medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
For reasons which I shall explain later, I'm going to rave about a book
before I have read it! (I may be less enthusiastic once I have done so...)
The book is:
D.A. Stocker & P.L. Everson, Summoning St Michael: Early Romanesque Towers
in Lincolnshire (Oxbow Books, 2006) ISBN 1842172131
The authors are archaeologist working for English Heritage, who have made a
study of a group of parish church towers in Lincolnshire which have
attracted attention in the past, because they date either from just before
or just after the Norman conquest. (Our authors plump for the late 11th
century - which was a bit embarrassing, as the fieldwork had been conducted
for the "Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture"!) They gave a talk a few
days ago based on their findings, which caused me to sit up and take
notice - because they have made a link between the archaeology of the
standing buildings and the medieval liturgy.
These towers all have a bell stage with paired belfrey opening on each face.
It is fairly obvious that bells were hung there, but our authors found that
they were rung from a ringing chamber below, not from ground level. These
ringing chambers had slit windows, and these faced the direction or
directions that covered the greater part of the churchyard. All the towers
have (or formerly had) west doorways, but the ground floor spaces of the
towers were poorly-lit, again by slit windows. There was a tower arch into
the nave, often highly decorated, but this decoration was only on the nave
side, not the tower side. The conclusion was that the west doorway was an
exit, not an entrance. The ringing chamber was accessed by a doorway above
the tower arch - i.e. it could only be accessed via a ladder placed in the
nave - not from within the tower.
The interpretation of all this was that the vigil over the body of a dead
parishioner was held overnight in the ground floor stage of the tower, lit
by candlelight, and that the funeral procession subsequently left via the
west doorway, with a bell tolling until the instant that the body was laid
in the grave. Our authors suggest that these towers were built in response
to a change in the liturgy, driven by Bishop Remigius as he built his new
cathedral at Lincoln, after 1072.
So far, so good - although some awkward questions arise. As you should know
by now, I am somewhat sceptical by nature, so I asked why these towers were
found only in Lincolnshire, when the diocese famously stretched from the
Thames to the Humber? The answer was that they seemed to be confined to the
three archdeaconries of Lincolnshire (I do wonder if we should look to the
archdeacons rather than the bishop - as deacons they might well be more
concerned with the liturgy away from the altar...) Also, they claimed that
Remigius was following the lead of Lanfranc, but I can't find any support
for their larger claims in the Decreta Lanfranci.
For there is more: our authors claim that this use of western towers is
mimicking the liturgical use of the transept ends of abbey churches and
cathedral priory churches (and presumably secular cathedral churches such as
Lincoln, although they weren't too clear on that point). They claimed that
these incorporated belfreys, and mortuary chapels dedicated to St Michael.
I suppose their book may have been published too late for Jon Cannon to take
their findings into account in his own book - which could be a bit
embarrassing if they turn out to be right!
Because I have a feeling that I may be less convinced once I have read the
book. I am convinced that their archaeological interpretation of the use of
these parish church west towers is correct, but I am less certain that they
are on firm ground with their interpretation of the liturgy - but we shall
have to see!
To join the list, send the message: join medieval-religion YOUR NAME
to: [log in to unmask]
To send a message to the list, address it to:
[log in to unmask]
To leave the list, send the message: leave medieval-religion
to: [log in to unmask]
In order to report problems or to contact the list's owners, write to:
[log in to unmask]
For further information, visit our web site: