09.01.04, Barton and Linehan, eds., Cross, Crescent and Conversion

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Simon Doubleday

The Medieval Review baj9928.0901.004


Barton, Simon and Peter Linehan (eds.). Cross, Crescent and Conversion: Studies on Medieval Spain and Christendom in Memory of Richard Fletcher. The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Pp. 362. ISBN: 9789004163430.

Reviewed by:
Simon Doubleday
Hofstra University

Richard Fletcher, his former colleague Barrie Dobson observed in his obituary for The Times, "approached the personalities of the past with a wry concern and sense of mischief which owed more to his solitary walks in the country than to the seminar rooms and conferences (which he disliked) of the modern university" (11 March 2005). It is perhaps ironic--and a salutary reminder of the virtues of the solitary walk--that Fletcher's work should have inspired such universal admiration in the corridors of academe. The present work provides ample proof that, while Fletcher--preferring other forms of farming--did not cultivate a substantial school of young doctoral students (Simon Barton was the exception), his intellectual legacy is very considerable. Cross, Crescent, and Conversion is a festschrift of the best kind: a purposeful, coherent collection of first-rate essays which, taken as a map, suggests current and future paths in the intellectual landscapes where Fletcher walked. Almost without exception, in exploring these paths, the contributors explicitly recognize his continuing presence.

In his contribution to the Preface, co-written with Peter Linehan, Barton indicates that the essays in this volume reflect the three main areas of Fletcher's scholarly endeavours. These areas are diverse and expansive. Although the essays are not formally clustered, four chapters at the heart of the book engage with "Church and society in medieval Spain." Offering a revelatory perspective on a familiar site, John Williams ("The Tomb of St. James: The View From the Other Side," 175-191), traces the hidden history of the monastic church of San Salvador de Antealtares, in Santiago de Compostela, located the "other side" of the presumed tomb of St. James. This monastic church, Williams argues, was originally charged with maintaining the cult and tomb, while a more public church, not necessarily any larger, served the needs of visitors. James D'Emilio ("The Cathedral Chapter of Lugo in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries: Reform and Retrenchment," 193-226) consciously examines a set of challenges to which Fletcher had drawn attention. In the thirty years since The Episcopate of the Kingdom of León in the Twelfth Century (1978), "the bolted doors of ecclesiastical archives have been pried loose, innumerable documents have been edited, and there has been an avalanche of Spanish publications on medieval Spain," D'Emilio writes (193). But many of the issues that Fletcher raised about ecclesiastical reform have not been pursued, he continues; and the Galician cathedral of Lugo offers excellent opportunities for such work. "The rich collection of documents from Lugo cathedral is, sadly, perhaps the largest ensemble of their date from the kingdom of León-Castile to linger unpublished" (195). Emma Falque's brief study of "Fuentes Isidorianas en De Altera Uita de Lucas de Tuy" (227-239) addresses the first antiheretical treatise in medieval Spain, written in the wake of a case of Albigensian heresy (1232-34) in which Lucas may well have intervened; underlining the fact that Lucas formed part of the monastic community of León patronized by Isidore, Falque remarks it is not surprising that the sevillano saint was a fundamental source for Lucas. Finally, Peter Linehan ("Columpna Firmissima: D. Gil Torres, the Cardinal of Zamora, " 241-261) retrieves, both from historiographical neglect and from the appearance of unadulterated nepotism, the figure of Gil Torres, who at the time of his death in 1254 was the second most senior cardinal, attempting to provide something of "the third dimension that he still lacks" (261).

"Christian-Muslim relations in Iberia and beyond," a theme Fletcher had addressed in The Cross and the Crescent (2002), represents a second motif within this volume. Christopher Tyerman's "'Princeps et Populus'. Civil Society and the First Crusade" (127-151), which argues that popular politicization dated back to the Middle Ages and can be traced clearly in the First Crusade, is followed by Barton's "Islam and the West: A View from Twelfth-Century León" (153-174), addressing through the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris the complex attitudes towards Islam which Fletcher also traced in twelfth-century León. The chronicle, Barton shows, was exceptionally familiar with the political and military affairs of al-Andalus and the Maghreb; was permeated with an intense hostility to Islam which bears the hallmark of "new-fangled" crusading sensibilities; and yet makes an exception for the Huddid prince and pretender Ahmâd al-Mustansir Sayf al-Dawla. Such a combination reflects the way in which the Christian kingdoms "had always been markedly pragmatic in their dealings with the Muslim south" (172). Ian Michael ("From the Belles of St. Clement's to the Book of Good Love: The Late Survival of Mozarabic Culture in Toledo, 277-292) focuses on the substantial Mozarabic population in the city of Toledo between the 11th and 14th centuries, which it perceives as a period of mostly harmonious convivencia (a term likely to come under increasing scrutiny in coming years). The evidence, presented here, of Mozarabic cultural and economic formations (the Bernardine convent of St Clement's, the Toledan roots of the Libro de Buen Amor) would give itself to a fruitful analysis of processes of colonization within medieval Iberia. Esther Pascua's "Round and About Water: Christians and Muslims in the Ebro Valley in the Fourteenth Century" (293-310), whose economic focus is distinctive within this book, denies the hypothesis of tension between Christian shepherds from the Pyrenees and Muslim farmers/peasants involved in irrigated agriculture, even though an overwhelming majority of Muslims had indeed remained in the Ebro basin after the conquest of Zaragoza in 1118. Rather, she argues, the main lines of conflict pitted Zaragoza against the villages within its jurisdiction, and both against the surrounding villages belonging to the lay and ecclesiastical estates. A final essay, within the diffuse grouping on interfaith relations, is John Edwards' "New Light on the converso Debate? The Jewish Christianity of Alfonso de Cartagena and Juan de Torquemada," (311-326). It "seems right and proper to offer homage to Richard Fletcher, who worked so resolutely to understand the relationship between the three monotheistic faiths in medieval Spain, by considering two fifteenth-century Castilian authors who produced radical, yet little-studied work" on this relationship (311), both of whom advanced powerful and radical arguments for the Jewish dimensions of, and continuities with, Christianity. Edwards' essay embodies an eloquent plea for the contemporary relevance, and resonance, of medieval Iberian theological debate.

The third recurrent theme, providing suitable bookends to the festschrift, is the history of the post-Roman world and especially the matter of conversion. Roger Collins and Judith McClure, ("Rome, Canterbury and Wearmouth-Jarrow: Three Viewpoints on Augustine's Mission" (17-42)), re-examine evidence relating to the mission sent from Rome to Kent by Gregory the Great in 596--"one of the best-documented episodes in the history of conversion in late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages" (17): a fitting tribute to what Dobson described, in his Times obituary, as Fletcher's "formidable powers of minute textual analysis." The immediately following essay, Edward James's "Gregory of Tours, the Visigoths, and Spain" (43-64), offers a useful reminder that the perception of Iberia as Other is not entirely an early modern invention: Gregory's view of the Visigothic realm as "a hostile kingdom whose manifold errors and evils helped to underline the general righteousness of the Catholic Church in Gaul" (43) surely anticipate hostilities between Spain and its religious and geopolitical rivals more than a millennium later. Closing the volume, in a piece which might profitably be read in conjunction with his recent, complementary, study of "Barbarians, Historians, and the Construction of National Identities" in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Late Antiquity (1.1 (Spring 2008), 61-81), is Ian Wood's "The Fall of the Roman Empire in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries" (327-347), largely devoted to French scholarship on the fall of the Roman empire in the age of Gibbon. Much of this scholarship, Wood remarks, was politically engagé, concerned with national issues of pressing importance, and correspondingly envisioned late antiquity through the prism of nationhood. Perhaps, because of this political engagedness, Wood suggests, the responses of such scholars "seem less scholarly to the modern historian. But that does not mean that they had nothing to contribute to the discussion" (346). Again, the spectre of "presentism" is usefully exorcised.

At the time of his death, as Wood observes, Richard Fletcher was tackling precisely the fall of the Roman empire. The drafted chapters have "all the classic hallmarks of Richard's historical writing: a story meticulously researched beautifully perceived and constructed, and gloriously well written" (327). In this volume, Fletcher's presence is indeed to be found as much in construction, and in spirit, as in theme. The iconoclasm of The Quest for El Cid (1989), and the rescue of a historical reality more compelling than the myth, find an echo in Bernard F. Reilly's "The Rediscovery of Count Pedro Ansúrez" (109-126). Accumulating oral legends surrounding the Leonese count, sometime adversary of Rodrigo Díaz, Reilly shows, were reflected in De Rebus Hispaniae, which at one point describes a climactic encounter between Pedro Ansúrez and Alfonso I el Batallador in which the count approaches the king clad in scarlet and seated on a white horse... Through a magisterial study of the 464 documents now available to students of the count, Reilly furnishes "a richer a more varied picture than do the chronicles of the great Count Pedro Ansúrez, his family and his court" (126), and in the process implicitly defends a historiographical methodology treated with good-natured skepticism by Ann Christys, "Picnic at Madînat al-Zahrâ'" (87-107). Reilly finds common ground with Christys, however, in a shared suspicion of romanticism: "our all too human nostalgia may move us, occasionally, to long once again for the simpler vision of the heroic red-clad figure astride his white charger." Christys' piece bears witness to another important legacy of Fletcher: his interest in border crossing, and specifically in conjoining the histories of Christian Spain and al-Andalus. Her article focuses on, and assesses, narrations of an incident in which al-Mu'tamid ibn 'Abbad, the ruler of Seville from 1069-1091, is said to have gone on a picnic' to the ruins of Madînat al-Zâhra', tracing in such accounts a nostalgic literary tradition (encompassing both Arabic and Latin cultures of Iberia) in which the palace is a prime example of lieux de mémoire. Fletcher, perhaps, would have wondered what al-Mu'tamid would have eaten with his picnicking companions. As James Campbell asks rhetorically, in "Richard Fletcher as an Historian" (1-16), "who but he would have in a book of this kind included such an aside as 'think of the bleakness of the world without lemons or spinach'" (7). He would have enjoyed Peter Biller's suggestive musings on diet ("The Abundance and Scarcity of Food in the Inquisition Records of Languedoc," 263-276), even though what really interests Biller is the balance/imbalance of evidence, rather than the balance/imbalance of diet. And even if it was five Frisian cows, and not goats, that he contemplated from his study window, as he completed his study of The Conversion of Europe From Paganism to Christianity, 371-1386 (1997), Fletcher would, I imagine, have appreciated the deftness of humour with which Roger Wright ("Placenames in Early Medieval Documents: The Case of Cabra," 65-86) examines the etymology of Igabrum, Egabrum, Qabra... and the conflation of meanings which confronted the author of the Historia Roderici when he describes an attack on the place by the King of Granada: it was necessary to narrate the incident in such a way as not "to imply that the Granadan army had attacked a goat" (82)...

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Simon Doubleday

Hofstra University