For most of the April trip to Catalonia, as you’ve probably taken in, I was in Vic (at the very reasonable Hotel d’Estació del Nord) and Vic is a historic city.1 I’ve put pictures of Vic up here before, of course, but there are definitely parts of the city I hadn’t ever got to, even if some really do have to be visited every time.
Indeed, I haven’t finished here yet because although I did get into the cathedral this time (where I’m afraid they forbid photography) I didn’t get into the crypt, as so often the oldest bit, because when I was looking around there was actually a service going on in it. So that still has to be done. But the metal bishop never gets old, and given that the building off behind his right shoulder is the Museu Episcopal de Vic, where as said last one of these posts much of the country’s medieval heritage is now in safe care, I’m going to be back here again. That said, this is not the only place in the city with medieval interest. I mean, the whole city is fairly recognisably of a type…
… and if you don’t believe me, zip back to this post about Siena and see if you can spot the ten differences, sort of thing. But, although the town’s medieval heritage is rich and considerable, it is also largely later than I care about. So these are impressive, for example:
But I don’t really know much about them. There are plenty of things here I do know about, but some are hardly there at all:
And some must always have been there in some form or other but just never really get mentioned.
Some things, on the other hand, got deliberately hidden. In the centre of the city stands what’s left of the old castle of the Montcada family.2 They were town nobility who became more or less dominant after the vicecomital family of the area, fed up of vying with the bishop for local influence, moved out to the frontier city of Cardona.
Now, the Montcadas became royal seneschals and generally the new pain in the neck for the bishops, and they built a big fortified house in town, somewhere between a castle and super-sized courtyard. Eventually this place became the city’s magistrate’s court, and by the nineteenth century it was the county prison. When that was closed in the 1882, it was decided that the place really needed to come down so they could build on the site. And this process did indeed begin, as you can see from the state that the ruins now stand in. You will probably be able to observe the remains of a vault there at the right, and parts of the wall at left that clearly once had other things attached to them. This is also detectable on the left-hand side of the site’s frontage:
So, OK, you may by now be asking why this is still there if the site was supposed to be built on, and the answer is, because of the structure that those vaults used once to attach to. You see, when they took down the exterior of the old entrance hall of the palace, castle, prison, whatever, they found this in it:
… which apparently everyone had forgotten was there.3 I do find this rather hard to imagine, but it was apparently sufficiently hidden by cladding and the roof that the actual second-century Roman structure was no longer visible and had been forgotten. What you see here isn’t quite unrestored: the basic structure and roof is as was, but the porticus and the columns had all gone, though part of one was found during the demolition, allowing the others to be reconstructed. The pediment is basically reimagined, which is why it’s blank. There used to be an altar in the cathedral which turned out to be sitting on a reused chunk of a Roman altar to Diana, which may tell us what the worship was here, but on the other hand I’m sure a city like Ausona (as it then was) held more than one cult in Roman times.4 This temple was restored, anyway, by public subscription, which has the ironic corollary that two successive bishops, who were big contributors to the works, now have their names inscribed on the columns of this site of pagan sacrifice. That said, it is now an art gallery rather than anything religious, but a fairly powerful space to see things in even so. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more remarkable survival story than this temple’s: it was built into a castle and everyone forgot. You would not believe this if someone told it you, would you? I would be surprised if you even believe me.
The current main site of worship was established by Count Guifré the Hairy somewhere before 885, anyway, and none of it remains as was then. (The cathedral is also so built-around that getting any kind of ensemble photograph is impossible.) The metal guy built the bell-tower you see here and the crypt you (and I) don’t in the 1030s; everything else is later. The cloister, however, contains a few notes to the past, in a couple of different ways:
The former of these is just a reused memorial; I quite like that they gave it a proud place in the new cloister. But the right-hand one is a bit more contemporary; it houses the mortal remains of Eduard Junyent i Subirà, whom I’ve already cited this post, even, who edited all the cathedral’s earliest charters and whose work, in other words, I’ve used almost daily for most of the last decade. He was a canon of the cathedral, the archivist and an important archæologist, art historian (only lately has any difference emerged between those two occupations in this area) and a founder of the Museu Episcopal. The Museu have a picture of him, but this is, in some sense, actually him, laid to rest in the cloister as if he were an eleventh-century count or bishop. They treat their medieval historians with some respect round here, I tell you.
Anyway. I like Vic, which is just as well as I doubt I’ve finished with it yet. Its locality is big on pig farming, which does mean you kind of have to acclimatise to the way the place smells, especially if you spend each day climbing out of the valley’s miasma up to where eagles fear to tread, but with that overlooked, it has this charming mix of baroque and modern that doesn’t rush you around or overwhelm but simply gives the eye (and the feet) many pleasant places to rest. And whereas in Barcelona one feels that everyone is shouting, in Vic, actually, someone somewhere’s probably laughing…
1. Its early history is most fully told in Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Els orígens històrics de Vic (Vic 1981), but if you can’t find that (not easy) or—horror!—don’t read Catalan, a lot of the same ground is covered quicker by Paul Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick 1983), online at http://libro.uca.edu/vic/vic.htm, last modified 16th August 2000 as of 22nd November 2003. I’ve here actually used mainly Antoni Pladevall i Font, Albert Benet i Clarà & Montserrat Pagès i Paretas, “El marc històric” in Jordi Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica II: Osona I (Barcelona 1984), pp. 24-45, 49-63, 68-71, 76-77 & 85-104, updated with Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, “Vic: la ciudad en la época carolingia” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia (Barcelona 1999), pp. 89-94, transl. as “Vic: the town in the Carolingian age”, ibid., pp. 464-466.
2. On them another US Catalanist has written, that being John C. Shideler with his A Medieval Catalan Noble Family: the Montcadas 1000-1230 (Berkeley 1983), online at http://libro.uca.edu/montcada/montcada.htm, last modified 16 August 2000 as of 31 July 2011.
3. This must, surely, be in the Catalunya Romànica, but I confess that I’m here working from the leaflet they give out at the temple, which does in its favour quote its text from Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Vic i els seus monuments, Estudis històrics: Monografia 2 (Vic 1993).
4 I learn about the altar of Diana from Eduard Junyent, “La consagración de San Julián de Vilatorta en 1050″ in Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia Vol. 19 (Barcelona 1946), pp. 279-292 at p. 291.