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  • Monasteries on the Borders of Medieval Europe: Conflict and Cultural Interaction ed. by Emilia Jamroziak and Karen Stöber
  • Julie Kerr
Monasteries on the Borders of Medieval Europe: Conflict and Cultural Interaction. Edited by Emilia Jamroziak and Karen Stöber. [Italia Sacra: Medieval Church Studies, Vol. 28.] (Turnhout: Brepols. 2014. Pp. x, 274. €80,00. ISBN 978-2-503-5435-6.)

This dynamic and interdisciplinary collection has its origins in the Leeds Medieval Congress of 2008 and offers a fresh approach to frontier scholarship. It explores the experiences of religious communities in border areas across Europe in the high and later Middle Ages and considers how their experiences were different from those of their counterparts in the hinterlands. The essays represent a wide geographical spread and include studies on Scandinavia, Poland, Britain, and Frankish Greece. Although monastic, canonical, and mendicant houses are considered, analysis is restricted to male communities, for the additional conditions that affected religious women require that they have their “own systematic approach” (p. 3).

Monasteries on the Borders seeks to examine all aspects of the frontier experience to understand better the roles that these houses played in their localities; the challenges they faced; and their negotiation of political, cultural, and linguistic landscapes. Whereas previous scholarship has tended to focus on the potential problems experienced in frontier zones, these essays consider the possible benefits that might result for both the communities and their neighbors. The collection opens with an editorial introduction, which includes a lucid historiographical discussion of frontiers, and introduces the aims and key themes of this publication. The ten essays are divided into two groups to represent two important types of frontier monastic experience—conflict and acculturation. A bibliography follows each contribution and there is a common index at the end.

The first section—“Conflict and its Resolution”—considers the various conflicts that these frontier houses faced in their differing environments. This commences with a fascinating account by Brian Golding of two incidents involving the transfer of relics across the border from Wales to the Benedictine abbey of Shrewsbury: a relic of St. Winifred in 1138 and bones of St. Beuno in 1338. Golding argues that both acts need to be understood within the conditions of contemporary frontier politics. Thus, the first was a carefully negotiated act in volatile times when the Anglo-Welsh border was fluid—a “currency” in uncertain times and likely orchestrated by Gruffudd, prince of Gwynedd (p. 32). In contrast, the second was a violent seizure instigated by the abbot of Shrewsbury and tantamount to theft. This act took place when borders were fixed, and life was ostensibly more peaceful [End Page 615] and thus threatened the equilibrium. Other contributions in this section include Paul Milliman’s discussion of a fourteenth-century boundary dispute involving the Teutonic Knights and the land of Chełmno; and Ana Novak’s study of the fortifications of Castrum Thopozka, a Cistercian monastery on the edge of the Bishopric of Zagreb that played an important role in securing the bishopric and later, following the Ottoman invasion, in the defense of the kingdom of Croatia.

The second group—“Acculturation and Cultural Interactions on the Frontiers”—explores how these border communities interacted with their neighbors and assesses their relative success. The frontier experience was especially complex in medieval Iberia that was a melting pot of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious groups and subject to shifts in the balance of power. The Augustinian abbey of Santa Maria de Vilabertran in Northern Catalonia straddled two counties—Empúries and Besalú. Stöber explains that the community here was affected by both external and internal borders—the former were political and geographical; the latter social, cultural, religious, and linguistic. Whilst the abbey was unavoidably affected by political conditions—and indeed, these were often more volatile in border areas—Stöber argues that more subtle factors such as their multicultural interactions could actually be more profound. For instance, the canons of Vilabertran drew benefactors and welcomed guests from both counties. They provided spiritual services to folk on both sides of the border; indeed, the intercessory role of these frontier communities should not be underplayed, for often this was heightened in border...


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