15.08.17, Brand, Holy Treasure and Sacred Song

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Maureen Miller

The Medieval Review 15.08.17

Brand, Benjamin. Holy Treasure and Sacred Song: Relic Cults and Their Liturgies in Medieval Tuscany. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. pp. xxii, 320. ISBN: 9780199351350 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Maureen Miller
University of California, Berkeley

Benjamin Brand's Holy Treasure and Sacred Song is an ambitious interdisciplinary monograph that brings together music, liturgy, architecture, hagiography, and history to offer new insights on the development of relic cults in Tuscany from the mid-eighth century to the thirteenth. Very well written, with a clarity and openness that will appeal to students as well as to non-specialists in any of the areas mentioned above, this volume is as intellectually stimulating as it is instructive. Beyond the topics obvious in the title--relics, liturgy, plainsong--this book offers a great deal of interest on the episcopate, cathedral chapters, and the influence of monastic reform movements on the wider church in the eleventh century.

A Yale-trained musicologist, Brand publishes here appendices detailing the antiphons and responsories for five Tuscan saints' offices (those for Minias, Zenobius, Donatus, Fridian, and Regulus) based on extensive manuscript research in the region. Included also are a general index as well as indices of manuscripts and of plainsong. Since I am not a musicologist, I will focus my discussion on the core chapters of the study and an evaluation of their arguments, leaving appraisal of the musicological apparatus to qualified reviewers in more specialized journals.

Holy Treasure and Sacred Song consists in an introduction (chapter one) and then six substantive chapters spread over two parts. The climax and concluding chapter seven offers a detailed analysis of the five offices treated in the appendices and this plainsong, Brand argues "constitutes the most enduring musical monument to the relic cults of medieval Tuscany" (191). The three chapters of Part I set out the historical context crucial to understanding these offices, particularly the dates the author assigns them. An implicit argument here is that the most innovative and enduring plainsong of medieval Tuscany was essentially conservative: it emerged chiefly in the eleventh century and commemorated the bishops and martyrs venerated in cathedrals and suburban martyria rather than the new cults of the central Middle Ages which often receive more attention from ecclesiastical historians since they were fostered by lay opera and communes.

Part I traces changes and continuities in the role of the Tuscan bishop as dominus et constructor, lord and builder, over three chronologically framed chapters devoted to "The Bishop's Relics, 752-899," "The Bishop's Clergy, 840-1039," and "The Bishop's Eclipse, 1032-1118." The first establishes the theme of bishop as "lord and builder" through an analysis of episcopal relic translations in Lucca, Fiesole, and Florence. Brand foregrounds the example of Bishop Giovanni I of Lucca (780-800) in establishing the bishop's exclusive purview over translation and in shifting devotion toward the cathedral by moving relics from suburban shrines within the walls. A century later, amidst Viking and Magyar assaults, translations from Fiesole and Florence praised bishops as defenders of holy treasure in addition to being lords and builders of their sees.

The next two chapters trace challenges to episcopal hegemony over sacred treasure from cathedral chapters, monastic reform movements and their papal allies, as well as the newly assertive laymen who formed the communes. Chapter three interweaves narration and analysis of the foundation of cathedral chapters in Arezzo, Fiesole, and Florence, with developments in local cults, and with later reforms of those chapters, all against the backdrop of the disintegration of the Carolingian order and then the revival of imperial power under the Ottonians. Brand offers a particularly insightful reading of how a trio of Ottonian bishops of Arezzo reformed their chapter, renewed its liturgy, rebuilt the cathedral group on its fortified promontory outside the walls, and cultivated public veneration of Saint Donatus. His analysis of how material from the revised Passion of the saint was developed into vespers chants that emphasized the patron's salvific actions for the Aretines and then ventriloquized popular pleas to the saint (57-58) beautifully shows the value of integrating literary, liturgical, musical, and historical evidence. Another excellent holistic reading is offered in the next chapter where Brand demonstrates how the Florentine chapter, in propagating the veneration of Saint Zenobius, responded to Bishop Ildebrand's establishment of a monastic community at San Miniato and this simoniacal bishop's creative claims to possess the saint's body. He shows us meaningful literary borrowings, appeals for lay support through liturgical chant, and Cluniac architectural elements that aligned the chapter with reformers against Ildebrand's proprietary foundation. This chapter also charts the emergence of a new kind of episcopal lord and builder in Anselm I of Lucca (1057-1073) whose care for holy treasure displayed fidelity to Rome more than to the local see. Taken together, the three chapters of Part I offer a beautifully compelling example of the kind of incremental, multi-generational, process that accomplished reform over the long eleventh century.

Part II is more uneven. Chapter 5 is the least satisfying while still opening up very interesting questions. Brand develops his narrative of the rise of lay opera and the communes in establishing new saints' cults, while arguing for increasing chapter control of the liturgy in the ecclesia matrix. At the heart of the chapter is a discussion of the appearance of ordinals (books codifying cathedral rites). The chapters of Pisa, Florence, Pistoia, Siena, and Lucca compiled these "written repositories of liturgical knowledge" (117) from the mid-twelfth to the late thirteenth centuries. Brand links the appearance of these new texts to cathedral canons' efforts to insist upon their preeminence and enforce conformity to their liturgy throughout their dioceses as well as to the disappearance of cantors from the documentation of these sees. What is missing here is a consideration of both the compilation of ordinals and the seeming disappearance of the cantor in relation to changes in the funding of cathedral services and the personnel actually singing them. Brand mentions (115) the abandonment of the most essential elements of the communal life and reorganization of chapter patrimonies to create individual prebends for the canons, a process which led to the hiring of chaplains (cappellani) to perform much of the cathedral's day-to-day liturgical duties and pastoral care. If, as the prologue to the Pisan ordinal explains, these liturgical directions were drawn up in response to entreaties from multis fratribus plebanis et cappellanis (120), and if the creation of prebends facilitated canons hiring cappellani to perform liturgical duties, then a closer analysis of patrimonial changes within chapters in relation to the redaction of ordinals seems in order. This is, admittedly, a tall order and one can't fault Brand for not undertaking this analysis since it is a monograph-sized project in itself. I would like to underscore, however, the important nexus of issues the chapter raises in the hope that some other scholar will take them up. Ordinals may have asserted the chapter's preeminence, but did they also ensure liturgical continuity as the cathedral's sacred song fell increasing to hired help and canons absented themselves from choir to pursue other activities? Close reading of the evidence for patrimonial change in relation to ordinal redaction in each see would be necessary to answer this query. The seeming coincidence of the disappearance of cantors with the appearance of ordinals, moreover, raises some interesting causal issues. Brand points out that the disappearance of the cantor from capitular documentation did not mean that these cathedral chapters lacked talented musicians. In fact, the extemporized polyphony developing in liturgies during this period required more individuals with musical expertise. Rather than linking the ordinals to the decline of the "alluring figure" of the cantor, I wonder whether the desire for a more beautifully harmonized liturgy with more complex chant, and the need for specialists to sing it, may have been a factor contributing to the reorganization of cathedral patrimonies and the redaction of ordinals. Perhaps musical innovation merits more causal weight in this complex series of developments?

Chapters six and seven contrast the liturgy of the Mass, here characterized as a public associative ritual emphasizing universal themes, to the more local and private liturgy of the Divine Office focused on the holy treasure buried in individual cathedrals. Brand first reconstructs High Mass using the rubricized ritual directions in the ordinals of Florence and Siena and the meanings assigned to them in Sicardus of Cremona's Mitralis, before offering reconstructions of three particular rites: the liturgies for the anniversary of the dedication of the church, for the feast of Saint Martin (contrasting Lucca to Pistoia), and for the feast of Saint Donatus, a rite that developed in Arezzo but came to be celebrated throughout Tuscany and beyond. This last analysis is most compelling in establishing the heightened attention to universal themes (e.g. the dignity of the episcopal office, the miraculous power of the Eucharist) rather than the local Aretine history of Saint Donatus, while the reconstruction of Lucca's commemoration of Saint Martin in text, song, and sculpture is another interdisciplinary gem. The overarching argument of the chapter--that the canons dominated the liturgy of the word while the bishop was the protagonist in the liturgy of the Eucharist-- is unsurprising, but shows the author's responsiveness to liturgical expressions of social and institutional relations: tensions between bishops and their chapters in medieval Tuscany were constantly mediated liturgically.

The final chapter focuses on the plainsong proper to the Divine Office for the feasts of Saints Minias and Zenobius (Florence), Saints Fridian and Regulus (Lucca), and Saint Donatus (Arezzo). Brand convincingly argues that these offices were created at discrete historical moments rather than over long periods of time, usually accompanying a revision of the saint's passion or life and coinciding with the translation of relics, rebuilding of the church, or the reform of the chapter. He dates the office of Saint Minias to c. 900 and the rest to the eleventh century. Analysis of the music reveals that the plainsong for the offices from Lucca and Arezzo drew upon tenth-century transalpine offices, while the Florentine Zenobius office was more indebted to the teachings of Guido of Arezzo. Greater interest in explaining differences among the sees considered would have strengthened both chapters six and seven. Why might Florence alone have taken up musical innovations being pioneered at Arezzo? And why might Lucca have borrowed Beneventan chant for its Mass for Saint Martin when Pistoia adapted Mass formularies used in sees throughout northern Italian sees for episcopal saints?

The fact that this fine monograph leaves the reader wanting more is merely a testament to its fascinating subject matter and methodological daring. Benjamin Brand has produced an outstanding interdisciplinary study in Holy Treasure and Sacred Song.

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