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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 716-717

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Book Review

The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West, c. 300-c.1200

The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West, c. 300-c.1200. By John Crook. [Oxford Historical Monographs.] (New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. 2000. Pp. xxv, 308. $85.00.)

This book is, in its author's words, a "survey" of "the architectural forms deriving from the cult of saints." Beginning with a lucid exposition of the cult of relics in the early Middle Ages (for example, burial ad sanctos and the relationship between relics and altars, as well as ideas of virtus and praesentia), the book moves on to consider physical arrangements for the cult down to c. 750 (for example, the construction of churches over the tombs of saints). There is then an interesting chapter on the influence of earlier Roman architecture on the crypts of the Carolingian renaissance, followed by a survey of rather different developments (notably the appearance of radiating chapels) from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. The focus of the book then becomes more English, with a chapter on relic cults in Normandy and England in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and another on relic cults in England in the twelfth century. A final chapter deals with the development of shrines across the whole period. This is a well-written, well-researched, and notably well-presented book. The plans and plates, which are generally Crook's own, are of a very high standard. Moreover, Crook is often deploying firsthand knowledge of the sites discussed, and brings to bear on them the expertise of a specialist architectural historian. He brings into discussion a number of neglected or less well-known sites, which deserve the prominence given to them by his work. As a survey, the book is therefore a very useful contribution, and provides a mine of information. It nevertheless has limitations. Its underlying method is to interpret archaeological and architectural remains in terms of literary sources for the cult of saints, with the result that it tends to reinforce rather than modify existing interpretations. The aim seems often to be to explain the remains in question, rather than to seek to use them as evidence in their own right. Admittedly, Crook takes a step in this direction when he deals with England, and here he is at his best re-evaluating the impact of the Norman Conquest on the English church in terms of the extent to which the cult of saints was--or was not--accommodated in churches constructed shortly after the Conquest, and the apparent resurgence of interest in English saints' cults in the twelfth century. Even here, however, the reader often feels the lack of a real synthesis, as Crook delves into example after example, handling some in a very detailed although admittedly fascinating way (his discussion of the 'Holy Hole' at Winchester, for example). His discussion of Carolingian crypts and their relationship to earlier Roman architecture is another good example of the author really using his material to re-evaluate history, although in fact he here moves little beyond the work of R. Krautheimer on Carolingian basilicas. In the end, we are left with "the persistent architectural influence of the cult of saints," involving "a compromise between the needs of the clergy and those of the people who flocked to the body of the local saint." This is not a revelatory conclusion, and it is to be hoped that Crook's book will now stimulate scholars to come to grips with the material remains it surveys as free-standing evidence for the beliefs and attitudes of the [End Page 716] early Middle Ages, rather as Maureen C. Miller has recently done so brilliantly for another type of architectural survival (The Bishop's Palace in Medieval Italy [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000]).


David Rollason
University of Durham



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