Constructing the past in eleventh-century Flanders: Hagiography at Saint-Winnoc

Constructing the past in eleventh-century Flanders: Hagiography at Saint-Winnoc

By David J. Defries

PhD Dissertation, Ohio State University, 2004

Abstract: At the heart of much scholarship on the Central Middle Ages (c. 950-1150) in western Europe is a debate about the rapidity and nature of change after the disintegration of the Carolingian empire. On the one hand, there is the traditional “mutationist” position, represented by such scholars as Marc Bloch, Jean-Pierre Poly, Eric Bournazel, Georges Duby, and T.N. Bisson. Scholars who adopt this position argue that a revolution, a radical and sharp break with the past, occurred in the structure of western European society around the turn of the millenium.

On the other hand, a diverse group, including Dominique Barthélemy, Susan Reynolds, Timothy Reuter and Chris Wickham, has either argued for less rapid change or questioned key aspects of the traditional position. In Phantoms of Remembrance, Patrick Geary has suggested that the debate over the mutationist interpretation has ceased to bear positive fruit, and that the important question in studying the Central Middle Ages is “why and how generations perceived discontinuity, and how these perceptions continued to influence the patterns of thought for a thousand years.” According to Geary, although people in the eleventh century were surrounded with the residue of the previous two centuries, they were unable to make sense of the structures that had given this residue its coherence.

Nevertheless, people in the period still attempted to make sense of the past, shaping it to fit contemporary needs. This process is important because it determined both the information people chose to make available to future generations and the form it would take. Put simply, how they chose to remember their past influences how we remember it. My dissertation examines how the hagiography produced for the eleventh-century, Flemish abbey of Saint-Winnoc remembers the past. More specifically, it approaches these texts from three perspectives. First, it identifies the literary strategies their authors employed to construct the past. Second, it examines how these strategies would have operated in the historical context in which they were composed. Finally, it points to some of the ontological, epistemological and ideological implications of recording the past in hagiographic narratives.

Click here to read this thesis from OhioLink

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