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Rewriting Saints and Ancestors

Rewriting Saints and Ancestors: Memory and Forgetting in France, 500-1200

Constance Brittain Bouchard
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Rewriting Saints and Ancestors
    Book Description:

    Thinkers in medieval France constantly reconceptualized what had come before, interpreting past events to give validity to the present and help control the future. The long-dead saints who presided over churches and the ancestors of established dynasties were an especially crucial part of creative memory, Constance Brittain Bouchard contends. InRewriting Saints and Ancestorsshe examines how such ex post facto accounts are less an impediment to the writing of accurate history than a crucial tool for understanding the Middle Ages.

    Working backward through time, Bouchard discusses twelfth-century scribes contemplating the ninth-century documents they copied into cartularies or reworked into narratives of disaster and triumph, ninth-century churchmen deliberately forging supposedly late antique documents as weapons against both kings and other churchmen, and sixth- and seventh-century Gallic writers coming to terms with an early Christianity that had neither the saints nor the monasteries that would become fundamental to religious practice. As they met with political change and social upheaval, each generation decided which events of the past were worth remembering and which were to be reinterpreted or quietly forgotten. By considering memory as an analytic tool, Bouchard not only reveals the ways early medieval writers constructed a useful past but also provides new insights into the nature of record keeping, the changing ways dynasties were conceptualized, the relationships of the Merovingian and Carolingian kings to the church, and the discovery (or invention) of Gaul's earliest martyrs.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9008-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Notes on Terminology
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Time’s arrow moves in one direction only: forward. But memory moves backward. The past does not stand still but rather is in constant flux as it is remembered, remembered differently, or forgotten. In this book I examine, through the lens of memory, the sources from which modern scholars have constructed the church history and family history of France in the early and high Middle Ages in order to give the sources their full due as efforts to remember—or to create—a useful past for those who wrote them.

    Medieval authors wanted above all to make sure that the events...

  8. Chapter 1 Cartularies: Remembering the Documentary Past
    (pp. 9-21)

    In the first decade of the twelfth century, Warin, cantor of the cathedral of Châlons-sur-Marne, set out to create a cartulary for his church, a book into which he copied old charters. He began, “Here are the documents (precepta) of the church of St.-Etienne of Châlons, which were scattered (dispersa) and nearly destroyed by age. Warin the cantor collected them and copied them with his own hand.” On the following pages he transcribed charters from kings and bishops, as well as a few from powerful laymen, dating between 565 and 1107.¹

    This cartulary, composed of forty-eight parchment folios, is the...

  9. Chapter 2 The Composition and Purpose of Cartularies
    (pp. 22-37)

    Those who created cartularies did so with the purpose of creating a history of their church that was both coherent and complete. Cartularies were intended as part of the broader history of an ecclesiastical community. The documents in the archives were voices from a church’s past, and for that past to be incorporated into the present they had to be copied out, made new again. An eleventh-century biography of a bishop of Auxerre praised the bishop for “renovating” theGestaof his predecessors, having them copied out cleanly, ready for new entries—this bishop, according to his biographer, also restored...

  10. Chapter 3 Twelfth-Century Narratives of the Past
    (pp. 38-52)

    To write was to create a record for posterity. As Gregory the Great said, “What we speak is transitory, but what we write remains.”¹ A twelfth-century bishop of Chalon put it just as clearly if not as elegantly: “Since, in this world, unless things are corroborated in writing, they are often lost to negligence or oblivion, therefore . . .”² Thus anyone putting pen to parchment, an activity both difficult and expensive, did so because the words were important enough to need to be read again.

    At the same time as churchmen created cartularies to order their past, they also...

  11. Chapter 4 Polyptyques: Twelfth-Century Monks Face the Ninth Century
    (pp. 53-62)

    Polyptyques, the great ninth-century inventories of monastic holdings, stand at a turning point in the medieval exercise of memory.¹ On the one hand, they were originally created in order to have a clear record of property holdings and expected revenues. Their creation was thus part of a ninth-century effort to organize memory and make it unchanging, as well as to rationalize records—like the first cartularies, created at exactly the same time. On the other hand, polyptyques in the high Middle Ages were also part of the memory of the past that later scribes had to deal with, had to...

  12. Chapter 5 An Age of Forgery
    (pp. 63-86)

    Creative memory was at its most creative in the ninth century, when churchmen forged unprecedented and monumental runs of entirely false charters. The modern study of medieval documents long focused on “what really happened” and thus either ignored forged documents completely or at best relegated them to thespuriasection of an edition. But if one examines memory as an active process, in which it was but a small step from thinking about the past, to reconceptualizing the lessons of the past, to reworking the past to how it should have been, then forgeries become an important element.¹

    For example,...

  13. Chapter 6 Remembering the Carolingians
    (pp. 87-105)

    Everyone knows that the Carolingian age was a glorious turning point.¹ The reason we all know this is because certain writers of the late eighth and ninth centuries went out of their way to tell us so. In recent years, however, scholars have begun to see Einhard and his contemporaries not just as simple reporters but as publicists for the Carolingian dynasty.² It is not surprising that members of court wanted to remember a divinely constituted emperor, who was always successful, both morally and politically. But their accounts need to be seen as more than transparent recitations of events, instead...

  14. Chapter 7 Creation of a Carolingian Dynasty
    (pp. 106-125)

    As discussed in the previous chapter, the scorn heaped on the Merovingians from the court of Charlemagne should be seen as a retrospective account, intended to make their replacement by the Carolingians seem sensible and natural. In this chapter I shall focus on how the ancestry of Charlemagne was described—and that description modified—in order to make it seem a royal dynasty, of the sort that could or should have been ruling all along.

    Specifically, the Carolingians had to be reconceptualized as a male-line dynasty, where power had always passed smoothly from father to son, without any long detours...

  15. Chapter 8 Western Monasteries and the Carolingians
    (pp. 126-151)

    The publicists of the Carolingian court, as discussed in Chapter 6, sought to portray these anointed kings as great Christian leaders. As part of their program, they sought to distinguish the Carolingians from their predecessors by suggesting that the Christian world of late Merovingian Gaul was decaying and corrupt, requiring the strong reforming hand of a new dynasty. For example, Alcuin, one of Charlemagne’s chief advisors, wrote around 800 avitaof Willibrord, missionary to Frisia a century earlier. Here Pippin of Herstal urges Willibrord to exterminate the “thorns of idolatry” and plant the “most pure seed of the word...

  16. Chapter 9 Eighth-Century Transitions: The Evidence from Burgundy
    (pp. 152-175)

    Memory always has gaps. In this chapter I shall examine a curious lacuna in the documents from west Frankish monasteries, occurring during the transition from Merovingian to Carolingian rule. Monasteries in the early eighth century functioned in a world very different from that of the early ninth, and yet that transition is nearly silent, for it was not recorded in memory. In addition, this gap in the documents corresponds to a period in which no new monasteries were founded.

    In part this chapter will be an argument for seeing the rise of the Carolingians as a true historical turning point....

  17. Chapter 10 Great Noble Families in the Early Middle Ages
    (pp. 176-192)

    Some aristocrats of the Merovingian era were enormously wealthy. But did these families become the very wealthy and powerful families of the Carolingian era? Curiously, they do not appear to have done so—or, if they did, that was not how they remembered their origins. It is striking that no one living within the borders of the old Roman Empire in the year 800 has demonstrable ancestors from the year 400,¹ even though a number of those living in 1200 can be demonstrated to be the direct descendants of Charlemagne. A gap in aristocratic family history marks the transition from...

  18. Chapter 11 Early Frankish Monasticism
    (pp. 193-212)

    The sixth century was the period in which medieval Christianity was formed.¹ By the year 600, bishops were well-established political figures, asceticism was institutionalized in the monasteries, and saints worked through their relics. During the century after the conversion of Clovis, late antique Gaul developed the assumptions about church governance, monasticism, and the holy dead that dominated for the next thousand years. Once early medieval Christianity settled on its broad outlines, the tendency was to re-remember the past as having followed the same pattern.

    Christians of the seventh century shaped their religious practices by contemplating their past, retelling the story...

  19. Chapter 12 Remembering Martyrs and Relics in Sixth-Century Gaul
    (pp. 213-227)

    This study of the memory of saints and ancestors has now proceeded back to the sixth century, when thinkers at the dawn of the Middle Ages contemplated early Christianity and assumed that their predecessors had been just like them. But the fourth and fifth centuries, in contrast to the sixth, had functioned with few local saints and even fewer relics. Specifically, between about 400 and 600 Gaul multiplied its saints, and relics became for the first time the chief point of contact between the living and the holy dead. The past of every region became a Christian past, full of...

  20. Conclusion
    (pp. 228-232)

    The saints and ancestors who were remembered, rewritten, and reconceptualized between the sixth century and the twelfth all had one significant aspect in common: they were dead. The living, too, were worthy of memory, as Anselm of St.-Remy made clear in the eleventh century when he recorded the events of the Council of Reims. But control of memory principally meant control of the dead. Even before the development of a unified liturgy of Christian death in the late ninth century,¹ the dead were a crucial part of the community of the faithful, perhaps the most important part, and how they...

  21. Appendix I. Monasteries in Burgundy and Southern Champagne
    (pp. 233-244)
  22. Appendix II. Churches in Auxerre
    (pp. 245-250)
  23. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 251-252)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 253-326)
  25. Bibliography
    (pp. 327-352)
  26. Index
    (pp. 353-360)
  27. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 361-362)