Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West, C. 300-C.1200

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West, C. 300-C.1200

Article excerpt

The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West, c. 300-c.1200. By John Crook. [Oxford Historical Monographs.] (New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. 2000. Pp. xxv, 308. $85.00.)

This book is, in its author's words, a "survey" of "the architectural forms deriving from the cult of saints. Beginning with a lucid exposition of the cult of relics in the early Middle Ages (for example, burial ad sanctos and the relationship between relics and altars, as well as ideas of virtus and praesentia), the book moves on to consider physical arrangements for the cult down to c. 750 (for example, the construction of churches over the tombs of saints). There is then an interesting chapter on the influence of earlier Roman architecture on the crypts of the Carolingian renaissance, followed by a survey of rather different developments (notably the appearance of radiating chapels) from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. The focus of the book then becomes more English, with a chapter on relic cults in Normandy and England in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and another on relic cults in England in the twelfth century. A final chapter deals with the development of shrines across the whole period. This is a well-written, well-researched, and notably well-presented book. The plans and plates, which are generally Crook's own, are of a very high standard. Moreover, Crook is often deploying firsthand knowledge of the sites discussed, and brings to bear on them the expertise of a specialist architectural historian. He brings into discussion a number of neglected or less well-known sites, which deserve the prominence given to them by his work. As a survey, the book is therefore a very useful contribution, and provides a mine of information. It nevertheless has limitations. Its underlying method is to interpret archaeological and architectural remains in terms of literary sources for the cult of saints, with the result that it tends to reinforce rather than modify existing interpretations. …

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