Going Medieval

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Conference Transactions 2013: Contributor Information

Brepols has requested a full MS of our transactions, and we aim to provide them with a fully edited manuscript by August 2015.


The principal aim of this book is to cast light on episcopal power in medieval Europe at its grass roots by examining its construction, augmentation and expression in local society. Bishops in this period who have attracted the most attention from modern scholars are often famous – or infamous – for their activities, ecclesiastical or secular, at a national or an international level. But the ability to exercise power and influence beyond the borders of their dioceses was predominantly determined by their impact as diocesan bishops and the potency of their power and authority in local society.

Episcopal power in local society was shaped by a number of factors, including a bishop’s interactions with other important holders of power at this level – such as local noble families, powerful monasteries and even the chapters of their own cathedrals – as well as the efficacy of their attempts to press the assortment of rights (both ecclesiastical and secular) associated with their office. A bishop who failed to wield power effectively at a local level was largely impotent when it came to exercising influence on a national or an international stage. The essays in this volume, which derive from papers delivered at a conference at Cardiff University in May 2013, will illuminate some of the different ways through which episcopal power in local society was (i) constructed, (ii) augmented, and (iii) expressed. By adopting such an approach, the book will highlight the principal facets of episcopal power in local society and the different ways they were exploited by bishops between c.1000 and c.1400 throughout medieval Europe. These ideas will be discussed in the conclusion. Please note, it is intended that the conference out of which this collection of essays has emerged will be the first in a series of colloquia dedicated to the study of the episcopal office in the Middle Ages.

As noted above, this essay collection will be divided into three parts: (i) Constructing Episcopal Power (ii) Enhancing Episcopal Power and (iii) Expressing Episcopal Power. The first section will deal with the networks of relationships that a bishop had to negotiate to build their power and authority on a local level, and the impact of social context upon the constructions and perceptions of episcopal power. The second section will consider the means by which this power might be enhanced, through saints’ cults, territorial policies and use of the law. The third and final section will narrow the geographical scope to look at four case studies in England. Drawing on the principles of construction and enhancement explored in the previous parts, these essays will look specifically at the physical means of expressing episcopal power and transmitting it across the local stage, through the physical buildings, ceremonies and processions, personal seals, posthumous miracles and visual demonstrations of saintly power, and the careful collation of written works, left deliberately behind for posterity.


Table of Contents


* i. Constructing Episcopal Power


‘Bishops, Chronicles and Historians: the case of Twelfth-Century Coventry’

Peter Coss

Through an examination of the actions of the bishops of Coventry and Lichfield during the twelfth century, this essay provides a case study of the relationship between a bishop and a powerful monastic community entrenched in local society. Its primary focus will be on producing a more balanced assessment of the achievements of the bishops by privileging evidence drawn from sources of a non-monastic provenance.


‘The power of the canons? Episcopal authority and the cathedral chapter of Sion (Valais) in the thirteenth century’

Melanie Brunner

The history of the diocese of Sion in the thirteenth century is dominated by the tussle for power between the bishops and their cathedral chapter. This essay will examine the development of this relationship through the chapter’s records, such as the electoral capitulations of 1273. It will illuminate some of the ways in which the chapter mediated and challenged the power of the bishop in theory as well as in practice.


‘The life, education and deeds of Robert Grosseteste: perceptions of episcopal power at thirteenth-century Lincoln’

Angelo Silvestri

Robert Grosseteste vigorously upheld his notion of true Christianity throughout his life, even, as Matthew Paris noted, on his deathbed in 1253. Grosseteste’s views were shaped by his education and his participation in a variety of activities as bishop of Lincoln. This essay will examine the formation of his views and their influence on his conception of episcopal power.


‘The cult of Saint Lô and the restoration of episcopal power in the diocese of Coutances in the eleventh century’

Chris Dennis

The restoration of the diocese of Coutances overseen by its eleventh-century bishops – in particular, Geoffrey de Montbray – constitutes an extraordinary and pivotal period in the history of the medieval diocese. This essay will examine how Geoffrey enhanced episcopal authority by binding his episcopate to that of the diocese’s most famous saint, Lô, a lesser known but nevertheless key factor of this restorative process.


‘Libertas ecclesiae in the periphery: Árni Þorláksson and the reform of the Icelandic church’

Heidi Anett Øvergård Beistad

Bishop Árni Þorláksson of Skálholt was an agent of power in a society on the fringe of Western Christianity; yet, by the time of his death, he had implemented the ideals of the papal reform movement with far greater success than any of his predecessors. This essay will illuminate the process by which Árni infused his provincial church with the ideals of Libertas ecclesiae, examining the reasons behind his achievements, particularly his ability to operate effectively within several spheres of power via his network of carefully cultivated relationships.


ii. Enhancing Episcopal Power


‘Holy bishops and the shaping of episcopal discourse in early eleventh-century Cambrai’

Pieter Byttebier

Gerard of Cambrai (1012-1051), an imperial bishop on the border between West- and East-Francia, stimulated, both textually and non-textually, the cult of local saintly bishops. By analysing two notable events – the royal-imperial meeting in Ivois of 1023 and the inauguration of Cambrai cathedral in 1030 – this essay will highlight how these local saint-bishops acted as the perfect symbols through which episcopal authority might be enhanced.


‘Bishop Zoen of Avignon and the programmatics of power’

Christine Axen

Set against the turbulent socio-political context and concomitant decentralization of the episcopate, Bishop Zoen of Avignon achieved his objective to restore waning episcopal authority as a result of his business acumen, spiritual leanings, and outsider status. This essay examines the particular program by which Bishop Zoen fought during his first years in Avignon (1240-1245).


‘The territorial policies of the bishops of Liège in the tenth century: the case of Zoutleeuw and the duchy of Brabant’

Jelle Lisson

This essay examines the methods employed by the bishops of Liège in the tenth century to press their claim to the town of Zoutleeuw, situated in disputed territory on the fringe of their diocese. In particular, it will examine how the bishops extended their authority through the establishment of parish churches and tightened their grip on local society by exploiting ties of dependence with parishioners.


‘Episcopal power and local society in the countryside: the case of Brescia in the twelfth century’

Maria Chiara Succurro

The history of the diocese of Brescia in the twelfth century is dominated by the conflict between its bishops and the abbots of Leno, whose institution was exempt from episcopal jurisdiction. Through close examination of the rich archival sources for this conflict, this essay will examine the scope of episcopal authority and the way it conditioned local society as the bishops of Brescia sought to assert their dominance over the abbey of Leno.


‘Bishops’ deputies and episcopal power in medieval law’

Aaron Hope

By the early fourteenth century, the sight of an episcopal deputy administering a diocese on behalf of a bishop was not uncommon in Europe. This essay casts light on the emergence of the bishop’s deputy by locating the office in the development of medieval canon law, in particular the privileging of the notion of procurator cum plena potestate by canonists. Such an approach highlights the reconceptualisation of the bishop’s role in local society and the changing nature of the episcopal office during this period.


iii. Expressing Episcopal Power


‘Structures of power: examining new cathedrals and old saints on a local stage in post-Conquest England’

Charlotte Lewandowski

With particular reference to foundation, dedication and translation ceremonies, this paper will reassess the impact of the new cathedrals built by the Normans in conquered England. Far from solidifying the power of Norman bishops, these buildings brought into focus the emerging autonomy of the cathedral chapters. In particular, the separation of the mensa can be traced back to tensions that arose in response to the new buildings. In this way local disputes were the source of institutional changes in the structure of episcopal power. Far from being parochial concerns these debates redefined the limits of the bishop’s authority.


‘Sealing Episcopal Identity: bishops’ seals and family connections’

Melissa Julian-Jones

From the thirteenth century onwards, the personal seals of bishops in England began to display elements of their family arms, for which several reasons can be suggested. This essay will consider the socio-political context of the localities in which these bishops operated, the personalities of the bishops themselves, and the potential benefits of identifying themselves with their knightly kin in terms of wielding power at a local level, and therefore, also more efficiently on a national stage.


‘Popular perceptions of episcopal power in late thirteenth-century Hereford: Thomas Cantilupe and the case of Christina Cray’

Andrew Fleming

Miracles, such as the resuscitation of Christina Cray in 1294, following her friends’ invocation of Thomas Cantilupe’s help, provided powerful visual evidence of divine power – in this case, bestowed upon the late Bishop Thomas. This essay will analyse popular perceptions of episcopal power in late thirteenth-century Hereford through an examination of the testimonies of the witnesses to this miracle recorded thirteen years later during the papal investigation into Cantilupe’s sanctity.


‘“Despite the prohibition of the Lord Bishop”: John Grandisson, bishop of Exeter (1327-69), and the illusion of episcopal power’

John Jenkins

John Grandisson stands tall in most histories of the medieval West Country as a vigorous and effective administrator, disciplinarian, and patron of the arts. Yet a close study reveals that the trappings of power may be misleading. Through analyses of a series of case studies, this essay will present an alternative picture of Grandisson as a less effective bishop who carefully managed his image in order to create an illusion of episcopal power for posterity.



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