Some of that critical diplomatic

Doing the kind of history I do means reading a lot of charters. For my thesis I went through some, er, three thousand five hundred maybe? This was not your real archive work such as real historians like Notorious Ph. D. or Robert Darnton do, though some of that came later; this was sitting with a printed edition and indexes, my gods, how hopeless it all would have been without indices, and making the lengthy and interlace-adorned notes I wrote of last time. But still: it was a lot of documents to read, and it has been the backbone of all my subsequent work. As a result of those documents I’ve known places to look for other things and had pet examples to make most of my points with. But reading one of those editions, intensively, when I was doing my thesis and, admittedly, working part-time, took me three to six weeks each and the subsequent processing another week or so initially and continues, off and on, to this day as something new needs chasing or turns up. I don’t have that kind of intensive time any more. Instead, I have been doing the poor second-best of working intermittently through the Catalunya Carolíngia bit by bit. It keeps turning things up, so here’s one of the things.

Aerial view of Santa Maria de Montserrat

Aerial view of Santa Maria de Montserrat

Santa Maria de Montserrat is a monastery whose records have suffered more than most from ill luck. Its own documents were burnt by a French army in 1811. Before then, it had disputed quite a lot of its property with Santa Maria de Ripoll, which meant that lots of copies existed there too, which ought to have been some kind of insurance except that Ripoll’s archive was burnt in 1835 as described here some time ago. Thus, several of Montserrat’s documents have been destroyed twice… Whenever its possessions come up, therefore, we tend to be stuck with whatever copies or registers were made by someone somewhere else before those dates. And therefore, we know about the consecration of Sant Salvador de Ripoll, an extra church in the monastery’s precincts that the counts endowed, only because they endowed it with a village that was subsequently claimed by Montserrat. This, you see, meant that in 1772 a research assistant called Benet Ribas was able to make a note of the Montserrat copy of this document for Jeronimo Pasqual, who was collecting important documents for his never-published Sacrae Cathaloniae antiquitatis monumenta. which is now preserved in manuscript in the Biblioteca de Catalunya in Barcelona, where Ramon Ordeig i Mata found it and edited it for the CC.1 With me so far?

Interior of the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona

Interior of the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Barcelona (from Spanish Wikipedia)

Now, this is a good document for my purposes, though I wish I’d found it when I was teaching, as I wanted an example of fancy textiles being imported from al-Andalus and Byzantium and couldn’t find one as good. You see, among the things that Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona gave the new church were:

… a table worked in silver and ornamented with gold, a silver chalice with a paten similarly of silver, a text of the Gospels covered in silver ornamented with gold… books, namely 1 Missal, 1 Eusebius, 1 Psalter, moreover ecclesiastical vestments, an alb embroidered with gold, two amicts embroidered with gold, 1 stole with maniple embroidered with gold and with schillis [I don’t know what those are] and another stole with maniple embroidered with gold, a succinta embroidered with gold [some sort of sash?], a yellow planet dyed with codrina [don’t know], an orange cape dyed with rodono [don’t know], a subdiaconal of Greek linen, a dalmatic and another dalmatic made from cendal, an alod indeed…

And there, maddeningly for me, Ribas broke off, not including any of the landed property. It’s still cool though—do you notice how the silver-covered Gospels appears to count as treasure and not a book, and not without reason? Why was Sunyer being so generous, though? Well, that is also recorded, between the lines if you will; he gave firstly:

for the remedy of my late parents Guifré and Guinedilda, and at the same time for my late brother Guifré and my late sister Riquilda…

but also, and perhaps more immediately:

for the conservation of our present son, Ermengol by name, and for the increase of his health…

and it was for that that the books and vestments were given. Someone would have had to give such things anyway, but they probably wouldn’t have been as good had Sunyer’s eldest son not been sick. Poor Ermengol must have got slightly better, and we see him operating as count long before his father’s death, but by 942 he was dead even so and Sunyer retired to a monastery shortly after his remaining sons had come of age.2 Sunyer was, arguably, a tough and scheming warlord bully but he seems to have been a family man for all that, and when his family were ailing he tried to call in favours from God like any respectable medieval magnate.3

Sant Martí de Vinyoles

Sant Martí de Vinyoles, the church given to Ripoll by Sunyer in 925 (OR WAS IT)

All that said, this charter made me very suspicious. ‘Cause why, the witness list is full of clerics from the chapter of Vic who had basically retired. The Vic connection is because the bishop is there consecrating the church, but nonetheless some of these priests had stopped appearing some years before. And so I was already suspicious when I got to the next charter that Ribas had summarised, and that turns out to be the bishop giving the tithes that came along with the territories Sunyer had granted, on the same day, presumably at the same occasion and with almost the same people witnessing.4 Except that whereas in the first one a certain deacon Radulf was specified, here Radulf is identified as the bishop of Urgell of that name, Sunyer’s brother.5 The oldest of the Vic clerics is also missing.6 (It does at least add the name of the alods Sunyer gave, which may of course be why Ribas didn’t copy them out in full the first time.)

Cloister of Santa Maria de Ripoll

Cloister of Santa Maria de Ripoll

Now, it seems one of these documents must be wrong or lying. I don’t think we ever see Radulf as a deacon when he wasn’t also a monk of Ripoll, but that had stopped in 904 and by 925, the date of the former document, he was indeed bishop. So if that’s the right dignity, it’s another deacon Radulf—there is such a man at Vic7—and the second document is falsely inflating him to bishop. But if the second document is right, and Bishop Radulf was there as he might easily have been, family occasion as it was, then it begins to look rather as if the former document has had its witness list (and therefore perhaps much of its other detail) sucked in from an earlier document. But the only reason for that that I can imagine is that Santa Maria de Ripoll later found themselves short of proof that they really truly owned Vinyoles and had to make it. Since both documents claim that gift, that would mean they both had to be faked up at least slightly. At which rate can I really use them against each other? and how much weight can I place on the deduction about the sick son? Could it be that both are correct and it was Ribas’s mistake assuming it was the bishop present? and and and… Sometimes having actual originals to work with would help a lot, actually.


1. R. Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 283.

2. Ermengol is really only treated in old work, principally P. 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), I pp. 114-116. I think this suggestion of ill-health tends against Albert Benet’s suggestion that Ermengol died in battle against Magyars at Baltarga in 942 (A. Benet i Clarà, “La batalla de Balltarga. Epilèg a la incursió d’hungaresos a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 4 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 639-40, though there is a lot else that could be quarrelled about there before you get down to circumstantial detail like this: see J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming), pp. 83-109 at pp. 99-102.

3. I will very soon have page numbers to cite for the part of J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming) where I talk about Sunyer! For now, however, ‘the beginning of Chapter 3′ is all I can give you.

4. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. 284.

5. Radulf, almost alone of this family, has a proper documentary study dedicated to him, that being Manuel Rovira, “Un Bisbe d’Urgell del segle X: Radulf” in Urgellia Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 167–184.

6. The priest Athanagild was an interesting fellow. He writes a lot of Vic’s earliest documents, sometimes used very unusual Roman terminology (Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 10), adds Greek notes to another consecration he wrote in 898 (ibid., doc. 37), last wrote (a surviving document) for the chapter twenty years before (ibid. doc. 48), last signed a (surviving) document otherwise fourteen years before (ibid., doc. no. 101) and the same year as this act was making donations causa mortis (ibid. doc. no. 285). It’s obviously possible that he was hauled out for one more for the count, but it’s hard to see why he should be dragged up to Ripoll when he was clearly on his last legs. So I remain dubious.

7. Seen in ibid., docs 78, 103, 238, 267 & 443, probably among others; these run both sides of 925 chronologically.

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2 responses to “Some of that critical diplomatic

  1. This is extremely interesting to me as someone obsessed with gift exchange and the way it forms/shapes relationship that reach beyond the borders of earth and human life, into the afterlife and into the economies of the divine. And even if you don’t decide what to do with it, I half want to write a short story about this little mystery!

    It was very nice to meet you the other day at Leeds, btw.

    • Similarly! If you want to know more about this kind of thing, meanwhile, you may not have met Barbara Rosenwein’s To be the Neighbor of St Peter: the social meaning of Cluny’s property, 909-1049 (Ithaca 1989), which is kind of the go-to example of someone trying to work the whole Maussian gift paradigm through medieval charter evidence. I'm not sure we've got much beyond it since then, so there's room to explore, and these kind of cases where people with resources are pushed to extremities help work out the limits of behaviour.

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