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Queenship and Sanctity: The Lives of Mathilda and the Epitaph of Adelheid.

Queenship and Sanctity: The Lives of Mathilda and the Epitaph of Adelheid. By Odilo Epitaphium. Translated with an introduction and notes by Sean Gilsdorf. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. Pp. xviii, 222. $24.95.)

Hagiography is particularly complex when it has to deal with those in high positions. How are the obligations of a king or queen to be squared with the self-sacrifice and humility expected of a saint? How is the sexual abstinence of an ideal Christian to be squared with the obligation of a ruler to continue their line of succession?

This book deals with the lives of two queens: Mathilda, the consort of Henry I (commonly called "The Fowler"), duke of Saxony and then German king [r. 919-936]; and Adelheid, consort of Otto I (commonly called "the Great"), German king and finally emperor [r. 936-973]. Both of them were widows for many years, since Mathilda died in 968 and Adelheid in 999. They flourished in the post-Carolingian world of Saxon-dominated Germany and Burgundy, and after their spouses' deaths they necessarily continued to serve as queen mothers in an often-turbulent political setting. This was particularly the case after the disastrous end of the regime of Otto II, when his widow, the Byzantine princess Theophanu, served as co-regent of Germany with Adelheid on behalf of her child, Otto III. Clearly the life of such a person has to be viewed in phases, in which one ideal makes way for another (marriage, motherhood, widowhood). Through it all, the "reputation of sanctity" lends a holy aura to an otherwise secular personage. Both of these women were the objects of local cults, although Adelheid's links with the booming Order of Cluny gave her better and more consistent support. Adelheid was canonized by the second Cluniac pope, Urban II, in 1097. Her cult was not sustained by the Roman Catholic Church in the era of the Reformation, however, and it dwindled.

The centerpiece of this book is an annotated translation of two anonymous "lives" of Queen Mathilda, commonly called the "Older Life" (Vita antiquior) and the "Later Life" (Vita posterior), together with Abbot Odilo of Cluny's "Epitaph of Adelheid." They are well done and easily readable. There are three appendices with further excerpts from Widukind of Corvey's Res Gestae, a genealogical reconstruction of the Stirps Widukindi, and an analysis of an episode at the last parting of Mathilda and Otto I. The notes are extensive, as are the various layers of introduction. The bibliography will open the era to any student who has adequate languages. If there is a truly novel element here, it is the stress placed on the Saxon (and in the case of Adelheid, Burgundian) tradition living on in the second half of the tenth century. Sean Gilsdorf seeks to make these biographies, as a group, a microcosm of the dynastic and religious context of the later tenth century. He has succeeded.

Steven Rowan

University of Missouri, St. Louis

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Author:Rowan, Steven
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Words:493
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