From the sources II: the men of Gombrèn and Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Outside of the cloister of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Outside of the cloister of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

A little while ago I managed to get in touch with the current archivist of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, Joan Ferrer i Godoy, who has been really helpful, and is also fresh from the achievement of publishing all the monastery’s documents from 995 to 1273 as part of the excellent Diplomataris series by the Fundació Noguera; two of you at least may find this information useful.1 One of the ways in which he has been helpful is that he’s sent me images of the two documents I most wanted to look at there, thus potentially saving me a trip (though I may go again anyway, when I go). Almost all of Sant Joan’s early archive is now in the Arxiu de la Corona de Aragó in Barcelona, but a very few pieces remain at Sant Joan, and that meant that when Federico Udina i Martorell published the early series as part of a programme of the ACA’s he did four documents from transcripts in Barcelona rather than the originals.2 Two of these are both quite important documents to me (and the other two are interesting forgeries): the former is the partner to the huge hearing over the Vall de Sant Joan that I’ve talked about so much before, in which the count’s representative admitted that he’d lost the case, and I may talk about that here later on. Today however I want to introduce you to the other one, a hearing about which I’ve been suspicious for a long time.

Arxiu de l'Abadia de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, volum de pergamins dels segles X-XII, fo. 35

Arxiu de l'Abadia de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, volum de pergamins dels segles X-XII, fo. 35 (full-size image linked behind)

Here it is. What this is is a hearing from 987 in which Abbess Fredeburga, most mysterious of the abbesses of Sant Joan, called a bunch of people together in court before Marquis Oliba Cabreta of Besalú and had them testify that the monastery had owned the castle of Mogrony since the time of Abbess Emma, and swore to what its territory was as well.3 Now, this was almost certainly not true; Sant Joan’s documents from Emma’s time that mention Mogrony are all interpolated, apparently to establish this very same fact, and of course Emma herself was no stranger to the sworn oath to complete fiction as a judicial tactic, having used it on Oliba’s father her brother in that same huge hearing I already mentioned.4 What this means is that anything from Sant Joan that mentions Mogrony is automatically dubious, and close reading of this charter in Udina’s edition made me no more comfortable about it:

  1. first of all, the people swearing the oath are not identified until the very end, in that little paragraph by a signature at the bottom right there, where they are identified as the men of one village, Gombrèn.5 Now, this is the nearest settlement to the castle so fair enough but I did wonder why no-one had thought to mention who they were till then, as you’d think that was a fairly important part of their value as witnesses.
  2. Secondly, I wondered why the Incredible Wonder Judge Ervigi Marc was scribing, as he had nothing in particular to do with Sant Joan, never appears in its other documents, and was first and foremost a man of the counts of Barcelona, not Oliba Cabreta. Judges did travel, certainly, but this is out of his area and it’s still odd.6
  3. And that got odder with each of the witnesses I checked. None of Oliba’s usual men are here, though one guy, Florenci, at least appears with no-one else; instead, almost every witness I could identify had good pedigree as a follower of his cousin Borrell II of Barcelona, Ervigi’s main employer, not of Oliba.7

So at this point my thought was that this document, which has been used to argue some pretty dubious stuff, was itself probably pretty dubious. I suspected that a hearing had been made up and the witness list borrowed from a charter of Borrell’s, though against that I did have to admit that no matching charter of Borrell’s seems to have survived. Later reflection showed me that that wouldn’t work, because they’re all named in the opening lines too—modulo the apparent correction in line 3 where ‘radulfo’ is added over a scraped patch, he not being in the witnesses—so if it was made up it was done in one go. Some of the witnesses are big men and at least one, Tassio, really did appear with many counts, so he’s not surprising.8 The others are still weird though. Obviously sight of the original was the only thing that might get me any further, and now, here we are. So, what difference does this make?

  1. It actually is an original, or close to, which in and of itself chucks a load of possibilities out of the window. It’s one bit of parchment written in contemporary script and there are autograph signatures on it, so we have to accept that there was some kind of hearing or meeting at or close to the date it gives.
  2. On the other hand the men of Gombrèn are still, as we say in the trade, ‘well dodgy’. Observe that long long horizontal stroke in the centre of the page; that’s the list of people who swore, evidently running short. What that means is that Ervigi (who certainly wrote the main part of the document, the scribal signature right at the bottom is the same precise Caroline hand as the first few lines I’m sure) didn’t know who was swearing when he wrote this, left a gap and then there weren’t enough oath-takers to fill it. So, prior redaction to a set of facts not then fully known.

So what I now think is this, as a first guess. Gombrèn was in Oliba Cabreta’s territory by now, so it had to be before him that this case was heard, or at least it would be best if it were. I still don’t understand what Fredeburga, about whose connections we know little, was up to that Oliba’s court was apparently packed with Barcelona nobles (and we certainly don’t have to assume there was no-one else there; the panels for these things are chosen for relevance and can be subsets of the court9), but apparently she’d brought people with her. Ervigi accordingly wrote this document up first, leaving out the names of those taking the oath because it doesn’t seem to have been clear who they would be, and the witnesses because they would need to follow the list of those swearing.

Once it was finally agreed who was taking the oath, and perhaps even once it had been taken, he added them in, two or three fewer than he’d allowed for, in bigger letters to try and fill the gap (I’m pretty sure that is the same hand, all the letter forms look the same as the smaller script to me) and finished the document by adding the witnesses’ names, letting the clerics and one or two who at least don’t say they’re clerics write their own in a few places. Among them however was the man in charge of the men from Gombrèn, Miró (as ever one of about a dozen otherwise-unknown Miros involved), and at this point Ervigi seems to have realised that as well as not initially naming the oath-takers, he’d never explained who they were. So that information was squeezed into the signature he wrote for Miró (perhaps at the same time he realised he’d also missed out a boundary clause and added it between lines seven and eight). Also, there seems to have been some doubt about whether a record botched this badly would be legal, because another signature added at this point is the one at the middle of the penultimate line, ‘S+ bonutius cl[ericu]s doctusqu[e] lege qui ha[s] conditione[s] roboraui’, ‘signed Bonnuç, cleric and learned in law, who have confirmed this oath’. Except that that still looks like Ervigi’s hand to me so I wonder how learned this cleric was, in fact, that he didn’t sign himself. Anyway, there’s almost no other instance of a specifically legal approval like that from this era, and I think it’s significant.

Finally, and perhaps shamefacedly, Ervigi signed off at the very bottom, admitting to, ‘rasas ac emendatas atq[ue] sup[er]positas in u[e]r[s]o III· & uiii· ac nono ac…’ and I can’t even read it, ‘erasures and corrections and superscripts in the third line and the eighth and the ninth and…’ Poor sod. No backspace on parchment.

Sant Pere de Montgrony with the old castle's rock behind it

Sant Pere de Montgrony with the old castle's rock behind it

So it is an odd occasion. Fredeburga may not have known that what she was contending wasn’t true, that depends when the interpolations to Emma’s documents were made, but she may have had trouble sorting out the oath-swearers because of dissent on the matter. She also seems to have had trouble getting Oliba’s own following to pay attention, and Borrell may have been behind the panel who did attend, intending to unsettle his elder cousin. There’s many lurking pieces of politics behind this hearing that may explain its oddity. But the main reason it looks dodgy is no malicious or fraudulent purpose, but that the problems getting people to swear seem to have led the unfortunate scribe to make a complete hash of it. Never attribute to malice what can be satisfactorily explained by incompetence, eh?

(Edit: now cross-posted to Cliopatria.)


1. Joan Ferrer i Godoy (ed.), Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Joan de les Abadesses (995-1273) (Barcelona 2009).

2. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas: Escuela de Estudios Medievales, Textos XVIII, Publicaciones de la Sección de Barcelona no. 15 (Madrid 1951), ap. II, docs A-D.

3. Udina, Archivo Condal, ap. II D, now edited from the original as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1526. On Fredeburga see Esteve Albert, Les Abadesses de Sant Joan, Episodis de la història 69 (Barcelona 1968).

4. Mogrony: J. Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229-258 at pp. 235-241; the hearing is edited in Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 38 or Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV doc. no. 119; the former has palæographical notes par excellence but the latter has the correct date… Discussion, Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future”, pp. 241-248.

5. The Latin makes clear that the origin of the modern placename is ‘Gomesindo morto’, ‘dead Gomesèn’, whoever he may have been. For a suggestion, see J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), p. 141 & n. 268.

6. For judges in general and Ervigi Marc in particular, see Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 81-99.

7. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power”, p. 249 n. 155.

8. Ibid., pp. 229-230.

9. For example C. Devic & J. Vaissete, Histoire Générale de Languedoc avec les Notes et les Pièces Justificatives. Édition accompagnée de dissertations et actes nouvelles, contenant le recueil des inscriptions de la province antiques et du moyen âge, des planches, des cartes géographiques et des vues des monuments, rev. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & A. Molinier & ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. V (Toulouse 1875, repr. Osnabrück 1973), Preuves: Chartes et Documents nos 193 & 194, are two hearings from the same day and town by the same judge, but the witnesses differ per case.

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6 responses to “From the sources II: the men of Gombrèn and Sant Joan de les Abadesses

  1. Well I certainly found it useful, so thank you. Interesting post.

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  5. Pingback: Correction: the men of Gombrèn less confused than I thought | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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