As just mentioned, from having tried arguing with Peter Heather about DNA evidence (and discovering that I was under-read) I went back to work and then hoofed it for London as soon as the Museum shut so as to hear Wendy Davies telling the London Society of Medieval Studies her answer to the question, “What Can We Say About Local Priests in Northern Spain before the Year 1000?” I was actually slightly late because of the afore-mentioned transport troubles but I got most of it. If you’ve read Acts of Giving since I told you to (come on, come on) you will know some of what she can do with the charter evidence on this subject, but because this was new work, it went beyond what you can find there.1 And since it will be coming out, and indeed first be developed at Leeds I believe, as I have reason to, I don’t want to say too much. I will however mention a few bits and pieces, as I usually do.
A lot of the scribes in the León and area evidence are seen enough times that we know they worked for big people, the cathedral of León itself, the kings, or the big monasteries whose archives give us all this information. However, when a certain priest only turns up in one archive writing transactions that relate to one area, especially when that area is way up in the Cantabrian mountains miles from Sahagún (as it might be—okay, this was one of her examples) then you can be fairly safe in saying firstly that this guy was the local priest and secondly that the local priest wrote charters for people. It’s much harder to see him doing anything else, but Wendy did draw out some evidence. They got thanks gifts for teaching and preaching, so they did do that, though we don’t know how much or what; they dealt with burial. We have surviving liturgical works and vessels, but putting them in a local context is frequently very sketchy. The local ones seem to be rich for their villages but not on a kingdom scale, though priests that rich do turn up, including one Vincentio at León who is the only person Wendy has ever seen in a contemporary medieval source described as “dives”, rich, rather than great, powerful or some similar term, and he gets called it by the Queen, too, or her scribe at least, so that was interesting.
Another thing that came up was orthography. The spelling of charters tends to vary a lot from Classical norms, and one of the things we’d like to know is how much this reflects the spoken language. In Catalonia it all looks quite plausibly like Romance influence until about the 1020s when suddenly we have feudal oaths that preserve actual spoken Romance and it turns out to be a whole different order of thing.2 Here Wendy also weakened such hopes by pointing out that some scribes will vary spelling even between documents, or spell witness’s names in two different ways, and so on. I have seen this from my texts before but never thought of making it make a wider point; as ever I bow to her on this sort of deduction.
There were lots of questions and a great deal more that I could say, but firstly time is short, and secondly I would like at least some of you to come and hear Wendy’s account of this work at Leeds and so I’ll leave it there. There will be more Wendy Davies posts very soon (though I’ll stop before too long, I promise) so this is probably enough to be going on with.
1. Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: individual, community and church in tenth-century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), pp. 36-65.