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Reviewed by:
  • The Proprietary Church in the Medieval West
  • Giles Constable (bio)
Susan Wood, The Proprietary Church in the Medieval West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), xiii + 1020 pp.

Readers should not be frightened off by the length and weight (almost five pounds) of this volume, which is an important contribution to the history of the early medieval church. Though well-written, however, it is not easy to read, owing to the mass of detail, in which it resembles a medieval cartulary. It may be wise to begin at the end: part IV has synthetic sections on the church as a person (the owner of property) and a thing (the object of property) — on the many ways it could own and be owned. There are sections as well on changes in the eleventh [End Page 490] and twelfth centuries, when reformers tried to free churches from lordship (both of lay proprietors and other churches) and when old ideas of ownership were replaced by new ideas of patronage. Parts I to III are a classified collection of particular instances of proprietary churches all over Europe from late antiquity until the twelfth century. The author frequently stresses the variety and complexity of the material. “Ambiguity, fuzziness, and even paradox,” she says, “may bring us closer to the proprietary church than logic or legal analysis.” Though occasionally confused, however, the reader is enlightened concerning the real workings of the medieval church, which was interpenetrated at every level by familial and private interests.

Giles Constable

Giles Constable is professor emeritus of historical studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and a fellow of the British Academy, American Philosophical Society, and Royal Historical Society. His books include The Reformation of the Twelfth Century, Culture and Spirituality in Medieval Europe, Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought, Cluny from the Tenth to the Twelfth Centuries, and Love and Do What You Will: The Medieval History of an Augustinian Precept.



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pp. 490-491
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