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  • The Congregation of Tiron: Monastic Contributions to Trade and Communication in Twelfth-Century France and Britain by Ruth Harwood Cline
  • Yvonne Seale
The Congregation of Tiron: Monastic Contributions to Trade and Communication in Twelfth-Century France and Britain. By Ruth Harwood Cline. [Spirituality and Monasticism, East and West.] (Leeds: Arc Humanities Press. 2019. Pp. xiii, 210. €89.00. ISBN 978-1-641-89358-9.)

Ruth Harwood Cline’s study of the Tironensian Order’s expansion and economic activities during the first century or so of its existence is one clearly grounded in a deep familiarity both with the relevant primary sources and with the geography of the wide swathe of western France, Britain, and Ireland in which the order’s houses were located. The Tironensians offer a rich and promising source base for any scholar of medieval monasticism. The abbey of Tiron was founded ca. 1109 about thirty miles to the west of Chartres, in a “swampy, forested, brigand-infested valley unsuited for vines or wheat” (38). Despite this, Tiron rapidly became the mother abbey of an order with dozens of affiliated houses such as Le Tronchet and Bois-Aubry, France; Kelso, Scotland; and St. Dogmaels, Wales.

Over the course of The Congregation of Tiron’s seven chapters, Cline sketches a portrait of both the abbey and of its associated congregation. First, she analyzes the role which Tiron played in the reform movement of the twelfth century, before moving on to assess the nature of the “Tironensian identity,” the presence of women in the early order, and the contributions of key figures to the congregation’s development, such as founding abbot Bernard of Abbeville and his successor William of Poitiers. The two longest chapters consider the Tironensians’ expansion and economic activities in France and Britain—from grain production to horse breeding to providing supplies and care both spiritual and medical for weary sailors—and how patronage, particularly royal patronage, could shape those activities. A brief concluding chapter considers the Tironensians’ post-medieval history until the dissolution of the mother abbey during the French Revolution. Two appendices discuss papal confirmations and disputes respectively.

Readers will doubtlessly find the many tables and maps in chapters 5 and 6, which document the Tironensians’ expansion, to be very useful reference points. Anyone who has spent time poring over a set of charters in conjunction with a modern map or a topographic dictionary to pinpoint the location of a now-vanished monastic grange will appreciate how much time and effort went into producing them. Cline’s concluding wish, that this book will “break ground for future research” (179), will undoubtedly be fulfilled based on these resources.

Yet equally the reader may find themselves wishing that the author had spent a little more time in explicitly exploring the source base, particularly the many charters which are often referenced but rarely thoroughly analyzed. The suspicion must remain that the charters—and other documentary sources, such as Tiron’s “cartulary”, actually a work assembled from a variety of medieval sources by a scholar in the nineteenth century (p. 3)—have a richer story to tell than what is conveyed by the tables, maps, and listings of landholdings alone. The enumeration of the order’s holdings would have been stronger if tied back more often to Cline’s underlying [End Page 801] arguments. Moreover, the reader might have wished for more interrogation of several terms used by Cline, such as “Celtic abbeys,” “Normanization,” and indeed “Tironensian identity.”

Despite these caveats, The Congregation of Tiron is successful in its reconstruction of the many and varied economic activities in which the Tironensian Order engaged during the High Middle Ages, and Cline makes a convincing case for the importance of the order to the history of the economic development of the twelfth century.

Yvonne Seale
SUNY Geneseo
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