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Penance in Medieval Europe, 600–1200
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  • Cited by 16
  • Rob Meens, Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands
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Book description

Penance has traditionally been viewed exclusively as the domain of church history but penance and confession also had important social functions in medieval society. In this book, Rob Meens comprehensively reassesses the evidence from late antiquity to the thirteenth century, employing a broad range of sources, including letters, documentation of saints' lives, visions, liturgical texts, monastic rules and conciliar legislation from across Europe. Recent discoveries have unearthed fascinating new evidence, established new relationships between key texts and given more attention to the manuscripts in which penitential books are found. Many of these discoveries and new approaches are revealed here for the first time to a general audience. Providing a full and up-to-date overview of penitential literature during the period, Meens sets the rituals of penance and confession in their social contexts, providing the first introduction to this fundamental feature of medieval religion and society for more than fifty years.


'In this impressive account Rob Meens leads us carefully through the sources, demonstrating the great variety which existed in early medieval penance from its very beginnings.'

Sarah Hamilton - University of Exeter

'Rob Meens unchains early medieval penance from the restrictions of the history of dogma and liturgy and puts it into a wider perspective of historical research. The book will be valued as the first synthesis of recent research, bringing together a wide range of methods and discussions from manuscript studies to the analysis of dispute settlement.'

Ludger Körntgen - Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz

'A brilliantly persuasive rethink of 'medieval' confessional practices, Rob Meens offers an expert analysis of the material forms and cultural functions of penitential literature.'

Caroline Humfress - Birkbeck, University of London

'Rob Meens offers new perspectives on penance as a means of repairing a disturbed relationship with both God and society. He successfully challenges the traditional but simplistic understanding of the history of penance as an evolution from public to private practice or ritual. With an admirably nuanced and learned analysis of an exceptionally wide range of original manuscript sources, particularly the confessors’ manuals produced between 600 and 1200, he demonstrates how crucial conceptions of sin and atonement were in medieval Christianity. Meens establishes how the history of penance and confession sheds light on the extraordinary diversity of Christian practice, the ritual and ethical aspects of medieval Christianity, and the perception of links between the human and the supernatural.'

Rosamond McKitterick - University of Cambridge

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