03.09.33, Jankulak, The Medieval Cult of St. Petroc

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Thomas Finan

The Medieval Review baj9928.0309.033


Jankulak, Karen. The Medieval Cult of St. Petroc. Studies in Celtic History.. Rochester: Boydell Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 261. ISBN: 0-851-15777-7.

Reviewed by:
Thomas Finan
Webster University

The hagiographical traditions of Wales and Ireland often draw the modern reader interested in the Christian world of the Middle Ages. These two traditions are vast and vivid in terms of the number of saints that make up the traditions and the texts that tell the stories of those saints. But Karen Jankulak reminds us in this volume that the world of the medieval insular saints also included not just Ireland and Wales, but Cornwall and Brittany as well. By closely integrating careful analyses of a variety of different sources, Jankulak creates a comprehensive study of a local saint who gained a wide following in the tenth through twelfth centuries.

Jankulak first considers the corpus of texts concerned with St. Petroc. These texts include several vitae and genealogiae, a series of miraculae that describe the miracles associated with the relics of the saint, and a furtum, or "theft account," of those same relics. Scholars of hagiography have often used such material to enlighten our understanding of religious, political, and cultural structures at the time of the creation of the narratives. This Jankulak does expertly in regards to the ecclesiastical structures of medieval Cornwall. But where Jankulak offers fresh ideas is the way in which she places those texts (and the saint) within the local landscape. The relics of Petroc are stolen by a certain Martin, who caries the relics from Cornwall to Brittany. In doing so, the author of the furtum provides a running commentary on the landscape of medieval Cornwall and Brittany. What might be more interesting is Jankulak's conclusion concerning the reasons behind the theft: the theft punishes the sins of Bodmin priory (the home of the relics) and the theft spreads Petroc's fame. A more thorough theological analysis at this point might expand on the way in which sin, relics, and theft are inter-related in the medieval church; the lack of such an analysis is not really a criticism of the book, but, oddly enough, such historically theological analyses are often absent from medieval hagiographical studies.

The cult of Petroc, Jankulak argues, had arrived in Brittany before the supposed theft of the relics in the late twelfth century. In fact, what characterizes the arrival of Petroc's cult in Brittany is the notion that Petroc is a "foreign" saint, as opposed to the native saints of Brittany. Petroc was introduced to Brittany by means of attempts at integrating Petroc into already existing saints' families, and, hence, the churches that are associated with those families of saints. In doing so, the cult of Petroc was integrated at the local level, and it is the connection between the "places" of Petroc with those of other Breton saints that led to Petroc's albeit limited acceptance in Brittany.

The final portion of this book is concerned with the relationships between Bodmin Priory, Henry II, England, and the theft of Petroc's relics. Here Jankulak moves from hagiographical analysis to political and social analyses, in that she places the theft within the wider cross-Channel politics of the Angevin Empire. Henry II, in his attempt to gain a tighter control over Cornwall and Brittany alike, used the theft as an opportunity to exert his influence in the Breton march; members of his curia participated in the hunt for the relics, and in some respects this took the place of a royal visitation. In a twist, though, the hagiographers of Petroc in turn used Henry's interest in the relics as evidence for Petroc's prestige and status.

This book is a revision of Jankulak's doctoral dissertation. However, it does not show whatsoever. On one hand, her use of a variety of sources and analytical techniques seems more representative of the work of a seasoned scholar. On the other hand, her text is representative of an inter-disciplinary trend among younger scholars that is a welcome addition to medieval studies.

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Author Biography

Thomas Finan

Webster University