BOOK REVIEW: Money and the Church in Medieval Europe, 1000-1200: Practice, Morality and Thought (Gasper and Gulbekk, Eds.)–Review by Jacob Doss

Book Review: Money and the Church in Medieval Europe, 1000-1200: Practice, Morality and Thought. Edited by Giles E.M. Gasper and Svein H. Gulbekk. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2015. i-xii+1-292 pp. HB and e-book available. $124.95 HB; $118.70 e-book. ISBN: 978-1-4724-5681-6.

The thirteen essays that comprise Money and the Church in Medieval Europe, 1000-1200: Practice, Morality and Thought grew out of the editors Giles E.M. Gasper’s and Svein H. Gullbekk’s desire for increasing dialogue between their two respective disciplines: cultural and intellectual history and numismatics. The resulting interdisciplinary volume highlights northern Europe with a collection of micro-studies designed to illuminate the widespread effects of both Church reform and monetization across Europe during the High Middle Ages. The reader will recognize various themes, such as urbanization and monetization, from Lester Little’s foundational study, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe. The picture developed across these essays, however, offers an alternative depiction of the Church’s involvement with money that extends beyond Little’s dichotomy of avoidance and confrontation. Indeed, we find that monastics and clergy often introduced and supported monetization, thus playing an integral role in Europe’s economic development and the societal and intellectual effects it brought.

The collection is divided into three thematic sections: “Attitudes to Money within the Church,” “Buying, Selling and Building: The Use of Money by the Church,” and “Money and Power: Coinage, Salvation and Ritual”. The first section offers two surveys introducing the pertinent historiography and orienting the reader to the direction the studies are to take, and two detailed studies on the intellectual understanding of money during the period. The first survey from Rory Naismith focuses primarily on clerical and monastic notions of wealth and its proper use in the time between the turn of the first millennium and the twelfth century. In the second survey Giles E.M. Gasper summarizes the shifting and variable monastic conception of money and wealth from the eve of the “Gregorian” reform to the height of the twelfth-century “Renaissance.” These two chapters outline the Church’s ambivalent relationship to money and wealth, preparing the reader for the remaining micro-studies. The section is completed by Greti Dinkova-Bruun’s analysis of the monastic use of the coin as a metaphor for the spiritual life and, from Odd Langholm, a study of Alan of Lille’s beliefs concerning proper participation in the rising profit economy.

Part two opens with a chapter from Wim Vroom exploring the Church’s practical problem of attaining funds for the booming ecclesiastical building programs across Europe, and in the process, he sheds light on the various sources of ecclesiastical income. Continuing the exploration of funding “extraordinary enterprises,” James L. Bolton explores England’s post-1066 building explosion in light of its cash poor status. The final two chapters of the section offer case studies of the Church’s intimate role in the rising monetization of Denmark and England, respectively. Using numismatic and archaeological evidence, Bjørn Poulsen outlines the various ways the Church influenced cash flow and minting, concluding that the Church openly embraced and promoted monetization in Denmark. Finally, Mayhew and Mayhew provide a counterpoint to Bolton’s chapter by arguing for both the ubiquitous presence and use of money prior to and after 1066 by exploring, through the Domesday Book, the profusion of markets (requiring money for exchange), the Church’s significant role in their establishment and maintenance, and the movement of coins across the island.

Relying primarily on material rather than textual evidence, the authors of the third section focus on the manufacture, distribution, and physical deposits of coins. Sebastian Steinbach, in his enlightening contribution, analyzes the power relationship between monarchs and monastic houses under the Ottonians and Salians through the distribution and control of minting. Steinbach points out that monasteries primarily carried out imperial minting duties through grants from the emperor. He argues, however, that these imperial monasteries both retained a measure of symbolic power and increasingly wrested political influence from the emperor partly by minting coins with the effigies of saints and abbots while phasing out royal images. Taken in concert with Steinbach’s study, Jens Christian Moesgaard’s chapter provides a revealing look into the variety of power organizations throughout Europe. As the Capetians exercised little influence outside the Île-de-France, minting responsibilities were regional in nature and fell to various ecclesiastical institutions and lesser nobility. Moesgaard convincingly shows how, despite the presence of ecclesiastic imagery and text on coins, the duchy in Normandy controlled minting. Next, Lucia Travaini utilizes archaeological evidence to examine the use of coins in religious ritual. Her focus on coin deposits from across Europe (Italy, Norway, and Germany) reveals interesting and often unexpected evidence (a ritually sacrificed cow buried in a nave with coins) for the ways coins served as a “physical legacy of the encounter between the human and the divine” in ritual contexts such as pilgrimage, alms giving, and offerings (221). To end the volume, Svein H. Gullbekk argues that the arrival of the Church in Norway significantly ushered in its monetization and bureaucratization based on a “monetary mentality.” Through Church taxation and tithes, such as Peter’s Pence, a previously absent link was forged in the minds of the Norwegian population between money and religion where money became a medium of salvation in which a donation signified personal devotion and thus, a spiritual bond between people and God.

Gasper and Gulbekk’s volume is successful in opening the methodological conversation between mind and matter. The various approaches begin to bridge the methodological gap between intellectual and cultural history and the material approaches of numismatics and archaeology. Given, however, this volume’s genesis in the conference entitled “Church and Money c. 1060-c. 1160” from November of 2011, the articles inevitably raise more questions than they could possibly answer in the space made available. Indeed, monetization and reform are large categories of inquiry and at times one desires a deeper analysis of the ways reform movements shaped both action on the ground and the evolving power relationships between sacred and secular authorities. The work begun in this volume will help scholars nuance understandings of simony and investiture, as well as the later mendicant and lay religious reactions to money and wealth. Because of its excellent contextualization, the lines of inquiry it opens and insights it reveals, this volume is an important supplement to existing scholarship. It will be useful for graduate students and specialists studying the reforms of the eleventh and twelfth centuries because of its close attention to the varying economic interactions between the Church and European society at large, both for the light it sheds on everyday practice and political power struggles alike.

 Jacob Doss

Jacob Doss is a Ph.D. student in the History Department of the University of Texas at Austin. He studies monastic reform movements of the long twelfth-century, particularly as they relate to Cistercians, education, and gender.



Little, Lester. Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1978.