09.03.16, Hilken, Memory and Community

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Annick Peters-Custot

The Medieval Review baj9928.0903.016


Hilken, Charles. Memory and Community in Medieval Southern Italy: The History, Chapter Book, and Necrology of Santa Maria del Gualdo Mazzocca. Studies and Texts 157; Monumenta Liturgica Beneventana 4. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieaval Studies, 2008. Pp. xii, 320. ISBN: 978-0-88844-157-7.

Reviewed by:
Annick Peters-Custot
University of Saint-Etienne

The academic community is always excited to discover, with the edition of a monastic necrology, a new source for the social, political and economic history of the Middle Ages. Charles Hilken furnishes here not only an edition, but also a great and rich monograph of a monastic house, Santa Maria del Gualdo Mazzocca, an important abbey of medieval Southern Italy, which had been little studied and remained in the shadow of its greater neighbours, Santa Sofia of Benevento, Montevergine or Pulsano. The abbey's cartulary had been edited and studied by Jean-Marie Martin, but the Chapter Book, one of richest documents of medieval Southern Italy, preserved in Vat. lat. 5949, had remained almost silent. The present work, originally a doctoral dissertation defended in April 1994, allows this abbey, of which very little remains except the documentary sources, to emerge from sleep. The author's study is based upon the finest knowledge of the sources, of codicological methods as well as of the historiography, and upon an impressive bibliography. And, in spite of (or maybe thanks to) this erudite approach, this book really makes for pleasant reading.

The author provides at the same time the essential elements of a story of expansion and decline, and an original study of the abbey's necrology. Santa Maria del Gualdo Mazzocca actually integrates into the common religious story of medieval South Italy- -and the book deserves its general and programmatic title. It was founded in the middle of the 12th century by a hermit, John of Tufara--whose cult was approved in 2005--and a small number of disciples, like other contemporary foundations: Montevergine by William of Vercelli, or Pulsano by John of Matera. It reveals the preponderance of heremitic ideals in medieval and modern South Italy, where foundations are often based upon heremitic renewal, perhaps because monastic reformers found here a good environment for heremitical solitude--and, the humble author of this lines would add, perhaps because of the influence of a byzantine tradition and heritage. In those original times, whose ideals are reflected in the necrology by the presentation of the founding brothers' names--cf infra--being a monk was less a style of life in the rigidity of a rule than a vocation to lead a life separated from the secular world. On the other side, the illuminations and the script of the abbey's most precious remains, the cartulary and the Chapter Book, attest the cultural influences of Santa Sofia of Benevento. And the entire story of Santa Maria del Gualdo Mazzocca, from its successful expansion to the decline, echoes the global religious story of South Italy and, more generally, of the West in the Middle Ages. But the very attentive lecture of the necrology presented by the author gives a new vision for the monastic conception of a congregation, based upon concentric circles, which invade the local and secular environment.

The first chapter (1-64) presents the history of the foundation. In this part of the book, the most important documentary source is the cartulary, a great documentary source for the economical and social history, not only of the monastery, but also of the northern Capitanata in the 12th and 13th centuries. The author discusses the elements given by scholars (Morrone, Martin...) and finds in the necrology confirmations for their research. John of Tufara's foundation had all the traditional conditions for a successful development: the direct ties to the papacy--an attention reflected by the papal bulls, from 1183, when a pontifical charter confirms the monastery's properties and the pope's protection; the favour of the monarchs of the Regnum Siciliae and the kingdom of Naples. The monk's efforts to build economic wealth also furnished the basis for the rapid growth of the monastery, including churches with their supporting lands, castra and casalia. At the beginning of the 14th century, when Pope Boniface VIII raised the priory to an abbey, its wealth was at its highest point. The decline then affected Santa Maria del Gualdo Mazzocca like many other monasteries at the same time, because of external factors like Black Death, political crises and wars and, finally, the earthquake of 1456, but also of internal reasons, like the bad government of Abbot Arnold (1363-1374). The papacy finally transferred the governance to commendataries, whose names are rarely recorded in the necrology, maybe proof of their poor care for the abbey. In this chapter, the author attests his ability to use the necrology to confirm or give details for the abbey's history, organisation and internal life, which make for very pleasant and original reading on a common and well known process. For example, his study on the way in which some names are recorded in the necrology by the first scribe demonstrate the proud remembrance of the beginnings and the ideals of their simplicity-- the names of the founding brothers are all written in red, without any cognomen or sign of social status. Conversely, the evident lack of maintenance in the necrology, the introduction of elements and events unrelated to the use of such a document in the abbey, and the contemporary decline of the number of names recorded furnish evidence to the decline of this institution itself.

Furthermore, the author manages to give a study of the abbey's influence on local society, and the sense of a community which expands into the social environment. The necrology mentions an interesting number of laymen, which proves the abbey's spiritual attraction and a widespread influence upon the inhabitants of the local towns and villages. The number of benefactors and of external oblates, the pastoral care the monks show toward their environment, especially for burials--a right confirmed in 1198 by the bishop of Fiorentino--attest the links the monastery created with secular society. Not all of secular society: the necrology contains a poor number of benefactors from the high aristocracy--except the count of Lesina. The people which form the "outer ring of the monastic familia" (24) were ordinary folk.

The second chapter (65-108) focuses on the Chapter Book, that includes the necrology but also a very rich martyrology, the rules of St. Benedict, capitular lessons, the rite of monastic profession and a fragment of disciplinary statutes. The author presents the discussion about the origins and date of the Chapter Book, and the arguments and conclusions proposed by scholars. The high quality of the martyrology--unedited but well known by the editors of the Martyrology of Usuard--has prompted scholars to see in Santa Sofia of Benevento its place of birth, but the author finally assumes that the Chapter Book has been only commissioned by Santa Sofia of Benevento in a transition time, when a new necrology was initiated in the priory (between 1215 and 1221). Jean-Marie Martin has proposed 1225 as the date of redaction of the cartulary, and the same scribe also worked on the necrology: both necrology and cartulary should come from the scriptorium of Gualdo Mazzocca.

The author provides interesting elements upon the Martyrology of Santa Maria del Gualdo Mazzocca, which contains a great number of hermit saints. This is not to be linked to the heremitical origins of Santa Maria del Gualdo Mazzocca, since almost all of this saints are also in the Santa Sofia Martyrology but, once more, this originality attests the continuity of the heremitical tradition in the monastic world of medieval South Italy. The contents, the physical elements of the Chapter Book and each part of it are clearly exposed; in particularly the annotations, that attest a constant use of the book by the monks, even during the period of commendatary abbacy. The author furnishes also paleographic elements about the script called Eustasius, and about an artist identified as Sipontinus (from Siponto) whose work to illuminate the manuscript is astonishing.

The third chapter (109-135), which precedes the edition of the Necrology, presents a rich study on this text, and reveals how unique this document is. It contributes towards the knowledge of the history of the abbey's inner life and organization, through the distribution of the offices (such as deacon and subdeacon, not rare among the monks) and status (hermit, monk, prior, abbot, but also sacristan, dean, grammarian) in the monastery, but also in association with it (lay brothers, oblati, lay sisters). Entire families entered the prayers of the monks. When it is possible, the author provides short prosopographical notes and gives precise examples, but one could regret the lack of an exhaustive study of the entire prosopographical documentation which could have given statistical data on the cultural distribution of names (christian, lombard, frankish, germanic names and, one could add, stranger to the pure West-Christian world, as Aminadab): this Necrology is also a rare document of cultural history and the author, in this part of his research, confines to a descriptive presentation. The paleographic work, on the contrary, is very exciting, since it furnishes happy results about the way the Necrology had been written. The author distinguishes three groups of hands at work on the Gualdo Mazzocca Necrology. The first one, who wrote a blank liturgical calendar with no name, probably from a scriptorium, may be called the "framing hand." The second one, an anonymous scribe responsible for more than 150 entries, is probably a monk who had to enter the names from an earlier necrology, including the names of men dead in the second half of the 12th century. The author draws up the list of the names entered by this hand (121-123) and his paleographic study attests that these entries are among the earliest in the document. The other hands, about one hundred, wrote the names in the three centuries of use of the Necrology. One returns to the sense and the nature of such a document, which has to describe the inner circle of a community (and this definition, p. 124, is an explanation for the title chosen by the author for his book): "The necrology helped the monks and nuns to form a communal identity" in strong relationship with the essential use of the chapter room. "More than at chapel or in the refectory, it was in the chapter room that monks and nuns were most aware of their belonging to an intentional society. Necrologies maintained and still preserve for posterity the intimacy of the monastic community as it was experienced in the chapter room" (125), even if the community of dead people recorded was larger than the monastic community itself. The author makes here a significant comparison between the use of red ink for the founding brothers' names (associated with the title of frater noster / fratres nostri), and the same use of red ink for historical secular names, as a sort of spiritual affiliation or adoption through what contemporary sources called officium plenum. But--and it is also one of the strength of this work--this study always reminds the practical use of a necrology: the Necrology is not read but recited aloud by the cantor, each day, in front of the monastic community. The Author demonstrate that the title of frater noster/fratres nostri at the origins affixed beside each name, is eventually cited at the end of the names for a given day. The spoken use of the Chapter Book has perhaps erased the boundaries between the inner and the outer community, between the cloistered monks and the members of a spiritual confraternity associated with them. This evolution is worthy of further consideration about the sense of a medieval monastic community.

An edition is all but an easy work and the author's work and methodology give all satisfaction (except, perhaps, the lack of an anthropological and cultural study). Two appendices, particularly on the holdings of the monastery, complete this book, which presents a very complete study, a rich monograph on an important abbey, and, once again, more than a simple edition, a great synthesis which contains almost everything one is allowed to expect from such a documentary source.

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Author Biography

Annick Peters-Custot

University of Saint-Etienne