In Marca Hispanica XIII: more stones than parchment I (Santa Maria de Ripoll)

Santa Maria de Ripoll, photographed from a car in 2008

Santa Maria de Ripoll, photographed from a car in 2008, which is as close as I then got

The kind lift back from Vallfogona recounted in the previous one of these posts put me in the town of Ripoll, with the option either of running for a train right away, or waiting an hour and looking around. Even in the failing light, the latter seemed the wise option because last time I was here, I had to miss it out and I didn’t want to do so twice. Besides, Ripoll grew somewhat during industrialisation and its medieval heritage is now constrained to a fairly small area, which is easy to look around if, as I had, you arrive too late to get inside the monastery.

Old railway shed, with locomotive still therein, now cut off from the railway at Ripoll

Old railway shed, with locomotive still therein, now cut off from the railway at Ripoll

The industrial nature of the town is still fairly clear when you come in; at a distance the monastery’s tower shares the skyline with cranes, silos and chimneys. Things are still not what they once were here, though; the station used to have seven tracks through it and was now making do with two out of a notional four. The Estació Nova, a handsome nineteenth-century building, stands derelict and a new concrete bungalow does for the job of the old Estació that was presumably once insufficient. The railway apparently died back so quickly here that it wasn’t even worth recovering the shunter (switcher, if you’re speaking US English) that lurks still in that disconnected shed. There is a preserved post-war electric locomotive parked on the station verge (visible in the photo linked for Estació Nova above) as a sign of what so recently was; the town has been amassing history recently as well as in my period.1

West front of Santa Maria de Ripoll in evening sunshine

West front of Santa Maria de Ripoll in evening sunshine

If you are a medievalist, however, you’re here for the monastery of Santa Maria, which I have often mentioned here before but for which I now have my own pictures. Even this is more nineteenth-century history than you might expect, though, because as has also been mentioned here this place was burnt down in 1835, with the loss of its entire archive. What you see here is a careful and painstaking 1880s reconstruction. It’s a tremendous job, but there is therefore a reason why it appears so well-preserved.

Arcades around the central apse and most northerly apsidiole at Santa Maria de Ripoll

Arcades around the central apse and most northerly apsidiole at Santa Maria de Ripoll

Santa Maria was big, really big. I mean, you may think Sant Joan de les Abadesses or Sant Benet de Bages were big but that’s just peanuts… well, no, OK, but it is fairly substantial. One good example of the intent of the builder, who was none other than that metal bishop we’ve seen here before and will again, Oliba of Vic, also Abbot of this and several other monasteries, ex-count and an originator of the Peace of God, already, is that he had already had Sant Miquel de Cuixà’s church rebuilt with five apses rather than the usual three (one for the nave, one for each aisle). Somehow Santa Maria, which obviously needed to defend its premier status, wound up with seven.2

The apse and apsidioles, transept and two of the three towers  of Santa Maria de Ripoll

The apse and apsidioles, transept and two of the three towers of Santa Maria de Ripoll

Santa Maria is now very much embedded in the town, but it probably always was since the actual parish church, Sant Pere de Ripoll, which like Santa Maria and Sant Joan have been here a long time in some form or other, is hardly any distance away at all, and as early as we can tell this sort of thing about it (908, to the best of my knowledge) it was being staffed by the monks.3 So Benedictine though it might have been, this monastery was in direct contact with the people it ruled.

The tower of Sant Pere de Ripoll, with Santa Maria beyond

The tower of Sant Pere de Ripoll, with Santa Maria beyond

The loss of records is still immensely frustrating though. Santa Maria was a sufficiently large landholder that it had property in every county of Catalonia, it may have been the largest landholder in the region (albeit probably second to the counts of Barcelona). I mean, it says something that they had four cartularies, even if one of them substantially duplicated another.4 The counts managed to get Sant Joan, similarly privileged but not as wealthy, shut down; Santa Maria they could only take over from the inside.5 And we have almost nothing to go on in reconstructing that importance. We don’t have nothing: one of the place’s archivists, a chap called Roc d’Olzinelles, wrote a manuscript inventory of the most important donations by nobles and others with extended abstracts of the texts, and that survives.6 Also, Santa Maria, like many religious establishments in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, divided its revenues up into shares that were assigned to individuals at one point, and one of these, the Pabordia de Palau, later came under the control of the Bishop of Vic somehow, which meant that in the eighteenth century Vic got abstracts made of all the documents relating to property serving that Pabordia, which also survive. So we have, if you like, the icing and decoration and one slice out of Santa Maria’s overall patrimonial cake, but we can’t tell how much of the cake the slice is and since both sets of abstracts omit witnesses, neighbours and in extreme cases the names of the donors, and very rarely record sales which other archives suggest should have been the majority of documents preserved, these are portions from which all the fruit, nuts and silver balls have been removed already to make it easier to digest.7 Pah. Certainly, I can’t do my sort of stuff with this sample in any useful way, which leaves me continually struggling to estimate what the dark matter of Santa Maria’s influence in any given area I study might have been, especially at smaller but better-preserved Sant Joan, which had once been run by Santa Maria’s abbot and where people might easily play the two monasteries off against each other, but I can only very rarely see that happening.8

The two western towers of Santa Maria de Ripoll in slanting evening sunlight

The two western towers of Santa Maria de Ripoll in slanting evening sunlight. Weirdly, it's the smaller and less Romanesque one that is original; the original of the other one came down in an earthquake in 1428, and had never been replaced when the nineteeth-century rebuild here was done, so they used models from elsewhere. (Linked to details; the picture is mine though.)

That impossibility of putting the place to work for me is one of the reasons why I’ve never made the effort to get here for the place itself; instead I have tended to be here because it’s the railhead for exploration of the Ripollès more widely. Nonetheless, it is very much worth seeing: as a learned correspondent said of it in an exchange at the time, “comme c’est beau!”.

The western portal at Santa Maria de Ripoll

The western portal at Santa Maria de Ripoll, from Wikimedia Commons, whose photographer had better light than did I; this is your actual authentic Romanesque.


1. And, obviously, at all points in between; it’s just that it’s substantially the eleventh and twentieth centuries they’ve chosen to memorialise in the parts of the town where I went.

2. There’s a number of dedicated studies of Santa Maria, largely from an architectural point of view, but I’m here working off Antoni Pladevall i Font, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert and Xavier Barral i Altet, “Santa Maria de Ripoll” in Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès, ed. Jordi Vigué (Barcelona 1987), pp. 206-334. On the metal bishop geezer, see n. 5 below.

3. Sant Pere turns up in a donation of that year from the lost Ripoll archive that we have in regestum, a donation made by one Francolino, who was the person who by failing to provide proof that backed up their claim lost Guimarà and Bonita their case against Abbess Emma in 918 that I mentioned in the Vallfogona post, in fact; this was a small world. The document is printed in Ramon 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. 156, which explains: “Abbates enim et Monachi servientes domum S. Petri presentes et futuri ita obtineant sicut ceteris alodibus S. Petro pertinentibus”, ‘for the abbots and monks, present and future, serving the house of Saint Peter may obtain it just like the other alods belonging to Sant Pere’. Sant Pere doesn’t have an abbot or monks of its own, so they must be coming from the monastery next door. For more on Francolino, see n. 8 below; for more on Sant Pere, see Antoni Pladevall i Font, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, R, Bastardes i Parera and J. Bracons i Clapés, “Sant Pere de Ripoll” in Pladevall, Catalunya Romànica X, pp. 335-343.

4. The old archive is discussed pithily by Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, I pp. 36-39.

5. This they did by putting Oliba, son of a Marquis of Cerdanya and brother of the count whose son became bishop on the back of Sant Joan’s endowment after it was shut down, in as a monk who soon became abbot. It was really a very handy monastic conversion, although I don’t mean to suggest it wasn’t sincere; Oliba was quite the churchman over his life, and probably well suited to the vocation. For the details behind my cynical take on the episode, see J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 70-71 and references there; for a nicer account that leaves Oliba creditable motives, see
Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's L'Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època, 3rd edn.

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's L'Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època, 3rd edn.

Ramon d’Abadal de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època 3rd edn. (Barcelona 1962), repr. as “L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època” in Abadal, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974, 1989), II pp. 141-277, at pp. 83-111 of the original, which I cite because I bought it the next day from Costa Llibreter in Vic, a lovely bookshop stacked with things they can only just find just aa proper bookshop should be—it doesn’t come over the same way on the Internet but they are there—and here is my copy! That all said, a quick English-language introduction to the man and his career can be found in Adam J. Kosto, “Oliba, Peacemaker”, in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 135-149, but you may actually find Abadal’s book easier to get hold of…

6. Roc d’Olzinelles, “Índex de les donacions de comtes i reis i de les butlles pontifícies existents a l’arxiu de Ripoll”, Biblioteca de Catalunya, MS 430. Not on loan when I wrote this, you’ll be glad to know!

7. Quite a lot of this material is in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, and presumably lots more is in other volumes of the Catalunya Carolíngia, but it’s still quite hard to know how much we do have that was copied by various people for various purposes and is now scattered from Madrid to Paris. A reasonable dissertation project for someone close to the area might be to try and assemble a kind of Diplomatari de Ripoll and see if we can work out what survives, how much there might originally have been and what areas we’ve obviously not got. I did inquire about getting a grant to do this from the Generalitat at one point but it never got further than informal enquiries because those never got answered. Oh well.

8. One instance being Francolino, seen in n. 3 above, who had land in many places around Sant Joan apparently but whom we only see give to Sant Pere de Ripoll, and another being a chap called Anno, who at one point is working as saio, a kind of Visigothic constable, in Vallfogona, but is seen before that representing the Abbot of Santa Maria in court. On these guys see Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 62-64 & 42-43 respectively. For the phase before Abbess Emma’s majority when Santa Maria’s abbot, Dagui, ran Sant Joan, see R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “La fundació del Monestir de Ripoll” in Miscel·lània Anselm M. Albareda Vol. I, Analecta Montserratensia Vol. 9 (Montserrat 1962), pp. 187-197, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans Vol. I, pp. 485-494, though be aware that this is one of many cases where they fitted the reprint into its swollen double volume by leaving out the useful documentary appendix.

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7 responses to “In Marca Hispanica XIII: more stones than parchment I (Santa Maria de Ripoll)

  1. Love that Western portal. (And I can finally articulate why I am “addicted” to your blog — virtual tourism! I like wandering around this area, guidebook in hand!)

    • Well, there’s a good few more such posts coming before I revert to seminars, so keep your virtual hiking boots on! And thankyou for the kind words; I believe that this blog is non-harmful if consumed as part of a balanced Internet diet so addiction is probably safe enough for now. (Trust me, I’m a doctor.)

  2. Haha, the seminars are addictive too, for the same reason — tourism in esoteric research areas! :-)

  3. Pingback: In Marca Hispanica XIV: l’Esquerda, city of helpful archæologists « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  4. Pingback: In Marca Hispanica XIX: a dead count’s church in the Barri Gòtic « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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