The "special relationship" between England and Rome has been noted and celebrated since the writings of Bede in the early eighth century in the wake of the late sixth-century mission of Pope Gregory the Great to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity and its subsequent ramifications, but serious scholarly attention concerning the nature and consequences of this connection is a more recent phenomenon. Although Wilhelm Levison's England and the Continent in the Eighth Century, first published in 1946, instigated a renewed interest in England's broader European connections during the early Middle Ages and subsequently inspired several specialized articles by other scholars, the volume under review marks the first devoted exclusively to the relationship between England and Rome as opposed to that of England and the Continent as a whole. The results are valuable and welcome.
The book is composed of eleven essays, four of which were first delivered as papers at the Medieval Congress at Leeds (UK) in 2010. In the introduction, the editor and contributor of one essay, Francesca Tinti, points out that the various contributions cover three main aspects of the relation between England and Rome: pilgrimage, artistic connections, and ecclesiastical politics. Most entries, not surprisingly, focus on the seventh to ninth centuries, while the last two deal primarily with the century or so before the Norman Conquest.
In chapter one, David A.E. Pelteret discusses the routes followed by pilgrims from England to Rome and Italy, including the abbey of Montecassino and the church of the Archangel Michael on the Gargano peninsula in Apulia. Chapter two by Lucia Sinisi focuses on the cult of St. Michael in Apulia and suggests that English pilgrims to Rome may have been inspired to continue on to the Gargano peninsula by their experience of the cult of the archangel at the Castel Sant'Angelo in the Vatican. In chapter three, Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani examines how foreign visitors were received and accommodated in Rome, first in hostels (xenodochia) and later as national groups in broadly defined communities or neighborhoods (scholae) in the Vatican. Alan Thacker, in chapter four, evokes the nature of the city of Rome as experienced by pilgrims in the seventh and eighth centuries, while chapter five by Luisa Izzi focuses on Anglo-Saxon visits to the Roman catacombs, as evidenced by graffiti, and posits the possible impact of this experience on subsequent art in England. In chapter six, Veronica Ortenberg West-Harling considers the effect of two highlights of a pilgrim's visit to Rome: the chapel of Pope John VII in the Vatican basilica of St. Peter and the chapel of St. Lawrence at the Lateran, which served as the pope's personal oratory within the papal residence. Rory Naismuth, in chapter seven, examines numismatic links between England and Rome, especially with regard to the practice of Peter's Pence, and includes a useful appendix listing all recorded finds of Anglo-Saxon coins in Rome and Italy. Marios Costambeys then considers the role of Alcuin in the coronation of Charlemagne at St. Peter's in the Vatican and the English scholar's ambivalent attitude toward the ancient imperial city. Thomas F.X. Noble, in chapter nine, explores the context for the relatively brief elevation of Lichfield to archmetropolitan status in England alongside Canterbury and York during the reign of King Offa (757-96), a rank it held until 803. Francesca Tinti next explains how and why by the second half of the tenth century archbishops of London and York felt compelled to undertake the arduous journey to Rome to obtain in person their pallium, the woolen band with crosses that symbolized their episcopal office. Finally, Elaine Treharne examines the broader context of Cnut's journey to Rome in 1027 in order to participate in the imperial coronation of Conrad II at St. Peter's.
Each essay is finely argued by established authorities in their respective subjects. Readers also will be pleased to find both extensive footnotes and full bibliographies that accompany each entry. Illustrations are few. There are seven black and white figures of modest quality, along with two maps and three tables. Indeed, despite the volume's subtitle there is little detailed discussion of art, aside from a few generalities. Elaine Treharne, however, offers an interesting discussion of the famous frontispiece in the Liber Vitae (British Library, MS Stowe 944, fol. 6r), depicting King Cnut and his queen presenting a gold cross to Christ and the New Minster at Winchester in the presence of angels and Sts. Mary and Peter, but there is no illustration of the illumination to enhance these remarks. Nonetheless, this is a volume rich in detailed historical information and invaluable to anyone interested in the subject. Each entry can be read on its own and therefore any general evaluation will depend upon each reader's particular interests and expertise. I, for one, was particularly impressed with the chapters by Santangeli Valenzani and Thacker, which complement other important related studies by each author that are conveniently listed in their respective bibliographies. In the end, the volume has more to say about Rome than England, but in so doing it offers much to enrich our understanding of the allure and dynamism of the eternal city in the early Middle Ages.