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Benedictine Maledictions: Liturgical Cursing in Romanesque France Hardcover – 18 Nov 1993

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (18 Nov. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801428769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801428760
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,469,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"'May they be cursed in town and cursed in the fields. May their barns be cursed and may their bones be cursed. May the fruit of their loins be cursed as well as the fruit of their lands.' French monks of the Middle Ages hurled curses like these at their enemies, seeking supernatural assistance when no secular judge could help them. In a long-awaited book written with elegance and erudition, Lester Little undertakes the first full-length study of these maledictions. . . . The book's focus is the way that religious communities especially the monks who followed Benedict's Rule and hence were known by his name used liturgical cursing to safeguard their integrity and their possessions, against both laymen and other ecclesiastics." Journal of Social History"

"Little begins with a custom that may seem quaint; he ends by leading the reader through a series of centrally important historical developments, and in most cases he succeeds in showing their relevance to this extraordinary custom of liturgical cursing." Richard Kieckhefer, Northwestern University, American Historical Review, December 1995"

"Professor Little has carried out in masterly fashion his stated goal, the re-creation of the whole cutlure of medieval clamor, and in the process he has illuminated many other aspects of medieval religious, social, and legal practices. His book, filled with charming personal asides, will be duly appreciated by scholars, admirers, and nonspecialists." Bede K. Lackner, University of Texas, Arlington, Speculum, October 1995" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

In this long-awaited book, the result of more than a decade of research, Lester K. Little reconstructs and explores the phenomenon of officially sanctioned religious cursing in medieval Europe. He focuses on a church service, called in Latin either clamor or maledictio, used by monastic communities (primarily in Francia) between approximately 990 and 1250. Threatened by bands of heavily armed knights in a period of incessant civil strife, communities of monks, nuns, and cathedral clerics retaliated by cursing their enemies in a formal religious ceremony. After presenting the formulas the monks used in such cursing, Little explores the social, political, and juridical contexts in which these curses were used and explains how Christian authorities who condemned cursing could also authorize it. He demonstrates that these Benedictine maledictions often played a decisive role in resolving the monks' frequent property disputes with local notables, especially knights. Little's approach to his subject is topical. After determining the clamor's sources, he takes up its kinship with such related liturgy as the humiliation of saints and then shows where and to what end it was used. By the conclusion of his work, he has recreated the whole culture of the medieval clamor, and in the process he has illuminated many other aspects of medieval social and legal culture. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Format: Paperback
In such a way did the devil taunt Benedict, compiler of the monastic rule. Yet from the end of the tenth century and through out the eleventh century and beyond, cursing (or the use of maledictions) was a common practice of the Frankish monastic communities. A fascinating subject in itself, this study of the methods and occurrences of liturgical cursing is far from a curio - it is nothing less then a general portrait of the collapse of public authority in the Carolingian territories and Christian perspective in the period.
Professor Little (something of a Blochist, (and Dixie professor of history at Smith College)), argues in powerful terms, with enthralling evidence, that the monks' use of cursing violent transgressors and those threatening their property was a result of living in a society with no system of judicial support; their only line of defence was spiritual. Deftly, lines and approaches that seem dealt with reappear in new contexts to illuminate the breadth and far-reach of Little's survey. The study demonstrates how the Irish church (the only Christian communities not to be Romanised) with its Druidic heritage influenced continental Catholicism while religious precedent was based on the Old Testament, a text of vengeance. Little answers questions such as how theologians of the time reconciled Old and New Testament teachings, how liturgical cursing reflected the volatile mechanisms of the gift economy and how society came to be dominated by a class of brutalised fighters, the 'milites'.
As a study of cursing in monastic communities 'Benedictine Maledictions' is unrivalled, literally - to my knowledge there is no comparable work (though I may be quite mistaken, more than a decade having elapsed since publication).
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