- A Repertorium of Middle English Prose Sermons
This huge, and hugely useful, repertorium, or catalogue of Middle English prose sermons is one example among many of collaborative projects that, over the past decade or more, have enriched medieval studies internationally. Sermon Studies have been well developed in several European countries, and this publication is the English contribution to an umbrella project that, as the publisher’s blurb says, has aimed ‘to make available information about [End Page 192] sermons in several medieval vernaculars through the provision of systematic catalogues, or repertoria’.
The four volumes catalogue 1,481 sermons in 162 manuscripts to be found largely in English libraries, with a small number of Irish, Scottish and US libraries also included. Each sermon comes with its Manuscript description – Descriptions, Comments, Parallel Traditions, Bibliography – and Sermon description, which includes: Author, Occasion, Heading/Title, Theme, Length, Incipit, Explicit, Summary (of the text), Biblical Citations, Proper Names, Place Names, Concepts, Exempla, Verse.
The scholarship behind this repertorium is impressive and meticulous, as one would expect from the experienced sermonist, Veronica O’Mara, the Project director, and her international advisory Board that includes such vernacular sermon scholars as Anne Hudson, Oliver Pickering, Thom Mertens and Hans- Jochen Schiewer. The introduction to the project, contained in Volume 1, outlines the methodology behind the project, and showcases, not just knowledge and understanding of issues to be considered in vernacular sermon scholarship, but how to manage a project so complex and far-reaching. It could well serve both as an introduction to Sermon Studies, and an example of how to tackle, expeditiously, the scholarly cataloguing of a large body of data.
The fourth volume contains a full bibliography and indices of Manuscripts and Sermons. Manuscripts are indexed by Owners, Scribes, Provenance; Sermons by Authors, Occasions, Themes, Biblical Citations (this going to 113 pages), Proper Names, Place Names, Concepts, Exempla and Verse. Since the publication of the edition in 2007, work has continued on the project, transferring material to an online database hosted by the University of Hull, http://www.hull.ac.uk/middle_english_sermons/index.php . At present it is possible to search a selection of sample sermons in the same format as the printed book, and to search 3,437 quotations by means of a series of dropdown menus. Work on this aspect of the project is ongoing.
As with Brepols publications generally, the work is beautifully produced, and fits within this publisher’s tradition of providing solidly researched material that can be used as a compendium. The editors rightly suggest that the information collected on the scale of the present project should provide a strong base from which to develop future research. Scholars have at their fingertips material from which to understand ‘how these sermons work, how they innovate, or draw on a common tradition, the similarities and differences between orthodox, heterodox and semi-heterodox sermons’, and a host of [End Page 193] other issues, dialectal, theological, thematic, social (Vol. 1, p. liii).
Every university that supports medieval research needs this work in its library. It will be a classic handbook for a long time.
University of Western Australia