Staying in Toledo, Visigothic Council style

Here’s one for you all currently at a conference of the learned. I can’t now remember what it was, but there was some reference a while ago on one of the various blogs in the sidebar there to a medieval summit meeting of some kind which is recorded in a text that has the participants’ tents all round the central hall. Anyone? Anyway, it reminded me that some time ago I asked if anyone wanted more of the work of Velasco of San Millá de Cogolla. Kishnevi obligingly stepped up, and then I did nothing for months. Poor show Jarrett! So here, at long last, is the mentioned picture of Visigothic Toledo in council season as imagined and painted by Velasco to accompany those councils’ resolutions.

Imagination of Visigothic Toledo during a Church council by Velasco of San Millán, c. 976

Imagination of Visigothic Toledo during a Church council by Velasco of San Millán, c. 976

Tents, you see! Actually I imagine that in Toledo of the sixth or seventh centuries there probably could have been found rooms for all the likely attendants, but given that they’d been travelling hundreds of miles to get there, they probably did indeed have tents with them. More importantly, at the places where Velasco was familiar with meetings of churchmen and their lackeys, there probably wasn’t room for them all to stay indoors, so we get his version here. At which rate, whose are the tents? Are the bishops and abbots and their batmen all inside, and the grooms and cooks outside under canvas (if medieval tents would have been canvas, I assume not really but I could be wrong)? Or are there some lucky contingents who get inside all of them and the leftovers are seen here? Is that to be read from the apparent precedence that the churchmen have in their line before the king, or is that just a stylistic choice of how to represent a lot of people? Could their varied robes have been decoded, like academic gowns now? Or is it just variation for variation’s sake? Are they actually meeting outdoors, or did the Visigothic kings have pot-plants taller than a man in their palaces? Did they really paint the town citadel patchwork like Elmer (but with more expensive joins), or is that just Velasco adding the sort of ornament that we saw his colleague Emeterius do in his picture of San Salvador de Tábara de León? Can we take any of this seriously?

I don’t know. But I love it.


16 responses to “Staying in Toledo, Visigothic Council style

  1. Muy curiosa la miniatura de los obispos y las tiendas del códice Emilianense en la biblioteca de el Escorial.

    Se representa en ella la «Civitas Regia Toletana», es decir la ciudad de Toledo, representada por sus murallas y sus torres con dos puertas designadas como «Jauna urbis» y Janua muri». Debajo dos edificios, la iglesia de Santa María y la basílica de San Pedro donde se celebraban las asambleas. Entre ambas, el ostiario, con los atributos de su oficio. Bajo este registro una serie de obispos y clérigos, los asistentes a los sínodos toledanos forman una línea isocefálica separados por árboles y finalmente las tiendas de campaña denominadas tentoria, papilio y tabernáculo, siguiendo la terminología isidoriana y entre ellas dos árboles de los que penden unos extraños objetos cuyo significado aún no ha sido esclarecido22.

  2. This fascinates me for a whole host of reasons, but particularly the relationship between inside and outside space. In Orderic and the other eleventh and twelfth-century chronicles tents pop up not unfrequently. I haven’t analysed this in huge detail yet, but I get the impression that different words are used to describe the king’s tent and, when the bishop is camping, his tent (if they are on campaign etc.).

    I know nothing about Toledo and its councils, but I wonder if everyone stays in tents and then comes indoors for the council itself? I’ll think more about this. In the meantime, the detail on this picture, whether we can take it seriously or not, is great. I can make out lanterns on the bottom right hand tree, but what are the wavy sticks on the left hand tree I wonder?

    What are the labels on the picture?

    • Well, that’s one of the things our Spanish colleague has contributed above. If I do a rough-and-ready translation of his comment, it goes:

      The miniature of the bishops and tents from the Codex Æmilianense in the Library of the Escorial is very curious. [The URL that follows is badly broken and anyway it’s in his comment so you can hit it there if you want.] There is represented in it the ‘Civitas regia toletana’, that is to say the city of Toledo, represented by its walls and its towers with two gates designated as ‘Janua urbis’ and ‘Janua muri’. Beneath it two buildings, the church of Holy Mary and the basilica of Saint Peter where the assemblies were held. Between the two, the [?]officiant, with the attributes of his office. Beneath this register a series of bishops and clerics, the attendees at the Toledan synods, form an isocephalic [no, I don’t know] line separated by trees and finally the tents of the countryside denominated as tentoria, papilio and tabernaculo, following Isidorean terminology, and between them two trees from which hang some strange objects whose significance has not yet been clarified.

      To be fair on him, Neville appears to be reading this site via the medium of Google Translate so the fact that he repeats some of my actual post is probably understandable, given that I imagine it doesn’t cope too well with my colloquialisms.

  3. Pingback: Thinking about space (and time) in chronicles « On boundaries

  4. I think ‘isocephalic’ means everyone and the trees are the same height, but don’t quote me.

  5. I sadly don’t have a copy of Whitelock’s edition and translation of the Anglo-Saxon wills to hand, but in them a couple references pop up to tents being granted (in one case, if I remember correctly, by a bishop). We also have an interesting colophon in the ‘Durham Ritual’ in which Aldred, provost of Chester-le-Street, states that he was making additions to a Collectar ‘in his tent’ on the occasion of an assembly. My general impression is that for such larger gatherings many people would often have had to stay in tents and weather permitting the business of the assmebly might be conducted outdoors (as Hincmar himself states).

  6. Outdoors more people can see you: a tent, even a marquee, would make it private rather than public, in the actual contemporary sense, don’t you think?

    • Yes, indeed. Though obviously tents could be a matter of important outward show too. The evidence is not strictly early medieval, but Karl Leyser ineterstingly pointed to the fact that Henry II gave Frederick Barbarossa a fancy tent, presumably for receiving such embassies as the one it was sent with. With embassies a degree more privacy was probabled desired, at least until it seemed likely that all sides concerned could come to agreement. I guess there were probably degrees of publicity at such events, stretching from completely public displays to personal meetings with the ruler.

      • In fact, after some hunting around and not being able to make the dMGH work on my machine, I find in P. D. King’s translation of the Royal Frankish Annals that “an extraordinarily beautiful pavilion tent” was one of the gifts that Alfonso II of Asturias sent to Charlemagne in 798, so it’s quite possible that Vigila was painting from what he knew with the tents as well. I do see your point about degrees of publicity (and therefore privacy) as well; there’s a degree of favour to be shown to ambassadors in this way too, of course.

        • En efecto, tras saquear Alfonso II Lisboa, entre el botín se encontraba una magnífica tienda que fue enviada como presente al emperador Carolingio en una embajada presidida por el embajador Froila y el teólogo Basilisco.
          Iba a comentarlo pero Vd se me ha adelantado.

  7. And thank you!

    (Sorry for being tardy; lots of extraneous rubbish–usually called real life–been getting in the way of important things like blog reading this week.)

    • Ah real life. It can be a problem. Don’t worry, most of the blogosphere is at Kalamazoo, it seems, they’ll never know you were gone…

      • A belated mention here of probably the best early medieval tent anecdote (unless anyone knows otherwise). The Astronomer c 45 reporting on Louis the Pious in the midst of his troubles in 830 (Cabannis’ translation):

        “Wishing still further to break the power of his adversaries, the emperor accused Abbot Hilduin, asking why he approached in a hostile manner although he had been ordered to come alone. The latter, unable to answer satisfactorily, was forthwith commanded to leave the palace and spend the winter with only a few men in a campaign tent near Paderborn.”

  8. Carta del Emperador Teodosio II a los obispos reunidos en el concilio de Éfeso.

    No está permitido que quien no forma parte de la lista de los muy santos obispos se inmiscuya en las encuestas eclesiásticas. Se debe alejar de la ciudad a los laicos y los monjes que se han reunido ya allí a causa del concilio y que pueden aún reunirse, porque no conviene que los que en nada son necesarios al examen del dogma que debe llevarse a cabo provoquen tumultos y, por este motivo, creen dificultades a las definiciones que deben ser fijadas en paz por Vuestras Santidades. Que además, Candidiano, mi representante, vigile para que ninguna disensión nacida de la antipatía vaya adelante, de forma que el examen de vuestro santo sínodo no experimente obstáculos y la investigación exacta de la verdad no se vea obstaculizada por las repercusiones que de ello pudiesen derivar, para que, finalmente, cada uno, escuchando pacientemente lo que se dice, exprese su opinión o se oponga a la opinión expuesta por otros y, de esta forma, toda cuestión planteada bajo la forma de proposición y de solución sea decidida sin tumulto alguno y por un voto común de Vuestras Santidades.»

    • No creo que el emperador Teodosio y los reyes visigodos buscaban necesariamente las mismas cosas de sus consejos! Es algo que Barbero y Vigil llevar a cabo muy bien (en el medio de dos capítulos de otro modo muy seco) que sólo vemos hablar de obispos attendantes a los consejos visigodos, no obstante, que debate cuestiones muy secular sobre que el rey debe tener consultó también con sus magnates. Y luego está la segunda pregunta de si Velasco fue dibujo lo que él creía Toledo hubiera sido, o lo que León fue como en su día, cuando el rey se reunió su consejo…

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