22 March 2012

The Making of the Monastic Community of Fulda, c. 744 - c. 900

The monastic community of Fulda was one of the most powerful institutions in early medieval Europe. This book traces the development of the community from its foundation in the 740s over one and a half centuries, a period richly documented by a variety of texts and archaeological remains.

These sources reveal how Fulda's success forced the monks to rethink their goals and the ways in which they sought to achieve them. Its close connection to the Carolingian royal court also makes Fulda a fascinating case study of how local events influenced life in the palace and vice versa. The importance of Fulda and the rich array of sources associated with it have long been recognised, but this is the first full study, bringing together religion, architectural history and archaeology. The result is a vivid picture of life in this monastery and also in early medieval religious communities in general.

From a small community to a royal abbey

Originally a small religious community of prayer and manual labour at the eastern periphery of the Frankish empire, Fulda’s position changed in the following century. It became a major royal abbey, and an important place within the Carolingian politico-religious orbit, and, moreover, the cult site of a real martyr, the celebrated Anglo-Saxon monk Boniface.

Tension between tradition and innovation

Fulda was a thriving enterprise that lasted for more than a thousand years. The main strategy of continuity consisted of innovation by means of invoking (and sometimes inventing) an authoritative common past. Abbots and other influential figures successfully presented themselves as repeating old traditions, while in fact they assimilated new aspects and transformed the past to the needs of their own time. Of course, tradition was powerful and throwing off old traditions involved conflict and controversy. Yet, this is precisely why we can study the dynamics of constructing a community; for this constant friction has produced the most informative and self-conscious testimony.

Moreover, the tension between continuity and change, between following in the footsteps of the fathers on the one hand and innovation on the other, is not merely present in Fulda’s sources. It is a more general phenomenon of early medieval culture, which makes this period such a fascinating field of study.

Construction of a medieval monastic community

This study brings the abundance of Fulda’s documentary and material information together to reveal the monastery’s self-understanding and the role tradition and innovation played in the construction of community. It is precisely a study that integrates the sources that deepens and enlivens our knowledge, of this monastery in particular, but also of religious communities in the early Middle Ages in general. It makes us aware of the broad dimensions and complexities of monastic life, which was not solely lived inside the confines of the abbey, but interacted closely with the needs of society. Moreover, it was not solely reflected in texts, but also found expression and was created in liturgy, saints’ cults, buildings and religious art.

Janneke Raaijmakers is lecturer in Medieval History at Utrecht University.

Title: The Making of the Monastic Community of Fulda, c. 744 - c. 900
Author: Janneke Raaijmakers
isbn: 978-1-107-00281-4
Price: € 70,-
Publisher: 2012, Cambridge University Press