Tag Archives: medieval Church

Seminar CXLVI: forgetting the Thuringian frontier with Willibald

My seminar reporting backlog now shrinks forwards to 26th February 2014, when Dr John-Henry Clay of Durham, another early medievalist blogger apart from anything else, came to speak to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research with the title, “St Boniface in Thuringia”. Boniface, born in Wessex as Wynfrið, is a saint who provokes strong reactions at the time and still does now: I remember speaking to one revered academic who had the previous day returned from a three-day conference about Boniface and who, in a shocking breach of their usual total refinement, told me that the conference conclusion had been that “Boniface was a bit of a prat”. But equally there are those who find him fascinating, and Dr Clay has done much with the material preserved about him.1 As a missionary and church-builder Boniface spent a lot of time at the edges of ‘known’ territory, anyway, and what Dr Clay had to tell us was one of those edges, the duchy of Thuringia.

Map of the territories of Merovingian Francia

A suitably old-fashioned map of the territories of Merovingian Francia, Thuringia being the long vertical strip at upper right. As long as you realise that this is almost completely hypothetical we’ll be fine. “Frankenreich unter den Merowingern” by Johann Gustav Droysen – Allgemeiner Historischer Handatlas. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of our information on Boniface as he is conventionally told comes from a Life written for his successor, Archbishop Lul of Mainz, by one Willibald, and he tells us of Boniface’s religious training in Wessex, an early attempt at a mission to pagan Frisia in 716 defeated by resistance from King Radbod and a subsequent papally-backed mission to Thuringia in 719-721. He shows us Boniface going back to Frisia in 721 and then being in Hesse and Saxony in 723-731, after which point he was more and more concerned with the organisation of the Frankish Church as it developed on the eastern edges of Christianity’s range so far and less and less with mission work.2 He died on the mission trail, however, in 754 in Frisia, aged nearly ninety and clearly, from the letters he wrote setting his affairs in order, aware that he could go on little longer and determined to go out a martyr.3 We can thus temper Willibald’s portrayal with the man’s own words here and there and this all gives a fairly consistent picture, but there are hints in it and in other sources that it is definitely not the whole story.4

Illustrations of Boniface baptising pagans, above, and receiving his martyrdom, below, from the eleventh-century Fulda Sacramentary

Illustrations of Boniface baptising pagans, above, and receiving his martyrdom, below, from the eleventh-century Fulda Sacramentary, a prized treasure of the monastery of Fulda which he had founded. “St Boniface – Baptising-Martyrdom – Sacramentary of Fulda – 11Century” by Unknown – Illustration from the Sacramentary of Fulda (Fuldaer Sakramentar), fol. 126 v. See here for more information on the manuscript.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lots of what is missing is, naturally enough, about Boniface’s opponents. He faces down heretic or just untrained priests and has to fight tooth and nail for their removal and replacement because they are backed by local élites;, and this has been read sensibly enough as a strategy of Frankish colonisation of the local Church with papal support, though as my first paragraph implied and Dr Clay also said, the popes don’t seem to have driven Boniface’s mission so much as support it with judgements and texts as required, when they could find them; Boniface seems to have expected a lot more authority and direction from the papacy than it was used to giving and some of his opponents are also therefore ‘backsliding’ Frankish bishops who didn’t understand why orthodoxy mattered and wouldn’t have looked to the pope for guidance ordinarily.5 But the other figures only just in the picture are the dukes of the Thuringians and the conflict and cultural exchange that was going on between Frankish- and Thuringian-controlled zones behind and outside the ecclesiastical context.

Ruins of the thirteenth-century castle at Frauenberg, Hesse

The ruins of the fortress of Frauenberg in Hesse, this building probably being thirteenth-century but apparently by no means the first on the site… „Frauenberg2wiki“ von Peter Voeth. Original uploader was Die silberlocke at de.wikipedia – Transferred from de.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Kurpfalzbilder.de using CommonsHelper.(Original text : selbst photographiert). Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 über Wikimedia Commons.

Noting various such omissions and demonstrable errors in Willibald’s account, therefore, Dr Clay brought in data from burial archæology and fortress excavations, or at least, a class of fortresses he sees in the area of which one in Hesse, Frauenberg, has been excavated and diagnosed Frankish by its material culture remains. The picture he got from this was one of a broader Frankicisation of the Thuringian duchy, visible in Frankish burial practices and funerary kit, and, as the reference to local priests above suggests, Christianity, this not least because St Willibrord of Utrecht, with whom Boniface worked in Frisia in 721-723, had run a mission in Thuringia around 714 already, something that Willibald doesn’t mention at all! So as Dr Clay told it what Willibald was doing was to turn a career that had essentially been one of fixing other people’s mission work with intermittent state backing, as part of a larger and ongoing process of Frankish acculturation of a border area, into a sanctified career of personal evangelisation that spearheaded all social change for the better in the area.

There were, I have to say, quite a lot of arguments with this thesis from the audience. I had two, one being that I wasn’t clear if Dr Clay was arguing for immigration from a material culture change—he was arguing for a distinct, Frankish funerary kit in the fortresses, as it turned out, which he therefore saw as military occupation rather than settlement on a broader scale—and the other of which being his diagnostic fortress type, which I could have paralleled quite happily from Pictland and therefore thought needn’t be any more than functional similarity. More excavation might of course show other links, what I would not deny. But there were wider issues about the opposition of Frankish and Thuringian as cultures in the first place, raised not least by Julie Hofmann, by whom the IHR was richer this spring and summer just gone and who knows a thing or two about Thuringia.6 The Thuringian aristocracy was long married into Frankish ones, just like the Bavarian one; whether this was anything more than a political branding exploited as convenient was, for Julie, very much to be doubted. That doesn’t prevent wars arising out of it, of course, as they plainly did, but marrying it to wider shifts in material culture as anything more than fashion, and linking those to other forms of political change is, I tend to think, unprovable.

Kloster Sankt Salvator Fulda

The centre of the cult of Boniface, the monastery of Sankt Salvator Fulda. „Catedral de Fulda“ von Author and original uploader was ThomasSD at de.wikipedia – Originally from de.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Lizenziert unter Public domain über Wikimedia Commons.

Between these two Alice Taylor had asked what was perhaps the sharpest question, which was to wonder what Willibald’s purpose was in all this: Dr Clay said, and this seemed obviously correct once he’d said it, that the Vita was using the holiness of Boniface’s career to justify and sanctify the kinds of action towards Church reform that his successors for whom the text was written were still struggling to carry out. It is, in other words, a text about the politics of the 750s, not those of the 720s, and probably had little interest in being accurate, rather than partial (in both senses) about the earlier period. This was, to an extent, where we had begun, with the problems with Willibald’s Vita, but by now they looked serious enough that I think several of us were uncomfortable with using the text for a picture of the 720s at all. That time was perhaps not long forgotten when Willibald wrote, but having others remember it was apparently not his concern!


1. J.-H. Clay, In the Shadow of Death: Saint Boniface and the Conversion of Hessia, 721-54, Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages 11 (Turnhout 2011).

2. The Life has been much translated, and Willibald, The Life of Saint Boniface, transl. George W. Robinson (Cambridge 1916) seems now to be all over the Internet to purchase, presumably because it is also online at the Internet Archive for free here; the one I am used to setting for students is that in C. H. Talbot (ed./transl.), The Anglo-Saxon missionaries in Germany, being the lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Sturm, Leoba, and Libuin, together with the Hodœporicon of St Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St Boniface (London 1954, repr. 1981), pp. 25-62, which is reprinted in Thomas F. X. Noble & Thomas Head (edd.), Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints’ Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Philadelphia 1995), pp. 107-140, but is also online for free (because copyright-free in the USA) via the Internet Medieval sourcebook here.

3. The letters are translated in Ephraim Emerton (transl.), The Correspondence of Saint Boniface, Records of Civilisation 31 (New York City, but a selection is also in Talbot, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries, pp. 64-149.

4. Cited here was Ian N. Wood, The Missionary Life: Saints and the Evangelisation of Europe 400-1050 (London 2001).

5. This is a perspective that I think I got from Rosamond McKitterick, Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany: personal connections and local influences, Eighth Annual Brixworth Lecture, Vaughan Papers 36 (Leicester 1991), repr. in her The Frankish Kings and Culture in the Early Middle Ages, Variorum Collected Studies 477 (Aldershot 1995), I.

6. And we need her to publish some of what she knows! But in the meantime there is no standard work, at least in English, though there is now John Hines, Janine Fries-Knoblach & Heiko Steuer (edd.), The Baiuvarii and Thuringi: an ethnographic perspective, Studies in historical archaeoethnology 9 (Woodbridge 2014).

Leeds 2013 report part 4 and final

I probably stayed at the dance of the International-Medieval-Congress-before-last longer than I should have done given that I was presenting the next day, but nonetheless I was on time, just, to my own session, and in practice it would have upset few enough people if I had been late, as there were only four people in the audience!

1525. Expressions of Ecclesiastic Authority: from priests to popes

The lessons here, I suppose, apart from the obvious “hope not to be scheduled the morning after the dance“, are to aim to be part of a session, not just to fling a paper title at the organisers as I had done (and as I am avoiding doing next year: had you seen the Call for Papers? I’d be happy to have some more submissions…). All the same, I’d spent quite a lot of the conference in a funk about leaving the profession, although I had during it in fact been offered my next job had I but known this, and this morning audience did not, shall we say, help me with feeling as if my work had value, as didn’t my knowing that because of Montserrat’s e-mail silence I didn’t have the facts I really needed to make it work. Nonetheless, I gave it my best, and I think that certainly the other two papers were very interesting in their own ways. The trouble was rather that there was no single way in which all three were on someone’s wavelength…

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “The Priests of Montpeità: Competing Ecclesiastical Interests at the 10th-Century Catalan Frontier”
  • Patricia Dalcanale Meneses, “‘Roman Gothic': Giuliano della Rovere in Avignon”
  • David Kennett, “Trouble Finding Bishops: the episcopal crises of Henry VII”
  • My morning offering was, as you can see, the second part of the Manresa project. Having in my previous paper on this (seen, of course, by none of the same people but hey) tried to set apart the monastic clergy of Sant Benet de Bages from their dense recording of parts of the territory of the city of Manresa in the tenth century, I now tried to see past them to the wider priesthood, concentrating in particular on one of the most densely-documented parts of the record there, a place that is now a basically empty hillside called Montpeità. Having first taken the twenty most frequently-appearing people and shown that they were surprisingly free of direct associations with the monastery, I demonstrated the intermittent monk problem then tried the same trick with the clergy, and yeah, the top three are monastics, one of them being the place’s advocate but never actually dealing with it direct (a sign how little weight this kind of work can bear) but numbers 4-10 of the top 10 are just the actual local priests as far as I can see, albeit that one of them was apparently quite senior at the era of the monastery’s foundation and wrote their foundation and endowment documents (the latter seen below, with his distinctive spelling of his name and signature in capitals). So it does kind of work, there is a possibility of getting at the local clerical distribution through this sample despite the weight of the monastery. But it wasn’t what you could call a finished set of findings.

    The act of endowment of Sant Benet de Bages

    The act of endowment of Sant Benet de Bages, not in great shape alas, but signed at bottom left by SUNIÆRUS. Slightly larger version linked through, but even at the biggest size I have this is still basically no longer legible

    As for the other two speakers, Dr Dalcanale showed us how the man who would become Pope Julius II had, by the time he did, architecturally implanted himself all over the centre of Avignon so that even before his election one could hardly avoid seeing his works, which were furthermore strongly French Gothic in style, rather than the Romanising architecture he might have adopted. Then Mr Kennett looked at the accusations often levelled at King Henry VII of England that he kept bishoprics open for longer than other kings (thus profiting from their revenues). According to Mr Kennett, while there is a statistical justice in this it can be mostly explained by the fact that as Henry took the throne almost all of his bishops were seventy years old or more, and that very rapidly they died: he had 14 new vacancies over the period 1502 to 1505, and it understandably took him time to find competent candidates for so many sees, especially given the kind of hierarchy of importance and income they seem to have had which meant that only some of them could honourably be used as entry-level positions. This was interesting, as was Dr Dalcanale’s paper, but you can see what I mean when I say that there was very little that joined all three of us together in era, geography or focus…

I did get what looked as if it might be a useful contact for the Montserrat problem out of this, though, so I left in a better humour than I’d entered. (Ironically, firstly the contact has been unable to help, and secondly they found me independently though here a few months later anyway! But I wasn’t to know that then.) It was good to have finally done my turn, anyway, and the rest of the day was much more fun for me.

1602. ‘Defended Communities': fortified settlements of the 8th-10th centuries – origins, forms and functions, II

  • Rossina Kostova, “The Western Black Sea Coast: how and how much was it defended?”
  • Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, Montserrat Rocafiguera & Maria Ocaña-Subirana, “The Southern Carolingian Frontier along the River Ter: ‘Roda Civitas’ identified in the archaeological site of l’Esquerda (Catalonia)”
  • This thread was ill-favoured by its position on the last day, as all the sessions I could make were really interesting but people kept leaving during them. This session here had even lost one of the planned speakers, but to me this mattered not at all because what it meant was that the small-scale Catalan invasion got to take up far more of the session than it otherwise would have been allowed. (You may have recognised some of the names…) But before that happened, Dr Kostova gave us an interesting summary of the medieval fortress archæology along the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea. She saw a division at the Danube, south of which the Byzantines kept forts active in some places, planted settlements when they could and generally kept the space full, and which the Bulgars subsequently blocked up with earth dykes to prevent easy movement of armies; the Byzantines recapture of this zone during the eleventh and twelfth centuries didn’t change that much but they did make a good attempt to hold the Danube. North of the Danube, however, whether Byzantine or Bulgar (or, briefly, Avar) there was much less investment except at a few notable coastal centres. What this seemed to show to the audience was that whoever held that territory, they could usually mobilise a good deal of labour: the Bulgarian dyke system extends for 120 km in some of its lengths! But though the how is impressive, the why of all of this would also be informative if we could get closer to figuring it out.

    Aerial view of l'Esquerda

    Aerial view of l’Esquerda

    Then, however, came a site dear to my work, good old l’Esquerda, being presented in the UK for the first time in a long time, and with much done since then.1 The site has a very long chronology, late Bronze Age to twelfth century, so Dr Rocafiguera took us through the background, which included one more big square Iberian tower than they thought they had when I was last there, possible Punic War defences that became the gateways of a Roman village. They now also have a hitherto unsuspected Visigothic phase, however, dating evidence including a radio-carbon date centering around 614, and it comprises a thoroughgoing refortification period with a huge new wall slighting the older defences. Within it, however, the excavated area seems to have been turned over to silos that eventually became rubbish pits and cut through each other, with burials going on in the area of the walls. A village was presumably there somewhere but as of the 2012 season they hadn’t yet found it. It was this somewhat dilapidated complex, anyway, rather than a half-functional Iberian fortress-town, that the Carolingians inherited and refurbished, then.2 There was obviously enough for the Carolingian forces to reuse.

    The newly-discovered wall of l'Esquerda exposed in the 2012 excavations

    The newly-discovered wall exposed in the 2012 excavations

    The star find in all this, however, was a silver denier of Louis the Pious that came from the Carolingian destruction layers, whose deposition we can thus reasonably date to 826 or very narrowly before, an unusually close chronology. Coins are just vanishingly rare finds in Catalonia anyway, so they were understandably excited, but the find also helps remove any doubt (if there were any) that this is the Roda mentioned as destroyed in the rebellion of Aizó in the Royal Frankish Annals.3 That’s great, because pinning textually-attested events to archæology so closely hardly ever happens, but now we have quite a lot more questions about what on earth the Visigothic-period site was for and who was using it…

All of that gave me quite an appetite for lunch, once I managed to stop talking Catalonia. But I was clear which strand I needed to be in for what remained of the conference now! First, however, came lunch with friends and also some unexpected neighbours…

Hawks and owls at the 2013 International Medieval Congress

Hawks and owls peacefully waiting for showtime

I didn’t get to see the actual show, however, because I had more fortresses to go and hear about!

‘Defended Communities': Fortified Settlements of the 8th-10th Centuries – Origins, Forms, and Functions, III

  • Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo, “Early Medieval ‘Incastellamento’ in the North of Iberia”
  • Alessandra Molinari, “Rural Landscapes of Sicily between Byzantines and Muslims (7th-11th c.)”
  • Neil Christie, “Creating Defended Communities in late Saxon Wessex”
  • Yes, that’s right, every single session I went to this day had something about Spain in it and I only had to supply one of them! (This was not least because I’d suggested a bunch of Spanish castellologists to Hajnalka Herold when she was setting the sessions up and they apparently proved agreeable, but hey, you do what you have to.) Nonetheless, and despite his prodigious output, much of it internationally aimed, this was the first time I’d actually seen and met Professor Quirós. He was here to tell us of a sea-change, however, in which Pierre Toubert’s model of castles as the social centres that drive everything because of élite demand have been shunted out in the archaeolography (if there can be such a word) of northern Iberia in favour of villages being the key, and castles being basically defence apparatus, more symbols of power than agents of it.4

    Castillo d'Arganzón

    The Castillo d’Arganzón, another of those Professor Quirós has been digging

    That fits what I see in Catalonia quite well, but it is also something much more likely to come up in archæology because the units the newest digs, his type site here being a place called Treviño, are showing up are effectively self-contained, so would not show up in transactions. I’m less sure about that argument or whether any such places exist outside mountain Navarre, but I suppose that the Catalan archæologists would probably brandish Roc d’Enclar at me and they’d probably have a point.5 From the survey Professor Quirós’s team have, in any case, early medieval castles in Navarra and the Basque Country seem to have been exterior to settlements, churches were more integral and a late antique precedent is also often common; it’s only in the twelfth century that the picture of a castle as the obvious tool of social domination begins to stick, which means that such incastallamento as was being carried out was being done from existing, centralised, sites. That paradigm was already struggling, but this doesn’t do it much good…6

    Meanwhile, in Sicily, wouldn’t you know, it’s the tenth century that turns out to be crucial; Dr Molinari painted us a picture of a society where late antique settlement organisation went on till quite late, and while it began to be dotted with Byzantine fortresses in the face of the Muslim invasion in the ninth century, it’s only in the tenth that peasant settlement moves up to the hills. What is missing from the picture so far is much sign of Islamic fortification; the Byzantine state here seems to have been attenuated enough that it just withered back in the face of opposition. And lastly, Neil Christie, co-organiser of the sessions, took us through the now-appreciated variety of the Anglo-Saxon burghal system of fortresses against the Vikings and added to it a perspective that many of the other papers had also adopted, that control of territory may not have been as important for their location as control of routeways (including waterways).7 This interests me because, as I hope to show soon, it just doesn’t work in Catalonia (except maybe the waterways, but the Ter is no quick way to get anywhere, especially upstream). The other factor that came up again here was the workforce needed to get these sites up, which was not just a matter of a quick bit of earth-moving but often demolition, clearance, and then quite heavy building for all that stone was not usually involved. Of course, Asser tells us about how this was resented, but it was good to have the Anglo-Saxon sites brought into the same dialogue as everyone else was having.8

So, that was it; after that it was an hour or so of hanging about, gathering bags, drinking tea and saying goodbye, and then I set off home, quite possibly as I then thought having just done my last Leeds as an academic. I’m pleased that this was not so, and I had extensive plans for how to handle it if it were so, but all the same the abyss yawned near, and spending most of a day remembering that other people are also interested in the things I’m interested in and get paid for investigating them was a boost in an otherwise slightly dark time. But it’s OK: I was about to head for the sunshine…


1. That first presentation being Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer & Montserrat Rocafiguera, “Ancient patterns in settlement and urbanism: the medieval site of L’Esquerda (Catalonia)” in Rural Settlement, Medieval Europe 1992: a conference on medieval archaeology in Europe, 21st-24th September 1992 at the University of York volume 4 (York 1992), pp. 131-137.

2. Cf., well, basically everything previously published on the site alas. Happily, in a way, there’s still basically no later ninth- or tenth-century evidence beyond the church, so J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 87-99, is still basically OK on the place, and you can find there the other most useful earlier references.

3. Friedrich Kurze (ed.), Annales regni Francorum inde ab a. 741 usque ad a. 829, qui dicuntur Annales Laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores Rerum Germanicum) VI (Hannover 1895; repr. 1950), transl. in B. Scholz & B. Rogers (transl.), Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories (Michigan 1972), pp. 35-125, with commentary pp. 2-21, s. a. 826. On the coinage of the area see most easily J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London: Royal Numismatic Society 2010 for 2009), pp. 217-243.

4. Toubert, classically, in Pierre Toubert, Les Structures du Latium médiéval : Le Latium méridional et la Sabine du IXe siècle à la fin du XIIe siècle, Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome CCXXI (Paris 1973), 2 vols, but now cf. his “L’Incastellamento aujourd’hui : Quelques réflexions en marge de deux colloques” in Miquel Barcelo & Toubert (edd.), L’incastellamento : Actes des recontres de Gerone (26-27 novembre 1992) et de Rome (5-7 mai 1994), Collection de l’École française de Rome 241 (Rome 1999), pp. xi-xviii, also printed as “L’incastellamento, mode d’emploi” in Hélène Débax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal (Espagne, Italie et sud de la France Xe-XIIIe s.) : Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie, Méridiennes 8 (Toulouse 1999), pp. 119-124. For Professor Quirós the new gospel appears to be the work of Iñaki Martín Viso, most obviously I suppose his “Un mundo en transformación: los espacios rurales en la Hispania post-romana (siglos V-VII)” in Luis Caballero Zoreda, Pedro Mateos Cruz & Tomás Cordero Ruiz (edd.), Visigodos y omeyas: el territorio (Mérida 2012), pp. 31-63.

5. There’s probably a full report on Roc d’Enclar by now but I know it from J. M. Bosch Casadevall, “El Roc d’Enclar: el poblado fortificado d’época carolingia” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del Románico (siglos I y X), pp. 107-110, transl. as “El Roc d’Enclar. The Fortified Site in the Carolingian Age”, ibid. pp. 473-476.

6. See Richard Hodges, “Size matters: new light on the Italian Dark Ages” in Philippe Sénac (ed.), De la Tarraconaise à la Marche Supérieure d’al-Andalus : les habitats ruraux (IVe-XIe siècle). Desde la Tarraconense a la Marca Superior de al-Andalus: los asentamientos rurales (siglos IV-XI), Méridiennes : Études Médiévales Ibériques 2 (Toulouse 2006), pp. 223-229.

7. Here the cite of choice, which I must follow up some day when world enough etc., was Jeremy Haslam, Urban-rural connections in Domesday Book and late Anglo-Saxon royal administration, British Archaeological Reports (British Series) 571 (Oxford 2012).

Leeds 2013 report part 3

This was the longest day of my attendance at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds last year, not just because of it ending in the dance but because it was the only day of the conference where I went to four sessions before the evening. I guess that for some of you this will be more interesting reading than for others, so, varying the usual pattern, here’s a list of the sessions I went to and their speakers and papers, then a cut and you can follow it up if you like!

    1030. Digital Pleasures, IV: scholarly editions, data formats, data exploitation

  • Francesco Stella, “Database versus Encoding: which methods for which results?”
  • Jean-Baptiste Camps, “Detecting Contaminations in a Textual Tradition: computer versus traditional methods”
  • Alexey Lavrentev, “Interactions, corpus, apprentissages, répresentations”
  • 1107. ‘Foul Hordes': the migration of ideas and people in Pictland and beyond

  • Oisin Plumb, “Go West Young Urguist: assessing the Pictish presence in Ireland”
  • Tasha Gefreh, “Foul Iconography”
  • Bethan Morris, “Reading the Stones: literacy, symbols, and monumentality in Pictland and beyond”
  • 1207. Peripheral Territories in Early Medieval Europe, 9th-11th Centuries

  • Katharina Winckler, “Competing Bishops and Territories in the Eastern Alps”
  • Jens Schneider, “Celtic Tradition and Frankish Narratives in 9th-Century Brittany”
  • Claire Lamy, “Dealing with the Margins: the monks of Marmoutier and the classification of their possessions (11th c.)”
  • 1310. Texts and Identities, IV: violence, legitimacy, and identity during the transformation of the Roman world

  • Glenn McDorman, “Military Violence and Political Legitimacy in the Burgundian Civil War”
  • Adrastos Omissi, “Hamstrung Horses? Timothy Barnes, Constantine’s Legendary Flight to his Father, and the Legitimacy of his procalamation as Emperor in 306″
  • Michael Burrows, “Lower-Class Illegitimate Violence in the late Roman West”

If any of that piques your interest, then read on! If not, hang about till next post and we’ll talk larger-scale Insular funerary sculpture instead. Continue reading

Letting in the lowly in Lournand

In the first chapter of his controversial little book, The Transformation of the Year 1000, Guy Bois mentions a church in the tiny area of Burgundy that he chose for his micro-study, a “tiny, pre-Romanesque chapel… without… any significant alterations”, at Collonge in Lournand.1 Now, in this day of Google Image search, such a footnote is an invitation full of search terms, and especially for me, because the Romanesque rebuilding hit Catalonia very forcefully and there is really not much pre-Romanesque building left up there. (It’s usually assumed it was largely in wood anyway, but there are cases of doubt.2) Thus, if I want to know what the churches of the kind of people I write about were like, I have to start by looking elsewhere, so I did.

The chapel of Saint-Laurent de Collonge, Lournand, Burgundy

The chapel of Saint-Laurent de Collonge, Lournand, Burgundy

Bois gives no reference for the date of the chapel, which seems to be dedicated to Saint Laurent, and the website I found for it thinks it’s actually fourteenth-century Romanesque, again with no authority cited. Looking at the pictures, it seems to me that it’s so basic that it could readily be either, and only the bell-tower is very indicative, that being Romanesque in original style despite its modern patch-up but also quite possibly an addition, as these things often are in Catalonia. So the jury, unless there is a Burgundian equivalent of the Catalunya Romànica of which I don’t know, is probably out. It’s so basic that if all you wanted was an idea of what the tenth-century church would have been like it might serve anyway.

Interior view of Saint-Laurent de Collonge, Lournand, showing altar

Interior of the chapel

However, the date of the chapel is not the big question that Bois is using it for here: his query is instead whether slaves were allowed in in the tenth century. That raises questions that are larger than simply, “was this building even standing then?”, such as “were there still slaves then, or should we be talking about serfs?”, “what’s the difference anyway?” and, what Bois is concerned with, “what human rights did slaves have in this era?” The “what’s the difference” question has a neat semantic answer, to wit, a serf can be sold with land he or she works, but a slave can be sold as goods in their own right, but as with definitions of aristocrat that work on whether the person works land themselves or not, while this may be consistent it’s not necessarily historically relevant to the period in question.3 If a slave has a house and some kind of agreement with her or his master about what work they do on a normal basis, and if a serf isn’t guaranteed that his or her children will inherit the holding, it could be quite difficult to draw lines between their status. Bois does so more or less at control of the children, saying that serfs’ children are their own even if their dependence is hereditary but that a slave’s children are the master’s to dispose of and house as convenient. It’s on this basis that he argues that Lournand pre-1000 was still a slave society, because its holdings are all one family to one homestead which is too convenient to be anything but arranged.4 That seems to me to rest on an idea that all homesteads are equivalent and that we could somehow tell if two were an old single one divided, whereas my limited experience of the Cluny charters suggests that measuring these plots isn’t really possible. It’s not clear to me where a lot of Bois’s numbers come from in this chapter, indeed, but I’ve worked with Cluny boundary clauses a bit and I don’t think you can map them continuously between generations, so I’m inclined to mistrust the logic here.

Exterior view of Saint-Laurent de Collonge, Lournand, showing portal and bell-tower

Exterior view showing portal and bell-tower

However, the question about admittance is one that he raises justly, and does so moreover on the basis of work by Pierre Bonnassie, to whom I am more generally sympathetic. Bonnassie and consequently Bois both make admittance to worship in church a big part of the decline of slavery.5 Even though the Church itself is a big landowner and runs a lot of slaves, albeit often on quite privileged terms, the basic starting point that a slave too has a soul that must be saved makes important breaks in the legal idea that a slave is a chattel, a possession and not a person. Christian doctrine is pretty kind to the humble anyway, so there’s just a certain basic level below which anyone who may approach the altar can’t slip, but there’s also the question of Church marriage, which once applied to slaves seriously impinges on the master’s right to arrange his or her labouring population and their reproduction as she or he chooses. As a good Western liberal, I’ve never really got how people can class other people they live with and see daily as somehow not-really-people, but obviously that distinction is inherent in a slave system, and if such non-people are then allowed to become partakers in your religion’s principal rite of union with your god, that’s something of a blow to that distinction, to say the least. So, it’s a crucial step away from subhuman status to have been able to go to Church in the Middle Ages. (In my area, where slaves were often Muslim prisoners of war, it wasn’t an easy step to take either.) There really wouldn’t have been a lot of room in the tiny chapel at Collonge or, presumably, any precursor it had, but who was in that space would have at some point, be it fifth-century or eleventh-century or somewhere between the two, been a very sharp social issue, and one that we can say almost nothing about.


1. Guy Bois, La mutation de l’an mil (Paris 1989), transl. J. Birrell as The Transformation of the Year 1000: the village of Lournand from Antiquity to feudalism (Manchester 1992) pp. 28-29 & n.

2. My pet case here is the now-twelfth-century Sant Andreu de Tona, where the stone structure located by digging in the 1940s was dated to an otherwise unattested reconstruction in the eleventh century precisely because it was stone, the assumption being that the well-attested building of 889 put up by Romanising notables on a hill basically made of building stone would nonetheless have to have been wood. See Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Antoni Pladevall i Font, Albert Benet i Clarà, Dolors Arumí i Gómez, A. Cavallé i Crivillers & R. Espadaler i Parsarises, “Sant Andreu de Tona” in Jordi Vigué (ed.) Catalunya Romànica III: Osona II, ed. Vigué (Barcelona 1986), pp. 639-44 and cf. J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †A. Deyermond & M. Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 106-108.

3. The go-to for this terminological discussion for me, because it set out explicitly to compare ancient, medieval and modern usages, is Michael Bush (ed.), Serfdom and Slavery: Studies in Legal Bondage (London 1986), where the papers by Stanley Engerman and Wendy Davies (but of course) might be the most use, but I think this definition is my own, all the same.

4. Bois, Transformation, pp. 18-20.

5. P. Bonnassie, “Survie et extinction du régime esclavagiste dans l’occident du haut moyen âge (IV-XI s.)” in Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale Vol. 28 (Poitiers 1985), pp. 307-343, online here, transl. J. Birrell as “The Survival and Extinction of the System of Slavery in the Early Medieval West, fourth to eleventh centuries” in Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe (Cambridge 1991), pp. 1-59.

Seminar CLXV: getting at the saints in medieval England

Juxtaposed thirteenth- and nineteenth-century stained-glass depictions of pilgrims at the shrine of St Thomas, Canterbury, from the cathedral there

Juxtaposed thirteenth- and nineteenth-century stained-glass depictions of pilgrims at the shrine of St Thomas, Canterbury, from the cathedral there; image from Wikimedia Commons

It’s not that there are no seminars about medieval matters in Oxford that don’t focus on England, you understand, and it’s not even that more specific seminars like the After Rome seminar or the Late Roman and Byzantine seminars draw away non-English content, it’s just that for some reason during Spring 2013 I seem only to have made it to English-focused papers. The next of these was at the Medieval History Seminar on 10th February 2013, and it was Anne Bailey of Harris Manchester College presenting with the title, “Reconsidering ‘The Medieval Experience at the Shrine’ in High-Medieval England”. This is out of my area of interest, you might think, and so it is to an extent, but it did two things I always appreciate, these being firstly to try and set out a sound basis for imagining medieval lives and actions in the kind of depth in which we can actually immerse ourselves, the real choreography of action in the medieval world, and secondly to use the ability to count to attack badly-founded generalisations that have nonetheless stood unchallenged for years. Since Miss Bailey had provided a sterling example of one of these at the start of her number-filled handout, I’ll quote it so as to identify the target:

“A modern visitor, magically transported to the darkened crypt of this ancient church, would probably be astonished, if not repelled, by the sight of wretched cripples writhing on the floor at Becket’s simple tomb, by the screams of fettered madmen straining at their bonds and the low moans of lepers and the blind, and by the characteristic odour of the Middle Ages, the stench of poverty and disease. The pious would pray nosily in the dancing shadows of the crypt or offer their hard-won pennies and home-made candles. An uncouth youth gesticulates wildly as he tries to explain his miraculous cure to the monk in charge of the tomb; he knows no Latin, no French, and his English dialect is scarcely comprehensible to the guardian-monk….”1

This is indubitably imaginative, but is its imagination well-founded? The fact that at the end of the paragraph of my notes in which this trope is introduced I find the mystic sigils, “O RLY!” will give you an early idea where Miss Bailey was going. In particular she was interested in testing the idea that people could actually get so close to saints’ tombs, and that contact with the relics was as important as it is usually taken to be. So, in order to test this she did the numbers: having painstakingly explained the differing contexts and backgrounds of the cults concerned, she counted up the miracles recorded for St Modwenna of Burton, St James’s Hand at Reading, St Aldhelm at Malmesbury, St John of Beverley, St Æbbe of Coldingham, St Swithun of Winchester, St Ivo of Ramsey, St Æthelthryth of Ely, St Anselm of Canterbury, St Gilbert of Sempringham and St William of Norwich.2 This is a pretty good range and has two particular assets worth mentioning: firstly, we have here both saints whose relics were in raised shrines and saints whose relics were in tombs, inaccessible in the ground, which ought to make a difference but (spoiler) doesn’t, and secondly it does not include St Thomas á Becket, the largest outlier, always safer.

The Hand of St James as once culted at Reading, back there briefly in 2012

The Hand of St James as once culted at Reading, back there briefly in 2012

In total, anyway, this gives one 173 stories, and Miss Bailey discovered that of those 173, as far as the hagiographers allow us to tell a mere 18 actually happened in proximity to the relics. 10 of those occurred on feast days when the relics were being processed, and several of the others involved someone who had obtained special permission to be near the shrine. Only in 1 case of the 173 did someone actually touch the reliquary, this being Aldhelm’s as it happened, and even then the outside of the reliquary is as close as they got. Furthermore, a number of the miracles are recorded at places where the saints weren’t: in both Æbbe’s and Ivo’s case there was a secondary site, evidently manned and even set up to receive visitors, at the place where the saints’ relics were found, and that place retained its attraction even once the body was taken elsewhere.

Kirkhill, St Abb's Head, Scotland, site of the <i>Urbs coludi</i> where StÆbbe's relics were supposedly found in 1118

Kirkhill, St Abb’s Head, Scotland, site of the Urbs coludi where St Æbbe’s relics were supposedly found in 1118, photo shamelessly borrowed from Tim Clarkson’s excellent post at Senchus about her cult. Not much to see now!

That last aspect opens up the question, much debated in discussion, of how far these centres were aimed at actually attracting pilgrims, something which we often assume but which was, for Miss Bailey at least, hard to see in these texts except in the ever-distorting case of Becket. It’s obviously not that people didn’t want to visit the saints; the way that they evidently went where they were allowed to, the invention shrines already mentioned, and that some attempt was made to provide hospitality there shows that there was both demand and supply, but for the most part the supply seems to have been fairly grudging: the monks and canons here were more interested in keeping pilgrims away from the shrines so that they could get on with their actual work of worship than in flogging them tokens and rolling in the sick and crippled so as to advertise their curing saint’s powers. This, arguably, would change, and it may even have been the runaway success of Becket’s cult that changed it. The fact that Catholic affective piety is now very strongly focused on contact with the bodies of the saints, as we saw in England when John Henry Newman was beatified a few years ago or as any visitor to a Greek or Italian shrine (like St Catherine’s in Siena for example) would see full force, and arguably has been since the sixteenth century, should not lead us to thinking that it was ever thus, and Miss Bailey would put the change after the period she was looking at.

Plan of the crypt of Hexham Abbey, with detail of reused Roman inscriptions in it

Plan of the crypt of Hexham Abbey, with detail of reused Roman inscription in it

At the time this made me think only one thing, which was that perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if a good number of miracles happened on saints’ feast days, simply because there would then have been more people at the church both to witness and to be the beneficiary of miracles. I’m less sure now than I was then that this matters very much: Miss Bailey’s point that this was when the saints might be brought out is surely more significant. What it now makes me think, though, is that we see in the St Gall Plan and in the archæological work done at Hexham Abbey, the latter implying similar cases in the Continental houses where Hexham’s founder St Wilfrid had trained, set-ups in which access to the crypt spaces was carefully channelled either from outside the actual church building or, at the imaginary version of St Gall, from outside the monks’ part of the church, into and out of the space occupied by the tomb.3 (The canonical plan of the Hexham crypt above notes one of the routes into the crypt as the pilgrims’ one and the other as the monks’ but the notes on the St Gall Plan make me think that a one-way system is more likely; at both St Gall and Hexham, after all, there was also access from the presbytery directly above.) That suggests to me an intention to supply the access to the relics that Bede, certainly, and perhaps Continental hagiographers too, make it clear that worshippers wanted, again without disturbing the usual monastic round too much. In that case we might have a change before Miss Bailey’s period too, and it would be interesting to pin down when. My guess would be the tenth century, but of course it would, wouldn’t it?4


1. Ronald Finucane, Miracles and Pilgrims: popular beliefs in medieval England (London 1977), pp. 9-10; the other target here was the more recent work evoked in the title, Ben Nilsson, “The Medieval Experience at the Shrine” in Jennie Stopford (ed.), Pilgrimage Explored (Woodbridge 1999), pp. 95-122.

2. The handout gives full edition details but that would be a long footnote even for me, as well as esentially publishing Miss Bailey’s references for her. I can provide details if people are interested, but it may settle some people’s minds to know that this total included both William Ketell’s collection of miracles of St John and another anonymous one and divided up the count for St William between his three shrines.

3. On the St Gall Plan the masterwork is Walter Horn, Ernest Born & Wolfgang Braunfels (edd.), The Plan of St. Gall: A Study of the Architecture and Economy and Life in a Paradigmatic Carolingian Monastery (Berkeley 1979), 3 vols, though one might start with the smaller Lorna Price, The Plan of St. Gall in Brief: An Overview Based on the Work by Walter Horn and Ernest Born (Berkeley 1982) or of course the excellent website already linked. For Hexham see Eric Cambridge & A. Williams, “Hexham Abbey: a review of recent work and its implications” in Archaeologia Aeliana 5th series Vol. 23 (Newcastle 1995), pp. 51-138. The reading of the St Gall Plan here, I should confess, I’m pulling largely from a Kalamazoo paper by Lynda Coon (reported on here) and reflected in her book, Dark Age Bodies: Gender and Monastic Practice in the Early Medieval West (Philadelphia 2011), which is not to say that I would necessarily accept everything she says there about the deeper meanings of the way space is laid out in the Plan. I don’t know anyone else who has put so much work into working out the traffic flows through the imaginary church, though.

4. I think of course of the Benedictine reform movement of the tenth century that would seek, among other goals, to exclude the laity more thoroughly from pure monastic practice: see Catherine Cubitt, ‘The Tenth-Century Benedictine Reform in England’ in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 6 (Oxford 1997), pp. 77–94, or Julia Barrow, “The Ideology of the Tenth-Century English Benedictine ‘Reform'” in Patricia Skinner (ed.), Challenging the Boundaries of Medieval History: the legacy of Timothy Reuter, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 22 (Turnhout 2009), pp. 141-154.

Leeds 2012 Report 4 and Final

This last post on the International Medieval Congress of 2012 is a bit more ‘last post’ than usual, because it also involves saying goodbye to the place where all the previous instances of ‘Leeds’ had taken place, the Bodington Campus of the University of Leeds. There were plenty of drawbacks to this place, and even to its more modern partner across the playing fields, Weetwood Hall; the number of sessions in these buildings I’ve been sat on the floor for because there wasn’t room for them anywhere larger, the trek across the fields that got significantly less pleasant in the rain, the vulnerability of socialisation to the weather generally, indeed… and I won’t miss the food even a bit. On the other hand, one accepts that an event of that size is constrained by that, and on the upside, as I’ve often observed, with good weather, you could within ten minutes more or less reliably locate anyone you wanted to see as they would either be at the pub or sprawled on the same lawn as most of the rest of European medieval studies, and that was immensely valuable. It will be very interesting to see how the new version goes. Meanwhile, rather than eulogising Bodington any further, I’ll merely point out that [c] of The Pen, the Brush and the Needle already did a post about it, so if you miss it you can direct yourself thither.

Bodington Hall, University of Leeds, viewed across some ponies, 2012

Bodington Hall exemplifying its somewhat troublesome fit among the local landscape, and also more or less defying any pretence of actually being, you know, in Leeds

Change was already afoot in 2012, though, and I don’t just mean the myriad of goodbye events, though I think it something of an indictment of the IMC spirit of fun that it had taken them this long to put on jousting. (I missed most of the actual jousting and only saw the riders repeatedly knocking over a quintain which they’d not been allowed enough flat ground to set up stably.) No, I mean the creeping extension of the conference length. It used to be that the last day of the conference finished at lunch, but thus year just gone it crept out into one afternoon session and now this year there will be two, so it’ll finish at six. I imagine that those last sessions will be very poorly attended due to everyone with much distance to travel having disappeared, and in that respect, though I am not exactly happy about being first on the morning after the dance again (twice at Kalamazoo and three times in a row at Leeds now) I can certainly see how things could be worse. Anyway, last year I doggedly went to to sessions till the end, here are some of the details. I will be brief-ish, because apart from anything else I have yet to pack for this year’s Leeds and head off to it, but you’ll see how I wanted this done first…

1525. Construction and Continuity of Episcopal Identities in the Alpine and Rhineland Regions, c. 400-800

  • Christine Davison, “The Authority of Bishops and the Cults of the Saints in Late Antique Trier”
    Certainly it’s safe to say that I knew a lot more about late antique Trier and its bishops at the end of this paper than at the beginning but one of the things I now knew was how little we know, if you see what I mean. There was some brave hypothesising to fill the gaps.
  • Chantal Bielmann, “Bishops and the Cults of Saints in Alpine Switzerland: the cases of St Peter (Geneva) and St Lucius (Chur), c. 300-800″
    I will confess that it was the the prospect of two papers together on Chur that had lured me to this sessions; Chur is one of those areas I nearly could have worked on, ever since Matthew Innes pointed me at the Carolingian-period episcopal estate survey we have from there and I came back all excited about bishops taking tax in iron and so on.1 Also, it has my kind of scenery. With all that said, however, I never did really work on it, so I take the chance to learn from those who have when I get it. That said, this paper taught me more about Geneva than Chur, and the obvious common factor appeared to be the bishops’ care to control access to and veneration the saints in their cathedrals, which Ms Bielmann used the architectural history lucidly to explicate.
  • Helena Carr, “A Briton Abroad? St Lucius of Chur and the Moulding of a Diocesan Patron”
    This was certainly the most fascinating of the papers for me, though, because it had such an excellent premise. In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People we are told that a King Lucius of the Britons sent to Rome for missionaries in A. D. 156, which is a fiction Bede acquired from the Roman Liber Pontificalis. This Lucius was nonetheless later culted as the patron saint of Chur, which for those of you less oddly-educated than me is in the south of the Alps, just south of Liechtenstein. You may at this point, if you so choose, allow yourself a large-scale, “Huh?” Basically, after that it probably didn’t matter what Dr Carr said to explain this state of affairs, the existence of it was interesting enough, but she had been looking: the cult at Chur seems to start in the eighth century, when it replaced one of Andrew, and to be focused on a local saint from the Prättigau relocated into the city. And what was the Latin name of that area? Bretanga, a mere lenitive slip away from Britannia… By the late eighth century the nearby monastery of St Gallen (whose monks knew their Bede) had this worked up into a full-scale Vita of a king who gave up rule to become a missionary. Dr Carr wondered if this ex-royal saint might be being focused on to rival the reputation of the erstwhile Burgundian king Sigismund at nearby centres, but another factor might have been the pilgrim traffic across the Alps, which included as we know an increasing number of Anglo-Saxons; did it also include Britons, or would the English have thought this part of their heritage by now, as Bede obviously sort of did?2
  • Sadly there wasn’t much time to debate any of this, but I certainly now felt it had been worth getting up on time, even if coffee did also seem a great desideratum. (And Bodington’s supposed coffee is another thing I shan’t miss, actually.)

1609. Apocalypticism and Prognostication in the Early and High Medieval West, II: Around the Year 1000

It was probably ineluctable that I go to this, except inasmuch as I obviously chose to, but you know what I mean. Year 1000, Gerbert of Aurillac and our esteemed commentator Levi Roach, how was I to do otherwise?

  • George David House, “Uncovering the Gregorian Eschatological Rhetoric in Gerbert of Aurillac’s Letter 57″
    Mr House was here trying to argue that the thinking of Gerbert of Aurillac, eventual Pope Sylvester II having been fired upwards from every job he’d previously had but known to me mainly because of his Catalan training, was more influenced by Gregory the Great than by St Augustine. It could not be said that I have a dog in this fight but nonetheless I did think that the language on which Mr House placed emphasis could just as well be read as reaction to a general crisis rather than any particular belief-set about the end of the world. I suppose the question is what came to Gerbert’s mind when he contemplated general crisis, but I think that getting into Gerbert’s head, especially in his letters which are often written for an audience other than the recipient, is going to be a tough job.
  • Joanna Thornborough, “The Whore of the Apocalypse and Kaiserkritik around the Year 1000″
    The Biblical figure of Jezebel was widely used as a figure for criticising queens in the Middle Ages, as is well studied,3 but she also has an appearance as the Whore of Babylon in Revelations, or at least it was clear to the age’s commentators that the two were the same. Ms Thornborough took us through three texts that make great play of this theme, and suggested that they all one way or another link back to a greater policing of powerful women’s roles at the Ottonian court, using Apocalyptic imagery already in play as part of the wider monastic reform movement.
  • Levi Roach, “New Approaches to an Old Problem: Otto III and the End of Time”
    Apart from being a paper whose title clearly should have been the other way round for maximum drama—I mean, come on, isn’t Otto III and the End of Time a film waiting to be made?—this was Levi’s usual high standard of erudition, looking through Emperor Otto III’s charters for some way to choose between the maximalist and minimalist views of how preoccupied his court were with the thought of the impending Apocalypse. There seems no way to deny the idea was around: Otto was crowned in a robe ornamented with depictions of the Apocalypse in the year 999, after all, moved his court to Rome and allegedly planned to retire to Jerusalem in the year 1000! I have to note that this is supported much less obviously from the charters than the records of Otto’s reign by others, though. The question then becomes whether Otto himself thought the world was about to end, or whether he was just playing on other people’s fears that it might do so, and perhaps more interestingly as Levi asked, if he did believe it was about to end, did he think he could do anything about that? I suspect we will never know but it is a worthwhile reminder that the stakes of power were arguably somewhat higher in a world brought up to believe that their own actions were part of a much large framework of events, in which someone in a position like an emperor’s might be playing a vital rôle but one for which the script was less than clear…

1723. The Viking Winter-Camp at Torksey, Lincolnshire, II

Last but not least, back to the archæology. You may not know that in recent years quite a lot of work has been done on the camp where a Viking force seems to have wintered in 871-872, a site that has become apparent only because of the incredible amount of metalwork that detectorists have pulled out of it, but I was well aware because a decent collection of those finds now resides in the Fitzwilliam Museum and more arrived when I was still there. So I went to find out more…

  • Dawn Hadley, “Burial Practices in Viking-Age Torksey”
    This paper reported on four cemeteries, all of which as far as my notes reveal turned out to be later than the Viking occupation, even though one of them sounded suspiciously like a battle-grave, or at least a catastrophe one. That one, however, was being dated from pottery alone, so there’s at least room to check there. Nonetheless, actual pre-Viking Torksey stands largely unrevealed apart from a few kilns so far, not least because so far everywhere they’ve put a spade they’ve hit a tenth- or eleventh-century cemetery!
  • Hannah Brown, “Surveying the Landscape of the Viking Winter-Camp”
    Here, on the other hand, the geophysics gave quite a lot of scope to imagine underlying structures and settlement, and also fairly clear evidence of a sectional ditch around the camp with holes outside, presumably not part of the fortification but perhaps clay pits? That in itself reveals the problems with this method: you can see there’s something there but putting a date on it will take excavation, which weirdly—and there was probably a reason for this explained but I haven’t recorded it—has not yet been done at the actual camp.
  • Søren Sindbæk, “Ring-Fenced Vikings: Scandinavian army camps and defensive tactics from Torksey to Trelleborg”
    In the absence of actual evidence, one approach then becomes to look elsewhere and see what we might expect, and Dr Sindbæk did this in fine style, taking us through Aggersborg and Trelleborg and emphasising that the very short lifespans of both indicate that they were a response to some kind of crisis, rather than part of a sustained fortification programme like the Anglo-Saxon one of which Torksey eventually became part. Torksey would have likely been even more ephemeral, though, lacking the organised and impressive buildings of the two Danish sites, so exactly what might have been there is still something of a mystery.

And thus it ends, folks, and it’s time for me to pack and head off to this year’s (though I’m scheduling this post to appear rather after I’ve done that, I should say). This year’s conference is, please note, a week earlier than last year’s, so I haven’t quite fallen a year behind. Let’s see if I get to this year’s one sooner!


1. Seriously, folks, tax in iron. The peasants got to keep most of what they’d mined, though, which in turn means they must have been selling it, because you can’t eat iron can you? It’s all quite important. Details in E. Meyer-Marthaler & F. Perret (edd.), “Das Urbar des Reichsgutes in Churrätien (9. Jht)” in eidem (edd.), Bündner Urkundenbuch. I. Band: 390-1199 (Chur 1965), pp. 373-393.

2. As far as I can see this hasn’t yet made it to publication, but those whose institutions have paid their blood-tax to ProQuest could examine Dr Carr’s thesis, “Sanctity and religious culture amongst the Alpine passes: a study of aspects of patrocinia, liturgy and scriptoria in Early Medieval Churraetia, 400-850 AD” (Ph. D. thesis, University of York, 2006), http://search.proquest.com/dissertations/docview/304950122/135BF34EDEE6AF485BA/239, where doubtless more such nuggets reside.

3. See Janet L. Nelson, “Queens as Jezebels: Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian history” in D. Baker (ed.), Medieval Women: essays dedicated and presented to Rosalind M. T. Hill, Studies in Church History Subsidia 1 (Oxford 1978), pp. 31-78, repr. in Nelson, Politics and Ritual in Early Mediaeval Europe (London 1986), pp. 1-48 & in Lester K. Little & Barbara H. Rosenwein (edd.), Debating the Middle Ages: issues and readings (Oxford 1998), pp. 219-253.

Back in my bad books: l’affaire Zimmermann encore une fois

(The current flood of blogging here may just have led you to miss a couple of earlier posts, most obviously the notice of the Leeds IMC 2013 bloggers’ meet-up. That’s here, should you want it. Now read on!) I feel like I’m going many rounds in this struggle, and by now so do you I expect, but the conflict I have over this book is an ongoing issue. The last chapter of the first volume of Michel Zimmermann’s Écrire et lire en Catalogne deals with books, with who owned them, how many there were in the libraries we can talk about, what they were and what that tells us about what was going on, intellectually, in these places.1 It is really well done: he goes careful with the evidence, indicates when he’s guessing at the probable contents of a lost manuscript, is genuinely informative about what odd terms for certain works probably mean, all with a sound foundation in the local and international scholarship (at least as far as I’m any judge, I’m reading this book to learn not to check it, after all) and his conclusions are interesting and balanced. The short version would be, Catalonia was not quite the leading European zone of international culture its partisans have sometimes made it in the tenth to twelfth centuries; its leading centres were certainly somewhere in the top ranks, but the study of theology seems to have been oddly rare, the liberal arts were really only to be found in a couple of monasteries and most of what you can see in the libraries and references to books is a mostly-Carolingian liturgical enterprise with a continuing Gothic tinge to the way books of Scripture were read and commented on, which finally went out of the door when the Cistercians and the Victorines brought in new thinking. By that time, the cathedrals had taken over from the monasteries as the main centres of education again.

A battle scene from the Biblia de Ripoll

Lessons for the illiterate from Catalan Bibles, 1: fighting looks cool

He also observes something that I feel stupid for never having really taken up from my reading beforehand. Firstly, it was a rare person indeed in the tenth century almost anywhere who had had the opportunity to read the whole Bible. Most churches would be equipped with the Psalms, the Gospels if they were lucky, and more likely than not not all of either of those but a volume of two of greatest hits in the form of a lectionary, Flores psalmorum or eventually Breviary.2 Even the big centres might not have the whole thing. But if they did, and this is the thing that had never occurred to me before, they likely had it mostly in the form of commentaries by scholars, much in the way that these days that we, if we have our own copy of one of our sources, most likely have a critical edition (or a Penguin translation, but that technology was yet to come).3 I had observed quite how popular these commentaries are, but not stopped to think that, duh, that was probably because a commentary will also contain most or all of the actual text. So, after mentally hitting myself in the brain a few times, I now feel better about my understanding of tenth-century book-larnin’.

But. I mean of course there’s a `but’. You might think it only a small `but’, or, depending on your social politics, you might think it more serious. You’ll remember, perhaps, how I’ve snarked that I first picked up this book to learn about nuns’ literacy, and found that Zimmermann denies it existed even though he cites a charter that six nuns signed and another one in which one (whose name was Caríssima) gave a Psalter to a church her nunnery had newly had built.4 You may also remember how I have snarked repeatedly that it mentions women on 3 of its 1219 pages, which is in fact a little unfair because I was counting indexed entries; it might be, ooh, nearly twice that really. But snark is not feeling like enough by now. The evidence Professor Zimmermann deploys in this chapter is mainly gifts of books to churches, and he gives a long list of them as an appendix indeed which is extremely useful, especially compared to other parts of the text where he often doesn’t identify the charters he’s using, only gives their dates. On p. 526 he tells us whom these books are all from, and notes that it is overridingly bishops and priests, sometimes abbots, very occasionally the counts and once, just once, a monk. The afore-mentioned Carissima, cited by himself earlier, here escapes mention. Just an unfortunate slip of the memory? (Again?)

Sant Hilari de Vidrà

Sant Hilari de Vidrà, whose earlier instance held Carissima’s Psalter

Well, maybe. But then further on, pp. 591-592, Professor Zimmermann discusses cathedral libraries, and here we are well served because there are actually two tenth-century inventories of property at the cathedral of Vic that itemise the books. And, oh, I am so conflicted: he sets up Vic in its time in the neatest two paragraphs I ever saw on it,5 they’re so good I have to quote them:

L’histoire chaotique du diocèse et l’instabilité de la vie canoniale expliquent que n’ait pu se former à Vic une bibliothèque aussi importante et de croissance aussi regulière que celles qui se constituaient au même moment dans les abbayes. Lorsqu’en 888 l’évêque Godmar s’installe dans la nouvelle cathédrale érigée in vico Ausonae, il se préoccupa immédiatement d’organiser la vie du clergé selon les prescriptions de la Règle d’Aix, mais les chanoines ne conservèrent pas longtemps la vie commune : le diocèse était en pleine réorganisation et les clercs étaient appelés à exercer des charges paroissiales qui les tenaient éloignés du chapitre. Le 10 juin 957, l’évêque Guadamir accueille favorablement la plainte d’un groupe de chanoines venus le trouver sur son lit de mort cum querela de canonica que iam retro fuerat instituta et per negligentia erat dissipata157 : il décide de doter le chapitre afin de permettre à douze clercs de pratiquer la vie commune (ut communiter vivere possitis) et de suivre les recommandations des Pères (secundum instituta Sanctorum Patrum fidelissimi dispensatores existatis). Mais cette vie regulière, si elle s’est maintenue, ne devait concerner qu’un petit groupe de chanoines : au même moment, d’autres clercs vivent en dehors du chapitre, font construire leurs propres maisons dont ils disposent librement à leur mort et, à chaque nouvelle élection épiscopale (en 1010, puis en 1018), ils se font confirmer la libre disposition de leur maison infra possessionem sancti Petri. Les testaments des chanoines attestent sans équivoque qu’au XIe siècle la plupart des membres du chapitre résidaient dans leur propre maison et disposaient librement de leurs biens ; beaucoup d’entre eux, avec le titre levita, possèdent un équipement militaire complet et assurent la garde de châteaux aux limites de diocèse ; ils sont étrangers à toute forme de vie commune et même religieuse. Vers 1080, l’évêque Berenguer Seniofred de Lluça [sic] tente une nouvelle restauration de la discipline, mais sa décision, confirmée par une bulle d’Urbain II, ne fut guère suivie d’effet ; il en resulta du moins une gestion plus cohérente de la mense capitulaire.

L’individualisme des chanoines eut des conséquences décisives sur la formation de la bibliothèque. En dehors des livres indispensables au culte et à l’office, qui appartiennent au trésor de l’Église, les autres manuscrits restaient la propriété des chanoines, qui les achetaient, vendaient, léguaient ou transmettaient à celui – fréquemment un neveu – qui leur succédait dans la charge. Même les livres appartenant au fonds commun étaient fréquemment prêtés à des individus ou à des églises paroissiales dépendant du chapitre. Le catalogue de la bibliothèque capitulaire ne saurait donc constituer l’inventaire exhaustif des textes connus aux Xe et XIe siècles des chanoines de Vic, qui comptaient parmis eux plusieurs érudits : sous l’épiscopat d’Atton, protecteur de Gerbert, tout d’abord. puis sous celui d’Oliba, devenu évêque de Vic en 1018.

157 Diplom. Vic, doc. 302.6

I translate, roughly, for non-Francolexics:

The chaotic history of the diocese and the instability of canonical life explain why Vic was never able to form a library as important and as regular in its growth as those that were forming at the same time in the monasteries. When in 888 Bishop Godmar moved into the new cathedral erected ‘in the vico of Ausona’, he straight away busied himself with organising the life of the clergy according to the precepts of the Rule of Aachen, but the canons did not maintain the communal life for long: the diocese was in the throes of complete reorganisation and its clergy were being called to take on parish duties that took them far away from the chapter. On the 10th June 957, Bishop Guadamir favourably received the plea from a group of canons who had come to find him on his deathbed ‘with a complaint about the canonry that there once used to be and which had been dissipated through negligence': he decided to endow the chapter so as to allow twelve clerks to live the communal life and to follow the recommendations of the Fathers. But this regular life, if it survived, must have concerned only a small group of canons: at the same time, other clerks lived outside the chapter, building their own houses of which they disposed freely at their deaths and, at each new episcopal election (in 1010, then in 1018), they got the free disposition of their houses ‘subject to the possession of Saint Peter’ confirmed. The canons’ wills testify unambiguously that in the eleventh century most of the canons lived in their own houses and disposed freely of their property. Many of them, bearing the title of deacon, owned full military equipment and undertook the guard of castles at the edges of the diocese; they were strangers to any form of common or even religious life. Around 1080, Bishop Berenguer Sunifred de Lluçà attempted a new restoration of discipline, but his decision, backed in 1099 by a Bull of Pope Urban II, hardly had any effect. It did result, at least, in a more coherent management of the chapter’s provisioning.

Modern metal statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic

A modern representation of Bishop Oliba, patron of big library budgets

The individualism of the canons had decisive consequences on the formation of the library. Apart from the books that were indispensable for worship and the offices, which belonged to the Church treasure, the other manuscripts remained property of the canons, who bought them, sold them, bequeathed them or transmitted them to the person – frequently a nephew – who would succeed them in their position. Even books belonging to the common stock were frequently lent to individuals or to parish churches dependant on the chapter. The catalogue of the library thus cannot constitute an exhaustive inventory of the texts known to the canons of Vic in the tenth and eleventh centuries, canons among whom there numbered many scholars. In fact, from the mid-tenth century onwards, the cathedral was the site of intense cultural activity, in the episcopate of Ató, protector of Gerbert, first of all, then in that of Oliba, made Bishop of Vic in 1018.

That, right there, that is my study area explained in six hundred words. On reading that I really wanted to love this book again. And then two pages further on, he gets properly into the booklists. Now, I’ve talked about one of these inventories here before, because one of the interesting things about it is that a quarter of the books were on loan as he describes, and it records who had borrowed them. If you quickly have a look at that post, and what I thought was important about it, you’ll be much better prepared for what follows when you come back; go on. Okay? Good, so, pp. 592-593 see Professor Zimmermann discuss these loans, and on p. 593 he notes, “Quant à Richeldes, il conserve le livre des Rois.”

‘Il conserve’? ‘Il conserve’? It’s a woman’s name, this is not a controversial or odd assertion, nor is there a man’s name I know with which it could easily be confused. Richeldes, Richildis, Riquildis, Riquilda or any variant spelling you like, it’s a woman and she’s reading Kings. Why is this worth obscuring? What would it do to this man’s world if, in 971, one more woman could read? I don’t know, but by now I feel quite strongly that it’s not OK.


1. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), I pp. 523-613.

2. One particularly interesting instance of the Flores, which is the same as a florilegium, a kind of personal best-of collection of improving texts, and one that Zimmermann indeed notes, is the will of Dacó adolescens. We have this in the form of its publication before judges, which exists as a single-sheet in the Arxiu Capitular de Vic, but the original actual will as made by the boy was not formally drawn up like that; evidently things were quite dire, as it was written for him in a book in which he had the Flores psalmorum and a few other orationes and then he made his mark in it and that was the will. There’s so much that’s interesting about this: he was too young to be holding property so what he actually bequeathed was his rights in his father’s property, he had books but he couldn’t write, he was important enough that two cathedral clerics came and helped him write his will (in which they both feature, we might notice)… but no more is known of him but this document, which is edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1849 among other places.

3. I suppose if we wanted to work that analogy a step further we could observe the similarity between Flores-volumes and modern-day source anthologies.

4. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 645 & 856, cit. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I pp. 302 n. 111 & p. 500 respectively, from the older edition of Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), nos 128 & 146.

5. You could get a lot more detail, and in English, from Paul Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick 1983), online here, pp. 14-67, but that is, you have to admit, more than two paragraphs.

6. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I pp. 591-592; the inventory is Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1106.