03.12.32, Gameson and Leyser, Belief and Culture in the Middle Ages

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Michael Frassetto

The Medieval Review baj9928.0312.032


Gameson, Richard and Henrietta Leyser, eds.. Belief and Culture in the Middle Ages: Studies Presented to Henry Mayr-Harting. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Pp. xvi, 370. ISBN: 0-19-820801-4.

Reviewed by:
Michael Frassetto
Encyclopedia Britannica

This collection of 25 essays is a fitting tribute to the influence and breadth of interests of Henry Mayr-Harting. It covers a wide range of topics and disciplines including art history, history, religion, and paleography. The essays in this collection also address topics from nearly the entire Middle Ages, beginning with the late antique and early medieval period and ending with the late thirteenth century, and draws on monastic rules, saints' lives, charters, and other documents to illuminate the activities of medieval clerics, nobles, and patrons. Further reflecting the career of Professor Mayr- Harting, the essays in this volume examine events in both England and the Continent during the Middle Ages and in so doing provide an important survey of the religious and cultural history of the period.

After brief appreciations of Mayr-Harting by Christopher Brooke and Lawrence Goldman and a bibliography of his major publications, the volume opens with a series of chapters on the late antique and early medieval world. The first chapter, by Conrad Leyser, assesses the role ascribed to angels in early monastic rules and the perception of the activities of angels in daily monastic life. R. A. Markus offers a fascinating study of the language of Gregory the Great and how the pope's understanding of pagans shaped his missionary and pastoral duties. The next two chapters examine two important manuscripts of the early Middle Ages. David Ganz's study of the Bodleian manuscript, Auct. D.II.14, is a paleographic tour de force; his reading of the marginalia and various scribal hands demonstrates the interests of those involved in the manuscript's history. Richard Gameson's commentary on the Lindisfarne Gospels argues for the originality of the work and its use in asserting the importance of the monastery at Lindisfarne. Both chapters are enhanced by the inclusion of several plates depicting the manuscripts. Indeed, like Mayr- Harting's work on Ottonian illuminations, this volume uses medieval art to explore the relationship between art and culture and religious and political history. And, although there are a generous number of plates (24), they are, unfortunately, black and white.

The next several chapters move from monks and other clergy to figures of power in England and the Continent in early medieval and Carolingian Europe. Using saints' lives, Veronica Ortenberg explores the power and influence of Anglo-Saxon women, which she suggests is both a construct of ecclesiastical writers and a fair description of social reality. In a brief, but fascinating chapter, Anton Scharer uses the Rupertus Cross to consider the artistic and political program of Duke Tassilo of Bavaria. Scharer suggests that Tassilo's program set the precedent for Charlemagne's, and his chapter is followed by an exploration of great Frankish king's reign. In an analysis of two of Charlemagne's capitularies from late in his reign-- helpfully translated in an appendix to the article--Janet Nelson argues that the emperor's voice can be heard clearly and that these capitularies provide evidence of "an imperial regime certainly newly ambitious and arguably reflective" (79). She offers a strong challenge to the conventional wisdom that the last years of Charlemagne's rule was one of decline. Events during the Carolingian age are further re-evaluated in Stuart Airlie's essay on the archbishopric of Salzburg. In his study of the ninth-century Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum, Airlie contends that Salzburg was more than a missionary center, but was an important cultural center for the diffusion and promotion of Carolingian politics and religions with close ties to Louis the German.

England and the Empire in the tenth and early eleventh centuries is the focus of the succeeding chapters, which approach religion and culture through a number of key texts and manuscript illuminations. Matthew Kempshall's study of ideology in Asser's life of Alfred identifies the influence of the work of Gregory the Great on both Asser and his subject; Kempshall skillfully mixes the study of texts and artifacts (e.g., the Alfred Jewel) to demonstrate Alfred's program. Patrick Wormald attempts to make sense out of episcopal succession at Selsey, and Eric John argues for a more nuanced understanding of St. Oswald based on his readings of charters and hagiography from the late Anglo-Saxon to early Norman England. The next two chapters appear as an homage to Mayr-Harting's important Ottonian Book Illumination. Alison Peden notes that the book demonstrated the significance of art for exploring Ottonian ideology, and she argues that knowledge of the liberal arts was essential to the Ottonians. Studying that ideology and various manuscripts associated with the Ottonian court, Peden demonstrates the existence of the connection between the Ottonians and Abbo of Fleury. In the most heavily illustrated chapter of the book (12 plates), Martin Kauffmann traces the history and movements of an Ottonian manuscript originally from Reichenau now at the Bodlein library. He studies the place of the manuscript's origins, the artistic precedents for the manuscript's illuminations, and describes the diplomatic and political uses of illuminated manuscripts.

The chapters by Kathleen G. Cushing and the late Timothy Reuter focus on the eleventh-century reform movement and Investiture Controversy. Cushing argues in her study of two saints' lives from the eleventh century that a new form of sanctity was developed in association with the Gregorian reform movement. Reflecting both the practices of their subjects and the interpretation of it by the authors of the vitae, the lives of Ariald of Milan and Anselm of Lucca reveal a newly forming sanctity that was associated with action and the goals of reform itself. These saintly men, Cushing argues, supported and sanctified the reform movement. In his chapter, Reuter, a fascinating and subtle essay that reminds us how much he still had to offer, examines the symbols and rituals associated with episcopal deposition and reinvestiture in the mid-eleventh century. Although apparently a spontaneous act, Reuter argues, the events at the synod of Rheims in 1049 involved symbolic acts and artifacts intelligible to contemporaries.

The remainder of the volume is concerned with religious and cultural developments from the late eleventh to the thirteenth century, beginning with several chapters that focus on important religious figures in England. Brian Golding examines the ecclesiastical patronage of Anglo-Norman barons and argues that donations were "calculated charity," designed to balance English and Norman interests and maintain ties with important monasteries in England and Normandy. In a short but stimulating essay, R. I. Moore offers a more nuanced reading of one of the pivotal moments in The Life of Christina of Marykate, noting that her rejection of Ranulf of Flambard's advances did not involve a repudiation of familial responsibilities but a reinterpretation of them. Indeed, in Moore's view, Christina's actions often a model for a better relations between Normans and the English and reflected the new spiritual mores of the age. In an essay inspired by one of Mayr-Harting's numerous works, Susan J. Ridyard dissects Reginald of Durham's Life of St. Godric to determine the relationship of saint and society. In a very sensitive reading, Ridyard discerns the important social and religious commentary in the text, and in her discussion of a number of anecdotes from the Life argues that it provides reflections on contemporary gender relations. And in a study of the life and writings of Robert of Lewes, Frances Ramsey demonstrates how the English church responded to the impact of Gregorian reform and argues that the bishops of the English church were often men of considerable abilities. Nicholas Vincent, in a study of the Battle Chronicle and the charters from the reign of Henry II, argues against the accepted view of the Chronicle as a reliable document. Instead, he maintains that the author of the Chronicle was an accomplished forger who inserted spurious episcopal and royal charters favorable to the abbey in his narrative history.

Thomas Becket is the subject of chapters by D. J. A. Matthew and Julian Haseldine. Matthew examines the letters of Becket, suggesting that they provide important insights into how Becket saw himself, his rivals, and his cause. An important if under appreciated source, the letters illustrate Becket's ability to tailor his arguments to his audience and his frequent reference to Scripture. They also demonstrate his devotion to Canterbury, which Matthew notes did not have its current status in Becket's day, and, of course, Becket's struggle with Henry II. Matthew also reminds us that Becket became St. Thomas only after his murder and that the letters provide reliable evidence about Becket before his martyrdom and canonization. In the study of another collection of letters, Haseldine considers the extent of friendship and support Becket elicited during his episcopacy. Through connections to John of Salisbury, Peter of Celles, and their network of correspondents, Becket found a body of supporters during his exile and struggles with Henry. Although not capable of developing friendships as Anselm had, Haseldine contends, Becket nonetheless attracted a circle of ardent supporters.

The final three chapters of the volume address various spiritual and textual matters in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Henrietta Leyser examines the positive and negative conceptions of temptation along with the changing nature of spirituality in the twelfth century. The understanding of temptation merged with the new piety of the twelfth century and was associated by Leyser with the so-called discovery of the individual and emphasis on the humanity of Christ. Indeed, she concludes, that temptation came to be understood as "a necessary part of what it was to be human" ( 326). In her study of Peter of Poitier's Compendium in genealogia Christi, Stella Panayotova demonstrates that the text was a "meeting- point of teaching and scholarship," that was used by students and masters alike. Her essay includes four plates, two appendices containing excerpts from the Compendium, and a third appendix of interpolations from various Compendium manuscripts. And in her study of the miracle stories of Thomas Cantilupe, Valerie I. J. Flint argues that hagiography can be of use in the study of law and government as well as religion and the church.

As is the case with most volumes of this nature, Belief and Culture in the Middle Ages includes a widely disparate collection of articles, and necessarily so to honor fully the wide-ranging interests of Mayr-Harting. The volume, nonetheless, achieves a coherence by following the principles of Mayr-Harting himself, who has been concerned to take the religion of other people and other times seriously and to recognize the important relationship between religion and politics. These essays clearly do that. They also apply a broad range of methodologies, as Mayr-Harting has, and examine a variety of texts and artifacts. In all, the volume, a great testimony to Mayr-Harting, offers valuable insights into medieval religion and culture and the manuscripts, illuminations, artifacts, and individuals associated with belief and culture in the Middle Ages.

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Michael Frassetto

Encyclopedia Britannica