Landscapes of Monastic Foundation: The Establishment of Religious Houses in East Anglia, C. 650-1200

Article excerpt

Landscapes of Monastic Foundation: The Establishment of Religious Houses in East Anglia, c. 650-1200. By Tim Pestell. [Anglo-Saxon Studies, 5.] (Rochester, New York: The Boydell Press. 2004. Pp. xvi, 280. $85.00.)

This volume presents a revised version of a Ph.D. thesis begun under the supervision of the archaeologist Roberta Gilchrist and completed in 1999 under the direction of the landscape historian Tom Williamson. The author is known to archaeologists and historians from a number of articles and in particular for the excellent volume on productive sites which he co-edited with Katharina Ulmschneider (2003). The study under review shows the influence of both advisers in its conception, both the theoretical and spatial interests of Gilchrist and the strongly regional approach of Williamson, but the author treads very much his own path, aiming "to combine both documentary and material evidence without giving either primacy" (p. 17). We should think of this volume, perhaps, as a regional study along the lines of John Blair's investigations of early Surrey and Oxfordshire and Peter Sawyer's of Lincolnshire, in which the authors attempt to review the totality of extant evidence. Pestell's goal is at once more limited and more wide-ranging: not simply the region but its ecclesiastical structures, not simply the church, but monastic foundations, a focus which leads him beyond the Norman Conquest into the much better charted territory of the twelfth century.

Pestell begins with a chapter on approaches to what he calls "Monastic Studies," identifying as its prevailing trends architectural reconstruction, which he brands "antiquarian," and center-by-center studies. Even within these few brief pages one would expect to see much greater account taken of previous work on the location of monasteries in their agrarian contexts, in both institutional studies, notably that of Christopher Dyer, and regional surveys like D. H. Williams' work on the Welsh Cistercians (neither referenced in the bibliography). Such work relies on relatively rich deposits of documentary evidence, and Pestell properly draws attention to the volume of literature about the Cistercians, no doubt a reflection of just this phenomenon. …