In early Christianity it was established that every church should have a light burning on the altar at all times. This unique study is about the material and social consequences of maintaining eternal lights. Never before has the subject been treated as important to the political economy, nor has it been explored over the whole medieval period. The cost of maintaining the lights meant that only the elite could afford to do so, and peasants were organised to provide funds for the lights. Later, as society became wealthier, a wider range of people became providers and organised themselves into guilds or confraternities in support of the church and with the particular aim of commemorating their members. Power over the lights, and over individual churches, shifted to these organisations, and, when belief in the efficacy of burning lights was challenged in the Reformation, it was such people who were capable of bringing the practice of burning eternal lights to a sudden and sometimes violent end. The study concludes that the practice of keeping a flame on the altar did indeed have important material and cultural consequences. Because it examines the relation between belief and materiality at every turn, the book also works as a guide to the way in which Western Europe developed, from the decline of the Roman Empire to the advent of the Protestant state.
Dagobert II was a Merovingian king who ruled for about four years in Austrasia, the Frankish kingdom which included northeastern France, Belgium and the Rhineland. His reign probably began in late 675 or early 676. This chapter first reviews what we know of Dagobert and next examines the Vita Dagoberti. It then looks at how Dagobert II was rediscovered via the Life of Wilfrid in the seventeenth century, and was subsequently re-inscribed in the history of the period. This leads readers to an evaluation of the Life of Wilfred as a source, reflections on the significance of Wilfrid himself, and further thoughts on the relationship between memory and tradition. The Life of Wilfrid is therefore a text that is to readers vital for historical research, but not one of which more than a handful of early medieval people were aware.
This chapter considers the history of those polities that were formed across western Europe in the wake of the Roman Empire: many relatively short-lived, but others of much greater longevity, some of which are seen as the ancestors of modern European nation-states. It considers first their nature as ‘states’, questioning the utility of that term to describe what were often very large territories indeed, extensively governed but in a very shallow manner, with only limited purchase on the lives of the governed. It turns then to the question of identity, initially picking up the theme of ethnic labels raised in the first chapter, before turning to law and social status as arguably much more important markers of identity. Finally, it considers the religious life of the period: the great proliferation of holy men (and some women), the Christian saints, accounts of whose lives give us so much of our evidence for this period, and the widespread foundation of monasteries, in which those accounts were written and copied.
The momentous historiographical debates surrounding the idea of a ‘feudal revolution’ stand at the centre of this chapter. It considers, first, the nature of social and political change in Francia in the decades around the year 1000, and the putative shift in a post-Carolingian world towards a privatization of public power: or whether, in fact, these changes are just tricks of the evidentiary light, the product of shifts in documentary culture. It turns next to the emergence of the new social stratum of knights, and changes to family and kin structure as the basis for personal identification, together with an apparent rise of unfreedom as individuals sought the protection of the Church against the warlords. Finally, it considers the rising donations to Frankish monasteries in this period, and their concomitant growth in status. It assesses the ‘Peace of God’ movement as an ecclesiastical response to violence, driven by those newly empowered monasteries.
The Introduction establishes the scope of the subject. It examines previous work in the area and asks why the subject of providing for the lights has not had more attention. It argues that the topic is certainly worth sustained investigation and sets out a plan for the study as a whole
Here the origins of the use of light in worship are traced back to the Mosaic books of the Old Testament. How the injunction to keep a light burning at all times was adopted into Christianity despite opposition. The gifts the Emperor Constantine made to churches for lights are discussed against the background of declining oil production in the later Roman period. Early evidence from Italy, Spain, England and France is discussed and comparative analysis of the spread of the lights is made. There is emphasis on the economic background and discussion of the emergence of localized production of olive oil, alongside a switch to wax as an acceptable substitute fuel for the lights.
This chapter shows how resources dedicated to the lights were institutionalised in the different parts of Europe. This was against a background of an increasing shortage of olive oil. Miracles which related to the shortage are analysed. Frankish charters of immunity receive close attention for they show how rulers invested the lights. The situation in France, Italy and Spain is compared in order to investigate what the social consequences were of making people contribute to the costs of the lights.
It is shown here how the Carolingian rulers of Francia legislated to make every community contribute to the cost of the lights. It begins with Charlemagne’s conquest of northern Italy and his appropriation of oil supplies from the region. This shows how providing for the lights was associated with power, and the chapter traces this out in the evidence of laws and church councils. Since there was a determined effort to spread the costs of lighting throughout society, it becomes possible to see a response at community level. It is seen that categories of people became tributaries to the church with a hereditary obligation to provide for the lights.
This, the longest chapter in the work, examines in more detail how peasants on estates were organized to provide resources for church lights. There is a particular focus on church estate records (polyptychs) from the mid-ninth century onwards, the aim being to identify the social range of people who paid for the lights on a hereditary basis. The emergence of the guild is also examined. A sort of ‘middling group’ of people who contributed to the lights are identified and traced in France, Italy, Spain and England. Resistance to the forced cultivation of olives is discussed in relation to a famous case from Italy. The chapter closes with a survey of the social structure underpinning the supply of materials for the lights across Europe.
Here the social consequences of maintaining the lights are examined in greater detail. The discussion builds on the results of Chapter 4. At issue are two kinds of people: censuales, or cerocensuales in Germany and colliberti in France. Were they both hereditary tribute payers, formed as a group by the need to supply the Church? A lengthy discussion concludes that the censuales were a group called into being by the needs of the Church in this way, but that the colliberti were not. The discussion contributes to a long-running debate about the nature of servitude, manumission and obligation. The chapter ends by looking at the conditions under which the censuales lived and how their standing changed as towns grew and social distinctions were relaxed.