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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  April 2001

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION April 2001

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Subject:

Medieval towers

From:

Christopher Crockett <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 14 Apr 2001 15:20:41 MST

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Just a few idle thoughts to distract from Jim's characterisctally interesting
post.

[log in to unmask] wrote:

>As has been mentioned, the Cistercians may have objected to towers as too
"proud" for their churches, but since the bells in towers signalled
ecclesiastical privileges, the Cistercian lack of towers may also have had
something to do with the prohibition of offering sacraments to the laity in
Cistercian churches (the laity were, I believe, accommodated at 
a "capella ad portas" just at the entrance to the precinct of
Cistercian houses).  

and, the earliest generation of cistercian foundations were almost exclusively
(and deliberately) in remote areas.  villages grew up around the great abbeys
later, but early on they seem to have been quite isolated, as a rule (i speak
of France, early 12th c.).  so the prohibition against lay soul-curing was
something of a self-fulfilling edict, i would think.  otOh, the community
needed some sort of bell, and i believe that the earliest ones might have been
housed in seperate (wooden) free standing structures which have not survived;
the earliest survivors are rather simple extensions of, say the pediment of
the facade, pierced with a hole for the bell (where have i seen that??).

there's another consideration relevant here which i'll mention in a momement.

>In other contexts, however, some of the same perceptions about towers may
have been acceptable and even positively received: it is often said, for
example, that the twin-towered facades of St Etienne at Caen and of
Saint-Denis carried symbolic import related to their functions as burial
churches of the Norman dukes and French kings respectively.  

i don't recall, but Stephen Gardner may have had something to say about this
in his study of the west facade of St. Denis --Art Bulletin?? c.1985??)

>Spires, even more than towers per se have to be seen in a "non-functional"
manner, and Durandus, in fact, relates spires to the striving of men's minds
after God.  

maybe no one else shares this feeling that i have, but it seems to me that,
though Durand certainly (de facto) speaks for his time, the consciousness of
the 13th century may be considerably removed from that of the preceeding
centuries.  

just as the early 13th c. (Cistercian?) author of the Quest del Saint Graal(?)
feels the need to tell us in tedious detail about what everything in the
Arthurian universe symbolises (and then tell us that he's told us, just to be
sure), while Chretien, still mired in the shear wonder of it all, does not, so
Durand is going to try, in good High Scholastic fashion, to nail everything
down which he has physically received from previous generations who were too
busy with the act of spontaneously generating these forms to bother with
suchlike trivialities.

everyone on the list will agree with all that, i'm sure.

>But whether towers and/or spires had an ecclesiastical function or not, once
built, they became prominent landmarks in their immediate environments

the contract between the Chapter of Chartres and Jean de Beauce in the early
16th c. called for him to replace the wooden fleche of the North tower of the
cathedral with one made of stone, specifying that "he may make it as high as
he wants, as long as it is higher than that of the South tower."

he did, with somewhat spectacular results:
http://www.ariadne.org/centrechartraine/exterior/N-Tower.jpg

>and towers were, on occasion, I believe, used as beacons.  

there are several members of a family mentioned in the early 12th c. charters
from around Chartres who cary the _cognomen_ _de Specula_.  they seem to have
been from Gallardon --a town near Chartres-- which happens to have a ruined
12th c. tower with a curious shape

http://ariadne.org/centrechartraine/images/galardx.jpg

and is called, by the locals, "l'Epaule".  common wisdom on the street has it
that it got this name because it resembles a "shoulder" of lamb, and you will
find this derivation in all of the guide books.

but a local scholar (l'abbé Guy Villette) whose specialty was toponymics made
a very good case that this "de Specula" clan was so called because they were
charged with handling the signal mirrors which were surely in use on the
tower.  "Epaule" is a corruption of "Specula", he thought; and supported it
with linguistic arguments which i could barely follow but found persuasive at
the time and have completely forgotten since.

>...When the monks of the Cistercian house of Waverley, for example, sought
the right to celebrate mass at their grange at Neatham in the mid-13th
century, they had to agree to permit neither the ringing of bells nor the
administration of the sacraments there.  

i don't know from Waverley, but there sounds like there may have been more to
this story than first meets the ear.

owners of parochial rights in pre-existing parishes had to carefully guard
them against encroachment by new-commers to the parish.  i've come across
several instances of either an abbey's acquiring land or a whole _villa_ in an
outlying part of a parish or the new foundation of an abbey (e.g., Josaphat,
near Chartres, and most all of the cistercian houses, i should think) within a
pre-existing parish.  

in those cases the parochial rights of the original owner viz-a-viz the new
guys had to be negotiated and/or settled, ultimately, by local episcopal
decree, and, of course, parochial rights could be quite lucrative, including
as they may have the rights over marriage, baptism, churching, burial, etc.
(the original Cistercian prohibition may have been partly due to a desire to
insulate the monks from such an in-world source of wealth, i might think.)

i can suppose that the monks of Waverley were themselves newcommers, who then
went on to construct something of an industrial site (the --perhaps quite
large-- barn) which may have had a tiny community of folk living adjacent to
service it, much like rural mills tended to become small, more or less
self-contained units.  tending to the cure of those souls might have involved
some tricky diplomacy.  (Walter Map may have some cutting things to say about
the Cistercians robbing parochial rights from their rightful owners, somewhere
in there where he talks about them moving the boundry stones to their property
and forging deeds of gift.)

so, maybe the settlement situation at W. was something like, "well, you can
say mass there, but only to the members of the immediate family, and only if
you don't advertise the fact [with bells]."

>And in 1362, the nuns of Notre-Dame de l'Eau were forced to destroy the
belfry of the chapel in their town establishment at Chartres, because they had
not first sought a licence for it from the dean and chapter of the cathedral,
and this contravened chapter privileges.  

seems like this would have been something of a common circumstance --most
every abbey of any size in the region (or out side it, for that matter) might
have had some sort of pied de terre in the City.  the monks of Tiron, Josaphat
and of Vendome (at least) all had some kind of place in town.  sometimes these
pieds could be quite extensive --the Hotel de Cluny in Paris is certainly a
Four Star establishment-- and must have had some sort of chapel to serve the
_familia_ serving there.  curious that the l'Eaus were allowed to put their
tower up in the first place.  

was their house actually in the "cloister" (and thus more directly under the
authority of the chapter)?  i know that the Abbot of Vendome's place was, just
NW of the cathdral, a few doors down the rue (a charter speaks of the monks
having too large entrance steps, partially blocking the 
--already narrow-- street or something).

>Such factors might also help to explain why the monks of the Cistercian house
of Byland move the site of their abbey from its previous location at Old
Byland, supposedly because they could hear the sound of the bells from nearby
Rievaulx Abbey.  

i believe that this case came up on this list a year or so ago, for some
reason.

>When Christchurch Cathedral Priory at Canterbury had their crossing tower
rebuilt by the royal master mason, John Wastell, between c.1494 and 1503, they
are known to have spent at least 1036 pounds on it, a rather staggering
outlay.  For whatever reasons, they must have considered it pretty important.

yes.

Jean de Beauce's contract is nearly contemporary --what, around 1505?-- and i
can't recall the amount specified, but, Building Being the Sport of Kings, it
weren't cheap, i should think.

probably a *lot* of texts from the late M.A. talking about cathedral towers,
all over everywhere, in all sorts of circumstances.

best from here,

christopher






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