The Case of the Disappearing Abbot (sorter penance)

I had been holding off on writing this post because I knew that it would be probably be wrong unless I could check a few things in the recent edition of the the charters of Santa Maria de Serrateix, but on due inspection there’s one copy in the UK and it’s in Birmingham.1 (The IHR has had one on order since mid-2007 so I don’t think this is really the UK’s fault.) More relevantly, on overdue inspection, it’s not actually Serrateix I meant to write about, so the excuse is kind of gone. This is the Case of the Disappearing Abbot that I promised Ms Highly Eccentric after enlisting the dark arts to Choose my own Archive.

Fifteenth-century depiction of Count Guifré the Hairy

Fifteenth-century depiction of Count Guifré the Hairy

Before I can explain this, some kind of background is necessary. If you remember Count Guifré the Hairy, we can start there. Guifré, who ruled Barcelona, among other places in the area, from 878 to 898, died leaving a brother, a cousin, four sons and a daughter in charge in his various counties and foundations, the sons including the eldest, Guifré II Borrell (898-911) and the youngest, Sunyer (911-947) who succeeded in turn in the three counties of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, and the middle one, Miró II el Jove (898-927), who ruled Cerdanya, and perhaps Besalú in succession to his uncle Radulf (878-924). With me so far? Miró II died and left four sons, looked after by his widow their mum, Ava. Sunyer didn’t make things easy for them, but by the 940s they were ruling in their own right, Guifré (927-957) (yes, they love those old names in this family) and little bro Oliba Cabreta (927-990) in Besalú and Sunifred in Cerdanya (927-967), with the other little bro Miró III Bonfill (967-984) going into holy orders and spending his early adult years as a deacon learning to Latinise impossible Greek words.2 Nonetheless, and despite being older, these brother counts (and the deacon) were at a territorial disadvantage compared to Sunyer’s sons, Borrell II and Miró III (yes, I know, they’re in different counties so we’re supposed to be able to tell them apart, OK?), who succeeded him in 947.3 The reasons were firstly that the big conjunction of Girona, Barcelona and Osona, and Urgell which Borrell ruled alone, contained the two biggest cities and almost all the coastline, and secondly that it contained almost all of the frontier, a small salient in the pagus of Berguedà bordering Cerdanya being the Besalú brothers’ only access to the riches of al-Andalus. Worse: the Barcelona brothers also had three of the area’s four bishoprics, including two of the three whose territories lay in Besalú and Cerdanya, and the third wasn’t under the Besalú family’s control either.

Control of the Church was important in this area and the elder cousins went various ways about getting some. Eventually, in 970, Miró Bonfill became bishop of Girona, which is a long story for another time, but before that the brothers had done quite a lot to push the independent nunnery of Sant Joan de Ripoll, on their borders, under their thumbs, nicking its lands and exchanging others back on bad terms, and eventually setting up a rival monastery right next door across the border. This was a two-handed operation: Oliba Cabreta and Sunifred took lands off the nunnery which were in their territory and gave them to the rival, and Miró Bonfill gave the victims extra lands elsewhere to soothe them, lands that, interestingly, were mostly close along the border and recently acquired from Borrell II, another story for another time.4 They pulled exactly the same double on the Girona border, donating heavily to Sant Esteve de Banyoles but also building a rival house, and that was Santa Maria de Serrateix, which is why I got confused. But the one we want is Sant Pere de Camprodon, whose documents have only very recently been entirely published.5 I’m not sure that Camprodon was built with that purpose in mind, in fact, as the donations of scammed land there are all rather after the story that I’m about to tell, but it certainly wound up as a counterweight to Sant Joan.

Church of the monastery of Sant Pere de Camprodon as it now stands, from Wikimedia Commons

Church of the monastery of Sant Pere de Camprodon as it now stands, from Wikimedia Commons

A church at Camprodon was consecrated in 904, which is the first we see of it.6 By 946 it seems that it was a monastery, though that document is only known from a register, and the compiler of the register, for whom Camprodon would obviously have been a monastery, may have updated his source.7 Either way, it seems to have belonged in some sense to the bishop of Girona, because in 948 the eldest brother of the Besaluú comital family, Guifré of Besalú gave Bishop Godmar II some land elsewhere in exchange for the church and its land. We know this because in 952, when Guifré made a trip north to meet King Louis IV (936-954) at Rheims for a variety of reasons, one of the things he came back with was a royal precept of immunity for what was now apparently a monastery.8 That precept names Guifré as the founder, so we have to think of him as being personally connected with this place even if it seems like a whole-family investment. It also explains the exchange by which Guifré acquired the place. That exchange also survives, or at least a document that claims to be that exchange does, but it’s been hailed as a forgery not least because it adds a quite incredible price-tag of 1000 solidi from count to bishop. Someone added this in superscript to the precept as well, and on the whole I think it can be discarded though why one would add it—one could hardly claim it had never been paid or something—I don’t know.9

The precept also mentions gifts to the new monastery from the counts’ mother Ava, which we have, and several from its first abbot, Laufred, which we don’t.10 That’s important. All of this Louis placed under immunity:

establishing all of the which above-mentioned things with the integrity of all the properties under our mundeburdus, as it is called, by royal authority most intactly against the disturbances of all men, and we order that no public judge or any judicial power whatever shall dare to trespass over the churches or the places of the aforesaid monastery for the hearing of cases by judicial custom or the exacting of tolls or preparing of works or any renders or taxing the vassals or their followers or requiring any written demands, but shall presume to exact neither road-tax nor gate-tax or pasturage or toll or any unlisted exaction… 

(This is only a standard formula but I still love it. No possibility uncovered.)

Now, Laufred is the missing abbot. We don’t see him in person, except maybe once in 948 at a hearing where, if it is he, he attests as Lamfredus abbas et diaconus. I’m not convinced this is the same man; this Abbot Lanfred doesn’t turn up anywhere else either but that doesn’t mean they have to be the same guy.11 So maybe calling him the disappearing abbot is unfair, because actually he may never appear, but we know he was in charge at Camprodon because Count Guifré told Louis so, and because he is named in another document, which is the consecration of his successor Teuderic.12 And Teuderic was being appointed because Laufred had disappeared. To be more precise, he went on pilgrimage ‘because of his sins’, or so it says, but he apparently never came back. Whither he went we don’t know, though Rome would have been a popular choice at this time and also more than slightly dangerous, not least because of the danger of malaria. Anyway, there’s nothing too mysterious about that, but it seems that Camprodon never got word. The consecration of Teuderic says that they waited seven years for Laufred’s return before plucking up the courage to ask the counts if they could have a new abbot. Now, they didn’t ask Guifré, because he had been killed in a revolt at Besalú which would have been one of the other stories I could have told you.13 That happened in 957, so in 962 they asked his brother Sunifred Count of Cerdanya, who was very busy at exactly this time cutting deals with Abbess Fredeburga of Sant Joan de Ripoll by which the nunnery got only a bit of its lands back in exchange for other lands which went, guess where, Camprodon.

Gratuitous picture of Besalú as it now stands behind its fourteenth-century bridge

Gratuitous picture of Besalú as it now stands behind its fourteenth-century bridge

So are you seeing a stitch-up here or am I just being over-suspicious? The place is a monastery by 948, but the consecration of Teuderic claims that Laufred wasn’t appointed till after the trip to the king. And that’s odd because the king’s scribes were told he was abbot. Or at least, an abbot: this and the 948 hearing could be reconciled if he were abbot of somewhere else and parachuted into Camprodon after it got its immunity. That might explain why we don’t see him here much; but it doesn’t explain why the first thing he did was head off on pilgrimage never to return. Either way, after he left until 962, and possibly before, Camprodon was running with no abbot. And they couldn’t get a new one under Guifré they had to wait a long time before they could get one even from Sunifred, and then it seems to mesh with other schemes of his. It looks as if the counts didn’t want an active abbot here, and Teuderic doesn’t last long either, as Abbot Audà first appears in 965.14

But, having appointed one at all, why not replace him once he’d gone? Well, there could be any number of reasons for that: if you’re hard-nosed you might want to think that the counts were taking the revenues, and if you were in the middle you might note that Laufred appears to have been fairly wealthy and that Guifré’s relationships with his nobility were apparently strained and so perhaps he was determined not to risk offending an apparent ally gone missing, or perhaps more importantly the remaining family, by handing Laufred’s rights over to someone else. I confess that when I first read this document my sentimental conclusion was that Guifré didn’t want to admit that his friend was dead. This is probably too soft, and I would now opine that the middle road probably makes more sense. But it’s odd. I suppose that the key lesson is that a monastery can be a very short- to mid-term political tool and that, while I’m sure the counts didn’t mind having their souls prayed for, they weren’t really bothered about keeping this place running to rule. The important thing was that it was where it was, a thorn in the side of the independent and wealthy convent at Ripoll, and for that they were willing to invest.

1. Jordi Bolòs i Masclans (ed.), Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Maria de Serrateix (segles X-XV), Diplomataris 42 (Barcelona 2006).

2. The family is covered as background in Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època (Barcelona 1948; 1948; 1962), 3rd edn. repr. as “L’Abat Oliba i la seva època” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents 13-14 (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), II pp. 141-277. On Miró especially there is also Josep María Salrach i Marès, “El bisbe-comte Miró Bonfill i la seva obra de fundació i dotació de monestirs” in Eufèmia Fort i Cogul (ed.), II Col·loqui d’Història del Monaquisme Català, Sant Joan de les Abadesses 1970 II, Scriptorium Populeti 9 (Poblet 1974), pp. 57-81, with English summary pp. 422-423, and Salrach, “El comte-bisbe Miró Bonfill i l’acta de consagració de Ripoll de l’any 977” in Estudis de llengua i literatura catalanes oferts a R. Aramon i Serra en el seu setanté aniversari IV, Estudis Universitaris Catalans Vol. 26 (3a època Vol. 4) (Barcelona 1984), pp. 303-318.

3. There is actually one recent article on these two I haven’t yet got hold of, Miquel Coll i Alentorn, “Dos comtes de Barcelona germans, Miró i Borrell” in Marie Grau & Olivier Poisson (edd.), Études Roussillonnaises offertes à Pierre Ponsich. Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et d’histoire de l’art du Roussillon et de la Cerdagne (Perpignan 1987), pp. 145-162.

4. A story told, indeed, in Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming).

5. Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, S. Riera i Viader, Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2005), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, 2 vols, docs 116, 257, 268bis, 296, 301, 304, 317, 319, 328, 337, 346, 351, 360, 365, 374, 375, 384, 395, 400, 415, 425, 428, 446, 453, 512, 528, 529, 531, 568, I, III & V, and P. Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, docs 278, 437 & 623. In hunting through all these briefly I found a late purchase by Abbess Emma I didn’t know about so I shall have to update that post now as well. I’ll refer to the charter volumes as either CC5 or CC6 in what follows.

6. CC5 116. On Camprodon’s history see Jordi Vigué i Viñas, Antoni Pladevall i Font, N. Peirís i Pujolar & Xavier Barral i Altet, “Sant Pere de Camprodon” in Pladevall, Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987), pp. 85-95, where a lot of the relevant documents are also edited. There is also Miquel Sants Gros i Pujol, “Sant Pere de Camprodon, un monestir de Besalú” in Art i cultura als monestirs del Ripollès (Montserrat 1995), pp. 69-87, which apparently contains a number of things I should have been aware of a while ago but which, I confess, I haven’t seen.

7. CC5 268bis.

8. The precept is edited as, and my translation quoted below is made from, Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis per a Catalunya, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-52), 2 vols, Camprodon I.

9. CC5 III.

10. Ava’s gift is CC6 278.

11. CC5 288. This is a good hearing, this one: let me jog your memory… However, it is also a seventeenth-century copy and the copyist doesn’t appear to have been very clear what the names were.

12. CC5 351. This is the point to admit that this is a very odd, and perhaps suspicious document, even before someone added that price: the scribe seems to have deliberately chosen odd vocabulary (that would however be more common in the twelfth century) and it calls Louis IV imperator, all of which seem to me like signs of a later fabrication. The surviving document appears palæographically and physically to be an original, however. It’s good enough for a story at least, but if I were using this for proper publishable work I would be a lot more careful about its narrative.

13. On which see Salrach “El comte Guifré de Besalú i la revolta de 957. Contribució a l’estudi de la noblesa catalana del segle X” in Amics de Besalú i del seu Comtat (edd.), II Assemblea d’Estudis sobre el Comtat de Besalú, pp. 3-36.

14. CC5 365.

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