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Monastic Reform as Process

Realities and Representations in Medieval Flanders, 900–1100

by Steven Vanderputten

Publication Year: 2013

The history of monastic institutions in the Middle Ages may at first appear remarkably uniform and predictable. Medieval commentators and modern scholars have observed how monasteries of the tenth to early twelfth centuries experienced long periods of stasis alternating with bursts of rapid development known as reforms. Charismatic leaders by sheer force of will, and by assiduously recruiting the support of the ecclesiastical and lay elites, pushed monasticism forward toward reform, remediating the inevitable decline of discipline and government in these institutions. A lack of concrete information on what happened at individual monasteries is not regarded as a significant problem, as long as there is the possibility to reconstruct the reformers' ''program.'' While this general picture makes for a compelling narrative, it doesn't necessarily hold up when one looks closely at the history of specific institutions.

In Monastic Reform as Process, Steven Vanderputten puts the history of monastic reform to the test by examining the evidence from seven monasteries in Flanders, one of the wealthiest principalities of northwestern Europe, between 900 and 1100. He finds that the reform of a monastery should be studied not as an "exogenous shock" but as an intentional blending of reformist ideals with existing structures and traditions. He also shows that reformist government was cumulative in nature, and many of the individual achievements and initiatives of reformist abbots were only possible because they built upon previous achievements. Rather than looking at reforms as "flashpoint events," we need to view them as processes worthy of study in their own right. Deeply researched and carefully argued, Monastic Reform as Process will be essential reading for scholars working on the history of monasteries more broadly as well as those studying the phenomenon of reform throughout history.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

This book has a long history. In 2005, I was awarded a research professorship at Ghent University that enabled me to devote the majority of my time to researching and publishing on medieval monasticism. I am grateful to Ghent University’s Special Research Fund for this privileged position, initially...


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pp. xi-15

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pp. 1-13

In 1162, an anonymous monk from the Benedictine monastery of Lobbes, now in the Belgian province of Hainaut, compiled a history of his community from the final decades of the tenth century to the present.1 His account was modeled on the gesta abbatum, or deeds of abbots, a genre in which a monastery’s...

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1. Corporate Memories of Reform

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pp. 14-30

Medieval monastic identities were shaped, maintained, and transformed through carefully steered processes of remembrance.1 By selecting and arranging both individual and shared experiences of the past and preserving them in a retrievable form, monks and nuns were able to ground a contemporary understanding...

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2. The “Failed” Reforms of the Tenth Century

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pp. 31-49

Scholars’ comprehension of the reforms of the early eleventh century is shaped by the notion that the reformers of the mid-tenth century had failed, or neglected, to impose on the monasteries of Flanders a mode of government sufficiently stable and self-sufficient to guarantee their disciplinary rectitude and...

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3. The “Dark Age” of Flemish Monasticism

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pp. 50-78

In chapter 1, we have seen how Simon, in his prologue to the chronicle of Saint-Bertin, claimed that he had been unable to find anything memorable for the period between 961/62, the final year described by Folcuin, and 1021, when Roderic of Saint-Vaast reformed the abbey. As it turns out, this was part of...

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4. Introducing the New Monasticism

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pp. 79-101

When a group of reformers in Lotharingia in the early eleventh century began propagating a new vision of Benedictine monasticism, they did not challenge the traditional emphasis on stability and seclusion from the world. Influential figures such as Richard of Saint-Vanne, Poppo of Stavelot, and William of Volpiano...

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5. Processes of Reformist Government

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pp. 102-130

The “second generation” of reformist abbots, even though they are accorded less stature in scholarly discussions than the chief protagonists of the reforms, was often a far longer lasting presence in the monasteries of Flanders. During their long and relatively stable abbacies, individuals like Leduin of Saint-Vaast,...

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6. Shaping Reformed Identities

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pp. 131-152

Richard of Saint-Vanne had definite—if, by all accounts, conservative—ideas about how life within the monastery should be organized, particularly in four interlinked domains. One concerned internal discipline, as represented most grippingly in his circular letter from 1012– 1013;1 the second referred to the remembrance...

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7. The “Waning” of Reformed Monasticism

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pp. 153-185

In his seminal article from 1986, “The Crisis of Cenobitism Reconsidered,” John van Engen argued persuasively that the challenges facing traditional Benedictine monasticism between c. 1050 and 1150 had an invigorating effect.1 Until then, the consensus had been that the sudden emergence of new forms of...

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pp. 186-189

“Reform” remains something of a black hole in scholarly discussions of the history of monastic institutions. Like the astronomical phenomenon, the reform of a monastery is often perceived as a single event of huge consequence, which can be used as a reference point to both interpret and evaluate that institution’s...

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Appendix A: Overview of the Leadership of Benedictine Monasteries in Flanders Reformed in the Tenth and Early Eleventh Centuries between c. 900 and c. 1120

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pp. 193-202

Dates of abbatial governments are often tentative, especially for the tenth and early eleventh centuries. For references to the primary sources and publications used to create this overview, see the relevant notes in chapters 2–5 and 7....

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Appendix B: Booklist of the Abbey of Marchiennes, c. 1025–1050

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pp. 203-204

Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 506, fols. 46r–47v; reproduced here after the edition in Vanderputten and Snijders, “Echoes,” 87–88. Shelf marks in square brackets contain possible identifications of surviving manuscripts....


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pp. 205-233


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pp. 235-247

E-ISBN-13: 9780801468117
E-ISBN-10: 0801468116
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801451713
Print-ISBN-10: 080145171X

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 840583228
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Monastic Reform as Process

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Subject Headings

  • Monasticism and religious orders -- France -- Flanders -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Monasticism and religious orders -- Belgium -- Flanders -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Flanders (France) -- Church history.
  • Flanders (Belgium) -- Church history.
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