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Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society in Medieval Italy: The Bishopric of Orvieto, 1100-1250.

Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society in Medieval Italy: The Bishopric of Orvieto, 1100-1250. By David Foote. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004. xiv + 256 pp. $50.00 cloth; $25.00 paper.

David Foote argues in Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society in Medieval Italy: The Bishopric of Orvieto, 1100-1250 that bishoprics played an integral role in the formation of civic culture in medieval Italy. Bishoprics served as the venue in which the populace "contested and negotiated the political and religious ideals that would shape their community" (2). Foote examines Orvieto as a case study to prove his contention. The territorial power of the Orvietan diocese, the administrative model it provided, and its participation in the creation of social norms meant that the bishopric was a central element in "regulat[ing] the competition to power" (3). Foote's discussion of Orvieto demonstrates how bishoprics helped to create communal institutions and promote the administration of civil justice. His close examination is the result of a thorough reevaluation of Orvietan episcopal registers, registers of the cathedral chapter, vitae of local saints, and papal documents.

Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society begins with a description of the disintegration of civil authority in Italy following the demise of the Carolingians. In the mid-tenth century the Italian bishopric became the focus of local power. It was the one remaining institution capable of enforcing political authority, since only the bishopric had adequate wealth and a bureaucratic framework. Soon, however, eleventh-century ecclesiastical reform compromised diocesan control. Baptismal churches (pieve) and monasteries began to gain full parish rights and the wealth that this privilege provided through burials, the collection of tithes, and baptisms. The bishopric in response attempted to expand its authority over the countryside, or contado, and assert its seignorial power. In this endeavor it utilized lay lords who, due to their own lack of resources or their desire to remain independent from competing terrestrial lordships, became the bishop's clients. The result was that Orvieto, like other cities, "depended on their bishop's ecclesiastical jurisdiction as the most effective tool for extending and, more importantly, justifying their political jurisdiction" (58-59).

This development does not mean that diocesan power was without challenges. Foote traces the effects of urbanization, subsequent reform movements, papal politics, and local events on the Orvietan bishopric and discusses how these changes resulted in processes of negotiation between the bishopric and the emerging communal government. One of his main arguments is that ecclesiastical and secular interests increasingly converged, and his discussion of the reemergence of episcopal power in the thirteenth century illustrates this point. The Orvietan bishopric underwent an economic crisis that resulted from the burden of defending the vast possessions the bishopric had amassed in the mid to late twelfth century. By the early thirteenth century, the bishopric had lost control of much of its property to local aristocrats and was in debt to the cathedral canons. Concomitantly, the Cathar heresy appeared in Orvieto. This situation prompted the papacy to support the bishopric more actively. Yet although ecclesiastical wealth increased through the papal alliance (with the exception of an interlude during which the city was under interdict), the bishopric's political authority began to decline. A breakdown in civil order occurred, which was epitomized by the murder of the podesta, Pietro Paranzo.

Civil justice returned when the diocese and the commune began to operate as a partnership to protect their shared interests. During the early thirteenth century the Orvietan commune, using the techniques learned from the episcopal bureaucracy, had developed an effective administration. Foote provides a detailed discussion of how written documents produced a "civic consciousness" (158). Since both the bishop and commune had these written technologies, they "shared a common logic" (162), and communal and episcopal interests overlapped. The commune and the bishopric banded together to keep political authority out of the hands of lay aristocrats, and both entities were able to centralize their power. By the mid-thirteenth century Orvietan civil society was dependent equally upon communal and episcopal administration.

In the course of his study, David Foote successfully demonstrates how the bishopric was an essential element of medieval state building through "territorial domination and constructing norms" (191). The intimate relationship between the sacred and the secular in the construction of a community is clearly described and illustrated. Foote's emphasis on the dominance of the bishopric in communal development, while undisputed in the tenth and eleventh centuries, perhaps is a bit overstated for the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The discussion of notaries and documents is a case in point. Although the bishopric definitely influenced the commune's use of such written technologies, by the thirteenth century it was the commune's subsequent development of these tools that provided the bishopric with the ability to administer its people and property. The relationship seems to be more one of give and take than characterized by the author.

Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society is a welcome addition to recent scholarship on the relationship between commune and diocese in such cities as Rieti, Lucca, and Florence. The reader, therefore, might benefit from a more thorough discussion of how Orvieto compares to these other cities and how the study fits into the historiography of Italian bishoprics. In particular, a rationale for why Foote chose to focus on Orvieto would be a welcome addition. Was it because records from this period happened to survive, and thus it makes a good case study? Was it because the history of communal and episcopal power in Orvieto is unique on account of its relationship with the papacy, or for another reason? Or was it because Orvieto is representative and thus proves a larger thesis about the nature of civil society throughout the Italian peninsula? Foote suggests the latter, but without an explanation of what makes Orvieto particularly significant, this aspect of his thesis is less convincing than the rest of this persuasively argued, thoroughly researched, and erudite work.

Janine Larmon Peterson

Indiana University, Bloomington
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Author:Peterson, Janine Larmon
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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