The Leeds paper is going well, but the supporting materials are still under way; the week ahead is being a right pig to organise; and I have to be slept and sane before I try and herd medieval bloggers, and at this time in my life `slept’ and `sane’ appear to conflict with each other badly. Anyway, I once more have no fresh content, so I’ve just done a brisk run through one of the charter files I keep looking for something to tell you about. And as it happens what I’ve come up with chimes nicely with The Naked Philologist demanding more female medieval interest figures in her blogging, and posts elsewhere about nuns indeed; so it’s time for female monasticism!
In early medieval Spain, there were few nunneries, far fewer than there were monasteries. In Catalonia, in particular, there were only three by 1000, possibly four, and all of those comital foundations which probably had strong requirements for entry (by which I mean, substantial land grants). The oldest was Sant Joan de les Abadesses, so dear to my heart, but even that had only been founded in 885; before that, then, what did Spanish women with religious urges do?
The answer lies in a Latin phrase, deo dicata, ‘dedicated to God’ (feminine), and it’s a practice going back to the sixth century if not before. I mean, you could draw it back to Cæsaria of Arles and her private convent if you wanted. Basically, imagine that you are a widow of independent means. You may well therefore need to stop people trying to make you remarry so as to reclaim your land, or you may just genuinely want to live la vida apostólica, or indeed both. So you go to the local bishop, if you’re doing it by the book anyway, and you agree that a certain portion of your estate will be set aside from secular jurisdiction under his protection, and there you live, with a priest visiting regularly to check on you, or indeed being resident if you’re that rich, simply and piously, praying a lot but not under any particular Rule or anything; these terms get worked out in each individual case.
Sometimes you could do this in a town house, and not really lose much by way of society; sometimes, for whatever reason, you might have had to go further afield. The charter I picked up on is one in the Arxiu Capitular de Barcelona, in which one such deo dicata, Aurúcia, gets a chunk of land for such religious purposes from none other than Count-Marquis Borrell II (which is of course why I know). It’s right out on the frontier, on the Riu de Llobregat (which is far enough out even in the late tenth century) and another of the boundaries is “ipsa limite”, ‘the frontier itself’ (though I’m never sure exactly what that means; it turns up in Girona too, which was never on the frontier). And, interestingly, she wasn’t alone; another deo dicata had land next door, and her husband is referred to, ‘the judge Odesèn who is now a monk’. Odesèn turns up enough previously that we know they had some land between them; but if all these snippets should be combined, near the end of their lives they seem to have all decided to sort out their souls and go and live like farmers (possibly quite rich farmers, for sure) in the wilderness. This was 986, not even a year after the sack of Barcelona by Muslim troops who must have come very close by this area (and the land is at a place called Torre, indicating a local fortification), so it’s not a location I necessarily would have chosen! but good on ’em all the same. It sounds idyllic. Of course you could only really have the idyll if you could afford to be idle, but Aurúcia was plainly very rich; we also have her will, what makes this clear. But here she is living, or attempting to live, a genuinely good life. It’s funny what you find in charters.
Edit: I suppose there are worse things to typo than `love’ for `live’, but I still wish I wouldn’t.
The charter in question is edited as Àngel Fabregà i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. 160, and Aurúcia’s will is doc. 220 there. On female monasticism and deo votae, what I know about is basically in Spanish languages, specifically Montserrat Cabré i Pairet, “«Deodicatae» y «Deovotae». La regulación de la religiosidad femenina en los condados catalanes, siglos IX-XI” in A. Muñoz Fernández (ed.), Las Mujeres en el Cristianismo Medieval: imágenes, teóricas y cauces de actuación religiosa, Colección Laya 5 (Madrid 1989), pp. 169-182 or Cabré, “El monaquisme femení” in Borja de Riquer i Permanyer (ed.), Història Política, Societat i Cultura dels Països Catalans volum 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. J. M. Salrach i Marés (Barcelona 1998, repr. 2001), pp. 174-175. You can however now at least have a look in Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), pp. 164-188, and I’m sure there must be generic treatments you have closer to hand.