes culturelles de l'an mil. En outre, cet ouvrage vise à mettre en evidence que l'église materielle de Dijon, en tant qu'élément constitutif de la culture 'visuelle' de son temps, a eu elle-meme, un impact sur l'histoire."

2. On this see C. McClendon, The origins of medieval architecture: building in Europe, A.D 600-900 (New Haven: Yale, 2005), 139-41, 159.

3. For example, Gisbert Knopp, "Sanctorum Nomina seriatim. Die Anfänge der Allerheiligenlitanei und ihre Verbindung mit den 'Laudes regiae,'" Rmische Quartalschrift 65 (1970), 185-231; Pierre Jounel, "Le culte collectif des saints de Rome du VIIe au IXe siècle," in Le Jugement, le ciel et l'enfer dans l'histoire du christianisme, Université d'Angers Publications du Centre de recherches d'histoire réligieuse et d'histoire des idées 12 (Angers, 1989), 19-31; Meta Niederkorn-Bruck, "Das Salzburger historische Martyrolog aus der Arn-Zeit," in Erzbischof Arn von Salzburg, eds. Meta Niederkorn-Bruck and Anton Scharer (Vienna, 2004), esp. 160-1.

4. Carolyn Marino Malone, Saint-Bénigne et sa rotonde: archéologie d'une église bourguignonne de l'an mil. (Dijon: Editions universitaires, 2008).

5. The quotation comes from Thomas Head and Richard Landes, The Peace of God: Social Violence and Religious Response in France around the Year 1000 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 12.

6. So Stephen Murray has shown, Stephen Murray, A Gothic sermon: making a contract with the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).

7. Richard Hodges, Light in the Dark Ages: The Rise and Fall of San Vincenzo al Volturno (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997).

8. Sheila Bonde and Clarke Maines, eds. Saint-Jean-des-Vignes in Soissons, Approaches to its Architecture, Archaeology and History. Bibliotheca victorina 15 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003).

9. Peter Fergusson, Architecture of Solitude: Cistercian Abbeys in Twelfth Century England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

10. Elizabeth Fentress, Caroline Goodson, Margaret Laird & Stephanie Leone, Walls and Memory: The Abbey of San Sebastiano at Alatri (Lazio), from Late Roman Monastery to Renaissance Villa and Beyond. Disciplina Monastica 2 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005).