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Cavero Domínguez et al., Tomás Becket y la península ibérica (1170-1230) (Perea Rodríguez)

  • 27 Jul 2017 12:57 PM
    Message # 4998440
    Janna Bianchini (Administrator)

    Gregoria Cavero Domínguez (coord.) Tomás Becket y la península ibérica (1170-1230). With Etelvina Fernández González, Fernando Galván Fraile (†), and Ana Suárez González. León: Universidad de León-Instituto de Estudios Medievales, 2013. 264 pages. ISBN: 978-84-9773-653-4. 

    Reviewed by Óscar Perea Rodríguez

    Lancaster University

    The monograph reviewed here is a rare gem in the Spanish historiography of the Middle Ages, for it is an excellent proof of collaborative spirit based on its inter-disciplinary nature. Usually, the concept of interdisciplinarity implies the coming together of a group of experts from different cultural fields to speak on a given topic. But this project, coordinated by Gregoria Cavero Domínguez, has gone quite beyond the interdisciplinarity cliché in order to create a real integration of different research methods, ranging from History, Arts, and Auxiliary Sciences, crystallising in a monograph in which the four authors are equally responsible for the final outcome. The great beneficiary of this approach has been Thomas Becket, whose traces in the Iberian Peninsula can be now exquisitely followed by both experts and non-experts.

    After a brief introduction underscoring the origins of the project (10–18), chapter 1 (37–46) gravitates around the historical contextualisation of Thomas Becket in both England and the Iberian Peninsula between 1150 and 1230. The fact that his life occurred in a time in which “despiertan los laicos hacia nuevas conductas espirituales” (21) is conveniently pointed out along these chapters, because this is of immense importance in the evolution of Becket both as a spiritual icon and as a human being according to the hagiographic theme of the Novus homo. In analysing the evolution of both British and Spanish events during the twelfth to thirteenth centuries, the authors prove themselves knowledgeable of the latest innovations provided by British historiography, which are indeed combined with more classical studies, such as those by David Knowles and William Fitzstephen, in order to shape the life and personality of the British chancellor. There is a specific place in the chapter (33–36) for setting up the beginnings of the cult of the martyr Santo Tomás Cantuariense, as it was called in Spain, which will eventually become the main academic target of this monograph.

    Chapter 2 (47–202) is dedicated to an in-depth analysis of all possible Hispanic sources to explain the transportation of Becket’s cult from Great Britain to the Iberian Peninsula. This includes not only written documents contemporary to the events, but also artistic sources, from big ones, such as sculptures and architecture, to small and delicate enamels, thumbnails, and gold work. The parishes built in Salamanca and Ávila, among others, in honor of Santo Tomás Cantuariense are thoroughly analysed (67–80), as well as all types of chapels, embossments, and paintings regarding the Saint. The book is enriched by a lot of high-quality photographs, which, together with thorough explanations, provide readers with a deep comprehension of how and why Saint Thomas Becket became a prominent cultic figure in Iberian Christendom. However, the most outstanding evaluation of this chapter lies in the literary reflection of Becket’s cult, especially its prompt spread “en Aragón, Castilla, en el reino de León, desde la costa asturiana a la cuenca del Tormes, así como en tierras portuguesas” (67). This is most evident in subchapter 5 of this part (123–202), in which readers find an exhaustive recount and a paleographic transcription of all texts within the “biblioteca becketiana” (127–131): that is, all literary sources, liturgical and lay, that reflect both the life and martyrdom of the British saint. Some of these manuscripts are described more specifically, such as the Silos breviary (AMS 9) and the Madrid lectionary (BRAH 9), because their hagiographic contents were essential in the process of spreading Becket’s cult. There is also a particular analysis of the importance of a specific Portuguese monastery, Santa Maria de Alcobaça, in the compilation of manuscripts related to Saint Thomas, some of which are also analysed and transcribed here.

    The last part of this monograph, chapter 3, must be understood as the proper academic colophon to the vast effort of registering sources made before: it is time now to “analizar su proyección y descubrir su impacto” (205). To this end, the authors designate the establishment of Becket’s Catholic feast as the starting point for his cult’s growth, designing therefore a sort of timeline in which all testimonies of the cult’s spreading over the Iberian Peninsula are covered. The separation between ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical testimonies is quite clever, as it offers a clear pattern to distinguish the evolution of Becket’s cult. Among the lay representatives, it is underscored how the Castilian monarchy, represented by both Alfonso VIII and Eleanor Plantagenet, was “la que más directamente se implicó en este culto” (215). Other strong enhancers of the Becketian cult were members of the clergy, such as Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada and Martín de Hinojosa, regardless of the fact that “el culto cantuariense se amplió espectacularmente entre los canónigos regulares, especialmente los rufonianos y entre los cistercienses” (228). In addition, the not-yet-well explored connection between Castile and Canterbury as a pilgrimage route is one of the most refreshing conclusions achieved by the authors in this last chapter.

    The most significant feature of this book is the total blending of different research methods in order to achieve a critical discussion of all materials presented, instead of using the traditional fashion of dividing chapters among experts and expertises. This method entails an active engagement of all materials, with the added benefit of having perspectives of research methods coming from distinct yet complementary fields of study. This is indeed remarkable, because it has allowed the participants to learn ways of applying them, thus enriching their own research methodology. There is therefore very little doubt that Cavero Domínguez, Fernández González, Galván Fraile, and Suárez González have cobbled together the essential monograph of Thomas Becket’s traces in the Iberian Peninsula.

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