- Remi de Reims: Mémoire d'un saint, histoire d'une Église
This book originated as a French doctoral thesis submitted in 2004. Like most French theses turned into books, it is a weighty tome. In more than 900 dense, although elegantly written, pages, Marie-Céline Isaïa documents the history of St. Remi of Reims and his construction as a holy figure from his lifetime up to the reign of the Capetian King Philip I (1060-1108), thereby covering seven centuries and three dynasties (the Merovingian, the Carolingian, and the Capetian) in Francia.
Rather than presenting an overarching argument, the book simply follows a chronological structure. Chapter 1 retraces the life of Remi, emphasizing the senatorial Gallo-Roman nobility to which he was born and his long-time partnership with Clovis, which resulted in the baptism of the Merovingian king in the late-fifth century or early-sixth century (Isaïa proposes 507 or 508, instead of an earlier date put forward by other historians), a watershed event that served to shape the cult of Remi in relation to the Frankish kings in the following centuries. Chapter 2 focuses on the Merovingian period and the composition of the first (extant) life of the saint in the middle of the eighth century. Isaïa sheds interesting light on the competition between different political lineages, Neustrian as well as Austrasian, in the appropriation of his cult, up to the time when Charles Martel definitively associated the saint with the Pippinid family in the second quarter of the eighth century. The subsquent chapter is devoted primarily to Hincmar's tenure as archbishop of Reims (845-82) and his promotion of the cult of Remi. The national vocation of the saint, whose baptism of the first Frankish king led Hincmar to proclaim him the "apostle of the Franks," signals an important shift in Remi's constitution as a royal patron and protector of the Frankish monarchy, a process that, following various developments discussed in chapter 4, comes to full fruition only in the reign of the first Capetians—in particular, that of Philip I.
The broad chronological scope of the study, combined with its minute examination of the extant documentation, forcefully establishes the slow formation of the cult of Remi and the constant interplay between local interests and national pretensions that contributed to project Remi as the premier saint of France. However, the reader can regret Isaïa's somewhat parochial approach and exclusive focus on Remi and Reims, which prevents her from exploring the broader political and religious contexts that would have, for instance, allowed her to situate the development of Remi as a royal saint in comparison with the competing figures of Ss. Martin and Denis. In that respect, a fuller treatment of Hincmar might have proven valuable, since he spent the first part of his career at the abbey of St. Denis, at a time when the [End Page 762] monastic community was busy promoting the role of the St. Denis as a Frankish patron, before his appointment at Reims. Similarly, the establishment of Remi as the protector of the Frankish monarchy at the time of Philip I could have been compared to contemporary efforts on the part of the abbeys of St-Denis and Fleury to attract royal attention by composing royal genealogies and histories of the Capetian dynasty.
Such reservations should not deter anyone interested in hagiography to welcome this important contribution to the field. In the wake of previous works by Felice Lifshitz and Thomas Head, Isaïa's study illustrates the fact that the cult of saints always lies at the intersection of religion and politics; of individual faith and personal ambitions; of local affairs and national aspirations.