16.02.20, Bisgaard, Engsbro, Jensen, and Nyberg, eds., Monastic Culture

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Constance Berman

The Medieval Review 16.02.20

Bisgaard, Lars, Sigga Engsbro, Kurt Villads Jensen, and Tore Nyberg, eds. Monastic Culture: The Long Thirteenth Century - Essays in Honour of Brian Patrick McGuire. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2014. pp. . ISBN: 978-8-776-74774-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Constance Berman
University of Iowa

These papers were presented at a symposium held in honor of Brian Patrick McGuire in November 2011 at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of South Denmark in Odense. They attest to the great fondness for Brian McGuire among so many medievalists who have known him. They also display the influence of his scholarly career on a new generation of scholarship on medieval Scandinavia.

Opening with a magisterial lecture by Gert Melville, "The Innovational Power of Monastic Life in the Middle Ages" (13-31), and ending with a gracious acknowledgement of these papers by Brian McGuire, and an homage to his own teacher, R.W. Southern (297-307) plus the impressive list of McGuire's publications to 2013 (309-318), the volume's contents push at and sometimes beyond the edges of McGuire's scholarship on medieval Scandinavia, using new written and archaeological sources and some recently-developed scholarly distinctions.

In some cases this is to look at sources that McGuire for some reason never used, as for instance, when Kurt Villads Jensen analyzes "A Cistercian sermon collection at Løgum" (81-102) or when Kirsi Salonen discusses the references to late medieval Danish Cistercians found in the Apostolic Penitentiary (285-298). A new source is documented from the archives of the Grand Séminaire of Bruges (269-283), which Eric Delaissé considers for exchange between Flanders and Denmark. Drawing particularly on the slightly more recent work of Stephen Jaeger, Sigga Engsbropp (57-80) returns to McGuire's analysis of the "The Thirteenth-century biography of Bishop Gunner of Viburg," to discuss more recent distinctions made by scholars between Vita and Gesta in episcopal lives and the importance of the good administrator. The article's many citations to McGuire's 1983 work suggest that this is a scholarly expansion on rather than a refutation of that earlier work. An instance of dwarves on the shoulders of giants, perhaps.

Several articles concern the arrival of the Dominicans in Scandinavia. "Dominican Experts in Medieval Scandinavia: The Order of Preachers and the Dissemination of Knowledge in Northern Societies," by Johannes Schütz (219-238), who describes the Order's attempts to establish "a socially shared symbolic universe from generation to generation," and "Who ordered the Dominicans?" on initiators of those foundations by Johnny Grandjean Gøgsig Jakobsen (241-267), describing the Order as used by its founders to establish "a strong ecclesiastical institution independent of the bishops." Jakobsen mis-speaks in calling Margareta of Flanders the daughter-in-law of countess Johanna; they were sisters.

The theme of networks is particularly apparent here in an astounding article by Mia Münster-Swendsen, "An Intricate Web of Friends: Unravelling the Networks and Personal Connections of the Two Lawrences of Durham" (33-55), which delineates differences in intellectual influences to establish distinctions between the two and then turns to a treatise on friendship written by one of them. A similar disentangling of confused sources, what the author calls "case studies in historical method and new approaches," is found in Eldbjorg Haug's "Augustinian Canons and Benedictine Monks in the Medieval Stavanger Diocese" (197-218). One of the method's discussed here, what Haug calls "The Retrogressive Analysis of the Monasteries," was undertaken in 1962 by Steinnes who used post-reformation evidence to locate which properties had belonged to the earlier religious foundations near Stavanger and it is building out from those insights, but not altogether from Steinnes' conclusions that Haug establishes a clearer history of the relationship between several religious foundations in Stavanger.

Thomas Riis in "Monasteries as Cultural Centers" (103-17), looks at examples from Schleswig-Holstein, Lübeck and Hamburg for evidence of what he has construed as "culture," that is music, art, including needlework, manuscript production, and library collections, before turning to two local historian's productions: the chronicle of Arnold of Lübeck, and the anonymous Annales of Ryd. Included in the analysis are the tapestries made by the Benedictine nuns of Preetz by Kiel and the book production by the nuns of St John's convent at Lübeck.

Christian Lovén, looks at monastic foundations and their early properties in "Lordship over Monasteries in Twelfth and Thirteenth Century Sweden and Denmark" (119-47). He discusses inconsistencies about whether what became the monastic site was always immediately given by founders and the related question of how to interpret protection charters including papal ones that did not include the monastic site itself before the list of other properties. This is an important question that should be placed alongside the issues about founders raised long ago by V.H. Galbraith. [1] One quibble here is that he identifies a founder called a conversus as a lay-brother. This is not always an identity, for in a number of cases the term more accurately refers to "a convert to the religious life" on which I have written elsewhere. [2]

Catharina Andersson discusses "Male Monastic Recruitment among the Cistercians in Medieval Sweden, c. 1143-1450" (149-175), based on the database of Swedish diplomata in the Swedish National Archives. Andersson provides some interesting discussion of children entering monastic houses for education, despite Cistercian discouragement of child oblates, but in her decisions about what groups to include or not, has been perhaps misled by outdated works. We would now argue that not all monks were priests, that not all conversi were laborers, and that dominus/a is a title associated with status not necessarily ordination (as applied for instance to nuns who are often called Dominae). More study is needed to argue that knights in Scandinavia became Hospitallers and on the role of "primogeniture" in Scandinavia, a battle about this rages for the Cistercian heartland in thirteenth-century northern France." [3]

Elisabet Regner, "Networks, Contacts, and Change in Alvastra Abbey, c. 1185-1350" (177-195), provides access to archaeological evidence not available elsewhere to make a strong argument for material culture as evidence for changes in monastic life. She argues that at Alvastra "continuing ties to the higher levels of the nobility do not exclude the possibility that bonds with the lower nobility played a significant, perhaps even decisive, role for the abbey". Her evidence is burials in the church with seal matrices indicating lower nobles and bourgeois, not just the highest founding families. As for construction projects, Regner notes that the earliest buildings required for a Cistercian abbey were probably irregular forms and in wood; only later were stone structures established. Moreover, it appears that nunneries had often not progressed in their construction beyond the eastern range; here I wonder whether what is often a situation of relatively less wealth is more important than differences in relationship to the Order; certainly in the most famous abbeys for Cistercian nuns of France, those founded, for instance, by Queen Blanche of Castile, the monastic plan for nuns' houses appear to have looked almost identical to those of houses for monks. Perhaps too the differences in coinage found over time and an increase in international coinage must be charted against the replacement of local mints with royal ones. Still a wonderful example of what we can know from such material objects in the illustrations to this article--one of which is used on the cover.

Finally, the volume leads us to an interesting and often unremarked pair of texts among those used by Delaissé in his article that appear to concern the Danish Queen of France, Ingebourg. [4] The dating is either 1226 or September 1227, but the earlier date for both makes more sense. In them the Queen of France, who in this situation although the text does not tell us, is probably Ingebourg of Denmark (who lived until 1236) transferred 549 marks sterling to Cistercian monks near Bruges; those monks then transferred 540 marks sterling to Cistercian monks in the diocese of Roskilde who then remitted them to the King of Denmark. These are large sums were only a fraction of Ingebourg's original dowry of 10,000 marks sterling: the mark being often considered two livres and the sterling considered nearly pure silver as opposed to the twenty or twenty-five percent silver of medieval French coinage at the time. Transfer of cash by Ingebourg from Paris to Bruges and again from Bruges to Roskilde and the King of Denmark was done by individuals called hospitalers or Hospitallers. Rather than this being two transactions in successive years, they likely concern a single transfer with the discrepancy in amount a six percent fee for the transfer; to whom that was paid is unclear. That it must concern Ingebourg adds another bit of evidence to the meager collection for her later years.



1. Vivian H. Galbraith, "Monastic Foundation Charters of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries," Cambridge Historical Journal 4 (1934): 205-225.

2. Constance H. Berman, "Distinguishing between Humble Peasant Lay-Brothers and Sisters and the Converted Knight," in J. Burton and E. Jamroziak (eds), Religious and Laity in Northern Europe (Leiden, 2006), 263-283.

3. Evergates, Theodore "Aristocratic Women in the County of Champagne," in Theodore Evergates (ed.), Aristocratic Women in Medieval France (Philadelphia, 1999), 74-110. Amy Livingstone, Out of Love for My Kin: Aristocratic Family Life in the Lands of the Loire, 1000-1200 (Ithaca, NY, 2010).

4. They are found in somewhat confused form in Cronica et cartularium monasterii de Dunis, ed. Ferdinand Van de Putte and Désiré Van de Casteele (Bruges, 1864), pp. 530-531, nos. CCCCLXII--no. 601 and CCCCLXVI--no. 604, which through the good offices of three different interlibrary loan departments I was finally able to access.

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