Are you writing this down? The Vall de Sant Joan hearing and its charter

There is, in the Arxiu de la Corona de Aragó, an absolutely huge charter from the year 913. It comes from a hearing in which the Abbess of Sant Joan de Ripoll, dear Emma of my first paper, apparently took her brother Miró, Count of Cerdanya and Besalú, to court over certain public rights that she claimed had been given to her by their father Count Guifré the Hairy, apparently as part of the endowment of the monastery. There is no such statement made in the document of the endowment, but then as I’ve shown that is a really dodgy charter, and because this charter is not the actual statement of the case, that we would sometimes expect to have under Visigothic law, we don’t know exactly what Emma was claiming. Whether these rights should have been in the endowment charter or not, what we have is the oath, sworn in the names of a total of 493 people living in the monastery’s immediate territory, that those rights should be Emma’s, because of her father having set her up as first inhabitant on this land that he had just recaptured from the Saracens. And Miró’s representative concedes, and there is another document in which he abdicates his master’s rights over the valley which tells us that they were fighting over “… servicium regis minus… id est, hostes vel alium regale servicium…”.

The Eagle of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, in the cloister of the abbey church

Now when I first worked on this document, I was interested in the conquest story that these people were being made to tell, because it really isn’t true. Although the endowment charters of both Sant Joan de Ripoll (now known as Sant Joan de les Abadesses) and its sister monastery of Santa Maria downriver have been messed about with, one of the reasons we know there’s some truth in them is because they record the people that Guifré had bought the relevant lands from—bought, not violently conquered. That has to be contemporary, because by 913 as you can see a different story was already being told. And a charter from 880 records a separate donation to Santa Maria, Sant Joan and Sant Pere de Ripoll, this being several years before those endowments and thus making it clear to us that there were going churches before the count put his daughter in as ‘primus homo’. And you can read about all that in the paper, which is these days online for free from my website (whose publication pages are even up to date at the time of writing). All of which made me think, and still makes me think, that actually what’s going on is that people are dubious about a woman being given these rights, and so her brothers turn up and lose to her in court so as to make it official and written, proven and established. This sort of case is not unknown and is usually called a Scheinprozess, ‘false trial’.

But then for my thesis, I went on to go into the question of who the people were and what they owed to Emma that meant she could call on so many people to swear untruths for her, and that in turn led me deep into the question of how the document had actually come to be written, which turned out to be very complex, and made me feel very clever when I worked it out. Unfortunately the word count is a harsh mistress. Lots has to go from the thesis as I convert it into a book, with new material as well making the pressure worse. So the extreme cleverness, because it is in the thesis to be referred to, and because I will almost certainly use it elsewhere when trying to show that charters are complex documents as I tend to do, has had to go. But I lament it, and want to show off. And, as has been said before, this blog is for nothing if not me showing off, so…

Outside of the cloister of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

493 people is a lot of names. They’re mostly in pairs, too, one man one woman, which makes it seem that whole families were being sworn, not including children presumably but basically everyone of legal age in the Vall de Sant Joan, in twenty-one different subordinate hamlets, some of which had forty-odd people and one only two. So did they all roll up at the abbey and the scribe, whose name was Garsies, write them down as they identified themselves? It would have taken days, and in fact we can show that he did not do this. Instead, he had lists, and we know this because he shows every sign of having been unable to read them properly. We can tell because once the names of those present are listed, the matter of the oath is stated, and then their names are given again, and there are errors between the two sets. (There’s also quite a lot of people gone or added, but I’ll come on to that in a minute.) Once you lay them out next to each other in a table it’s pretty clear. For example, in the first set of names there is the meaningless “Aiorazel”, but the equivalent set in the actual swearers is “Aione. Razel” which makes rather more sense. So were the second set being given to Garsies out loud? No. There is also, in the first set of names, one “Imitara”. Lovely name, but not real; in the signatures, though, she’s called “Marcia”. How does Garsies manage that? Well, this is the second Marcia signing for that hamlet, so I think that what was on Garsies’s list was “item Marcia”, ‘another Marcia’. Therefore both exemplars must have been written Latin ones. (This was roughly the point at which I felt clever.)

I think in fact they may well have been the same exemplars, but the second time the people who wrote them could tell Garsies what they said. All the same, some updating had gone on. 474 people are listed as swearing; 498 sign, and they’re not all the same people; seven people had gone, and apparently thirty more arrived. Children growing up and adults dying off? Possibly, but how long a timeframe are we stretching Garsies’s work over? More likely that a lot of this movement is migration, into and out of the monastery’s valley as opportunity beckoned or disappeared. But Garsies’s work did carry on, because five more names of signatories are later added between the witnesses, who must presumably have been recorded beforehand or else why would these people not be where they should be on the page? So that’s an update. And then six more further down in a different ink, another update. I honestly think that after that there just wasn’t room to add any more, or Garsies died. Because it does seem to have been important that it be him; he didn’t write anything else that survives, never turns up in another document and the nunnery had a kind of chief notary called Gentiles who did most of their charters, including the partner document to this in which Miró’s representative foreswore his master’s disproven rights. So Garsies was dragged in several times to keep this unique record going, and was therefore a man of some special status I can’t describe more fully.

Low-quality facsimile of the charter of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing

Low-quality facsimile of the charter of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing, best I can so far obtain

But the point is, this is an original document. It’s got autograph signatures by the witnesses (though not by the people swearing the oath—given that all their names were on lists, were they ever there altogether?) and everything, the script is contemporary and lots of other things. Any diplomatist would have to call this both authentic and original. And this helps you not at all, because when you look into it and investigate it properly, you find that it was done on at least four separate occasions (first list, second list/witnessing, extra names one, extra names two), that the occasion it records probably never happened as recorded, and that the oath these people may or may not have sworn is a lie. The lesson here is, words like ‘original’ and ‘authentic’ don’t mean a damn thing.

The document is in print as R. Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1998), 3 vols., no. 119, and its partner document is no. 120, but the palaeography is only discussed in Frederico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), no. 38 (and the partner document as ap. IIA). Udina misdates the document by a month, apparently so as to place it at the Feast of Saint John. I discuss this in full in “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 106-112, and the earlier work referred to is J. Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 pt. 3 (Oxford 2003), pp. 229-258. There’s a photograph of the charter in A. Pladevall i Font, N. Peirís i Pujolar, J.-A. Adell i Gisbert, X. Barral i Altet, R. Bastardes i Parera & R. M. Martín i Ros, “Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in A. Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès, ed. J. Vigué (Barcelona 1987), pp. 354-410 at p. 363, although it’s tiny (source of the above image), and Udina’s text is also reprinted there. Honourable mention also to the in-depth study of Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, “Sant Joan de les Abadesses: algunes precisions sobre l’acta judicial del 913 i el poblament de la vall” in S. Claramunt & M. T. Ferrer i Mallol (edd.), Homenatge a la Memòria del Prof. Dr. Emilio Sáez. Aplecs d’estudis del seus deixebles i col·laboradors (Barcelona 1989), pp. 421-434. And there you have it.

7 responses to “Are you writing this down? The Vall de Sant Joan hearing and its charter

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