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  • Jocelin of Wells: Bishop, Builder, Courtier
  • S. D. Church
Jocelin of Wells: Bishop, Builder, Courtier. Edited by Robert Dunning. [Studies in the History of Medieval Religion, Vol. XXXVI.] (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, an imprint of Boydell and Brewer. 2010. Pp. xiv, 202. $95.00. ISBN 978-1-843-83556-1.)

This collection of essays on one of the most important bishops of his generation is divided into three sections: Jocelin as bishop, Jocelin as builder, and Jocelin's palace at Wells. Nestled between the covers of this volume is the collected wisdom of ten scholars, who have brought their expertise to the problem of understanding Jocelin of Wells (bishop from 1206 to 1242).

The outstanding essay in the collection is Sethina Watson's delightfully well-written piece exploring the relationship between the bishop and his two urban communities of Bath and Wells, and placing the development of that relationship within the general context of urban development in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Watson examines the reasons for Bath's failure to thrive as an episcopal seat and then shows how Wells emerged as a preferred location for the center of the bishop's administration. In addition, Watson has included a short and valuable essay on the hospital of St. John the Baptist at Wells. Watson's contribution has an extraordinary level of research embedded within it and makes a genuinely new contribution to our understanding of developments of episcopal towns; as such, it deserves to be cited by urban and ecclesiastical historians alike.

Matthew Reeve's essay on Robert Burnell's transformation of Jocelin's episcopal palace at Wells is equally well provided with high-quality research, if perhaps deployed without the wider vision so tellingly applied by Watson. He shows that Burnell (r. 1275-92) was a builder of considerable influence who played a crucial role in the development of Decorated style in domestic architecture. His is an important piece of reconstructive archaeology that will need to be referenced by anyone interested in the Decorated style and in episcopal palaces in general. [End Page 777]

Tim Tatton-Brown and Jerry Samson discuss Jocelin as a builder in Wells, the former putting palace building in the wider context of episcopal building works in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the latter looking at the archaeological evidence for Jocelin's works on the palace and the cathedral; his is an important and informative essay that brings up to date the published findings on the standing remains of Jocelin's work. Alex Turner, Christopher Gerrard, and Keith Wilkinson report on the geophysical and geoarchaeological surveys undertaken in 1998 and 2003-04. The evidence is presented in a clear manner, so that even the uninitiated can make sense of the important results achieved by those who conducted the surveys. Mark Horton sets the palace in its historic landscape raising questions about the relationship between the medieval bishop and his residence.

Three historical essays by Nicholas Vincent, Jane Sayers, and Diana Greenway look at Jocelin, the thirteenth-century bishop in general, and the cathedral chapter. All three pieces provide useful insights into Jocelin and his milieu, although the hypercritical reviewer might notice that there is an unfortunate degree of repetition between them, which a fiercer editor would have eliminated. David Hill has a fascinating exploration of the lichens that are to be found on the walls of the palace, illustrating the importance of the palace as habitation for these composite organisms.

The volume is lavishly provided with illustrations, including twenty-two color plates. These illustrations, in color and black and white, make a wonderful addition to the volume. The editor is to be congratulated for bringing together such a distinguished group of scholars. This is a splendid volume and is destined to become an important reference point for future studies. [End Page 778]

S. D. Church
University of East Anglia


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