The twelfth-century Chronicle of Petershausen, composed over the course of more than thirty years, opens a rare window on the life-world of a medieval monastery as it struggles to grow and survive within tumultuous spiritual and temporal landscapes.
From its founding by St. Gebhard II of Constance as a proprietary episcopal monastery in 992 through the aftermath of the great fire that ravaged the community in 1159 and beyond, Petershausen encountered both external attacks and internal disruption and division. Across the pages of the chronicle, supra-regional clashes between emperors and popes play out at the most local level. Monks struggle against the influence of overreaching bishops. Reformers arrive and introduce new and unfamiliar customs. Tensions erupt into violence within the community. Advocates attack. Miracles, visions, and relics link the living and the dead. Through it all the anonymous chronicler struggles to find meaning amid conflict and chaos and forge connections to a distant past. Along the way, this monk enlivens his narrative with countless colorful anecdotes – sometimes amusing, sometimes disturbing – creating a history for the monastery with its own unique voice.
Intended for specialists and students alike, this volume presents the first translation into English of this fascinating text, which offers a unique glimpse into the lived experience of medieval monasticism and its interactions with the society around it.
Book One tells of the origins of the monastery, beginning with a hagiographical account of the monastery’s founder Bishop Gebhard II of Constance (r. 979–995). After an imaginative retelling of Gebhard’s illustrious ancestry and early life, the author describes his founding of the monastery, including information about the provisions of land and laborers, the original art and architecture of the church, the procurement of a papal privilege, and the acquisition of saints’ relics. The first book concludes with stories from Gebhard’s later years and an account of his death and burial at Petershausen.
Book Three begins with the arrival of the Hirsau reformers at Petershausen, including a brief biography of the reforming abbot Theodoric (r. 1086–1116) and a detailed description of his material renovation of the monastery. An extended series of miracles, visions, and anecdotes follow, many of which serve as subtle commentaries on the success and challenges of the reform. The book then describes the efforts of the monks to establish and manage daughter houses, which presents many setbacks and challenges for the monastery. In the midst of these efforts, the investiture controversy emerges again, but this time at the local level. Conflict and even a short exile ensue when a pro-imperial bishop is installed at Constance. After the conflict ends in Theodoric’s favor, an account of his death follows, commemorating his unique character and contributions to the library.
Book Two describes the subsequent growth of the monastery and the various challenges it faced along the way. At many points, the monks come into conflict with the bishops of Constance or their own lay patrons, often with God or St. Gebhard intervening or exacting vengeance on their behalf. The book also includes an account of the early Investiture Controversy, which is heavily biased against the emperor and intriguingly problematic in its reconstruction of specific events. The book closes by introducing the Hirsau Reform.
Book Four continues the history of the monastery from the death of Theodoric to the author’s own time with an eclectic collection of colorful stories continuing many of themes introduced in Books Two and Three – conflicts with bishops and lay patrons, internal politics, relations with daughter houses, and various miracles. Twice the bishop-proprietor Ulrich I of Constance attempts to intervene in the election or abdication of an abbot, spurring the monastery to assert its libertas in active resistance. Hints of profound troubles in the wake of reform are introduced, including violence in the abbey, economic mismanagement, and failed attempts to found and reform other houses. The monastery is miraculously spared from fire on multiple occasions.
An ad hoc extension, comprising sporadic annual entries, begins with the author’s first-hand experience of being cured from a spiritual malady by a drink from a chalice holding the tooth of the monastery’s founder. The author also discusses the monastery’s involvement in and experience of larger events in the mid-twelfth century, including the Second Lateran Council, the Second Crusade (and St. Bernard’s journey through Germany), and an extended period of famine and scarcity that compelled the monks to sell many prized works of art and other goods. A brief hagiography on St. Ratpero, whose oratory was located on land owned by Petershausen, is included. Several chapters that describe the death of religious women and men and other later entries offer a rare acknowledgement in the CP of religious women and men of various sorts at Petershausen, including those the chronicler identifies as hermits and inclusi. This section closes with a dramatic description of the fire that destroyed the monastery in 1159. In offering an eyewitness account of the extent of the devastation and the efforts of the monks to rebuild, the chronicler spins a narrative of trauma that lays the blame with the monks for their many moral failings.
The Chronicle opens with a prologue that is stylistically and thematically distinct from the rest of the text, and which may originally have been written as an independent treatise by the same author. In it, the chronicler uses biblical exegesis to trace the apostolic origins of the various aspects of monastic practice. The author then recounts the origins of other monastic and ecclesiastical professions – regular canons, bishops, clerics, holy virgins, solitaries, inclusi, pilgrims, and beggars – concluding that each agrees on one faith.
A fifth book, partly the work of a continuator, begins with the continued efforts of the monks to rebuild after the fire. After a brief description of Frederick Barbarossa and the Alexandrian Schism, most of the rest of the book focuses on Abbot Conrad (r. 1127–1164) and his exploits, including some pointed critiques of his many missteps.
The brief sixth book opens with the election of Abbot Gebhard I (1164–1171) and continues with sporadic entries in various hands, ending in 1203. Donations by and conflicts with lay patrons are discussed in brief. A short entry informs us that Abbot Gebhard, who was possibly the original chronicler, was deposed.
An account of the Translation of the relics of St. Gebhard describes in detail the festivities surrounding the canonization of the monastery’s founder and the consecration of the newly renovated church and chapels.