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Elma Brenner / Meredith Cohen / Mary Franklin-Brown (eds.): Memory and Commemoration in Medieval Culture, Aldershot: Ashgate 2013, XX + 354 S., ISBN 978-1-4094-2393-5, GBP 70,00
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Rezension von:
Anne Thayer
Lancaster Theological Seminary
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Ralf Lützelschwab
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Anne Thayer: Rezension von: Elma Brenner / Meredith Cohen / Mary Franklin-Brown (eds.): Memory and Commemoration in Medieval Culture, Aldershot: Ashgate 2013, in: sehepunkte 13 (2013), Nr. 10 [15.10.2013], URL:

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Elma Brenner / Meredith Cohen / Mary Franklin-Brown (eds.): Memory and Commemoration in Medieval Culture

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This volume grew out of the 2007 symposium of the International Medieval Society. It takes memory, a "hot topic" in medieval studies, and examines it through a variety of (mostly French) case studies, ultimately showing how rich and illuminating a lens onto the past memory can be. The editors are to be commended for their excellent introductory essay which clearly articulates a coherent vision for the volume as a whole. They note, "the study of memory and commemoration can open windows upon the diversity and complexity of medieval culture and the respective roles of philosophy, rhetoric, religious beliefs and practices, and familial and community norms" (1). The introduction briefly sets forth the history of scholarship on the topic of memory, highlighting the foundational work of Frances Yates (The Art of Memory, 1996) and Mary Carruthers (The Book of Memory, 1990, 2008; The Craft of Thought, 1998). It then situates the essays in the various trajectories of work in the field, including gender, violence, religious practice, the construction of history, and the distinction between 'individual' and 'collective' memory. The remainder of the volume is organized thematically. As with any collection of essays, the quality is not uniform, but overall the essays here are quite good. Many are enhanced with well-chosen images.

Jean-Claude Schmitt gave a keynote address for the symposium. His essay begins Part I: Memory and Images. It provides a more detailed overview of scholarship and ends with an interesting discussion of the transformation of Ravenna's Sant'Apollinare Nuovo when the church was fitted for Roman Catholic, rather than Arian, worship. New imagery was provided, but salutary reminders of its heretical past were left in place. Also noteworthy in this section, Rosa Maria Rodriguez Porto's essay, "Beyond the Two Doors of Memory," offers a careful analysis of the illustrations of the battle of Troy in the Roman de Troie and the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César to show the interplay between visual and verbal memories.

The essays in Part II: Commemoration and Oblivion, offer little in the way of new conclusions, but do a good job offering specific historical evidence to illustrate their claims. For example, Mailan Doquang's essay, "Status and the Soul: Commemoration and Intercession in the Rayonnant Chapels of Northern France in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries," argues that those who invested in these multi-media commemorations sought earthly self-representation or displays of social status, post-mortem remembrance so that people would pray for their souls, and shortened times in purgatory as a result of prayers and masses. She includes a long discussion of the three memorial loci of Cardinal Jean de la Grange, Bishop of Amiens, particularly the chapels he commissioned for the cathedral of Amiens, which put him in the memorial company of both the king of France and the Queen of Heaven.

A great deal of recent work on medieval memory has been associated with reading and preaching. While preaching is not a major theme of the volume, reading and performance come to the fore in Part III: Memory, Reading and Performance. Here Mary Franklin-Brown's marvelous essay, "The Speculum Maius, Between Thesaurus and Lieu de Mémoire," offers a broad consideration of the changing organization of knowledge and the role of memory in it. She compares Vincent of Beauvais' Speculum Maius (c. 1244) with Rhabanus Maurus' De rerum naturis (842-6) and the Encyclopédie compiled by Diderot and others in the 18th century. Like the earlier work, the Speculum is presented as a tool for contemplation, but it also anticipates the later work by its great length, finding aids, and awareness of the need to preserve texts in danger of passing out of useful memory. As such it serves as "a memorial to an age of intellectual transformation" (162). Also of particular interest in this section for its careful attempt to ascertain actual practices of memory is John Levy's essay, "Acrostics as Copyright Protection in the Franco-Italian Epic: Implications for Memory Theory." After weighing the evidence for a range of memory strategies, he concludes that Niccolò da Verona assumed that the performer of his Pharsale would use an ars memorativa approach to produce a nearly unchanged memorized poem, even though it is more likely the mnemonic technique of jongleurs left some room for performative re-creation.

Part IV takes up Royal and Aristocratic Memory and Commemoration. Here M. Cecilia Gaposchkin's "Louis IX and Liturgical Memory" is noteworthy for its clarity and attention to enduring significance. She convincingly lays out the ways in which the "Cistercians memorialized the king as a quasi-monastic contemplative and ascetic; the royal court, as a glorious and sacral king; the Franciscans, as a new Francis, suffering on crusade in the work of passion and martyrdom" (276). Not only did this serve to add Louis' weight to existing ideals, it also shaped the communities' future through the ritual structure of communal memory. Because it was the court liturgy that made the transition into printed prayer books, "it was the royalized memory of Saint Louis [...] that flourished and then survived, bolstering the consistent and almost continuous role that Louis has played in the development of French national consciousness as the symbol of just kingship and legitimized political authority" (276).

Part V: Remembering Medieval France, contains three interesting essays on ways in which medieval France was "remembered" in the 19th and 20th centuries. In each case, objects from the past were reanimated and/or reinterpreted by activities reflecting contemporary tastes and concerns. The analytical categories created by Pierre Nora and Jan and Aleida Assmann are helpfully used here. The first essay describes the elaborate medieval banquet given in 1888 by the novelist and traveler, Pierre Loti. This event was well-researched using the available "archival memory," but offered a clear example of "working memory," in making choices for "luxury, atmosphere and exoticism," seeking to remember 1470 by bringing it back to life (296). The ruins of the great Cluniac monastery at Cluny were the focus of commemorations in 1898, 1910, and 1949, examined in the second essay. In 1898, the 900th anniversary of the Feast of All Souls, the Roman Catholic Church shaped the festivities and encouraged intercessory prayer. In 1910, the 1000th anniversary of Cluny's founding, civic pride came to the fore and featured a reenactment of Louis IX coming to meet Innocent IV, in keeping with modern ideas of reconciliation between church and state. In 1949, the commemoration celebrating the saint-abbots Odo (d. 942) and Odilo (d. 1049) focused on Cluny as part of France's cultural patrimony and its role as the "cradle of resistance" during World War II. Thus, "A new, modern appreciation of Cluny was born from these events that seemed to come from a long and local collective memory" (320). The third essay discusses a panel of stained glass fragments from the cathedral of Reims displayed in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. These shards had been collected by an ambulance driver after the massive bombings of the cathedral during WWI, framed and given to Gardner, a supporter of the American Ambulance Corps, as a gift of thanks. She hung the panel in her home near other objects evocative of medieval France and the religious memory of the dead. "Assembled in a riot of intense colours and set against the backdrop of memorials to loss in Gardner's museum, the artistic value of the glass pieces lies in the potent ability to evoke memories of the martyr cathedral, long after its disastrous loss has been all but forgotten by the modern world" (344).

I expect few readers of the book will read every essay; most will turn to those pages most closely related to their own work. But it is my hope that they will be tempted to read more broadly, for memory leads to many interesting places.

Anne Thayer