I knew this would happen. The more of Michel Zimmermann’s huge thèse I read, the less likely I get to be able to conduct a civil conversation with him, even though I learn a lot as well. If I had to sum this difference of perception up, I would usually say that I find it difficult to believe as easily in the influence of the people who request charters made in what the scribes then write, especially when it comes down to word choice. But here I am also coming up against a broader issue which I suppose is just down to how huge the pile of evidence we share is. This problem is, Professor Zimmermann is revelatory about what one can see in the vast Catalan charter material, but I can often fault him when he asserts that something cannot be found in the material. Assertions of evidentiary silence when there’s so much background noise are always going to be risky.
For example. Zimmermann, in a really interesting chunk about whether people really do sign their own names in these documents, who they are when they do (almost always clerics, unsurprisingly, but not always) and so forth, notes that even if the signatories to a charter can’t write, they may be able to draw a signum, a graphical device loosely based on a cross in a circle or on a triple S (from subscripsit), and you can see a few above.1 Sometimes the scribe draws those too and the people just draw one of the dots in the angles of the cross: he says this can be seen in several documents but doesn’t reference them dammit.2 But he also says that people start to mark themselves out by individualised signa in the twelfth century (as with the notaries’ marks we talked about a while back), but not before.3 Well, er, what about the above one? And what indeed about that charter by the nuns of Sant Joan that has featured here so often? There’s at least eight different signa on that. Why don’t they count?4
Now I suspect the answer is simply that Zimmermann, when he was doing this work, didn’t read in the original what was already edited. He does cite a few documents from the edition of the Sant Joan charters and a few from Vic, which are the two corpora I know best and know twit his generalisations here (because they have excellent, if sparingly allocated, plates, and of course I’ve seen a few of the real things too).5 But because they were already edited when he was working, I imagine he didn’t do the same kind of painstaking archive work on them. Neither did I of course, but because I was so far away from them I made extra sure I’d read the palæographical notes. Anyway. So there’s my nuns with their variety and he doesn’t seem to know. And in fact he doesn’t seem to know much about nuns at all:
… toute une catégorie de religieux, les moniales en l’occurrence, reste étrangère à la culture écrite.
… a whole category of religious, to wit, nuns, remained strangers to written culture.
Now he justifies this by reference to the nuns of Sant Pere de les Puelles de Barcelona, pointing out that between 986 and 996 they frequently appear in transactions and not only do they not sign but even the abbesses don’t, once or twice having the scribe profess their inability to do so!6 Well, okay, and it’s not like nunneries are thick on the ground in this period (there are three in the whole of Catalonia, though a fair few female religious in other contexts), but if that’s the period you’re looking at then Sant Pere is the wrong one to pick, because it had been sacked and its population captured as slaves in 985.7 So everyone there in 986 is a new recruit, even the abbess, who may be a comital daughter (of Count-Marquis Borrell II, as it happens; small world innit) but she cannot have been more than 18; Borrell and his wife only married in 967, and there’s no indication that Adelaide Bonafilla was their oldest child though she could have been; the oldest son was only born in 972.8 Okay, old enough to have been schooled but far from a senior ecclesiastic. It’s not like there are very many charters featuring the Sant Joan nuns but they do exist (and he knows they do, because he mentions one of them giving a Psalter to a church; strangers to written culture my foot).9 Did he just not look through the small print in Udina’s edition closely enough? Well, maybe, but one further quote has me meanly suspecting another explanation:
… Guischafredus, auteur d’une donation commune avec sa femme Eilo en 955, tient à préciser que seule la maladie l’empêche de souscrire. De crainte sans doute d’être confondu avec sa femme dans la même inaptitude!
Not without distaste, I translate:
… Guiscafred, actor in a donation made in common with his wife Elo in 955, makes sure to specify that only frailty prevents him from subscribing, doubtless for fear of being confused with his wife in the same ineptitude!
« Sans doute », Prof. Z.! I mean, isn’t that the first possibility that occurs to you, dear reader? No? No, me neither. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but I wouldn’t have let it go to the printers myself.10 It leaves me wondering whether three pages in twelve hundred on women and repeated denials of nuns’ ability to write should really be put down to missing some key charters, or whether there’s a more basic problem here.
1. Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 86-91. The charter is printed in (and scanned from) 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. no. 139.
2. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 89.
3. Ibid., I pp. 89-90.
5. Edited in Udina, Archivo Condal, and Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX i X, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs.
6. Zimmermann, Érire et lire, I pp. 82-83.
7. And of course Zimmermann wrote the basic synthesis on that event, so knows this perfectly well: “La prise de Barcelone par al-Mansûr et la naissance de l’historiographie catalane” in L’Historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle. Actes du Congrès de la Soci´té des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur. Tours, 10-12 juin 1977, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest Vol. 87 (Rennes 1980), pp. 191-218.
8. The family is set out by Prosper de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los Condes de Barcelona Vindicados, y Cronología y Genealogía de los Reyes de España considerados como Soberianos Independientes de su Marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), vol. I online at http://www.archive.org/details/loscondesdebarce01bofauoft, last modified 10 Jul. 2008 as of 15 Jan. 2009, I pp. 64-81; Borrell had Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 173, additionally dated by the birth of his son, so I guess he was relieved. They do seem to have had a lot of girls.
9. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 500, referring to Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 160.
10. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 82.