Tag Archives: churches

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Genève médiévale II: atop the cathedral

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Apologies for the lately-renewed delay: I had promised to review a couple of volumes, the time has only lately become free to do so and it feels rather as if the first one is trying to kill me… But we … Continue reading

Seminar CCI: absence of ornamentation in Byzantine churches

My last seminar of the spring term of this (calendar) year was back to Byzantium, in the form of turning up to the General Seminar of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies in Birmingham to hear Professor Henry Maguire speak with the title “Why was there no Renaissance in Byzantine art?” Professor Maguire was known to me only as a name at this point, but I had been assured that it was quite a big name in the field, and this he demonstrated by having to apologise for the fact that he was giving us a version of a public lecture he’d done in the USA. He was apologising for what he called the “flourishes”, but actually I was glad of the nods towards accessibility. I am however faced with the peculiarity that though I remember him making a perfectly reasonable stab at answering the question of his title, my notes seem determined to answer another one, which was more like “why is Byzantine art so darn austere?”

Madonna and Child by Berlinghiero, Lucca, 1228x1236

Looking pretty Byzantine, this gold-on-tempera Madonna and Child is actually from Lucca, by a chap called Berlinghiero who was active in the first third of the thirteenth century, but it gets the idea over both of what was and what could change. “Berlinghiero: Madonna and Child” (60.173) in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/60.173 (October 2006).

Comparisons with the art of the Italian Renaissance certainly helped to mark a contrast: even when the subject matter was similar, the level of ornamentation was usually starkly different. To drive this home Professor Maguire showed us two suspiciously similar Madonna and child portraits, both with the classic long gloomy Byzantine faces and almost identical poses, but one from Italy having a background loaded with architecture, ships and trees and a Byzantine one, well, not doing that. This lack of ornamentation is characteristic of Byzantine art as we know it, and can be set with Byzantine theologians’ disdain for the Latins’ concentration on external things rather than the internal, spiritual ones that really mattered, but that feeling didn’t stop them celebrating the glories of God’s Creation visually elsewhere.1 Nonetheless, from the ninth century onwards it’s really hard to find much beyond geometric ornament and stylised portraits in Byzantine art as it survives. Why?

Dome of the church of the virgin of Arakas, Lagoudera, Cyprus

Obviously there are exceptions… but even here, in the dome of the church of the virgin of Arakas, Lagoudera, Cyprus, this twelfth-century painting is figures of holy men and geometric ornament and little more, however much there is of it. I’m not sure austere is quite the word, but… Link goes to a web-page with a zoomable image.

Well, one obvious factor is that survival, because we’re talking almost entirely about churches here and may suspect, from what little we have of secular art and even manuscript painting, that that was more lively. In church, however, such things could be criticised as distracting from the holy focus of worship from as early as the fifth century. Defacement of palæochristian mosaic pavements and so on has been put down to Muslim pressure, but it was happening in Christian buildings and does seem to thrive as an ethic of non-natural display even in unconquered areas (though it is definitely strongest in modern Jordan and Palestine, as Daniel Reynolds pointed out in questions). Professor Maguire suggested that the real enemy here, as evinced in the legislation that closed the controversy over icons at Nicæa in 787, was not Islam but paganism, an imagery of zoomorphs and human-animal hybrids essentially inherited from Egypt and the Classical era. He ingeniously argued that the removal of the natural world from ornamentation was in fact how one allowed the human figure to remain as a visual object, because of its unique potential to reside in the next world, to which churches then operated as a gateway as they should.2 Consequently the saints only appear in the upper registers of Byzantine church spaces, where one’s eyes are upraised to Heaven to see them; they stand between the worshippers and the uppermost spaces, it’s all quite plausible when put together like this.

A 'corrected' mosaic at St Stephen's Umm al-Rasas, Jordan

A ‘corrected’ mosaic at St Stephen’s Umm al-Rasas, Jordan, with all the human figures carefully replaced with blank or reused tessera. I’m really not sure this is the same phenomenon, myself…

It was this different focus on heaven in art rather than the world that Professor Maguire used to explain the lack of a revival of interest in the created world by which he was characterising the Western Renaissance, but the questions centred most of all on the issue of defacement of imagery in churches. Daniel Reynolds, as said, raised the issue of regionality, and Matthew Harpster that of chronology: whether or not such imagery was criticised earlier, the defacements that we can date are post-Islamic, late eighth or ninth century. There’s a certain sense in this as that’s when Islam generally hardened up in its dealings with the other Abrahamic faiths; it’s when the so-called Covenant of ‘Umar’ starts to be invoked, for example.3 Christians might well feel under scrutiny then… Daniel Reynolds doubted that this could be fear of paganism as late as the ninth century, at least, and also put forward an idea from his own research on the early Islamic Holy Land, which is that as far as he has been able to discover, such defacement happens only in churches which held to the Chalcedonian rite, not in Monophysite/Coptic or other non-Orthodox ones.4 If the attack on Classical imagery is only a Melkite thing, as he put it, then at the very least Islam, while it may have been the catalyst somehow, was not the only actor in play and it served as a reminder that there were lots of stakeholders in Byzantine Christianity, and presumably its art, even after Byzantium ceased to be able to control much of it.


1. Cited doing this were the Vita S. Andreae Sali, which you may be able to find in Lennart Rydén (ed./transl.), The Life of St Andrew the Fool: text, translation and commentary (Uppsala 1995), 2 vols, and Symeon of Thessaloniki, who apparently also provides the Latin-slagging and whose stuff is edited as David Balfour (ed.), Politico-Historical Works of Symeon, Archbishop of Thessalonica (1416/1417 to 1429): critical Greek text with introduction and commentary, Wiener byzantinische Studien 13 (Wien 1979) and idem (ed.), Ἔργα θεολογικά, Ἁγίου Συμεὼν ἀρχιεπισκόπου Θεσσαλονίκης, 1416/17-1429 (Thessaloniki 1981), but only some translated; I don’t know which work was meant here, so I can’t be any more guidance than Wikipedia can I’m afraid. This is probably also the place to mention Professor Maguire’s most obviously relevant works, his collected papers, H. Maguire, Rhetoric, Nature and Magic in Byzantine Art, Variorum Collected Studies 603 (Aldershot 1998) and idem, Image and Imagination in Byzantine Art, Variorum Collected Studies 866 (Aldershot 2007), and his more recent monograph, idem, Nectar and Illusion: nature in Byzantine art and literature (Oxford 2012).

2. I believe I am prevented, both by good sense and probably also contractually, from mentioning Iconoclasm without citing Leslie Brubaker & John Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era ca. 680–ca. 850: a history (Cambridge 2011).

3. Something that I know about mainly from Norman Daniel, “Spanish Christian Sources of Information about Islam (ninth-thirteenth centuries)” in al-Qantara: revista de estudios árabes Vol. 15 (Madrid 1994), pp. 365-384.

4. Dan needs to get more stuff into print (don’t we all?) but has some limited excuse what with only just having left his doctorate, “Monasticism and Christian Pilgrimage in Early Islamic Palestine c. 614-c. 950″, University of Birmingham 2013, behind him; he will at least soon be able to boast of D. Reynolds, “Monasticism in early Islamic Palestine: contours of debate” in Robert Hoyland and Marie Legendre (edd.), The Late Antique World of Early Islam: Muslims among Christians and Jews in the East Mediterranean (London forthcoming).

Gallery

Not the usual Beaulieu

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Our actual base on the trip to the south of France last summer I now seem to be documenting was a town called Beaulieu-sur-Mer, not to be confused with the home of my stock non-Catalan monastery example, St-Pierre de Beaulieu-en-Limousin … Continue reading

Gallery

Out here, on Sundays, they leave the churches open

This gallery contains 10 photos.

The summer is pretty clearly ended, and so is my time in Oxford. As I indicated a while back, some time elsewhere has thankfully been found, and as enquirers on other matters have cleverly determined, there is news on other … Continue reading

Gallery

Worship with teeth in it: pictures of Iffley church

This gallery contains 4 photos.

The New Zealand thread has sparked up again, which is one of the many signs one might adduce that I haven’t updated for longer than is good for the blog. In terms of backlog I appear to have now reached … Continue reading

Big books, high praise and tiny queries

(Written substantially offline on the East Coast main line between Edinburgh and Newcastle, 23rd May 2011.)

My current job is quite luxurious, there’s no point in denying it (and you know, I don’t exactly mind). One of these luxuries is somewhat enforced, however, which is: time to read. This is a luxury, no mistake, because I sorely missed it in the previous job, where I could only spare the time to read up for my own papers; now I can read more, but, on the other hand what I have to read is now also dictated not just by what I’m working on but by what I’m teaching, where I really do have good reasons to get current quickly because I have to tell other people to read it. So, since arrival, I have been attacking this problem.

Cover of Guy Halsall's Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568

Cover of Guy Halsall's Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568

Cover of John Blair's The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society

Cover of John Blair's The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society

Quite a lot of the books I have got through have been really quite large. I don’t mean so much the multi-authored exhibition catalogues and conference proceedings the Continental scholarship, especially, generates, like Jordi Camps’s edited Cataluña en la época carolingia that’s been in my sidebar, well, possibly since I started the blog—and every now and then I take in another of its informative little papers—but single-author syntheses. Among these there are two I thought it was fairly urgent for me to get a hang of, Guy Halsall’s Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 (Cambridge 2007) and John Blair’s The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford 2005). The reason for the latter will be obvious: my idea of the scholarship of the man I’m standing in for was a decade behind the times and since then he’d written something that was now on every reading list in the subject. Guy’s book, meanwhile, I’d bought on a whim in the CUP bookshop a few years before, probably after hearing him present somewhere but maybe just on the basis of what I knew of his work, which is now of course much easier to know about, and because of a sneaking suspicion that it probably should be on a lot of reading lists, and it just took me a while to make it urgent: sorry, Guy! But Guy’s book is 616 pages long, and John’s 624 (gloss, heavy), so this was a bit daunting; I knew when I picked these things up that I would be living with them closely for a while. (There’s also another very obvious extremely large book of wide-ranging comparative focus that has defeated scholars as least as bibliovoric as me, temporarily I’m sure, which I am now taking on properly rather than just reading via the index, and that invites comparisons in what follows, but if they occur at all they will have, in justice, to wait till I’ve taken it all in.1)

There are obvious limits to what I can say about these books: both these (all three of these) scholars’ goodwills are important to me, in so far as I have them I want to keep them and so you would probably expect what follows to be basically praiseworthy, and so indeed it will be (although it has been a pain to phrase because of implicit comparisons – I apologise if any offence remains to be taken, it is not intended) but that’s because I think they are good, I have no need to pretend about this. My adulation will be very slightly tempered below with some tiny points of query, but I think the first thing to make clear is that it was or is worth reading all of these books. I actually enjoyed the reading of Guy’s; I picked it up each time genuinely wanting to know where it would go next, as opposed to simply wanting to know what was in it. It may be that he was conscious that his book was in a series of supposed textbooks, and so wrote deliberately clearly, and if so it pays off, he is admirably lucid and the reading goes quickly. John’s is slower going because there is so much information on every page that one keeps being caught up by footnotes and going, “really? where? <flip flip flip page> Wow that sounds interesting. Hang on, where was I?” (Guy’s is by no means short of information but John has little local details that distract. This may only really affect English readers though.) Also, and this is just my weakness really, Guy’s chapters are shorter and more divided up: beyond a certain amount per lump I do find that my brain creaks trying to hang on to it all, and here Guy is kinder. (I’m conscious that I myself fail on this assessment; sorry about that.)

Roman ruins at Volubilis, Morocco, old Mauretania

Roman ruins at Volubilis, Morocco, old Mauretania

Both of these books also offer very big interpretative answers to substantial historical questions. Guy is of course offering an answer to to the great question about the fall of the Roman Empire, and he is far from the only person doing so; the only reason his book isn’t on more reading lists, I would guess, is that most people who set them read Peter Heather’s almost equally large tome that narrowly preceded it into the shops and then felt they had all the answer they needed for the moment. Many will know that Guy and Peter do not agree about many things: Guy is scrupulously polite in his references here, however, indicating disagreement where necessary but never without respect, and certainly the opposition is not silenced but acknowledged and engaged. The big difference between Guy and his opposition for me, and the one that means I prefer Guy’s take, is that for him archæology is crucial. Archæological evidence is given at least equal billing throughout his book and it substantially underpins his argument, which is, basically, that even in economic and military crisis Rome was still a sufficiently potent political force that it warped and changed the cultures at its borders and offered them opportunities of engagement and enrichment that drew them in towards it, while at the same time its military and aristocratic culture was increasingly affected (and I use that word both transitively and intransitively) with supposedly-barbaric overtones. No-one, however, wanted to fell the Empire; they wanted to control it. It was competition between such ambitious members of a military élite that overlapped the Empire’s borders which did the whole thing in.2

In the course of this, Guy raises several important issues about assumptions people make about barbarian identities, not least that they are detectable in burial styles and that they are incompatible with Roman identities. The most interesting examples of counters to these that he provides, for me, are the facts that the Visigoths only started doing furnished burial with grave-goods once they were in Spain, so it can hardly be an imported ethnic practice—he argues that instead it represents, here and in other places, competition and insecurity among élites that Romans as well as others could employ for status display (pp. 342-346 for Spain and more generally at pp. 27-29 and per people thereafter)—and the weird and oddly loyalist imperial dignities claimed by the Moorish rulers of the western edges of Roman Africa, left on their own by the Vandal takeover as ostensibly legitimist rulers who would never again recognise a higher authority (pp. 405-410). I don’t know where else you could go for someone writing in English who makes these populations part of the wider story of Empire.

All Saints' Brixworth, usually held the oldest Anglo-Saxon Church substantially standing

All Saints' Brixworth, usually held the oldest Anglo-Saxon Church substantially standing, from Wikimedia Commons

John’s book is also part of several wider debates. Most people are probably familiar with John’s work because of the ‘minster hypothesis’, an argument he started in the 1980s about the organisation of the early Anglo-Saxon Church which now has a Wikipedia entry, and which holds that it was substantially or entirely built round collegiate churches with priests operating out of a shared base ministering to very large mother-parishes, and that there wasn’t really any other kind of Church organisation than that before the tenth and eleventh centuries. This `minster’ category included both gatherings of priests and gatherings of monks; John held and holds (pp. 2-5) that there was no functional difference except in wealth until the age of reform.3 This book represents the deep background that makes such a picture of the Church in early Anglo-Saxon England plausible. (He doesn’t deny the occasional existence of smaller-range churches, especially in zones where the British Church might have survived into Anglo-Saxon control, but doesn’t think them significant.) He has a case, at the very least: it’s impossible to deny that with this much detail thrown behind it, pulled from legislation, place-names, charters, narratives, archæology and topography, and this level of detail means that even if you don’t yourself buy the case, or indeed if you’re actually interested in something else, there’s still stuff in here that’s relevant to you. An example: a highly-touristic friend of mine said, on a visit to mine while I was reading this book, that he’d been in Kidderminster the previous week, which he gathered had “roots in your period”; I dimly remembered having read as much, figured the name was a give-away and was indeed able to check John’s index and show my friend a date of first record (736), the Old English place name (Husmerae) and a picture of the charter where it and the incipient church first occur (Sawyer 89),4 which was nice.

From this book, then, could start dozens and dozens of local history enquiries, and equally many have been incorporated and assimilated into it. There are also, either side of the big argument about the shape of the Church, absolutely fascinating chapters about the conversion (pp. 8-78) and the social function of the parish church (when we have some; pp. 426-504), both a bit more informed by foreign scholarship and indeed social anthropology than the more structural chapters, but because of that all the more engagingly humanistic, showing a lively compassion for the everyday member of a community and an almost combative willingness to consider the unusual and see if it makes more sense with the evidence than arguments of long tradition. What John achieves with these chapters is to demonstrate how flexible, adaptable and individual such traditions might be, and how we might do better to talk in terms of changing religious practice than of converting people. So, whether or not you come for the argument, stay for the people: this book is full of them, and John’s writing is always prepared for them to do something odd or opposite to the usual interpretation of the evidence. It is, really, a very rich volume.

The Ruthwell Cross, now in Ruthwell Parish Church (ironically?)

The Ruthwell Cross, now in Ruthwell Parish Church (ironically?)

It seems almost rude, therefore, to wish that there was even more in it,5 and indeed I would probably have groaned to find it as I was reading, but with it all inside my head in some way, I still want to know what John thinks about some areas he doesn’t have space to cover here. Some of these are questions hanging from his argument, and I actually hope to have his help in tackling them separately later, so I’ll not go into detail now, but they include the significance of Roman sites to the Anglo-Saxon kings—owned but unused?—the possibility of non-church religious foci like standing crosses occupying the small parish rôle, and the actual management of the ministry in a minster landscape. All of these strike me as areas where John’s book indicates that we don’t yet have good answers, and that is another value it has but I wonder if he has answers anyway for which there just wasn’t space here.

As for Guy’s book, that leaves me with fewer questions, not least I admit because I know his subject in much less detail and so am just readier to accept what look like careful well-founded answers. I do really like his recharacterisation of the ambitions and mores of those implicated in the Empire’s break-up, and I really like his use of archæological evidence as part of that. But, on the Continent I work much later and I don’t have the kind of acquaintance with the material to query someone who so obviously does. It’s only when Guy deals with England, my long-lurking secondary interest, that I have enough of a grasp to wonder if his argument doesn’t get a bit fragile this far away from Rome. I don’t just mean his challenging reinterpretation of Gildas’s chronology, which is set aside in an appendix (pp. 519-526), but, well, really just one thing: quoit brooches. These are made to bear an awful lot of weight in his interpretation of sub-romanitas in southern Britain (pp. 236-237 & 316-319). I’m not sure there’s anywhere else in the book where he would allow that one type of dress item holds a fixed archæological significance (in this case, (post-)Roman military organisation) over a hundred and fifty years of change, they are here almost his only evidence for such a survival and I’m not sure I buy it. At the very least, at the end of that period the fact that this was an old type of artefact must have meant its meaning differently to what it did when they had first been current wear among soldiers in the island. Maybe I have him wrong here: I’m sure he will say if so, but to me this implies that we might better think of more disruption to identities and organisation earlier in Britain than he suggests, and I don’t see why it should damage his argument for the rest of Europe at all if Britain, as so often, refuses to fit comfortably in with it.

Second- or third-century Roman quoit brooch

Second- or third-century Roman quoit brooch

So yes: big books, high praise and tiny queries. But the queries are only tiny, and the books’ impact is much greater than them; I humbly commend these works to the readership. I already own one and am happy about this; I will have to own the other. May there be more whence these came!


1. I ought perhaps to worry about his reading this, which I know he does, and finding out that I haven’t yet properly read his magnum opus, but firstly I’m sure the fact that I cite his earlier work avidly but not this one had been noticed and in any case I’ve by now given up assuming I have any information that he hasn’t already found out. If he didn’t have two eyes I’d be looking for ravens, I tell you.

2. I’m conscious that I’ve rephrased fairly freely here and that I may be emphasising things a bit differently to Guy, but I do want to point out that the fact that I can do this belies the particularly bone-headed Amazon review of this book that maintains that it has no argument. The book’s argument is set out at the beginning, the end and most of the discussion between is directed to it so I can only presume that the reviewer didn’t spot it because they were only prepared to see the argument they already believed.

3. The debate before this can be pursued through J. Blair (ed.), Minsters and Parish Churches: the local church in transition 950-1200 (Oxford 1988); Eric Cambridge & David Rollason, “Debate. The Pastoral Organization of the Anglo-Saxon Church: a Review of the ‘Minster Hypothesis’” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 4 (Oxford 1995), pp. 87–104; Blair, “Debate: Ecclesiastical Organization and Pastoral Care in Anglo-Saxon England”, ibid. 193–212; and D. M. Palliser, “The ‘Minster Hypothesis’: a Case Study”, ibid. Vol. 5 (1996), pp. 207–214.

4. Blair, Church, pp. 102-103 & fig. 14.

5. And it reminds me infallibly of the first time I ever saw Stuart Airlie presenting a paper, one in which he said while discussing the inadequacy of the treatment of his subject by some recent Sonderforschungquellenschriftarbeit-type monster, “And isn’t that always what you think when a new six-hundred-page German-language monograph bang on your subject area lands on your desk? `Oh, it’s just not big enough!'” This reassures me that I may not be confessing awful scholarly inadequacy by occasionally enjoying it when a book is short.

Take note(s) II: re-examining Sant Pere de Casserres

I feel that I ought to say something about the unlikely PR mess that the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council has got itself into, but I’m not going to, for three reasons, in fact four. Firstly, it is very unclear just what the heck is going on there; secondly, others have already writ what can be writ better, not least Gesta and that famously Edgy Historian, Guy Halsall, and you can follow the links there (which, as here, have usually come from JPG, who clearly has a future as a news analyst at somewhere like Reuters if the Vikings ever run out). Thirdly, and most cowardly of me, the current director of the AHRC is deeply implicated in whatever it is, and is also about to become my boss in some distant sense, so I don’t feel that analysing her current actions and research on the open web will do me any long-term favours. And the fourth reason, the afterthought, is the one I should always remember, the Bede Principle: “it may not yet be known what should be written of these things, until they have reached their end”.1 So instead I’m going to write about my current research, even though the same could be said of that, and the ways in which I do it.

Monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, Osona, Catalunya

Monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, Osona, Catalunya

Those of you who know my work will realise it involves quite a lot of charters. For my thesis I read, I think, about 3,500 charters in printed editions, though rather fewer in the original. Aware of that latter weakness, when I made the first trip to Catalonia recorded on this blog, I sought out the parchments of Sant Pere de Casserres, which is interesting for what I do because it is a monastery that was founded by a vicecomital family where a castle that had belonged to the counts had stood, and which then became a major lord in its own right, in other words it is textbook privatisation of fiscal power but happening to an area with a church and its community in it making records, and no-one has done much on this place, which moreover still stands.2 There were other exciting aspects, such as the fact that it seems to have been closely entwined with a mother church down the river, also in a defunct castle, which never ceased to have some kind of rights there as far as I can tell, and that the clerics of these two places hardly turn up anywhere else; and the fact that when it was dug early in the century, a palæochristian altar slab covered in graffiti names came up, which has been all but ignored by the subsequent literature on the monastery, which I cannot understand.3 So I wanted to see if the names on the slab were in the charters, and those of you who heard me speak at Leeds in 2009 will know that I think some of them are.4

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) 3

Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins, C (Sant Pere de Casserres) 3: the problem charter!

That was already nearly two years ago, though, and you could be forgiven for wondering why this isn’t already submitted somewhere. Well, firstly I found out that the original surviving documents I’d looked at and the others, only preserved as copies, that I’d read in print, were not the only ones, that there were in fact about a hundred more of those copies for my period alone.5 That, as you can imagine, made a potential difference because extra evidence unhinges careless generalisations. So I found out where they were, which was in a big book in Vic, and plotted getting out there only to find, shortly afterwards, that the unstoppable force of the Fundació Noguera’s Diplomataris series had rolled over Casserres and that all its documents were now in print, and yea, even free to the web.6 So my unique selling point and first work with unpublished documents was lost, but on the other hand I didn’t have to spend a week in an archive in Vic checking my findings. So I downloaded it, found with a very quick check that the editor had not spotted the things I’d spotted about one of the documents, decided I still had a paper and set to reading it, and that’s where this post really starts. (Yes, sorry, it’s me.)

Sample of my longhand charter notes

Obviously a functional method that a graphologist would regard with equanimity

As we know I take lots of notes. When reading a few thousand charters that makes for a lot of note-taking, and all this information has to be handled. My technique for this has developed in all the wrong ways, which is to say I did not sit down and think it out and then do it the right way from the get-go, I worked with the very limited technology I had and did stupid things with it which I then bodged later. But it starts with notes, longhand abstracts of each charter mentioning things that are interesting (story kernels, as Lovecraft would have called them, or just stuff like a mill in an odd place, payment in gold not silver, bounds that don’t meet, and so on) and who’s involved, enough to come back to should I need to but not so much that I might just as well photocopy the thing or type it out. In these, some things are one-off marvels, and you get to hear about those quite often, but the real work comes in seeing people, places or things that crop up again and again, enough that we can say something safe about who they are and what they were interested in (“land”). So the notes have asterisks, for all these things that are interesting, in the margins, and lines joining recurrences up or arrows and signes de renvoi to other occurrences, and so on. (You see what this looks like above.) To actually do very much with this, however, I then have to type stuff up, firstly so that it’s electronically searchable and secondly to join up different sets of notes. If I had done this right from the start, I would I think have used a Wiki-structure database, page per charter, page per person, page per place and for each of them an entry recording where they turn up or what other entries link here. Some day when I have enough money for a research assistant this will happen. (Meanwhile, Joan Vilaseca is doing it the hard way and will within a few short years actually have the database I ought to have started with! I am continually amazed by this man’s work.) But as I started, I had no database software at all, so I typed each edition’s notes up as Word files and stuck them full of embedded links, the idea being that that way when data changed in one file it would be cascaded to all the others. Yeah, not quite. I mean, it works to a certain extent, but there is so much messy overlap, documents in several different editions, that it’s never perfect and even where it is, finding a new occurrence of a person or place tends to mean that they need updating in every file where they occur. These files are several megabytes each, they take a long time to update, they eat memory, it’s not good. But it’s what I have. So here’s a chunk, you can see what sort of information I’m recording.

53 = Cat. Car. IV 1868: is a regestum of a donation of land in Savassona with some truly impressively garbled names, a neighbour Gundolfínia and a scribe Aliborn chief among them; the land is being given by a woman to her daughter, interestingly.
54, 55, 60, 73, 76, 78, 90 & 116, perhaps among others, all feature the priest Miró, one of Casserres’s hardest-working canons and visible at the church both before and after its conversion to monastery. He is never a monk, in 73 has heirs though they aren’t identified, and buys property in own right in 78; yet his connection with this supposedly Benedictine monastery is inescapable.
54 & 78 both feature land at la Guàrdiola de Roda.
54, 78 & 140 all feature land on the strata francisca, or so the regesta that preserve this information seem to mean.
54 is a sale to the priest Miró of what seems to be most of a settlement, albeit only two pieces of land and a vine, given its bounds on others rather than people’s properties; nicely positioned on the strata francisca and its own road (presumably to Roda?); sold for only 16 solidi.
55, 56, 62, 64, 67, 80 & 114 all feature a Casserres and Roda landholder by the name of Vives, almost always as neighbour (he witnesses 56, where he is also a neighbour—but then we have so few witnesses recorded—and donates in 114).

Now this is not rigorous, because its principal data capture tool is my brain, which makes mistakes. I knew this, so I was quite keen on adding databases to the mix as soon as I could. A piece of contract work for Professor Wendy Davies, all hail, left me with a good design that I customised for my own use.7 But this was within the last two years of my thesis, both part-time, and I didn’t have time or the will to type up all the charters I’d used for the project into it. Instead, I used it solely for the final chapter, the chunk on Count-Marquis Borrell II of whom you must by now all be bored (although I’m not, be warned). I typed up all documents in which he was mentioned, as atomised names and dates and so on in their appropriate fields. Running various complicated queries over that sample produced names I hadn’t noticed were recurring, whom I then went and looked for in my notes, moving thus from comitally-connected documents to regionally-connected ones, and for how that works out, you can see the book.8 And when new projects came up, I added more sections, and those you can also find lurking behind other parts of the book.9

Screenshot from my Catalan comital charters database

Screenshot from my Catalan comital charters database

When I got to the Casserres charters, though, it was plain I wouldn’t have time to do it the old way, and it was also questionable whether I needed to, since I had the PDF on the computer, already searchable. It was also clear that they would have to be databased, all of them, which raised the question of what possible function longhand notes would have in the project. I was very reluctant not to make any, because atomising a document for data entry is not the same as actually reading it and I was afraid I would miss the stories that make these documents so interesting. But the Casserres ones are mainly preserved as abstracts anyway, so few stories, just bewildering obscurity, and in any case as I say there was no time. So I just data-entered the lot, all 145, three a day and more when there was time. (I’m told by an ex-girlfriend that normal people don’t get up and do academic data entry before they’ve breakfasted or dressed. But for what value of normal?10) But that’s only half the work, because you still have to get the data out and usable. That would be another piece of writing, which I think I’ve just promised to do in Italy in September so I’ll omit it here but suffice it to say, I took each charter entry in turn, I ran queries for recurrences on every name in there, and where there were some I typed them up in one of my old-fashioned files, in fact that very one I excerpt above. And then I printed it, so that there were some notes of a kind after all, which somehow makes me feel better. All the same: if this is a sane way to work, I’m a Dutchman, he says resorting to eighteenth-century ethnic slurs, sorry. (Large parts of my ancestry are fairly uncertain, in fact, but there’s no reason to suppose etc.) The fact that it just about seems to produce the results is perhaps the only compensation, and that other than recording the data better I can’t think of a quicker or more rigorous one. What do you think, if any of you made it this far?

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

(Of course all this is not, of itself, a new problem: check the first sentence of this article and see if it doesn’t make you cringe with complicity. Then read on. Hat tip to Ralph Luker at Cliopatria.)


1. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum, V.23: “quid de his scribi debeat, quemve habiturum sint finem singula, necdum sciri valeat”, my translation.

2. Okay, there is in fact a reasonable amount of work on the place, which could probably all be found referenced in three of the four latest bits, those being: A. Pladevall i Font, J.-A. Adell i Gisbert, X. Barral i Altet, E. Bracons i Clapes, M. Gustà i Martorell, M. Hoja Cejudo, M. Gracià Salvà i Picó, A. Roig i Delofeu, E. Carbonell i Esteller, J. Vigué i Viñas & R. Rosell i Gibert, “Sant Pere de Casserres” in Vigué (ed.), Catalunya Romànica II: Osona I, ed. Vigué (Barcelona 1984), pp. 354-391, updated by J. Pujades i Cavalleria, C. Subiranas i Fàbregas, Pladevall & Adell, “Sant Pere de Casserres” in Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica XXVII: visió de sintesí, restauracions i noves troballes, bibliografía, índexs generals, ed. M. L. Ramos Martínez (Barcelona 1998), pp. 201-206, and the third Teresa Soldevila i García, Sant Pere de Casserres: història i llegenda, l’entorn 35 (Vic 1998), which is much the closest to my kind of social analysis. There is also, however, Pladevall, Sant Pere de Casserres o la Presència de Cluny en Catalunya (Barcelona 2004), which I am hoping to get hold of at last in the next few days; it’s not widely held even in Spain. With a bit of luck I still have a paper.

3. It’s been extensively written about by itself, in for example P. de Palol, “Las mesas de altar paleocristianas en la Tarraconense” in Ampurias Vol. 19-20 (Empúries 1957-1958), pp. 81-102 at p. 87; S. Alavedra, Les ares d’altar de Sant Pere de Terrassa-Ègara (Terrassa 1979), II pp. 71-74; and in Pladevall et al., “Sant Pere de Casserres”, p. 384. I owe the first two references to Mark Handley, who’s been hugely helpful helping me track this thing through the literature on stones. It is however not mentioned at all in Soldevila’s book and the Pladevall et al. article discusses it only separately.

4. J. Jarrett, “How To Take Over An Archive: Sant Pere de Casserres and its Community”, paper presented in session ‘Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: Pushing the Boundaries‘, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 14th July 2009.

5. Somewhat amazingly, the relevant book, a 1736 manuscript copy of a list of renders and properties made for a fifteenth-century prior of the house, was found in a Tarragona bookseller’s in the 1980s; it is now in the Arxiu Comarcal d’Osona, and Soldevila was thus able to base her book firmly upon it.

6. Irene Llop (ed.), Col·lecció Diplomàtica de Sant Pere de Casserres, Diplomataris 44 (Barcelona 2009).

7. There was an expert whose identity I never discovered in that project somewhere, but since the variant design I came up with delivered the same results quicker for a megabyte less coded back-end, I’m calling it mine.

8. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 140-166.

9. That on Malla and that on l’Esquerda were new work, for which I added all the relevant charters I could find to the database to produce ibid., pp. 73-99.

10. I should perhaps make clear, though, that we were long broken up when she saw me doing this.