WMU News

Book on Franciscans takes Grundler Prize

May 30, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Power plays orchestrated by the pope, politics created by emerging universities and the ultimate price 14th-century friars paid for embracing strict poverty offer an explosive backdrop for the issues presented in "The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis," winner of Western Michigan University's 2003 Otto Grundler Prize.

Dr. David Burr, professor emeritus of history at Virginia Tech, recently was honored with the $2,500 book award named for the former director of WMU's Medieval Institute. The institute is host to the International Congress on Medieval Studies, which this year was held May 8-11 and drew an estimated 3,000 participants to what is considered the world's largest gathering of professors, publishers, scholars and others interested in the Middle Ages.

The annual prize was established in 1995 and is intended to recognize a book or monograph on a medieval subject chosen by a selection committee as an outstanding contribution to the field. Authors from any country are eligible for the prize, and nominations are accepted from readers or publishers. The prize is generally awarded two years after the winning book is published, and next year's prize will go to a book released in 2002.

Many medieval historians consider Burr's book, issued by Penn State University Press, one of the most comprehensive works to examine the controversies surrounding the followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. After Francis's death in 1226, the Roman Catholic Church increasingly pushed the Franciscans to become bishops, professors, and inquisitors--positions that caused significant problems for the friars who sought a life of poverty.

While many were open to such changing roles, there were those who insisted on adhering to strict poverty as practiced by Saint Francis, hence the moniker, "the spiritual Franciscans." Over time, the division evolved into a genuine rift within the order, and many of the spirituals refused to appease Pope John XXII and other decision makers of the day. In 1318, several of those who refused to obey the pope's orders were burned at the stake.

"Just as Umberto Eco could imagine the Franciscan turmoils in his 'The Name of the Rose,' David Burr created through his scholarly imagination a parallel account of a vibrant time when ideals and realities came into a conflict that did try souls," observes Medieval Institute Director Paul E. Szarmach, who also serves as secretary to the Grundler Prize Committee.

Burr is recognized worldwide as an authority on the Franciscans and is credited with conducting exhaustive research on the topic by examining important primary documents from the era--not just rehashing secondary information.

Published in late 2001 by Penn State University Press, "The Spiritual Franciscans" also won the 2002 John Gilmary Shea Prize and the 2002 Howard R. Marraro Prize, which was awarded by the American Catholic Historical Association.

Burr also is the author of several other books including "Olivi's Peaceable Kingdom: A Reading of The Apocalypse Commentary" as well as publications produced in Italy and Switzerland.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
269 387-8400