Strange deals by intermittent monks

Last April, for heavens’ sake, more than a year ago, I saved a stub of a blog post here with the intent of working it up into a post later. The post was going to be about the genesis of a new project, one of the things that had come out of properly working through Catalunya Carolíngia IV, the source edition I make the most use of for my particular patch.1 And now I’m not much more than a month away from giving the first paper out of the project and I still haven’t posted the appetiser for it. So, perhaps I should get round to that. The stub had the title above and consisted only of these words: “What is going with CC4 1265/1409/1410 and why are half its participants only monks sometimes eh I think I have a new paper under work”. So, let me tell you how these things get started.

Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, from Wikipedia Spain

Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, from Wikimedia Commons; not the first time I’ve used this image and I’m sure it won’t be the last

To be honest, it’s a version of the old line of Isaac Asimov, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka’ but ‘That’s funny…'”. In this instance, what was funny was three charters, so I’d better tell you about the charters. The first supposedly dated from 18th January 979 when it existed, but there now exists only a regestum in the Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, which records that for the benefit of their souls Dagild and his wife Sabrosa gave the monastery of Sant Benet de Bages a property at el Carner in Castellterçol, though they arranged to hold on to it for the duration of their lives, during which time they would pay an annual levy of the produce of it to the monks. The property, as recorded by a monk called Savaric, was distinguished by having on its eastern side a torrent, on its southern one some houses belonging to one Oliba and a ridge of rock that led up to a prominence called Coll d’Asines (Asses Hill), on its western one the Riu Granera, and along its northern edge the torrent again, running back to the Granera.2

Church of Sant Miquel de; Castell de Castellterçol, from Wikimedia Commons

Church of Sant Miquel del Castell de Castellterçol, from Wikimedia Commons, the Riu Granera apparently being unphotographed

So, this is not too funny by itself, but then we have two original documents dated from the 13th January 983 where all this seems to happen again.3 The donors are the same in both cases, though since this time we have a full text we can see that the scribe had them voice the common formula that it is “good and licit enough to build the House of God everywhere, hearing the preaching of the Holy Fathers that alms may free the soul from death, and being stained with the marks of sin and compunctious for mercy” by way of explaining just what they thought they were doing,4 and it is also specified in the first document (as they’re edited) that Sant Benet enjoys the special honour of being subject to the Holy See, so this is really a gift to Rome.5 This time the boundaries are slightly better organised, with the torrent only on the northern side, and Oliba’s homesteads (Latin casales, as opposed to Castilian ‘casas’ in the regestum counted on the east instead; it looks as if the regestum was mis-copied). This time we also have the full sanction, specifying that people who break in on this gift will share Judas’s fate in the Inferno and have to pay everything back twice over, more or less usual, and we have signatures. And that’s where it gets odd.

I think, from the boundaries that we're about here, but there's a lot of torrents round here...

The latter of the two documents Ramon Ordeig edits here was written, as in the regestum, by Savaric the monk, and the witnesses were a priest called Baldemar and a couple of chaps called Durabiles and Seguin. It would seem that this is the document from which the regestum was made, and one of the mis-copyings must have been the date, the 29th year of the reign of King Lothar winding up as the 25th, XXIX to XXV, it’s not hard to understand. But in the other version, in which the exact same lands are transferred by the same people on the same day, the scribe is a deacon called Athanagild and Baldemar is gone, to be replaced by one Oliba, presumably him with the houses on the boundary. Furthermore, Athanagild’s signature confesses to a number of erasures and superscript additions. Now, I haven’t yet seen the original of this, which is in the monastic archive of Santa Maria de Montserrat. Being a functioning monastery, they don’t have to let me in, which makes the job of access for unknown foreigners a bit tricky. I hope to solve it soon, but till then I can’t contradict Ordeig’s edition, all I can say is that he records no such alterations in the actual text, and that is something his edition usually tries to notice. So although Athanagild’s document was obviously needed straight away, and couldn’t be rewritten, what we have may still only be a close-to-contemporary copy of it. And then someone felt another one was necessary too, at at least enough of an interval to necessitate a different scribe being called on to do it. Somehow both these copies wound up with Sant Benet, but I bet they weren’t originally destined for that fate, because only one of them was registered in the eighteenth century, and that was Savaric’s. Who owned all these separate documents when they were first made, I wonder?

Aerial view of Santa Maria de Montserrat, from Wikimedia Commons

Aerial view of Santa Maria de Montserrat, from Wikimedia Commons

So, yes, this is odd, not least in any kind of traditional diplomatic paradigm that thinks there’s such a thing as ‘the’ original document, but it’s not a kind of odd I’ve never seen before.6 On the other hand, this guy Athanagild. And, indeed, this guy Savaric and indeed this guy Baldemar. By the time I got to these documents I was already suspicious about these people. Even beginning to sort it out, however, requires a huge long table, so I will put it behind a cut and you can, if you choose, avoid the prosopography and end here with just the diplomatic curiosity. Otherwise, Let’s take Athanagild as an example, because his case is the most obvious and tangly. Look how Athanagilds turn up here:

Date Title Rôle Context
978 Dec. 1 presbiter witness (autograph) priestly donation to Sant Benet of land at Castellterçol
979 May 3 subdiaconus scribe (of lost original) monastic will at Sant Benet of vine at la Portella
980 Aug. 1 clericus scribe (of lost original) lay bequest to Sant Benet
980 Sep. 26 clericus scribe (of this copy) priestly donation to Sant Benet of land at Òdena
981 Apr. 3 clericus scribe (of this copy) lay sale to one Baldemar (yes) of land in Montpeità (just outside the monastery)
982 Oct. 23 monachus scribe (of lost original) lay donation to Sant Benet of land at el Gual, Manresa
982 Dec. 27 clericus scribe (of this copy) private sale to Baldemar and one Sunifred of land in Montpeità
983 Jan. 13 levita scribe (of this copy, except it’s the one discussed above) lay donation to Sant Benet of land at Castellterçol
983 Apr. 29 clericus scribe (of this copy) private sale to Sunifred of land in Montpeità
983 Apr. 29 clericus scribe (of this copy) private sale to Sunifred and one Savaric (YOU SEE) of land in Montpeità
983 May 4 monachus scribe (of lost original) monk’s will at Sant Benet
983 May 9 clericus scribe (of this copy) private sale between two couples at Montpeità, witnessed inter alia by a Savaric clericus
983 May 9 monachus scribe (of lost original) lay donation to Sant Benet of land at el Guix, Manresa (not in the same formulae as others above), witnessed by a Savaric monachus
984 April 10 subdiaconus scribe (of this copy) lay bequest to Sant Benet of vine in Manresa
984 Sep. 22 subdiaconus scribe (of this copy) lay donation to Sant Benet of land at Montpeità
985 Apr. 25 subdiaconus scribe (of this copy) lay donation to Sant Benet of land at Montpeità
986 Oct. 18 levita scribe (of this copy) private sale in Montpeità
987 Jul. 2 levita scribe (of this copy, except that it’s not as well spelt as usual) lay bequest to Sant Benet of vine at Montpeità
987 Dec. 12 levita scribe (of lost original) lay sale to abbot and monks of Sant Benet of land at Barri de Todsèn
992 May 4 levita scribe (of this copy) lay sale by a family en masse to a priest Malanyec of land at Montpeità
992 Aug. 25 scribe (of this copy) private sale of land in Montpeità
993 Feb. 16 levita scribe (of this copy) private sale of land in Montpeità to one Loderic
993 Feb. 22 sacer scribe (of this copy) private sale of land in Montpeità
993 Feb. 23 levita scribe (of lost original) lay exchange with abbot and monks of Sant Benet
993 Apr. 19 sacer scribe (of lost original) lay sale to Sant Benet and one named monk (same name as the 979 testator, for what it’s worth)
993 Oct. 3 sacer scribe (of this copy) lay bequest to Sant Benet of land in Bages (very close by)
993 Dec. 25 sacer scribe (of this copy) lay donation to Sant Benet of land in Montpeità
994 Nov. 28 sacer scribe (of lost original) lay sale to priest Malanyec of land in Montpeità
995 June 22 levita scribe (of this copy) lay donation to Sant Benet of land at la Querosa
996 May 20 sacer scribe (of this copy) private sale by Loderic of land in Montpeità
996 Oct. 30 sacer neighbour family donation of land at Olzinelles in Bages
997 May 25 presbiter scribe (of lost original Sant Benet’s abbot’s will (his name is Sunifred…)
997 Jun. 17 presbiter scribe (of this copy) lay bequest to Sant Benet of land in Girona
999 Mar. 16 presbitero scribe (of lost original) donation to Abbot Sunifred, monks and Sant Benet of land in Bages
1000 Jan. 20 presbiter scribe (of this copy) private sale of land in Navarcles

Probably we could go on, but the Catalunya Carolíngia stops in 1000 and anyway that’s probably enough.7 Indeed, it’s too much. With a carefully-selected half of these documents one could plot a fairly normal clerical career coming slowly up through the grades and reaching the priesthood, with a fairly tight association with the monastery of Sant Benet but possibly only seeming that way because they preserved the documents so everyone in them looks as if they have that association.8 But here there’s just too much. None of the threads one might try to follow lead to a simple story. For example, let’s take the obvious point: one of these people thinks he’s a monk (monachus), and he is presumably a monk at Sant Benet. Is it then as simple as that we have one person here who writes the transactions in which the monastic community gets or exchanges property? No, alas, the sequence of titles for such a filter would be: priest (presbiter), subdeacon (subdiaconus), cleric (clericus), monk, deacon (levita, monk, subdeacon, deacon, priest (sacer, which may have a specifically monastic context as we’ve seen), deacon, priest (presbiter). If the basic assumption is that scribes are consistent with what title they use and that they progress steadily through the grades, this would need to be at least three different people of the same name, the initial priest, a subdeacon who gets promoted to deacon but no further, a monk who goes into orders and goes all the way up to sacer, so priest [A1], subdeacon [A2], cleric [A3], monk [A3], deacon [A2], monk [A3], subdeacon [A3], deacon [A2 or A3], priest [A3], deacon [A2], priest [A1]. Even this is assuming that the monk stops claiming himself as such as soon as he is any higher in orders than cleric, which is odd, that the ‘monastic’ priest still has property in his own right outside the monastery (which is not, here), and that it’s the other priest who winds up writing the abbot’s will, which is difficult (unless of course Michel Zimmermann is just wrong about that distinction). And what about the people of this name who were doing things unconnected with Sant Benet, at least at this stage (because, remember, all these charters were eventually preserved by the monastery)? I can’t see how they fit with this without proposing at least one more, a cleric then deacon who writes the lay documents of Montpeità, and the problem with that is that so does the sacer and so did the subdeacon. But if those two are the same man then he is flipping between the titles of clericus and monachus for reasons that are completely unclear. And once you collapse that distinction, of course, the rest come crumbling too.

It's not too far to town, really...

Occam’s Razor would of course prefer us to believe this is all one person, in which case his choice of titles is apparently almost random. Occam’s Hairbrush, my favoured logical tool for these kind of tangles, would however leave us with at least four and maybe more Athanagilds all of whom would plainly have known not just each other but the people they were transacting with and writing for. The Razor seems a lot more likely to be right than the Hairbrush here, and this is not least because of those other people. Because you saw in the table where Savaric turns up with differing titles, yes? You can play the same game with him, and indeed with Baldemar (though in his case it’s just about possible to argue it is all one guy who joins the monastery properly quite late on and continues to use his old titles outside), and in fact not just them. If there’s anyone we can identify as a monk of Sant Benet de Bages before 1000 who doesn’t have a homonymous non-monk also appearing in Sant Benet’s charters at the same time, I haven’t spotted him; I think that they all do. At this point the Hairbrush must be thrown away; surely, they are acting outside and without their titles, and only scribally cladding themselves in a monastic habit on special occasions. But what, when and why? And how to be sure?

Tower of Sant Benet de Bages at evening, from Wikimedia Commons

Tower of Sant Benet de Bages at evening, from Wikimedia Commons

Well, the answer to the latter is fairly simple, at least for Athanagild, given how many of these documents are contemporary copies that should contain his actual handwriting.9 It is, of course, go to Montserrat and look to see how many hands there are in the sample, which as said I do hope to do, but it has not yet been possible. Till then, all I can do is work on the former, which means databasing a lot of clerics and trying to see common factors in their behaviour. And if you come to the Oxford paper or indeed my Leeds one (and I hope someone does the latter, given that it’s my usual graveyard shift—this was actually one of the reasons I didn’t present last year, just sick of being scheduled first morning after the dance when no-one’s up except the people going home, and lo, this year it happens again), what you’ll hear is how far I got with it…


1. Full cite: Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), documents from the which I reference as CC4 plus their number in what follows.

2. CC4 1265.

3. CC4 1409 & 1410.

4. One could, of course, raise some scepticism about whether this was what the transactors thought they were doing or what the scribe thought they should think they were doing, especially since it’s a formula but firstly, I can cite you work that shows genuine situational choices lying behind such formulae’s employment (it being Allan Scott McKinley, “Personal Motivations for Giving Land to the Church: the case of Wissemburg”, paper presented in session ‘Clods and Altars, Donors and Records: reading narratives and emotions in early medieval charters’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 11th July 2006), and secondly, as will become clear, transactors and scribe must have known each other pretty well around here.

5. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 153-154, discusses this practice; p. 150 gives brief context for Sant Benet’s instance.

6. Luciana Duranti, “Reliability and Authenticity: the concepts and their implications” in Archivaria 39 (Ottawa 1995), pp. 5-9, online here; cf. Pierre Chaplais, “Some Early Anglo-Saxon Diplomas on Single Sheets: originals or copies?” in Journal of the Society of Archivists 3 (London 1968), pp. 315-336, repr. in Felicity Ranger (ed.), Prisca Munimenta: studies in archival and administrative history presented to Dr. A. E. J. Hollaender (London 1973), pp. 63-87.

7. I must, all the same, look for him in Albert Benet i Clarà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Ciutat de Manresa (segles IX-XI), Diplomataris 6 (Barcelona 1994), in case something helpful like his will or similar is in it.

8. This was, indeed, what I expected on the basis of Sant Joan de les Abadesses: see Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 29-30.

9. The problem we’ve already seen above with copies that may not be diplomatically truthful about their scribes does shake the foundations of that hope a little though. Again, this is something that one also sees at Sant Joan: see Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de la Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), pp. 19-23 & 205.

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26 responses to “Strange deals by intermittent monks

  1. Occam’s Hairbrush… Loving it! Can you get Occam’s hairdryer too? (for blowing off all the extraneous stuff until you’re left with just the relevant strands of argument…)

    • Oh I’m sure that’s possible, Occam’s Bathroom must be extraordinarily well equipped given how many people borrow the Razor…

      • I’m very late replying to this but first, great post and second, I hope to one day see someone pick up on this and start a blog titled, The Hairbrush of History or History’s Hairbrush. So long as they credit you for the idea and explain what it means in a sidebar.

  2. Nice post indeed!

    What a luxury to be able to check how many hands wrote this parchments to try to discern individual identities between homonyms appearances! Too familiar with this kind of difficulties here. Maybe it could help to try to detect clusters of groups of individuals? :) In any case, I think it should not be too difficult for an expert to access the documents at Montserrat, or hope so…

    About the location of the commented property. I have no CC4 at hand, but ‘coll’ is not hill, but ‘pass’. The site still exists (30km north from where I live), is the ‘Coll d’Ases’ (you could take a look using ICC from the wikipedia link) and the southern rock ridge, it could/should be the ‘Cingles de Gallifa’. If I am right, the property is not small as it goes south from Granera to the top of the ridge of Gallifa. There are some candidates for Oliba’s house in this area (Tatinya, Puigdomènec, Salvatges i El Salamó), my particular bet goes for ‘El Salamó’, it has a medieval name and there are prehistoric remains near (Cova del Salomó) check it at Arqueodata.

    • Coll is ‘pass’? I’ve been wrong about that for a very long time, how embarrassing. I hadn’t realised I was in your backyard with this project, that will potentially be very useful in future, as will that map link! Marvellous. Thankyou for all these pointers. As for Oliba’s house, though, it seems clear there are several: maybe all the ones you mentioned began as his work! But small chance of the archaeology ever happening that might put a date to them…

      • Allan McKinley

        Coll means the low point between two hills in English as well (or at least northern English – the southerners don’t have proper hills…)!

      • Well, it seems that ‘coll’ is ‘pass/neck’ from latin collum but castilian ‘colina’ is ‘hill’ from latin collis, so you were not that wrong.
        Now, it puzzles me that scotish ‘coll’ also means ‘mountain pass’ (thanks Allan)!

  3. Allan McKinley

    Hang on – if you’re citing that paper do I need to write it up (there is actually one of the better bits of my thesis on which that is based though)?

    More relevantly, is this about the appropriateness of a particular title – situational entitlement if you like? Another Wissembourg paralell is the normal lack of titles then a sudden ‘hey, he’s a count?!’ moment – often as a witness, not a donor (I don’t believe this is a copyist issue). Anglo-Saxon charters don’t have this sort of variance, but this reflects the fact that witnesses were almost always ‘at court’ and thus their titles were important.

    • Yes, Allan, in general you need to publish more of your stuff :-) (Don’t we all?) Good point about the Anglo-Saxon case, there, I’d not thought that out so clearly before. There’s a Viscount of Girona who owns a lot in this area, well out of his notional jurisdiction, and his title is almost never used; I identified him solely by his filiation in one document. It gets used when he’s in court or with the count, though. So I have seen that too. He is unusual, but consistency of title is not the usual way of things here, not least because I doubt the relevant people are always around to tell the scribe who they are. Borrell II is almost always comes ac marchio but he, well, he Cares A Lot. The most frustrating one that comes up is domnus (or indeed domna), without further qualification, which tells me that the person probably had a title but the scribe preferred to be personal… or more possibly that he thought the title wouldn’t express very much in this case.

      • Allan McKinley

        Domnus is not one I’ve encountered in charters, but it suggests personal authority (remember it never really lost its head male in household implications). It might be more usefully seen as an indication that the appropriate person was involved because of some perceived personal authority? Claiming public or even ecclesiastical authority does seem to have generally been done selectively (contextually?) so there was clearly room for a less formal recognition of status/interest.

        • In my documents, I think I’ve only got a very very few domni who aren’t also something else—vicarius, viscount, count, bishop, abbot or abbess—even if you have to catch them at it in a different document. I agree that the authority in question is personal though; you’ll see me in Rulers and Ruled suggesting that the choice of title for some of these people was pretty much arbitrary, as some vicars were a lot more important than some viscounts and so on.

  4. The life of Queen Balthild (Merovingian) is the Vita domnae Balthildis. So even a queen could be called domna (by someone praising her!).

    • That doesn’t surprise me, though I had forgotten it, thankyou for the reminder. I do wonder, though, whether that isn’t at least partly because she is by then in retirement and a nun. Her exact status would be quite vague and certainly the title regina would present difficulties…

      • Allan McKinley

        More to the point domnae is the normal term for an abbess as they had no formal title. Not sure when abbas became an actual title (add to list of things that a nineteenth-century German must have found out…) but the feminine title would probably have been later, so a general title of respect would be needed.

        • I think Balthild would have been a special case anyway, being both an ex-queen and an ex-slave. My personal abbess of note, Emma of Sant Joan de Ripoll, is almost always abatissa, as witness pictured (though damaged) here, and sometimes domna too, and there are other Iberian instances. So I would say that abatissa is commonplace in the Iberian peninsula at least by 900.

          • Allan McKinley

            On further thought I think abbas and abbatisa were probably titles from before Charlemagne’s time – when they were clearly offices in the same way as countships – I guess maybe this is to do with monasteries gaining autonomous identities through immunities and therefore the heads having actual power. As always, context is the key here.

  5. David Ganz

    Abbas will be found in Sulpicius’s Dialogues, in Jerome’s Life of Malchus, in John Cassian, and of course in the Rules of Benedict, Fereolus, Caesarius of Arles, Aurelian, and Isidore and in Gregory of Tours. Not to mention Merovingian and Visigothic canons.

    • Thankyou David, that’s us told… I possibly should have had the effrontery just to stick the word into a search of the Patrologia latina database…

    • Allan McKinley

      Fair enough – actually my badly stated point was less the use of the title was new than the use of abbas for an office which had power over land developed later. In the sources you mention an abbas is not the same as an abbas in Carolingian sources, where this was likely to be someone with secular powers. Merovingian and Visigothic conciliar sources actually tend to stress bishops had control over the secular affairs of communities headed by abbates. The use of the title clearly had very different meanings to Benedict and Einhard for example.

  6. That can’t be right. Surely the title had the same meaning, but the role and powers of the typical abbot or abbess had changed. Actually I probably mean “atypical” since the powerful and wealthy abbots who controlled vast tracks of land will surely have always been a small minority of all abbots (i.e. most monasteries were not a Fulda or Cluny).

  7. Pingback: Charter-hacking II, From the Sources VIII, Feudal Transformations XVI: scribes who take us through the mutation documentaire | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  8. Pingback: In Marca Hispanica XXII: how hard can it be to get at an actual charter? | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  9. When we studied calculus in a Scottish school, we met the surface shape called “a saddle or coll”. We also called a “pass” a “coll” in geography lessons. In other words, “coll” wasn’t just used in playground Scots, but in the Scottish English of the classroom.

  10. Pingback: Seminar CLXXXII: the return (and beginning) of the intermittent monks of Sant Benet de Bages | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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