Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Jocelin of Wells: Bishop, Builder, Courtier

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Jocelin of Wells: Bishop, Builder, Courtier

Article excerpt

Jocelin of Wells: Bishop, Builder, Courtier. Edited by Robert Dunning. [Studies in the History of Medieval Religion, Vol. XXXVI.] (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, an imprint of Boydell and Brewer. 2010. Pp. xiv, 202. $95.00. ISBN 978-1-843-83556-1.)

This collection of essays on one of the most important bishops of his generation is divided into three sections: Jocelin as bishop, Jocelin as builder, and Jocelin's palace at Wells. Nestled between the covers of this volume is the collected wisdom of ten scholars, who have brought their expertise to the problem of understanding Jocelin of Wells (bishop from 1206 to 1242).

The outstanding essay in the collection is Sethina Watson's delightfully well-written piece exploring the relationship between the bishop and his two urban communities of Bath and Wells, and placing the development of that relationship within the general context of urban development in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Watson examines the reasons for Bath's failure to thrive as an episcopal seat and then shows how Wells emerged as a preferred location for the center of the bishop's administration. In addition, Watson has included a short and valuable essay on the hospital of St. John the Baptist at Wells. Watson's contribution has an extraordinary level of research embedded within it and makes a genuinely new contribution to our understanding of developments of episcopal towns; as such, it deserves to be cited by urban and ecclesiastical historians alike.

Matthew Reeve's essay on Robert Burnell's transformation of Jocelin's episcopal palace at Wells is equally well provided with high-quality research, if perhaps deployed without the wider vision so tellingly applied by Watson. He shows that Burnell (r. 1 275-92) was a builder of considerable influence who played a crucial role in the development of Decorated style in domestic architecture. His is an important piece of reconstructive archaeology that will need to be referenced by anyone interested in the Decorated style and in episcopal palaces in general. …

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