In Marca Hispanica XX: actual archive stuff

I expect that you all thought this thread was finished, but no: I have just been waiting, for some time, for the materials for this post to reach me. There will be one more, too, but it’s in the queue. (In the meantime, I have at long last created an index page for all my In marca hispanica posts, now linked off the sidebar in Medieval Tourism Pictures.) So: we left Catalonia last when I was stooging around Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic looking for dead counts, in April of this year. But that had not in fact been my first destination when I got into Barça that day. No, first I went here:

Entrance to the Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón

Your first reaction might justifiably be, what were you doing at a high security prison Jonathan, are the experts in your field that difficult to work with? But in fact, the security is differently aimed here: this building is the bigger, newer part of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. (Ordinarily I use Catalan for places and institutions in Catalonia, but there was so little Catalan and so few Catalans herein that I think it’s actually misleading. This place is part of a federal institution now and that seems to get right down into its hiring culture and language of operation.)

Entrance to the Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón

Entrance to the ACA; abandon Catalan all you who enter here...

I was here because the paper that I mentioned a while back that is technically forthcoming only not really, of which I have now had gloomy confirmation from its editor alas, really needs at least one good-quality image, and there are several other documents held here of which, again, I have long wanted a decent facsimile. So, I was after getting some. And in some ways this proved to be very simple, in as much as the Archivo and its staff were very happy to make this possible, in so far as they could understand what I actually wanted and I their instructions about how to get it. (El meu castellano es molt pitjor que el meu català; em disculpeu…) In other ways, much like their digital resource search engine I mentioned a few posts back, it was really pigging complicated. I had already identified the parchments of which I wanted images. There was a form to fill out. That form was then approved by a senior person. Now, he could take the (very small amount of money) they would charge me for this and they would send me a CD-R with the images on. But not straight away. No, first I had to send one of my copies of the form to Madrid, to be approved by the officials of the Biblioteca Nacional there. Then the form would come back to Barcelona, someone would make the images and tell Madrid to send me a formal agreement to sign. Once that was received by Madrid, they would tell Barcelona to send me the CD-R. Six separate stages. All this correspondence and office time must have cost them far more than I actually paid for the facsimiles. But, I got the first part of the form away very shortly after I got back, Madrid responded a month or so later, and then I probably waited a bit longer to answer again because of the exigencies of teaching. It still took rather a long time for the actual images to turn up, however. In fact I was getting rather annoyed and afraid they’d been mislaid.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version)

But now I don’t mind any more because at the end of last month, a mere six months after I began the process, the images turned up and they are bloody great, as you can see above. So now I can finish this post, and any other gripes I might have had are blown away by the pixel depth and the seamless enlargement I can push these things up to. Look, for example, below at the autograph signature of a certain well-known abbess, which on every facsimile I ever saw of this document before was largely hidden under a huge black patch of discolouration. Now, you can still see the patch: but you can also see the word underneath it. It helps to know it’s got to be “abbatissa“, of course, but you can see where it is. And in order to show you this I have blown it up to something like ten times life size. Trust me on this: you can’t do that with most documentary facsimiles. So I’m pretty pleased with these. I would use the word “fids!” except that I’m not sure any of the readership would recognise it (though we can soon fix that); if there’s any that do, however, that is at least how pleased I am. The wheels of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón grind exceeding slow and not a little erratic; but look how fine they are…1

Signature of Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll

Signature of Abbess Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll


1. The two parchments are, respectively, Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins, Seniofredo 39 and Wifredo 8, published (the latter with monochrome facsimile) in Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), doc. nos 128 & 10 respectively.

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13 responses to “In Marca Hispanica XX: actual archive stuff

  1. highlyeccentric

    *ogles your facsimiles*

    I love all the ridiculous wonky signatures coming after the nice regular documentary hand. Do you think whoever it is down in the bottom left there is making dead certain that his signature is BIGGER THAN BORRELLS, GODDAMNIT?

    • Bottom left-hand corner is the scribe, so he does have a certain pre-eminence. I think it’s also pretty clear that he did Borrell’s signature, once you have the full-size to work with. I don’t think Borrell could write, weirdly; there’s none of his many documents where he inarguably signs autograph and I don’t think he would have avoided that if he had had the choice.

      The hands people sign these documents in always surprise me because the main texts are usually this kind of Caroline-Visigothic hybrid. Yet people apparently know at least one of four or five other scripts that are never used for anything other than signing. Where’re they getting them from? And so on.

      • Dammit, now that I look again I’m less sure that Borrell’s signature is in the scribal hand; the only letter the two names share is the L and they look different between the two. Also Borrell gets a disc-shaped signum that no-one else uses. On the other hand basically there are no repeated signa except for the guide signatures for the nuns. Oh, I don’t know, I’m going to bed.

        • OK – so I don’t have the uber-cool zoomable version like you but the slightly zoomed online version leads me to suggest (although in no way expertly) that the scribe’s signature and Borrell’s are not in the same hand, but rather that the scribe tried to copy the letter form style of Borrell’s signature when he got his turn. The count’s is much more carefully and regularly rendered – all the letters are approximately the same height, on a fairly straight baseline, and the individual glyphs are arranged in a reasonably proportional fashion; the scribe’s (Guiliadus?) doesn’t share these features, even assuming that the outsize capital is a deliberate feature. It also seems as if he gave up following the model with three letters to go… (“Damnit, how do you do a ‘D’ in this “font”? Oh, stuff it!”).

          Re. the count’s disc signum – I notice there are a number of signa which _are_ repeated, but also a handful which appear only once. Not sure if there’s a pattern there of interest to you?

          By the way – how awesome! Love the abbess’ signature. Any chance it is her hand?

          • Yes to the last; we have one other autograph (or at least, signature apparently not by the scribe) of hers and it seems to match. That’s what’s so cool about it.

            The scribe of Seniofredo 39 is not the only person there who dropped into minuscules halfway through, see also Richeldes in the top middle. If I had to guess I’d say it’s because the signature above is crowding him out, although conceptually I’d expect the scribe to sign first and everyone else to follow when the document was brought out. These things are not fixed, of course. I find it hard to explain otherwise; he has no trouble with capital D in the first line, even if not in the same script, and there’s nothing in the main text that suggests lack of skill to me. So, if the witnesses did sign first—and good lord they are squeezed in every which way—that would explain the decreasing size of Guiliadus’s signature, for me anyway.

            But, I can’t get round, now that I look at it, the fact that his default signum as given for the nuns’ guide signatures is the long-tailed open hoop, and that’s not what Borrell is using. The disc signum Borrell uses is actually the most usual one there, it’s just that here no-one else is doing it, but even so, it’s not the scribe’s first choice. I suppose I’m not opposed to it actually being Borrell’s signature, but it does raise the question: why such an accomplished hand, and why does he never show up signing again? He is very young at this point, likely eighteen, but it’s not a skill one entirely forgets. Some kind of injury? I’d have expected it to be mentioned, usually people say if they can’t write for one reason or another. Maybe it was his sword hand and it was important not to expose inability! Which might in turn explain his unusually low record of battle and maybe even his loss of both his recorded combats! But you will notice I am now well into wild hypothesis…

            • Sorry – should have made clear, I wasn’t suggesting it was Borrell who physically signed ‘Borrelli’, but just that the hand looked different. Would a count bring along his own calligrapher to this kind of legal shin-dig?

              • Maybe, though if so it’s not one that recurs with him. Gentiles, above, had been Sant Joan’s chief notary for a long time (this is his last appearance) and I would imagine him being available too. But the surrounding text, the “Sign-” and especially the “comit.” afterwards, don’t look like accomplished writing to me. I suspect that someone unpractised (Borrell?) wrote those and the actual name was done by someone more artistically inclined. But that’s hardly simpler!

  2. I am ashamed you could not use catalan in a catalonian public institution. It’s not only against the law, but a sign of disrespect (more than 90% of population understands catalan , so I bet it was not simple ignorance, but plain cultural segregation). Forty years ago you were rudely told to talk ‘cristiano’, go figure! Now, next generation spanish nationalism still refuses to use catalan, even in an institutional public office! :(

    As for the text, I wonder how much information goes in all those signs? They are mostly ignored/simplified in printed transcriptions…

    • I should make clear, I could use Catalan, and did try, and they spoke it back; the failing was mine in that I couldn’t understand it in the accents I got back! Luckily one person spoke English well enough to provide the vital link where we just couldn’t get meanings across. I didn’t mean to imply that Catalan was ruled out, just that I don’t think there were many native speakers behind the desks there!

      • Oh, don’t worry, you made-it clear! I was just point out that afaik being a ‘federal/state’ facility makes no diference, working for a public institution in Catalunya requires a C (medium) level of catalan proficiency, being native or not. Those speakers should be there, behind the desks, anyway!

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