Preservation not by neglect

Long-term readers will know that one of the things that concerns me in my researches is why we come to have the documents that we have. If we remember that almost all documents of the early Middle Ages that we have survive via Church archives, we have a perpetual issue about whether we have any means to get at what laymen did between themselves by way of property transfer, management and all the other things I talk about, or whether we’re stuck with the Church’s-eye view of the era. In some areas, and Catalonia is perhaps the most important of these cases, we have plenty of documents which are solely lay transactions but still surviving via a Church archive, so the problem is less bad but we could still use knowing who selected the documentation and what else there might have been out there.

Vic, Arxiu Capitular, Calaix 6 no. 554

A genuine lay transaction in a Church archive, Vic, Arxiu Capitular, Calaix 6 no. 554 in which Sabrosa sold some land in Folgueroles to two couples in 915 (edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 142).

Until the 1990s there was really only one answer to this anywhere, which is that property involved in those transactions must have subsequently come to the Church and the charters just never sorted; this we can suppose partly because of things like documents that were marked for weeding and never disposed of and also because of the many places where, when such an effort was made to sort the charters, it was so as to make a cartulary that removed the need for the original documents and as a result of which we no longer have them.1 This is what I have called ‘preservation by neglect’. In this formulation, if there is a cartulary there would be no originals and indeed we very rarely have both, even in Catalonia.2 But in areas like Catalonia where the survival of originals is generally high, and people have either supposed much higher production of documents and what Julia Smith has called ‘document-mindedness’ or else much lower losses here than elsewhere, depending on their views of early medieval literacy, it has been easier to form other opinions, such as that somehow Church archives came to preserve dossiers of lay documents that people had initially maintained outside the Church, or that churches and monasteries were actually fulfilling a rôle as archival institutions for their patrons.3 Last year this line of thought culminated in the volume that finally came out of the Lay Archives project, which has added a lot of complexities to the modalities of this but more or less concludes that, yes, people did keep documents at home and all these things could probably have happened to such documents eventually if they happen to have survived.4

Cover of Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

Oblivious to all this as far as can be told (and obviously of the last given the timing), in Catalonia last year Josep María Salrach published a book I’ve now mentioned quite a lot and, as I said in my review of it, he happens all the same to mention things that bear directly on a number of heated debates in the historiography outside Catalonia, of which this is one. Something that we generally lack in this question is any evidence of charters that existed already actually coming to the archive of a church. It can sometimes be deduced that this must have happened, but it’s never usually explicit. But Salrach has a case of it, which he throws in while discussing something slightly different, the process in early medieval Catalonia for replacing lost documents.5 The date is 29th January 879, the place is Sant Esteve d’Estoer in Conflent and the occasion is a large hearing convened by the monks of Sant Andreu d’Eixalada as had been till the previous year, when a devastating flood of the Riu Tet washed their new community away along with its archive.6

Saint-Michel de Cuxa

Saint-Michel de Cuxa, as it now is. By Babsy (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

On their way to re-establishing themselves as Sant Miquel de Cuixà, with what was obviously considerable success, they held a large number of hearings in which they invoked the bit of the Visigothic Law known now as reparatio scripturae, repair of a document, by which one could get a lost document replaced by bringing witnesses to its content to swear a solemn oath, whose record then became your new charter.7 At this one, the monks produced their witnesses, Ató, Guisind, Sió, Quixilà, Espanla, Guisad and Llop, and the first thing to which they swore was a donation by Count Miró I of Conflent and Rosselló, of whom we heard last post but one. What they were recorded as saying is as follows:

“We swear first of all by God, the Omnipotent Father, and by Jesus Christ, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, who is in Trinity the One True God, or also by the relics of Saint Stephen, martyr of Christ, whose basilica is known to be founded in the villa of Estoer, on whose sacrosanct altar we placed these conditions with our hands or touched them together while swearing, that we the already-said witnesses known and well recall in truth, saw with our eyes and heard with our ears and were present in the villa of Escaró when Count Miró commended his documents of purchase and royal precept to Abbot Baró and the monk Protasi, and we saw the selfsame documents reading and re-reading and we know the whole series of those documents.”

And they went on to give abstracts of four charters, usually including the scribes’ name and always the date, and all were in favour not of the monastery but of the count.8 One of them was in fact a transaction in which the monastery-as-was had sold the property in question to him!9 (Another was a court case which his representative Sesnan, whom we met last post but one, actually won.10) Nonetheless, it was Abbot Baró and Protasi who had called for the ceremony and provided the witnesses, and the count was not present, the hearing unusually being chaired only by a group of seven judges.

Saint-Étienne d'Estoher

The modern state of Sant Esteve de’Estoer, now better known as Saint-Étienne d’Estoher, where the hearing was being held

So what do we have here? There’s no clue that any of these properties then went to Eixalada in the five-or-less years since they had been recorded there, nor is that what the document they came away from this hearing with claimed. It looks awfully as if Miró had in fact been using the monastery as an archive and they then felt obligated to replace his lost documents as well as their own. But can there only have been four? Well, probably not because apart from anything else they did not recall and replace the royal precept that they initially mention (which indeed, if they were genuinely reading the texts, may have been beyond them given its chancery script), so there could be several more documents than are actually recalled here.11 That’s a pretty meagre archive all the same, even less than we might have expected. But at least we know why we would have it, if of course it had only survived…

1. Simon D. Keynes, “Royal government and the written word in late Anglo-Saxon England” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 226-257; Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: remembering and forgetting in the tenth and eleventh centuries (Princeton 1994).

2. Barcelona, Urgell and Vic cathedrals all have Libri of some status in which some of their documents were copied as well as sheafs of originals, but Girona cathedral and several monasteries (Poblet springs to mind) only have cartularies and some places have lost even those (Elna most obviously).

3. Janet L. Nelson, “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 46-63 at pp. 53-55, Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74 and Matthew Innes, “Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire” in Jennifer R. Davies & Michael McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Early Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 247-266, for lay dossiers; Warren Brown, “When documents are destroyed or lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366 at pp. 351-354 for the alternative.

4. Idem, Marios Costambeys, Innes & Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013); here see esp. eidem, “Conclusion”, pp. 363-376.

5. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), here pp. 194-198.

6. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 152-156; for more detail see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “Com neix i creix un gran monestir pirinenc abans de l’any mil: Eixalada-Cuixà” in Analecta Montserratensia Vol. 8 (Montserrat 1955), pp. 125-337, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols, I pp. 377-484 without documentary appendix.

7. The classic discussion is José Rius Serra, “Reparatio Scriptura” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 5 (Madrid 1928), pp. 246-253; cf. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, pp. 151-161, who is sceptical about its possible accuracy.

8. Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 121, with the quoted documents indexed separately as nos 82, 84, 86 & 100, here 121: “Iuramus in primis per Deum, patrem omnipotentem, et per Iesum Christum, filium eius, Sanctumque Spiritum, qui est in trinitate unus et verus Deus, sive et per reliquias sancti Stephani, martyris Christi, cuius baselica in villa Astovere fundata esse dinoscitur, supra cuius sacrosancto altare has conditiones manibus nostris continemus vel iurando contangimus, quia nos iamdicti testes scimus et bene in veritate sapemus, oculis nostris vidimus et aures audivimus, et presentes eramus in villa Ascarone cuando comendabat Miro comes ad barone abbate et Protasio monacho suas scripturas emptionis et preceptum regalem, et vidimus ipsas scripturas legentes et relegentes, et cognovimus omnem seriem illarum scripturam.”

9. Ibid. no. 82.

10. Ibid. no. 86.

11. It might, admittedly, be because actually the other documents survived; Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia I: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 2 & 3 or 75 (Barcelona 1926-1952, repr. 2009), I pp. 80-88, thought that the precept must be that that survived into the seventeenth century to be copied and thence edited by him as ibid. Cuixà I, but that text doesn’t mention Miró at all and it’s not clear why he should ever have held it. I think the precept mentioned here was probably Miró’s own.

4 responses to “Preservation not by neglect

  1. Pingback: ‘We saw with our eyes and heard with our ears…’ | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  2. Just wondering if churches may acted as general repositories for legal documents in the absence of solicitors, banks or town halls. They were relativly safe and possibly free ?.I understand that at least in anglo saxon England valubles were deposited in churches for safe keeping.

    • An intelligent question and one I have posed many times on the blog! I think that the answer is ‘yes’ but it’s hard to show actual cases of it and even harder to establish patterns. The canonical Anglo-Saxon example that I think you may have in mind, for example, is that Saint Dunstan, as Abbot of Glastonbury I think, apparently looked after King Eadred’s treasury for him; this is a thing that one of Dunstan’s hagiographers claims, and it’s very hard to tell if anyone thought it was plausible and even if they did, whether Eadred might not just have been unusual (in a time of unusual kings). Mewnwhile, my current reading will likely bring this topic up again, but here’s one local case I think I can prove

  3. Pingback: Settling the sins of your father: when counts lost in court | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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