Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Friars' Tales: Thirteenth-Century Exempla from the British Isles

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Friars' Tales: Thirteenth-Century Exempla from the British Isles

Article excerpt

Friars' Tales: Thirteenth-century exempla from the British Isles. Selected sources translated and annotated with an introduction by David Jones. [Manchester Medieval Sources Series] (New York: Manchester University Press. 2011. Pp. xvi, 201. $95.00 clothbound, ISBN 978-0-7190-8424-9; $34.95 paperback, ISBN 978-0-7190-8425-6.)

With his translation of the earliest mendicant exempla collections from the British Isles dating from around the year 1275, David Jones offers an extremely useful tool for university teaching. His work will enrich seminars on the history of the medieval Church and of medieval thought as well as classes in historical anthropology in a broader sense.

At first sight, the translations allow easy access to the practice of medieval preaching: 213 stories from two sermon books, the Franciscan Liber Exemplorum (preserved in Durham Cathedral Library MS B.IV.19, ed. A. G. Little, Liber Exemplorum ad usum praedicantium [Aberdeen 1908], here translated on pp. 27153) and fifty-two stories from the so-called Cambridge Dominican Collection (preserved in London BL Royal MS 7 D.i., not published so far, here translated on pp. 155-88).

At second glance, the translations facilitate reading and thus help us to understand both the "otherness" and the "likeness" of the Middle Ages. Three aspects are illustrative, although many more could be added.

First, the stories testify to a tremendous circulation of knowledge (both in time and space) at the time. The compiler often speaks as a first-person narrator explaining from where he draws his knowledge. Apart from ancient stories from the Saints' Lives, the vitaepatrum, and so forth, he frequently refers to firsthand sources such as "what I heard from Brother Jordan, a good and truthful friar"; "a clerk named John [. …

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