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Fragments of a World

William of Auvergne and His Medieval Life

The first modern biography of medieval French scholar and bishop William of Auvergne.
Today, William of Auvergne (1180?–1249) is remembered for his scholarship about the afterlife as well as the so-called Trial of the Talmud. But the medieval bishop of Paris also left behind nearly 600 sermons delivered to all manner of people—from the royal court to the poorest in his care. In Fragments of a World, Lesley Smith uses these sermons to paint a vivid picture of this extraordinary cleric, his parishioners, and their bustling world. The first modern biography of the influential teacher, bishop, and theologian, Fragments of a World casts a new image of William of Auvergne for our times—deeply attuned to both the spiritual and material needs of an ever-changing populace in the medieval city.

312 pages | 2 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Biography and Letters

Medieval Studies

Religion: Christianity


“In this thoughtful and accessible study, the thirteenth-century theologian and bishop of Paris William of Auvergne comes alive through an especially close reading of his sermons. Smith has a light touch that complements her thorough mastery of the details of William’s worldview and the context within which he taught and provided pastoral care. Fragments of a World is a stunning achievement, one of the finest biographies of a medieval figure that I know and a sheer pleasure to read.”

William Chester Jordan, Princeton University

“This book is a vivid portrait of an attractive and original mind in the intellectual, cultural, and social landscape of early thirteenth-century Paris, based on hundreds of sermons to the laity and clergy as well as academic writings that have a much more individual tone and color than most of the works by the famous scholastic synthesizers. Fragments of a World is a distinguished addition to the genre of Southern’s study of Grosseteste or Clanchy’s of Peter Abelard. It will be enlightening for specialists and students but also deserves to reach a wider public: no prior knowledge is assumed and everything is explained in an most engaging and readable style.”

David d’Avray, University College London

Fragments of a World draws renewed and deserved attention to William of Auvergne, who played a key role in medieval French history, but it does more than that. While Smith plumbs new evidence to reveal William’s perspective on the biggest moral and social questions of his time, she also presents a three-dimensional portrait of thirteenth-century Paris in a book that will be as interesting to those who never knew about William as it will be useful to specialists.”

Lucy Pick, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
One Seeing in a Smoky Mirror
Two Home and Family
Three Teachers and Teaching
Four Paris
Five Bishop
Six Language
Seven Knowing
Eight Jews
Nine Women
Ten The Weak
Eleven Poverty
Twelve The Landed and the Monied
Thirteen Animals
Fourteen Food and Drink
Fifteen Death and Beyond
Sixteen Face to Face
List of Abbreviations

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