12.06.24, Dalton, Insley, & Wilkinson, eds., Cathedrals, Communities and Conflict

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Charlotte A. Stanford

The Medieval Review 12.06.24

Dalton, Paul, Charles Insley, & Louise J. Wilkinson. Cathedrals, Communities and Conflict in the Anglo-Norman World. Studies in the History of Medieval Religion. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2011. Pp. 258. ISBN: 9781843836209.

Reviewed by:
Charlotte A. Stanford
Brigham Young Univeristy

The purpose of this volume is to re-evaluate the ecclesiastical landscape of the Norman-dominated regions, both Continental and British, during the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries. The focus here is the cathedrals of these times and regions, which the editors argue have received less attention than their monastic contemporaries. 'Cathedrals' here are interpreted quite broadly, and indeed the book ranges into the wider realm of ecclesiastical experience, providing studies of individual episcopal acts, cathedral- monastery rivalries, relics and saints' cults, political prominence (or the struggle for it), and buildings themselves. The parameters of the term "Anglo-Norman" also encompass many concepts: the change in cathedrals' sites and status after the Conquest, relations with Continental roots, issues of change and tradition, and the patronage of religious houses by laity.

Such a broad spectrum is not necessarily a weakness, and indeed in a volume of essays deriving from conference presentations, is not at all unexpected. It is a pity, however, that the introduction, which could have done more to emphasize connecting strands of ideas, is rather loosely organized. While reference is made within the introduction to individual essays and their contributions, this is neither systematic nor emphasized. The unity of the collection suffers as a result, making the sum less strong than that of its individual parts. The editors are, however, to be commended for the care in which the essays have been expanded from conference paper format. The publisher's employment of extensive footnotes (rather than the less-frequently consulted, if common, end note format) is very welcome.

Scholarly approaches vary as much, or more, than the wide-ranging book parameters itself. For the reader's reference, the essays in this volume will be discussed briefly in order as follows.

First, Ann Williams ("The Dangers of Invention: The Sack of Canterbury, 1011, and the 'Theft' of Dunstan's Relics") demonstrates the well-known but still tempting dangers of relying on twelfth century written documents over earlier if less plentiful records, by examining the spurious claims of Glastonbury Abbey's monks in 1184 that they held the body of St. Dunstan.

The second essay by Charles Insley ("Remembering Communities Past: Exeter Cathedral in the Eleventh Century") demonstrates how the issue of medieval historical error can be examined not as evidence of truth or falsity, but as a tool in the creation of memoria and identity, following the path marked by scholars such as Patrick Geary, Karin Ugé and Amy Remensnyder. Insley argues that the notable historical errors in the charters and documents produced under Exeter's Bishop Leofric were not meant to deceive but rather to create a new sense of institutional identity by claiming King Athelstan as their community's founder with Leofric as a re-founder.

In the volume's third essay ("Communities, Conflict and Episcopal Policy in the Diocese of Lichfield, 1050-1150"), C. P. Lewis analyzes the double move of the Lichfield episcopate from Chester and later to Coventry, and argues for a reconsideration of the conventional belief that Normans in England relocated bishoprics from small regions to larger urban centers.

Reversing previous scholarly views is the essay by Richard Allen ("The Acta archiepiscoporum Rotomagensium and Urban Ecclesiastical Rivalry in Eleventh-Century Rouen"). This investigation of the Acta archiepiscoporum reveals hitherto unnoted details about the abbey church's gallery feature (or caelata) and its echelon east end, built to deliberately contrast with Rouen's Romanesque cathedral. Assigning the date of ca. 1056 to St.-Ouen's (now vanished) east end, Allen argues for this abbey's role as a source of inspiration on approximately twenty later churches, including the continental Caen and the English St. Albans. This is probably the most ground-breaking of the scholarly contributions to the volume, as it prompts a rethinking of traditional art historical chronology.

In the fifth essay ("Cathedrals and the Cult of Saints in Eleventh- and Twelfth Century Wales"), John Reuben Davies sketches how saints' relics and cathedral dedications helped strengthen the dignity of Welsh bishoprics of the period. While this essay ranges very broadly through the sees of St. Davids, Bangor, Llanelwy and Llandaf, it may form a helpful introduction to these sites that have frequently received less attention within the wider realm of cathedral scholarship.

Thomas Roche analyzes episcopal power in the legal realm ("A Bishop and His Conflicts: Philip of Bayeux [1142-63]"). Though our sources for Philip are few, Roche demonstrates how the legal documents from this bishop's reign demonstrate the position of episcopal rights as well as the multiple facets that this single prelate presented: book collector, secular lord, patron, settler of conflicts and imposer (though not always successful) of authority. Through the lens of this single figure, the essay also shows the increasing ties between Rome and the northern French church.

Paul Dalton's contribution ("Ecclesiastical Responses to War in King Stephen's Reign: The Communities of Selby Abbey, Pontefract Priory and York Cathedral ") explores ways in which religious institutions attempted to shield themselves during the turbulence of civil war. He examines the role of miracle stories and argues that they are not merely later inventions, but shaped as much by contemporary circumstances as by religious and literary conventions. Dalton also analyzes the language of charters made between local lords and ecclesiastical communities, demonstrating how grants given in reparation for pillaging of monastic and cathedral lands could be phrased to provide maximum protection for the ecclesiastical grantees, using weapons of excommunication and spiritual authority to derive justice for war damage.

In "Secular Cathedrals and the Anglo-Norman Aristocracy," Stephen Marritt points out that while aristocrats did tend to prefer endowing monasteries, because of their exclusivity and ability to offer more individual memorials, secular cathedral patronage was not unimportant in the twelfth century. This essay considers charter evidence in particular to demonstrate that magnate interest in cathedrals was often tied to the appointment of canons, and their possible leverage with chapter interests and also the bishop. Marritt also demonstrates that the great power of cathedrals could be a factor, especially in burial disputes.

Michael Staunton's essay "The Lives of Thomas Becket and the Church of Canterbury" examines the perspective of early biographies of the saint, written by outsiders to the monastic community. Though these earlier writers, in particular William FitzStephen and Herbert of Bosham, do discuss the saint's efforts in his life to uphold the rights of Canterbury's property and primacy, Staunton notes that their perspective differs from most saints' lives, which tend to be written by a member of that saint's church. The appeal of Thomas' cult beyond the boundaries of Canterbury shaped the focus of the early Lives, giving less weight to Canterbury than we might otherwise expect.

Sheila Sweetinburgh's contribution, "Caught in the Cross-Fire: Patronage and Institutional Politics in Late Twelfth-Century Canterbury," examines the phenomenon of conflict through the lens of a dispute at St. James hospital in 1188, demonstrating how this small incident illustrates "historical causation on the level of small groups where most of real life takes place" (187). Sweetinburgh demonstrates how an attack against the hospital's master and sisters formed part of a larger conflict between Archbishop Baldwin and his cathedral monks, using the methodological framework of 'microhistory' as practiced by Carlo Ginsburg and Natalie Zemon Davis.

Paul Webster's essay "Crown, Cathedral and Conflict: King John and Canterbury" reconsiders John's reputation as an irreligious tyrant by analyzing the king's reasons for grievance against the cathedral monks during the election disputes over Archbishop Langton. Webster notes that John's pilgrimages early in his reign and his behavior during the election process would have been congruent with a royal patron's usual authority, and argues that John's resentment against Canterbury was based on what he, the king, felt to be reasonable grounds, as the monks had held a secret election and then lied to him.

Nicholas Vincent, in "The English Monasteries and their French Possessions," investigates the frequently overlooked phenomenon of English ecclesiastical houses holding Continental territories. He acknowledges that this phenomenon is a 'drop in the ocean' compared to the English estates held by French religious houses after the Conquest (224), with Canterbury being the only major exception, holding estates in Lyon and Quincieux for nearly 200 years. From this strongly one- way flow Vincent argues that we should not see Normandy and England after 1066 as any kind of "Norman empire" but rather as two independent entities.

Overall, though the pieces in this collection are rather loosely gathered within the book's frame, scholars pursuing topics that deal with religious communities, not only cathedrals, in the Anglo-Norman period will find much of interest in these well-crafted and carefully referenced essays.

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Author Biography

Charlotte A. Stanford

Brigham Young Univeristy