12.05.22, Jamroziak, Survival and Success on Medieval Borders

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Alexis J. Grélois

The Medieval Review 12.05.22

Jamroziak, Emilia. Survival and Success on Medieval Borders: Cistercian Houses in Medieval Scotland and Pomerania from the Twelfth to the Late Fourteenth Century. Medieval Texts and Cutlures of Northern Europe. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers n.v., 2011. Pp. 215. ISBN: 978-2-503-53307-0.

Reviewed by:
Alexis J. Grélois
Université de Rouen

After a book on the social context of the famous abbey of Rievaulx, Emilia Jamroziak now presents us with a comparative study of Cistercian houses located on both sides of the English-Scottish border and in Pomerania and Neumark, mainly Melrose and Koᴌbacz. These were the most important Cistercian houses in their respective areas from the late twelfth century to the Reformation and left many historical sources, including chronicles. The basic idea was to compare how white or gray monks succeeded--or at least succeeded to survive--in two frontier or border regions, two concepts Jamroziak retraces the history of in a solid introduction.

This work is also explicitly inspired by "new local history" (33-4) which intends to rewrite the story of Europe at a local scale, especially in long disputed areas, far from the nationalistic and even racist conceptions that predominated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is now well known that the construction of the Scottish identity was a long and complex process with major consequences for the religious map of Great Britain; Jamroziak provides a focus on the role of some monastic houses in this evolution, notably in Galloway. The "local" point of view affords a more innovative perspective on Central and Eastern Europe, for instance on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea which modern nationalist historiography has reduced to a battlefield between Germany and Poland. The Western reader will thank Jamroziak for providing access to the latest trends in Polish historiography (it could have been useful to offer an English translation of the Polish titles since Slavic languages are usually not familiar to Western scholars), which stress the importance of local powers (including the military religious orders) in a region that was not a border but an ever disputed frontier. She rightly criticizes the idea that founding a monks' or a nuns' house was a way for these powers to ensure their territorial dominations and stresses in the contrary the role of the religious as intercessors able to change of patrons when necessary.

Another key-concept of this study is the "Europeanization" (30): both areas were affected during the early and late Middle Ages by transformations that attached them to the core of the Latin Europe, since Pomerania and its Cistercian estates were at the border of pagan Prussia and since the installation of the Cistercians in Scotland was part of a reconfiguration of the local Church according to a Gregorian framework. Thus this book connects two distant regions of Northern Europe and various academic worlds, linking the English-speaking and the Polish spheres through the numerous references to recent German historiography (Ordensgeschichte, "Dresden School"). Specialists of the Cistercian order will be interested by Jamroziak's attention to questions that have been neglected for too long, such as hospitality (62-7) and the fate of the gray monks in the late Middle Ages: thus it is fascinating to discover that Koᴌbacz was still building granges in the second half of the fourteenth century (106) and to read how filiation networks continued to exist despite the emergence of political boundaries, which proves once more that the common but nobody-knows-why 1300 break makes historians blind or at least short- sighted. It is also very interesting to read how Koᴌbacz helped her daughter-houses in time of war (193-4).

All these qualities contribute to commend Jamroziak's book. However, some quibbles should be mentioned. The book is illustrated with very useful maps, but the demonstration of the architectural filiation between various houses would have been far more convincing with photos (54, 64-5). A general bibliography would have been much appreciated, and some references are missing such as Jorg Oberste's studies on visitation. If Jamroziak has deeply focused on relationships with patrons, the way the Cistercian dealt with their tenants in border areas where they possessed villages could probably have been studied in more depth. The first two pages of the book are disappointing because they are based on two contradictory and insufficient works: Janauschek's classical chronology of the order's development (whose errors for Spain and Portugal were demonstrated in the 1960s by Cocheril) and Berman's revisionist Cistercian Evolution, which shouldn't be used without taking into account the many objections raised in reviews. Most of all, the small number of houses considered (Koᴌbacz, Marienwalde, Himmelstädt, Melrose, Dundrennan and Holm Cultram) prevents this book for being much more than a case study. The scope should be enlarged (for instance, to other Baltic areas) in order to offer a large spectrum of religious houses located in disputed regions and the bibliography on Spain should not have been limited to a single article on Poblet. However, Jamroziak's book can be considered as a first step towards progress in several important research fields, such as Cistercians and frontiers, but also white monks and nuns around the Baltic, the Northern and the Irish Seas, or abbots in the Anglo-Norman world.

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Author Biography

Alexis J. Grélois

Université de Rouen