Antapodosis in Catalonia (scheming bishops)

I haven’t told any stories for a while, and for some reason it does seem to be part of my mission to pull these anecdotes out of my material for people’s entertainment. So let me reintroduce to you a character from whom we’ve heard before, Bishop Sal·la of Urgell (981-1010). I’ve tried to put something out about Sal·la before, but I’ve not so far had any luck convincing anyone else to be interested enough.1

Part of the reason for this may be that Jeffrey Bowman has written an article already about Sal·la’s son Saint Ermengol, who not only had a wilder name but died in a wilder way and started more fights, and everyone likes warrior bishops.2 Sal·la was wilier than that and stayed out of fights, by and large, preferring to do his work by negotiation. This was more or less what my paper was about, in fact. But the main reason for its lack of success, I suspect, is that it’s one of the first real papers I ever wrote and I mainly used it as an excuse to tell stories about Sal·la, when I should perhaps have been doing analysis. Subsequent versions of the paper have never entirely escaped this, simply because Sal·la left so many stories behind him in his charters. So if I put two of the best ones here, maybe I can finally put them down and make something better of the paper. Failing that, I shall at least have entertained you for a short while and put something more about him on the web.

The Cathedral of Urgell

Sal·la was reasonable-level nobility, being son of a Viscount of Conflent and Urgell, brother to the succeeding Viscount of Conflent, and first cousin once removed of another Sal·la, a very powerful frontier magnate who founded the abbey of Sant Benet de Bages. The previous bishop had been another member of this kindred, though exactly how he was connected has never been fully worked out.3 They were not however top-rank, unlike some of the bishops who came from the comital family. Possibly because of this, one of the repeated motives of Sal·la’s career is disputes with or returns to co-operation with good old Count-Marquis Borrell II.

Sal·la and Borrell must have had quite a lot of dealings. Borrell made good use of his unexpected succession to the county of Urgell (the bishopric is rather larger than the county), and when he died in 993 he was not only touring the farflung reaches of the county, but he was doing so with Sal·la in tow, which we know because Sal·la witnessed the will he arranged shortly before his death, which is preserved in the Urgell cathedral archive. Sal·la was also named as one of the almsmen (like executors, but more concerned with the state of your soul) for Urgell; Borrell appointed three or four of his trusted contacts or family in each county to oversee the carrying-out of his will there. He also made provision for what should happen if any of them died before the will was needed, so he clearly thought he was going to get better, and I can picture him having to be badgered into making the will at all, but in fact he was wrong, and died within the week, whereupon Sal·la and the rest of the entourage saw him buried and then started on the lengthy process of sorting out the bequests.4 So, although necessity may have pressed Borrell here, it’s not that he and Sal·la couldn’t cooperate and respect each other.

Urgell 12, charter of sale of 839 on parchment

All the same, there seem to have been times when they didn’t, and these only start to come out after Borrell’s death. The first one of these I found was a sale by Bishop Sal·la from 995, in which he disposed of a castle at Carcolzes (I’d show you the ruins but sadly ‘Carcolzes’ is a Googlewhack) to his sacristan, who was called Bonhom and paid 500 solidi for it. The interesting bit is not that, nor even that Bonhom seems to have overstretched himself, because he immediately sold it to Viscount Guillem of Urgell, who next year sold it back to Sal·la, always for the same 500 solidi sum. Sal·la resignedly gave it to the cathedral, although in such a way that his nephew, the future bishop Ermengol about whom Bowman was writing, acquired the management of it. The interesting bit is actually how Sal·la got hold of this castle that no-one wanted. The scribe, one Lleopard, wrote it down in what must however surely be Sal·la’s own words:

In the name of God. Sal·la, Bishop by the grace of God am seller to you Bonhom priest and sacristan. By this scripture of sale do I sell to you my castle of Carcolzes with its rock and its building and its villages which are within its bounds and with its bounds…. And all these things are in the county of Urgell, and it came to me Bishop Sal·la by charter of compensation from my lord Count Borrell for that half of the castle of Clarà or other amends which might have satisfied me, which he ought to have made to me from the seventh Ides of October up to the first following Feast of Pentecost. In such a way did my lord Count Borrell hand over all the above things thus with this charter of compensation from his right into the power of me Bishop Sal·la for my own: so that if at that same above-said first following Feast of Pentecost in the 5th year of the rule of King Hugh the Great he should not have returned to me that selfsame half of the above-said castle Clarà in stewardship [baiulia] or if by then he had not made other amends which might have been satisfactory to me, I Bishop Sal·la in the name of God might have full and most firm power over the above-said castle of Carcolzes with all the above things to do with as I might wish. And I waited for him up until the aforesaid assembly of Pentecost and I reminded him in sight of good men that he should have returned to me all the above said things or should have made other amends to me, and he did not do this. And I again gave him another placitum from the Nativity of the Lord up till the next Pentecost and ever I reminded him, both in person and through my messengers, that he should have returned to me all the above-said things or have made other amends to me, but he did not do this. Again and again I gave to him other placita and others so that he might keep this agreement about the above-said things or make other amends, but he did not do this and he abandoned all the above-said things to me Bishop Sal·la and allowed it to befall. On this account I Sal·la, by the will of God Bishop, by this scripture of sale sell to you Bonhom priest and sacristan the above-said castle of Carcolzes with its rock with whatever I have there, excepting those tithes which are Holy Mary’s, for the agreed price of five hundred solidi in gold, in silver, in cloths or in other agreed payment which you have given to me and I at the present time have received in my hands, and none of this price remains with you the buyer, and it is clear.

Just in case you got lost in the legalese there, I’ll précis: Sal·la has a half share of a desirable castle residence in far frontier Osona, which is real development land but also part of an essential defence network.5 Borrell, for these reasons most likely, and by the power vested in him as count and marquis and therefore military supremo for the area, takes it over, and promises Sal·la that he will either return it before Pentecost or else make over compensation to Sal·la in the form of this castle at Carcolzes, much further from the frontier and a place that no-one wants, though it seems to take them time to realise this for some reason. Sal·la doesn’t want to lose this family property (we know from his brother’s will that he, Viscount Bernat, retained the other half), and so repeatedly extends the loan term in the hope that Borrell will give back Clarà, but Borrell doesn’t want Carcolzes either and manages thus to force Sal·la to take it. Eventually all Sal·la can do is pass it on to his nephew as a kind of training castle, and he records his disgust and sense of grievance with the whole process for us in the charter.6

Now because we only know when Sal·la sold it, in 995, we don’t know when this tortuous process took place, only that it must have been before Borrell died in 993. The same is true of the story I’m about to pair it with; it must have happened before Borrell died, but we don’t know when.7 It matters only in as much as it would be nice to know who started the swindling contest, but since the final scores seem to have been one all, it doesn’t matter too much. Here then is the antapodosis, the tit-for-tat, with which the Carcolzes case was either paid or brought.8

Aerial view of the village of Os de Civis, Andorra

One of the areas that the bishopric of Urgell covers that the county doesn’t is the valley, now independent region, of Andorra. Now it’s independent, but in the late tenth century the counts of Urgell considered it their territory, and the locals begged to differ, or sometimes, differed quite loudly, with weapons and so on. So there were castles here with which the count pinned down his rule, and thus there were stewards of the castles whom he appointed. An unfortunate one of these, Sendred of Somont, took up the tale in 1003:

Let it be known to all men present and future that I Sendred, Archdeacon, however unworthy, of the Holy Mother of the See of Urgell and bailiff of the Andorra valley, sadly for my sins or some reason, was placed in command of a castle that my lord Count Borrell built against the men of the Andorra valley, which is called Bragafols. However those men raised siege-works against the castle and took it, and the aforesaid Count flung me in chains and leg-irons and held me for a long time over that castle. And he examined me in his name through his magnates and nobles so that I would agree to give to him that alod of mine which I had in Somont, which I held from the franchise of the men of Andorra and from my parents. I however responded to him: ‘I am not going to give away the alod of my parents before my death at the very earliest!’ And I sent a message to my lord, to Bishop Sal·la and he himself sought the Count and said to him: ‘For what reason, my lord, are you holding a cleric and Archdeacon of Holy Mary in chains?’ The Count answered: ‘If he will not give me that alod of his which he has in Somont I shall not release him’. The Bishop responded: ‘That alod which you seek is already the above-named Mother’s’. As soon as he heard the words of the Bishop and he proved that all this was true, the Count was exceedingly angry and released me from my chains and leg-irons. And on account of this service which Holy Mary the Mother of God and my lord Bishop Sal·la have done me, we, I Sendred son of Centoll and my wife Ermeriga give to My Lady the aforesaid Virgin Mary Mother of God the already-said alod which we have in Somont, with its entrances and exits and with all the things pertaining to it, in this way, namely, so that we or our kinsman may hold the aforesaid alod as long as we may live, in the service of Holy Mary [… ] by donation to Bishop Sal·la and his successors…

So that was nicely done, because as you may have realised this document, that actually transfers the property, is from more than ten years later.9 The land may have been promised, but Sendred actually explains the transfer in terms of this episode, so it would seem that if there was a back-history it became irrelevant. It seems a lot more likely, given the situation Sendred got himself into—and his position is not unambiguous, given that he seems not only to have had family connections to the area he was guarding but also accepted land from his eventual opponents—and the fact that he and his wife made every possible reservation when the gift finally had to be made (Sal·la was ill in 1003, and this may have been the stimulus to make good the promise), that Sal·la brazenly appropriated the land by his assertion, the only one that might have forestalled Borrell perhaps, but still, and then ten years or more later Sendred finally accepted it. But you have to admit: it’s one in the eye for Borrell, and he may never have found out how he’d been twitted. Perhaps Sal·la was still quietly grinning to himself until, out at Castellciutat in 993, he suddenly realised his old enemy and counterpart really wasn’t well. But I doubt he would have mentioned it, even then…

Castle of Llirt, near Somont

There’s loads of ways I could take these documents further, to look at bishops’ rôle as support for lay rulers, the use of churchmen as castellans in Catalonia (about which there is other work), clerical marriage, church dynasts, many things. If anyone would like any of these expanded do say and I’ll muster a few words. But for now, meet a cunning man with a mitre: ladies and gentlemen, Bishop Sal·la of Urgell.


1. I did however present it at Leeds, or a version of it, as “Sales, Swindles and Sanctions: Bishop Sal·la of Urgell and the Counts of Catalonia”, paper presented in the session “Telling Laymen What To Do”, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 11 July 2005, and a text of that paper is available as an appendix to my doctoral thesis, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 2005, pp. 289-302.

2. Jeffrey A. Bowman, “The Bishop Builds a Bridge: Sanctity and Power in the Medieval Pyrenees” in Catholic History Review Vol. 88 (Washington DC 2002), pp. 1-16.

3. Most recent attempt known to me is Manuel Rovira i Solà, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260, online here.

4. On Borrell’s death and its location, see Cebria Baraut, “La data i el lloc de la mort del comte Borrell II de Barcelona-Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 10 (Montserrat 1990), pp. 469-472. The will and the Urgell portion of its publication are printed by Baraut in idem (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell”, ibid. Vol. 3 (1980), pp. 7-166, nos 232 & 233; documents from this edition cited below as Urgell + no.

5. On the defence network, see Albert Benet i Clarà, “Castells, guàrdies i torres de defensa” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-2), 2 vols also published as Memorias de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 393-407.

6. The sale to Bonhom which is quoted here, Viscount Guillem’s sale to Sal·la (which mentions the sale from Bonhom) and Sal·la’s gift of the castle to the cathedral are Urgell 239, 243 & 244 respectively.

7. Roland Viader appears to know that it was in 988, which may be true but I don’t know how he knows and haven’t yet read his book where he apparently says this, which is R. Viader, L’Andorre du IXe au XIVe siècle. Montagnes, féodalité et communautés (Toulouse 2003).

8. Antapodosis is of course Greek, and was the title of a scurrilous revenge memoir written by Bishop Liutprand of Cremona in the late tenth century (transl. F. A. Wright in idem (transl.), The Works of Liutprand of Cremona: Antapodosis; Liber de Rebus Gestis Ottonis; Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. Translated for the first time into English with an Introduction, Broadway Medieval Library 8 (London 1930)). He and Sal·la would have missed each other by a generation and he won’t have been at Rome when Sal·la went there (which he did, in 1001), and I don’t suppose they’d have got on, because Sal·la seems more proper than Liutprand, but I expect they might have found themselves on the same sides in a lot of arguments if they’d ever shared a synod.

9. Urgell 286. I’ve added the punctuation but the direct speech is in the actual document.

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One response to “Antapodosis in Catalonia (scheming bishops)

  1. Pingback: Three-pointed sales and the limits of comital power | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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