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21.09.31 Rozier, Writing History in the Community of St Cuthbert c.700-1130

21.09.31 Rozier, Writing History in the Community of St Cuthbert c.700-1130

In Writing History in the Community of St Cuthbert c.700-1130,Charles C. Rozier seeks to reveal the ways in which the writing of history in the community of St Cuthbert was fundamentally tied to the historical circumstances of each stage of its development, from the initial Vitae of St Cuthbert while situated at Lindisfarne, to Symeon of Durham's historiographical Libellus de exordio (LDE) after the community had settled at Durham. The chapters are, therefore, arranged chronologically from the community's founding, all the way to Symeon's death c. 1130. The volume is an excellent example of the insights that can be gained from situating close textual analysis with historical context, and is particularly strong when teasing out the political, cultural, and ecclesiastical forces that helped shape the purpose and creation of historical writing in the community. In many ways, this volume expands on arguments made in Karen Louise Jolly's 2012 The Community of St. Cuthbert in the Late Tenth Century: The Chester-le Street Additions to Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19, which Rozier references often. Overall, Rozier succeeds in furthering our understanding of the ways in which the medieval world perceived and utilised historical information. The volume will be useful for scholars not only of medieval history, but also for those interested in literary and manuscript studies.

Chapter 1 focuses on the early development of St Cuthbert's cult and community from the saint's death in 687, until its departure from Lindisfarne in 875. Here Rozier explores the role of the earliest Cuthbertine texts in the community, beginning with the anonymous Vita S. Cuthberti (c. 699-705), then moving on to Bede's metrical Vita S. Cudbercti (VCM; c. 705-10, later revised c. 721), and Bede's prose Vita S. Cudbercti (VCP; c. 721). While these texts are hagiographies, and as such highly formulaic in nature, Rozier rightly argues for the central role they played in the life of the community, from daily ritual to private devotions, to providing the community with the necessary historical foundation for their continuing existence and, eventual, expansion. Central to this chapter is Rozier's claim (furthered in the rest of the monograph) that St Cuthbert's community both collected and composed historical writing in response to the needs of the present. These texts provided the ground upon which the community built itself, and the copying and eventual dissemination of such historical writing served, like many hagiographies, as the means by which the cult centre could grow.

Chapter 2 covers the community's expulsion from Lindisfarne in 793 by Vikings, its peripatetic journey afterward to Norham (c. 830-45), then possibly back to Lindisfarne, before an even more itinerant wandering throughout Northumbria from 875 to the first half of the 880s, until ultimately settling at Chester-le-Street sometime between 882-83, where the community stayed and flourished before moving again in 995 to Durham (the subject of Chapter 3). Given the importance of physical cult sites in the early medieval English period, particularly in terms of the internment locations of saints' relics and associated portions of the landscape that can act, as Alan Thacker terms it, as 'secondary relics', this period was one of great difficulty for the community. Rozier convincingly argues that the community defined itself during this time through the "preservation and re-enactment of the past" (67), utilising both their inherited traditions and texts, like Bede's hagiographies of Cuthbert, as well as by collecting several new books with material related to the community: one, a deluxe manuscript with a collection of texts focused on St Cuthbert and the community now known as Cambridge Corpus Christi College MS 183, and two, a liturgical volume referred to by scholars as the Durham ritual, whose various revisions and additions reveal, as argued by Jolly in The Community of St. Cuthbert, a great deal about the life of the community during this period. The central portion of this chapter exemplifies Rozier's overall argument via an analysis of CCCC MS 183, an expensive volume which includes copies of important Cuthbertine texts (Bede's VCM and VCP), two sections of Cuthbert's miracles extracted from Bede's Historia ecclesastica gentis Anglorum, as well as several texts that do not appear to have been known before in Northumbria. Rozier suggests the manuscript was given by King Æthelstan when he visited the shrine of St Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street, and that the new texts, including a hymn, mass, and office for St Cuthbert, were included to effectively demonstrate the importance of St Cuthbert's cult outside of Northumbria. I was particularly intrigued by his suggestion that the liturgical texts might have been written to accompany the gift of the manuscript during Æthelstan's visit, as such texts imply a transfusion of Cuthbertine ritual from outside of the immediate community. The manuscript serves as an exemplum for the ways in which the community engaged with its own history for the purpose of defining their present circumstance, in this case in relation to the changing political landscape of the tenth century. The community did not produce any new books during this period, though Rozier argues for the composition of the Historia de sancto Cuthberto (HSC), a narrative history of the community, at Chester-le-Street. It should be noted that the precise composition date (and therefore location) of the HSC remains debated, with Rozier siding with those who place the textual composition in the tenth century.

Chapter 3 examines the establishment of a new, and permanent, home for the community of St Cuthbert at Durham, covering the period from c. 995 to the Benedictine reform c. 1080. As before, Rozier discusses the political, cultural, and economic factors which necessitated the move (renewed Viking activity, increasing incursions by Scottish forces, centrality of location with relation to the community's land holdings, and close ties with the Earl Uhtred of Bamburgh), relying to a great extent on the single medieval textual discussion of the move, Symeon's LDE. The textual production of the community, Rozier suggests, was low during this period as well, but also highlights how, in addition to the books brought from Chester-le-Street, they acquired four other manuscripts, including two copies of the works of Ælfric (including his Old English Homilies and his treatise on Grammar). The other two manuscripts were a copy of Prudentius' complete works, and a single quire containing Easter tables covering 988-1006, 1007-25, and 1026-44. The community did, however, engage in several historiographical projects of their own. First, they added five continuations to the HSC, which Rozier argues reveals how the "HSC was of continued value to the community in its first phase of translation to Durham" (94). Second was the composition of the eleventh-century Old English poem now referred to as Durham, which praises the city of Durham as the inheritor of both Cuthbert's uncorrupted remains, as well as the material objects of other saintly figures likewise venerated. Third was the Cronica monasterii Dunelmensis, likely written in its initial form between 1072-80, and which, according to Rozier, was "the first original exercise in extended historiography at Durham" (95). The section of this chapter on the Durham poem would have benefited from consultation with Helen Appleton's 2016 article, "The Old English Durham and the Cult of Cuthbert" (JEGP 115).

Chapter 4 of Writing History focuses on the community's transition to Benedictine monasticism in the early eleventh century. During this period of rapid transformation, Rozier argues that the monks undertook a deliberate and careful reconstruction of the past in order to justify the radical changes of the reform, and to create a clear narrative which placed the newly reformed ecclesial community as the rightful inheritors of the cult of St Cuthbert, its associated relics, its influence, and its properties. One central method by which this was done, and the primary textual focus of this chapter, was Symeon of Durham's Libellus de exordio, a historiographical narrative of the community's founding up until the death of William of Saint-Calais in 1096. Rozier's analysis of the genesis of the LDE, its composition, uses, and purpose, is well articulated and persuasive. This is especially true of the way he ties the text back into the historical context in which it was produced, arguing that the LDE was intended to not only collect and adapt the previous historical accounts of the community, but to supersede them and become the primary record of the community. The monks also, as evidenced by records like Bishop William's book-list, endeavoured to acquire a wide variety of texts in this period, the majority of which can be considered, as Rozier suggests, the "essential building-blocks of a typical Anglo-Norman monastic library" (108).

The comparatively short Chapter 5 explores the community's continued use of history in redefining their present circumstance after the reform, from c. 1080-1130, evidenced here by the production of a series of short historically oriented texts: the De iniusta vexacione Willelmi episcopi primi, describing the role of Bishop William of Saint-Calais' role in a revolt against King William Rufus, theDe obsessione Dunelmi, a summative historical text relating to the six vills given away by the community and then reclaimed, a brief history of the archbishopric at York, and a short text concerning another land claim, this time over a church at Carlisle. Rozier argues that each of these texts was produced with a similar intention to the LDE, and thus provide a clear window into the ways the post-reform community were actively engaging with, and utilising, the past. In addition to the historiographical impulses above, the community also sought to record twenty-one new miracles attributed to St Cuthbert, covering a period up to the twelfth century, which were primarily added to existing copies of Bede's prose VCP. Such a focus on the power of the saint, and Cuthbert's continued relationship with the community, provides clear evidence for Rozier's overall claims, and is a welcome addition to the material covered in this chapter.

In what is one of the most engaging sections in the volume, Chapter 6, Rozier examines how the intellectual interest in historical information at Durham (c. 1100-1130) included combining the often discretely conceptualised pursuits (by modern historians at least) of historiography and the more abstract field of computus, seeking with this combination to explore and examine methods to fit historical events within a conceptual and measurable framework. This included engaging with contemporary debates in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries on the inherent problems of various dating systems, particularly the familiar anno domini system of Eusebius of Caesarea (popularised by Bede), and the system devised in the late eleventh century by Marianus Scotus which, in an attempt to address flaws in the anno domini system, resituated the date of Christ's birth to AD 22, and therefore recalibrated the annus domini by twenty-two years. Rozier suggests that this debate, and its relationship to historical writing, can be seen in several textual sources, for example, in the Hunter 100 manuscript, an early eleventh-century collection of texts related to the calculation of time, that also includes annuls that were added to the margins of the Easter-tables.

The volume is well written and thoroughly researched, but could have benefited from further editing in several respects, including small typographical errors like missing commas. There are, however, several larger editorial errors in the Introduction section which could confuse potential readers. On page 17, Rozier begins his summary of each chapter, but begins with what is labelled as Chapter 2, and continues up to Chapter 7. The book in its present form has only 6 chapters, the issue being that Chapter 2 here is actually Chapter 1 (with subsequent numerical changes for the rest). There are also discrepancies in the date labels for some of these chapters on page 17. For example, Chapter 4 here has c. 1080-1120, while the Contents page and the Chapter 4 heading have c. 1083-1115 (pp. v and 97 respectively), and Chapter 5 has c. 1110-1130, while the Contents page and Chapter 5 heading have c. 1080-1130. While not reflective of the care and quality of the rest of the volume, these errors in the Introduction might give a reader pause before continuing. I would, of course, recommend that they do, as there do not appear to be any more errors of this kind.

While Rozier's overall argument is thorough and his engagement with a variety of sources extensive, there is one striking omission that deserves consideration. In discussing the origins of St Cuthbert's cult and community, he references Bede's metrical VCM several times, but never engages with the text itself, instead choosing to focus only on Bede's prose VCP. The VCM does not even appear in Rozier's list appendix for historical writing within the community. The influence of Bede's prose text in the formation of Cuthbert's cult is well documented, and thus the focus is defensible, but work by scholars such as Michael Lapidge has revealed the interdependent nature of the metrical and prose Vitae, as well as how Bede's revisions of the VCM at the same time as his composition of the VCP highlights developments in Bede's thinking about and presentation of St Cuthbert. Notably, the VCM reveals the ways in which Bede transformed the formerly local Northumbrian saint into a figure with wider appeal, primarily by depicting him (distinctly from the anonymous VCA) as the perfect balance between Celtic and Roman traditions of monasticism. Bede bases this vision of Cuthbert on the balanced life advocated by Gregory the Great's depiction of St Benedict. Given the development of the community of St Cuthbert, particularly its eventual transformation in the Benedictine reform, the role of this text in the life of the community deserves greater consideration. While it should be noted that the VCM was clearly not intended for as wide a readership as the VCP, its presence in a number of manuscripts owned and used by the community attest to its potential influence. For example, CCCC MS 183, which Rozier discusses in Chapter 2, features not only new material related to Cuthbert, but also a glossary for the VCM in both Old English and Latin. The placement of the new material directly after the VCM in the manuscript, as well as the presence of several later annotations to the VCM itself, at least suggest potential engagement with the VCM by the community. A closer examination of the role of the VCM within the community would likely have strengthened the overall argument of the volume.