Two seminars, two cities, part 2: Seminary XLI for added Wendy Davies

Miniature from the Codex Goticus Legionensis (c. 960) showing priests toasting each other

Miniature from the Codex Goticus Legionensis (c. 960) showing priests toasting each other

As just mentioned, from having tried arguing with Peter Heather about DNA evidence (and discovering that I was under-read) I went back to work and then hoofed it for London as soon as the Museum shut so as to hear Wendy Davies telling the London Society of Medieval Studies her answer to the question, “What Can We Say About Local Priests in Northern Spain before the Year 1000?” I was actually slightly late because of the afore-mentioned transport troubles but I got most of it. If you’ve read Acts of Giving since I told you to (come on, come on) you will know some of what she can do with the charter evidence on this subject, but because this was new work, it went beyond what you can find there.1 And since it will be coming out, and indeed first be developed at Leeds I believe, as I have reason to, I don’t want to say too much. I will however mention a few bits and pieces, as I usually do.

A lot of the scribes in the León and area evidence are seen enough times that we know they worked for big people, the cathedral of León itself, the kings, or the big monasteries whose archives give us all this information. However, when a certain priest only turns up in one archive writing transactions that relate to one area, especially when that area is way up in the Cantabrian mountains miles from Sahagún (as it might be—okay, this was one of her examples) then you can be fairly safe in saying firstly that this guy was the local priest and secondly that the local priest wrote charters for people. It’s much harder to see him doing anything else, but Wendy did draw out some evidence. They got thanks gifts for teaching and preaching, so they did do that, though we don’t know how much or what; they dealt with burial. We have surviving liturgical works and vessels, but putting them in a local context is frequently very sketchy. The local ones seem to be rich for their villages but not on a kingdom scale, though priests that rich do turn up, including one Vincentio at León who is the only person Wendy has ever seen in a contemporary medieval source described as “dives”, rich, rather than great, powerful or some similar term, and he gets called it by the Queen, too, or her scribe at least, so that was interesting.

Another thing that came up was orthography. The spelling of charters tends to vary a lot from Classical norms, and one of the things we’d like to know is how much this reflects the spoken language. In Catalonia it all looks quite plausibly like Romance influence until about the 1020s when suddenly we have feudal oaths that preserve actual spoken Romance and it turns out to be a whole different order of thing.2 Here Wendy also weakened such hopes by pointing out that some scribes will vary spelling even between documents, or spell witness’s names in two different ways, and so on. I have seen this from my texts before but never thought of making it make a wider point; as ever I bow to her on this sort of deduction.

There were lots of questions and a great deal more that I could say, but firstly time is short, and secondly I would like at least some of you to come and hear Wendy’s account of this work at Leeds and so I’ll leave it there. There will be more Wendy Davies posts very soon (though I’ll stop before too long, I promise) so this is probably enough to be going on with.


1. Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: individual, community and church in tenth-century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), pp. 36-65.

2. On which you should read Adam Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: Power, Order, and the Written Word 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2000).

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7 responses to “Two seminars, two cities, part 2: Seminary XLI for added Wendy Davies

  1. I find the orthography issue very interesting and wonder if any major study has been undertaken of orthographical practices across the board…..

  2. I am so going to have to kill you now. Because you’ve got me dead scared. But yay for orthography. One of the things that is entirely normal in the earlier Fulda charters is that we do get a lot of variance between and within charters, and the same sort of scribal inconsistencies you mention are rife. This is not helped by the fact that Dronke uses his own spellings that are not necessarily connected to anything in the traditiones themselves. And honestly, I’m not at all clear on why he calls some of the documents kartulae (yep, with a k) and some traditiones.

  3. ADM, in order to kill me you’ll have to turn up! Ah-ha! Unless you can get agents to send me poison in the mail from a UK address or something. May be over-thinking this now. As for Dronke, yes, well, this is why we need your book isn’t it? You are dealing with that so that we don’t have to, and I imagine that this will get a good audience response too you know, not least from the Professor herself.

    Larry, there is actually some such work, though not as yet a major study, and still fairly regional. Especially, there’s a guy called Peter Rück who’s been working around concerns of document production for a long time now, but perhaps the best starting point would be Roger Wright (ed.) Latin and the Romance Languages in the Early Middle Ages (London 1991), which has several papers relevant to exactly what I’m talking about here. I need to spend more time what that volume, I’m not really deeply aware of this work.

  4. Hey Jonathan,

    Thanks, I actually own and have read the Wright book. It was one I purchased when I decided to return to school and become a real medievalist. But I haven’t really read it in ten years so I’ll have another peek at it. I’ve heard Peter Rück’s name, but confess I know nothing of his work, so thanks for the reference.

  5. Curses! Foiled again! And all I can say at this point is that I will be far more conversant with this sort of database enterprise and will NOT let people advertise something they want completely re-worked!

  6. Ah. Thereby hangs a tale of woe I imagine. I’ll buy the first round…

    Larry, no problem. I feel sure there must be something newer on this, but a prolonged poke at the RI-Opac revealed nothing and I can’t reach the IMB from home. Sorry!

  7. Pingback: Seminar CX: words in use in the other part of Christian Spain | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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