Medieval Christianity

By Dickens, Andrea Janelle | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Medieval Christianity


Dickens, Andrea Janelle, Anglican and Episcopal History


Medieval Christianity. Edited by Daniel F. Bornstein. A People's History of Christianity, vol. 4. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009, Pp. xx, 409. $35.00.)

Medieval Christianity, edited by Daniel Bornstein, is the fourth book in the series A People's History of Christianity. As a series, these books seek to add depth to the introduction of the history of Christianity. This book, like others in the series, does this by choosing a number of topics in the field on which to provide essays, each written by leading scholars in the field. Contributors to this volume include Gary Dickson, Katherine French, Richard Keickhefer, André Vauchez, Diana Webb, and others. The purpose of this volume, as with the rest of the series, is to present the history of the western European Christian church - in this volume from the end of the late antique period to the dawn of the Reformation - through explorations of the religious experiences of lay persons, monks, and others outside of the "central" authority of the church. In short, a "people's" history based on the lives of ordinary people, in order to show how religion shaped the lives of the living and structured the views on the dead.

Through this book's essays we encounter ways in which Christianity influenced all of medieval life. Topics brought to light include how medieval Christians approached death and burial; how sacraments such as confession and the idea of purgatory structured how people prayed, worshipped, and experienced public prophecy; how relics, art, other artifacts, and song enhanced these experiences; how groups were converted, forcefully or willfully; how medieval religion and family structures related to one another; and how the priesthood, and the private lives of clergy, developed during this time.

The essays track what are some of the "hot topics" of recent medieval church history discussions, such as relics, shrines and the relationship of the material world to the immaterial spiritual world, purgatory, confession, clerical celibacy and sex, domestic religion, and architecture. Also of top-notch quality are the types of medieval materials drawn on throughout the authors' quest to tell the story of popular religion in the Middle Ages. The essays incorporate penitential manuals for confession, canon law, theological treatises, sermons, registers, manuscripts and illuminations, buildings and material artifacts, diaries and personal stories, and other sources. In fact, great attention has been placed on presenting and interpreting artifacts in this book, and these efforts greatly add to the uniqueness of this volume.

Although each essay is on a different topic (ranging from "Death and Burial" to "Medieval Revivalism" to "Jews, Muslims and Christians" and "Domestic Religion"), there is a fair amount of thematic unity between the essays. So, for instance, a person interested in material artifacts will find source material in each chapter, or someone interested in a topic such as heresy or conversion will find sections in multiple chapters that contextualize the issue in different settings.

The authors have also carried over their theme of a writing of a people's history into the writing style of the book. …

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