Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Religion in Medieval Society. Essays in Honor of Lester K. Little
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Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Religion inMedieval Society. Essays in Honor of Lester K. LittleRobert C. Figueira aa Lander University , USAPublished online: 23 Jul 2012.
To cite this article: Robert C. Figueira (2000) Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Religion in Medieval Society. Essays in Honorof Lester K. Little, History: Reviews of New Books, 29:1, 36-36, DOI: 10.1080/03612759.2000.10525695
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03612759.2000.10525695
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Farmcr, Sharon, and Barbara H. Rosenwein, eds. Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Heligion in Medieval Society. Essays in Honor of Lester K. Little Ithaca: Cornell IJniversity Press 240 pp. , $45.00 cloth, $21.95 papcr ISBN 0-8014-34459 cloth ISBN 0-XO 14-8656-4 paper Publication Date: May 2000
In their introduction the editors claim that this volumes ten studies constitute some of the most forward-looking, cvcn cutting-edge, work i n the field of medieval history (1). The first thrce chapters involve rereadings of texts in such ii manner that traditionally received narrativcs bcconic morc complicated. In other words. traditional historical methodologies yield ncw paradigms.
Patrick Geary illustrates how the current scholarly debate regarding the turn of the rriillennitrm has ;I precursor dating lrom that very period. He reinvestigates a monastic car- tulary i n such a way as to illustrate how early- to-mid-eleventh-century monks used the excuhe o l recent violent discontinuity to justi- fy thc rcstoration of monastic property ;illegedly occupied hy laymen in the earlier, violcncc-fillcd years of the tenth ccntury.
In the second chapter Barbara Rosenwein disputes thc traditional vicw that thc practice of perpetual liturgical prayer at the alpine inomstcry of St. Maurice of Agaune was derived from Byzantine monastic practice of the Slcepless Ones (Akoimrtoi). She iden- tilies several more likely sources in tradi- tions of the local upper RhGne valley and in the ideology of the local episcopate. Alison Beach studies the scriptcrrici of two Bavarian tlouhle monasteries to gauge the collabora- tion of monks and nuns in thc writing of manuscripts. In light of the data, our under- standing of thc strict claustration of nuns in those religious houses must accept some modification.
The second series of three studies illus- trates how historians can transcend the texts that attempt to represent an external reality. Robert Brcntano investigates two distinct biographical texts regarding Peter of Mor- ronc, the later Pope Celestine V, and con- clutles that a considerable distance could exist between the text and the actuality it purported to describe. Luigi Pellegrini explores female religious experience in thir- teenth-century Italy to eliminate the male filters imposed by religious patrons who channeled female spirituality into approved patterns or by male writers who controlled the description of that spirituality so as to alter its content. Lisa Bitel investigates the practicc of clerical cursing in pre-Norman Ireland and notes its ubiquity in oral tradi- tion, its importance i n political culture, and i f \ signiticance in hagiography. The writers of saints lives not only ranked Irish saints according to the efficacy of their solemn curses, but even edified their readers with a veritable typology of maledictions.
The final series of four chapters represents a rethinking of hitherto accepted binary social constructs. Sharon Farmcr attacks such con- structs as oversimplifications. Her study of medieval Parisian beggars indicates that con- temporary elites associated laboring poor of both genders with bodies and appetites, that beggars of both genders were suspected of deceitful play-acting to secure more alms, and that the testimony of poor people regard- ing miracles was more likely to be tested by bodily manifestations.
Catherine Peyroux analyzes six pious tales wherein a saint or devout person kissed a leper, an action clearly transgressive of con- temporary social values. In several stories the leper functioned merely as the passive recip- ient of caritative attention, but in others he represented a substitute for Christ and thus a means of personal salvation. In any event, the didactic or symbolic strategies of those tales either downplayed or negated the lepers individual worth.
Amy Remensnyder describes the many levels of meaning in the ubiquitous Iberian Christian practice-in Spain of the Kecon- quistu and America of the conquistadors-of converting mosques and Amerindian temples into churches dedicated to Mary. In the final chapter Thomas Head discusses how the ordeal of fire was used during the tenth through twelfth centuries to authenticate whether certain human bones were saints relics. That practice underscored the link between true relics, which did not burn when placed on consecrated coals, and the saints bodies, which would suffer neither purgatori- al nor hellfire at the Last Judgment.
With a few exceptions the volumes essays are important, original contributions; the book is suitable for advanced undergraduate, graduate, and scholarly audiences.
ROBERT C. FIGUEIRA Lander University
Diebold, William J. Word and Image: An Introduction to Early Medieval Art Boulder: Westview 14X pp.. $40.00, ISBN 0-8133-3577-9 Publication Date: September 2000
Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604), in a letter to the bishop of Marseilles, who had pulled down and destroyed images in his church because he felt his people were treating them in an idolatrous fashion, chastised the bishop on the grounds that although images should not be adored, neither should they be bro- ken. The pope then added what became the standard rationale for religious representation in the West: Images should be tolerated because they are the Bible o f the illiterate. Specifically, a picture is displayed in church- es . . . in order that those who do not know let- ters may at least read by seeing on the walls what they are unable to read in books.
Most art historians have tended to accept Gregorys injunction at face value, but William J . Diebold takes a valuable stcp for- ward by detailing the varying and not at all straightforward relation of word and imagc i n early medieval art-understood for the pur-- poses of the book as art crcatcd north of the Alps from 600 to 1050. Diebold sets the enor- mous prestige of the word against the grow- ing need to articulate a more complex theolo- gy of the images often associated with it. For example, what was arguably a critical moment in defining the role of images in the West came as a result of the Byzantine cotin- cil in 787 that rationalized the reinstatement of images following the lcono versy. The Carolingian court responded vcr- bally with the Lihri Curolini. But perhaps of greater significance, Theodulf, bishop of OrlCans, responded visually in the mosaic i n the eastern apse of his chapel at Germigny- des-PrCs. The subject of the mosaic is the Ark of the Covenant, crafted at Gods command to hold the Ten Commandments (the second of which has always been at the hcart of objce- tions to religious imagery) and decorated, again at the will of the divine, with images of cherubim-altogether a most thought provok- ing juxtaposition of ideas.
In such discussions Diebold goes beyond mere matters of style and patronage. although those are addressed, to raise fruitful questions about the meaning and role of visu- al imagery in the early Midd.le Ages. An associate professor of art history and human- ities at Reed College, Diebold is well served by his interdisciplinary background. He does not stop with the look of an ob.ject hut probes its intellectual content. The objects with which Diebold deals run the gamut from illuminated manuscripts to architecture. The examples used are generously illustrated with four color plates and sixtythre