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19.11.03 Hochholzer, Die Necrologien der Abtei Hersfeld

19.11.03 Hochholzer, Die Necrologien der Abtei Hersfeld

In this beautifully produced, large-format volume, Elmar Hochholzer offers a critical edition, commentary and facsimile of three distinct yet related twelfth-century necrologies from the great imperial monastery (Reichsabtei) of Hersfeld (in present-day Hesse, Germany). One of medieval Germany's foremost Benedictine communities--second only to nearby Fulda and operating on eye-level with the likes of Corvey and Reichenau--and erstwhile home to the influential monk-chronicler (and later abbot of Hasungen), Lampert (c.1028-after 1081), Hersfeld Abbey is, of course, a known quantity to scholars. And yet, its commemorative and memorial culture during the eleventh and twelfth centuries has, until now, largely remained virgin territory in modern scholarship. Sporadic attempts at shedding light on this important aspect of Hersfeld's communal culture and identity by compiling and editing the relevant sources were made as early as the nineteenth century, followed by a single more systematic effort in the 1980s, though none of them has been made available in published form. It is thus no exaggeration to refer to Hochholzer's contribution to the M(onumenta) G(ermaniae) H(istorica)'s series Libri memoriales et necrologia as pioneering.

The book is divided into three main sections--introduction (1-65), edition (69-94) and prosopographical commentary (95-189)--, followed by an index nominum (191-197), index locorum (198-206) and a generous appendix of high-resolution photographic images (n.p.). The first section opens with a detailed discussion of the available manuscript sources, their transmission and the conditions of their survival today (1-21). Of the three necrologies that form the basis for Hochholzer's edition (HEF A, HEF B and HEF C), only one (HEF C) has survived in the original (Kassel, Universitätsbibliothek--Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel, 2o Ms. theol. 55, fol. 1r–5v). The other two (HEF A and HEF B--both formerly kept at Kassel but lost without a trace in the aftermath of World War II) are accessible only through hand- and typewritten copies produced during the first and second quarters of the twentieth century respectively. In the case of HEF B, two black-and-white photographs were commissioned in the 1930s, both of which are reproduced in the book's appendix (n.p.) and offer helpful clues as to the lost manuscript's layout and mise-en-page. Beyond this, the original content, form, organisational structure and, crucially, socio-literary function(s) of Hersfeld's oldest twelfth-century necrologies have to be reconstructed carefully from second- or even third-hand testimony--a methodological challenge that should not be underestimated.

Hochholzer does a commendable job of taking on this challenge. His treatment of the sources shows great awareness both of their considerable potential and their sometimes frustrating limitations, and throughout the book Hochholzer's arguments remain firmly rooted in the surviving evidence. Even where more creative or circumstantial modes of interpretation are required to 'fill the gaps' caused by the fragmentary witnesses, Hochholzer is careful neither to overstep the mark nor to bend the manuscript evidence further than is plausible. The result is a structurally coherent, nuanced and well-balanced analysis that not only does justice to the idiosyncratic nature of the sources, but which also generates important knowledge that goes beyond the immediate context of Hersfeld Abbey and its domestic memory culture. This can be seen in, for example, the detailed discussion of HEF A (22-44), particularly the section on "external abbots" (Auswärtige Äbte), that is, monks who professed at Hersfeld and later went on to become abbots elsewhere (29-35), and that on the abbots of Fulda and Corvey whose names were commemorated at Hersfeld (35-39). In both cases, Hochholzer's analysis and contextualisation of the necrologies tell us just as much (and sometimes even more) about Hersfeld's relationships within the monastic world of eleventh- and twelfth-century Germany than they do about the internal workings of the community itself. Add to this the shorter but equally informative sections on Hersfeld's connections with the secular world--for example, with the German emperors (26-28) and various lay groups (41-42)--, and we can witness the emergence of a fascinating panorama that helps us situate this important religious institution within its wider political and cultural context.

Even readers whose primary interest does not lie with the history of Hersfeld Abbey and its communal culture of memory and commemoration are likely to find some food for thought. Indeed, the book provides a perfect example of how returning ad fontes and studying lesser known and/or inaccessible sources from scratch can yield rich and sometimes unexpected rewards in the shape of more widely applicable observations and important transferrable knowledge. Not only does the book offer a reliable textual edition that is unlikely to be superseded, but it also lends useful nuance to our understanding of several broader areas of study. These include, for example: the close intertextual relationship between monastic necrologies, annals and chronicles (28-29); the socio-political negotiations surrounding the external appointment of abbots during a crucial period in the history of medieval church reform (30-32); the longevity and stability (or lack thereof) of monastic custom and tradition (33-35); and, not least, the everyday realities of medieval monastic reform and its implementation on a local level (36-39). In each of these areas, Hochholzer offers original insights and observations that make a valuable contribution to existing scholarly discourse. It is because of their significance that one might ask whether some of these observations could have been presented with greater confidence or given a more prominent position in the book. At the very least, they probably could have been signposted a little more clearly. "Tucked away" in the dense commentary that precedes the main textual edition as they are, they might easily escape some readers' attention.

The edition itself has been executed to a very high standard--as one would expect given its patronage by the renowned MGH--, and it is accompanied by an extensive critical apparatus. Rather than artificially conflating the three necrologies into one, each of them has been edited separately (HEF A, 69-75; HEF B, 78-79, HEF C, 82-93), an approach that encourages both individual study and cross-textual comparison. The latter is further facilitated through the consistent use of cross-references between the individual editions and the prosopographical commentary that succeeds them in the book's final section. In terms of its usability, Hochholzer's edition leaves little to be desired, and it can proudly serve as an example of good practice to be followed and adopted by forthcoming editions of similar kinds of sources originating not just in twelfth-century Germany, but also across the medieval Latin West.

As regards the latter, perhaps a more systematic effort could have been made to relate the arguments of the present book to those found in recent studies and editions of monastic necrologies from medieval France (including Normandy), England, the Low Countries and other parts of Europe. Except for the abbeys of Saint-Trond and Saint-Vaast, institutional comparisons are drawn almost exclusively from within Germany (namely Fulda, Corvey, Tegernsee, Regensburg and Hildesheim), which seems slightly at odds with the decidedly "international'" character of medieval monasticism. Similarly, one might have wished for greater linguistic variation in the book's bibliography (xiii-xviii), which is limited almost entirely to German-language publications. (Curiously, the references listed in the footnotes include a greater number of foreign-language titles, though few of them are included in the bibliography.) These criticisms notwithstanding, the book certainly offers plenty of cause for celebration. Hochholzer's in many ways exemplary study and edition of the necrologies of Hersfeld Abbey responds to a long-standing desideratum, and it sets a major benchmark for future work in the field. No doubt the twelfth-century monks of Hersfeld would be rather pleased to know that their communal memories--embodied in their carefully cultivated commemorative records--should one day give rise to such a fine piece of scholarship.