By Anna Milne
Master’s Thesis, University of Canterbury, 2010
Abstract: The Chronicle of the thirteenth-century Franciscan friar Salimbene de Adam is filled with an abundance of self-referential passages. At almost every step of his narrative we are made extremely aware of Salimbene’s presence, as an author, a compiler of texts and anecdotes, a commentator and as an eye-witness to his age. Due to his ubiquitous ‘I’, Salimbene’s Cronica is often thought to be a subjective, biased and an ahistorical manifestation of traditional medieval universal histories. His supposed inappropriate self-interest has caused modern historians to mark both writer and text as a curiosity which defies any sort of logical definition. This mind-set has served not only to disconnect Salimbene and his Cronica from the historiographical, religious and social influences which pervaded his age, but importantly from the integral context provided by his work as a Franciscan friar. This thesis departs from treating Salimbene’s Cronica as a document to be mined for information about his world, an approach that largely eschews traditional methodologies associated with the study of chronicles.
This thesis establishes the terms and boundaries of Salimbene’s authorship and contextualises them thoroughly with the performances associated with his duties as a Franciscan in the spiritual and social world of thirteenth-century Italy. Salimbene was primarily priest and preacher as he so often tells us. Viewing Salimbene’s authorial presence through the lens of his performances as an historian, preacher, confessor and priest reveals that his Franciscan ‘Experience’ informed and shaped noticeable narrative strategies which are associated with his efforts to establish and exercise authority both in his text and the world in which he lived. Rather than being a curious exception, Salimbene’s strong authorial persona was connected intricately to the changes in the social and spiritual milieus that irrevocably impacted upon the writing of history during the thirteenth century.
I, Brother Salimbene, was the third son, and when I had completed a decade and a half of my life and had arrived at the turning point of the proverbial Pythagorean Y, I entered the Order of the Friars Minor. And I have been in this Order for many years as priest and preacher: I have lived in many provinces, seen many things, and learned much.
The Franciscan friar Salimbene de Adam, at the end of what was a long career in the Order, decided to write down the many things he saw and learned during his life in what is known as the Cronica. This stands as the culmination of his life’s work. Enmeshed in what is an informative, interesting and highly developed historical narrative, is also the recitation of numerous personal experiences that Salimbene had throughout his career as a Franciscan. These range from encounters with some of the more famous personages of his century such as St. Louis, Pope Innocent IV and the Emperor Frederick II to physical ordeals such as military sieges and moments of spiritual ecstasy. At almost every step of his narrative we are made extremely aware of Salimbene’s presence, as an author, interpreter and as a witness to his age. It is this presence, and the many ways in which it appears in the pages of his history, that is the concern of this thesis.