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The Friendship Network of Foigny

Today it is difficult to think of Europe, particularly western Europe, as wild or uncultivated. The words one associates with with it are things like food, art, culture, civilization, beer.

Just after the turn of the first millienium, the situation was very different. In what is today northern France and Belgium, local lords, necessary for protection against Vikings and other maurauding threats, did as they pleased, warring with each other and respecting neither human life nor the institutional Church. 

Two movements, called the Peace and Truce of God, coupled with initiatives from both the papacy and monastic and episcopal reformers, attempted to curb this martial excess. Historians have seen the First Crusade and the formation of the Knights Templar as an outgrowth of these efforts, a redirection of violence towards a more legitimate enemy. The resulting economic prosperity and intellectual flourishing of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is at least partially attributed to their success.

One of the more promenant examples of this sort of reform comes from the Prince-Bishop of Laon, Barthélemy de Jur (r. 1113 - 1151). Elected after his predecessor had been murdered by a mob in the sanctuary of the Laon cathedral, Barthélemy set himself up in opposition to this culture of violence, attempting to pacify the region by expanding both his own influence and that of the Church, both through diplomacy with the regional nobility and by the foundation of monastic houses.

Barthélemy showed particular favoritism to two new reform-minded monastic orders: the Cistercians and the Praemonstratensians. These two orders sought seclusion and a simpler and more austere form of piety, often chosing locations for new monasteries far from existing towns. By encouraging these orders to found houses in his episcopal domain, Barthélemy was able to civilize the hinterland while at the same time gaining new allies in his diplomacy with the nobility.

This study focuses around one of these monastaries founded at the urging of Barthélemy: the Cistercian house of Foigny. Although it was once a powerful economic and intellectual center, Foigny suffered a severe decline in the fourteenth century, and today little is known about and even less work has been done on this important foundation. By applying new tools of social network analysis and GIS mapping to the available sources, this study will situate the abbey of Foigny within the broader context of a well-studied region, filling the scholarly lacuna which is currently present.


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