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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2013


Although there had been substantial donations to the church in the course of the last two centuries of the Roman Empire, the amount of property transferred to the episcopal church and to monasteries in the following two and a half centuries would seem to have been immense. Probably rather more than 30 per cent of the Frankish kingdom was given to ecclesiastical institutions; although the Anglo-Saxon church was only established after 597, it also acquired huge amounts of land, as did the churches of Spain and Italy, although the extent conveyed in the two peninsulas is harder to estimate. The scale of endowments helps explain the occasional criticisms of the extent of church property, and also the secularisations and reallocation of church land, and indeed suggest that the transfer of property out of the control of the church in Francia and England in the eighth century may have been greater than is often assumed. The transfer of land should probably also be seen as something other than a simple change of ownership. Church property provided the economic basis for cult, for the maintenance of clergy, who were unquestionably numerous, and for the poor. In social and economic, as well as religious terms, this marked a major break with the Classical World.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Historical Society 2013 

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I would like to thank Peter Brown, Mayke de Jong, Penny Goodman, Rosamond McKitterick, Walter Pohl, Helmut Reimitz, and Pauline Stafford for commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. I am also indebted to John Hunt for transforming my maps into something professional.


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91 Stephanus, Vita Wilfridi, c. 8.

92 Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, iii 24, ed. Plummer, Baedae Opera Historica. For a hypothesis as to where these monasteries might have been, see Wood, I. N., ‘Monasteries and the Geography of Power in the Age of Bede’, Northern History, 45 (2008), 1125, at 17–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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118 Leges Visigothorum, iv 2, 19, iv 5, 1, v 2, 4. See Wood, The Proprietary Church, 22.

119 I. N. Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms 450–751 (1994), 205.

120 E.g. Lex Alamannorum, 1, ed. K. A. Eckhardt, MGH, Leges 5, 1 (Hannover, 1966). See McKitterick, R., The Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge, 1989), 66CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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124 Council of Clermont, 535, c. 5, ed. Gaudemet and Basdevant, Les canons des conciles mérovingiens.

125 Council of Paris, 556/73, pref., 1–3, ed. Gaudemet and Basdevant, Les canons des conciles mérovingiens.

126 See Lesne, Histoire de la propriété ecclésiastique, i, 134, on the history of Bèze.

127 Avitus, ep. 44, ed. R. Peiper, MGH, AA vi 2 (Berlin, 1883); Quicquid habet ecclesiola mea, immo omnes ecclesiae nostrae, vestrum est de substantia, quam vel servastis hactenus vel donastis, trans. Shanzer, D. and Wood, I. N., Avitus of Vienne, Letters and Selected Prose (Liverpool, 2002), 218CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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129 The fullest assessment of the secularisation remains Lesne, Histoire de la propriété ecclésiastique, ii; for the visionary material Dutton, P., The Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire (Lincoln, NB, 1994)Google Scholar.

130 Boniface, ep. 73; challenging the idea of interpolation, Reuter, T., ‘“Kirchenreform” und “Kirchenpolitik” im Zeitalter Karl Martells. Begriffe und Wirklichkeit’, in Karl Martell in seiner Zeit, ed. Jarnut, J., Nonn, U. and Richter, M. (Sigmaringen, 1994), 3359Google Scholar.

131 Fouracre, P., The Age of Charles Martel (Harlow, 2000), 122–6Google Scholar.

132 Gesta Abbatum Fontanellensium, 11, 3, Gesta Pontificum Autissiodorensium, c. 32.

133 See also Fouracre, The Age of Charles Martel, 72.

134 Boniface, ep. 50; see Rouche, ‘Religio calcata et dissipata’, 236–8.

135 Rouche, ‘Religio calcata et dissipata’, 240–3, citing Fredegar, iv 60, 90, ed. B. Krusch, MGH, SRM 2 (Hannover, 1888).

136 Rouche, ‘Religio calcata et dissipata’, 243; Lex Alamannorum, 21; Lex Baiuvariorum, i, 13, ed. E. von Schwind, MGH, Leges 5, 2 (Hannover, 1926).

137 Rouche, ‘Religio calcata et dissipata’, 244, citing Rouche, L'Aquitaine, 371 and 673, on Fructuosus's brother-in-law wanting land transfered from Fructuosus's monastery to cover military service.

138 Codex Theodosianus, xvi 10, 12.

139 Gregory of Tours, Decem Libri Historiarum, iv 2, ed. Krusch, B. and Levison, W., MGH, SRM 1, 1 (Hannover, 1951)Google Scholar.

140 Gregory of Tours, Decem Libri Historiarum, iv 16, vi 46, trans. Thorpe, L. (Harmondsworth, 1974)Google Scholar.

141 Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle, 493.

142 See the discussions prompted by Wiener, A., Inalienable Possessions. The Politics of Keeping while Giving (Berkeley, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; e.g. F. Theuws, ‘Maastricht as a Centre of Power in the Early Middle Ages’, in Topographies of power, ed. de Jong, Theuws and van Rhijn, 155–216, at 201–5.

143 Rosenwein, B., To Be the Neighbor of Saint Peter. The Social Meaning of Cluny's Property, 909–1049 (Ithaca, 1989)Google Scholar.

144 Angenendt, A., ‘Donationes pro anima: Gift and Countergift in the Early Medieval Liturgy’, in The Long Morning of Medieval Europe, ed. Davis, J. R. and McCormick, M. (Aldershot, 2008), 131–54Google Scholar. There are significant parallels to be drawn with early Islam; Carballeira Debasa, A. M., Legados Píos y Fundaciones Familiares en al-Andalus (siglos IV/X–VI/XII) (Madrid, 2002)Google Scholar; I am indebted to Ann Christys for the comparison and the reference.

145 Well illustrated, for instance, in R. Le Jan, ‘Convents, Violence and Competition for Power in Seventh-Century Francia’, in Topographies of power, ed. de Jong, Theuws and van Rhijn, 243–69.

146 Wood, ‘Teutsind, Witlaic, and the History of Merovingian Precaria’, 47–8. Roper, ‘Wilfrid's Landholdings in Northumbria’, 71, sees this as a compromise, but the evidence from St Wandrille scarcely supports this reading.

147 Momigliano, A., ‘Christianity and the Decline of the Roman Empire’, in The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, ed. idem (Oxford, 1963), 56Google Scholar. But see now Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle.

148 de Coulanges, N. D. Fustel, Histoire des institutions politiques de l'ancienne France (6 vols., Paris, 1875–92)Google Scholar.

149 For what follows, see Wood, I. N., The Modern Origins of the Early Middle Ages (Oxford, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

150 van Zeebroeck, A., ‘L’âge d'or medieval, un ideal pour une nouvelle chrétienté? La réponse d'un historien engage, Godefroid Kurth (1847–1916)’, in Rêves de Chrétienté. Réalités du monde, ed. van Ypersele, L. and Marcelis, A.-D. (Louvain, 2001), 205–19Google Scholar.

151 Hodgkin, T., Italy and her Invaders, ii:The Hunnish Invasion, the Vandal Invasion and the Herulian Mutiny (Oxford, 1880), ch. 13Google Scholar. Dean Church and Mandell Creighton, however, criticised the lack of focus on ecclesiastical history in vols. i and ii, something Hodgkin set out to remedy from vol. iii onwards, Italy and her Invaders, iii:The Ostrogothic Invasion (Oxford, 1885), vii.

152 Wickham, C., Framing the Early Middle Ages. Europe and the Mediterranean, 400–800 (Oxford, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McCormick, M., Origins of the European Economy. Communications and Commerce ad 300–900 (Cambridge, 2001)Google Scholar (though in Charlemagne's Survey of the Holy Land he puts the church stage centre); Ward-Perkins, B., The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford, 2005), 108–9, 148–50Google Scholar, makes rather more of ecclesiastical material in his examination of late antique and early medieval building.

153 Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom; idem, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire (Hanover, NH, 2002)Google Scholar, and idem, Through the Eye of a Needle, do register the relation between religion and the economy. So too some discussions of the social system, and especially the exploitation of land, have emphasised the importance of the church as a property-owner; see Devroey, J.-P., Puissants et misérables. Système social et monde paysan dans l'Europe des Francs (VIe–IXe siècles) (Brussels, 2006)Google Scholar.

154 J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene (395 a.d. to 800 a.d.) (1889); idem, History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius to the Death of Justinian (1923).

155 Some of the Catholic historians who responded to him followed suit; for Ozanam and Dawson see Wood, The Modern Origins of the Early Middle Ages. Among ‘secular’ historians one should, of course, note A. H. M. Jones.

156 Kelly, F., ‘The Relative Importance of Cereals and Livestock in the Medieval Irish Economy: The Evidence of the Law Texts’, L'Irlandia e gli Irlandesi nell'alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio 57 (Spoleto, 2010), 93110Google Scholar; W. Davies, ‘Economic Change: The Case for Growth’, ibid., 111–34. See also Doherty, C., ‘The Monastic Town in Ireland’, in The Comparative History of Urban Origins in Non-Roman Europe: Ireland, Wales, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Russia from the Ninth to the Thirteenth Century, ed. Clarke, H. B. and Simms, A., BAR, International Series 255 (Oxford, 1985), 5563Google Scholar; Richter, Ireland and her Neighbours in the Seventh Century, 22–3.

157 Carrié, J.-M., ‘Pratique et idéologie chrétiennes de l’économique (IVe–VIe siècle)’, Antiquité tardive, 14 (2006), 1726CrossRefGoogle Scholar, emphasises the traditional nature of economic practice in the ecclesiastical economy. See also H. G. Ziche, ‘Administrer la propriété de l’église: l’évêque comme clerc et comme entrepreneur’, ibid., 69–78; Moreno Martín, La arquitectura monástica hispana, 21. Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages, 259–302, deals with land-management, without distinguishing between ecclesiastical and secular estates.

158 Gasnault, P., Documents comptables de Saint-Martin de Tours à l’époque mérovingienne (Paris, 1975)Google Scholar; Sato, S., ‘The Merovingian Accounting Documents of Tours’, Early Medieval Europe, 9 (2000), 143–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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162 That late Roman bishops essentially followed senatorial practices is argued by Ziche, ‘Administrer la propriété de l’église’.

163 Kölzer, T., ed., Die Urkunden der Merowinger, MGH, Diplomata Regum Francorum e Stirpe Merovingica (Hannover, 2001), 96 (pp. 246–8), 171 (pp. 424–6)Google Scholar.

164 Kaiser, R., ‘Teleonum episcopi. Du tonlieu royal au tonlieu épiscopal dans les civitates de la Gaule’, Histoire comparée de l'administration, Beihefte der Francia 9 (Munich, 1980), 469–85, at 469–71Google Scholar; Wood, I. N., ‘Monastères et ports dans l'Angleterre des VIIe–VIIIe siècles’, in Échanges, communications et réseaux dans le haut Moyen Âge, ed. Gautier, A. and Martin, C. (Turnhout, 2011), 89100CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The distribution of relics is discussed by McCormick, Origins of the European Economy, 283–318.

165 Grierson, P. and Blackburn, M., Medieval European Coinage, i:The Early Middle Ages (5th–10th centuries) (Cambridge, 1986), 100, 139, 173Google Scholar.

166 See the comparisons in Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome, 149.

167 Geake, H., ‘Burial Practice in Seventh- and Eighth-Century England’, in The Age of Sutton Hoo, ed. Carver, M. (Woodbridge, 1992), 8394, at 92Google Scholar.

168 Lesne, Histoire de la propriété ecclésiastique, i, 334.

169 P. Fouracre, ‘Eternal Light and Earthly Needs: Practical Aspects of the Development of Frankish Immunities’, in Property and Power, ed. Davies and Fouracre, 53–81; Jones, ‘The Western Church in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries’, 3, citing the Council of Braga, ii, c. 2.

170 R. L. S. Bruce-Mitford, The Art of the Codex Amiatinus, Jarrow Lecture (1967), 2.

171 Gibbon, E., The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. 37, ed. Womersley, D. (Harmondsworth, 1994), ii, 414, 419Google Scholar. I have not seen Wipszycka, E., Moines et communautés monastiques en Ēgypte, IVe–VIIIe siècles (Warsaw, 2008)Google Scholar.

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173 Duchesne, Fastes épiscopaux.

174 For numbers of bishoprics, Jones, ‘The Western Church in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries’, 9.

175 Vita Clari, c. 2, Acta Sanctorum (Brussels, 1863), Jan. i, 55–6. See Wood, I. N., ‘Prelude to Columbanus: The Monastic Achievement in the Burgundian Territories’, in Columbanus and Merovingian Monasticism, ed. Clarke, H. B. and Brennan, M., BAR, International Series 113 (Oxford, 1981), 332, at 9Google Scholar. See also Hauck, A., Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands (Leipzig, 1887–1954), i, 276Google Scholar.

176 N. Nimmegeers, ‘Provincia Viennensis. Recherches sur la province ecclésiastique de Vienne et ses évêques au haut Moyen Âge (Ive–XIe siècles)’ (unpubl. Thèse de doctorat, Lyon III, 2011), i, 2, 410–11, sees Vita Clari as belonging to reform programme of Leodegarius of Vienne (1025–69).

177 Berlière, U., ‘Les nombres des moines dans les anciens monastères’, Revue Bénédictine, 41 (1929), 231–61, 42 (1930), 19–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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179 Berlière, ‘Les nombres des moines’, pt 2, 20; Jonas, Vita Columbani, i 17, ed. Krusch, B., MGH, SRG (Hannover, 1905)Google Scholar.

180 Vita Walarici, c. 5, ed. B. Krusch, MGH SRM 4. See Richter, Bobbio, 32.

181 Berlière, ‘Les nombres des moines’, pt 1, 243; Angilbert, Libellus de ecclesia Centula, ed. Waitz, G., MGH, SS 15, 1 (Hannover, 1887), 174–9, at 178Google Scholar.

182 Berlière, ‘Les nombres des moines’, pt 1, 242; Grenier, P., Histoire de la ville et du comté de Corbie des origines à 1400 (Amiens, 1910), 78Google Scholar.

183 Berlière, ‘Les nombres des moines’, pt 1, 244; Longnon, A., Polyptique d'Irminon (Paris, 1895), i, 187Google Scholar.

184 McCormick, Charlemagne's Survey of the Holy Land, 55.

185 Vita Ceolfridi, c. 33.

186 Vita Fructuosi, cc. 3, 6.

187 Codice diplomatico, ed. Cipolla, 109.

188 Ahistulfi leges, 19.

189 Godding, R., Prêtres en Gaule mérovingienne (Brussels, 2001), 36Google Scholar.

190 Ibid., 210, 458; Actus pontificum Cenomannis in urbe degentium, ed. Busson and Ledru, c. 7 (p. 52): Principius (29 years, 1 month, 21 days) presbyteros enim sacravit ccv, et levitas atque alios ministros aecclesiasticos quantum necesse praevidit; c. 8 (p. 59) Innocens (45 years, 10 months, 25 days) presbyteros enim consecravit cccxviiii, et levitas atque alios ministros, quantum necesse fuit; c. 9 (p. 83) Domnolus (46 years, 11 months, 24 days) et fecit ordinationes lxxv, presbyteros ccclx, diaconos ccl et reliquos ministros sufficienter; c. 13 (pp. 182–3) Berarius (26 years, 4 months, 14 days) fecit ordinationes lxi; sacerdotes ccccv, diaconos ccxxviii, subdiaconos et reliquos ministros sufficienter; c. 14 (p. 199) Aiglibertus (34 years, 6 months, 11 days) et fecit ordinationes lxxv, presbyteros ccc, diaconos cccx, subdiaconos xc et reliquos ministros quantum necesse fuit; c. 15 (p. 224) Herlemundus (26 years, 9 months, 13 days) et fecit ordinationes xxxviii, presbyteros per diversa loca cclxxxiii, diaconos clxxii, et reliquos ministros quantum necesse tunc temporis erat.

191 Godding, Prêtres en Gaule mérovingienne, 331–58.

192 Lesne, Histoire de la propriété ecclésiastique, i, 334.

193 Simplicius, ep. 1, ed. A. Thiel, Epistolae Romanorum pontificum genuinae et quae ad eos scriptae sunt a S. Hilaro usque ad Pelagium I, i (Brunsberg, 1868), 175–7); Stutz, Geschichte des kirchlichen Benefizialwesens, 27–8; Jones, ‘The Western Church in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries’, 12. See also Gregory I, Register, iv 11. See also, Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle, 488.

194 Lesne, Histoire de la propriété ecclésiastique, i, 147, 333–5, 370, 375; Roper, ‘Wilfrid's Landholdings in Northumbria’, 69.

195 Julianus Pomerius, De vita contemplativa, ii 9, Patrolgia Latina (PL), ed. J. P. Migne, 59, cols. 453–4; Lesne, Histoire de la propriété ecclésiastique, i, 4; P. Brown, ‘From Patriae Amator to Amator Pauperum and Back Again: Social Imagination and Social Change in the West between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, ca. 300–600 a.d.’ (forthcoming). I am indebted to Peter Brown for allowing me to see this paper in advance of publication.

196 John the Deacon, Vita Gregorii, ii cc. 27–30, PL 75, cols. 59–242; Markus, Gregory the Great and his World, 121–2; Brown, ‘From Patriae Amator to Amator Pauperum’.

197 Council of Orléans v (549), c. 15, ed. Gaudemet and Basdevant, Les canons des conciles mérovingien, i, Sources Chrétiennes 353; Prinz, F., Frühes Mönchtum im Frankenreich (Kempten, 1985), 155Google Scholar.

198 Brown, Poverty and Leadership, esp. 1–44, see idem, ‘From Patriae Amator to Amator Pauperum’.

199 For the relationship between classical evergetism and the building of churches, Haensch, R., ‘Le financement de la construction des églises pendant l'antiquité tardive et l’évergetisme antique’, Antiquité tardive, 14 (2006), 4758CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

200 For the transition to the Christian economy, see Carrié, ‘Pratique et idéologie chrétiennes de l’économique’; also Salamito, J.-M., ‘Christianisme antique et économie: raisons et modalité d'une rencontre historique’, Antiquité tardive, 14 (2006), 2737CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Flynn, R., Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire. Christian Promotion and Practice (313–450) (Oxford, 2006)Google Scholar.

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202 See most recently Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages, 102–15.

203 Wickham, C., ‘The Other Transition: From the Ancient World to Feudalism’, Past and Present, 113 (1984), 336CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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205 See Beard, M., North, J. and Price, S., Religions of Rome (Cambridge, 1998), i, esp. 87–8Google Scholar, on the set-up in Roman Italy, and 340–2, on Egypt and Asia Minor. For Gaul, see P. J. Goodman, The Roman City and its Periphery: From Rome to Gaul (2007), 128–37.

206 Wood, I. N., ‘Pagan Religions and Superstitions East of the Rhine from the Fifth to the Ninth Century’, in After Empire. Towards an Ethnology of Europe's Barbarians, ed. Ausenda, G. (Woodbridge, 1995), 253–68, at 255–7Google Scholar.

207 Stutz, Geschichte des kirchlichen Benefizialwesens, 89–216; curiously it was reprinted in 1961, and Mayke de Jong informs me that it was still recommended reading in Amsterdam University in 1971.

208 Beard, North and Price, Religions of Rome, i, 27–30.

209 Wood, ‘Pagan Religions and Superstitions East of the Rhine’, 257–9.

210 Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages, 72–3, 76; Carrié, J.-M., ‘Les distributions alimentaires dans les cites de l'empire romain tardif’, Mélanges de l’école française de Rome: Antiquité, 87 (1975), 9951101CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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212 Markus, R., ‘Between Marrou and Brown: Transformations of Late Antique Christianity’, in Transformations of Late Antiquity: Essays for Peter Brown, ed. Rousseau, P. and Papoutsakis, M. (Farnham, 2009), 113, 11–12Google Scholar. Sotinel, C., ‘Le don chrétien et ses retombées sur l’économie dans l'antiquité tardive’, Antiquité tardive, 14 (2006), 105–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar, plays down the economic impact of giving to the church in the late Roman period, but allows that its subsequent repercussions were considerable.

213 While historians of early India have made comparison with early medieval Europe (see, for example, R. Thapar, Early India from the Origins to a.d. 1300 (2002), 370–81), Western medievalists have rarely reciprocated.

214 It is noted, but not explored, for instance, by G. Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy: Warriors and Peasants from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century (1974), 37–8, 54–6.