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basilicas, collegials, monasteries [<Saint-Denis]


Christopher Crockett <[log in to unmask]>


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


Sat, 19 Jan 2002 10:13:30 MST





text/plain (280 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Marjorie Greene wrote:

>what has basilical status have to do with "cathedralism"? 

nothing, far as i know.

but, then, i have to say that i'm not quite sure what "cathedralism" is... 

...the worship of big, fancy chairs?

sounds kinky, even for contemporary catholics.

>The word "basilica" has, as far as I know, two meanings: a church built to
house relics; 

i've never heard that one before, but, if you say so, it's fine with me.

(though, aren't *all* churches more or less built to "house relics" --at least
to the extent that they must be equiped with at least one altar and that
altar, in order to be fully functional, had to be furnished with at least one

>an edifice in a certain architectural style: nave, perhaps with side aisles,
with a rounded apse at one end. 

CTAult's point.

>If there's a rule that a cathedral may not also be a basilica, I don't know
of it.

me neither.

how about we start here:

http://www.m-w.com (not a particularly good one, but at hand): 

"BASILICA: Latin, from Greek _basilikE_, from feminine of _basilikos_ royal,
from _basileus_ king

"Date: 1541
1 : an oblong building ending in a semicircular apse used in ancient Rome
especially for a court of justice and place of public assembly
2 : an early Christian church building consisting of nave and aisles with
clerestory and a large high transept from which an apse projects
3 : a Roman Catholic church given ceremonial privileges"

numbers 1 & 2 are the "traditional" (CTAultean) meanings, used to describe a
particular type of Late Roman ecclesiatical building.  and i assume that the
use of this (Greek or Latinized Greek) word to designate such buildings goes
back to contemporary writers (e.g., Eusebius?).

(if i'm not mistaken, there were pre- and post-310 secular "basilicas" which
were large structures purpose-built for housing an Imperial court, i.e., the
court of the "Basileus."  and the Christians ripped off the term --and parts
of the architecture [e.g., the "apse"]-- from there.  At least, this is the
term i've seen in art historical literature to refer to such secular
structures [as at Split]).
definition 3 implies some kind of special, modern designation (presumably by
the Pope), and, in my understanding, it is in this specific sense that the
[originally] abbey church of Saint-Denis can be so called --but only from the
end of the 19th century (or whenever it was so designated).

if this supposition is correct, then Saint-Denis, originally built as an abbey
church, is *still* an abbey church, even though there happens to be no abbey
housed there now (because, in my stubborn way of thinking, "once an abbey
church, always an abbey church," at least Art Hysterically speaking).

i.e., if i'm writing an article which includes a discussion of the
architecture (or glass, or sculpture) of that place, i'll caption an
accompanying illustration "Abbey of Saint-Denis,..."

now, i *could* add to that caption --or even use instead of "abbey"-- the
terms "basilca" and/or "cathedral" and i would be --*literally*-- quite
correct, but, because of the very specific, technical meanings which both
those words have when refering in scholarly writing to medieval buildings, i
would be introducing a source of potentially great confusion in the minds of
my hapless readers if i did so.

far as i'm concerned, whatever it's *subsequent* (much less present) use or
designation might be, for my limited, akademical purposes, that building is an
"abbey church."

now, from the 19th century (or whenever the Pope designated it as such), it's
been a "basilica."

and anyone who is interested in being strictly accurate in naming the building
*in a modern context* (which i am not) must, by rights, call it by that term.

except for the fact that, so we've been told on good authority, in 1966 it
was, as the French say, "erected into a cathedral" when it became the seat of
an episcopal suffragan of the archdiocese of Paris.

so, best i can see, the building itself is all *three,* at the same time,
simultaneously, as we speak: 

--abbey church, because of the original purpose for which it was built (and
which must be taken into account in order to explain certain features of its
architecture and decoration);

--"basilica," in the sense of definition 3 (but *not* nos. 1 & 2) above, ever
since its formal designation as such by whatever Designating Authority may
have had the Authority to so Designate it thus (and which designation will
have little or no effect upon the fabric of the building as we have it);

--Cathedral, i.e., the building now housing the _cathedra_ of an active and
installed Bishop (which desination may have some more or less superficial
effect on the fabric --e.g., the placement of an actual cathedra).

that's the way i see it, anyway.

corrections welcomed, but i'll go down with all flags flying on this one.

[log in to unmask] wrote:

>Or am I wrong?

well, the truth hurts, but, probably.

>All this about collegiate churches and monasteries is fascinating, but I'm
still unclear what you mean here.  

lookit, my own little ideosyncratic universe is ruled by ad hoc-isms which
i've gleaned from direct contact with the charter evidence from a very limited
place (the Chartrain) and time (11th-12th centuries), and what i've ended up
with from that source may or may not have any relationship with what anyone
else might think.


--"Abbey" denotes *any* monastic institution which is headed by an Abbot
("_abbatia_, abbey, from _abbat-, abbas_");

--as opposed, say, to a Priory, which is a monastic institution headed by a
Prior (though, curiously, the latin form for "priory" doesn't occur in the
Chartrain before the 13th c. --the term most often used is _cella_ or,
occassionally, _obentientiar*_). 

(e.g., the church of Saint-Martin-des-Champs was *not* an Abbey but a Priory
[of Cluny], because it did not have an Abbot, but "only" a Prior, who was
subservient to the Abbot of Cluny.   in this sense this great and powerful
institution must be ranked amongst a myriad of other, much more modest,
places, most of which were *tiny* by comparison to it in size 
--however judged-- and influence.)

--"collegial/iate" is not, as best i can recall, a term which is to be found
in the 11th-12th century charters from the Chartrain region, so i only use it
with reluctance to refer to an institution housing fellows who were (*self*)
styled "canons."

now, while the canons of the Cathedral of Chartres never refer to the
institution to which they belong as a "monastery," the canons of the *abbey*
of Saint John ("Saint-Jean-en-Vallée") *do* use that word to describe

(i'm going to have to double check that usage in the cartulary tonight, btw,
but that is my firm memory, that they called themselves "monachi" as well as

*therefore,* far as i'm concerned, St. John's is a *monastery* (and, of
course, a "collegial," as well as an Abbey).

likewise, if Henry D. France (younger brother of Louis VII) styles himself in
his charters as "Abbot of the Royal Monasteries," and the members of those
institutions who witnessed his charters are referred to (by themselves or by
others) as "canons," then, as far as i'm concerned, that is sufficent evidence
to suggest that the group of "collegiate" churches in the "Ile-de-France"
directly under the control of the King were:

--(1) abbeys (because they were headed by an Abbot);


--(b) monasteries (because they were so designated in the charters);

--(iii) collegial/-ate churches (because they were served by guys who styled
themselves "canons")


whatever these words mean in modern (or even post-1200) contexts concerns me
not a whit.

>Most of your explanation involves royal and/or noble patronage, which could,
so far as I know, be directed towards either sort of institution.  

that's right.

royal/"noble" patronage is a seperate issue, altogether and belongs on another
terminological level.

>But is it not the case that a collegiate church is served by a college of
canons, and a monastery by monks?  


but the problem comes --i *think*-- when you've got canons refering to their
own church/institution as a "monastery" (and, perhaps, even to themselves as
"monks," though i'm not as certain of that).

>Granted, I've always been struck by the physical similarities between houses
of Augustinian Canons 

so called.

here my understanding may not only be wrong, but even more sketchy.

in the 11th-12th centuries (in the Chartrain/Ile-de-France --always that
caveat) "canons" might or might not be "Augustinian" (or in perverse English,

certainly we might style the canons of the abbey of St. John of Chartres thus
--after the "reform" of Bishop Ivo (1090's)-- because, i presume, it was the
Rule of (or, rather, attributed to) St. Augustine which he imposed upon that
house.   (what, exactly, "reform" meant in this period is a *much* more
complex question than need be considered here.)

but canons of the "Royal Monasteries" which Henry D. France headed 
--before he Got Religion himself and left for Citeaux-- cannot at all be
styled "Augustinian," since, as far as i know, they did *not* live under the
Rule of (Pseudo-)Augustine --or anyone else, for that matter-- and, on the
contrary, if we are to believe their critics (like Picky Bernard), were
thoroughly corrupt and debauched.

"secular" canons, certainly fits, and i prefer that term; as opposed to
"regular" ones --i.e., guys who lived under a _regula_ as at St. Quentin's in
Beauvais, St. John's in Chartres and St. Victor's in Paris.

in my very limited understanding, *part* of the reason behind the foundation
of the collegial of St. Victor's just outside Paris in 
1115(??) was the push given --by a certain faction around Louis VI-- to
"reform" the collegial churches of the "realm."  and, by extension, not just
those, but also the cathedral chapters as well.

thus, St. Victor's was given prebends, and the annates to the prebends, in
many of these churches --as a toe in the door, a nose under the tent, and a
finger in the eye, which, it was hoped, might lead to "reform" of the other

but, as it turned out, the forces of resistance to change were *much* greater
than those of "reform," and the struggle between the two 
--combined with the inherent weakness of the King and the machinations of his
enemies, great and small, within and without his "Kingdom"-- led to several
spectacularly bloody conflicts (in Orleans where an Archdeacon was murdered,
Paris and elsewhere), the murder of the Prior of St. Victor's (who died in the
arms of the Bishop of Paris), and very nearly brought an end to the Capetian
dynasty itself in the later 1120s and early 30s.

>But you seem to be claiming that a single institution could have both canons
and monks?  

well, i'm claiming that my memory is that, on the one hand, the "Royal
collegials" are styled "monasteries" in the charters of their Abbot and, on
the other, that the canons of St. John of Chartres refer to themselves as
"monachi," and that, therefore, a single blanket won't cover all bottoms.

i'll double check that tonight in the sources and get back with you.

unless i'm wrong.


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