Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Culture and Religion in Merovingian Gaul, A.D. 481-751

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Culture and Religion in Merovingian Gaul, A.D. 481-751

Article excerpt

Culture and Religion in Merovingian Gaul, A.D. 481- 751. By Yitzhak Hen. [Cultures, Beliefs and Traditions: Medieval and Early Modern Peoples, Volume 1.] (Leiden: E. J. Brill. 1995. Pp. xiv, 308. $80.00.)

Dr. Hen utilizes an impressive array of sources and modern studies to reconstruct the cultural and religious life of Merovingian Gaul.The aim is a comprehensive picture of the interacting religious and cultural forces that characterized a society once-perhaps in some circles still-regarded as the outstanding representative of "dark age" decline. Archaeological and anthropological findings supplement the reconstruction, but the bulk of evidence comes from the writings of churchmen, and so the picture cannot be complete.Yet there is still the possibility of a synthetic treatment giving coherence to the pieces of Merovingian remains. Such an undertaking in English has been long awaited, with the few previous works of a similar breadth usually coming from continental Europe.

Hen perceptively discusses language and literacy before focusing on the Catholic liturgy (chapters 2-5) as a cultural expression of religious and social interaction. After mentioning the relevant liturgical sources and the monastic centers responsible for their production, he arranges his treatment of Merovingian worship under three subdivisions corresponding to the main liturgical cydes: the temporal, commemorating Christ's life; the sanctoral, honoring the holy dead; the personal, celebrating events in an individual's lifetime. The sources pertaining to the cycles reflect a people's committed participation in the Church's life. The closely examined liturgical texts and the reconstructed sanctoral calendars also show, respectively, a "certain detachment" (p. 60) from Roman influences and much local flavor in the veneration of saints.

Chapter 6 considers paganism's survival in the Merovingian kingdoms. The old belief system, he argues, was at best a marginal religion nearly dead by the sixth century. Sources mentioning pagan practice are regarded as having no "basis in reality (p. 177). This reader feels that here the evidence is not allowed to speak; it seems forced to fit a narrow outlook. …

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