Scribal individuation around Manresa c. 1002

Some time around the end of December 2015, in the fond expectation of soon having time to advance my old project on scribes and Church structures around the Catalan city of Manresa in the tenth century, when most of those structures were still in formation, I spent a bit of time staring at my images of the relevant documents and I was freshly impressed by the efforts the scribes went to differentiate themselves from other writers. And so I stubbed a blog post to tell you all something about it, and now we’re here in the summer of 2019 and I find myself just getting to it. As you know, lots else has been going on, of which there should be more to report soon, and I can’t say I have any massive new findings to present here, but some of this stuff is just cool, and that’s always been a good enough reason for a blog post before. So, here, have a charter!

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 57

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 57. Click through for bigger version.

This is from 1002, and so as far as I know has never been published.1 I haven’t done a transcription of it, but it’s a sale by one Tudiscle to a deacon called Borrell (no relation, I’m pretty sure) of a set of homesteads he was once given by his ‘lady’ (domina), Eigo. I picked it because of the subscriptions before I read it that far, but as it happens, you also have some female lordship there; you’re welcome. This happens in the Iberian Peninsula here and there. But I am, really, interested in the signatures. They start on the sixteenth line with the quartered disc with dots in it, which is a very abstracted form of the word signum, ‘mark’, ‘sign’, with a cross in the middle. Half of the signatures are by the scribe, a priest called Guifré, in the same unusual right-tilted hand as the main text, and those three all have that same disc, the people concerned being the seller Tudiscle and two witnesses, Guilabert and what seems to be Bonuspars, with which I can’t do much, I admit. But the scribe didn’t use that disc for himself: this was his sign for other people. He himself uses the four-pointed star device which, lexically, is filling in for the word subscripsit, ‘signed beneath’, ‘subscribed’, but looks nothing like it. Happily, the other two autographs show you different takes on the same idea, with Uuadamirsus sac(e)r, apparently not a man to whom spelling his name (which we would modernise as Guadamir) came easily despite being a priest, being clearest: the idea that lies under that messy ruche is a set of two or three Ss looped together as an abbreviation of the Latin. The other signature, MiRone leuita, the deacon Miró, does it more graphically, and that process of abstraction is the one that goes via the four-lobed version of the apparently-plural scribe Athanagild whom we looked at here years ago to the pointed version we have here. They’re all doing the same thing, these three churchmen, but they apparently didn’t want to do it in the same way.

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 58

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 58. Click through for a bigger version

There were apparently times when one differentiation wasn’t enough, even. Here you have another unpublished sale from the same year written by Ermemir (trust me, that is what the dribbled-down signature says) from another Ermemir and his wife Em (presumably for Emma? But there’s no abbreviation mark…) to Isarn, who is apparently plural; it is hard to resist the belief that scribe-Ermemir’s document-Latin wasn’t very precise, though one can forgive him given his nicely-drawn dagger as an initial I at the start.2 But as well as his deliberately decorative signature, he uses a really clear SSS-type ruche, and then seems to have tried out another in the far right corner. It’s not a separate witness signature, I think, firstly because there’s no name even though there’s space and secondly because the signatures otherwise finish at the far left, but it does seem to be the same ink. It’s possible some other scribe did a training run on a spare charter, of course, but the one scribe who’s clearly here is the one who’s named…

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, Segona sèrie, no. 903

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, Segona sèrie, no. 903. Again, a larger version lines beneath.

And then there’s this one, which is from 1002 as well. Unlike the other two, even though the two modern editions of these documents both stop at 1000, this has been edited before, because it’s a big deal (in both literal and figurative senses).3 What you have here is the monks of Sant Benet de Bages telling a story, and as ever when people in this area tell a story in documents, it’s because something had gone wrong.4 Their erstwhile abbot, Sunifred, had died during a Muslim raid on the area (probably in 997), at which point a dispute apparently arose between the founders of the church, apparently about the succession. At the time, however, that being 999 by this time, Count Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, presumably the obvious arbitrator, was in Rome visiting the pope. So they sent word out there, and when the query reached him the pope pointed out to Ramon Borrell that, canonically, monks ought to get to choose their own abbot. This seems to have come as news to our count (who elsewhere entitled himself ‘inspector of bishops’, not that I suppose he tried that before the pope), and he didn’t know what to do, and so the document says that the pope went to the actual monastery and asked the monks what they wanted, and they all praised God and asked for one Ramio, and this document celebrates his election.5

Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, from Wikipedia Spain

Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, from Wikimedia Commons; not the first time I’ve used this image and I’m sure it won’t be the last

Now, this is fishy as the hold of a homebound Atlantic trawler. Most obviously, even though he had once been in Catalonia, Pope Sylvester II (for it would have been he) didn’t pop in and visit Sant Benet de Bages in 999; someone would have noticed and recorded it and in fact his own letters lament that he doesn’t have time to visit his old school province.6 Secondly, the monastery’s foundation charter does in fact say that the founders’ family should provide the abbots, but actually beyond one young retainer of Count Borrell II’s I’ve not managed to trace any of them beyond 985, and they don’t seem ever to have provided an abbot to the place, so I don’t know who could have been disputing the abbacy.7 But there was once and may still be another parchment, which I don’t think I have a picture of, which gives a quite different version of this story, and that too was in the monastery when Jaime Villanueva came visiting in the 1800s.8 So something is probably wrong about this story, but at least we can see that this was the version that the monks quite literally signed up to because, look, there they are, all differentiated. So at least they all agreed, right? But actually no, it’s not as simple as that once you stop and take a good look at the signatures. Let me break it down as far as I’ve currently got:

  1. Firstly, there is no scribal signature. The line at the bottom left in the main text hand actually translates as, “We all unanimously who proclaim and confirm this election and have asked for it to be confirmed,” and then a ruche.9 But I think the main text scribe is the priest Ansulphus, more or less dead centre among the signatures, because the first signature in textual terms is Adroarius, whose signature is mainly in the main text hand because, as it explains, he was too ill to write but dotted the cross at the end of his ‘signature’ instead, and it looks to me as if the same hand that wrote Ansulf’s name formed Adroer’s too, in a deliberately different font. So that’s your first writing stint.
  2. However, after the first eight autographs—Baldemarus (with the hatched SSS device), Orucius (who abbreviates ‘monachus’ differently to everyone else and has the vertical monogram for presbiter, ‘priest’, that we’ve seen elsewhere), Teudalecus (with a waved SSS), Ermengaudus (with the repeated double knot ruche), Auduagrius (who is sort of sharing the ruche Ansulf gave Adroer), Argericus (who has got his double knot into a fortuitous gap in Adroer’s illness clause), Willelmus (whose knot lies on its side—because he liked it that way, or just to fit?) and Wifredus, with the cross-hatch—you have a new line of signatures, Vivencius, Ansolphus (another one?), Stefanus, Miro and Sendredus, all of whom seem to be written by the same hand and it’s not Ansulf’s, even though his own signature immediately follows theirs. And there is a second Sendre[d]us, signing autograph, too, on the bottom line in a very unpractised hand that misses out his second ‘d’. So is this a second batch of signing?
  3. If so, it wasn’t the last. Two lines above that Sendred, observe the signature of Pontius the deacon. This is probably Ponç Bonfill Marc (son of the Wonder Judge!), because his hand also seems to have written the signatures of the count and his two retainers in the bottom right corner. And you see that at very bottom right there is a spare cross, and one more below Ponç’s name, as if further names were expected but never arrived? That makes it look as if they took it to court to get the comital confirmation once Ramon Borrell had come back from Rome. But you see also, where that spare cross hangs about below Ponç’s name, there is what looks like more script in the main hand’s ink? I think that’s exactly what that was. I think that when they took it to the court, there was no room to sign, so not only did Ponç unusually use the shortest version of his name, they actually scrubbed out some of the existing names to make more room. So, three separate signing occasions?
  4. No, in fact, still more, because there’s also some sign of erasure beside Sendred’s big scrawl at the bottom too, so he didn’t sign with the rest of the monks either. At least four signing occasions, then. So how many of the monks were even at the first one? There’s not really any way to be sure. The main text names only Adroer, Todalec, Baldemar and Ermengol. Did everyone else get added in later? How much later? On how many occasions? How consensual an election was this? How many other names had been washed out by the time they’d finally got it confirmed?

Anyway, that wasn’t supposed to be the point of the post. The point is, of course, that where we have got autographs, though here there is certainly a preference for the double-knot ruche, nonetheless, no one autograph is made to look like another; every one is different. This is, by now, what I have come to expect, but every now and then someone reminds me that other places don’t necessarily do this.10 In a later era, this might be authentication, but it would take a fiendish local knowledge to be able to remember who used exactly what variant of a ruche, I think, and besides we’ve seen before that it’s not always quite the same even when it’s (notionally at least) the same scribe involved.11 So I think it really is just a local sense that in a document like this every signature should be different, perhaps so that everyone could see that it genuinely was another hand, not the scribe’s. But then, why not vary the signatures when it actually is the scribe as well? Cheating? I don’t, yet, have my head round this. But I may get there yet, if I just look at a few more charters…

1. It is Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 57, as the caption says.

2. Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 58.

3. Jaime Villanueva, Viage literario a las Iglesias de España, tomo VII: Viage á la Iglesia de Vique, año 1806 (Valencia 1821), online here, ap. XIII.

4. See some day soon Jonathan Jarrett, “A Likely Story: purpose in narratives from charters of the early medieval Pyrenees”, in †Simon Barton and Robert Portass (edd.), Beyond the Reconquista: Essays on the Politics, Society and Culture of Medieval Iberia (forthcoming), but till then (and as well), Jeffrey A. Bowman, “From Written Record to Historical Memory: Narrating the Past in Iberian Charters” in Robert A. Maxwell (ed.), Representing History, 900–1300: Art, Music, History (University Park PA 2010), pp. 173–180.

5. Ramon Borrell is “inspector episcopiis dante Deo nostræ ditioni pertinentibus” in Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), ap. CLXXII.

6. Gerbert’s letters are translated in Harriet Pratt Lattin (trans.), The Letters of Gerbert, with his Papal Privileges as Sylvester II, Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies 60 (New York City NY 1961), but I confess I didn’t go and check there this time and am just running on Emília Tarracó i Planas, “Formació cultural de Gerbert d’Orlhac a la Marca Hispànica” in Imma Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu temps: Catalunya i Europa a la fi del 1r. mil·leni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 635–636.

7. The foundation charter is printed as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1127; on the family, see Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 144-151.

8. Villanueva, Viage literario VII, ap. XIV.

9. Nos om(ne)s unanimiter qui hanc electionem p(ro)-clamam(us) & firmam(us) & firmare rogauimus”, cf. ibid., ap. XIII.

10. All these issues and more are explored for French documents in the excellent Benoît-Michel Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe-début du XIIe siècle), ARTEM (Atelier de recherches sur les textes médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005), DOI: 10.1484/M.ARTEM-EB.5.105728.

11. For when it actually was done as authentication, see Alan Friedlander, “Signum mei apposui: notaries and their signs in medieval Languedoc” in Robert F. Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper & Adam Kosto (edd.), The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350: essays in honor of Thomas N. Bisson (Aldershot 2005), pp. 94-117.


6 responses to “Scribal individuation around Manresa c. 1002

  1. It’s reminiscent of a C P Snow yarn about electing a College Master.

    Though Snow probably underplayed the venom, bile, and deceit involved.

    • Indeed! That aspect, of course, is not evident here, though the second version of the story, which I didn’t discuss because I couldn’t show it you in the flesh, says among other things how glad the monks were when Abbot Sunifred died because he’d sold off a load of their books, so there is actually rather more similarity there than you might have expected, as well as some of the bile. I’m pretty sure that version is also a forgery, but I’d know more if I knew where it now was…

  2. Great stuff! The most curious point of the n.903 is the supposed visit of the pope to Sant Benet de Bages. I am not good at paleography, so I fail to read the exact words. Even if the claim is false, it’s surprising that the monks make such a bold statement in a presumably very close date…!

    • It’s surprising, isn’t it? Villanueva gave the relevant Latin as:
      “Ille autem inquid: Iterabo domui prememorati cenobio, exquiram eorum voluntates, quod voluerint, aut quod elegerint patronem. Ita et fecit.” In the image it’s there, at the end of the fifth and start of the sixth lines. It’s just about possible that these words are supposed to be said by Ramon Borrell, but if so it’s not how ille is usually used and he’s answering his own question…

      • Yes you’r right, it’s quite explicit. And the lack of identification of the Pope it’s also troubling (specially on a monastery under papal protection). There’s a diplomatary of Sant Benet in the 2012 Joan Salvador’s thesis (

        • Fantastic! I should have known about that, but it will make my life a lot easier when I come to push this project onwards again. I just have to remember… Thankyou, Joan. In that case we’re dealing here with Salvador’s no. 562, and the other story is in his no. 586, dated to 1005. Another problem that this immediately makes clear with that latter document is that there are several charters dated between 1002 and 1005 that feature Ramio already acting as abbot, but Salvador still seems to think no. 586 is authentic, and it apparently also survives in the archive (so why didn’t I get a facsimile? Ah well…)

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