Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Imagining the Sacred Past. Hagiography and Power in Early Normandy

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Imagining the Sacred Past. Hagiography and Power in Early Normandy

Article excerpt

Imagining the Sacred Past. Hagiography and Power in Early Normandy. By Samantha Kahn Herrick. [Harvard Historical Studies, 156.] (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 2007. Pp. xiv, 256. $49.95.)

Based on a 2002 Harvard dissertation, this technically impeccable book begins by dating and localizing three texts concerning Norman saints: the vita of Taurinus, first bishop of Evreux, composed at the monastery of St. Taurin in Evreux during the 1020s; the vita of Vigor of Bayeux, evangelist of the Bessin, composed in the monastery of Cerisy during the early 1030s; and the passio of Nicasius, an obscure martyr of the Vexin reimagined as the first bishop of Rouen, composed in the monastery of St. Ouen in Rouen during the early 1030s. Having dated and localized the compositions, the author moves on to a study that the book flap misleadingly claims to be "innovative in its historical use of hagiographical literature." This approach, which I have pursued in numerous publications (all of "which Herrick cites), involves connecting the visions of the past contained in the lives and passions of saints with the contemporary circumstances in which those texts were created and thus revealing how images of the infinitely malleable past reflect present concerns and serve present political purposes.

For Herrick, the stories of Taurinus, Vigor, and Nicasius legitimized an expansive version of Norman ducal power. The zones of activity of all three saints (the Evrecin, the Bessin, and the French Vexin) were regions "where the dukes sought to strengthen their authority or fortify their borders, neighboring territories where the dukes looked to increase their influence and solidify alliances" (p. 49). Furthermore, the texts' images of the violent evangelization of the relevant regions justified the contemporary exercise "of a particular kind of lordship" (p. 114). The "image of the saint as warlike savior of the region" (p. 61, in reference to Taurinus), the portrait of "the Bessin as a savage territory not to be conquered for God without difficulty" (p. 90, in reference to Vigor), and "the text's martial imagery [which] presents the enclaves of Christians the saints leave behind them ... as a series of garrisons "(pp. 108-09, in reference to Nicasius and his companions) all combined to "justify violence in the name of rightful authority . …

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