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January 2, 2009
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v2.1 Reference

Blessing the World

Ritual and Lay Piety in Medieval Religion

Blessings were an integral and vital element of medieval Christian life and worship. Benedictions for homes and workplaces, the knight and the pilgrim, the city under siege, and the fetus in the womb, are but a small sample of the multitudinous and fascinating extra-sacramental blessings that fill the leaves of the liturgical books of the medieval Latin Church. While commonly acknowledged as a crucial element in the life of medieval people, the meaning and importance of these blessings for their authors and audiences have been frequently overlooked by liturgical and historical scholarship, which has focused instead on the textual transmission and long-term changes in the blessings and the rituals surrounding them. This present work corrects this omission by examining these blessings with modern eyes, and a new methodology.

In Blessing the World, Derek A. Rivard studies liturgical blessing and its role in the religious life of Christians during the central and later Middle Ages, with a particular focus on the blessings of the Franco-Roman liturgical tradition from the tenth to late thirteenth centuries. Through a careful and extensive study of more than ninety such blessings, many of them translated for the first time and accessible to a readership beyond specialists in medieval liturgy, the author argues that medieval blessings were composed as a direct response to the needs, anxieties, beliefs, and fears of the laity, and therefore these texts represent a rich and largely untapped source for the study of lay piety and of ritual in medieval Europe.

Effectively drawing upon anthropology, ritual studies, the phenomenology of religion, and traditional textual study, Rivard explores the rich themes of medieval piety that flow throughout the blessings in order to produce a new understanding of the blessing as an attempt to tap the power of the sacred for use in daily life. Benedictions for spaces, places, persons, items, and events are each studied in turn to produce this new understanding of these blessings, and in the process these petitions and rituals reveal much about larger issues of medieval people's cosmology, their perceived role in their cosmos, their conceptions of God, and their connections to the divine and to the spiritual powers of God's creation.

About the Authors

Derek A. Rivard is associate professor of history at Cottey College.


"Blessing the World analyzes the texts of dozens of these blessings in order to explore how medieval Christians conceived of God, and their own place within sacred history. This textual focus is the book's strength, and the author provides English translations of blessings from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries, including the original Latin in footnotes, thereby making available to readers a rich source of these materials."—Medieval Review

"Rivard's study of medieval blessing rituals sheds helpful light on the ways that medieval churchmen and their flocks viewed their relationship to God, to nature, and to their society."—Church History

The Catholic University of America Press

9780813215457 : blessing-the-world-rivard-rivard
Paperback / softback
332 Pages
$39.95 USD

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