Church Reform and Social Change in Eleventh-Century Italy

Dominic of Sora and His Patrons


At the dawn of the second millennium, new churches and castles sprang up throughout Western Europe. In central Italy, St. Dominic of Sora (d. 1032) and his patrons played a key role in this process. John Howe mines the surprisingly rich but heretofore neglected sources that tell their story. He has written an absorbing case study of an ecclesiastical reform that was earlier-if less literate and less centralized-than the Gregorian Reform that would soon follow.

The ecclesiastical transformations of the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries that historians know as the Gregorian Reform are generally viewed as a matter of high politics, a series of battles among popes, emperors, and kings largely instigated from beyond the Italian peninsula. Howe presents a different model of change, one that originated in Italy and involved the lower nobility, hermits, lay persons, and monks as well. At the center of his book is Dominic, a well-documented saint, hermit, abbot, and founder of monastic establishments, whose life and career reveal how central Italy was transformed during the first part of the eleventh century by the creation of walled hilltop villages and the establishment of unparalleled numbers of monasteries.

Discussions of medieval reform to date have focused on organizational structure, law, education, and developments in spirituality. In this lively and readable book, Howe argues instead that reform in the world of the eleventh century meant restoring lands, building churches, regularizing the clergy's distinctive garb, and changing the celebration of the liturgy. Much of what Dominic and his patrons accomplished soon became obsolete, swept aside by a more legalistic and coherent reform ideology. Yet nearly a thousand years later, traces of the new order that Dominic and his followers created can still be found in the Italian countryside.

  JOHN HOWE is Professor of History at Texas Tech University.
The Middle Ages Series
November / 240 pages / 6 x 9 / ISBN 0-8122-3412-x Cloth $37.50s