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Winner of the John Nicholas Brown Prize
2020 John Nicholas Brown Prize

Steven A. Schoenig. Bonds of Wool: The Pallium and Papal Power in the Middle Ages (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2016).

The John Nicholas Brown Prize, established by the Medieval Academy of America in 1978, is awarded annually for a first book or monograph on a medieval subject judged by the selection committee to be of outstanding quality. By unanimous decision, the selection committee is pleased to award the 2020 prize to Steven A. Schoenig for his book Bonds of Wool: The Pallium and Papal Power in the Middle Ages, published in 2016 by the Catholic University of America Press. The first systematic history of papal bestowal of the pallium in the West, Schoenig’s book begins with the earliest known instance in the year 513 and ends circa 1271, by which time canon law prescribing the use of the pallium had developed. Highlighting the paradox that the pallium—a simple, long, thin, Y- or T-shaped white woolen band worn around the shoulders as a liturgical vestment—became a powerful means of papal agency as the Pope bestowed it as a sign of friendship and favor, Schoenig concentrates on the Carolingian period, when the pallium became a regular feature of papal authority; the late ninth to eleventh century, when the practice of its bestowal survived papal neglect and mismanagement; and the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when it became an effective tool to promote reform. He closes with an epilogue on the pallium in canon law from Gratian to Susa that regulated its place in ecclesiastical relationships.

Drawing upon a rich variety of primary sources including letters, chronicles, hagiographical texts, papal privileges, conciliar decrees, polemical treatises, liturgical commentaries, service books, and legal texts, Schoenig analyzes the journeys and ceremonies surrounding the bestowal of the pallium and especially the emotion, scheming, ecclesiastical politics, and impediments that also surrounded this papal gift-giving. Schoenig persuasively illustrates how the pallium gained meaning as both a ‘contact relic’ linking heaven and earth and as a ‘bond of wool’ connecting the Pope to his chosen prelates. We congratulate the author on this major contribution to medieval history and the history of material culture, which reviewers describe as “a monumental work of immense learning and interest,” “exhaustive and superbly researched,” of “crystalline analytical clarity,” “with an expert grasp of complex materials,” and “long [to be] considered the definitive source for this subject.”

Barbara Haggh-Huglo. Chair
Professor of Music (Musicology)
University of Maryland, College Park

Gail McMurray Gibson
William R. Kenan Jr. Emerita Professor of English
Davidson College

Brian A. Catlos
Professor of Religious Studies
University of Colorado
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