The Medieval Review 16.02.03


Nip, Renée, ed. Vitae, Miracula, Translatio sancti Arnulphi episcopi Suessionensis. Corpus Christianorum: Continuatio Mediaevalis, 285. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. pp. lxiii, 356. €240.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-2-503-05301-1 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Steven Vanderputten
Ghent University
steven.vanderputten@ugent.be

The present volume complements Renée Nip's book-length study of the life and memory of Arnulf, Bishop of Soissons. Published in 2004 as Arnoldus van Oudenburg, bisschop van Soissons (†1087), the latter work corroborated Arnulf's reputation, revealed in his early-twelfth-century biographies, as a major regional proponent of the "Gregorian reform movement" in Northern France and Flanders, as well as an enthusiastic--if at times slightly naïve--peace-maker, tirelessly attempting to pacify warring aristocrats. Born of noble parents, Arnulf initially pursued a military career before entering the monastery at St Medard in Soissons, where he eventually became abbot. Caught up in the tensions between the local episcopate and French royalty, he was forced to resign from this position. Although the papal legate then elevated him to Soissons' episcopal see, the candidate for the royal throne of France prevented him from taking up his bishopric. Not one to easily become despondent about such setbacks, Arnulf embarked upon an extensive tour of the region, preaching reform and attempting to bring peace to local communities. His final years were mainly spent establishing the Flemish monastery of Oudenburg.

Nip's edition collates all the significant medieval testimonies of Arnulf's life, including two biographies, miscellaneous liturgical material, a genealogical note, correspondence, and so on. It gathers, for the first time, a fascinating dossier focusing on this particular individual while reflecting many different interpretations of his memory. The first of the two biographies was written by Bishop Lisiard of Soissons, following consultations with the community at Oudenburg. This narrative, which was finished before 1114 although probably started nearly two decades earlier, is presented in a double edition, comprising a collation of the sole existing manuscript, and (below the footnotes) another one of Surius' seventeenth-century edition of what appears to be a different, lost exemplar. Collating these two witness accounts proved impossible, simply because it is no longer possible to verify to what extent Surius intervened in the original text. In 1114, Hariulf, Abbot of Oudenburg, revised Lisiardus' text and added a second book based on additional information retrieved from local memory. Then, in 1120, the two authors joined forces to complement the now two-part narrative with a collection of miracle accounts. The entire dossier was more than likely submitted in order to secure the bishop's canonisation, an attempt that met with success in the following year. This version of Arnulf's life instantly became the dominant narrative. For this edition, Nip could only rely on a manuscript tradition going back no further than the late twelfth century, with all accounts showing traces of interventions made between c. 1120 and 1200. Likewise, Hariulf's revision is only accessible through the version compiled in 1120, which similarly complicates our understanding of the original text. These narratives, representing the largest part of the edition, are complemented with a sermon on Arnulf, ostensibly made for use at Oudenburg: three letters written by Hariulf to introduce the 1114 Life to different destinataries, and a brief, thirteenth-century genealogy of Arnulf. The edition concludes with miscellaneous material that can only be dated between c. 1200 and the end of the fifteenth century: a few miracles attributed to the saint; a hymn in his honour; and a Carmen and several prayers.

As Nip rightly points out, Arnulf is probably significant in equal measure for what he achieved during his lifetime and for the enthusiastic manner in which he was remembered, at Soissons but particularly at Oudenburg. Nonetheless, it remains somewhat unfortunate that the CCCM's editorial guidelines did not allow the editor to extensively summarise the biographical findings from her monograph, as a number of scholars will have missed out on them for reasons of language. Nevertheless, what little she was able to provide in terms of life description and context should still be sufficient to give the reader an overall impression of how exceptional Arnulf's life story really is, and how rich in content the various sources describing his life are. More space, again in accordance with CCCM's editorial procedures, is reserved for discussions on the authorship, dating, and interrelation of the edited texts, and transmission of their manuscripts. This section's seventy plus pages are entirely justified, as the editor rightly observes that all of the above questions pose considerable problems of interpretation. This reviewer has no specific remarks to make on the edition itself which, as to be expected, is exemplary in both presentation and contents.

In addition to presenting scholars with the first comprehensive and critical edition of the entire relevant medieval textual legacy concerning Arnulf, first and foremost, this edition makes available a number of early-twelfth-century texts which, although deliberately kept simple in style and syntax, offer a fascinating view of early-twelfth-century hagiographic discourse; the shaping and nurturing, particularly in a local monastic context, of the memory of eleventh-century agents of ecclesiastical and social reform; and the great lengths to which these authors went to paint a vivid picture of life in Flanders c. 1100. It is particularly with this latter point in mind that the reviewer hopes that someone will soon take up the challenge to translate these wonderful narratives and make them available for use in the classroom.



Copyright (c) 2016 Steven Vanderputten



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