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13.06.05, Burton and Stöber, eds., The Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies

13.06.05, Burton and Stöber, eds., The Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies

Do we need another journal devoted to medieval monastic history? Monasticism is already such a huge topic of interest in contemporary scholarship that most academic journals with a medieval focus (Speculum, Early Medieval Europe, The Journal of Medieval History, to name a few examples) invariably carry some articles related directly or indirectly to cloistered communities, their cultural production and the influence of male and female religious beyond the walls of their abbeys. Moreover, Europe already boasts several long-standing journals devoted specifically to medieval monasticism--Revue Mabillon, Revue bénédictine, Studia Monastica, and Studien und Mitteilungen zur Geschichte des Benediktinerordens und seiner Zweige come immediately to mind--not to mention those publications dealing specifically with the history of particular orders, like Cîteaux: Commentarii Cistercienses. But until now, there has not been an English language journal dedicated specifically to "issues related to medieval monastic history" that could "provide a platform for the dissemination of current and recent research of historians, archaeologists, art historians, literary scholars and theologians" (editors' preface). As such, many monastic historians in English-speaking countries will welcome the appearance of The Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies (hereafter JMMS) both as a venue to publish their new research and as a place for their students to discover current scholarship on medieval monasticism in English. [1] The long-term impact of this new journal will very much depend, however, on the quality of future submissions and the acumen of the journal's editors.

JMMS is an annual publication of modest size. This first issue contains six articles varying between fifteen and twenty-eight pages in length as well as nine book reviews around 1000-1200 words each. The articles were commissioned from many leading scholars in the field. While some disciplines are absent in this issue (there are no articles on monastic literature, for example), the contents admirably demonstrate the editors' interest in representing scholarship on monasticism across a wide chronological and geographical range. JMMS opens with an article by Giles Constable on "The Future of Cluniac Studies," (1-16) which reminds us "that it is easy to forget how much work remains to be done" (1) on the history of the great Burgundian abbey. Constable sets the agenda for further research on five different topics in Cluniac history: (a) the identity of the Cluniacs and what precisely constituted membership in their sprawling "order"; (b) the composition and structure of the community at Cluny, including the recruitment of monks, their relationship with the broader familia of semi-religious and lay helpers who directly supported the monastery, and their interaction both with those who frequented the abbey precincts (visitors, guests, resident poor) and with those outside of its walls (local townsmen, for example); (c) the nature of the liturgy, the primary occupation of Cluniac monks, the workings of which still confound most monastic historians; (d) the organization of the wider "order" of monastic communities affiliated formally or informally with Cluny; and lastly (e) the reasons for the enduring appeal of Cluny in the Middle Ages and by extension among modern historians.

The remaining five articles in the volume are much more traditional in their approach. They proceed chronologically, beginning with Marilyn Dunn's "Paradigms of Penance" (17-39), which argues that the practice of penance in sixth-century Ireland underwent a "significant metamorphosis" (39) that informed the penitential practices brought to Europe by Columbanus. While bishops had previously administered penance to Irish Christians once or perhaps twice in their lifetimes to make amends for major sins, the Penitential of Finnian, composed by a British monk and bishop who was active in Ireland in the early sixth century, expressed a new concern for the interior disposition of monks (inspired by readings of Cassian and Basil) and applies "the monastic custom of repeatable penance not just to ecclesiastics but also to the laity" (39). It is this new paradigm of penance, formulated in Ireland but inflected by monastic practice in Britain and Gaul, that Columbanus introduced into Europe a generation later and by doing so ultimately changed the way that early medieval Christians understood their sinful nature and their relationship with God.

In "High Medieval Monks Contemplate Their Merovingian Past" (41-62), Constance Bouchard examines how Burgundian monks of the eleventh and twelfth centuries amended existing charters and forged new ones to strengthen and at times completely fabricate the relationship of their communities with members of the Frankish royal family, particularly the great king Clovis. Indeed, their sensitivity to historical accuracy was such that many of the so-called Merovingian charters confected by these monks were considered authentic up until the eighteenth century. Although this article offers a good discussion of the ways in which monks could manipulate the past through the use of charters and draws attention to the importance and appeal of the Merovingian period in the medieval imagination, it does not address in-depth the specific historical pressures that forced these communities to delve back centuries into their institutional past to conjure up the specter of royal protection.

The topic of Irish monasticism emerges once again in Edel Bhreathnach's "Benedictine Influence in Ireland in the Late Eleventh and Early Twelfth Centuries: A Reflection" (63-91). Dense with information and following several related lines of inquiry, this article argues that the development of the Rock of Cashel from a royal residence of King Muirchertach Ua Briain to an episcopal see in 1111 betrays an English influence on the structural and liturgical reform of early twelfth-century Irish Christianity. The correspondence between reforming bishops in England (most notably Lanfranc and Anselm) and the Ua Briain kings and in particular the appointment of a monk of Winchester known as Mál Ísu Ua hAinmire as archbishop of Cashel underscores the connection. This English influence was not tenacious, however. By the early thirteenth century, secular canons had replaced the monastic community at Cashel. Moreover, by that time, Malachy of Armagh and Gilbert of Limerick had replaced Mál Ísu in the popular imagination as the leading proponents of church reform in early twelfth-century Ireland.

Jill Webster's note entitled "The Monastery of Val de Cristo in the Kingdom of Valencia: Relations, Economy and Significance to the Crown, 1410-50" (93-114) examines a dispute between two Carthusian communities (Portacoeli and Val de Cristo) and the diocese of Tortosa, which claimed rights to lands held by these charterhouses in Castellón. Webster argues that the involvement of Queen Maria of Castile in the dispute suggests that these communities were important to the crown, in part because many of these Carthusians had significant political experience as royal ambassadors to the papal court. A "Documentary Appendix" (104-112) provides transcriptions of twelve letters written by the queen between 1441 and 1446 in support of the rights of these charterhouses against the claims of the bishop of Tortosa.

Lastly, Michael Carter's "Abbot William Marshall (1509-28) and the Architectural Development of Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire, in the Late Middle Ages" (115-142) reconsiders the raising of the bell tower of the abbey of Kirkstall in Yorkshire in the context of the extensive rebuilding of northern English Cistercian houses in the early sixteenth century. He argues that architectural amplifications like this one should not be seen as symptomatic of a decline of religious standards, but rather as evidence of the Cistercian Order's changing attitudes toward the meaning of church architecture, which can also be measured in the gradual relaxation of legislative strictures toward ostentatious building found in the statutes of the General Chapter over the course of the later Middle Ages. The reproductions of Carter's photographs of the ruins of Kirkstall and other related buildings are very clear and inspire the hope that articles on monastic art and architecture will appear regularly in the pages of JMMS.

While this first issue holds a great deal of promise, the modest format of JMMS begs the question as to what long-term impact the journal will have on medieval monastic studies. Let me offer two considerations. First, the editors should not make the mistake of trying to please too many constituencies at once for there is the risk of diluting the content of the journal to the point where only one or two articles will have relevance to any particular scholar of monasticism. Their suggestion that JMMS would welcome contributions on monasticism outside of the Christian tradition, while virtuously ecumenical, should probably be abandoned. Moreover, they would be wise to privilege those submissions that speak to a broad range of concerns and interests in monastic history, rather than highly specialized studies that will only appeal to the hyper-specialist. Second, the article by Constable suggests one way that JMMS could become a unique and important voice in medieval monastic scholarship. "State of the question" articles are no longer in fashion in mainstream journals. [2] For example, it has been over two decades since Speculum published "The Archaeology of Monasticism: A Survey of Recent Work in France, 1970-1987" by Sheila Bonds and Clark Maines. Yet studies like this one on particular aspects of monastic history that provide an overview of contemporary trends and open new lines of inquiry with up-to-date bibliographies of primary and secondary sources are probably more useful for active scholars and their students than narrow pieces of well-crafted research (although these are clearly important as well). I would welcome one such "state of the question" article every issue. In addition, issues related to particular themes or topics in monastic history could prove to be very useful for research and teaching alike.

All told, the future of JMMS is in your hands. Its editors and first contributors have done the hard work of developing the first issue from a concept to a printed journal. The integrity of JMMS depends on the quality of future submissions, just as much as its survival depends on personal and institutional subscriptions. [4] This is an exciting undertaking that will undoubtedly open up new horizons of medieval monastic studies for English-speaking scholars and their students.



1. The editors' preface states that "the language of publication should be English, but we welcome abstracts in the original language of individual contributions, which can be published together with the article."

2. This type of article is more commonly found in on-line journals like History Compass and Religion Compass. See, for example, Anna Taylor's excellent article "Hagiography and Early Medieval History," Religion Compass 7 (2013): 1-14.

3. Speculum 63 (1988): 794-825.

4. For submission guidelines and subscription information, see the JMMS website: