I promised something more academic than holiday photos for this week, but my first option, a post about the probably-legendary Battle of Baltarga at which Count Ermengol I of Osona, elder brother of Borrell II, was supposed by some three hundred and fifty years later to have died, will not work. You can tell even from that how it was meant to go, but in order to do it properly I’d first have to read a recent article on the subject and then find a way to consult all three volumes of Ramon Ordeig i Mata’s recent Diplomatari del Monestir de Ripoll, which as far as I can see you can only do in Catalonia, and the result would be a proper article.1 Since that article is probably necessary for me to write in order that I don’t have to cover it in the book, it then becomes work someone is paying me for, which I don’t do at weekends any more, and thus I cannot blog it. It’s a funny situation into which we unionised UK academics have got ourselves…
But the reasons I’d had the idea in the first place was because of reading that thesis I mentioned which I was examining in 2019.2 I will, as promised, write about that in short order, but not today. Instead, today I want to say something about another academic thing I did on that trip. In fact, there were two of those things: firstly, I used as much time as I could on reading things I can only get at in Catalonia, evidently a theme for this post, in the Biblioteca de Catalunya, my favourite research library of all so far and a place to which, of course, given subsequent events, I’ve not since been able to go back.3 But I did pop out to have a look around during its lunch hours, and the nearest and best thing for a medievalist to look at nearby the Biblioteca de Catalunya, other than than the erstwhile medieval hospital in which the Biblioteca is itself housed, is the erstwhile monastery of Sant Pau del Camp.
It had been a few years since I was last there, and actually a few things had changed. They had a new entry facility set up—the previous time, it had just been a woman at a table in the doorway—and working disabled access, loos and so on, and they had also got a new set of leaflets. Unfortunately for them, in a tiny way, since my previous visit I’d also done slightly more research into the place, and so I have expert-level quibbles with the interpretation, which I hope just about make a blog-post. This is the relevant text from the English-language leaflet I picked up that day (found after about ten minutes’ burrowing in my personal archives…), all typos authentic:
“It is not known exactly when the monastery was built. Unfortunately there is no document to confirm this. The archaeological excavations left uncovered some remains of buildings that could be dated between 8th and 10th centuries. The discovery in 1596 of the tombstone of Wifred II (911), Count of Barcelona, outside the monastery, has led some historians to attribute him the foundation of the monastery.
“Due to the archaeological investigations in the area, have also been found som graves from the Romano-Christian era (4th-5th centuries). There are also visigothic carvings in the principal door to the churuch that could reveal that a former church existed here at that period (5th8th centuries). All this evidence proves that Sant Pau del Camp is one of the most ancient Christian sites in Barcelona. It was built far from the city walls, between the walled city and the hill of Montjuic -hence its name, Saint Paul-in-the-fields.
“In 985 the monastery was destroyed during the Almanzor attack against Barcelona. The rebuilding was slow; the church is mentioned several times during the XIth century. At the beginning of the XIIth century the nobleman Geribert Guitard and his wife Rotlendis restored the monastery. In 1117 the foundation was placed under the protection of the Bishop of Barcelona. The Benedictine community was never too large; it oscillated between three and five monks.”
Now, let us set aside the fact that a monastery of three to five monks is uncanonical and technically, it must if that was so have been a cell of some larger community. (Let us also set aside, if we can, the joyful image of a Benedictine community oscillating between teams of three and five monks like some unbalanced monastic Blind Man’s Buff.) Let us also ignore the easy slip from the chronology of the building and its purpose to that of the site in a grab for extra antiquity; what person billing their site wouldn’t try it? But there is stuff here that merits at least a quiet alternative putting.
You see, it was news to me from my previous research on this place, if we can call it that, that there had ever been any archaeology done here, and in Catalonia, these days, even the unpublished reports from archaeological interventions are usually on the web. I couldn’t find them all, but I found two, one of which reports on most, I hope even all, of the foregoing work.4 And so what I would write of this place’s history from that would look more like this…
The earliest signs of occupation in the immediate area are Neolithic and Late Bronze Age, but settlement seems to have coalesced only in the third century CE, when a Roman villa, whose proportions have not yet been established, was set up here. Before that, we might assume this was open or waste land for most of the prehistoric and ancient period, though by then within sight of the walled city of Barcino. The villa seems to have been shortlived; by the late fourth or early fifth centuries CE it had been replaced by one or more burial grounds; this context has been struck by every dig that’s happened at the site, as far as I can tell, but because they have been disparate, we don’t know if all the burial grounds were one. If they were, it was a decent size. The religion of burial is not evident, but the Roman Empire was by then mostly Christianized and it seems unlikely that a new burial ground for pagans would have been established at that time.
At some point after this, the area was partly flattened as the foundations for a new structure. Only one end of this structure has been recovered, but it seems to have been an apse, i.e. the semi-circular end to an early church or basilica, and with that and the funerary context of the site beforehand it seems reasonable to assume that a church is what was built here, not least because such a building would provide a home for the supposedly-Visigothic tympanum that now sits above the portal and seems, as I said the last time I visited, to indicate a dedication to both Peter and Paul, not just Paul. But dating it is hard. The oldest datable artefact found at the site so far has been a fragment of a type of Late Roman amphora which was not imported after the mid-sixth century, which was stuck in the foundation layer, suggesting that the foundation of the building must date from after that point; and the horizon in the other direction is the rebuilding of the place into what is mostly its current form in the early twelfth century.5 However, the view of various people the archaeologists consulted on the structure as it could be perceived from what had been found was that it belonged to a point in the seventh to ninth centuries.6 Now, on the one hand that amphora fragment could go equally back to the late fifth century , but on the other hand it’s probably disturbed matter from one of the graves and gives us really no idea of how much later than its deposition that disturbance might have taken place; it could have been centuries later. The tympanum probably belongs closer to the early end of the sixth-to-twelfth-century gap rather than the late one, but that’s an art-historical judgement, not an empirical one, and as with it and the tombstone of Guifré II Borrell, we don’t know that it started its life here rather than arriving on the site later because something or several things nearby were being demolished. I can’t see any hint in the reports of the leaflet’s buildings “between 8th and 10th centuries” unless they are actually this apse, which implies that the anonymous redactors of the leaflet either think there were two phases of the church’s building, one early for the tympanum and one later for the apse – though they don’t say that – or that there were two churches here; or, they’re trying to have it both ways. The reports both seem clear that the archaeologists themselves found nothing certainly datable between the sixth and twelfth or thirteenth centuries. Otherwise, we have nothing archaeological to go on but the current standing fabric.
So, the path of least resistance here, though it is more than part guesswork, would seem indeed to be that there was a villa which fell into disuse or was perhaps even given over to the local church, as was happening at about the same time with Barcelona’s first cathedral site, and turned into a burial ground. There was, most likely, some wooden chapel or oratory there, but no sign of it remains. At some point after the late fifth century, however, probably quite a bit after but probably before the Muslim occupation in 711, someone decided a better church was needed and built one, partly by flattening the existing cemetery site. If the tympanum does come from that church, it may have been quite fancy, but still fairly small. And we could probably stretch as far as suggesting that it was still there, maybe even reasonably new, in 911 for Guifré II Borrell to be buried in it, but we really can’t be sure.
On the other hand, what there is no sign of at all is the supposed destruction of the place in 985, even though that’s in every secondary reference to the site I can immediately bring to bear, including, for what it’s worth, Wikipedia.7 There’s no archaeological destruction layer, and there’s no reference in any of the sources for the attack to Sant Pau having been one of the targets.8 If there are eleventh-century references to it as being in a state of ruination—and I don’t have the means to check between 1000 and 1079 here, unfortunately—I don’t know of them. But neither, I might point out, did Paul Freedman when in 1993 he studied a papal privilege to the place from 1165 on the basis of all the then-available secondary literature; the best he can cite is a reference to works (opera) at the site in 1035.9 The place’s own documentation doesn’t survive, so it’s hard to say more, but it doesn’t seem as if anyone medieval that we can still access ever said this place was destroyed by the Muslims. If it really was a sixth-century church, or even an eighth-century one, it might not surprise if at age 300-500 it needed some light opera. And then, from about 1101 onwards, a couple called Guitard and Rotlendis started pouring real resource into the site, definitely involving a thorough rebuild, and in the end set it up as a monastery.10 And that, plus a thirteenth-century cloister, is what we have.
I guess the assumption here among historians has been that, as an extra-mural site like the monastery of Sant Cugat, Sant Pau del Camp must have been in the way when al-Mansur’s army arrived in 985, and since a nunnery inside the city was certainly destroyed, how could this one have escaped? But at that stage it was only an old church, and in any case it’s no longer clear that Sant Cugat was destroyed in the attack either, rather than claiming to have been much later in order to explain why it didn’t have certain documents any more.11 At which rate, why would this much smaller place have been? So I think we might reasonably delete that sentence from this leaflet, and the idea from the historiography. But I’d still recommend the visit…
1. Specifically, I need to read Oliver Vergés Pons, “La batalla de Baltarga en el joc de la política comtal del segle X: la mort d’Ermengol d’Osona i la successió del comtat d’Urgell” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 48 (Barcelona 2018), pp. 901–923, and at least consult Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari del Monestir de Ripoll, Estudis Històrics: Diplomataris, 8-10 (Vic 2015-2018), 3 vols, and those definitely make that paid-for work.
2. Xavier Costa Badia, “Paisatges monàstics: El monacat alt-medieval als comtats catalans (segles IX-X)” (Tesi doctoral, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, 2019).
3. Specifically, I was reading Antoni Pladevall, Tona: mil cent anys dʾhistòria, LʾEntorn 16 (Vic 1990), and Albert Benet i Clarà, Història de Manresa, dels orígens al segle XI (Manresa 1985), neither of which you find in the average UK library, or actually any at all.
4. Albert Bacaria, Emília Pagès & Ferran Puig, “Excavacions arqueològiques a l’entorn del monestir de Sant Pau del Camp” in Tribuna d’Arqueologia 1989-1990 (Barcelona 1991), online here, pp. 149–151; “Memòria de la intervenció arqueològica al C/ Sant Pau 99, Horts de Sant Pau del Camp” by Oriol Achón Casas & Andrea Lages Tonet, Memòria d’excavació (Barcelona 2010), online here. Previously I’d been going on Antoni Pladevall & Francesc Català Roca, El Monestirs Catalans, 4th edn. (Barcelona 1978), pp. 204-207. Achón and Lages, “Memòria”, pp. 17-22, provide most of the information for what follows, but the villa, specifically, is covered in Bacaria, Pagès & Puig, “Excavacions arqueològiques”, pp. 149-150.
5. Achón & Lages, “Memòria”, pp. 56-57; the amphora type, for those who care, was Keay 62B.
6. Bacaria, Pagès & Puig, “Excavacions arqueològiques”, p. 150; Achón & Lages, “Memòria”, pp. 57-59 & nn. 10-11 & p. 78-81.
7. Pladevall & Català, Monestirs catalans, p. 204; and Paul Freedman, “A Privilege of Pope Alexander III for Sant Pau del Camp (Barcelona)” in Archivium Historiae Pontificiae Vol. 31 (Rome 1993), pp. 255–263 at pp. 255 & 257, which is what Wikipedia cites. Achón & Lages, “Memòria”, p. 14, is much less sure, associating the sack only with the lack of documents for the place.
8. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, La presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), lays out all the sources for the event and takes a suitably critical view of some of them. But none of them mention Sant Pau del Camp.
9. Freedman, “Privilege of Pope Alexander III”, p. 257, citing Philip Banks, “The Topography of Barcelona and its Urban Context in Eastern Catalonia from the Third to the Twelfth Centuries” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, 1981), which is online here, in 5 vols and we want vol. II, p. 528. That sends you to his notes, vol. III pp. 1361-1362, where you find that he is borrowing three citations from Jordi Vigué, El monestir romànic de Sant Pau del Camp (Barcelona 1974), “with a historical section by A. Pladevall” (p. 1361), and Pladevall apparently, at p. 20, cites three documents from Josep Mas, Antigüetat d’algunes esglesies del Bisbat de Barcelona, Notes historiques del Bisbat de Barcelona 13-14 (Barcelona 1921), 2 vols, vol. I. That is online here, and at its pp. 167-168, not clear in Banks’s citation, you finally get the source references. Phew! But Banks, “Topography of Barcelona”, p. 1361, believes that at least one of them is actually about the monastery of Sant Pau del Maresme, so that leaves one reference in 986 and one in 1048 and that’s it until the rebuild. Now, the 986 one at least I can get at, in Ignasi J. Baiges i Jardí & Pere Puig i Ustrell (edd.), Catalunya carolíngia Volum VII: el comtat de Barcelona, Memòries de la Secció Històrica-Arqueològica 110 (Barcelona 2019), 3 vols, doc. no. 859 where it is now printed, and that just refers to the ‘house of Saint Paul’, domus Sancti Pauli, with no indication at all that it was ruined or anything; but it’s a boundary clause, so you wouldn’t necessarily expect that detail. Still, it’s negative evidence where there’s no positive evidence…
But Mas doesn’t mention the 1035 document. For that we have to go back up to Freedman’s citation of Banks, “Topography of Barcelona”, p. 528, and he there (or rather at vol. III p. 1362 n. 79) cites a table in his own vol. IV. Strike a light! But ibid. vol. IV p. 1988 gets you that table and a reference to Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, no. 1360. Now it’s possible I even own an image of that, but if I do it’s on microfilm (remember this story?) so I can’t check. But even so, as Banks cites it it’s just a gift of five mancuses ad opera, to pay for works, which presumably implies a working community there who could receive and spend that money. In short, still no positive evidence, and if it were there, I think one of these fine scholars would have quoted it…
10. Pladevall, Monestirs catalans, seeing the couple’s gifts from 1117 onwards as a response to a possible but undocumented sack of the place by Almoravid armies in 1114 – for heavens’ sakes, sometimes buildings just get old, it doesn’t always have to be hostile Muslims! –; Freedman, “Privilege of Alexander III”, pp. 257-259, using a different piece of Banks’s I’m not now going to track down to show activity renewing at the site before 1114. Banks, “Topography”, vol. II pp. 528-529, however points out that those two were not the only donors, because another couple’s donation of cash was actually inscribed over the tympanum, so you only know about it if you go and look! (I didn’t work out that’s what it was; I’m a bad epigrapher.)
11. Gaspar Feliu, “Al-Mansur, Barcelona i Sant Cugat” in Acta Historica et Archæologica Mediævalia Vol. 3 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 49–54.