Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Abigail Firey


This dissertation explores how the regulation of sound and silence in the early medieval monastery formed a distinct soundscape imbued with personal, communal, and theological resonances. More narrowly, this investigation focuses on the Frankish empire of the ninth century, which saw a series of monastic reforms led by the Carolingian royal family and ecclesiastical figures and consolidated in imperial legislation and treatises on the monastic life.

These ninth-century reforms witnessed not only the promotion of a single rule and custom to guide monastic life, but also a great flowering of liturgical texts, including the earliest treatises on musical theory. These developments were critical to the development of monasticism in the Latin church, and as this dissertation will argue, formalized a sonic regime where sounds within the monastery were judged by their perceived benefit or harm to both producer and consumer. Although monastic rules, such as the sixth-century Rule of Benedict, counsel silence at all times and express pessimism about human vocalizations, liturgical and devotional material lauds the human tongue for its power to bring the self into harmony with the divine, as well as the community.

This tension forms the starting point for the dissertation, which begins with the suppression of noise in the daily routines of manual labor as expressed in commentaries on the Rule of Benedict, as well as the relation between the physical spaces of the monastery and the sounds that fill them. From there, the dissertation turns to an examination of how ninth-century commentaries on the Divine Office by Smaragdus of St. Mihiel, Hildemar of Corbie, and Amalarius of Metz identified the activation of the self in relation to the divine through the sounds of the liturgy, as well as the role of the Office in facilitating the mutual support that bound the monastic community together. Finally, the dissertation looks to how sound was encountered and represented in manuscripts of the Book of Psalms, which served not only as the music of the Divine Office, but also as the first text students in the monastic schola learned to read from.

The resulting conclusions are that "silence" in the Carolingian monastery was neither a complete absence of sound nor an entirely negative attitude toward human utterances; rather, a hierarchy of sounds characterized sonic perception in the monastery, where sounds were understood in relation to one another depending on context, physical space, and purpose. At a time when the monastic life was under close scrutiny by Frankish emperors and authors, a sonic regime formed where vocalizations signaled salvation and inclusion or exclusion from the monastic, and more broadly Christian, body.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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