Among These Authors are the Men of Bec: Historical Writing among the Monks of Bec

Among These Authors are the Men of Bec: Historical Writing among the Monks of Bec

Vaughn, Sally N.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 17 (2000)


Looking back on the accomplishments of the monks of Bec about a century after the abbey’s foundation in 1034-7, an anonymous author wrote a “Praefatio” to Vita Herluini, the first of a whole set of biographies of Bec’s abbots. First, the “Praefatio” explained, it was customary among the ancients to “set up likenesses” and to commit to writing the outstanding deeds of their ancestors, thereby memorializing them for the instruction of future generations “as an example of virtue and an inducement to good living.” Likewise, it continues, the (early) writers of the Church commemorated the lives of the saints in writing to preserve for their followers “a clear path of uprightness.” But the “moderns” (of his own time) wrote for a different purpose: not, as the ancients, to capture the favor of the common people, but so that the readers might follow the example of good living put before them:

For this purpose therefore the vigorous acts and marvelous virtues of the saints are written and read, so that in them may be praise to God. . . . And let the descendants regard and follow the footprints of their ancestors, so that without stumbling they can run the life of salvation with the steps of good work towards glory and the prize of God’s heavenly calling. This the ancients did, this many men of this age still do, not wishing to pass over in silence those whom they have thought of some importance. Among these authors are the men of Bec, who have written about the first architects and builders of that place . . . (cols. 695-96, emphasis added).

Thus, in this little “history” of the commemoration of great men by statues; by art; by biographical writing of ancient Rome; by the hagiography of the early Christian Fathers; and by the continuance of the custom with a new purpose in their own age, the anonymous monk of Bec puts his abbey and its authors in a historical context.

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