In Marca Hispanica XXI: the Palace of Saint Stephen, and others

Having confused matters by likening a shrine of one of the earliest English saints to a Catalan church, now I’m going to deepen the confusion with a post about an actual Catalan church. And, furthermore, it’s badly out of sequence because I went to this place on my second trip to Catalonia in January 2009. Only then I didn’t mention it or take any photos (hence the one, only, Wikimedia Commons image for this post) because I didn’t realise it was relevant…

The church of Sant Esteve de Palautordera

The church of Sant Esteve de Palautordera, from Catalan Wikipedia

Well, why on earth not? Look at the ornamentation along the top of the nave there. I gather the tower was rebuilt in 1581 so that shouldn’t necessarily have caught me, but still. And worse, I should have known because I’ve read about it, albeit in the first documents I read relating to this area, not even during my doctorate but during my M. Phil. At that point, though, I had no connection to the place at all and wouldn’t have known the name, which is: Sant Esteve de Palautordera. It is documented as early as 862, in a grant by King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks to Count Sunyer I of Empúries, interesting as it’s a way from his territory as we know it.1 Perhaps because of that, by 908 the church was with Count Guifré II Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, whose tomb I went to see this time out; and by 911 he had passed it onto the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès, whose tower I use as my avatar. So every which way I turn the place is connected to something I’ve already done, and I found this out how? By idly checking the place out in the Catalunya Romànica when writing up the post on Sant Pere de Vilamajor.2 Now of course the church you can see is not the church that was being granted and that presumably dated to my period, this being twelfth-century where it’s older than the rebuild and the original probably being wooden, but nonetheless the site, where I have been only for completely non-historical reasons, is positively loaded with significances I never knew.

There are two further reasons this is embarrassing. The first is the name of the place. You may be aware from my earlier writings here that place-names in Palau- are thought significant by some writers in this area; mostly the fact that the word, which is translatable as ‘palace’, crops up is taken to mean that they were once fiscal estates, and indeed, I found when studying Gurb that one of the largest of these areas, Palau de Voltregà, was almost entirely held by the comital family in the early tenth century and that its alienation to Santa Maria de Ripoll (without which, and their eventual loss of it to Santa Pere de Vic, we wouldn’t know much about it) required the signature of a mysterious judge called Centuri son of Centuri, whose status I examine in that little paper I was suggesting you buy the other day but who seems to have been concerned solely with fiscal properties.3 Now, there is an alternative view espoused by Ramon Martí of the Universitat de Girona that these place-names actually represent Muslim garrison sites from the brief Muslim occupation of Catalonia.4 This, shall we say, has not commanded universal acceptance, and if you follow the first link in this paragraph you will be taken to a paragraph where not only do I not accept it, I bring up an old story about one such place where the ‘Palau’ appears to have been the bishop’s sixteenth-century tithe barn, or so at least is the local story. You know where that place was? That’s right, here. You know when the place-name is first attested? 986.5 The local story is wrong. I should just shut up sometimes.

And the second reason? I found out in the Catalunya Romànica that Sant Esteve has what is apparently a rather fine relief of the Mother of God dating from about the same time as the tower rebuild, but I didn’t see it. (Neither can I find a photo online.) I didn’t see it because I was actually in the church for a service, for reasons to do with my domestic life and not for explanation here, but which were enough to cause minor ructions with the people I was staying with who had to get me down there. So things were already fraught, and I tend to find dropping in on others’ worship embarrassing, as I have none of my own. It doesn’t help when the service is not in a language in which I am comfortable—all the behavioural clues have to be got from movements of the congregation—and accompanied by an invisible guitar rather than anything more high church, which is what my limited Anglican experience tended to be. Organs, you know, which you could supposedly find in the most isolated Catalan churches in the ninth century after all. Anyway, the whole thing was sufficiently trying that I sat at the back and snuck out soon after it was over, and thus never actually went in far enough to realise how old the place or its paintwork were. I should hand back my historical explorer’s badge and my qualifications as a historian of the medieval Church. So okay, now I’ve confessed I feel a bit better, but no less stupid. But it was best that you know.


1. Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya (Barcelona 1926-1955), 2 vols, Particulars XXV, which awards the properties to the local Sunyer after the removal from the Frankish Marquis Hunfrid of Barcelona in 862. Presumably this was not least because if Sunyer hadn’t acted for Charles it seems pretty unlikely that anything could have been done to dispossess Hunfrid.

2. Where Carme Barbany i Gurans and M. Rosa García i Parera, “Sant Esteve de Palautordera” in Antoni Pladevall i Font (ed.), Catalunya Romànica XVIII: el Vallès Occidental, el Vallès Oriental, ed. Maria-Lluïsa Ramos i Martínez (Barcelona 1991), p. 413, give the details used here.

3. For Palau, Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 107-108 and refs there; for Centuri, idem, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú’” in †Alan Deyermond and Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain : a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 104-107, which also discusses Palau briefly.

4. R. Martí, “Palaus o almúnies fiscals a Catalunya i al-Andalus” in Hélène Debax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal : Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie (Toulouse 1999), pp. 63-70.

5. So say Barbany & Garcí, “Sant Esteve de Palautordera”, though I’m not sure of the basis: Abadal, Catalunya Carolíngia II, Sant Cugat del Vallès III, does mention the place, as “Vitdameniam, que vocant Palatium, in valle Dordaria”, but goes on to mention several other villages in the valley and I’m not sure it isn’t just repeating the earlier concession to Sunyer, which seems to me to be just as close to making the link of the names, i. e. not very. There’s no missing that it’s the right place, however; the church is named further on, along with its still-sister up the road, Santa Maria. But Santa Maria would be another post.

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6 responses to “In Marca Hispanica XXI: the Palace of Saint Stephen, and others

  1. Those Centuris, I suppouse them to be the same of 913′ trial of Vallfogona (D00334 and D00335), am I right ? I could not find this ‘Early Medieval Spain : a symposium’ volume in local (catalan) libraries.

    As for Marti about ‘Palaus’, only to add that the forthcomming volume of proceedings of the 2010 metting Teoría y práctica fiscal en el occidente latino y en Dar al -islam (siglos VII-IX) is suppoused to present the latest evolution of his theory.

    • That volume looks really interesting! Man, that can’t come forth quickly enough for me. As for mine, the symposium volume only came out at the very end of the last year, it is probably too soon for it be in overseas libraries; I will send you a PDF of my contribution. I think that the Centuris must all be the same guy, yes: if there are two contemporaries both calling themselves iudices and named Centurius filius Centurii in an era when no-one normally uses patronymics, then every other guess of identity we make is in danger! He also turns up in a hearing in which the Bishop of Vic is given jurisdiction over the Vall d’Artés in 938 and that seems to be his last appearance. So, he only turns up when large-scale ‘public’ property is being given to the Church. It is presumably his father seen in the consecration act of Sant Andreu de Tona from 889, too, which adds to the complexity, but for that I refer you to the article.

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