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The Passing of Bernard Reilly

18 Jan 2022 8:41 AM | Kyle C Lincoln (Administrator)

Bernard Francis Reilly, 1925–2021  

 Bernard F. Reilly, who passed away on December 11, 2021, at the age of ninety-six, was a pioneering scholar in the modern field of medieval Spanish history, and a formative figure in the early history of the Academy of Research Historians of Medieval Spain (AARHMS).

 Born in Audubon, New Jersey, on June 8, 1925, Reilly was a World War II veteran (served 1944-46) who rose to the rank of corporal during the war in the Philippines and later participated in the US occupation forces in Japan. He later remarked that the U.S. bombing of the Japanese mainland, and the nuclear holocausts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had made him a pacifist. During the Vietnam War he worked with a group of parishioners at St. Philomena’s church in Lansdowne, PA, to provide counseling to young men on ways in which they could avoid the draft as conscientious objectors.


Having received his bachelor’s degree from Villanova University (1950), and his Master’s in History from the University of Pennsylvania (1955), Reilly returned to his first alma mater to become an instructor of History at Villanova. He remained on the faculty from 1955 until 1992, becoming promoted to the rank of Full Professor, teaching widely on the High Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. In 1966, he completed his doctoral thesis at Bryn Mawr, “The Nature of Church Reform at Santiago de Compostela during the Episcopate of Don Diego Gelmírez, 1100-1140 A.D.”

His scholarly output was formidable: he was author of many works that remain essential both for experts in the field and for the classroom, helping to forge our understanding of the rise of Christian Spain and the genesis and consolidation of the kingdom of Leon-Castile in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. His scholarly monographs include The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla under Queen Urraca 1109-1126 (Princeton University Press, 1982); The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla under King Alfonso VI, 1065-1109 (Princeton University Press, 1988); The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain, 1031-1157 (Blackwell, 1992); The Medieval Spains (Cambridge University Press, 1993); and The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla under King Alfonso VII 1126-1157 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998). He was also the editor of a volume of essays entitled Santiago, Saint-Denis, and Saint Peter: The reception of the Roman liturgy in León-Castile in 1080 (Fordham University Press, 1985). His son, Bernard F. Reilly, Jr. – one of eight children – reports that he had been the first faculty member at Villanova to compose a scholarly book on the computer. Several of his books have been translated into Spanish and Portuguese.

Reilly’s final project, a study of León-Castile under King Fernando I and Queen Sancha, is to be co-written by Simon R. Doubleday and is forthcoming with the University of Pennsylvania Press. It was his conviction—one that will underlie this volume—that, as he expressed in a private letter, Fernando was “a traditional king of the Asturian line”, preoccupied with the Iberian northwest rather more than with the meseta, and that “the supposed turn to Cluny, and the French interest, proves to have been much overdone… The affairs of Castile are important but peripheral”. In contrast, Galicia and especially Portugal were, in Reilly’s view, surprisingly central.  

Collectively, Reilly’s meticulous scholarship has proven profoundly important for several scholarly generations and will continue to be so. He was awarded the John Nicholas Brown Prize of the Medieval Academy of America for the best first book in the area of medieval studies, and remains the only scholar to have won the American Historical Association’s Premio del Rey award twice: he was the inaugural recipient in 1990 for The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla under King Alfonso VI, and enjoyed similar success with the successor volume, The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla under King Alfonso VII 1126-1157, for which he received the same prize in the year 2000. Over the course of his career, he was the recipient of Fellowships and Research grants from the Fulbright Foundation (1982), the American Philosophical Society (1979), and the American Council of Learned Societies (1969). He was named Academic Correspondent of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de Toledo (1981), Honorary Fellow of the Hispanic Society of America (2003), to which he has bequeathed his personal papers before his death, and a Corresponding Member of the Academia Portuguesa da História (2004). 


Reilly’s major book projects were complemented by articles in Speculum, Medieval Studies, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, Viator, and the Catholic Historical Review, as well as the relatively new Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, and by many book chapters; he contributed no fewer than 33 articles to Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia.  In addition to his scholarly output, Reilly was also the author of three historical novels, all set in medieval Iberia: Treasure of the Vanquished: A Novel of Visigothic Spain (Combined Books, 1994); Secret of Santiago: A Novel of Medieval Spain (Combined Books, 1997); and Journey to Compostela: A Novel of Medieval Pilgrimage (Combined Books, 2001).


As president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter at Villanova University, Reilly represented faculty interests in collective bargaining with the University; he also headed the Pennsylvania Division of the American Association of University Professors (1969-72) and was also a Member of the Executive Committee of the National Council of the American Association of University Professors (1971-73). He also served as president of the American Catholic Historical Association.

Reilly’s role in the formation and early years of AARHMS, founded in 1974, is worthy of particular note. While Father R.I. Burns served as the organization’s first president, Reilly served as its first “Acting-Secretary”, assuming responsibility—among other tasks—for the composition of the AARHMS newsletters (early examples of which are accessible on the website). He performed this unglamorous task with wry elan. “If the preferred focus of this Academy in the decently detailed document”, he wrote in the October 1977 newsletter, “it ought perhaps to provide for the employment of future generations of scholars by the modest production of further documentation. Accordingly, we may report that as of this date, some fifty-eight of members have paid dues for 1977….”. The position soon morphed into that of Secretary-Treasurer, a position that he held from 1976-82 – a period that encompassed the 900th anniversary of the official adoption of the Roman rite in León-Castile in 1080.   

Following the presidency of Joseph O’Callaghan, Reilly was elected president of AARHMS in 1982 (taking office in 1983) and re-elected to that position two years later, serving until 1987. “In those days,” James Brodman recalls, “AARHMS was not terribly formal. It was a place for those of us interested in medieval Iberia to gather, to eat dinner together (we could all fit around a table), to listen to each other's papers and generally encourage each other at a time our field was on the fringes.” Reilly himself appears to have relished the friendly academic sociability that AARHMS provided. Reflecting on its tenth anniversary, still in his capacity as newsletter editor, he wrote: “It is pleasant to recall those whom the Academy has been able to assist to their first serious scholarly exposure… One thinks fondly of the camaraderie, the banter, the leisurely meals, and the occasional libation which smoothed away the frazzle of strange rooms, large crowds, late planes, and absolutely incomprehensible points of view”.  

A great many scholars will remember Prof. Reilly and his work with equal fondness. His acuity, and unmatched familiarity with the archives, will be missed by every medieval Iberian historian.

Simon R. Doubleday, Hofstra University

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