L’affaire Zimmermann continue

Despite earlier resolves, I may have to give into negativity just briefly here. My forecast of intermittent displeasure at reading Michel Zimmermann’s huge and engrossing work Écrire et lire en Catalogne continues to be accurate. In Chapter II, he speaks at length about signatures, what they show about people’s wish to be present in a document, the shame of not being able to write and so on. It’s fascinating, honestly. And he notes the idea that, when they couldn’t write, the witnesses to a charter of my period, or his, tenth to twelfth centuries in what is now Catalonia, would instead mark points in the angles of a cross made by the scribe, so that at least they would have ‘made their mark’. He quotes texts that use the verb ‘punctire’ for this practice, but with uncharacteristic omission doesn’t give a reference. This, to me, is maddening.

Witness signatures made by the scribe, Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Biblioteca de Reserva, Pergamins C.3

Witness signatures made by the scribe, Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Biblioteca de Reserva, Pergamins C.3

But when he does give a reference, it’s not necessarily any less so. He says that on some charters it is plainly visible that this has happened, and cites two. Now, since he wrote, both have been printed, so I hooked the editions off the shelf in the Institute of Historical Research and looked to see if the editors had noted this. And I found that in the first case it is definite, because the actual document records as much, and in the second case probable, in as much as the editors suspect it (because, significantly for either their case or Zimmermann’s or both, there are no autograph signatures) that the documents are not originals, but later copies. So they can hardly bear any evidence of the signing practices of the original witnesses, can they? At this point I think one is entitled to ask “what the heck?” and wonder how much else of what he says can be relied on, however brilliant it may read. I suspect that the answer is that, when you’re writing up a project that ran over more than a decade and over which any attempt at digital record would likely have obsolesced (I know mine has), notes get jumbled and references garbled. I am sure that there do exist documents that Prof. Zimmermann saw that left this impression on him. But I hope it wasn’t these ones, and either way it remains for someone else to discover some more.


The book in question is, cited in full, M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, and here I refer to I pp. 83-91. The documents that he cites (on I p. 85) are Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 9, episcoporum II no. 36, a notarial transcription from 1039 of a document of 1032, now edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segle XI) (Vic 2003-), 2 fascs so far, doc. no. 906, and Arxiu Capitular de Barcelona, Diversorum B no. 23, now edited as J. Baucells i Reig et al. (edd.), Diplomatari de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Catedral de Barcelona: segle XI (Barcelona 2006), 5 vols, doc. no. 362, or at least this is the only document of the right date in that edition though the shelfmark does not seem to be the same as the one Zimmermann gives.

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9 responses to “L’affaire Zimmermann continue

  1. Hi there. Sorry to contact you via blog, off-topic: email messages are bouncing back. Just to confirm: is the title you sent me the final one? let me know if you want to change it. And how would you like me to list your affiliation? Thanks, Stephanie sjtriggatunimelbdotcomdotau

  2. I realise I have given you the wrong email address: incredible! It should be sjtriggatunimelbdotedudotau

    • University not quite that corporate yet, huh? In fact your e-mail comes to me as part of the comment, and of course I have your e-mail. By the time you read this you should have a reply.

  3. Dear Jonathan, As always I find your posts stimulating but I cannot get the “point” of your critic here. I suspect that Zimmermann would say that in the picture of your parchment from the BUB for example there is a “point” missing in all signatures (the one in the left below) so witnesses didn’t show up ! Does this make sens to you?

    • Would that be el Dr To? If so it’s a great pleasure to have you as a reader. As to the missing points, I’m embarrassed to say that I never noticed the spaces in BUB C3, but that document has a whole host of complications about it and certainly isn’t an original as most people would understand the term; in fact it’s a kind of pancarta. I wrote about it here but have a full paper about it I hope to submit to Studia Monastica later this year. So in this instance I suppose that it shows that the scribe was used to this being regular practice even when the witnesses wouldn’t be coming. In which case, it does in fact support Zimmermann’s point better than his own citations, which is rather ironic! Thankyou for making it speak so!

  4. Pingback: Three-quarters brilliance: l’affaire Zimmermann, part III « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  5. Pingback: Bearing the sins of Michel Zimmermann « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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