- Cross and Culture in Anglo-Norman England: Theology, Imagery, Devotion by John Munns
John Munns describes his book as a "cultural history of an image, in which a period of English religious culture and society will be explored through one particular imaginative lens" (p. 5). The result is a truly impressive interdisciplinary study of a period of art history that has long merited more scholarly attention. As the title suggests, the book is divided into three interdependent parts: the theology of the cross, the image of the cross, and the way of the cross. It takes as its starting point [End Page 798] the changes that occurred in crucifixion imagery during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, attributing them to a constellation of phenomena that developed in and from the writings of St. Anselm, encompassing theological and political changes, and the influence of art and events from outside England. Part I focuses on the period c.1066 to c.1170, exploring the development of Anselm's affective devotional processes and practices, his theory of salvation and the debates that arose over the nature of the Eucharist, and the role of images in encouraging a more personal and mimetic devotion to the cross. Part II moves on to the variety of cruciform and crucifixion imagery that Christians would have encountered in England during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, with chapters on public monuments, liturgical images, and narrative cycles in manuscript illumination. Part III focuses on ethics and aesthetics in the period c.1170 to c.1215, assessing the influence of Thomas Becket's Christo-mimesis and his promotion of aspects of Anselm's theology on visions of the cross, and exploring the rise of pilgrimage and the cult of relics in England after Becket's martyrdom, as well as the profound changes brought about as a result of the Third and Fourth Lateran Councils and the Crusades.
The division of the book into three parts provides a convenient way for Munns to organize his material, but his analysis is scrupulous in providing the background to specific historical and art historical developments, as well as the larger national and international contexts in which they took place. One can quibble with certain elements of the analysis. Some mention of the proto-mystical nature of the Ruth-well Cross, for example, would have been helpful in the sections dealing with the Anglo-Saxon background to the development of Anglo-Norman crucifixion imagery. Some discussion of materials and techniques would also have been relevant to his mapping of the shift in depictions of the body of Christ on processional and altar crosses in chapter 4. The overall argument, however, is convincing. Throughout, Munns argues for the active role of art and images in the changes that occurred throughout the period covered. Far from being a simple reflection of events outside of itself, art shaped attitudes towards religion, devotion, political, and social events. Images provided models of spiritual balance that could be imitated by the faithful; they helped to define attitudes toward kingship and the divine right of kings; and, toward the end of the twelfth century, they helped to shape people's attitudes toward Jews and Judaism—attitudes that, Munns notes, included support and friendship as well as violence and antisemitism. The book is beautifully illustrated, and there are only a few minor editorial errors. Cross and Culture in Anglo-Norman England is a monumental work of scholarship that will long be a primary point of reference for medievalists in a variety of fields. [End Page 799]