12.11.05, Chazan and Nauroy, eds., Ácrire l'histoire à Metz au Moyen Âge

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Susannah Crowder

The Medieval Review 12.11.05

Chazan, Mireille and Gérard Nauroy. Ácrire l'histoire à Metz au Moyen Âge. Recherches en littérature et spiritualité, 20. Berne: Peter Lang, 2011. Pp. xii, 484. ISBN: 978-3-0343-0693-5.

Reviewed by:
Susannah Crowder
John Jay College, CUNY

The city of Metz enjoys a surprising continuity in its historical record: from the Carolingian era onward, its authors and institutions produced a nearly uninterrupted stream of written histories. Sadly, this tradition is little-known outside regional scholarship, due to the city's shifting position with regard to national and post-medieval boundaries. With the publication of Ácrire l'histoire à Metz au Moyen Âge, scholars now have access to a substantial single-volume work that addresses the narrative sources of Messine history. Comprised of individual essays by specialists, the stated goal of the book is to draw together and evaluate the current state of knowledge with regard to the histories written in and about Metz from the seventh to seventeenth centuries.

On a basic level, Ácrire l'histoire à Metz is a success, fulfilling its objective by offering fundamental details about essential texts, manuscripts, and authors. The book is divided into five topical sections that are based loosely on authorship and/or subject: early episcopal texts, monastic histories, chronicles written by Messine bourgeois, patrician historiography, and comparative/long-term perspectives. This organizational model provides the reader with easy access to traditional categories and themes, though it sometimes obscures the important cross-genre and otherwise interesting methodological work of several of the contributors.

A number of the articles focus on individual manuscripts that are understudied or little known. Mireille Chazan, for example, studies a late-medieval chronicle produced in Metz by the Celestine order that blends foundation history with monastic annals and images of the daily life and architecture of the abbey. Chazan's initial evaluation of the work is that it constructs a community for the monks and the laypeople that they serve. A fifteenth-century chronicle with original content on the appearance in Metz of the false Joan of Arc is the subject of Pierre-Ádouard Wagner, who details the manuscript and its sources before discussing plans for a print and/or online edition of the text. The article by Mathieu Perru describes the contents of a juratoire that contains multiple texts in French and Latin defending episcopal rights, which was used to administer the civic oath to new mayors. Each of these manuscripts offers fascinating possibilities for the study of hybridity, use, and material culture.

Other essays trace the history of particular texts. Working in an older hagiographic mode, Gérard Nauroy situates the anonymous and roughly contemporary vita of St. Arnoul within the textual models of late antiquity. Arnoud Hari traces the Messine Gesta episcoporum tradition from its origins in the eighth century through the seventeenth century, showing the evolving depiction of the ideal bishop from a servant of the church and of royal power to an independent territorial prince, and then to prudent reformer connected to the kings of France. Two essays address the ever-popular Philippe de Vigneulles and his Chronique: Monique Paulmier-Foucart offers a substantial introduction to Vigneulles's biography and writing career, as well as his sources and goals; Pierre Demarolle examines the work from a stylistic and compositional perspective, arguing for its originality. Maryse Plyer investigates the best-surviving narrative history produced in Metz, the so-called Chronique Messine rimée. While detailing the manuscript history, contents, and possible authorship, Plyer lays out the text's pro-Messine and anti-Duke of Lorraine perspective. The Chronique of Jean Praillon is studied carefully by Christine Reutenauer-Corti, who traces this critical rewriting of the patrician history of Metz, as well as the personal history of the author, in order to tease out its pro-French perspective and material.

Subject matter aside, many of the essays take new or valuable approaches that could serve as models for future research. In one of the few essays to reference archaeological publications, Elzbieta Dabrowska examines the burial sites of the bishops of Metz with attention to texts and material finds, tracing the history of these "discoveries." The essay by Michèle Gaillard offers a summary of the excellent 2006 book, Le souvenir des Carolingians à Metz au Moyen Âge, which looked closely at the content and contexts of a composite manuscript produced at the monastery of St-Arnoul. Michel Margue investigates the writing of "imperial" history within Metz by Jacques d'Esch, integrating necessary background on the author, structure, and contents of the text with a modern critical apparatus that includes recent and comparative studies, especially the German-language scholarship. The contribution of Jean-Christophe Blanchard similarly embraces recent methods, tracing the Messine patriciate's interest in history rather than a single manuscript or textual tradition. Blanchard's examination of the writings of two members of the elite within local and larger contexts suggests the rewards to be found in taking new perspectives on familiar subjects.

The final section of the book contains essays that address comparative and long-term questions, several of which offer context for the preceding studies. Alain Cullière describes the emergence of "modern" historical methods in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Metz through historical writings about St. Livier. In a particularly useful essay, Jean-Marie Moeglin offers an introduction to the development of urban history-writing in the Germanophone lands from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. Through attention to the changing scholarship and careful footnotes, Moeglin is able to establish many new paths for a comparative history of Metz and to highlight the larger importance of urban independence as a theme. Bernard Guenée suggests the French perspective on this same subject through a look at the Roman des roys and its creation of a history of the "French" kings and kingdom. Julien Léonard provides a much-needed long-term view, tracing the methods, sources, and biases of the influential early historian Paul Ferry and his ongoing impact on Messine historiography.

The overall conclusion to be reached from these essays is largely a positive one: the field is rich and revisionist scholarship is being undertaken, yet much remains to be done. Wolfgang Haubrichs, offering final thoughts, points to the importance of this collection in making the history of Metz visible and the continuing necessity of modern editions and translations. Only in this way, he writes, can we see the ways that the city reconstructed and told its own history (454). Taken in sum, Ácrire l'histoire à Metz au Moyen Âge makes a valuable contribution toward advancing this goal.

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Author Biography

Susannah Crowder

John Jay College, CUNY