A retraction: last angry nun neither so angry nor as last as advertised

I suppose it’s a good day when you go to two libraries and come home with not just most of the work for one’s next paper done, but also with ideas for three different blog posts. However, I could wish the first one didn’t have to be “I was wrong”. Thank goodness, however, that I caught it in time to alter that bit of the book. What am I on about? Back on 13 October 2008 I posted a post called “The last angry nun in Sant Joan de Ripoll“. (If anyone reading knows what song I riffed the title out of, you have unusual but good taste sir or madam.) It talks about one particular nun at Sant Joan de Ripoll, Elo, whose signature we had and who from her subsequent appearances could be shown to have been scarcely a teenager when she signed that document, in 948, and to go on to be a probably nonagenarian exile from the nunnery after it was shut down in 1017, who would have remembered almost all its history and would doubtless have had strong and bitter views about the shut-down.1 It’s a great story, but it’s wrong, as a pingback there from this post now sadly declares. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right this time, mind, but after this why would I believe me?

A better scan of the 948 document signed by Elo, among others

A scan, better than I last had, of the 948 document signd by Elo, among others, Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Cancilleria, pergamins Sunifred 39, full-size linked beneath (large!)

You see, the day before I wrote this I went back through the relevant charters trying to count the nuns of Sant Joan of whom we know for a new paper about them specifically. I found three documents in this search that I’d seen before, but before I took this interest, and then I seem to have assumed that my files were complete enough to make assertions like those in the post in question. Now, I could explain at length—by now I’m sure you believe me about that—but I’ll be short about it this once; there were at least two women called Elo at that nunnery. One was placed there by her parents in 926, and she was of important ancestry: her mother, who was called Guinedilda and made the donation, was one of those semi-independent religious women called deo votae, and her late husband, Elo’s father, Teudemon, had held the land that was now being given to the abbey direct from the king.2 (That in itself is fascinating: Elo was presumably quite young at this point, and obviously not of legal age, so at most 13? so her father can only have died in 913, which suggests that he got his land from Odo or Charles the Simple, which is after the Frankish kings supposedly stopped having much influence here.) So they had connections.

Then there’s the document above. There’s more than one signature there for Elo, but that’s the case with several of the nuns; the neat black signatures are all but one signatures of nuns by the scribe (though apparently in a different ink to the rest of the charter? this is a complicated document) and in some cases the nuns appear to have signed as well, the scribe perhaps not expecting women to be able to write and they happy to prove him wrong. So I hadn’t thought about it much; but actually there are two scribal signatures in the name of Elo so there must have been two there then, of whom one could write and one couldn’t. One was probably the royal vassal’s daughter, but the other one, well, she might be our girl, or she might be someone else of the same name. There are two signatures by women called Elo in an exchange of 964 as well, and the same is true there.3 But in 1002 a man called Asner gave some land at Torrent in the Vall de Ripoll to a nun called Elo at Sant Joan who was his daughter, and her focus in that same area means that we know that she is the one who goes on till 1032.4 And that 1032 appearance makes it clear that my claim about her being the last nun is also rubbish.

That takes a bit of explaining (and then a sanctemonialis ex machina ending). The 1032 document is Elo’s last appearance, but not just hers. It’s the publication of a will and Elo was one of the executors.5 The deceased, however, was another deo sacrata, which is the title Elo also used after her expulsion in 1017, and she was called Guinedilda. This woman also appears in the 964 exchange so if there were only two Elos she and Guinedilda had known each other a long long time, fifty-five years at least and Guinedilda was at least 69. Though, even if Elo de Torrent was a new girl in 1002, it had still been at least thirty years since then, let’s not forget.

The thing here is, Guinedilda bequeathed most of her belongings, which were reasonably numerous, to Sant Joan, which by now was a canonry tied to a new and ephemeral bishopric at Besalú, occupied by the son of the count who got the abbey closed down, though it was already by then being called Sant Joan de les Abadesses. Yes, it stinks doesn’t it? But apparently Bishop Oliba of Vic, whom we’ve met before, made sure that all the nuns were provided with a living from the nunnery’s lands at the expulsion, and probably therefore those lands had to come back to the house when they died. It just took these two a long time to do that.

So, to reprise the earlier post’s assertions. If there were two, rather than three, nuns called Elo, and Elo de Torrent is one of those named in 948, she must still have been pretty gosh-darned old at final appearance: legal age was 14, so she must have been at least 14 in 948, therefore 83 or older at the expulsion and at least 98 when she had to see her old cloistermate to the grave! But it might be that Guinedilda, about whose uncommon name I’m more confident, was seen to the grave not by so venerable a fellow nun-in-exile but by a younger amanuensis who might only have been, er, first appearance and therefore at least legal age 1002? Last appearance 1032 so, 44 or older then.

However, neither of these venerable ladies can have been the last nun of the abbey. Why not? Because the ousted abbess, Ingilberga, reported to the somewhat incredulous Pope Benedict VII as a meretrix veneri but installed in the episcopal palace at Vic and remembered there as a venerable and pious woman, was only remembered as such after 1055. Till then she was still alive, being venerable and pious in real time. And she was oblated in 987 and took the abbacy before 995, so she must have been at least 14 then and therefore at least 74 at her death. Guinedilda was older. But Ingilberga was the last, outliving all those who’d deposed her, including the half-brother who’d installed her remorsefully in his palace. She was the last angry nun. And she probably had the best right to be, as well.6

The nave and apse of the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

The nave and apse of the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses


1.The document is, as well as at the shelf-mark in the picture caption, edited in Federico Udina Martorell (ed.), El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. 128, and also edited and translated into Catalan in Antoni Pladevall i Font, Nuria Peirís i Pujolar, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Xavier Barral i Altet, R. Bastardes i Parera & R. M. Martín i Ros, “Sant Joan de les Abadesses”, in Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya romànica X: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987), pp. 354-410, whence this facsimile.

2. The lost documents were inventoried in the Llibre de Canalars, a record of the abbey’s charters by the chatty Abbot Miquel Isalguer (1457-84), which Udina edited in Archivo Condal, pp. 448-499 for the period of his book. This is no. 149 there, and also Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, S. Riera i Viader, Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2005), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, 2 vols, doc. no. 201.

3. Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. nos 148 & 163; she’s also in Sobrequés et al., Catalunya carolíngia V, doc. no. 360, which is another part of the same exchange.

4. He appears giving Elo land in Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (eds), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 19-21 (Barcelona 1998), doc no. 62.

5. Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 226.

6. If for some reason you wished to follow up the sad history of Ingilberga, the basics are dealt with in R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època, (Barcelona 1948; 2nd edn. 1948; 3rd edn. 1962), 3rd edn. repr. as “L’Abat Oliba i la seva època” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. J. Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i documents XIII-XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols, II pp. 141-277, at pp. 190-200 of the reprint, which is of course about the remorseful half-brother but deals with his family as well, and more personally in Esteve Albert i Corp, Les Abadesses de Sant Joan, Episodis de l’història 69 (Barcelona 1969, 2nd edn. 1999), pp. 43-51, but you would probably also benefit from knowing that the documents of the expulsion are now edited in E. Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari i Escrits Literaris de l’Abat i Bisbe Oliba, ed. A. M. Mundó, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica XLIV (Barcelona 1992), Diplomatari nos. 10 & 49.

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9 responses to “A retraction: last angry nun neither so angry nor as last as advertised

  1. clio's disciple

    And wasn’t she buried at the altar of St. John at Vic, showing a last devotion to her community’s patron?

    Still a good story, I’m glad you tracked more of the ladies down.

  2. clio's disciple

    “She” in the last comment = Ingilberga.

    • I knew she was buried in Vic but I hadn’t registered the significance of the altar. I didn’t get inside the cathedral of Vic when I was there because archives and the Museu Episcopal consumed my limited time; next time I’ll look for her…

  3. Swein Forkbeard

    I’m just wondering, on that document, what does it mean on the three entries were it looks like a small “r”, then a cross, or a capital “I” with a like through it and the four dots and the circle in lower left? One of them seems to say “m” or maybe more, one is “malderia”(?), and one is “m hemmo”.

    • The device that starts each one is a monogram of the word Signum, sign or mark; it runs from the curve which is the S looped into the i and finally the g. The nu is replaced by a cross, and it is believed that usually where this was being done for someone who couldn’t write, they would put the dots in themselves. (I have never understood how we can possibly tell if that happened.) And then the final m.

      After that you have the names, which for those three are Elo, Aldecia, and Hemmo (Emma) respectively. But see that there are also signatures for Elo immediately above Aldecia (in autograph) and again three signatures to the left, and one for Emma immediately to the left of Elo’s autograph… and they don’t use the signum in autograph.

      • Swein Forkbeard

        Oh I see. Thank you for the reply. And with the dots, I guess it would kind-of be like looking at old documents from the 1600s or so where illiterates put down their “mark”. I guess you just have to assume. Of course, in history, we don’t want to assume anything. :)

        • Swein Forkbeard

          I should also probably mention, so my comment makes more sense, that I used “we” in the history comment because that is what my BA is in.

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

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