restricted access Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World (review)
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Reviews 175 Parergon 21.1 (2004) period and then there was no compulsion for the incumbent to record godparents. A sampling of printed parish registers for England as a whole revealed those actually mentioning godchildren to be small, at only 3.4%. This caveat apart, by the end of the book we are convinced that the significance of spiritual relationships may have been greater than historians have imagined. It is the organic quality of this book – melding social, economic, religious and political facets of the institution that has allowed Coster to achieve so much. The result is the standard work on early modern English godparenthood . It is to be hoped that historians might take up the challenge for other time periods. Pamela Sharpe School of Humanities (History) The University of Western Australia Effros, Bonnie, Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World, University Park, PA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002; cloth; pp. xiv, 255; 10 b/w plates, 4 b/w maps; RRP US$45; ISBN 0271021969. Bonnie Effros investigates the importance of burial customs and memorialisations of the dead to Merovingian communities, and particularly to Merovingian families and clerical elites. The sources used are predominantly written ones, namely epigraphic material, law codes, hagiographies, wills, histories, visionary literature, penitentials, church council decrees, and more. Effros is aware of the problems of ascertaining burial and commemorative practice from written documentation – she mentions that much of the written record comes from the more Romanised area south of the Loire, whereas the archaeological evidence of cemeteries tends to come from north of the Loire where the Franks were more prominent. Throughout the book it is often pointed out that we cannot really know just how often church regulations concerning burial practice were implemented. But, despite the problems with the sources, Effros argues that the wide variety of written sources can help us understand the importance of burial rites among a wide variety of medieval communities. The book is small format and the text is relatively short. In chapter I the focus is on the written sources for grave goods, particularly goods such as clothing and personal possessions interred with the deceased. Effros discusses 176 Reviews Parergon 21.1 (2004) how difficult it is to identify what these goods’ symbolic values really were. Overall, she suggests that the capacity for grave goods to reflect ethnicity and religious preference has been overstated but that, if anyone believed grave goods were clear windows on to individual belief and practice, then it was the medieval clergy. Chapter II also examines grave goods, this time through analysing the lay and clerical regulation of such deposition. Effros concludes that there was in fact no concerted lay or clerical program of dictating burial rites (not until the eighth century, that is) and, further, that when the custom for grave goods began fading away in the late seventh century then this was for entirely independent reasons such as frustration at the high rate of grave robberies. Even when the clergy did gain more influence over funerary practices from the eighth century onwards, the details are often difficult to reconstruct. By permitting the laity to be buried in parish cemeteries, clerics gained more input into burial practices than they had enjoyed when row grave cemeteries had been the norm. But neither the archaeological nor the written record provides precise details of the clergy’s role in this switch from row grave cemeteries to church graveyards, thus indicating just one of many instances where the process of change is less clear than we would like. Chapter III investigates epigraphic evidence from grave sites. Effros points out that inscriptions were more common in the fifth century than in the eighth, that they are generally found south of the Loire rather than all throughout the Merovingian realm, and that they tended to present an idealised identity rather than a genuine one. With such a partial kind of source, the reader could be forgiven in thinking that conclusions might be few. However, Effros argues that epigraphy played more of a role in the late Merovingian period than previously believed. Those who commissioned epigraphy were traditionally the elites in society, and Effros...