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A Bishop's Tale: Mathias Hovius Among His Flock in Seventeenth-Century Flanders Paperback – April 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300094051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300094053
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #506,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1987, Craig Harline, professor of history at Brigham Young University, and Eddy Put, senior assistant at the Belgian National Archives, struck gold. In a dusty Belgian archive, they found a detailed daybook kept by Mathias Hovius, who served as archbishop of Mechelen (part of modern Belgium) from 1596 to 1620. Harline and Put spent the next 13 years turning that daybook into A Bishop's Tale: Mathias Hovius Among His Flock in Seventeenth-Century Flanders, an extraordinary work of historical biography.

It would be difficult to overstate the pleasures of this book. Its historical method is unusually accessible and sophisticated. ("In seeking to understand a world long past, we found it highly illuminating to begin with a single human being rather than a large abstraction such as 'society.'") Its style is straightforward and novelistic, with a wealth of detail that humanizes its exotic subjects. (For instance, the archbishop had "no protruding hairs on his upper lip, lest while celebrating Mass he obstruct the blood of Christ.") Even individual sentences often display a stunning, wide-angled perspective on individual events. (An explosion "sent stones rocketing up to two miles away, flattened houses, damaged churches, killed 300 people, wounded 150, and decapitated fish in the river.") And its characters--monks, nuns, millers, peasants, saints, who incidentally illustrate major themes of the Reformation-- are vital and ribald and doomed and striving. Harline and Put say they chose to write about the Reformation because of "its massive rupturing of a seemingly eternal premise of Christianity: that it was one." In an afterword, Harline and Put explain that "Never before had there been such widespread teaching, preaching, and fighting over souls, or such excellent preservation on paper of these efforts. Rich documents are often the fruit of zeal." The authors' own zeal to show readers the world of this bishop has created a very rich book about Reformation Christianity. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"An elegantly written and absorbing microhistory... It brings to mind The Return of Martin Guerre and The Cheese and the Worms." Carlos M. N. Eire "The most amazing book since Johan Huizinga's Waning of the Middle Ages." Heiko Oberman "The history book of the year - and perhaps simply the book of the year." Russell Hittinger, Weekly Standard "The stories entertain as they educate, offering a close-up of day-to-day Catholicism, village life, and the bawdy humour generated by human frailty and feistiness. A Bishop's Tale is an historical feast." Debra Bendis, Christian Century "Practically every page is as encrusted with detail as a jewelled medieval reliquary." Michael Joseph Gross, Boston Globe "An extraordinary work of historical biography." Amazon.com (2000 Editor's Choice)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Moreover, the book is very well written.
S. N. Kras
I found myself wanting to read the book slowly, so that I could savor every page.
N. W. Clayton
For someone seeking to learn about the renaissance in Europe, it is a MUST read.
Gregory O'brien

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By N. W. Clayton on December 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a layman who likes to study history, I enthusiastically give this book a rating of five stars. Many history books give broad descriptions and interpretations of trends and events. Others attempt to popularize or modernize history by interpreting old events from the perspective of the late 20th century. "The Bishop's Tale" does none of this. Instead, it virtually transports the reader back to Flanders in the late 1500s and early 1600s, treating him to a small but rich slice of history in a small but fascinating corner of Europe. The authors -- who were fortunate enough to have found one volume of an extensive journal kept by the Archbishop of Mechelen during this period -- provide us with a series of wonderfully detailed pictures of religious life in what was then known as the Spanish Netherlands. Each chapter forms a separate window through time that provides the reader with a close-up view of the goings-on surrounding a specific issue, event, or person. The common thread running through all sixteen chapters is the archbishop and his efforts to build a stable Catholic community in a turbulent time and place. The authors don't try to overly interpret events or force them to fit into some sort of grand theoretical framework, as do many academic historians. Instead, it seems that Craig Harline and Eddy Put want to directly expose the reader to history in a way that enables him to develop a good "feel" for what it must have been like to be Catholic and Flemish around 1600. I found myself wanting to read the book slowly, so that I could savor every page.
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35 of 45 people found the following review helpful By S. N. Kras on November 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In the reviews I've read, this book has received nothing but praise. In many ways, this is an excellent work of academic research. The authors show sensitivity and a deep understanding of the institutional framework within which archbishop Hovius could operate. Most emphasis is put on the human and local particularities controlling the relations between an archbishop and the man and women manning the diverse strata of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The preponderance on the human side of archbishop's dealings with the people surrounding him lead to excellent small stories which are impressively placed in the wider context of the political and religious strife of early 17th century Europe. Moreover, the book is very well written. It was an easy read.
Yet, despite all the book's cleverness, I grew increasingly uncomfortable while reading. Harline and Put have written a book on religious life in late 16th/early 17th century Europe. Still, I have not read much about religion. In fact, in this book, religion comes out as a very mechanical thing. We read about cardinals, nuncios, priests, rituals, processions, pilgrimages etc. But we do not get a glimpse of what it could have meant to *be* a Christian in this particular time in history. We do not read how Hovius (could have) *lived* his religion. We get no sense at all of a religious feeling which - unlike today - must have been overly present everywhere. Instead, the narrative is littered with much misplaced irony on the nature of christianity or even religion. Harline and Put consider the Catholic Church as nothing more than a big bureaucracy. Hovius, travelling around his bishopric, is portrayed as the 16/17th century version of a district area manager of Coca Cola, trying to reach his production quota for next year, and fighting to protect his market share against competitors. The book is a product of the 21st century. It might easily be used as a leadership guideline, to be read by management consultants and managers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Max Hall on February 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
Harline and Put's book takes you back to the frontlines of The Reformation through the lives of real people. Rather than a staid and macro view of this pivotal time in our history I got a lively and personal perspective. I didn't read about the epic and international struggles of Kings, Popes and Reformers. A multitude of books on those topics exist. Rather I read about how those larger than life struggles affected real people in a small corner of the real world. I sensed life unfolding before my eyes as I turned the pages of Mathias Hovius' daybook. Rather than a biography with its inevitable eye to a legacy, I got to know Mathius the man. And through this lense the people, the culture and the time in which he lived his very real life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gregory O'brien on November 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The journal of Mathius Hovius is incredibly colorful and dramatic (he even describes what clothing people wore, right down to the color/jewelry). For someone seeking to learn about the renaissance in Europe, it is a MUST read.
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By freelinerunner on September 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
the book arrived in fine condition. it will be a good resource in my history class this semester. havent really found anything wrong with it.
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