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23.08.09 Giraud/Linde (eds.), A Companion to the English Dominican Province

23.08.09 Giraud/Linde (eds.), A Companion to the English Dominican Province

In 1221, the first Dominican friars arrived in the British Isles and founded their first priory in Oxford, which was to be followed by numerous other foundations in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Published on the occasion of the jubilee of the English Dominican Province, this companion offers a useful overview of the period from the beginnings to the Reformation. However, most of the contributions focus on the thirteenth, fourteenth, and early fifteenth centuries, which is certainly due to the lack of relevant sources (e.g., the acts of the English provincial chapters from that period have not survived). Nevertheless, it is regrettable that no standalone article was devoted to the dissolution of the priories during the Reformation and that we only learn more about the consequences of the Reformation in the two essays on the Dominican priories in Scotland (by Richard Oram) and Wales (by Janet Burton and Karen Stöber).

After a detailed introduction by the two editors, which offers a very helpful list of the medieval houses of the Dominicans in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales (22-25), the first four articles are devoted to “Space and Place.” Jens Röhrkasten points to the close relations of the English Dominicans with the Crown, referring, e.g., to the importance of the Dominican royal confessors in the thirteenth century. A small elite of friars also acted “as confidential advisers and ambassadors” (46). By means of numerous ground plans and photographs, Anne-Julie Lafaye illustrates the architecture of the Dominican friaries in the medieval landscape of Britain and Ireland. Richard Oram describes the presence of the Dominicans in Scotland. Janet Burton and Karen Stöber cover the foundations in Wales, where the Dominican friars were religiously and politically important despite their “limited presence in comparison with other, more urbanised, regions in the British Isles” (175).

In a second part on “Preaching and Pastoral Care,” Steven Watts looks into the surviving sermons of Master Jordan of Saxony, which he gave during a stay in England. Andrew Reeves describes how Dominican friars functioned as confessors and catechists in thirteenth-century England.

The third part is devoted to the areas of “Education and Intellectual Life.” John T. Slotemaker and Jeffrey C. Witt present the “English Dominican Intellectual Tradition” using the examples of Robert Bacon, Richard Fishacre, Robert Kilwardby, Thomas Sutton, and Robert Holcot; the two authors emphasize, however, that there was no specific English Dominican school of thought. The Dominican educational system was, as J. Cornelia Linde makes clear in her outstanding article, designed and regulated by the central general chapters of the order.

The fourth and final part of the volume examines “Devotional Cultures.” Alexander Collins discusses the few surviving works of art owned by, produced by, or associated with medieval English Dominicans, and he also mentions the only friar-artist of the English province known by name, the illuminator John Siferwas (fl. 1380-1421). Eleanor J. Giraud demonstrates that despite the liturgical uniformity of the Order of Preachers, there was indeed “some space for creativity and local individualisation within the Dominican liturgy” (365). Nigel J. Morgan ends with a helpful overview of the few liturgical manuscripts of the English Dominicans which survived in different archives and libraries.

It cannot be expected of a companion to address all desirable topics and research questions. Nevertheless, a more detailed discussion of the former research and the historiography of the English Province (especially by William Hinnebusch, but also by other scholars) would have been helpful. Furthermore, the establishment of an Irish Province (covered briefly in the introduction (7-9)), which was only confirmed in the second half of the fourteenth century after decades of debate and conflict, would have merited a more extensive investigation---not least because the Franciscans founded an independent Irish Province as early as 1230. Moreover, friars such as Robert of Reading and his sensational conversion to Judaism remain curiously unmentioned, even though Jens Röhrkasten briefly discusses the English Dominicans’ involvement in the mission to the Jews (45-46).

Despite these minor criticisms, the two editors and the contributing authors have successfully provided a much-appreciated overview that invites readers to delve deeper into the medieval history of the English Dominican Province. Future research will gladly draw on this companion with its solid results and its detailed general index which increases the book’s accessibility.