Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Ansgar, Rimbert and the Forged Foundations of Hamburg-Bremen

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Ansgar, Rimbert and the Forged Foundations of Hamburg-Bremen

Article excerpt

Medieval Ansgar, Rimbert and the Forged Foundations of Hamburg-Bremen. By Eric Knibbs. [Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West.] (Burlington,VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2011. Pp. 258. $124.95. ISBN 978-1-4094-2882-4.)

It has long been plain that much of the written material from Hamburg-Bremen in the earlier Middle Ages was produced with a desire to distort the archdiocese's own history and that this applied as much to documents as to narrative histories. This was due to the difficult circumstances in which the see found itself-with few or no suffragans, it clung to its claim to have archiépiscopal authority over all Scandinavia and the Slavs, a claim challenged from almost the very moment kings of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden pro- claimed their peoples Christian in the late tenth and eleventh centuries. There was also the long-standing dispute with the archbishops of Cologne, from whose province the Diocese of Bremen had been removed. These themes prompted the composition of Adam of Bremen's Gesta pontificum as well as an astounding number of forgeries and falsifications from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. All this is well known to historians of medieval Germany and Scandinavia, and skeptical voices have questioned much of the story of Hamburg-Bremen back to the very beginnings. Yet there has remained a general acceptance of the narrative presented by Rimbert's Life of Ansgar.

What has hindered many scholars who would pursue a more skeptical line has been the daunting task of grappling with the diplomatic evidence. Eric Knibbs has not only engaged with this evidence to great effect but also communicates his findings with a clarity that makes their logic readily apparent even to those not deeply learned in the study of diplomas.

By placing Ansgar's work in the context of the missionary (arch-)bishops before him, Knibbs finds that the story presented by the Life of Ansgar has "nothing but exceptions to offer" (p. 8). He provides an alternative account based on critical analysis of the earliest documentary sources, which Ansgar collected, modified (adding narrationes providing "the earliest narrative account of the northern mission," p. …

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