Stone gothic

Another Damned Medievalist, whom it was great to actually meet the other day, expressed an interest in this, so I thought I’d post it here for general awe and wonderment (awe not…). This is coming out of the Leeds paper, and I was making transparencies of these two images at great speed when I first drafted this, so it’s short. But: you all know what a charter looks like, right? Here’s one from my area, to be precise, from the cathedral of Urgell in the north-west of Catalunya Vella:

Urgell 12, charter of sale from 839 AD

Now, this is an area of Spain that used to be ruled by the Visigoths, who are scholarly-wise famous for their heavy use of written documents, right? So you’d expect the Visigothic charters to be the antecedent of this scruffy parchment. We don’t have very many Visigothic charters, though, and of the seventy-odd we do have, in some form or other, mostly fragmentary, only two are sales. Here’s one:

Visigothic charter of sale from 632, on slate

Yup, it’s on slate. Cheaper than parchment you know… Most of the Visigothic charters we have are, but that’s because most, where most is about fifty-five, come from two caches in the far south of Spain, one of which may have been part of a city archive but one of which is basically a family dossier and goes down to fiddling stuff like weekly cereal allowances for the slaves, and so on. An actual transaction like this is almost unique, and as you can tell we haven’t got all of it. Cheaper, but not as durable… (Full details in Angel Canellas López (ed.), Diplomática Hispano-Visigoda, Publicacións de la Institución Fernando el Cató́líco 730 (Zaragoza 1979), though this image came from Manuel Gómez Moreno (ed.), Documentació́n goda en pizarra: estudio y trascripción, rev. M. Casamar (Madrid 1966).)

Actually the texts aren’t so very far different, though formulaic, but you know, not really the same documentary culture…

N. B. I have real trouble sizing big images on this blog; once one size is in the preview won’t update when you change the file, so these may be all over the place; I hope it looks OK from where you are anyway.

13 responses to “Stone gothic

  1. How is it actually written on that stone slab? Is it etched with holy water or chiseled with somobody’s front teeth or what? Intriguing!

  2. My guess is that it’s scratched with a very hard stylus (slate isn’t necessarily all that hard, as it’s just metamorphic sediment), but given that, the regularity of the writing is pretty fantastic.

  3. I am a calligrapher who specializes in Visigothic Versals which are the writing style in the Beatus. The letterforms don’t resemble those written in the slate charters you posted. I am curious to know your tho’ts.

  4. Sorry for slow reply to all this! I was away and then didn’t have the answers easily to hand.

    Henrik, ADM has it correct. The letters are incised with a hard point, probably metal. If you’ve never tried scratching slate have a go, it’s fun :-) Leaves a nice white mark that doesn’t fade over time (as you can tell from the image in the original post).

    Inkcredible, there are a bunch of reasons why this document isn’t like the Beatus, or for those not versed in such things, I assume we’re talking about Beatus of Liébana’s Commentary on the Apocalypse, which as I type at least has a half-finished but useful Wikipedia entry. The smaller of these reasons are firstly that the Beatus tradition originates from Liébana in Cantabria, and most of the manuscripts (all?) are from the North. Whereas these slates are all from Salamanca or territory south, south-east and south-west of that, so pretty much the other end of Spain. Apart from sheer distance, this, as Matthew Gabriele observed in a comment on a post about this post at the Unlocked Wordhoard, puts them in the same kind of territory as the Tablettes Albertini from Vandal Africa. In that sense, although the Vandals were long gone from Spain by the time of this charter (it is only one charter, in two bits), we might be looking at a practice that isn’t necessarily Visigothic at all.

    Secondly there is the date: I think I’m writing in saying that the earliest MS of the Beatus is 10th-century, isn’t it? Whereas this charter is from 622, and some of the others in the corpus are 70 years older than that and look similar.

    But the most important factor is what a palæographer would call ‘hierarchy of scripts’. (Some examples of the idea from Carolingian Europe are here.) The Beatus is a high-quality work meant for display and its scripts are chosen to make it look splendid. The Versals are even higher up the register, not the regular book script but a special display script reserved for emphasis. Do they occur in other texts at all? I don’t know.

    Anyway, this is a world away from the business-like script the slate is written in, which is basically New Roman cursive, with very little change from the third century examples we have: some good pictures can be found at Dianne Tillotson’s History of Medieval Scripts pages, and the rest of the site may interest you. But if you’re a calligrapher, maybe a comparison to Secretary is the most obvious one (though a rather English one); you wouldn’t write a book in it but it’s all over early modern English archives, I understand. This is the same distinction. The Beatus is very special; this document was not, and it’s been done in an everyday hand that’s easy to make using a hard point on slate, which as ADM says doesn’t easily admit of subtle penmanship.

    I hope that’s an answer that doesn’t insult your knowledge; your question didn’t convey to me exactly how much background you might or might not need, and the web only tells me that you know the Versals…

  5. Ha! I put so many links in that reply that WordPress junked it as spam. That’ll teach me to try and be educational :-/

  6. Ok, that’s funny! But now you realize I have to go and look at some of the links … like I don’t have real work to do. But hey, it’s educational, right? Right?

  7. In the words of a song written by a late acquaintance of mine,

    “I hear tell, people do this for money
    I would too, if somebody paid me”…

  8. One of these days! Remember, it took me one year of patching together PT gigs and three one-year visiting positions before I got this job.

  9. Your karma is evidently effective; I have mail in my INBOX offering me some informal lecturing and tutorials. You knew about some of this already, I think, but it appears to actually be happening… It’ll be nice to be back in a classroom again, but of course the course has to be prepared first. (At least, it seems to work better if you do it that way. Usually.)

  10. Well, I try to plan things out in full before term starts, and then be about a week ahead, because even when you know the stuff, you have to review. And then there are those weeks where you finish the prep 10 minutes before. Not a great thing, but I know even LDW has had those days!

  11. Oh, and congrats — have a pint when you sign the contract ;-)

  12. Contract? Contract? I shall be very surprised if there’s a contract. There was never a contract with Birkbeck. In fact I’ve only had one of these RA/TA jobs where there was a contract and then it turned up after the job had technically finished. But I’m still waiting for payslips and tax records from them two and a half years later, which has caused me some trouble with the Inland Revenue in the meantime.

    In my experience the British system doesn’t really record its part-time academics in the kind of permanence that a contract implies. They are recruited too late for a contract to be ready when they start—so it never happens. And the money always turns up late, too, so we have an awkward month to start with where we are basically teaching or researching in faith that our immediate superior wasn’t lying or didn’t forget to put us on the payroll.

    So basically if this gig pays me on time from the start they’ll be doing better than any other academic employer I’ve ever had; if they give me anything I have to sign, rather than just being instructed to provide proof of right to work in the UK, I’ll be beyond impressed and into actually-quite-scared…

    There will certainly be a pint or two drunk, however. Hopefully with the students, for a start.

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