Rereading for improbable heretics

[The first draft of this was written on the train towards an IHR Earlier Middle Ages seminar, 7th March 2012. Yeah, I know, sorry.]

Approximately the first real charters I read for my work on Catalonia were the church consecration acts from the diocese of Urgell, well up in the Catalan Pyrenees.1 They are fantastically interesting documents, but I always go back to them with a certain trepidation because what I thought was significant then often wasn’t, and I missed quite a lot of stuff that should have leapt out at me. I just didn’t have a sense of what was usual and what wasn’t in this material then, basically. The continuing effort to read Michel Zimmermann’s Écrire et lire en Catalogne has brought me up against one of these hidden significances, but it is honestly one I would never have thought of and it’s fantastic, as well as being unique, I think, if he’s right.2

Urgell charter of sale of 839 on parchment

A sale document of 839 from the Urgell archive. A consecration act would be bigger and have more capitals in it but wouldn’t necessarily be any tidier…

The situation as Zimmermann tells it is this. Some time before 901, Bishop Nantigis of Urgell, who was a busy man during his time in office, as we have eighteen church consecrations by him and one set of council acta where he signed, as opposed to only six charters of any other sort, came out to Guils del Cantó in Alt Urgell to consecrate the church of Sant Fruitós there. A guy called Adeudat features quite large in the document, which stresses his many sins and his need to atone with alms. He and his parents had more or less set up this church, and now he wanted to finish the job. There had been one before, but it was “tiny and rustic”, and so Adeudat did “whatever I could to make it great and installed a peal of bells there” and got the bishop to come along and consecrate the new building. So, fairly obviously Adeudat and his parentes, which might mean only kinsmen, rather than his father and mother, were big people in this little place. There are no other donors mentioned, and his family kept the lands round the church; the document that tells us all this is Adeudat’s will, in which he bequeathed the church, its property and liturgical tackle and the lands around the church to his nephews.

So, it seems inarguable that Adeudat had been the priest of the villa up to this point. He stresses, furthermore, that Nantigis had appointed him priest at the cathedral of Urgell, and that he carried out the rebuild project at Nantigis’s orders, but equally, he and his family were pretty clearly rooted in the area. They had presumably gone to Nantigis to get their status quite literally enshrined in the wider hierarchy. That to me is fascinating, and I didn’t see it first time round, but this isn’t where Zimmermann goes with it, because he instead concentrates on the unusual levels of guilt about sin that Adeudat expresses (“I Adeudat the priest, an unhappy sinner, and as I may truly say a sinner above other men”—super, does he mean that he is superior in sin, or that he is a sinner and is also in authority over other men, eh?) and on the liturgical gear that Adeudat leaves to the church.3 The explanation for Zimmermann is in two of the books Adeudat gave, which are quite unusual. As well as “the better antiphonary in the church, the missal which is the new mystery, the conspectus of the Evangelists, a sermonary” and a hymnal, there is a “chronicle” and a “Toledan service-book”. The Latin is “ordo toletanum”.

Page from the so-called Visigothic Antiphonary of León

Adeudat’s books are unlikely to have been quite this snazzy, but you know, worth bequeathing apparently…

Now, this I did notice when I first read it, indeed I eagerly mailed both Rosamond McKitterick and Jinty Nelson to ask what they thought, partly because I thought they might know but also because I was keen to let them know I was doing work and finding stuff. It could be said that my impostor syndrome takes odd forms. Anyway, I was then interested in the ‘chronicle’, which we can’t really guess at although my guess if I had to would be Isidore of Seville’s Greater Chronicle.4 Perhaps, however, I should have picked up on the Toledan ordo, because actually this is the kind of time that the old ‘Mozarabic’ liturgy was being phased out in this area in the general Carolingian spirit of correctio, being replaced with a new Gallo-Roman hybrid that the Carolingian court felt was the ‘real thing’.5 That, in turn, is presumably what is represented by the “missal which is the new mystery”, missalem qui est novo mistico, and later in the book Zimmermann cites work that identifies these texts, which turn up more widely too, as a codex mixtus, a miscellany of liturgical bits much like the later breviaries, by which your Visigothic Church priest might have carried round all he needed for an average year’s work.6 So OK, he has Visigothic liturgical books, that’s interesting but, out in the wilds like this, maybe not so odd, and perhaps they belonged to his parents, who knows?

This is, however, also not just the time but the area where the Carolingians had had to come down quite heavily on the heresy known as Adoptionism, the idea that Christ was not of his physical self divine but chosen to house divinity by God.7 The chief proponent of this locally had been none other than Bishop Felix of Urgell, Nantigis’s predecessor-but-three-or-four, and of course the other big figure in it had been Bishop Elipand of Toledo. So, carrying round a Toledan service book may have some awkward implications at this exact spot and time.

The church of Guils de Cantó, Alt Urgell, Catalonia

The Romanesque church of Guils de Cantó that presumably replaced Adeudat’s work… BURYING WHO KNOWS WHAT SCANDAL! Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Zimmermann goes all the way with this, in a couple of elegant sentences. Many a church in this area was founded by immigrant Hispani clerics, presumably fleeing from the darkening situation for Christian clergy in al-Andalus. For Zimmermann, Adeudat is best seen as one of them, Toledo-trained (which his library does seem to suggest) and quite possibly heretical, and Nantigis made him pretty clear that that was not the way. His sins that provoked his donation, though this was a topos used by almost all donors to the Church, especially churchmen, may therefore have been quite specific, preaching what he hadn’t realised was held to be heresy to his flock, and his efforts to atone sincere, even if calculated to retain his local status.

I’m not quite sure about a couple of aspects of this. The biggest of these is that if the books in question were heretical, they surely would have been destroyed. If they weren’t, however, there’s no reason to suppose that Adeudat was. After all, they were apparently still suitable gifts for the church in 901, and Nantigis was still around then because Adeudat commended all his property to the bishop to make sure that the church got what it needed to continue in his family’s management. It seems more likely to me, therefore, that the ordo was just a regulation ‘Mozarabic’ liturgy. In that case, the effort to replace the Mozarabic liturgy clearly wasn’t very sincere or thorough here yet. The other thing is that Adeudat’s family were all here too. I don’t really see how we can imagine that these Toledan fugitives came north carrying a rook of books, liturgical even though the main man wasn’t yet a priest, and somehow became the dominant interest in a whole village. Although it must be said that that might be what they were doing by setting up the church with the bishop’s backing, it seems a lot more likely to me that they were locals. In which case, the books don’t tell us about an Andalusi training and the whole thing comes to bits. So I’m not sure that it’s methodologically sound, at all, but I like the story it tells so much that I’m reluctant to abandon the chance of placing a recanting Toledan Adoptionist high and rich in the Pyrenees.


1. Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Les actes de consagracions d’esglesies del bisbat d’Urgell (segles IX-XII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 1 (Montserrat 1978), pp. 11-182, and idem (ed.), “Set actes més de consagracions d’esglésies del bisbat d’Urgell (segles IX-XII)” in Urgellia Vol. 2 (Montserrat 1979), pp. 481-488, now united with new numeration as Les actes de consagracions d’esglésies de l’antic Bisbat d’Urgell: segles IX-XII (Urgell 1986).

2. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècles), Biblioteca de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), pp. 496-497.

3. Please don’t ask me what a villa was at this time; there’s a reason I haven’t translated it…. Some kind of rural circumscription of which the church might be the only focal point, how’s that?

4. This text has been re-edited since I first had to wonder about its presence in Urgell: for a translation and more details see Sam Kanto & Jamie Wood, “The Chronica Maiora of Isidore of Seville: an introduction and translation” in E-Spania Vol. 6 (Paris 2008), DOI: 10.4000/e-spania.15552, online at http://e-spania.revues.org/15552, last modified 15th December 2008 as 0f 15th June 2013.

5. On the problems with the word ‘Mozarab’ and its derivatives, see Richard Hitchcock, Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain: identities and influences (Aldershot 2008). For the correctio ideology I suppose most influential on me is probably Karl-Ferdinand Werner, “‘Hludowicus Augustus’. Gouverner l’empire chrétien : idées et réalités”, in Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), pp. 3-123. I should note, though, that the Catalan scholarship tends to blame the final push on the liturgical front on Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona (862-890, not known to have been a hobbit), canonically said to be a Frank pushing Charles the Bald’s agenda; I know of no evidence for either of these things. On the evidence that there is, see Gaspar Feliu, “Els inicis del domini territorial de la seu de Barcelona”, in Cuadernos de historia económica de Cataluña Vol. 14 (Barcelona 1976), pp. 45-61 at pp. 46-48.

6. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I pp. 526-530.

7. See John C. Cavadini, The Last Christology of the West: Adoptionism in Spain and Gaul, 785-820 (Philadelphia 1993).

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4 responses to “Rereading for improbable heretics

  1. Interesting post, indeed!
    Broadly speaking, I am not shure about to connect hispani with heretics, I use to think the term was mainly used for refugges that sided with carolingian rulers, religious conformance was not an option.
    On a more concrete tone, that’s one of the documents I’ve processed: it could be the case that the Vulfino presbyter in this document be the same as the abbot Gulfi documented eleven years after (Els documents del monestir de Santa Cecília d’Elins (881-1198) D. 2); the identification process was still very rudimentary when this document was entered, so take this possibility cum grano salis!

  2. Now Adoptionism is NOT my thing, but it strikes me that for Zimmerman to be even close to right, then an Urgell priest must have got his Adoptionism not from Urgell, but from Andalusia. Any of Ockham’s toiletries bag should intervene somewhere here. But, and perhaps more importantly, is there in fact any evidence for Adoptionism in Muslim Spain? This is a question asked out of ignorance, but I’m struggling to think of any 8th or 9th century sources from Muslim Spain which would help.

    • The weak point, really, is the leap from Toledan service-books (via expressed sin) to recanted heresy. The books may have come from the south but clearly many did, and they may then have been sold or given away in the north, not least because it’s as a result of exactly that happening that we see them. So those books do not their owner an immigrant make, but more importantly, a Toledan missal wouldn’t in and of itself be Adoptionist, it’s not as if the Adoptionists rewrote the liturgy (as far as I understand it). As to your main question, though, I don’t know: the only sources that really throw much light on Mozarabic Christianity are the various ones that come out of the Cordoban martyr movement and naturally enough they’re doctrinally pretty traditional. So I’m not sure if the question can be answered, which would be a further weakness. But it’s such a lovely idea! and so on.

  3. Sounds like the Churchillian view of King Arthur: If he didn’t live, he should have.

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