Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000-1125

By Hiley, David | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000-1125


Hiley, David, The Catholic Historical Review


Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000-1125. By Susan Boynton. [Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past.] (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 289; 8-page color insert. $45.00.)

Susan Boynton, assistant professor of historical musicology at Columbia University, is known to musicologists as the author of several fine studies of liturgical hymns, not simply as a musical or even liturgical genre but in a more complete sense as windows into medieval religious thought and practice. Her Brandeis dissertation of 1997 and a lengthy article in the Journal of the American Musicological Society in 2003 focused on glossed hymnaries and were thus concerned primarily with text exegesis. She is also interested in the place of hymns and other liturgical texts in the daily life of the church, primarily monastic communities, and she has therefore developed considerable expertise in medieval customaries. Two of her studies, in Studia liturgica in!998 and the symposium Medieval Monastic Education, which she edited by Muessig and Ferzoco (Leicester, 2000), have looked at the training of children and novices in the liturgy, and she has become deeply involved in Cluniac studies; witness her recent coEaborations with IsabeEe Cochelin in the symposium From Dead of Night to End of Day: The Medieval Customs of Cluny-Du coeur de la nuit à la fin du jour: les coutumes clunisiennes au Moyen Âge (Turnliout, 2005) and a new edition of Bernard's ordinal, Bernardus, Ordo cluniacensis, ms Paris, BNF, Latin 13875 (Turnhout, 2007). Her studies are based firmly on the study of original manuscripts, so she is well-versed in text and music hands, particularly those of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

These enviable qualifications are fully displayed in the present book, which picks up some themes that she first touched upon in an article in Sacris Erudiri in 2000 and here develops much more fully. The manuscript base is provided by books or texts compiled or composed at Farfa in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. These are not numerous, and they have not figured much in music-historical studies. There are no complete graduais, antiphoners, or tropers here, of the type that plainchant scholars like to inventorize and sift for their chants in honor of local saints. Only fragments of chant books survive, together with a modest number of psalters, lectionaries, hymnaries (two of them glossed), and other miscellaneous material. Crucially, however, the earliest source of the so-called Liber Tramitis, describing Cluny's customs, was made in Farfa, and there is a considerable body of information in chronicles from Farfa and elsewhere about the history and life of the monastery. One would expect this to be the case, since it enjoyed imperial patronage under the Ottonian and Salian emperors, regular visitors to the abbey. It was reformed from Cluny in the last years of the tenth century and received papal privileges from the time of Leo IX. (Readers should keep a bookmark in the useful list of abbots, emperors, popes, historical dates, and documents from Farfa given on pp. 240-41.)

This wealth of material from right across the usual academic disciplines-historical, ecclesiastical, theological, liturgical, musical-is quarried by Boynton resourcefully and with considerable expertise. In the first chapter she interprets the writings of Gregory of Catino "as a creative reshaping of Farfa's history and archival memory." Particularly interesting is her discussion of the interrelationship between Gregory's account of the foundation of the monastery by Lawrence of Syria, the second founding by Thomas of Maurienne, and liturgical texts on the days commemorating these events. Boynton continues "with multifaceted accounts of several liturgical chants added to Farfa books in the eleventh century, which take previously existing chants as a starting point-in other words, more creative reshaping. …

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