The Medieval Review 14.04.26

Josserand, Philippe and Mathieu Olivier. La mémoire des origines dans les ordres religieux-militaires au Moyen Âge. Actes des journées d'études de Göttingen (25-26 juin 2009). Vita regularis - Ordnungen und Deutungen religiosen Lebens im Mittelalter, 51. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2013. Pp. 282. €29.90. ISBN: 978-3-643-12008-3.

Reviewed by:

Sam Zeno Conedera, SJ
Santa Clara University

If an earlier generation of scholars sought to understand the origins of the military orders by separating fact from fiction in medieval historiography, today there is increasing interest in what the "fiction" has to say about the self-understanding of these orders. La mémoire contains the proceedings from a 2009 conference in Göttingen, where numerous authorities writing in French and German gathered to discuss the problem of historical memory in the military orders. While the high-quality scholarship represents an advance in this field of inquiry, only those with highly specialized interests in the military orders and/or the self-understanding of medieval religious communities will find it accessible.

The volume's first section treats the memory of origins in the Middle Ages at a more general level. Véronique Lamazou-Duplan focuses on urban history, especially the question of city founders. She highlights the plasticity of memory even in the "official" sources of municipal governments. Florent Cygler's "Le discours sur les origines dans les ordres religieux au Moyen Âge" identifies a similar heterogeneity in religious orders, which often generated multiple versions of a founder saint's life, along with multiple genres of discourse with different content. The military orders, which the author regards as one of the four great families of medieval religious life, did not usually commemorate a holy founder, making their historical memory structurally different from that of other communities (37). Yet all medieval orders generated discourses of origins at key moments, whether in the foundational years or in times of crisis and reform. Jürgen Sarnowsky's "Die Entwiklung des historischen Selbstverständnisses in den geistlichen Ritterorden" reprises the material he has written on this same subject elsewhere. He identifies the rudiments of accounts of origins even in the earliest sources, such as the Templar Rule. The fairly stable narrative of the early Teutonic Knights contrasts with the greater variety found in the Hospital, which by the latter half of the twelfth century had articulated a foundation narrative that began during the time of the Maccabees.

The second section of the volume explores the military orders' foundation accounts in more detail, with a strong emphasis on the Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights. Antoine Calvet examines the various redactions of the Hospital's Maccabean foundation story. In this account, which conflates material from multiple sources, including Isidore of Seville, Christ appeared to the governor and high priest of Jerusalem in the days of Judas Maccabeus and ordered them to build a hospital in the city. Judas himself provided money for the hospital's construction, which subsequently hosted Jesus (and in another version, his mother too) during his earthly sojourn. The extension of the story to include the crusaders' capture of the Holy City creates a kind of "apostolic succession" between Christ and the Kingdom of Jerusalem through the Hospital (67). This story was replaced in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, when the Hospital's past was reorganized to highlight its military activity and the role of Raymond de Puy. Alain Demurger's "Étourdis ou petits malins? Pourquoi les Templiers n'ont-ils pas eu de mythe d'origine?" asks why the Templars, unlike the Hospitallers, never developed a myth of origins. After a discussion of St. Bernard's role as the Templars' founder (a status he is not eager to grant the famous Cistercian), Demurger suggests that their establishment in the Temple of Solomon already provided a link to the Old Testament, such that there was no need to search for further biblical anchoring. It is hard to see exactly how this argument squares with Demurger's parting claim, namely, that the Templars' refusal to search for mythic origins resided precisely in the novelty of their institute (82). Jarosław Wenta and Udo Arnold discuss and debate the origins and development of the Teutonic Order. Their principal point of reference is the Narratio de primordiis Ordinis Theutonici, which attained a kind of canonical status. Wenta sees no great difference in the process of identity formation between the Teutonic Order and other military-religious communities (87). Arnold notes the preeminent role in founding the order that the Narratio gives to German princes like Frederick of Swabia and Henry VI, rather than to the papacy, the Roman Curia, or to the Teutonic Knights themselves (107-8). The two scholars disagree about the dates of composition for the various parts of the text, the lexical aspects of which are analyzed in considerable detail. Philippe Josserand's "L'ordre de Santiago face au récit de ses origines au tournant du Moyen Âge et de l'époque moderne: variations sur l'espace et le temps" is the sole contribution concerning the Iberian military orders. By the middle of the fourteenth century, the view that the Order of Santiago had been founded at the battle of Clavijo in 832 was circulating in Iberia by means of the general chronicles. By the end of the fifteenth century, the same view, minus the explicit reference to Clavijo, had made its way into the order's own historiography (125). This presented a problem for Rades y Andrada, the famous sixteenth-century chronicler of the military orders, who sought to reconcile the conflicting traditions he had received. He rejected the Clavijo story in favor of merging two other accounts, which led him to claim that Santiago had been first established in 1030 as a confraternity, but was only made into a religious order in 1170. It was not until the 1960s that historians were able to sort out the conflicting narratives and establish an accurate chronology for Santiago's foundation.

The third section, on "formes, usages et contextes de la mémoire des origines," begins with Damien Carraz's treatment of the Hospitaller commandery of Manosque in the Midi. The scarcity of chronicles for this region leads Carraz to utilize cartularies in his search for a memory of origins. He makes a questionable claim or two--for example, that the desire often expressed in charters to consign things to writing was part of an effort to undermine oral memory--but a profile of the Hospital does emerge from these sources: a regionally centralized organization that was attached to the papacy, while still accepting support from the Empire and other temporal rulers (146, 151, 166). Thomas Krämer and Sylvain Gouguenheim discuss the Teutonic Knights' institutional development, with the former tracing their path towards exemption and the latter their privileges in papal bulls. Both authors emphasize the Templars' and Hospitallers' role in providing models and precedents for the path of militarization and exemption, though it was not until the pontificate of Honorius III that the Roman Curia took a serious interest in the process (183). Gouguenheim notes the change in terminology between Effectum iusta, of 1216 and Etsi neque, of 1220. Thanks in part to their service at Damietta, the Teutonic Knights came to be recognized as domus, à la the Templars and Hospitallers, rather than a mere hospital, and their privileges expanded to include everything outlined in Omne datum optimum. Most importantly for the question of memory of origins, these papal documents relocate the order's beginnings to Jerusalem, rather than Acre. Axel Ehlers' "Indulgentia und Historia. Die Bedeutungen des Ablasses für die spätmittelalterliche Errinnerung an die Ursprünge des Deutschen Ordens und anderer Gemeinschaften" critiques historians' tendency to focus too exclusively on charters, historiography, and legends when trying to understand the origins of the military orders. Papal indulgences, which Ehlers says are better attested for the Teutonic Order than for any other military-religious community, provide an important complement to other well-combed sources. Finally, Annika Souhr looks at how the Teutonic Knights appealed to their historical origins in correspondence with outside figures during the early fifteenth century. She concentrates on three episodes: the Polish-Lithuanian union and the beginnings of the Christianization of Lithuania, ca. 1400; the conflict with Poland-Lithuania after the "Great War" of 1409/10; and the conflict of the Order with the Prussian "Bund." In the face of these wars and crises, the Teutonic Knights frequently appealed to their early history in Prussia and their function as the eastern bulwark of Christendom, even at a time when their claim to such a role had lost credibility (267).

The challenge of La mémoire, as is often the case with conference proceedings, is finding the thread of unity amidst the plurality of contributions, subfields, and methodologies. Mathieu Olivier carries out this task in his concluding remarks entitled "Mémoire commune des origines ou mémoire des origines comunes? Quelques remarques finales sur le discours des origines dans les ordres religieux-militaires au Moyen Âge." From the fall of Acre through the fifteenth century, there is a broad reorganization of historical memory in the military orders, which coincides with the crisis/reform that each underwent. For the Templars, of course, there was little time to do much reorganizing before the order came to its abrupt end, yet it is evident even in their case how crucial the loss of the Holy Land was. For both the Temple and the Hospital, the connection to their particular sites in Jerusalem proved far more difficult to maintain after 1291. By the time of the Templar trial, figures like Hugh of Payns and Heinrich Walpot were hardly more than names. In the Hospital, Raymond de Puy largely eclipsed Gerard as a founder figure while the order established a new home, along with a revised mission, on the island of Rhodes. Mathieu highlights how the lack of canonized saints in the military orders largely prevented their memory of origins from coalescing around individual figures. The very "anonymity" of the military brethren has become a commonplace in discussions of their spirituality.

La mémoire, while a valuable scholarly contribution, has a few shortcomings. Mathieu himself observes with regret the scant space given to Iberia (281). This omission is understandable given the provenance of the contributors, but since more military orders were founded and/or active in Iberia than anywhere else, no account of Selbstverständniss is really complete without them. Experts will appreciate what the authors have brought to light concerning these often elusive and taciturn warriors of the Middle Ages, but the extreme specialization of the topic makes most of the contributions accessible only to a small circle.

Copyright (c) 2014 Sam Zeno Conedera, SJ

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