Three sorts of priest, part I: the promised evidence for priests and their books on the Spanish March

It’s a new series! Albeit a short one. This starts from where I promised, a little while back as a reaction to some of Celia Chazelle’s suggestions about the probable lack of training and book-learning of some priests in the farflung parts of Carolingian-era Europe, some evidence to the contrary. My particular corner of Europe is fairly farflung, after all, and almost all the textual evidence from it is land charters, so you could be forgiven for thinking it was difficult to say much about pastoral care. And it is, especially liturgy, most of our evidence for the liturgy comes from the kingdoms next door where the Carolingian Renaissance wasn’t carried out, and if one’s interested in liturgy, which I’m not really (post about that upcoming somewhen, too), then this must be quite annoying as this ought to be a locus classicus for testing the Carolingian cultural effect, and it won’t let one look.1

In fact, where one can say something to the point of Professor Chazelle’s conjectures, it’s not because of the Carolingians but because of the Visigoths. It is laid down in the Visigothic Code, the Forum Iudicum yet, already, by the ‘glorious Flavius Reccensvinthus, king’, as follows:

As soon as a bishop has been consecrated, he shall straightway proceed to make an inventory of the property of his church in the presence of five freeborn witnesses; and to this inventory the said witnesses shall affix their signatures. After the death of a bishop, and as soon as his successor has been consecrated, the latter shall require a second inventory of the church property to be made; and if it should appear that said property had, in any way, been diminished, then the heirs of said bishop, or those to whom his estate was bequeathed by will, shall make up the deficiency.2

I don’t suppose this was actually done everywhere, but it was done at least twice at Vic d’Osona.3 And, because books are very expensive when you’re killing a sheep for every eight pages or so, they are listed too. So, circa. 970, after the murder of Bishop Ató (not Archbishop, no matter what you may have heard), Fruià his successor appears to have done this and the books are inventoried too, after their papal and royal precepts. The interesting thing is that the books weren’t at the cathedral, in some cases. Fruià himself had a volume of canones on loan, and a woman called Riquilda had a copy of Kings, so there’s an interesting thing for other reasons. More relevantly for the post, there were several small clusters out at other churches. At Castellar, far out at the west end of Manresa in Segarra, out in the wilds, someone had an antiphonary, a lectionary and a missal. Valldaneu, which I can’t place, had an antiphonary and a missal, and out at Artés in Manresa, there was an antiphonary, a missal and a volume of dispositos (any ideas? I’m guessing a penitential). This is interesting because that’s most of what you’d want as a mass priest; I’d expect a Psalter, too, and I’m surprised that none are mentioned, but maybe the priests had their own.

Churches in Artés, Manresa, seen from above, from Wikimedia Commons

Churches in Artés, Manresa, seen from above, from Wikimedia Commons

Also, these are development areas: Vic got hold of Artés only in 938, when 50-odd people from there were made to swear to the bishop’s lordship.4 We don’t even securely know of a church out there before the eleventh-century Santa Maria; you can see from the picture that it’s a bit busier now, but here we can see that Vic had a kind of mission station out there, and one at Castellar too. Part of the development that the cathedral was putting into these areas was supplying the textual necessities for cult. It may well be that they didn’t intend these books to stay there, were hoping that the new churches’ resources would eventually permit them to buy their own copies, but for then, the cathedral’s chosen hot-spots were getting their start-up costs met centrally. Likewise, one of Vic’s richest priests, a guy called Guifré Brunicard, had borrowed a lectionary; I rather suspect that he, too, was spreading the good word in some of the places he’d managed to buy and which, via his two nephews, the cathedral would eventually also come to own.5

This still doesn’t tell you what the priests in question knew, where they’d been taught (though as Ató was a learned man and one of the teachers of Gerbert of Rheims, a cathedral school doesn’t seem a difficult thing to envision) or what liturgy they used, what hymns they sang, and how fierce they were about superstition, or whatever; it doesn’t tell us, either, how Christian or not their `flocks’ were; but it does show that someone in these wild areas was interested to ensure that people got the law and Mass right.6 Obviously this is not a typical area, but where is? And obviously also, this is not the whole of the March: this is three or four places in two counties with hundreds of churches, so there must be other possibilities. Part 2 and part 3 will try and explore some of those, but this is enough for now, and the post I originally wanted to write.


1. On this replacement the chapter and verse (no pun intended) is now Rose Walker, The change from the Mozarabic to the Roman liturgy in Spain at the end of the eleventh century (London 1995); Rose is also one of the few people who can interest me in this stuff, but I still haven’t read it I’m afraid.

2. Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922), Book V Chapter 1 Title II.

3. Eduard Junyent (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX-X, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. nos 303 & 413, following discussion of 413 which is also illus. ibid. làmina 92.

4. Ibid., doc. no. 182. On Vic’s development and its management of its lands, you can of course see Paul H. Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick 1983); online at http://libro.uca.edu/vic/vic.htm, last modified 16th August 2000 as of 22nd November 2003.

5. His will, made before departure on pilgrimage from which, seemingly, he did not return, is Junyent, Diplomatari, doc. no. 479.

6. On Ató and his tuition of Gerbert, one can see firstly Ramon Ordeig i Mata, “Ató, bisbe i arquebisbe de Vic (957-971), antic arxiprest-ardiaca de Girona” in Studia Vicensia Vol. 1 (Vic 1989), pp. 61-97, and secondly J. M. Masnou, “L’escola de la catedral de Vic al segle XI” in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 621-633.

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7 responses to “Three sorts of priest, part I: the promised evidence for priests and their books on the Spanish March

  1. Do any of the names of borrowers crop up in charter material, to suggest that it’s the local patrons who are doing the borrowing? Rosamond McKitterick showed this was the case for Carolingian borrowers of books from ecclesiastical libraries (Carolingians and the written word p 261-266. Her examples are from Fleury, St Gall, Cologne and Weissenberg, so rather less peripheral areas).

  2. Not as such. It’s almost more interesting than that, in fact. There aren’t very many people named as bookholders, most of the books instead being at places, and the few that are are more-or-less-identifiable contacts of the chapter. Mostly that means ecclesiastics as mentioned. Riquilda’s a bit harder to place, what with no surnames and so on and it being a common name, but there is one possibility who is worth a post by herself, to whom a priest of the chapter made a bequest on the condition that she doesn’t marry or anything like it, and who I think is probably best read as partner of a late priest being paid maintenance for his child. If she was also the one borrowing the books I’d like to think of her as my local Héloïse, but she doesn’t seem to give the cathedral anything, quite the reverse. The others are three identifiable chapter priests and one other guy who may also appear once as firmator for a deal somewhere else, and the only reason I make that association is because they’re roughly contemporary and apparently in some unusual connection with the cathedral. No obvious donors at all, except in as much as the chapter priests usually bequeath generously, but then this is one of the ways the cathedral manages its properties, as you’ll see when the book comes out and no doubt you consume it cover to cover with avidity.

  3. As much as I – working on early medieval canon law – would like to see penitentials spread to even the remotest rural areas in Catalunya (and I think they probably were, even if I am not aware of any evidence for this particular area), I believe that disposita are most probably commentaries to books of the Bible (Niermeyer has it as one of the more obscure meanings of dispositum). Having commentaries at hand might be useful for giving homilies during mass.

    • I also don’t know of any other penitentials for Catalonia, but agree there were probably some. It’s strange how little of Catalonia’s manuscript preservation—which is not bad—is liturgical, compared to other areas. A lot of it is Scriptural, and much Patristic, but very few of the actual working texts. Thankyou for the Niermeyer cite; some day I will just cave in and buy my own copy, but not quite yet.

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