Occasionally I work with manuscripts

I realise that all the cool kids are writing their Kalamazoo reports, and I will also get on to that some day soon. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I hadn’t put six hours in today, on jetlag amounts of sleep, on the notes of the book whilst being harassed by editors who’ve missed their deadlines. No, sorry: nothing beats the book at this stage. Except perhaps some blog. I had about seven posts I wanted to write as well as the K’zoo report and now as a result of web-crawling for footnotes I have another. So I will do the first, which is, coincidentally, about where chasing a footnote can take you.

Portrait of Pope John X

Pope John X, from Wikimedia Commons (though where before that, I have no clue)

In the early Middle Ages, or indeed any of the other Middle Ages, communications were less than instant. Sometimes we have letters left to us that testify to this problem, reporting that information has reached the writer too late and now they want to change whatever they just said. Pope John X has one of my favourites, because it directly touches something I recently finished working on. I’ll translate:

Bishop John, servant of the servants of God, to Reginald of Béziers, Ariman of Toulouse, Riculf of Elna, Guimarà of Carcassonne, Guiu of Girona, Gerard of Agde, Teuderic of Lodève, Hubert of Nîmes, another Teuderic, of Barcelona, Jordi of Osona, Radulf of Urgell, most reverend and holy bishops of the Church of Christ. Receiving letters from your sanctity about your metropolitan, Agius, and the insidious frauds against him by the most nefarious Gerald, and acknowledging them we grieved greatly, and we faltered as if we felt the news in our body. Wherefore, we wished it to be known to your sanctity that the aforesaid falsehood-spinner Gerald, coming to this holy Roman and Apostolic Church that by God’s design we serve to rob us like an innocent, wanted the bishopric, and we, not recognising the cunning of his surpassing iniquity, wished to accommodate him, if there might be no canonical censure therefrom. He indeed, we have now found out from the truthful report of many, proferring under false pretences I know not what spurious letters purporting to bear our name, came and raided the bishopric of Narbonne in armed force on this basis, having captured the venerable metropolitan Agius by his fraud, and previously we had come to know very many other things about him through your letters. On account of which, we have sent to you through Archbishop Ermino our Apostolic letters, so that you shall not receive the selfsame oft-named Gerald, held a liar by all, among the bishops, and now moreover that we have discovered from your fraternity and fully recognise the malice and deceptions of his iniquity, we wish and we order by Apostolic authority that, just as we have already written to you and the sacred canons testify, you shall not have him among the bishops, as he was not requested by the clerics and the people of the city, nor was he ordained in the customary manner by you, his coprovincials. We have sent, as your concern sought, a privilege, a pallium and the use of the pallium to your metropolitan Agius so that we deny to no Church this that he justly sought. BENE VALETE!

[Edit: adjustments to the translation here after the typically learned suggestions of Clemens Radl in comments; anyone wanting to pick up this text for their own purposes should also check that comment for a bunch of useful references.]

In short, Gerald comes to Rome asking to be made Bishop of Narbonne; John is prepared to hear him kindly but the next thing he knows, he’s getting letters from the bishops of the Narbonensis saying that Gerald’s got letters from the pope that he’s using to throw Agius, whom they’ve already got, in jail and demand election and quite frankly Pope, WTS etc. John therefore expresses his frustration and distress via a mutually-trusted intermediary and sends Agius documentary and vestimentary confirmation of John’s backing for the rightful candidate, though you’ll notice that John apparently didn’t know this rightful candidate was in place before. This is in 914, should you be wondering.

A tenth-century illustration of Pope Gregory the Great wearing a pallium

A tenth-century illustration of Pope Gregory the Great wearing a pallium, from the Antiphonary of Hartker of St-Gall via Wikimedia Commons

This text is not new or unknown, but it’s only known from a fairly late preservation. Narbonne, which was once an incredible archive for all things historical and Pyrenean, lost its early documents only in the last few centuries, so the edition of this text with which I’m familiar was done from a 1664 edition from what we suppose to have been the original.1 However, there is also a manuscript copy of it in the British Library. Now, that copy was made in the eighteenth century, so it’s actually more recent than the oldest editions, but all the same, I thought I’d like to go and look, because it bothered me that the text should only be known via Narbonne and I wondered if this might be a different version. I don’t have a picture, because the BL doesn’t like cameras, and in any case it’s an eighteenth-century manuscript, it doesn’t look that old.2 But I have been and looked, and what do you know, it is different.

We are talking about here

It’s tempting to transcribe, but this is long enough already. Suffice to say that most of the personal names are spelt differently, Riculpho not Riculfo, Gimara for Guimara and so on, and that although some of its variants are tending to gibberish (“acknowledging in the side”) some actually make more sense (“wept greatly” instead of “faltered”, defleuimus not defecimus). At the very least it becomes clear that Catel, who edited the 1664 text, modernised the spelling in a fair few places, and may have misread it in others, though the copyist here also mangled a few things. Anyway, up to this point they could be working from the same text. But actually the manuscript omits the “Bene Valete” and goes off on a whole new tangent. There is in fact a better edition that used this manuscript too, and it registers the variants that I noticed and agrees that some of them are good;3 but even that doesn’t include the following bit, which is to my mind almost as interesting, because it tells us what Agius did next. The copyist doesn’t seem to been following his text, at some remove or other, because with no break it just runs straight on as follows:

Venerabilis Agamberto, nec non et Elefonso Epsicopis. Agio Narbonæ sedis Episcopus multimodas orationes. Audiuimus quod vos curtim pergere his diebus debetis. Idcirco ad deprecandum comites nostros perreximus. Ermengaudem et Raymundum quatinus vos deprecarent, ut præceptum apud Regem impetrare nobis non dedignemini. Itaque nos præcamur et supplicamus, ut relatum quod superius scriptum est sic apud Regem impetrare non vos pigeat, bene valete [ruche]

Or, in English, more or less:

To the venerable bishops Agambert and also Eldefonsus, Agius bishop of the see of Narbonne, many sorts of prayer. We have heard that you ought some day soon to be attending court. On that account we have managed to beg our counts Ermengaud and Raymond that they would beseech you so that you will not decline to get a precept from the king for us. We therefore pray and beg that it may fail you not to obtain the account that is written above thus from the king, go you well [signature]

So look, if this is a copy of what Catel was using, that wasn’t a papal document, it’s not John’s letter, even though that’s what he represented it as. The whole thing is actually a letter from Agius, asking his colleagues with business at court to get a letter to this effect from the king, and enclosing the text of a papal letter to explain what’s been going down in Narbonne and to serve as template. This is important for two reasons at least, and maybe more. Firstly, it means that we have no good proof that this actually came from the pope, though it would be a bit cheeky for a false letter from the pope itself to reference the possibility of people bearing false letters from the pope, and it doesn’t reflect well on anyone telling this story so I’m not that worried about it. All the same, this is the sort of thing I was wondering when I realised that the preservation was all via Narbonne. We have some evidence for this rival Gerald elsewhere at least, but all that really tells us is that there’s a dispute into which a papal bull, especially one that could be used to get a royal precept, would fit nicely.

A Romantic depiction of Charles the Simple borrowed from Wikipedia

And that’s the other thing. What does a bishop of Narbonne do in strife, even in 915? He writes to the king! Yes, the pope, all very well, but Agius didn’t write to him, his suffragans did; Agius wants a document from the king. This whole area of the West Frankish kingdom is supposed to have fallen off by now, you realise, no Carolingian king has been this far south for seventy years, and Charles the Simple (for it is he on the throne in 915) is, as we’ve said although I now realise that others would argue otherwise, the king under whom it all really goes to pot for the Carolingians. But in time of trouble, who rules and protects the Church? It’s not the pope… (That said, it’s worth noting that Charles actually appointed one of the bishops who write to the pope, Guiu of Girona, so Agius’s sense of the political weather is obviously not universally shared.) And since all of this work ultimately comes to nothing more than a footnote in a paper of which the final copy went off just before I flew America-wards, and which ought to be out in December,4 I thought it could go here in case anyone else can use it. I have reason to suspect there are those reading who can…


1. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1998), doc. no. 139.

2. London, British Library, MS Harley 3570 (1), “Bulls relating to the Archbishopric of Narbonne etc.”, fos 12v-13v (N. B. the document is part of a separate binding within the manuscript and with far older parchment covers I didn’t have time to parse, Gothic; this section is also independently foliated and in its own terms the foliation of this document is fos 7v-8v.)

3. Harald Zimmermann (ed.), Papsturkunden 896-1046. Erster Band: 896-996, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, philosophisch-historische Klasse, Denkschriften 174, Veröffentlichungen der Historischen Kommission III (Wien 1984), doc. no. 39.

4. Jonathan Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: False Metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München forthcoming).

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2 responses to “Occasionally I work with manuscripts

  1. Just a quick note for your footnote: There is a second, slightly revised edition of Zimmermann’s Papsturkunden, which was published in 1988. For document no. 39 there seem to be no significant changes, it still resides on pp. 67sq. The only change I could find was that the lines regarding the election and consecration of bishops according to canon law have been changed to small print as they are a verbeal quote from a well known letter of Leo I (JK 544, Nulla ratio sinit, Migne, PL 54 col. 1203A).

    Zimmermann doesn’t doubt the authenticity of the papal letter, nor does Hans-Henning Kortüm, Zur päpstlichen Urkundensprache im frühen Mittelalter (1995) p. 87 n. 405, yet he only mentions the document summarily and doesn’t deal with it specifically. (But it’s always a good idea to check Kortüm.)

    Regarding your translation of this passage, I propose a slightly different text: Instead of “… indeed let him not be ordained as requested either by the clerics or the people of the city or by you his coprovincials in the customary manner”, I should rather say, “as he was not elected/requested (sit expetitus) by the clerics and the people of the city, nor was he ordained in the customary manner by you, his coprovincials.” So, I think, the reason John provides for not sending the pallium to Gerald, is that he did not become bishop the proper canonical way (election by clerics and people, consecration by fellow bishops) as stated in Leo’s letter. (The Latin original of John’s text reads: …, quippe nec a clericis vel populo civitatis sit expetitus nec a vobis, suis comprovincialibus, more solito ordinatus.. The subjunctive, I believe, is due to the quippe.)

    The original printing, which you mention, can be found on Google Books. By the way, there seems to be no “Bene valete” at the end. Also on Google Books: the proof that Guillaume de Catel actually knew about the letter of Agio to Agambert and Elefons, yet I am not sure that Catel knew about the connection between the two documents. Agio’s letter can also be found in full (including a final “Benevalete”) in Le moyen age 40 (1930) p. 14. In fact the letter even made it into DuCange, s. v. Cortis, Curtis.

    • Clemens, you are as ever a star. I wonder if it’s too late to add that Le Moyen Âge cite to my paper. I’d forgotten that quippe would take the subjunctive, too, which only goes to show what a fraud I am. I will look at correcting later on. The lack of the valediction is interesting: all the editions I saw (which didn’t include Catel’s) end the Bull with ‘Bene valere’ [sic], which certainly isn’t in the MS I saw.

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