Category Archives: France

How a saint’s cult gets started

When as medievalists we are told by our sources about a saint’s cult, it is most often of all via hagiography, a written Life of the saint that explains his or her lifelong holiness and authenticates it by means of miracles, especially by miracles after death, since these tell you that the person in question has gone to Heaven (because God does not hear the prayers of the damned). Such an account is still part of the required apparatus for recognition of saints by the Catholic Church now, I believe, but it’s also reckoned to have been a vital part of a cult site’s own propaganda. We don’t often catch the cult before that point, when the propaganda hasn’t really got started and everyone’s only just cottoning on that something special may be happening here. But there is such an episode in the charters of St-Pierre de Beaulieu, with which I was finishing in April 2014 when I stubbed this post. Let me introduce you to the Blessed Rainer.

Apses and chapels of St-Pierre de Beaulieu en Limousin

Let’s have a different picture of St-Pierre from the normal one… By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Rainer’s cult doesn’t seem to have stuck, but a man called Remi wanted it to and at some point in the reign of King Lothar III (954-967) he gave Beaulieu a manse in Oriols (in Davazac in the Limousin) for the benefit of his own soul and someone called Robert, and:

“in honour of the blessed Rainer who was provost of the selfsame place already said, and because of this, that the selfsame man showed his great virtue to all who were there present, when a crippled adolescent who had been brought to his tomb, through the great felicity of his intercession, quickly came running before the altar of Saint Peter; and this great miracle was produced on the feast of Saint Martial.”1

This is almost all we get on Rainer; one other charter from 968 refers to a church or altar of St-Rainer that had already received some of the testator’s land in a place called Flexo in Puy d’Arnac, right by the monastery, so perhaps he was moved out into his own chapel, and that’s the last notice as far as I know (not that I have gone looking).2 Even here there are some interesting questions, though. Why didn’t the monks keep him, if he was already a focus of popular devotion? (Presumably one doesn’t dump one’s invalids in front of a nobody’s tomb when there’s an altar of St Peter nearby…) Why is it on the feast of Saint Martial (who was culted not here but at the local diocesan of Limoges) that all this occurred? It may be that, since this was a monastic church, people simply couldn’t access it except on feast days, of course, and the house’s ties to its bishops were usually pretty good early on so an open house for Beaulieu on St Martial’s in recognition of that is not implausible.

View down the nave towards the altar of St-Pierre de Beaulieu en Limousin

A view down the nave to that same (well, not *the* same, but a similarly-positioned) altar of St Peter. By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Still, one would expect Peter to make a better showing here. Was he just too big and universal to petition? Beaulieu did have other saints present, though: at various points in its charters it claims additional dedication to all of Felix, Felicitas, Felician, Denis, Martin, Benoît and Eloy, so you’d think that one of them at least meant something to the visitors. I wonder if that wasn’t perhaps precisely the problem: they had all this holy weight stored up and it was one of their provosts who attracted the popular attention. Was he getting out and doing good works and making the rest of them look bad? (Another Cuthbert?) We can’t know, of course, but today is as good a day as any to take notice of one medieval man who was thought a bit more remarkable than most by those who remembered him.


1. Maximin Deloche (ed.), Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Beaulieu (en Limousin) (Paris 1869), doc. no. LXX:
“in honore B. Rainerii qui de ipso loco jam dicto præpositus fuit, et propter hoc quia ipse virtutem magnam omnibus qui aderamus ostendit, adolescens etiam qui deportatus ad ejus tumulum contractus fuit, ipsius intercessione cum magna felicitate, ante altare S. Petri currendo festinus pervenit; et illud magnum miraculum ostensum fuit in festivitate S. Martialis.”

2. Ibid. doc. no. CIX.

More curiosities of the Beaulieu cartulary documents

One of the things that can happen with charter collections that interests me most is when we find that an institution has for some reason or other preserved two versions of the same document. My pet case of this is the bequest from the will of Count Guifré II Borrell to the cathedral of Vic in 911: there are two versions of this, with slightly different witness lists but differing most significantly in whether or not the grant includes a third of the revenues from minting in the city.1 Both appear to be more or less contemporary with the grant date, both are single sheets, both are properly signed off, they are diplomatically ‘authentic’ but one of them is obviously not true. If you want to get properly thinky about it, there are scenarios in which which one that was could change: for example, say the count originally intended to make the grant, and a document was drawn up, but he was then persuaded to reconsider and keep the mint for himself and his heirs, so a new one was drawn up. Then, maybe a century later or maybe sooner, the cathedral outs with the first version at some argument with the count and get the rights conceded. Certainly the bishops of Vic struck coin by the eleventh century, but the other version of this grant must only exist because at some point the opposite was preferred.2 So, true, false, then true again, authentic all the time! I think it should be that way round, because otherwise why would the cathedral keep the one in which they got less? But anyway, these cases help illustrate that several versions of a text could exist from the beginning and even be preserved by the same people, which means a bit of rethinking over some of the classical assumptions of diplomatic.

An episcopal diner of Vic, showing Saints Peter and Paul facing each other paired with a man ploughing with an ox right

An episcopal diner of Vic, showing Saints Peter and Paul facing each other paired with a man ploughing with an ox right, probably of the late eleventh century and now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

The example I’ve come across at Beaulieu is more mundane but also more personal. It is from May 885, when one Ermenric became concerned about the end of the world (in the way that we’ve discussed) and the state of his soul if it did, or at least was made to say so by the scribes who wrote his resulting donation to the monastery of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu. He was no minor person, Ermenric, holding some of his land by direct gift from King Carloman, and Beaulieu got richer by twenty-four distinct farmsteads, most of whose tenants were named (three being empty), and a castle that was on one of these properties. They also got richer by the slaves, who were mostly not named (unusually for Beaulieu documents) but among whom, it is specified, were to be counted those who had run away, presumably a trick to stop landlords moving their slaves off an estate before it was transferred and then recovering them and redeploying them as their own still.3 Thirteen men witnessed, including some of the men who show up in these documents most often at that time. It was presumably quite the affair.

The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu again, presumed setting of the transaction. Par Wester (Travail personnel) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ou CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

I had not, when I first wrote this in January, got my head round how the Beaulieu cartulary is organised; I’m still not sure I have. Foundational and royal documents open it, intermingled, and then the organisation may be vaguely geographical, or there may be other links, perhaps of donor families, that I’m not yet seeing. Either it’s much subtler than I think, anyway, or it fails here because, more than a hundred documents further on, this transaction is copied again with the same date, same donor and same witnesses, and indeed the same properties transferred.4 There is some change, though: one part of the donation that looks like a copyist’s error (a place that turns up twice in different vicairies, but which doesn’t seem to be significant for the organisation of the cartulary) is eliminated, and one of the farmsteads acquires an extra slave. So, just an update because the transaction had taken a while to organise? Or just a bug-fix that didn’t replace its faulty predecessor in the archive? Well, only if it’s quite some bug, because the other change is in the religious payback. The monks are to have an annual feast in memory of the donation and offer up prayers and thanks, and although this is unusually specific it’s not odd, it’s just that in the first version the anniversary is to be Ermenric’s death and in the second it’s his brother’s. And that, I’ve never seen before. I guess that the most upsettingly possible explanation is his brother died while they were sorting the gift out and this was what they could do to look after his soul. The brother isn’t named so I can’t check if such a person disappears from the record about then. But both versions still made it into the archive, apparently in such a way that the later copyists didn’t realise. I wonder if they just had two feasts?

A dining scene from the Luttrell Psalter

The only plausibly related image I can search up is from the Luttrell Psalter, so wrong country and century but at least it has monks in it? London, British Library Additional MS 42130

The other curiosity is a boundary issue. (As so many things are…) There is an odd contrast to my Catalan documents here in the matter of roads on property boundaries. Actually giving property boundaries (or at least, leaving them in documents that are copied into the cartulary) is unusual here, but roads do turn up, they’re just always ‘public’ ones. That does happen in Catalonia but there’s lots of other sorts; here, not so much.5 This is not the odd thing. The odd thing is that when these public roads turn up, they are overridingly often on the fourth boundary of the proprties concerned. Impressionistic you say, so have some numbers: in the 74 ninth-century documents as Deloche dated them, only 12 actually give boundaries at all. These give bounds for total 29 properties, though, so it’s a slightly better sample than that implies. Of those 29, 8 don’t have bounds on a public road at all (which is to say that nearly 3 times as many do). Of the 21 that are actually evidential for my point, then, 16 have such a road on their fourth boundary. Admittedly, 5 also have one on their third boundary (and 4 of these are in the same donation, so le Vert must have been quite the spaghetti junction) but I’m not sure that weakens the point, and 1 of the non-compliants has a road on its third boundary but doesn’t have any more, so if I said `last’ boundary instead it would conform. The remaining 3 have roads on first and second, on first (of three) and on third boundary respectively.6 I think 16 or 17 out of 21 counts as a trend.

Roman and Romanesque bridge over the River Ter at Roda de Ter

The Roman and Romanesque bridge that carries the old strata francisca over the River Ter at Roda de Ter, about the one image I have which I can be sure shows a medieval street

So, as they say, what’s up with that? An outside possibility: we’re looking at wine country here, is it actually possible that most of these properties are just on the same side of whatever valley they’re in, to catch the sun appropriately? I find this implausible: I reckon the marginal lands should be in use too by the 880s, and anyway it’s not all vines (though I will confess that a lot of it is). So if not that, what? The most obvious thing would seem to be that they are actually counting the bounds by starting in such a place as to finish with the road. In Catalonia the bounds are, as we’ve discussed, usually done east-south-west-north around the compass; here, however, it must be subjective, and that leads one to wonder if they’re even necessarily sequential. If I’d met this first, of course, I’d think Catalonia weird for its cardinal points every time but as it is, this implied practice seems weirdly fluid and hard to plot with. What do you folks think, assuming anyone’s read to the end of another post about charter bounds?


1. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX-X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascicles, doc. no. 55.

2. Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013), pp. 82-83.

3. Maximin Deloche (ed.), Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Beaulieu (en Limousin) (Paris 1859), doc. no. LV, my emphasis: “De mancipiis vero ad ipsam curtem pertinentibus sive intermanentibus, fugam lapsis, et unde aliunde transgressi sunt, cedo, pro remedio animæ me&ealig; ad monasterium quod vocatur Belluslocus, ubi Gairulfus abbas præesse videtur custos, ipsam mancipia in integrum….”

4. Deloche, Beaulieu, doc. no. CLXVI.

5. Jordi Bolòs i Masclans, “Aportacions al coneixement de les vies de communicació” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 409-436.

6. The 12 documents are Deloche, Beaulieu, doc. nos XX, XLV, LII, LIV, LXIII, CXXXIII, CLII, CLIII, CLVII, CLVIII and CLXXVII, which might look like a cluster towards the end but in chronological order would be XX, CLXXXIII, LIV, CLIII, XLV, CLVIII, CLII, CLXXVII, LXIII, LII, CXXXIII & CLVII, so actually not so much. Of these LXIII is the one with all the roads; the rest, you could look up yourself if you wished

Doorbells of the early medieval Dordogne

[This is the unrelated second part of the post I wrote over last Christmas holidays about interesting stuff in the Beaulieu-en-Limousin cartulary. The first part is here.]

Saint-Michel des Bannières, Lot, from afar

If this isn’t the place, it’s not far off: Saint-Michel des Bannières, Lot, France, pretty close to Bio, one of the hamlets where what I’m discussing is documented

The other interesting thing that I’ve found in [the editor's introduction to the cartulary], though, is nothing like as debated [as the debate over fear of the Year 1000] and far more mundane. Deloche [the editor] was quite keen on protochronism for the Limousin, largely directed at studies based on Paris and the locality, but this is a thing he seems to have thought quite normal but which I’ve never seen before. While talking about ceremonies of property transfer, he says:

[Symbolic transfer] took place by means of a bellpull that the donor offered the recipient, at the door of the house, per cordam signi et hostium domus

This he quotes from an 887 document, although it also occurs in an 881 one in a bit more detail.1 Now, I’m really not sure that it means what Deloche thought it meant. There’s nothing about bells in the Latin and I would, unguided, have read the first phrase there as referring to a seal tie or something like that, and the second is only really explicable in the variant Deloche reports from the 881 instance, “ostium de domo”, but it is quite hard to think what else a cord “of the sign and doors of the house” could be. Something here at a door has a string on it. Presumably it makes something happen when people pull on it. Is there any earlier evidence for how this would have been done? The doorbell seems like a device someone should have come up with 887, but it doesn’t seem to fit with how we imagine medieval homes, does it? You don’t expect to get to the front door of a farm before someone spots you walking through the yard…


1. M. Deloche (ed.), Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Beaulieu (en Limousin) (Paris 1869), doc. no. CLXIII, discussed (and misquoted) p. XCII whence quote; also instanced in doc. no. CLXXIII, where it comes up in a longer list of tokens that were offered, “per cordam de signo et hostium de domo et cespitem de terra sive ramum de arboribus”.

Ceasing to fear the End in the millennial Limousin

[This entry was written as a part of a larger one over the Christmas period of 2013/2014, and stuck in the queue at a position I've only now reached in my backlog. The second part, which bore no actual connection, will follow in a couple of posts' time. I've completed the links, images and footnotes and edited for better style, but the text is still something I wrote in my previous job and this shows. I think it's still interesting though!]

It’s probably the kind of thing that belongs in a list of phrases headed by, “You know you’re a medievalist when…”, when you select a medieval French cartulary for your holiday reading. Although the cartulary of Beaulieu is relevant to one of my eternally-developing draft papers, as those with long memories may recall, it wasn’t exactly relevant to what I should have been doing over the holiday, which was substantially write about the Spanish frontier and work up course materials for a course on the Apocalypse. And yet, by that process of scholarly coincidence that seems to follow us around, the thing that was in front of me turns out to have a strange relevance.

The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, original home of said cartulary. Par Wester (Travail personnel) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ou CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

You may be aware from previous exchanges on this here blog between myself, others and Professor Richard Landes that there is something of a debate over the significance of the date 1000 A. D. for those who lived shortly before or through it. With various more-or-less reputable Biblical or Patristic texts fairly set on the idea that Christ could be expected to return after a thousand years, it’s certainly understandable that such prospects might have worried those alert enough to chronology to realise this, or those to whom they preached, but there is little or no agreement about how many people those people were, how widespread and how influential, and the whole debate has become somewhat impassioned and polemical.1 One of the counter-arguments made against the original idea of the ‘terrors of the year 1000′, in which this was supposed to be a general cause of worry and social upheaval in the run-up to 1000 or 1033 (1000 + Christ’s birth and crucifixion respectively) was that texts suggesting the end of the world was imminent are fairly easy to find long before 1000. This can be worked either way of course: either 1000 was not therefore as significant as it’s been made, or apocalyptic worry was much more general than we assume.2

Illustrated page from the Catedral de Girona, Núm. Inv. 7 (11)

Several people cared about the Apocalypse in 975 enough to order really luxurious copies from the Leonese monastery of Tábara of this illustrated commentary on it by Beatus of Liébana, this one of which has now wound up in Girona, but the actual commentary was written closer to 800… So the same problem arises only more colourfully. This is from the Girona Beatus, which is Catedral de Girona, Núm. Inv. 7 (11). By Meisterin der Schule von Távara [Public domain], it says at Wikimedia Commons whence the file.

Unaware of how this debate would later develop, however, in 1869 we find M. Maximin Deloche, in the process of writing a lengthy and very erudite introduction to his edition of the Beaulieu cartulary, adding an obvious extra step to the ‘terrors’ argument that I haven’t seen anywhere in the more modern literature, as follows:

The Christian centuries that preceded the year 1000 were busily preoccupied with that date’s approach, which, after a certain interpretation of Revelations and according to popular belief, would witness the end of the world. It is an error to believe that this sentiment of fear had its birth shortly or even one or two centuries before this era that one should have considered so fatal. We find a manifestation of this in a monument of which the sincerity is incontestable, the will of St Radegund, dated to 584: it begins with the words, “Mundo in finem currente…”

So far we are conventionally stood against those arguing for a millennial spiritual crisis, but after another pre-1000 example of such sentiments, he goes somewhere unexpected:

Several of our charters contain this [fear] in their preamble. If we consult their dates, we see that they embrace a period of a century and a half before the year 1000. Thereafter, we find it announced only once more, in a title of the year 1060, but this redaction is without doubt only a reproduction, made mechanically and without discernment, of a preceding formulaic usage.

He takes it no further, but it’s important: what does it mean if, even if the idea that the end might be coming soon was common long before 1000, after that it stops?3 Studies on the disappointment of such prophecies suggest that they were usually quickly retooled for a new date, but if the Beaulieu pattern were to be found more widely, we might need to think in terms of disappointment with and even cynicism about such learned predictions, which might indeed find echoes in the rise of popular heresy that Robert Moore more than anyone has demonstrated from, say, 1030 onwards.4 There was so much else going on, of course, including a sea-change in the way that documents were being written that could maybe explain the abandonment of a purely formulaic usage, so this too could serve both sides of the argument over apocalypticism’s importance, but just methodically I really like this use of negative evidence. Why should such a thing disappear, and if it doesn’t elsewhere then why here? It’s worth thinking about…


1. The resort to dismissal and ad hominem examined, not without involvement, in Richard Landes, “Introduction: The Terribles Espoirs of 1000 and the Tacit Fears of 2000″ in R. Landes, A. C. Gow. & R. Van Meter (edd.), The Apocalyptic Year 1000: religious expectation and social change, 950–1050 (Oxford 2003), pp. 3–15.

2. A good clear account of the earlier historiography is Edward Peters, “Mutations, Adjustments, Terrors, Historians and the Year 1000″ in Michael Frassetto (ed.), The Year 1000: religious and social response to the turning of the Millennium (New York City 2002), pp. 9–28.

3. M. Deloche (ed.), Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Beaulieu (en Limousin) (Paris 1869), pp. XCV-XCVII, quotes XCV-XCVI & XCVI.

4. Retooling of expectations studied in depth in Richard Landes, “Lest the Millennium Be Fulfilled: Apocalyptic Expectations and the Pattern of Western Chronography 100–800 CE” in W. Verbeke, D. Verhelst & A. Welkenhuysen (edd.), The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages (Leuven 1988), pp. 137–209. On the rise of heresy in this period see Robert I. Moore, The Birth of Popular Heresy (London 1975, repr. Toronto 2005), and for heresy’s connection to the millennuium, Moore, “The Birth of Heresy: a millennial phenomenon?” in Journal of Religious History 24 (Oxford 2000), pp. 1–24, vs. Richard Landes, “The Birth of Heresy: a millennial phenomenon”, ibid. pp. 26–43.

Redactions of many stages

I finished reading Professor Benoit-Michel Tock‘s book on subscriptions to charters about which I’ve been raving here lately over the month of November 2013, so those posts will shortly cease, but here’s just one more, because in the ninth chapter he hits at an issue that is kind of crucial to how we understand what medieval documents are telling us, the stories they tell about their own creation. I could go on about this for a while, and indeed have before and will again a bit below, but M. le Prof. Tock is briefer than I would be and also more stylish (though I have added emphasis to bring out things that are more ambiguous in English than in the French):

“The question is clearly important, since it concerns, in the most direct manner, the conditions in which the acts were made and, thereby, the links between the act and the judicial action. Is the narrative of the action as it appears in the act sincere? If the act was redacted before the action proper, is it not possible that last-minute changes in the action may not be reflected in the text? Most of all, if the act is prepared before the action, it can play a part in it, either as an act of title or as a symbol of the action.”1

There are lots of ways this can play out, and M. le Prof. Tock goes through most if not all of them, finding all the weird cases where we can see, or occasionally are told, what happened to get the text and names onto a parchment and into an archive. There are more possibilities covered than he mentions in that paragraph: the document may indeed be prepared before the ceremony, and then be signed at the ceremony, or at least have the actors and witnesses mark crosses next to their names, or maybe just touch where the scribe has done it for them or sign the cross in the air above the page. In a few cases, however, it seems that the crosses were put on first and then the entire text written in above them later, presumably once it was back in the recipient’s scriptorium. (And at that rate, something Tock does not consider, who could stop the scribe writing an entirely different version of events?) It has been suggested before, to resolve the paradox of documents which claim that they were placed on an altar to complete the donation, but do so in the past tense as if to indicate that this happened before the document was actually written, that blank sheets might be so deposited and then have the charter written onto them afterwards; Tock’s cases (oddly, as with much of the rest of the book, more from the relatively slight archive of Nouaillé in Poitou than elsewhere2) may be the only evidence of this actually happening I’ve ever seen. He does also raise the rather worrying possibility that once that had been done, at the very bottom of the parchment, since autograph signatures seem to have thought desirable in the ninth century but much less so as time goes and even then not judicially necessary,3 the scribe writing up the fine version of the document on a parchment daubed with out-of-place crosses (“si on ose dire, comme un cheveu dans le soupe…”) might just clip the untidy bottom edge off once he’d written up proper formal versions of the signatures…4) If that possibility makes you as uneasy as it does me, our subjects themselves destroying our evidence of them, you must be a proper charter geek, congratulations!

Lower portion of a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108

Here’s one of Tock’s two examples, ARTEM 780, otherwise known as Niort, Archive Départementale de Deux-Sèvres, H 85, edited as Cédric Giraud, Jean-Baptiste Renault & Benoît-Michel Tock (edd.), Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France (Nancy 2010), no. 780, unprinted. It’s a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108.

Portion of a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091

A much clearer example albeit in a worse image (my fault), Poitiers, Archive Départementale de Vienne, Carton 10, no 126, edited as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936), no. 143, and now Giraud, Renault & Tock, Chartes originales, no. 1291, online here. It’s a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091. You can see how that bottom half-inch was lucky to survive. What’s it telling anyone after a century? This is a formal document we’re keeping here! Snip snip…

I especially love this stuff, however, because it doesn’t surprise me at all. Round about the same time Tock must have been dealing with the proofs of his book, I was checking over the text of this:

“To take an elaborate but forceful example, let us take the act recording the consecration of Santa Maria de Ripoll’s new church in 977. This was almost certainly composed by the learned Bishop of Girona, also Count of Besalú, Miró Bonfill, and it is partly past tense and partly present. The point at which it changes is after a description of the consecration of the several separate altars, as the assembled prelates seek to impress upon the local counts that the monastery’s possession of its various goods, ‘just as the schedule already prefaced teaches’, are placed beyond secular intervention. From this, and from the slightly different final witness list, it is clear that this change of tense reflects a move from an occasion past to a different, notionally present one. The elaborate and lengthy document thus stands between the two occasions grammatically; recording one as already past, the second, the proclamation of the quasi-royal immunity, unfolds in the text. This part of the text was presumably written before the second gathering; the former, given its detail, was probably composed after the ceremony, as beforehand the final order of events could not have been known. The act as it stands is thus not from either of the ceremonies it describes, or the date which it gives, and it adopts a narrative construction of the ceremony. Especially since consecrations were formal occasions whose rules were laid down, this narrative was under a strong impulse to say the correct thing. Santa Maria’s case, with numerous altars whose different patrons made different collaborations of bishops appropriate, bent this pattern but if events had in fact broken the convention, we cannot expect that this document would record this for us.”

This is from the first chapter of my doctoral thesis, and it was one of a large number of examples I was collecting, just as does Tock in his chapter, of procedural oddities that force us to question stereotypes about how documents were produced.5 We hit many of the same concerns with our examples. I’m not trying to claim massive cleverness for myself here or anything: firstly, I wouldn’t have got far along these lines without the truly excellent palaeographical analyses of the Sant Joan de Ripoll charter material by its editor, Federico Udina i Martorell, but more basically, as that suggests, these things become unmissable when you’ve just got enough original documents that they are preserved, and this is what Tock found once he had a dataset of 3658 original documents, just as I did with slightly fewer documents more deeply studied.6 Also I have to thank some of my scribes: Tock doesn’t have anyone like the famous judge Bonhom explaining that he wrote a given charter in two stints with two different inks, apparently afraid that someone might therefore think it forged.7 And when you have something like the hearing over the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, about which I have gone on so often, but where three writing stints at least are basically visible straight away, it’s hard not to come to these conclusions, like it or not.8 I love my source base!

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3, some enhancement applied

But it is possible that this source base means that I can answer one of Tock’s rhetorical questions. Considering the possibility that a charter might be entirely written up beforehand, he asks how a scribe could know who would turn up, and considers this a major problem with the concept. I’m not sure that it is, as that rather depends on anyone else ever noticing the charter didn’t say the right thing or people not being well aware that those people should have been there, even if in fact they weren’t, and that the document ought to say as much: this is, I assume, what explains the occasional Catalan cases where a dead man’s signature is given to emphasise that he consented to the act even if he died before it happened.9 I’m more convinced, however, by the cases where we can see that such information was available beforehand precisely because it turned out to be wrong, and the Vall de Sant Joan hearing is one of those, because both its list of those present for the oath it records and the list of those actually swearing it differ slightly from the names in the signatures. I’ve argued already that this is because the whole thing happened over maybe weeks, and there were probably two ceremonies involved, but it may also be Tock’s suggested pattern: what actually happened was not quite what had been anticipated.

My own copy of my book, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power

Where have you argued this, I hear you ask? Why, in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), available from at least some good booksellers!

At the very least, we can see that information was collected beforehand, because as I argue in my book, there are mistakes between the two sets of oath-swearers that would be hard to explain without written exemplars in the process. A woman signing for one hamlet who is called Marcia gets recorded as Imitara in the initial list, not exactly similar in pronunciation you might think, and it’s only when one realises that she’s the second woman called Marcia in that list that one realises one’s probably looking at a mistranscription of “item Marcia”, ‘another Marcia’, perhaps abbreviated in a way that the scribe didn’t recognise because it had been done by someone else. (I hypothesize that at the signature phase of writing, the people who’d written the lists were there to tell him what they said, which implies that he did the initial drafting elsewhere.) When I worked all this out, I felt really very clever indeed—ah me, so long ago now…—but it’s not really my brainpower so much as a really fabulous source and a willingness to tabulate long lists.10 Tock didn’t have the time of scope to do that work here, but his other writing shows that he’s perfectly capable of it; this book was painting a wider picture, is all.11

St Gallen charter of 825, Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65

I cannot find any pictures of the verso of a St Gallen charter! On the other hand, some of the Vorakte are pretty nearly as fine as the recto versions… so here’s a recto image of one from 825? Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65.

Nonetheless, the conclusion, that charter scribes worked from notes, is not present in Tock’s suggestions here, despite other evidence that could be brought into play like the apparent dorsal drafts versions made on the backs of eventual charters at St Gallen in Switzerland (which fall outside Tock’s sample and weren’t then digitised and studied as they now are), and I think it probably explains a lot of the difficulties he sees with the conclusions to which the documents force him.12 They didn’t get things wrong that often because the information was being recorded elsewhere; the cases we have where things have gone wrong, as with Sant Joan or Sant Pere de Casserres or any of the others so dear to me, are where something so special or rushed was being done that it couldn’t be gone back on or was too much effort to consider rewriting. So we’re trying to reconstruct the process of charter redaction from its mistakes; not impossible, but challenging, and worth saying explicitly!


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle, Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 369-412, quote pp. 369-370:
“La question est évidemment importante, puisqu’elle concerne, de la manière la plus directe, les conditions d’élaboration des actes, et par là, les liens entre l’acte et l’action juridique. Le récit de l’action tel qu’il figure dans l’acte est-il sincère ? Si l’acte a été rédigé avant l’action elle-même, n’est-il pas possible que des changements intervenus en dernière minute dans l’action ne soient pas reflétés dans le texte ? Surtout, si l’acte est préparé avant l’action, il peut jouer un rôle au course de celle-ci, soit comme acte dispositif, soit comme symbole de l’action.”

2. First printed as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936)

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 193-223, esp. pp. 221-223.

4. Ibid. pp. 392-397, quote at p. 394.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 35-36, some day probably to be repeated in the paper for which I was reading Tock’s book…

6. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951).

7. Anscari Manuel Mundó i Marcet, “El jutge Bonsom de Barcelona, cal·lígraf i copista del 979 al 1024″ in Emma Condello & Guiseppe De Gregorio (edd.), Scribi e colofoni: Le sottoscrizioni di copisti dalle origini all’avvento della stampa. Atti del seminario di Erice/X Colloquio del Comité international de paléographie latine (23-28 ottobre 1993), Biblioteca del «Centro per il collegamento degli studi medievali e umanistici in Umbria» 14 (Spoleto 1995) pp. 269-288; Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 84-99. The charter in question is the sacramental testament of Bishop Vives of Barcelona, printed as Àngel Fabrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 265, and it’s huge, so the two-stint thing is understandable. Given it’s Bonhom I’m just faintly surprised he didn’t also tell us what he had for lunch in between times.

8. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 37-38, which took a lot longer figuring out than those two paragraphs give away…

9. An example of this is Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1380, which is also a rule-breaker in so far as it’s the only private transaction I know that still threatens its infringers with a portion in Hell with Judas. Cf. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 194-197: such concerns do not apparently manifest themselves in the French documents.

10. See n. 8 above.

11. For example, B.-M. Tock, “Auteur ou impétrant ? Réflexions sur les chartes des évêques d’Arras au XIIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 149 (Paris 1991), pp. 215-248, to name but one of many.

12. Albert Bruckner, Die Vorakte der älteren St. Galler Urkunden, Urkundenbuch der Abtei Sanct Gallen Ergänzungsheft 1 (St. Gallen 1931); see now Bernhard Zeller, “Writing Charters as a Public Activity: The Example of the Carolingian Charters of St Gall” in Marco Mostert & Paul Barnwell (edd.), Medieval Legal Process: physical, spoken and written performance in the Middle Ages, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 22 (Turhnout 2011), pp. 27-37.

Who witnessed early medieval charters?

This apparently simple question has been bugging me a long time, and it was in the hope of answering it that I originally bought the book of Benoit-Michel Tock mentioned a post or two ago. Having got to the chapters where he addresses this question directly, I was delighted to find this:

Quels sont les tiers qui souscrivent des actes du Haut Moyen Age ? Il ne s’agit pas d’établir ici un index de ces actes, ni de constituer un Bottin Mondain. Souvent d’ailleurs, les indications des actes sont elliptiques, et nécessitent l’intervention de nombreuses hypothèses pour arriver à un esquisse de solution…. La question, c’est de savoir si les tiers sont des proches de l’auteur et/ou du disposant, s’ils sont au contraire des proches du bénéficiaire, s’ils sont neutres, et choisis précisements parce qu’ils ne sont proches d’aucune des parties en présence, ou enfin (mais cela ne les empêche pas d’appartenir à une des catégories ci-dessus) s’ils sont détenteurs d’une certaine autorité et souscrivent précisement parce qu’on leur demande de garantir la transaction par la force de leur autorité.

And this is, in fact, exactly the question, but it’s a question hardly anyone asks.1 For those of you not Francolexic enough to get all that, it translates more or less as:

What are the witnesses who subscribe the acts of the early Middle Ages? We are not concerned here to establish an index of these acts, or to construct a Bottin Mondain. Often, moreover, the indications of the acts are not direct, and require the construction of numerous hypotheses to come to the outline of a solution…. The question is to know if the third parties are contacts of the actor and/or person disposing of property, if on the contrary they are contacts of the beneficiary, if they are neutrals, chosen precisely because they are close to neither of the parties present, or finally (what does not prevent them also falling into one of the categories above) if they are holders of some authority and subscribe exactly because someone asks them to guarantee the transaction by the force of that authority.

I’m interested in his answers here because I think that I used absolutely all of these possibilities in my analyses of the Catalan frontier documentation in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, and if there’s a general French pattern I need to consider a fair few things again before I could just decide that Catalonia is weird.2 So, what does he detect? In brief, that we move from persons close to the actors of the document to those close to the beneficiary in the mid-eleventh century, and that outside authorities are pulled on occasionally throughout. None of this is total and it rests on a relatively small number of witnesses who declare some kind of connection to other parties, but the move of emphasis is visible to him. It also ties in reasonably nicely with Stephen White’s study of the laudatio parentorum, the consent to a property transfer by the actor’s kinsfolk expressed in their signatures, which he sees as arising and then dying out towards the end of Tock’s period divide here.3 So, this must be taken seriously, and where does it leave me who has suggested quite happily that some documents were witnessed by whoever was at the cathedral or palace that day on completely different business?4

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

A gift by the Archpriest Ermemir to Riculf, caput scolae of the cathedral of Vic (Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297: here I think it;’s probably safe to say the three clerical witnesses who sign autograph were around the cathedral, but how carefully selected were they?

Well, firstly, the great strength of Tock’s book is that it is founded on a big sample, the 3,631 original documents from before 1121 in French archives that went into the ARTEM database at Nancy, still locked in there when this book was written but now online, which means that ‘real soon now’ we’ll be able to see all the things he could see. Because this sample is the whole of France, though, it is diffuse, with clumps in some obvious places like Cluny and Marmoutier but usually very few per place per year. (By contrast, I read about that many documents for my Ph. D. research, but they came from a two-hundred year period, not a six-hundred year one, and a total of about ten archives all within a few hundred miles of each other.) He can do really impressive things with this sample, with validity not available to most previous researchers, but he can’t chase witnesses in their local context in the way that I can, constructing that Bottin Mondain… And secondly, of course, that would be years and years of micro-study; in a deliberately wide-ranging book that level of localisation just isn’t practical in the space.

Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41

On the other hand, whether any of this lot even needed to be present we will never know for sure, but the names still had to be chosen… This is King Æthelred the Unready granting 8 hides in various places to his thegn Morcar in 1009, Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41, Sawyer 922

So part of our difference here is likely just to be sample density; I have more people repeatedly turning up than he can find and can locate them and identify them more reliably even when they don’t say who they are. On the other hand, implicit in that is a whole vast mass of arguments from silence which the very occasional mention of family ties, and the difficulty resolving those that do get mentioned, should warn me may be false. Not all of them are: I think the analysis of the ‘nobles of the palace’ of Borrell II I did here and in my book shows that sometimes it really is just whoever was there, but when ‘there’ is a session of the comital court maybe a wide spread is not so surprising and I still need better ways to argue against the trend he sees than sheer evidential one-up-manship.5 Still: it’s better than, “well, my study area is just different….”


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005), quote at p. 244. Other work that does ask who witnesses are and why they’re there is limited, but notable examples would be Wendy Davies, Small Worlds: the village community in early medieval Brittany (London 1988), pp. 109-128, and Ross Balzaretti, “The Politics of Property in Ninth-Century Milan: familial motives and monastic strategies in the village of Inzago” in Mélanges de l’École de France : moyen âge Vol. 111 (Rome 1999), pp. 747-770, online here, with résumé p. 980.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 143-144, not as substantial a discussion as I should have given it.

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 244-254; Stephen D. White, Custom, Kinship, and Gifts to Saints. The Laudatio Parentum in Western France, 1050-1150 (Chapel Hill 1988).

4. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 104.

5. Ibid., pp. 161-164.

Beware of Greeks bearing names

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down... "Paleochristian Basilica - Empúries - 2005-03-27". Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down… “Paleochristian Basilica – Empúries – 2005-03-27“. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing through Benoît-Michel Tock‘s methodical study of subscriptions to French charters of the seventh to twelfth century, I found an unexpected moment of solidarity.1 It’s not that I don’t expect to share ideas and conclusions with M. le Prof Tock, as we are interested in very similar things, but this bit, well, you will see. He is discussing the appearance of surnames in the charters he is studying, and the first instance is one Urso Grecus, who turns up only in the foundation charter of Cluny, in 910.2 Tock argues that this ‘Greek’ appellation can’t be taken literally, as the name Ursus is no kind of Greek known, so that the surname probably tells us he could read Greek, rather than that he was somehow seen as Greek. But this is a question that can be explored with the Catalan evidence, where there are one or two more such characters, including a judge called Oruç whose name (in Latin, Aurucius) is oddly similar to Ursus but who lived too late to be the same man, including being captured in the sack of Barcelona in 985 and later ransomed.3 Now, Oruç has been taken either to actually have been Greek or perhaps a legally-trained person from Byzantine Italy brought in as part of Borrell II’s judicial reforms, to the best of my knowledge, but the same problem of the non-Greek name arises for him, and it’s not just him.4 At which point, enter one of this blog’s running fascinations:

« En sens inverse, ZIMMERMANN, La connaissance du grec, p. 496–497, confronté dans la Catalogne des environs de l’an mil à un Guitardus grecus, malgré la non hellenité de ce nom, accepte que ce soit un Grec. Il est vrai que la Catalogne était plus perméable que la Touraine aux influences méditerranéennes, et que l’épouse de ce Guitardus portait le nom, bien grec lui, de Polemia. Ne pourrait-on imaginer que ce Guitardus, Franc comme son nom l’indique, ait cherché fortune et trouvé femme en Grèce, d’où le surnom qui lui aurait été attribué ? »5

Which, translated roughly, comes out as:

“In the opposite sense, Zimmermann, ‘La connaissance du grec’, pp. 496-497, faced, in the Catalonia of around the year 1000, with a Guitardus grecus, despite the non-Hellenity of the name, accepts this person as a Greek. It is true that Catalonia was more permeable to Mediterranean influences than was the Touraine, and that this Guitard’s wife bore the name, this one perfectly Greek, of Polemia. Could one not imagine that this Guitardus, a Frank as his name shows, had sought fortune and found a wife in Greece, whence the surname that was attributed to him?”

To which I’d like to say, “yes, yes one can, or at least this one can.” This might even just work for Oruç, too, in as much as his wife Maria’s name is obviously not impossible for Greece.6 Obviously I twitch at saying someone was Frankish because they bore a Frankish name, and there are a number of instances in a Spanish context of people using one or other of a pair of names from alternative language’s name-stocks depending on what company they’re in, and this is probably a bit too simplistic for the melting-pot that Barcelona was becoming. I also wonder a little bit about how wryly to read the juxtaposition of seeking a fortune and finding a wife. Nonetheless, I think that since neither Zimmermann’s or Tock’s reading of these names can be proven (saving the surpassingly unlikely accident of these persons’ graves being identifiably found and their teeth showing their origins when analysed) I’d like to go with the one that involves the romance, just because that would make the period that bit more fun to, as he says, imagine.7


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005).

2. Auguste Bernard & Alexandre Bruel (edd.), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de Cluny (Paris 1876-1903), 7 vols, doc. no. 112, discussed in Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 89-90.

3. He appears in at least: Francesc X. Altés i Aguiló, “El Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Ceília de Montserrat I: anys 900-999″ in Studia monastica Vol. 36 (Montserrat 1994), pp. 223-302, doc. no. 96; Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 278; Àngel Fabrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Sèries IV: Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. nos 162, 166, 170, 172 & 220; Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 37, 46, 50, 60, 88, 91, 97 & 109; Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1526; & Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Barcelona 1951), doc. nos 207, 211, 218, 227, 228 & 237.

4. Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, I pp. 345 figures Oruç as an actual Greek; Philip Banks, “«Greeks» in Early Medieval Barcelona?” in Faventia Vol. 2 (Barcelona 1980), pp. 73-88, online here, last modified 15th November 2006 as of 9th August 2009, suggests that he and the other six such Greci visible in early medieval Catalonia were local-born sons of an otherwise unattested Greek-speaking Sicilian immigration in the earlier tenth century. I have a nasty feeling that the suggestion of a link with Borrell’s judicial reforms, since I am the person who thinks they happened, originated with me, but obviously that wouldn’t explain the others.

5. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, p. 90 n. 26, referencing Michel Zimmermann, “La connaissance du grec en Catalogne du IXe au XIe siècle” in Michel Sot (ed.), Haut Moyen Âge : Culture, éducation et société. Études offertes à Pierre Riché (La Garenne-Colombes 1990), pp. 493-515.

6. Maria appears in Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 109.

7. On the two-named populations, see Victor Aguilar & Francesco Rodríguez Mediano, “Antroponimia de origen árabe en la documentación leonesa (siglos VIII-XIII)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media Vol. 6 (León 1994), pp. 497-633.