Book Review: Monastic Wales: New Approaches

By Kollar, Rene | Church History, September 2014 | Go to article overview

Book Review: Monastic Wales: New Approaches


Kollar, Rene, Church History


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Monastic Wales: New Approaches . Edited by Janet Burton and Karen Stöber . Cardiff : University of Wales Press , 2013. xix + 273 pp. $125.00 cloth.

Book Reviews and Notes

As in medieval England and Europe, Welsh monasticism flourished and contributed to the development of a vibrant culture. Some aspects of monastic life, however, have received little attention from scholars. Historical developments and the relationship with England and the role of the Cistercians, for example, have been researched by historians, but other important aspects have remained in the shadows. For a proper appreciation of monasticism, it should not be studied in isolation from the larger society. Politics and religion are important, but an interdisciplinary approach opens new vistas to an appreciation of Welsh monastic life. The editors of these fifteen scholarly and insightful essays, Janet Burton and Karen Stöber, acknowledge the diversity of monasticism in Wales, and note that "this volume, accordingly, is about how monasteries engaged in the social, economic and political landscape of Wales and about how they were formative in shaping the history of Wales and Welsh culture" (xviii).

This collection of essays grew out of a 2009 conference at Aberystwyth which inaugurated "Monastic Wales," a research project devoted to making available to scholars and the general public the rich and diverse history of monasticism in Wales. Without ignoring Welsh monastic church life before 1066, the topics in this book cover the period from changes in monasticism brought about by the Norman Conquest, to the Dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. After an introduction which clearly outlines the purpose of this book, the editors have arranged the subjects into four complementary sections: "Foundation, Tradition and Transformation," "State Building, Authority and Power," "Movement and Social Interaction," and "Cultural Identity and Production." Numerous illustrations and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources are important aspects of this "new approach" to monastic life in medieval Wales.

The goal of this book is ambitious, but the editors have succeeded in demonstrating the contributions of medieval monasticism on a wide range of Welsh society. The first section gives an insight into the important developments after the Norman Conquest. After an introduction to the Strata Florida Project, the significance of the Benedictines and Augustinians in medieval Wales is discussed, and this is followed by a chapter which investigates the complex relationship between religious houses and urban centers. These essays show aspects of the continuity of monastic life following 1066, but also identify elements of change. In part 2, grants to Strata Florida Abbey and governance in Gwynedd and Powys, both essays rich in detail, and the practice of internment of laity within monastic precincts, an area which has not attracted much scholarship, reveal important aspects of Welsh religious life and the close connection between the monasteries and society. …

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