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Images of Sainthood in Medieval Europe.

Ed. by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Timea Szell. (Ithaca, NY; London: Cornell University Press, 1991). viii + 315 pp.; 21 illustrations. ISBN 0-8014-2507-7; 0-8014-9745-0. $40-25 (hard covers); $15.25 (p/b).

This welcome collection is more than the sum of its parts. Inevitably the fourteen essays vary in quality and significance, but together they fulfil the editors' aim of suggesting the diversity and richness of both mediaeval and modern approaches to hagiology. The editors have chosen and arranged carefully, dividing the contributions into three sections (|Hagiography and history', |The language of religious discourse', |Saintliness and gender), between which there are many fertile cross-connections, while Brigitte Cazelles draws together the volume's concerns in her introduction. It is unlikely that most readers will read all essays, but it would not be a waste of time to do so. The primary geographical and textual focus is north-western Europe, but the range of theoretical approaches and of materials makes for a lively yet sufficiently coherent sample of the new scholarship in a field which has too often been a poor relation in mediaeval literary, if not historical, studies.

Vauchez's earlier work tends still to be better known among European than Anglicist mediaeval scholars, so his short but characteristically lucid and authoritative survey of changing models of lay holiness is welcome. McNamara's fascinating study of changing practices in female gift-giving (including alms and voluntary poverty) and the varying role of such re-distribution in maintaining socio-economic relations and structures will be of wide interest, as is Kieckhefer's survey of lay and religious practices in the late mediaeval |culture of devotion'. Carrasco illuminatingly examines the interplay of typology, iconography and history in the eleventh-century libelli of Albin and Radegund from Angers and Poitiers; Little makes vivid a social and political matrix for the vengeance miracle and the practices of clamour and cursing in Wales; Jankofsky's categories of |national' and |Englishness' are not unproblematic, but (in the tradition of Horstmann, Wolpers, Gorlach) his essay evokes narrative riches in the South English Legendary which are still relatively unexploited by English scholars of Middle English. Uitti's account of female sanctity as the |vernacular hope' of |eleventh and twelfth century Frenchmen', for all its elision of the women who read and wrote twelfth-century French hagiography, outlines a fertile area of enquiry. Brownlee on Christine de Pizan and Robertson on Seinte Margarete deal with themes -- the politics of gender, authority and the body -- important in modern hagiographic scholarship, while Coakley explores these complexities to good effect in the relations of female saints and their Dominican biographers.

In the diverse and intriguing second section, the editors include Vitz's charting of hagiography's orality and its loss in humanist reception of the Legenda Aurea. Hahn's |Speaking without tongues' continues her valuable iconographical work, here explicating Romanesque illustration of Prudentius' account of the torture of Romanus and the child martyr Barulas. Psychohistory is difficult and speculative territory, but Gail Berkeley Sherman's careful application of Kristeva's work to |Saints, nuns and speech in the Canterbury Tales' offers fresh perspectives on representation and female voices, while Damrosch shows Bernard of Clairvaux crucially feminizing the language of sanctity in order to create |by inclusion and exclusion' his Cistercian community.

The volume's focus on the vernacular and on gender, with Latin hagiography one register among others, is not a mere matter of fashion, but good history. Cazelle's introduction draws attention to hagiology's simultaneous foregrounding and marginalizing of the feminine and of women: the collection further develops these positions and shows new directions evolving out of them (the possibility of our reconceiving mediaeval |translation', or of a new focus on vernacularity and political and cultural communities for instance).

The volume is well produced with few errors: the most serious one I noticed was on p. 273/8, where |our' (translating ME ower) should read |your'. Be publisher has commendably risked simultaneous hard and paperback editions. Not only will mediaevalists profit from this collection; they will also be able to buy it. Good.
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Author:Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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