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22.04.10 Bhreathnach et al. (eds.), Monastic Europe

22.04.10 Bhreathnach et al. (eds.), Monastic Europe

It is a commonplace that books comprising big collections of articles are notoriously challenging to review. This book is no exception, but in this case the reason is unusual. The central subject is clear and consistent, as (though with some effort) are several constituent subjects into which that subject refracts, initially marked out in the book’s subtitle. The subject is the material and (insofar as it relates to the material) social history of monasteries in Europe, above all in the Middle Ages, but sometimes extending into modernity. [1] The challenge stems from the enormous variety in the framing and development of that subject by the individual authors. The chapters vary widely in emphasis, style, organization, and their own principal subjects, so that the whole is layered into matters, which, from the perspective of the individual authors outward, seem more important.

The editors explain this variety in two opening pieces: a short preface by all three of them (xix-xx), and an article-length introduction by one, Edel Bhreathnach (1-18). The book, they report, originated in a collective initiative by an international, interdisciplinary group of colleagues, marked by years of collaboration and (at least) one conference, dedicated to a cohort study of monastic sites and their surrounding spaces and societies. Geographically, the project began with Wales, then, along an expanding horizon, Ireland, northwestern England, and Europe in its entirety. Over that long course, the common big themes work as research vectors, not limitations. The effect blossoms like a hundred flowers into the collection we have today.

The result is a rich of set of discrete studies, each highly valuable for specific reasons, regardless of its status as part of a bigger whole. The sheer thematic variety is the book’s permanent challenge. In her introduction, Bhreathnach anticipates that challenge and assuages it along three lines. She comprehensively summarizes the individual chapters, one by one. She discerns yet another layer of constituent big subjects into which the individual contributions coalesce. Cited verbatim and in sequence, these subjects are: “Identifying the familia monastica in Medieval Europe,” “The Role of Monasticism in Shaping Landscapes and Settlement Patterns,” and “Monastic Environments and Economies” (Bhreathnach, “Introduction,” 2). She uses these subjects to preview the historiographical contribution of the volume. After observing, quite rightly, that “[i]n the world of monastic studies, these are not surprising topics,” she confronts the problem: “What is different about this book is that these well-trodden paths are applied to a diverse variety of peoples and places.”

She unpacks that point at length:

“[W]hile medieval monastic and mendicant orders were international organizations, which maintained at their core an international character and modus operandi, the landscapes in which they settled and the peoples among whom they lived...added different characteristics to that international core. In some instances, this resulted in a significant divergence from...the norm. In most cases...once differences of landscape, language, or customs are taken into account, common patterns emerge from the diversity” (2-3).

As previewed here, the locus of originality of the volume inheres in a mix of diversity and adaptation. “Diversity,” marked out by this word, recurs in the volume, [2] either as a self-standing attribute, or in relation to some universal (though, I must add, invariably more or less implicit) standard.

Apart from the editors’ two opening pieces, the book consists of twenty-one chapters, all in the format of fully developed articles. Bhreathnach’s introduction and each chapter are accompanied by excellent bibliographical appendices--themselves, so to speak, worth the price of admission! The articles are grouped into four parts ranging in size between three and eight contributions each. The titles of each part are identical--verbatim--to the three major subjects previewed by Bhreathnach in her introduction, except that her second subject, “Landscapes and Settlement Patterns,” hives off in the body of the book into an additional Part Three, titled simply “Settlement” (331-403). As happens in this kind of management of great thematic variety by means of distinct parts, this structuring of the book is of limited value, because the subjects named in the titles of each part recur throughout the book.

The overall effect is kaleidoscopic. In a book this diverse, different readers will discern differently the cumulative picture of the realities it purports to describe. Here is one take. I begin with a summary of the chapters--modified, however, to only one subject each pursued at its core by each author, with a general caveat to the reader of this review that there is always more. [3] I then assess the book’s contribution to its major subjects, as those are marked out by the book’s subtitle, by Bhreathnach’s opening tripartite framework, by the titles and the texts of the individual articles--and, not least, as discerned through all of it by me. Finally, I turn to the promised contribution of the book: as a new bridge between uniformity and “diversity” comprising Europe’s monastic world.

After her introductory article, Bhreathnach opens the book with her own chapter, on a chronologically and institutionally early note, as, in “The Nature of Pre-‘Reform’ Irish Monasticism” (21-44), she zooms in on early medieval Ireland, and, in rich detail, pursues the meanings here of the monastic vocation, its normative framework (including the question of rules), and its highly fluid organizational and spatial variation, before and across two waves of reform, in the tenth and in the early twelfth centuries. In a very different essay, also lodged early, “St Sunniva, the Seljumenn, and St Alban” (45-72), Alf Thore Hommedal traces out a long history of one geographically local material and sacral complex, consisting of a burial site, a terraced open space (“sanctuary”), and a monastic church and its surroundings--and of the complex’s evolving associations, over time and space, with specific saint cults, patrons and founders, extending into (and affecting) the emerging episcopal framework of medieval Norway.

In “Monasticism, Lordship, and State-Building in Twelfth-Century Cumbria” (77-102), Richard Thomason explains the establishment and the political associations of monasteries in one English province in terms of the succession to political power here by the conquering kings of England and Scotland (in alternating turns) in the course of the twelfth century--with principal attention to monastic founders, royal and otherwise, and to the relationships between these founders and the monastic network. Janet Burton broadens her optic beyond kings, to a wider social world of power and patronage--rulers, lords, bishops, and significant others--surrounding one specific monastery in Wales, as, in “Tensions in a Border Abbey: Strata Marcella, its Patrons, Friends, and Enemies” (103-20), she explores that monastic community’s sense of place in that wider social world. Another treatment of a specific house, now in Ireland, is the subject of “The Blackfriars of Trim, Co. Meath and the Legacy of Geoffrey de Geneville” (121-54), where Finola O’Carroll notes, rather in passing, one such patron or benefactor, and shifts her principal emphasis to a close, material, archaeologically- and architecturally-based treatment of the space occupied by the priory.

The next three pieces differ sharply from what precedes them, as well as from one another. Karen Stöber, also focusing on a specific monastery, devotes her “Times of War and Pilgrimage: The Archive of Santa Maria de Vilabertran in Catalonia” (155-70) to one practice relating that monastery to a surrounding, now politically or socially open-ended population: donors who associated their gifts to the monastery with pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including, but not limited to, crusading. Here, unusually in the book, the inquiry relates entirely to written evidence: the monastery’s archive of charters expressing and documenting such alienations.

Elizabeth Valdez de Álamo turns, yet again, to a specific monastery--one that, after restoration, is with us today (beautifully portrayed on her article’s frontispiece), Santo Domingo de Silos--and, in “The Cloister, the Heart of Monastic Life” (171-94), presents us with what I can only describe as a loving, meticulous treatment of one monastic space, the cloister, in many of its aspects: architecturally, in relation to the rest of a monastery’s fabric and layout; socially, as a setting for a wide (and vividly imagined and described) range of human activity; and--quite palpably--as a complex fusion of spirituality and emotion. Guido Cariboni devotes his “Cistercians and the Laity in Thirteenth-Century Italy: The familia monastica” (195-214) to a lucid specification of the various meanings of that Latin phrase and the population comprising it: including, on the one hand, the specific criteria for its membership, and, on the other, what might be called the familia’s outer edges--as the familia blurs into other groups and people, who, in various ways, impinged upon Cistercian monasteries.

The subsequent two chapters open a theme that becomes recurrent in the book: the ties between monasticism and urban space. Frederik Felskau devotes a long study (with a correspondingly long title), “City Building and Monastic Institutions in East Central Europe: The Significance of the religiones novae during the Foundation Years of Prague’s Old Town (c. 1220s-1250s)” (215-56), to what might be called a meticulous double map, expressed in prose: of monasteries and mendicant priories, superimposed onto the highly dynamic space and settlement comprising Prague at a time of its brisk transition in settled area, material structure, ethnic composition, and legal framework. A different placement of monasticism in the urban space is provided by Dany Sandron, who, in “Rivals to Cathedrals: The Architecture of Benedictine Churches in Northern France, 1100-1500” (257-76), explores the spatial logic of a slightly bizarre (and amusing) competition waged by monks against bishops of several French cities, consisting of deliberate construction near the cathedral churches of their monastic counterparts--competitors--that matched or exceeded the episcopal prototypes architecturally and stylistically.

In “Transforming Women Religious? Church Reform and the Archaeology of Female Monasticism in Ireland” (277-302), Tracy Collins turns away from urban space toward archaeology more generally, and its possible material traces of women’s monastic presence, especially (returning to a subject first raised by Bhreathnach) as affected by “reforming” transitions in the earlier twelfth century. The results consist largely of a lament at the sparseness of such traces, coupled with the conclusion that, regarding women, such traces reflect diversity--the nature of which, however, remains a bit amorphous. The town reemerges in Visa Immonen’s “Monasticism in a Border Landscape: Religious Orders in Medieval Finland” (303-30), the article in the book where its principal subject is most firmly placed in the context of Europe’s frontier--specified as a zone of urban expansion (early, and relatively small-scale), and of proximity to, and impact of, the sea.

Lodged in that same distant maritime region, but across a geographically far wider arc, is the world of towns presented by Johnny Grandjean Gøgsig Jakobsen in “At Blackfriars Priory: Dominican Priories within Urban Geography in Medieval Scandinavia” (331-56): a close, textured study of the logic of physical placement--and occasionally physical transfer--of mendicant priories in specific parts of the urban space, with examples drawn from several towns. The result is a strong argument, asserting that while such placement or transfer were not (as the author puts it) “random”--that is, that they are always explicable--it defies any one pattern or rationale in constant relation to some other feature of the urban space: marketplace, cathedral, fortified center or “castle,” or settlement periphery.

Catarina Almeida Marado’s study, “Franciscan Geography in Medieval Portugal: Architecture, Landscape, and Spirituality” (357-82), presents the town in a different role: as in itself a marker of the spirituality specific to one mendicant order. Over a chronologically long story, the spatial relationship between the Franciscans and towns oscillates between active avoidance of settlement--presented here as interesting adaptation of the eremetical mode and avoidance of claustration--and its opposite: a cloistered presence right in the midst of cities. Tajana Pleše devotes her study of the “Ordo Sancti Pauli Primi Eremitae: Monasteries and the Shaping of the Late Medieval Slavonian Cultural and Historic Landscape prior to the Battle of Mohács (1526)” (383-406) to strongly linear, monastery-by-monastery treatment of several houses of this late and regional monastic order--consisting, in the story of each monastery, of a compacted, detailed presentation of a monastery’s location, material structure, and endowment.

Endowment is the recurrent subject of five of the book’s seven remaining chapters. Christoph Keller devotes “New Light on Caesarius’s Abbey: Recent Excavations at the Cistercian Monastery of Heisterbach, Germany” (407-30) to a richly material history of one monastery, encompassing the dynamics of its initial location and relocation, its impact on--and endowment from--its surrounding environment, especially water, and, nested in a substantial archaeologically-based section, the monastery’s complex: the church, and its surrounding structures. Victoria Hodgson, in “The Landholding and Landscape Exploitation of Coupar Angus Abbey: Granges and Glenisla” (431-50), uses the estate of one Scottish Cistercian monastery as an opportunity to nuance and add much depth to the subject of Cistercian monastic endowment, by means of an unusually textured range of its elements: granges, people (especially tenants), grain revenues, market operations, mineral resources, forest, and--especially important--water.

Water, too, is central to Richard C. Hoffmann and (the late) Alasdair Ross, who, in “This Belongs to Us! Competition between the Royal Burgh of Stirling and the Augustinian Abbey of Cambuskenneth over Salmon Fishing Rights on the River Forth, Scotland” (451-76), use a conflict between one city and one monastery in Scotland as an entrée into a rich, multilayered, and (characteristically for the authors) readable study of several interrelated phenomena bridging the abstract and the concrete: the rights to the fishing of salmon. This eminently palatable creature emerges simultaneously as a contested commodity, a subject of high-status luxury consumption, a focal element of aquaculture--which emerges, around the fish so to speak, in its many technical aspects--and as part of the monastic estate and revenue.

Oana Toda remains with the subject of water as a resource from a different perspective, as, in “Riverine Monasticism in the Kingdom of Hungary: Navigation on the Lower Mureş and the Benedictine Abbey of Bizere” (477-502), she provides a closely textured, materially, archaeologically, and geologically grounded, study of one river--as a complicated, evolving spatial system, a phenomenon she repeatedly identifies as “hydromorphology”; and, in that spatial system, of a network of economic sites, or revenue nodes, related to the production, transport, collection, and acquisition of yet another lucrative commodity: salt.

The closing two chapters depart sharply from the economy and its revenues. Nere Jone Intxaustegi Jauregi’s “Convents and Basque Familial Networks of Power” (503-22) reverts (without using these words) to the familia monastica, in a detailed study of the social profile of the founders and benefactors of monasteries and convents--the “nobility” and lesser landholders (both framed by large families), “courtiers,” and “merchants”--with some emphasis on women monastic recipients--in the Basque Land, all of it, because of the lateness of the sources, in the early modern period. With “‘Shadows of Ghosts’: Rediscovering the Special Places of Medieval Female Monasteries through Experiential Approaches to Landscape” (523-44), Kimm Curran moves the subject squarely and boldly right into our (indeed her) own present--by means of a strongly personal, explicitly self-reflexive study of a researcher’s personal discovery of the deep material past that is essentially invisible or inaccessible today, through the act of, quite literally, walking--a personal perambulation--and, in its course, the process of an intuitive, intense reflection on the past space being experienced and recovered. Here, uniquely in the book, is a reconstruction of the past simultaneously in space and in the mind.

And, now, a return to the constituent big subjects--settlement, environment, community, economy, and above all landscape--as they emerge in the book as a whole. This collaborating group has allowed one another an open-ended freedom regarding what is meant by these subjects; or, more precisely, what phenomena are designated by these words. All such references read as if the meanings of the words were self-evident in plain English. That kind of intellectual free hand has a purpose. Some books play what might be called a historiographically diagnostic role. The reader may use them to assess what, at the time of their writing (in this case, 2019), their subjects actually are and mean--without actually being told that by the authors. This is that kind of book. Here is one reader’s response to that challenge.

Settlement falls along a concentric range of specificity. It usually means the space comprising a monastery or a priory, including its material structure, residential dimension, and the religious--monks, nuns, friars, sisters, and (occasionally) hermits--a space and population sometimes noted as the monastic “precinct.” [4] Outside that material and human core, settlement is more open-ended. Most visibly, it is the town or city--varied in shape and size, economic profile, multiethnicity, legal status, distinctness from the countryside, and other criteria of medieval towns and urbanization. [5] On all these subjects, Felskau’s article, in particular, comprises an exceptionally textured study of one medieval city--and, in my view, today the entry point into the urban history of the part of Europe I study. Far less visible is the countryside: villages, related and surrounding space (arable, meadow, park, and forest), and above all peasants (Hoffmann and Ross, 454; Curran, 523), marked out by exceedingly incidental references (O’Carroll, 122-23), largely in the context of the economy--in this book, a separate subject, to which I will turn momentarily. Occasionally, settlement means military occupation (Thomason, 80, 83)--a geographic migration by a knighthood under the auspices of a newly dominant ruler, possibly accompanied by a subordinate peasantry, and so colonization in its medieval meaning. [6]

Landscape raises more complicated conceptual issues. Here, we do not have a progression of meaning from the specific to the open-ended, but an eclectic semantic mix. In several places that word is used in one of its plain meanings: the assemblage of features situated upon, and related to, land, consisting of some mix of built structures (or their remnants), and the biological, geological, and aquatic environment, ranging from the primeval to the transformed. [7] More often, landscape appears more vaguely as a figure of speech: designating immaterial cultural phenomena (a “spiritual,” “political,” “cultural,” “historical,” or “experiential” “landscape”), [8] or a map--a systematized large space marked by units, corresponding to the total number of monasteries present in a wide geopolitical area: the “monastic landscape” of Ireland, Scandinavia, or Slavonia. [9] This problem is complicated by semantic fungibility, as that in some articles landscape, settlement, and other material dimensions of material, spatial, or demographic reality appear synonymous. [10] Finally, much of the book describes landscape implicitly--without reference to that word, or as that subject--because the central, ubiquitous cognate discipline is archaeology. Several chapters include, as substantial sections, descriptions of the material fabric of a monastery, priory, church, “precinct,” or nearby space, so granulated that the prose morphs into almost raw archaeological reportage. [11]

Community is especially elusive. Its meaning is bifurcated in two sharply different directions. When the word is used, it refers, more or less explicitly, to groups of religious, that is, monks, nuns, friars, or sisters inhabiting monasteries or priories. [12] An important corollary of this specification is close attention by two authors, Bhreathnach and Valdez de Álamo, to spirituality and the religious experience of that population, expressed in strongly empathetic, indeed affectionate language. [13] Beyond this, community undergoes a retrenchment: the word becomes barely visible in the prose, and, when used, seems conventional and unspecified. [14] It, and the whole subject, are displaced at the outset of the book, as attention shifts to that other designation of a socially relevant population: the familia monastica. That is the book’s titular “community.” Unlike the words marking out the other big subjects, these two have no intrinsic meaning, prompting, uniquely in this book, a sharp specification of what is meant. This occurs in exactly three places: Bhreathnatch’s introduction; her opening article; and the article by Cariboni. Otherwise, throughout the entire first part devoted to this subject, the familia is neither mentioned nor specified--let alone problematized or foregrounded.

Hence another range of specificity of what and who comprised this population. At the core--in what should have been, but regrettably is not, a model of clarity for the book on all its subjects--Cariboni specifies the population comprising the familia (or, to be exact, one subset of it) in terms of precise, tangible criteria of association: an explicit agreement; a vow; a written document; and a liturgical role or status, including, among much else, commemoration (Cariboni, 198-201, 206-08). To other authors, the familia is identical to community in its core meaning of a group of monastics, specified above (Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 24); or a subordinate population linked to a monastery through an economic role (possibly coupled with a liturgical relationship) such as lay brothers (conversi), or specialists in fishing, transport, or extraction and processing of a valued commodity--in this book, most conspicuously salt. [15]

Beyond those meanings, this population becomes enormously open-ended. In her introduction, Bhreathnach’s familia encompasses all kinds of people who bore some specifiable relationship to a monastery: ranging from the actual religious outward (Bhreathnach, “Introduction,” 3-8). Based on the individual articles, perhaps the most recurrent such relationship is interdependence between a monastery and key agents in its surrounding world: kings (occasionally emperors and other rulers), lords (sometimes specified as a knights, or as “nobles”), smaller landholders, and urban or civic groups, including merchants; and, in the ecclesiastical world, bishops (including, at the apex, the bishop of Rome), and the monastic orders to which a house belonged. [16] Ubiquitously, that relationship is described, with that word, as patronage. [17] Among their other roles, the patrons were founders of, donors to, and protectors (or, on the contrary, adversaries) of monasteries. These roles overlapped with conquest, territorial and political dominance, and related processes of settlement and colonization. For everyone in this population, the relationship with monasteries was a resource in competition among one another for land, resources, and other attributes of geopolitical power.

One dimension of such relationships is cognitive, marked by some authors with two tags that are crucially important among historians today, though perhaps a bit overused [18]: identity and memory. In this book, identity is usually related (and, as a word, placed next) to patronage (Thomason, 76-77; Burton, 105-06). What this appears to mean is that groups of religious took on some kind of specific, collective profile (possibly including self- or other-awareness), in relation to their patron or patrons, and, through them, to some larger world and set of ideas. [19] Examples abound. Political domination through royal conquest, or the fact of multiethnicity along a “frontier” or “boundary,” lead, on the part of affected religious, to an awareness that was: what I would call “national” (pro-English, pro-Scottish, pro-Welsh…) [20]; or personal (experienced in relation to especially significant actors) [21]; or spiritual and cultic (where the patrons and the religious related to that other great generic actor: the holy dead--the saints, and their relics--and through them, God. [22] While memory appears more seldom and more allusively than identity, the word, when used, seems to mean such states of cognition or awareness as experienced and developed over time. [23]

Two authors specify these two subjects with unusual precision. In one section of her article, Burton lodges the “identity” present in her Welsh monastery in collective self-awareness: “the ways in which the monks...thought of themselves in relation to their patrons and their locality, and to the Cistercian Order.” Moreover, in that self-awareness, the author discerns a subjective conundrum for this community: “how was this layered identity played out and negotiated?” (Burton, 105-06). Cariboni pins down the subject of as yet another attribute of the population comprising the familia monastica. He specifies that population as a collective actor that experienced, underwent, embodied, and performed memory--meant as actual remembering: above all, through commemoration, described at in detail, and, moreover, situated in the practices of different monastic orders, especially the Cistercians in the earlier Benedictine context. Here we have two unusually careful specifications of these two subjects. Identity and memory are lodged as attributes of the past populations to which they pertain, rather than general classifications or retroactive inferences made by historians.

The economy infuses the entire book, across a broad spectrum of monastic interaction with material resources: acquisition, consumption, production, exchange or distribution, and active transformation. The effect is, fully in character, a diffuse mass of insights, among which several patterns stand out. Right up front, those patterns are complicated by a curious commitment, first expressed the words of Bhreathnach’s opening three big constituent subjects (2), then repeated verbatim in the titles of the book’s parts, and in several chapters. Regarding the economy, the monastic world is consistently positioned as the independent variable. We are repeatedly assured of agency by monks and monasteries in the creation, enhancement, “management,” and the like, of resources, and in the shaping or transformation of landscapes, settlement, the environment--in sum, of the entire socio-spatial universe where monasticism was present and that is the subject of this book. [24]

This implication of agency is less than convincing. The actual documentation adduced by authors who assert agency presents the religious overwhelmingly in the role of a consumer. Typically, the interaction between monks and economic resources is acquisition--through consolidation, possession, and use--of estates and their revenues: markets, exchange, coin, grain, water, fish, rock, wild game, wood, or salt. [25] In view of the book’s strong emphasis on space, the most visible activity related to consumption is a targeted physical placement: a deliberate construction of monastic units (monastic houses themselves, their estates, or both) in those locations where such resources were situated. [26] This emerges as a recurrent strategic act, preceding acquisition, consumption, and modification. Regarding monasticism’s impact on the acquired resources, we do indeed have important demonstrations of transformative activity: creation of granges (perhaps the most familiar) and “monastic towns” (Hodgson, 431-34, 439; Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 22-23), acquisition and processing of rock for construction, uses of water for irrigation, drinking, and hygiene, and creation of transport networks in conjunction with acquisition, especially of salt and fish. [27] While such glimpses of economic agency are vivid, they are also, in the book as a whole, relatively fragmentary.

On the subject of resources, the book’s real contribution is simpler--though, I must add, no less important. The book richly places monasticism and its surrounding material socio-spatial universe in a highly textured, mutual and mutually explanatory context. When freed of the (slight) red herring of one-sided agency, it becomes what accomplished books on the material aspect of monasticism inevitably are: good economic history--meant in that highly concrete, socially based sense in which that discipline is currently reemerging. To add to this value, this particular example of economic history is much enhanced by innovatively rigorous archaeological recovery, especially historical geology signalled here as “geo-” and “hydromorphology.” [28] Soil, soil quality, minerality, riverbeds and -flows, all converge with other material attributes to present us with the book’s constituent subjects--above all, landscape--in a very literal sense of this expression, in depth.

A subject that, while not explicitly marked out in the titles of the book or its parts, emerges seamlessly out of the others is the frontier--or its near-synonym, the boundary. Bhreathnach first raises this subject in a fascinating section of her introduction, where she notes its permanent impact on this entire collective project. She recalls that the initial focus of this group of scholars upon what is conventionally considered one of the “frontier” regions of Europe--Wales--has stymied the subsequent recruitment of colleagues concerned with what we think of as medieval Europe’s “core,” and thus with the Continent as a whole (Bhreathnach, “Introduction,” 2). That impact is still visible in the book. Despite the inclusion of France, England, Italy, and Germany, [29] most articles are still lodged in places and polities situated either in that (apparently) distant macroregion, [30] or in the peripheral spaces of their “core” counterparts. [31]

What actually turns on that fact--on that faraway location--is not clear. In some chapters, the frontier designates a zone of separation between two polities, or two ethnic-specific areas of settlement. [32] Elsewhere, it means the geographic edge on a very big scale: such as proximity to a (notionally faraway) sea (Immonen, 303, 305, 323). On exceedingly rare occasion, authors give semantic markers of the frontier (and its transition) that rely on the classic work by Robert Bartlett: “nucleated settlement,” “urbanization,” and, with one mention each, “Europeanization” and “proto-urban.” [33] This subject, too--in exactly one place--acquires a crisp meaning. Immonen devotes an important excursus to a distinction between frontier and border, with great precision: as she defines the latter as a highly specific kind of closely managed, politically potent, variant of the frontier (Immonen, 304, and fuller text). Here, however, I must return to the recurrent pattern. This specification of what is meant by a big subject is beyond rare: it is unique.

That last observation gets me back to the book in its entirety, and to Bhreathnach’s opening invocation of the mix of unity and diversity. While well expressed, the dichotomy between standardization and “diversity,” especially when phrased at the level of generality presented here, seems today quite familiar. A reader might be forgiven for questioning its value-added, regarding not merely the monastic world, but any large-scale aspect of past reality, where overall patterns always, in the nature of things, work within, and in multilateral reference to, localized variants or adaptations. While this concern is partly offset by the rich crop of highly textured (and themselves diverse!) studies of the kind of regional variation previewed by these broad statements, what seems incomplete--indeed, in my view, not undertaken--is any clear overall standard with reference to which the diversity or adaptation are conceptualized.

Despite its somewhat inchoate qualities, the book reflects a quality that must be appreciated: the lasting value of new research along well-established, but also permanently important directions. This volume, and the impressive collaboration it culminates, comprise a meticulous research project of a kind that, while perhaps familiar in its big contours, is continuously productive of good work, in empirical, conceptual, and interdisciplinary depth, innovative in specific methods and the resulting particulars. In that sense, as perhaps in others, the book offers us a panorama of the “state of the field” comprising one aspect of European monastic history.



1. In this regard, this book resembles (though does not cite) the multivolume sequence of studies on this subject regarding the lands of historical Poland, orchestrated by Marek Derwich, ed., Hereditas Monasteriorum, 6 vols. (Wrocław: Uniwersytet Wrocławski, 2012-2016).

2. Bhreathnach, “Nature,” 25; Valdez de Álamo, 176-77; Collins, 282, 292.

3. That modification is needed because the chapters all reproduce in microcosm one quality of the volume as a whole: a thematic complexity--a collage of subjects--which is at the same time exuberant, and unevenly managed. In this regard, my approach differs from Bhreathnach’s, who summarizes the articles in that full complexity--thereby, in my view, replicating at the outset the challenge posed the whole volume. I do not mean this as a criticism. On the contrary, after some experience with editing collections of highly disparate texts, I salute Bhreathnach for her reach at thematic comprehensiveness and inclusion.

4. Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 22-23, 37, 39; Hommedal, 45, 69; Jakobsen, 342; Almeida Marado, 357, 360, 374-75; Curran, 523-24.

5. Felskau, 216-17, 222-24, 240; Jakobsen, 342-43.

6. Burton, 104; O’Carroll, 122-23.

7. Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 23, 37; Hommedal, 64; Sandron, 258; Immonen, 303, 305, 319; Jakobsen, 331; Almeida Marado, 357, 359; Pleše, 393; Keller, 426; Hodgson, 431; Toda, 482.

8. Thomason, 91; Burton, 105; Sandron, 258; Pleše, 383-84; Curran, 523-27.

9. Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 37; Hommedal, 52; Toda, 477; Curran, 523-24, 526-27.

10. Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 37; Hommedal, 64; Felskau, 217; Almeida Marado, 357; Keller, 426; Curran, 523-24.

11. Hommedal, 54-58, 61-64; O'Carroll, 126-48; Collins, 288-92; Pleše, 395-400; Toda, 483-91.

12. Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 24, 37; Stöber, 157; Sandron, 274; Immonen, 308; Hoffmann and Ross, 452.

13. Bhreathnach, “Introduction,” 7, 15, 25; Valdez del Álamo, 171, 175, 177-80 184-91.

14. Thomason, 83, 91; Burton, 105; Stöber, 156.

15. Hodgson, 438; Toda, 479.

16. Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 34; Hommedal, 48, 69; Thomason, 75-79, 81-82, 91; Burton, 104-06, 114-15; O’Carroll, 122-23, 149; Stöber, 156 (“local gentry”); Cariboni, throughout; Felskau, 221-23, 234, 240; Immonen, 303, 323; Keller, 410, 426; Hoffmann and Ross, 451, 453; Toda, 479, 482; Jauregi, 503-05, 510-12, 515, 517-18.

17. Thomason, 74, 76-77, 80, 84; Burton, 104-06, 115; O'Carroll, 123; Felskau, 234; Collins, 277-78; Jauregi, 517.

18. For an explanation of this comment, see Piotr Górecki, “Words, Again...,” in Conflict, Language and Social Practice in the Middle Ages: Selected Essays of Isabel Alfonso, ed. Julio Escalona, Álvaro Carvajal Castro, and Cristina Jular Pérez-Alfaro (Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming 2022).

19. Hommedal, 46, 69; Thomason, 76-78; Burton, 105, 115; Jauregi, 503.

20. Thomason, 78, 84-85; Burton, 112, 114-15.

21. Hommedal, 69; Thomason, 76-78; Burton, 105; Jauregi, 503.

22. Hommedal, 46, 69; Burton, 115.

23. Hommedal, 46, 69; Burton, 115; Cariboni, 196-97, 202; Jauregi, 518; Curran, 525-27.

24. Bhreathnach, “Irish,” 22-23, 37; O’Carroll, 122-23; Felskau, 216-17, 240; Sandron, 258, 270; Immonen, 303, 305; 319), 323; Pleše, 383; Hoffmann and Ross, 454-55; Toda, 495.

25. Carboni, 202, 204; Felskau, 217, 219, 222, 224, 230, 233-34, 238; Immonen, 305, 317; Jakobsen, 331-32, 343; Pleše, 394; Keller, 209; Hodgson, 431, 435, 438-41; Hoffmann and Ross, 452-55, 460; Toda, 477-79, 481, 488, 491-93, 495; Curran, 524-25.

26. Felskau, 222, 224, 230, 233-34, 238; Immonen, 303, 305, 308; Jakobsen, 331-32, 342; Almeida Marado, 359; Pleše, 395.

27. Felskau, 230; Immonen, 311, 319, 323; Keller, 414-16, 426; Hodgson, 431-35, 438-41, 446; Hoffmann and Ross, 451-55; Toda, 477-79, 488, 491-95.

28. Pleše, 395; Toda, 477, 481, 483-84.

29. Thomason (England/Cumbria); Burton (Italy); Valdez de Álamo (Spain); Cariboni (Italy); Sandron (France); Keller (Germany).

30. Bhreathnach, “Irish” (Ireland); Hommedal (Norway); Thomason (England/Cumbria); O'Carroll (Ireland); Stöber (Catalonia); Felskau (Bohemia/East Central Europe); Collins (Ireland); Immonen (Finland); Jakobsen (Scandinavia); Almeida Marado (Portugal); Pleše (Slavonia); Toda (Hungary); Jauregi (Basque Country).

31. Thomason (England/Cumbria); Hodgson (Scotland); Hoffmann and Ross (Scotland).

32. Thomason, 73, 76-78, 80, 83, 85; Burton, 103-05, 112, 115; O’Carroll, 122; Collins, 278; Keller, 410.

33. O’Carroll, 122-23; Feldskau, 216-17; Immonen, 303, 309, 323. For Bartlett's work as context: Bhreathnach, “Introduction,” 15-16 (n. 17); John Hudson and Sally Crumplin, eds., “The Making of Europe”: Essays in Honour of Robert Bartlett (Leiden: Brill, 2016).