For the second day of my flying research trip to Catalonia of last May I was back in Vic. In fact I’d been in Vic all along, and commuted into Barcelona, since I knew that I would need longer at Vic than anywhere else, it’s cheaper than Barcelona to stay in and I know it well enough to be comfortable there. So a room at the Hotel Estació del Nord, treating myself to dinner at my favourite restaurant one evening, and on the second day of the trip down to the Arxiu i Biblioteca Episcopal, behind the Catedral.
There is a small ascent, and then you come to a door, and you ring a bell, and someone who is almost certainly Rafel Ginebra lets you in. In an ideal world, as this was, you have e-mailed ahead and been assured of a welcome; I had on this occasion come armed with a copy of my book, but I hadn’t told them that. Nonetheless, I was quickly set up with the basic stuff of my research, plus also a laptop and camera.
There are five of these volumes, and inside each of them looks like this, with the individual single-sheet parchments stitched at their very left-hand edge into the volumes in more-or-less chronological order.
I had come with a list of documents I had questions about, and knowing that I had only one day and learning from recognised best practice, set up to take photographs of them all. In the first place, that is something they have never given me any difficulty about here, apart from not using flash one may usually photograph freely. But on this occasion, when I started struggling with the space available, Rafel kindly offered me the use of their camera stand in the back office, and so that was where I spent the rest of the morning, within feet of the storage, trying to get the best photos I could quickly get of quite a variety of documents (some below, but not to scale). Rafel still fetched the documents for me, but from about four feet away, so it was basically a formality. Once again, the difference from the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón could hardly be more marked.
In between all this I was able to chat in bad Catalan to Rafel and his boss, the canon Miquel dels Sants Gros i Pujol, who is a liturgical historian of great renown and also a generous and helpful scholar; my gift of a book was reciprocated with spare fascicles of the plates from the Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic and we discussed the sorry state of access to Montserrat. (This is all a step forward from my previous trip, when we had to use French because my Catalan was so bad, so that was encouraging.)
Then it was time to break for lunch; I begged another minute to take my last photograph and then headed out towards the sunshine. At the bottom of the stairs I found these, which I didn’t understand. A few minutes away to look for lunch and then back, by coincidence, to the Plaça de la Catedral, suddenly made everything clearer, but more surprising.
This is a tradition of festivals in Catalonia (perhaps more widely) that I’ve met once or twice and I love it. The ‘giants’ are fibreglass or papier maché or something else light, they go on some willing person’s shoulders and the skirts cover the person up completely, and after that, strangely stiff but wholly mobile giants dance for the occasion!
I never found out what the occasion was, this time, but I stayed to watch the band and the dance for a while before finally nicking off to go and do what any right-thinking historian should do and sit in a café with a beer for much of the rest of the day here. I will obviously have reason to be back in Vic; I haven’t photographed all their documents, for a start! But it’s nice to know that I can be sufficiently sure of getting that sort of thing done easily that I can also relax a bit. It makes these research trips seem just that bit more like holidays…