Rezension über:

Jürgen Bärsch / Stefan Kopp (Hgg.): Die Kathedrale im Kontext der mittelalterlichen Stadt. Liturgie und ihre sakraltopographischen Bezüge (= Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen; Bd. 116), Münster: Aschendorff 2023, 407 S., 9 Farb-, 23 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-3-402-11294-6, EUR 49,00
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Rezension von:
Felix Clayton McClure
St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Ralf Lützelschwab
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Felix Clayton McClure: Rezension von: Jürgen Bärsch / Stefan Kopp (Hgg.): Die Kathedrale im Kontext der mittelalterlichen Stadt. Liturgie und ihre sakraltopographischen Bezüge, Münster: Aschendorff 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 5 [15.05.2024], URL:

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Jürgen Bärsch / Stefan Kopp (Hgg.): Die Kathedrale im Kontext der mittelalterlichen Stadt

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I have recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Jürgen Bärsch's and Stefan Kopp's (eds.) book, whose title I shall translate for the benefit of purely Anglophonic readers as follows:

The Cathedral in the Context of the Medieval City: Liturgy and its Sacred-Topographical Connections.

The book's first chapter, written by the editors (1ff.), gives clear direction to the rest of the volume and situates its theme in its scholarly context. A broad overview of academic usage of the term "Sakraltopographie" [1] is given, fleshing out this potentially confusing piece of specialist terminology, and connecting the seemingly disparate topics under its aegis. As the editors explain, the term has been used in numerous ways by scholars in a variety of disciplines, whose later collaboration has proven especially fruitful. Thus, the editors understand the concept as a paradigm for use in liturgical studies from many different angles, synthesising various aspects of the more restricted uses which precede it (13f.). This idea remains palpable throughout the book, where a plethora of details of the relevant cathedrals and their activities serve a common desideratum: they all contribute to understanding how medieval liturgy relates to real and imagined space.

The relationship of the introductory chapter to the rest of the book highlights the strengths of this format. Had the individual contributions taken the form of separate articles published in journals, many of them would have required further introductory explanation, and their common goals would have been far less clear.

Given the limited scope of this review, I refrain here from systematically discussing the rest of the contributions. Instead, I restrict myself to summarising some of the book's overall strengths. I illustrate these with reference to examples from particular contributions, without implying superiority over the chapters not mentioned.

First, as previously mentioned, the interdisciplinary and diversity of perspectives promised by the introductory chapter are consummately delivered. The topics discussed are (small-c) catholic in nature, ranging from processional routes and calendars, through cathedrals' administrative and financial organisation, to the political aspects of liturgical reform. There is no lack of detail: a particular honourable mention must go to Enno Bünz's chapter (35ff.), which I must agree with the editors in describing as a programmatic (14) treatment of cathedral-parish relationships throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Though thus steeped in architectural details and written sources, the book keeps in line remarkably well with the mission set out in the introductory chapter, with its many strands of discussion converging on the central theme.

As well as a wide range of objects, I was struck by the far-reaching implications of the arguments delivered at various points during my reading. A notable example is Johanna Beutner's chapter on Frauenstifte, women's secular convents (199ff.). Discussing the idea of gendered research, the author takes a fruitful new angle on the women's convents, where their gendered nature is synthesised with, rather than overriding, other aspects of concrete historical context. Thus, this chapter demonstrates a methodological attitude which is potentially applicable in a vast number of other areas. Beyond methodological considerations, a sense of social relevance and general applicability was consistently palpable during my reading. There is a wealth of detail on the material and organisational aspects of cathedral life, and the book never loses perspective on the central factor of sacred topography as experienced by medieval churchpeople. A nuanced attitude towards this topic is made explicit in the closing remarks of Bärsch's discussion of Bamberg's liturgical reforms under Albrecht von Brandenburg (384).

As well as the book's overall structure, as previously discussed, the arguments of the individual contributions flowed well. A particular highlight for me in terms of structure was Kopp's chapter on Paderborn's sacred topography (123ff.), which featured introductory sections devoted to elaborating upon the sources used, before the author analysed their content in his main arguments. A similar tactic is used in Bärsch's aforementioned chapter (365ff.). As a non-specialist reader, I found this kind of structure a great aid to my understanding, since I did not have to break the flow of the author's argument quite so often to understand its textual basis. While not always arranged in such a format, a transparent and critical treatment of sources is a consistent theme throughout the book, with plenty of elaboration and judicious use of footnotes. This obviated a great deal of homework which might otherwise have been necessary during my reading. The selection of photographs, maps and diagrams included in some chapters are also a welcome addition, adding concreteness to the book's spatial and architectural discussions.

I find myself hard-pressed to describe a real weakness in this volume, which I found a rather exciting read. I must also remark on the fact that I, a second-language German speaker, found the text here generally less of a hassle to get through than other German-language scholarly works which I have read.

Overall, this is a stimulating read for those interested in many aspects of liturgical and medieval studies. Given its focused interdisciplinarity and the pregnant nature of its contributions, it is also a gateway to such interests for an even broader range of scholars.


[1] This term corresponds to "sacred topography" as well as "sacral topography" in the English-language works revealed by my cursory searches on the topic. I render it here as the more common sacred topography, which also avoids confusion with the physiological sense of sacral.

Felix Clayton McClure