GREENE – Reformed Bodies (Draft)

This is the working draft of my paper for Friday, 12 October at the Categorizing the Church II conference in Poitiers (attached as well). All comments, suggestions, criticisms are welcome! I’ll be editing this throughout the week, with particular emphasis on the conclusion. Also, please excuse the disasterous notes.

The usual caveats about citing/sharing unpublished work apply.

Reformed Bodies: The Monastic Community of Saint-Germain (Auxerre)

Thomas Anthony Greene

Assistant Professor of History

Texas A&M University – San Antonio

In his exegesis of the mass, Remigius of Auxerre described the intimate relationship between the celebrant and the congregation. As the mass built towards the Te igitur, he wrote, the last echoes of the singing of Hosanna faded, the church grew silent, and the priest began to intone the central prayer of the mass. But according to Remigius, he did not do so alone. Even if they did not pray aloud, “the priest with the church and the church with the priest with spiritual desire all together enter into the eternal and heavenly sanctuary of God.” The mass was an expression of community, but here it was more. It was a communal experience, both sensory (sound) and emotional (desire). As such, understanding the lived experiences of monastic bodies is vital for understanding monasticism.

In this paper I outline this phenomenological approach, using Saint-Germain (Auxerre) as the case study. I draw from Remigius’s mass commentary, along with the homilies written by his predecessors at Saint-Germain Haimo and Heiric, to understand how the monks’ senses and emotions contributed to the experiential possibilities and limitations of their communal lives. I conclude by looking past the ninth century, for Saint-Germain outlived the three great masters of its Carolingian school. The monks of Saint-Germain were notoriously difficult to reform, requiring two different efforts to bring them in line with Cluniac observance. Whether reform was forced on the brethren by lay power or came at the instigation of their abbot, whether they embraced it willingly or resisted it emphatically, what reform meant for monks was a change in their daily lives, in their sensory perceptions, in their emotional experiences. Reform affected their bodies, and it is with their bodies that we must begin to understand reform.



The entry in the Gesta abbensis sancti Germani for Thealdus, abbot of the monastery of Saint-Germain in Auxerre from around 1020 until 1032 is remarkably short, running just over 100 words. The author emphasizes the regularity of Thealdus’s election and locates his term as abbot in relation to both kings and popes. Even within such a sparse biography, however, we learn that Thealdus had a reputation as a reformer at Moutiers before he came to Saint-Germain. Thealdus “restored the monastery of Moutiers, and built up both its buildings and its possessions, and adorned [it] with many gold and silver furnishings.”[1] We are also told that once at Saint-Germain Thealdus “strove to improve the monastery both spiritually and temporally.”[2]

I would argue that the description of his activities at Moutiers and Saint-Germain should be read as parallel accomplishments. The highlight of Thealdus’s temporal improvement at Saint-Germain was, with the help of the Bishop of Auxerre, to recover the church of Annay. The absence of similar details for Moutiers is unsurprising given the purpose of the abbatial gesta as a genre and the contested nature of the rights of Annay. As Consatnce Bouchard has argued for the espicopal gesta from Auxerre, one of the functions of the text was to explain “in as much detail as possible, how the see of Auxerre had acquired its property and exactly what that property was.” [3] But what about the spiritual improvements? Furnishing Moutiers with gold and silver objects, I believe, is the equivalent of enhancing the spirituality of Saint-Germain. The key to resolving the incongruity of this pairing comes in the use of the verb decorauit. Describing gold and silver objects as adornment or beautification acknowledges their aesthetic appeal, rather than their crass materiality. It forced the reader to consider those who experienced these objects, and forces us in turn to consider that experience; that is, we must consider how monks would have seen those objects, and how their materiality related to the context of that seeing, to the monastery as a place of spirituality. After all, as Duby wrote years ago, in the eleventh century “the Lord was to be praised not only through prayer but also through offerings of beauty.”[4]

Lynda Coon has already drawn our attention to the intimate relationship between monastic bodies and monastic space. In Dark Age Bodies, she articulates the connection between architecture, the liturgy, and the bodies of monks who performed and witnessed liturgy in specific sacred spaces. As part of her focus on the body, Coon notes the importance of sensory phenomena to monastic life. Most of these linkages, however, relate to her argument about monastic gender and the queerness of monastic space. The male monastic gaze, for example, encompassed the crucified body of Christ, of course, but also the bodies of other monks. Touch could be similarly subversive. Proximity to other male bodies threatened to disrupt the chaste monastic corpus, and Carolingian interpreters of the Rule advised monks not to come into bodily contact, not even to wake each other for devotional activities. For this, Smaragdus deemed the sound of tapping on the boards of a bed safer than a nudge or a shake. Given the significance of the monastic body to monastic life, I propose that the bodies of monks, specifically their sensory experiences, also mattered for monastic reform.

To think about reform from an experiential perspective is to consider the effect that reform must have had on the monastic habitus. I use this word intentionally, but not with great specificity, acknowledging a debt to Bourdieu but not insisting on a rigorous application of his work. I think Bourdieu is useful for medieval studies, however, not least because he himself depended greatly on the medievalist Panofsky and is thus something of a medieval fellow-traveler. To use habitus as a shorthand for “monastic way of life” is to recognize that monks should be understood as bodies-in-environment, and that as reform altered that environment, it altered the way that monastic bodies experienced it.

I offer as a case study the monastery of Saint-Germain, in Auxerre. This venerable foundation boasted an important monastic school from the mid-ninth through the early-tenth century. The monastery experienced multiple reform efforts in the eleventh and twelfth century, proving stubbornly resistant to the imposition of Cluniac observance. The fullest source for understanding monastic bodies in their devotional context is an exegesis of the mass written by Remigius of Auxerre, and it with that text that I begin.



In this paper I focus on Saint-Germain after 840, but it is worth remembering that the mass was a Carolingian preoccupation for the entirety of the ninth century. Aside from Charlemagne’s well-known concern with chant, the celebration of the liturgy was an important enough subject that the 829 Aachen council legislated about its performance. More significantly, the Carolingians seem to have been the first to subject the liturgy to exegetical treatment, and the ninth century witnessed the production, in Yitzak Hen’s estimation, of “scores” of such works by anonymous authors as well as well-known luminaries.[5] Remigius of Auxerre was one of those who devoted himself to this task, the last in a long line of Carolingians to do so. He was also the last of the three Auxerrois masters, trained by Heiric who was trained by Haimo in turn. So while he sits at the end of two traditions, I want to begin with his liturgical commentary.

To understand the importance that Remigius attached to the sensory experience of the mass, one need do no more than read the first few lines of his liturgical exegesis. After affirming the traditional nature of the content and offering two explanations for the etymology of the word missa, Remigius defends the choice to begin the mass not with a scriptural passage “but instead with singing and playing/psalmody” (sed potius canendo et psallendo).[6] Remigius must have chosen this language intentionally, for it echoes, and thereby receives justification from, Ephesians 5,19. In that chapter of the letter Paul explained how to be followers of God. The list of acceptable behaviors included “speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody (cantantes et psallentes) in your hearts to the Lord.”[7] Remigius duplicated the Pauline language, but he departed somewhat from the sense. Paul advised the Chirstians at Ephesus to sing in their hearts. Remigius thought too about the hearts of those attending the mass, but he expected singing to affect them, not take place within them.

Remigius’s preoccupation with the salutary effect of liturgical sound differs only in tone from the example set by his predecessors at Saint-Germain. As I have elaborated upon elsewhere, Haimo and Heiric exhibited a distrust of sensory phenomena, with the two earlier masters differing from each other only by Heiric’s characteristic denunciatory vigor.[8] This slight difference is most striking in Haimo’s exegesis of the same passage in Ephesians that seems to have inspired Remigius. The kind of internal singing advocated for by Paul, Haimo argued, allowed the signer to focus more intensely on the meaning of the words being sung. This allowed them to avoid the danger of caring too much about how well they were singing and how pleased the audience was with their performance.[9] Haimo’s sensory suspicion extended beyond singing to include hearing as well, as he continued to explain in his exegesis of Ephesians 5,19. The bodily senses, generally, served to guard individuals from dangers that could imperil their soul. Those listening to the wrong kind of singing endangered their souls just as much as those who sang incorrectly.

This certainly did not mean that Haimo expected his brethren to sing silently, for he closed his admonition by referencing the Rule of Benedict and the coming together of the community in order to sing.[10] Rather, Haimo’s suspicion of singing and hearing led him to emphasize the importance of singing intentionally, meditating on the words being sung at the moment of their vocalization. He would repeat this advice in a homily as well, ensuring that his preference for following loyally both Paul’s and Benedict’s advice reached an audience wider than those who would read his Ephesians commentary.

Even if one sang with voice and mind in agreement, not all songs deserved to be sung. In one of his homilies, Haimo itemized the kinds of songs that he found acceptable in response, again, to Ephesians 5,19.[11] He explained the meaning of psalmus and hymnus, as well as the difference between psalms and cantantes. He castigated worldly songs, lifting up instead as suitable those of Moses, Anna, Deborah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and the rest of the prophets. In addition to these he allowed hymns composed by Ambrose and Hilary and other clarissimi viri.[12] Of note is Haimo’s explanation that the thing that distinguished songs from psalms was the use of instrumentation to accompany the latter.

Music mattered, as it turns out, because of its effect on the emotions of the listener. In his commentary on Isaiah, he cited unnamed doctores to argue that the “power of the musical arts” is such that “if it finds men happy, it makes them happier; but if sad, it increases their sadness.”[13] In the context of the church, then, music served to induce a specific emotional response. “The singers of the holy church,” Haimo explained, “who with their singing provoke the hearts of the listeners to the love of God.”[14]

So, by beginning his mass commentary by defending/advocating for “singing and playing”, not in the heart but to affect the heart, Remigius accomplished two things. First, by choosing canendo et psallendo he referenced Paul’s own cantantes et psallentes in the letter to the Ephesians, grounding his claim solidly in scriptural authority. Second, he signaled an abandonment, or at least a qualification and contextualization, of the tradition of suspicion found at Saint-Germain, which potentially led to a different sensory experience of the mass. For earlier generations of monks at Saint-Germain, singing and instrumentation during the mass were perhaps suspect, and certainly needed to be interrogated to determine their suitability. For Remigius and his fellow inmates, they were a fundamental part of the aural experience of the divine service. Moreover, listening to song and music was not just pleasing but salutary, for it made available the “healing words of the Gospel.”[15]

The mass engaged most of the other senses as well, although to a somewhat different end. Sight, smell, and touch all instructed the congregation. Sight helped the participants unlock the sacred meaning of the liturgy by interpreting the numerous visual cues contained therein. The mass as was a meticulously staged and choreographed performance. The cross-shaped dalmatic encouraged self-examination and self-criticism for “vices and desires” (vitiis et concupiscentis), while it’s white background and red streaks called to mind chastity and the divine blood shed at the crucifixion. As the celebrant approached the altar, the light in the church would have changed, as the candles preceding him approached as well. Remigius expected this to remind everyone of the coming of the light of the Word into a world living in the shadows of sin. Aligning them from south-north reinforced this message by reassuring them of God’s pity for them. Changing that alignment to east-west later in the mass so that God’s metaphorical light shone in all directions. The priest preached the homily facing north, with both himself and the words that he spoke protecting the congregation from the devil because, Remigius wrote “that by the north the Devil is indicated the prophet shows, saying: O Lucifer, thou saidst in thy heart: I will sit in the sides of the north.” More could be added to these examples. No element was too small to convey meaning to the watchful eyes of those in attendance.

Smell and touch played less frequent, but no less important, roles in the sensory experience of the mass. The burning of incense reminded the congregation that just as they enjoyed it, so too they should petition God to receive their prayers in the same manner. Finally, bodies came together for the kiss of peace. The mas, then, engaged the entire sensorium, and the body in its entirety was affected by the experience. Bodily comportment was the final link between Remigius and Haimo. “We ought,” wrote Haimo of Auxerre in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:29, “to advance to that terrifying sacrament with fear and trembling.”[16] The sacramentum terribile was the Eucharist, of course, and in his mass commentary Remigius mentioned the same bodily perturbation, although Remigius didn’t associate fear and trembling with the Eucharist but rather with praising and adoring God.

Haimo did not elaborate on this statement, being more concerned in this part of his Corinthians exegesis with discerning what was taking place at the altar during consecration. Remigius, however, marshalled an impressive list of scriptural citations, for his focus was squarely on bodily experience. He began with Job 26, 11, the pillars of heaven tremble, and dread at his beck. Remigius explained that this was not a punishment, for the trembling of the pillars of heaven was “not in fear, but in admiration.”[17] He then addressed the congregation directly, asking rhetorically “Whence, therefore, man should remark that there should be in the heavens such great devotion of praise, veneration of adoration, trembling of adoration, man of whom it is said why is earth and ashes proud?[18] After this monitory quote from Ecclesiasticus, Remigius concluded by citing Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in which the apostle advised the recipients to with fear and trembling work out your salvation. With this we have come full circle to the beginning of the commentary, for the mass was a salvific exercise. When writing about it, Remigius thought as much about the sensory experience as he did about the mechanics of the mass, the prayers, the interaction between the celebrant and the congregation. That is, Remigius payed attention to monastic bodies, and so should we.



I would like to close by looking ahead, out of the ninth and early tenth centuries and towards the early eleventh century reform efforts with which I opened. Studying Saint-Germain after Remigius’s departure to the cathedral in Reims is problematic. As expected, post-Carolingian sources are rare, and localizing those sources that do exist presents challenges. Scholars have postulated only a few characteristics of what might be considered an Auxerrois script.[19] No list of manuscripts produced at the scriptorium at Saint-Germain (or the cathedral of Saint-Étienne) exists, and catalogs like Bischoff’s only make tentative identifications. There are three later sources, however, that arguably prove useful when thinking about monastic reform in Auxerre: a gesta of the bishops of Auxerre; a gesta of the abbots of Saint-Germain; and a cartulary that contains authentic earlier material.

The history of reform at Saint-Germain that emerges from these sources is well known, and is described in detail in Noelle’s book.[20] So much of what was written in the abbatial gesta is devoted to the recovery and acquisition of property. Thinking about reform from a sensory perspective offers another lens through which to read these documents, but perhaps more importantly such thinking forces us to look beyond them. At a minimum, we should recognize that as I have presented it, reform is a concept that goes beyond taking inventory of the property of a monastery or the accident of lay or ecclesiastical control. Monastic reform is not just a question for institutional history, but for cultural history as well.

Indeed, from this perspective, what we traditionally call the reform of Saint-Germian looks more like elaboration on a theme. The abbatial gesta uses the expected rhetoric of neglect, along with a lack of zeal and discipline, as justification for reform, but gives no details about the conditions before and after Saint-Germain was reformed. What we do learn is that in both cases is that the reformers looked to Cluny, and from Cluny they would have brought that order’s musical culture. Indeed, by the early eleventh century music held a special place in the Romanesque liturgy. The two together, music and liturgy, “were the most effective instruments of knowledge available to the culture of the eleventh century.”[21]

While we may now want to qualify Duby’s broadly formulated statement, the idea that music – meaning the sensory experience of it – allowed for a certain kind of knowledge would have rung true to Remigius, who emerges as a key figure in the history of both the monastery of Saint-Germain and the history of the early tenth century. While the treatises on music of Hucbald of Saint-Amand and (slightly later) Guido of Arezzo and John of Affligem all have received some scholarly attention, including an English translation, Remigius’s own De musica languishes unstudied. The same is true of most of his work. He was a prolific exegete, commenting mostly on specific subjects and classical authors, not scriptural texts. More importantly for my paper today, Remigius didn’t stay in Auxerre. He left for the cathedral school at Reims, and went from there to Paris. In Paris he taught music to a monk named Odo, who went on to become the second abbot of Cluny. By the end of the tenth century, when Heldric arrived in Auxerre perhaps he didn’t bring a reformed sensibility with him at all. Perhaps he just came home.


[1] Gesta abbensis, 22: Heldrici Meleredense monasterium reparauit ac sublimauit tamque edificiis quam posessionibus ac supellectili auri et argenti plurimum decorauit.

[2] Ibid., “statum monasterii tam spiritualiter quam temporaliter studuit agmentare.”

[3] Bouchard, “Useable Past”, 29. I consider abbatial gestae to be similar to their episcopal counterparts, and I follow Bouchard’s work on the episcopal gesta of Auxerre to understand their purpose and utility. See also Goffart, Le Mans Forgeries.

[4] Duby, Age of Cathedrals, 59.

[5] Yitzak Hen, The Royal Patronage of Liturgy in Frankish Gaul to the Death of Charles the Bald (877), (London: Boydell Press, 2001), 7. Hen ends his study before Remigius wrote his commentary. See Ibid., 8-15 for a review and critique of liturgical studies from Mabillon through the twentieth century as well as an argument for a contextual approach to liturgical evidence. Hen notes specifically the authorship of Amalarius, Agobard and Florus of Lyons, Walahfrid Strabo and Hrabanus Maurus.

[6] De celebratione missae, 1247.

[7] DRBO

[8] Thomas Anthony Greene, “Softening the Heart, Eliciting Desire: Experiencing Music in a Carolingian Monastery” in Emotions, Communities, and Difference in Medieval Europe: Essays in Honor of Barbara H. Rosenwein (New York: Routledge, 2017), 46-58.

[9] In divi Pauli, 728: Ideo dixit in cordibus vestris, quia multi sunt qui cantant ore, quorum mens non concordat voci, et qui magis attendunt ad sonoritatem vocis, ut auditoribus placeant, quam considerent mente quid dicunt.

[10] In divi Pauli, 728: Sic stemus ad psallendum, ut mens nostra concordet voci nostrae.

[11] This time, he explained the first half of the verse: Loquentes vobismetipsis in psalmis, et hymnis, et canticis spiritualibus

[12] Homiliae II: Psalmi dicuntur a psallendo, quia in psalterio inveniuntur. Hymnus Graece, Latino eloquio sonat laus Dei. Hymnus autem si componitur et cantatur in laudem Dei, tunc est hymnus. Hymnos autem apud Latinos, praecipue Ambrosius et Hilarius, clarissimi viri composuerunt. Unde igitur cum dixit canticis, subiunxit spiritualibus, quia sunt cantica quae non sunt spiritalia, neque in laudem Dei cantantur. Sicut sunt cantica saecularium hominum. Cantica autem spiritalia sunt, quae composuerunt prophetae Spiritu sancto afflati et repleti, ut sunt cantica Moysi, canticum Annae, canticum Deborae, canticum Isaiae, canticum Ezechiae, caeterorumque prophetarum. Hoc vero distat inter canticum et psalmum, quia canticum ne solummodo profertur, sed et decantatur: psalmus autem addito quodam instrumento musicae artis, id est psalterio.

[13] Haimo, Isaiah, 828: Dicunt enim doctores: Quia vis est artis musicae, ut si hominem laetum invenerit, laetiorem reddat. Sin autem tristem, tristitiam illi augeat.

[14] Haymo, Isaiah, 823: cantores sanctae Ecclesiae, qui suis modulationibus corda audientium ad amorem Dei provocant.

[15] Remigius XXX

[16] Haimo In divi Pauli epistolas expositio PL 117: 574: “Cum timore et tremore debemus accedere ad illud sacramentum terribile”

[17] Remigius,

[18] Remigius,

[19] In I-P Auxerre volume

[20] Bouchard, Sword, Miter, Cloister, 104-106. Noelle Deflou-Leca, ###

[21] Duby, Age of Cathedrals, 73.

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