Hariulf's History of St Riquier

Kathleen Thompson
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Hariulf’s history of St Riquier, written at the end of the eleventh century, describes the history of his monastic community in Northern France from its origins in the seventh century until his own time. Although local in its coverage, it illustrates themes essential to an understanding of the Middle Ages: how medieval monks worshipped, the part they played in wider society and the role of relics that were believed to mediate divine power in medieval religious and political experience. In four books Hariulf narrates the life of the founder and patron, Richer, in whom he portrays the virtues to be admired and emulated by the monks; the development of the community under emperor Charlemagne’s friend and adviser, the poet, Angilbert; its period of literary and monastic excellence in the early ninth century and subsequent devastation in a Scandinavian raid. As the narrative approaches his own time, Hariulf’s work becomes a valuable source for the tenth- and eleventh-century history of Northern France, while the abbey’s relations with the local lords of Ponthieu shed light on the emergence of the so-called territorial principalities, which emerged after the break-up of the Carolingian empire. Diplomatic exchanges with Normandy before 1066 about the community’s relic collection are described and the history also provides insights from an early and detached commentator on events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. As a piece of historical writing, Hariulf’s work shows us how monastic history might be presented to foster a sense of communal identity in a changed and changing society.

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