Fortress-Churches of Languedoc: Architecture, Religion, and Conflict in the High Middle Ages

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Fortress-Churches of Languedoc:Architecture, Religion, and Conflict in the High Middle Ages. By Sheila Bonde. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 1994. Pp. xv, 270. $85.00.)

Sheila Bonde's gracefully written study of the development of the fortresschurch will certainly be of great interest to architectural historians. This excellent book will also appeal to a broader audience, that is, to medievalists interested in subjects as diverse as the history of southern France, the intertwining of religious and military realms, and the expansion of Capetian power in the twelfth century.

The fortress-church (which Bonde defines as a church whose structure incorporates elements of fortification) seems to have first appeared in western Europe in Languedoc during the early twelfth century. Thus southern France was not the architectural backwater that art historians obsessed with the emergence of Gothic have tended to believe. Bonde's focus is on the three earliest important examples of this architectural form: the abbey church of Saint-Ponsde-Thomieres and the episcopal churches of Agde and Maguelone. She examines the physical fabric of each of these twelfth-century churches and the institutional history of the community for which it was built. She also explores archival sources to arrive at approximate dates for the construction of the fortified churches. In an appendix, Bonde provides the text of these Latin documents and her English translations (which are generally accurate translations of the often awkward Latin).

Bonde's extensive archival research explains why her study will be of great relevance to scholars other than architectural historians. Bonde is keenly interested in the context, both local and larger, for these churches; hence, she also writes very much as a historian. This is not to say that she ignores the stylistic history of the fortress-church. Looking at Islamic and imperial Roman secular architecture, English cathedrals, and local southern French predecessors and parallels, Bonde traces the development of the distinctive architectural features of fortress churches. She argues that their most important characteristic, the machicolated arcade (a series of arches with an opening at their apexes allowing objects to be dropped on attackers), was introduced to western European architecture from the Muslim world through the fortress-churches of Languedoc, and not through castles as has been assumed previously.

Bonde is equally interested in the functional and social history of these buildings. She discusses, for example, the manning and operation of the churches. Using comparative architectural evidence, she also demonstrates that these churches functioned not only as actual fortresses but also as symbolic proclamations of power and order, an order based on a desire for peace. …