The Medieval Review 17.09.05


Salonen, Kirsi, and Sari Katajala-Peltomaa, eds. Church and Belief in the Middle Ages: Popes, Saints, and Crusaders. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016. pp. 276. ISBN: 978-90-8964-776-4 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Stephen Spencer
Queen Mary University of London
sj_spencer@hotmail.co.uk

This collection of essays, a Festschrift for Professor Christian Krötzl, comprises contributions from the honoree's Doktorvater, the opponent of his doctoral defence, two former students, and seven international colleagues. The ten chapters are logically arranged into three thematic parts, reflecting Krötzl's research interests and academic contribution: papal administration, saints and miracles, and crusades and conversion. In the introduction, the editors, Kirsi Salonen and Sari Katajala-Peltomaa, join forces with Kurt Villads Jensen to provide an accessible backdrop to what follows by summarising how the historiographical landscape has evolved for each of the major themes. This immediately makes the chapters, some of which are littered with technical terminology, more digestible to the non-specialist, and simultaneously situates Krötzl's work in the field. This is not just a Festschrift: the editors have set themselves the ambitious, and important, task of bringing together scholars studying three aspects of the medieval Church which are usually treated separately. The aim, therefore, is not to provide an all-encompassing survey of the three core themes, but rather "to display links between them, offering opportunities for discussion and showing the importance and benefits of comparison of results" (13). Accordingly, the "Structure of the Volume" section does more than simply summarise the contributions; it identifies several connections between the individual chapters and major themes.

Part I explores papal administration in the later Middle Ages, and begins with Ludwig Schmugge's excellent analysis of composition fees--payments made by Christians who had violated Church regulations--for graces granted by the Apostolic Penitentiary in the fifteenth century. Schmugge charts the development of these fees in the curial administrative system, drawing attention to the importance of the Borgia pope Callixtus III in making the system more lucrative for himself by ensuring payments were received by one of his confidants. The appointment of Cosmas de Monteserrato as datarius in 1456 transformed that position; having previously been responsible for applying the registration date to petitions approved by the papal curia, the datarius now had the authority to impose and receive payments. Callixtus III had set an important precedent, one his successors continued, with composition fees now paid by individuals who were guilty of simony or of trading with Muslims, and by those who needed to commute a solemn pilgrim vow or required a marital dispensation. After examining the juridical basis of the fees, Schmugge shows that the German and English evidence indicates that the vast majority of fees were related to marriage dispensations, before assessing the amounts paid and the geographic distribution of cases. Though the fragmentary nature of the evidence does not allow for a more detailed and complete analysis of change over time, Schmugge is able to convincingly conclude that most fees were imposed on people from central Christendom (Italy, France, Iberia, and Germany), that composition fees for marriage graces tended to be received from couples related to each other by the third degree of consanguinity or affinity, and that the amount was agreed with the datarius on a case-by-case basis and was dependent on a number of factors (including the petitioner's social status, presence in Rome, and connections to the papal curia).

A different, but no less effective, methodology is employed by Jussi Hanska, whose chapter seeks to reconstruct the career of the lesser curialist Petrus Profilt. A micro-historical approach is adopted, using Petrus as a case-study to assess the career prospects of fifteenth-century minor curialists more generally. Hanska mobilises the fairly limited extant evidence to trace Petrus' career from his time as a proctor working at the Penitentiary in 1459/60, to a notary at the Sacra Romana Rota from 1464, a procurator in audientia litterarum contradictarum from April 1465 until March 1472, and as an abbreviator at the papal chancery in 1472/3. At some point after the summer of 1473, he left the Roman curia and eventually became secretary to Bishop Pierre du Chaffault of Nantes. From this reconstruction, Hanska extrapolates several broader points regarding the everyday life and work of minor curialists, placing particular emphasis on the value of maintaining a network of connections, both in local dioceses and within the curia. It is argued that people coming to the Roman curia sought the services of those who spoke their own language, or at least one they could understand. Even a freelance proctor like Petrus, Hanska concludes, could handle substantial sums of money and make a reasonable living.

In the last chapter of Part I, Per Ingesman uses the criminal trial against Didrik Brus, a parish priest, in the winter of 1515-16 as an entry-point into the inner workings of the Sacra Romana Rota (the papal supreme court in Rome) and the court of the Chamber auditor. At the heart of Ingesman's analysis is a unique record book held in the Danish National Archives, the manuscript of which is described in a short appendix. It would be futile to attempt to represent here all the new insights Ingesman gleans from this important document. Suffice to say that it offers a valuable window into the complex legal world of sixteenth-century Rome, sheds light on the activities of Rota notaries, furthers our understanding of the situation faced by litigating parties, and provides the first known example of the workings of the court of the Chamber auditor and the production of written material at that court.

Part II, "Saints and Miracles," represents the book's strongest thematic section. Gábor Klaniczay's chapter is essential reading for anyone interested in medieval conceptions of sainthood and the papacy's attempts to control the canonisation process. Klaniczay adopts a panoramic perspective, restricting himself to an analysis of "broad generalities" (120). First, he considers the possibility that Alexander III's famous 1171 letter to a Swedish king, in which the pope forbade the veneration of a drunkard as a saint, may have been connected to the emerging cult of a royal saint (King Erik Jedwarsson). Klaniczay's observations on royal sainthood are both insightful and convincing, highlighting, for example, that the fully-fledged image of royal saints only emerged gradually, and particularly on the fringes of medieval Christendom, among recently converted peoples. Alexander III's 1171 regulation, and papal attempts to lay claim to the canonisation process thereafter, reflect a desire to remove the "anomaly" (124) of ruler saints. The chapter then charts the evolution of the papacy's attempts to exert a stronger grip over the sphere of canonisation, with Innocent III insisting that canonisation was dependent on the judgement of the pope alone--a doctrine which thrived during Gregory IX's pontificate. Yet Gregory made a key exception in 1228, when he confirmed the canonisation of Francis of Assisi. Though initially receptive to the new concept of "living saints" such as Francis, the papacy then adopted a more restrictive approach towards this from the second half of the thirteenth century, and the chapter ends with a reflection on whether the papacy failed to achieve what it had intended through the introduction of canonisation processes.

Klaniczay's wide-ranging, synoptic study is followed by Paolo Golinelli's more focused contribution on how the legend of Saint Alexis served as "the model or standard of an exemplary life for saints and hagiographers" (142). More specifically, he examines two motifs found in the Saint Alexis story--the abandonment of the bride to live a chaste life and the miraculous signs associated with Alexis' death--and their parallels in later saints' lives. On this basis, it is suggested that various authors incorporated features of the Saint Alexis model into their hagiographies, albeit usually only partially, and that this model "helped to spread the ideals of reform at a popular level" (149). While Golinelli's conclusions are generally persuasive, some readers may be left wanting more: given the relative brevity of this chapter, one suspects that there is still more to say on the role and significance of the Saint Alexis model in hagiographical traditions.

The next two chapters mesh together well. In a particularly interesting piece, Didier Lett examines the appearance and functions of medical doctors in late medieval canonisation processes, focusing specifically on that pertaining to the Augustinian hermit Nicholas of Tolentino (1245-1305). Lett demonstrates that doctors acted as key witnesses in canonisation processes, including Nicholas', although as practitioners they were always unsuccessful in curing the patient, whose ailments were, at best, temporarily alleviated. Their role was not to cure the patient, but to give proof of miracles performed, thus testifying to the individual's sanctity and the futility of human agency in comparison with divine power--a notion reinforced by the metaphor of the saint as doctor. This leads on neatly to Jenni Kuuliala's thought-provoking chapter on healing miracles that were partial cures. Based on an analysis of eleven canonisation processes between 1235 and 1400, Kuuliala contends that contemporaries may not have considered incomplete cures (most of which concerned conditions impairing mobility) as lesser miracles, not least because functionality and the ability to fulfil one's social roles were crucial criteria in medieval conceptions of physical health. Much of the chapter elucidates the different types of partial cures discernible in the canonisation dossiers, including cases when, following miraculous healing, milder impediments remained; others when the beneficiary received temporary alleviation but later relapsed; and others still when full cures left physical marks.

The final part comprises three essays related to the theme of "Crusades and Conversion." The first, by Jüri Kivimäe, represents a close reading of Henry of Livonia's chronicle on the history of the eastern Baltic lands in the early thirteenth century. Kivimäe seeks to better understand how Henry constructed "the history and image of the new Christian society conquered, claimed, and ruled by Germans at the edge of the Latin world" (202), paying particular attention to the significance of the cult of the Virgin Mary in thirteenth-century Livonia and the concept of Terra Mariana. After summarising the existing scholarship, Kivimäe considers how Henry described native peoples, both before and after his arrival in Livonia in 1205, and remains alive to moments when the text is of dubious validity, especially when Henry imputed direct speech to his heroes (which should be discounted as authorial inventions). The remainder of the chapter uses Henry's chronicle to trace the dissemination of the cult of the Virgin Mary, arguing, in contrast to other scholars, that Henry's post factum claim that Innocent III promised to help "the land of the Mother" at the Fourth Lateran Council should not be taken as evidence that Livonia was dedicated as Terra Mariana in 1215, for Henry had already referred to Livonia as terra matris earlier in his chronicle (for the years 1201-2). Henry used Marian imagery to present a united Christian community under the Virgin's special protection: an idealistic vision, Kivimäe argues, formulated by a missionary priest. This does not necessarily make Henry's chronicle unreliable; instead, it means the text should be "reread and reinterpreted in another key, by returning to the model of medieval Livonia as a colonial society" (223).

In the penultimate chapter, Kurt Villads Jensen turns to attitudes towards conversion and warfare in the works of Henry of Livonia, Saxo, and Vincent of Cracow. In these narratives, Jensen identifies two different, but mutually compatible, attitudes towards war: the first, that warfare ought to be limited, controlled, and only used for the protection of missionaries (enabling them to preach); the second, "an acceptance of total war" (229), whereby the destruction of the pagans was deemed superior to conversion. Thus, Jensen's chapter contributes directly to existing scholarship on the interplay between crusade and mission, and indirectly to the current historiographical debate regarding whether religiously-charged conflicts, like the crusades, represent "total wars" marked by exceptionally high levels of violence. The overview of his three target texts will be useful to the uninitiated reader, but it is in the next section, on attitudes towards forced conversion and the distinction between pagans and apostates, that the chapter hits its stride. It also adds to our knowledge of the emotional rhetoric of crusading in the Baltic region. Extending from Susanna Throop's scholarship, Jensen argues that the emotions of wrath, zeal, and vengeance--what he calls "a theology of strong emotions" (246)--were used by authors to justify total annihilation. While only Vincent of Cracow regularly employed the Latin term zelus, Jensen successfully widens the lexicon for the concept of religious zeal by considering a range of alternative emotion-words in Saxo and Henry of Livonia. The desire for revenge (human and divine) is then examined, again highlighting similarities and differences between the texts, and the chapter ends with some thoughts on whether the emotional communities changed during the first century of crusading to the Near East and Baltic.

At first glance, the final chapter, a reconstruction of the Swedish "crusades" towards Finland, does not appear to fit particularly well with the previous two essays. However, it soon becomes clear that, for Jens E. Olesen, Baltic crusading is essential for understanding the Swedish expeditions. Olesen urges scholars to treat these enterprises, prosecuted between c.1155 and 1323, not as isolated Swedish-Finnish phenomena, but in the broader context of the development of crusading in the Baltic. The chapter first examines the Christianisation of Finland prior to the first Swedish "crusade," emphasising the importance of trade to this process, before turning to the Swedish campaign against southern Finland in c.1155. Olesen posits that this expedition should be interpreted in light of papal requests to launch crusades in the Baltic, and that the 1147 expedition against the Wends during the Second Crusade may have provided the model for Swedish magnates. He goes on to suggest that Danish campaigns, such as the conquest of Estonia in 1219, may have been a catalyst for the second Swedish "crusade" against Tavastia, before turning to the third "crusade" (directed towards Karelia at the end of the thirteenth century) and the strategic importance of Viborg castle. Given the chapter's overarching argument, it is surprising that Olesen did not examine the controversial question of whether these Swedish campaigns were crusades, or simply papal-sponsored holy wars.

Overall, the quality of the contributions is high, with each casting new light on its subject. Moreover, the essays in each thematic strand complement each other well: the use of archival sources unites the three chapters in Part I; a common interest in canonisation and healing miracles links several contributions in Part II; and research on Henry of Livonia binds much of Part III. The editors and publisher have done an excellent job: this reviewer found only a few grammatical slips and even fewer typographical errors in this handsomely presented volume. One of the major advantages of this book is that it showcases the various methodologies available to medievalists, bearing witness to the value of quantitative analysis, a micro-historical approach, charting the development of a theme over the longue durée, a close reading of the motifs and content of individual texts, a comparative study of several narratives, and of situating a series of events like the Swedish "crusades" within a broader contextual framework. The volume is thus a fitting Festschrift for Professor Krötzl. The extent to which it fulfils the editors' second objective of demonstrating that popes, saints, and crusaders were inextricably intertwined is open to interpretation. Despite the editors' best efforts in the introductory chapter, from that point onwards the reader is left to identify the various connections between the chapters; in other words, despite recurring themes and source types, the contributions rarely seem in conversation with each other, and there are relatively few internal references throughout the book. Perhaps a postscript drawing the threads together would have been beneficial in this respect. Nonetheless, those interested in papal administration, saints and hagiographies, and crusade and mission on the fringes of Christendom will find much food for thought here.



Copyright (c) 2017 Stephen Spencer



Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login