Contribution in edited book
Point of Reference. Trust and the Function of Written Agreements in a Late-Medieval Town

Publication Details
Arlinghaus, F.
Schulte, Petra; Mostert, Marco
Brepols N.V.
Publication year:
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Book title:
Strategies of Writing - Studies on Text and Trust in the Middle Ages: Papers from “Trust in Writing in the Middle Ages”


This article concentrates on fourteenth- and fifteenth-century uses of writing in an urban environment. Side glances on the use of writing in the earlier centuries of the Middle Ages, and also on its use in present times, will also prove necessary. The first thesis is that not the content, but the possibility to refer to a written document may be seen as the core element of trust in writing. Starting from there, a central problem of medieval writing becomes apparent: the status of written texts. Since referring to something supposes that this something exists in its own right, if a document is to serve as a point of reference, it needs to have an ‘autonomous’ status attributed to it. In contrast to present times, where writing per se is considered ‘independent’; during the late Middle Ages, however, the status of writing was ambiguous. In taking up Jan Assmann’s idea of ‘canonization’, in my second thesis I suggest that late medieval texts had to be ‘made’ independent to function as reference points. The analysis of the Prologue of the Cologne Statutes and of the so-called Verbundbrief will show how this was done. Examining a conflict within the Cologne city council, we will see that texts primarily served as points of reference, rather than to support the content of an argument put forward. Finally, we will see what late medieval society may have gained by using writing in this way. It is suggested that in establishing independent texts as points of reference, late medieval society may have found a new common ground on which to operate.

Last updated on 2019-25-07 at 15:38