Readers who’ve been here a little while may remember that since about 2012 I have been mounting a sporadic attempt to quantify and locate the various members of the clergy attested in the tenth- and early-eleventh-century documents from around the Catalan city of Manresa. You can go and look at the old posts for details of why I was doing this and what I hoped to find out, but if you do that you will pretty rapidly find that one of my big obstacles was that, to securely identify some of these priests and clerics who seemed to share names, I really needed to see their signatures or at least their handwriting, which meant original documents or decent facsimiles. And although I got what I could from the Biblioteca de Catalunya and from the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, the bulk of what survives covering early medieval Manresa does so in the active monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat, who do not, of course, have to let anyone in.
One hopes, of course, that places with such collections will be amenable to letting researchers use them, but as again you will see from the old posts, I got nowhere with this for a long time. E-mail after e-mail went unanswered, contacts proved unable to help, news reached me that the archivist might be very ill so out of reach, I even went to the town on a whim and tried to beg my way in by phone, all to no avail. But, that phone conversation gave me an assurance that the e-mail address now on the website was being monitored, and in August 2014 I decided it was worth a try and this time I got a response. In fact, I got better than a response, I got information and, in due course (after some considerable negotiation because of the Spanish government’s insistence that retailers selling online must record a VAT code from their buyers, and the British government’s failure to insist that private individuals have one) I got a CD-R full of images.1
Well, dear readers, they are excellent. Not only are they high-quality images, they are of immediate help to the enquiry. You may remember that I was particularly troubled by one name, that of a scribe or scribe called Athanagild. This name turns up a lot in the documents of the Manresa area (which are, functionally, all from the archive of the monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, just outside the town) in my period. It’s always as scribe, but with a wide range of titles: clericus, sudiaconus, levita, presbiter and monachus (cleric, subdeacon, deacon, priest and monk) and they don’t occur in an easy single sequence. I tabulated in the way that I do and figured out that if all of the people of this name were moving steadily up through the ecclesiastical orders and then one or more became a monk, there would have to have been four people of this name in the same area over a period of about twenty years, all at the same time yet never ever occurring together, and this seemed less likely than that Athanagild, like other apparent but less stark examples among Sant Benet’s earliest monks, only identified himself as a monk in some of his transactions. But to be sure of this, I would need to find his signature and identify it alongside two different, contradictory, titles.
So, the first document I opened was the very cool double transaction above, of 983, and there he is as clericus.2 Blow that up a bit and you will see also that he signs mostly in capitals or uncials, notably for D and G; he spells what would be Classical Latin ‘ista’ ‘hysta’ and uses a distinctive fourfold ruche to elaborate on the simple triple-S that scribes of this area and era use for the word ‘subscripsi’,’I signed’, which is more clearly seen in the signatures of Pere and Joan among the witnesses, with little trailing lines like loose threads almost approximating seal-strings. Should be easy enough to spot again, no?
Well, maybe so but he isn’t going to make it as easy as it could be. Here, in a document of only three months earlier, yes, the fourfold ruche, though without the strings, but on the other hand, lower-case ‘d’ in the name now, ‘hista’ spelt thusly not as before, and a rank of levita, deacon, technically superior to what he was claiming three months later.3 Also a very different-looking initial ‘I’ and in any case oh it’s just not the same script, is it? The signature is actually the most similar bit! And I’ll come back to that, but straightaway I think we have two people signing with this name. But only two?
Well, this should help, because it’s from May 983, so actually right inside that initial batch of three, and he signs as ‘clericus’.4 It’s faded because of damp, though, so it’s hard to see what’s going on. It looks like the first script to me, but it’s not quite right; just a different pen, perhaps… Let’s look for clearer signs: the fourfold ruche is here, yes; spelling with two uncial Ds, yes, but on the other hand a minuscule ‘l’? a long trail off ‘ysta’ that makes me think it must have had a ‘y’ but I”m not so sure about the ‘h’… I think, the first guy, varying his pattern, but to admit that is to start to lose a grip on what one can compare with. We need more evidence!
Well, this on the other hand looks a lot like the second guy again nine years later, doesn’t it? The script has the same general sort of leftwards hunch to it, he spells ‘hista’ like that and the ruche has no ties, but he also uses a different lower-case ‘d’ with a bowed loop, at least the first time and a much simpler initial I.5 Hmm, you may well say, and so do I. My feeling is that this is Athanagild no. 2 also varying his pattern very slightly, but the jury is wavering…
And now the jury leave the room in despair. Ten years later again and we have a priest, signing as such with a cute vertical monogram of the abbreviation ‘pbr’.6 Still the fourfold ruche, still ‘hista’ and still the bowed ‘d’, although now also the uncial form for the second one of his name and a cross-stroke through the final ‘s’ of it that we haven’t seen before. But more importantly this is the first hand again, isn’t it, or at least, it certainly ain’t the second one. So what’s going on? The cleric of 983 is now a priest in 1001, while the deacon of 983 was still a deacon in 993, but they knew each other’s documents well enough to mimic each other’s signatures in certain aspects? Why would someone do that and not do it all the way? This is becoming the kind of situation where more evidence won’t even help.
And lo, it doesn’t. We are now in 1002 and the priest is on the deck, but he now indicates his priestly status with a different vertical monogram, this time with an abbreviation mark, and has combined the first two letters of his name into another monogram, making his choice of ‘D’ hard to guess at. He spells ‘hista’ like that and has a fourfold ruche but he’s inked in some of its gaps. Again, this seems to me like the first one we saw elaborating or varying details for fun, but when his double is so similar, how can we be sure?
So back a bit, let’s take stock. Here is a sale to a future monk of Sant Benet, the priest Baldemar, from 981, before any of these documents so far examined, and lo, the scribe is an Athanagild, and only clericus, which fits.7 But he signs his name with a capital A, unlike any of the others, the second ‘a’ is minuscule unlike any of the others, and he has this weird squiggly ‘G’ that we haven’t seen before and a markedly different ruche, plus which the whole document looks like a different hand to me. So: three? What are they all doing out there at once and never coinciding?
Want one more? This is from 984, so just after the clutch with which we began.8 Now our scribe is a ‘subdiaconus’, which is next rank up from clericus so it fits, again. And we have the fourfold ruche and ‘hysta’ spelt as the first guy does it, but we also have that oddly stretched signature and although despite the extra ascenders the Ds are both uncial, the ‘a’ is minuscule throughout and the hand slants to the right in a noticeable way. Surely this can’t be a fourth one. It’s enough to drive one to drink. What’s going on?
Well, clearly I have more to do—I haven’t found an Athanagild signing as monk yet, for a start, and I have about forty more pictures to look at—but I have one idea, given me by the by-now-perhaps-familiar document of above. The document there, as well as the numerous other reasons I habitually use it, is the last one to be signed by a priest named Gentiles who seems to have operated as the chief notary of the abbey of Sant Joan de Ripoll. By that I mean that he is by far its most frequent scribe, but that by the same sort of palæographical analysis as here it’s been detected that he did not, in fact, write all the documents on which his name appears. Rather, it seems that others would write them but his name was needed to make them official.9 I wonder if we have something similar here. Consider: Athanagild only ever turns up, however many of him there are, as scribe. He owns no land that we see, he doesn’t witness, he only writes. His rôle seems to be as a writer. And although the hand of his documents varies, they are all signed off with an attempt at his signature and fourfold ruche, even if the imitation wasn’t perfect (or, presumably, meant to be) which often looks more like its fellows than the accompanying text does. I think that maybe what I am seeing here is a Manresa city scribe, or something very similar, whose exact status within the church was unclear (and probably slowly changing) or contested between observers, but whose signature documents in this area were supposed to have because of his rôle as writer. It’s not what you’d call conclusive; but I shall be aiming to test it as I carry on through the images that at last I have.
1. Thus, it behoves me to thank, probably not for the last time, not just Àngels Rius i Bou at the Biblioteca de l’Abadia de Montserrat for getting me the images, working out what my bad Catalan meant and answering numerous questions, but also Professor Corey Ross and the School of History and Cultures in the University of Birmingham for letting me use their tax code, as well as for various other kinds of support, without which I’d still be unable to progress this project further.
2. They are in fact the two surviving originals of a triplet of transactions that an Athanagild wrote in a row, these two on the same day and obviously in the same sitting, that I discussed previously here, and are printed as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 1426 & 1427, the third of a few days later (where he signs as monk, but which does not survive in the original), being no. 1428.