Tag Archives: Michel Zimmermann

A picture of swearing in Catalan

I don’t have time for anything much this post because I’m at yet another conference, but happily I have something short but sweet part-written-up from ages ago, when I was still finishing Michel Zimmermann’s infamous Écrire et lire en Catalogne, and found among his facsimiles this:

Arxiu de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, pergamins Ramon Borrell, carpeta 6, número 119

Arxiu de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, pergamins Ramon Borrell, carpeta 6, número 119, from Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (siècles IXe-XIIIe (Madrid 2003), II, fig, 5.

Now this may not look like much, but it is apparently quite important, as I quickly found by websearching it: at that point, September last year, it had only recently been on display in Tremp, in Pallars, as the earliest known document in Catalan. This is apparently a contested title, another contender being the Homílies d’Organya, a late twelfth-century manuscript of sermon material, but it has been decided for the purposes of this exhibition at least that the smaller daggier document was still the winner.

Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Cancilleria, Pergamins Ramon Borrell 119, on display at Tremp

So what actually is it? Well, it is one of the instances of swearing that have occasionally turned up on this here blog, to wit the swearing of fidelity by one person to another, in this case a chap called Radulf Oriol to Count Ramon IV of Pallars (Zimmermann says it’s Ramon III but the two editions available both disagree).1</sup. The text is as follows, and it does make you see what the people who claim it as Catalan mean, at least after the first sentence. I don’t see the accents in the facsimile myself, but the rest is pretty much there:

“Iuro ego Radolf Oriol, filum Mirabile, a te Ragimundo chomite, filum Ermetruete, et a te Ermesende chomitissa, filiam Gilgade, ipssos chastellos de Aringo et de Oriti. Go fideles vos ende seré, go no los vos devetaré ni devetare, no llos vos faré; et si de Giriperto, meum seniore, menus venerit per morte, go a vós ende atenderé, sine lochoro che no no vis ende dedaddamandare.
“Quamu ací est est scriptu et omo ligere hic pote, si vos ateré et si vos atenderé per directa fidem, sine vestro enchanno, per Deum et sanctis suis.”

Which, if I must translate, comes out something like this, where the bold bits are the vernacular:

“I Radulf Oriol, son of Mirabella, swear to you Count Ramon, son of Ermetruit, and to you Countess Ermessenda, daughter of Guilgada, the castles of Areny de Noguera and of Orrit. I will be faithful to you over them, I will not deprive you of them or make you be deprived of them, and if my lord Geribert comes to less by death, I will attend upon you for them without money, the which I will not demand from you.
“Whatever is written here and man may here read, thus I utter to you and thus I shall attend upon you
by direct fidelity, without any deception, by God and His saints.”

So it’s pretty basic and functional but does the job. One problem though: you may notice that like most of its kindred documents, it’s not actually dated. The Tremp exhibition pins it to between 1028 and 1047 and Zimmermann to between 1011 and 1047, based on the people involved, but it really could be anywhere within that window, which opens that same window up to a load more documents of this type sworn to Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I of Barcelona, most of which also have vernacular clauses scattered here and there; we’ve met one or two here before.2 This one’s average date is earlier? But Adam Kosto would point to some other proto-convenientiae like this that are even older, and also have the odd flicker of Romance about them…3 In the end it’s a judgement call, and you may as well pick the local one if you have an exhibition to mount, but the more interesting questions may be about what exactly counts as Catalan here and why it is only present intermittently. For me, I admit, the most interesting question remains why only this genre of document uses mother’s names rather than father’s names to identify its participants, but I don’t know how we get anywhere with that. Till then, here’s an interesting charter!


1. The document is edited in F. Miquel Rosell (ed.), Liber feudorum maior: cartulario real que se conserva en la Archivo de la Corona de Aragón (Madrid 1945), 2 vols, doc. no. 141, and Gaspar Feliu i Montfort & Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, no. 340, whence this text.

2. Michel Zimmermann, “Aux origines de Catalogne féodale : les serments non datés du règne de Ramon Berenguer Ier” in Jaume Portella i Comas (ed.), La formació i expansió del feudalisme català: actes del col·loqui organitzat pel Col·legi Universitari de Girona (8-11 de gener de 1985). Homenatge a Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Estudi General 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 109-151, online here, with English summary p. 557.

3. Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order, and the written word, 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2001), pp. 26-74.

While it’s been quiet I have been reading (and writing)

So I am back from Leeds and there are now two Leeds folders of my notes to blog about in the pile which means that, sadly, I am about a year behind again. How has this occurred? Well, I explained a few posts ago that since January my days have been basically taken up with getting stuff written that might get me hired, one way or another—which of course worked, or something did—and also dealing with a truly heroic level of over-commitment, and that this has basically most days taken me up till midnight and bedtime before getting to any space of time in which I might blog. But I felt like some kind of list of what has passed before me in that time and what it was for might also be explanatory, maybe even provocative of thoughts and comments, and mostly generally make me feel better about the lag. So, this is basically a commented bibliography of my life over the last six months or so and I’ll then carry on attacking the backlog…

Jonathan Jarrett's workspace in Birmingham

The workstation as it currently stands, lacking only your humble scribe

Roughly in order then…

  1. Michel Zimmermann, “El bisbe català durant els segles X-XIII” in idem, En els orígens de Catalunya: emancipació política i afirmació cultural, transl. Antoni Bentué, Llibres a l’abast 248 (Barcelona 1989), pp. 137-165.
  2. This was for my Kalamazoo paper. I had to go to the British Library for the first time in possibly years to get at it, having completely failed to find a copy for sale anywhere; most of it is reprinted but without having access to a copy you can’t know how much, the online presence of it doesn’t get as far as a contents list. If it would help people I can actually say what’s in it, but I made a list, read this one chapter (which is only printed here) in a hurry, and then basically didn’t use it as though it’s quite interesting it has no references, which were deferred to a French version that seems never to have come out…

  3. Lutger Körntgen & Dominik Waßerhoven (edd.), Patterns of Episcopal Power: bishops in tenth- and eleventh-century Western Europe. Strukturen bischöflicher Herrschaft im westlichen Europa des 10. und 11. Jahrhunderts, Prinz-Albert-Forschungen 6 (Baden 2011).
  4. Also for the Kalamazoo paper, which as you may be beginning to guess was about bishops, and much more useful, especially for the Englishing of a seminal German paper by Timothy Reuter.1

  5. The first 95 pages of Albert Benet i Clarà, Història de Manresa dels orígens al segle XI (Manresa 1985).
  6. This largely because for reasons that will sort of get blogged about, I had a spare day in Barcelona which I largely spent in the Biblioteca de Catalunya. I have been needing to get at this for a long time, even before I started working on priests around Manresa but especially since then, and I can really only do so in Catalonia. It turns out to be about eight hundred pages, though, so I will need a few more visits…

  7. The introduction of Antoni Pladevall i Font, Tona: mil cent anys d’història, L’entorn 16 (Tona 1990).
  8. For much the same reasons of opportunity, to break up the solidity of the Benet volume and because I’ve repeatedly cited it as a thing I know exists and I felt that I needed to see what it actually says in case this was a bad idea. I only had time for the introduction, though, so the jury is out till next visit.

  9. Jeffrey A. Bowman, “The Bishop Builds a Bridge: sanctity and power in medieval Pyrenees” in Catholic Historical Review Vol. 88 (Washington DC 2002), pp. 1-16, DOI: 110.1353/cat.2002.0006.
  10. I should have read this years ago too, given how I like St Ermengol as an example case, but now I did so as to get it clear for the Kalamazoo paper, and in fact it turned out to be one of the pieces of scholarship around which I oriented the paper, so that was good to have done.

  11. Cécile Morrisson, C. Brendt, J.-P. Callu, J.-N. Barrandon, J. Poirier & R. Halleux, L’or monnayé 1 : Purification et altérations de Rome à Byzance, Cahiers Ernest-Babelon 2 (Paris 1985).
  12. For work, really, and specifically the All That Glitters project, and for that very educational; there will be blog posts about this in due course…

  13. John S. Ott & Anna Trumbore Jones (edd.), The Bishop Reformed: studies of episcopal power and culture in the Central Middle Ages (Aldershot 2007).
  14. Another volume of studies about bishops, and this one very useful; there were many case studies in here which I thought paralleled what I wanted to say, and it turned up a lot in the Kalamazoo paper’s footnotes.

  15. Sean Gilsdorf (ed.), The Bishop: power and piety at the first millennium, Neue Aspekte der europäischen Mittelalterforschung 4 (Münster 2004).
  16. And another, and in some ways the most useful to think with; it also exposed that even Timothy Reuter was not above publishing roughly the same thoughts twice, however…2

  17. David S. Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany (Woodbridge 2012).
  18. Read very rapidly, but avidly, for a paper I was giving in Oxford the week after Kalamazoo, a repeat offence I’m afraid, but I had a lot of reactions to this book (some of which, I will admit, were incredulous) and I will definitely be writing about this here as well as in the final version of that paper.

  19. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Administrando Imperii, ed. Gyula Moravcsik & transl. Romilly J. H. Jenkins, 2nd edn., Dumbarton Oaks Texts 1 (Washington DC 1967).
  20. For the recent Leeds paper, and a fascinating read as well as being my first real brush with Byzantine source material; there will also be blog posts about this!

  21. Mark Handley, Dying on Foreign Shores: travel and mobility in the late-antique West, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 86 (Portsmouth RI 2011).
  22. Ths I was reading largely because it kept coming up in a project bid I was part of, about which there will be further blogging if it comes off at least, and I kept telling people how important it was on the basis of the paper I saw Mark give once when he was writing it, and felt I had better make sure. But it turns out it’s brilliant, so I was reassured. I’m not just saying this because he may be reading, I haven’t actively enjoyed a work of scholarship this much for ages. I have one post stubbed coming out of this which will engage with a tiny part of it, but meanwhile I can only say that not only is it required reading for anyone working on travel in late Antiquity, it’s also a good read. Enjoy the footnotes…

  23. Romilly J. H. Jenkins (ed.), Constantine Porphyrogenitus: De Administrando Imperii. A Commentary, 2nd edn. (Washington DC 2012).
  24. Given the speed at which I was having to amass knowledge about the De Adminstrando Imperii, the fact that there existed a commentary volume was a godsend, even if it is by now fifty years old in its original form. I saw it while I was at Dumbarton Oaks (about which also future blog) and then made sure to read it, and without it the Leeds paper could not have existed. It was also illuminating about why the work on the De Adminstrando I’ve read is so unbothered about the obviously questionable state of the text, and I will certainly blog about that in due course too.

  25. And lastly, bits of Jonathan Shepard (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge 2008).
  26. This lastly just to get some kind of sense of where Byzantine scholarship on these areas has gone since Ostrogorsky and the edition of the De Adminstrando, and for that also vital, but it gives me less to say that wasn’t actually in the Leeds paper except that I wish Armenia and eastern Turkey were currently safer to visit.3

So that not only wraps up a list, but tells you quite a lot about what I’ve been doing and what you can expect here as, I hope, I reduce the backlog. Meanwhile, any questions? And thanks as ever for reading.


1. Timothy Reuter, “Ein Europa der Bischöfe. Das Zeitalter Burchards von Worms”, in Wilfried Hartmann (ed.), Bischof Burchard von Worms 1000-1025, Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen Kirchengeschichte 100 (Mainz 2000), pp. 1-28, transl. Dominik Waßerhoven as “A Europe of Bishops. The Age of Wulfstan of York and Burchard of Worms” in Lutger Körntgen & Waßerhoven (edd.), Patterns of Episcopal Power: bishops in tenth- and eleventh-century Western Europe. Strukturen bischöflicher Herrschaft im westlichen Europa des 10. und 11. Jahrhunderts, Prinz-Albert-Forschungen 6 (Baden 2011), pp. 17-38.

2. Reuter, “Bishops, rites of passage, and the symbolism of state in pre- Gregorian Europe”, in Sean Gilsdorf (ed.), The Bishop: power and piety at the first millennium, Neue Aspekte der europäischen Mittelalterforschung 4 (Münster 2004), pp. 23-36, which has maybe a three-quarters overlap with “A Europe of Bishops”.

3. George Ostrogorsky, Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft XII.1.2 (München 1940), transl. Joan Hussey as History of the Byzantine State (Oxford 1956), 2nd English edn. from 3rd German edn. (Oxford 1968) and then reprinted four times by the date of the copy I bought a few days ago, and as that implies still very much the standard reference.

Unexpected female scribe perhaps too unexpected

[I wrote the first draft of this post in August 2014, pretty much all in one go, and queued it. This is even more ridiculous than usual, as since then I’ve actually been to the relevant archive and answered the question it poses. But it’s still a good question, I still wrote the post and I feel very strongly about queues, so I’m putting it up anyway, and you’ll just have to wait for the answer…]

After months, nay years, I have finally found the time to finish Michel Zimmermann’s immense two-volume book Écrire et lire en Catalogne. There are 28 appendices – 28! – and the very last of them is a set of commented plates that include some really interesting documents. And one of them, sitting starkly against one of the things I have most often observed about this complex book, is this one:

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 973b

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 973b, as presented in Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècles), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, II p. 1250, fig. 4.

Now this dates from 1044, which is later than I usually run. So, although it is from Vic, my favourite archive, I’ve never seen the real thing. I really want to now, though, and it must go on the list. What Zimmermann thinks is important about it is the scribe, whose name was Alba, which is of course feminine in any Romance language you’d like to name.1 She was, therefore, a female scribe, and by the look of the charter, perfectly regular despite its unpleasant state of preservation, she knew what she was doing. (Some of the look of it must just be the photography, in any case. I have another picture of the same charter that isn’t half as bad, though black and white, so I guess that this one has been treated for increased visibility; I’ve applied nothing more than a bit of extra contrast myself.2) We only have the one document signed by Alba, but that may just be because she wrote for laypeople, although it could instead be that she was one of the literate women the sources occasionally show us, whom Zimmermann almost always prefers to deny, and got called in to write where others could not. It’s a neat and perfectly normal if quite thick charter hand, though, so I doubt that.

A second Riuprimer charter of 1044

Witness this very similar-looking document by the scribe Arnau in the same place a couple of months earlier, it being Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segle XI) (Vic 2000-2010), 6 fascicles, doc. no. 1026 and lámina 95.

All the same, it bothers me. Look at the left margin of the first document and you will quickly see that this is an example of something I have seen before at Vic, where two documents are written transverse on the same long strip of parchment.3 In the other case I have, the same scribe wrote both, which helps to explain why the same parchment was available to two different sets of transactors (and raises serious but unanswerable questions about archiving—were these people storing their documents with the scribes that made them, like later Italian notaries?4) And it looks, from what very little we can see of the script of the left-hand document, as if it’s the same hand here as well. But Zimmermann, and perhaps more significantly given that author’s tendency to push women out of his account, the index of scribes in the Vic edition of their eleventh-century charters both maintain that Alba wrote only one known document, so I’m willing to bet there’s another scribal signature on the left-hand one. Obviously I need to see it to be sure, but if so, as Mark Knopfler once sang, “Two men say they’re Jesus, one of ’em must be wrong”: either one of the scribal attributions is fictive, or there’s some really similar handwriting around Riuprimer in the 1040s.5 I can’t say any more without seeing it, but which would you guess?

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, nos 242 & 243

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, nos 242 & 243 in happy union, click through for (slightly) bigger

Also worth thinking about: if one of the names is fictive, why? When this happened at Sant Joan de Ripoll (that is, when a scribe can be seen to have written a document that has someone else’s name at the bottom) it’s because the person whose name goes at the bottom was the abbey’s apparent chief scribe.6 But that doesn’t really work when they’re both on the same parchment, and whether we see here a woman asserting her right to have writing that she had done and never mind the lazy notary (perhaps her father? I’m not sure if an unmarried woman would sign as femina, I’ve never quite figured out what that appelation means when it’s used), or rather a notary with a narky female client who wanted it noted that she could have written the document even if she hadn’t, we also need to explain the fact that this was not apparently rendered daft bu the other scribe’s signature. OK, if there is one. I think I have now hypothesized as far as my lack of evidence can take me…


The final version of this post was brought to you with the aid of Krankschaft, III, which is excellent.

1. Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècles), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, II p. 1250, fig. 4.

2. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segle XI) (Vic 2000-2010), 6 fascicles, doc. 1031 and lám. 96.

3. Arxiu Capitular de Vic, cal. 6 nums 242 & 243, printed most recently in 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 1718 & 1719.

4. See Reinhard Härtel, Notarielle und kirchliche Urkunden im frühen und hohen Mittelalter (Wien 2011), pp. 163-171.

5. Dire Straits, “Industrial Disease” on Love over Gold (Vertigo 1982).

6. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 29-30; Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), p. 205.

Beware of Greeks bearing names

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down... "Paleochristian Basilica - Empúries - 2005-03-27". Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ruins of the palæochristian basilica at Empúries, one place it seems reasonable to say people came to Catalonia from actual Greece, albeit rather before this building was put up, let alone knocked down… “Paleochristian Basilica – Empúries – 2005-03-27“. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing through Benoît-Michel Tock‘s methodical study of subscriptions to French charters of the seventh to twelfth century, I found an unexpected moment of solidarity.1 It’s not that I don’t expect to share ideas and conclusions with M. le Prof Tock, as we are interested in very similar things, but this bit, well, you will see. He is discussing the appearance of surnames in the charters he is studying, and the first instance is one Urso Grecus, who turns up only in the foundation charter of Cluny, in 910.2 Tock argues that this ‘Greek’ appellation can’t be taken literally, as the name Ursus is no kind of Greek known, so that the surname probably tells us he could read Greek, rather than that he was somehow seen as Greek. But this is a question that can be explored with the Catalan evidence, where there are one or two more such characters, including a judge called Oruç whose name (in Latin, Aurucius) is oddly similar to Ursus but who lived too late to be the same man, including being captured in the sack of Barcelona in 985 and later ransomed.3 Now, Oruç has been taken either to actually have been Greek or perhaps a legally-trained person from Byzantine Italy brought in as part of Borrell II’s judicial reforms, to the best of my knowledge, but the same problem of the non-Greek name arises for him, and it’s not just him.4 At which point, enter one of this blog’s running fascinations:

« En sens inverse, ZIMMERMANN, La connaissance du grec, p. 496–497, confronté dans la Catalogne des environs de l’an mil à un Guitardus grecus, malgré la non hellenité de ce nom, accepte que ce soit un Grec. Il est vrai que la Catalogne était plus perméable que la Touraine aux influences méditerranéennes, et que l’épouse de ce Guitardus portait le nom, bien grec lui, de Polemia. Ne pourrait-on imaginer que ce Guitardus, Franc comme son nom l’indique, ait cherché fortune et trouvé femme en Grèce, d’où le surnom qui lui aurait été attribué ? »5

Which, translated roughly, comes out as:

“In the opposite sense, Zimmermann, ‘La connaissance du grec’, pp. 496-497, faced, in the Catalonia of around the year 1000, with a Guitardus grecus, despite the non-Hellenity of the name, accepts this person as a Greek. It is true that Catalonia was more permeable to Mediterranean influences than was the Touraine, and that this Guitard’s wife bore the name, this one perfectly Greek, of Polemia. Could one not imagine that this Guitardus, a Frank as his name shows, had sought fortune and found a wife in Greece, whence the surname that was attributed to him?”

To which I’d like to say, “yes, yes one can, or at least this one can.” This might even just work for Oruç, too, in as much as his wife Maria’s name is obviously not impossible for Greece.6 Obviously I twitch at saying someone was Frankish because they bore a Frankish name, and there are a number of instances in a Spanish context of people using one or other of a pair of names from alternative language’s name-stocks depending on what company they’re in, and this is probably a bit too simplistic for the melting-pot that Barcelona was becoming. I also wonder a little bit about how wryly to read the juxtaposition of seeking a fortune and finding a wife. Nonetheless, I think that since neither Zimmermann’s or Tock’s reading of these names can be proven (saving the surpassingly unlikely accident of these persons’ graves being identifiably found and their teeth showing their origins when analysed) I’d like to go with the one that involves the romance, just because that would make the period that bit more fun to, as he says, imagine.7


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle), Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005).

2. Auguste Bernard & Alexandre Bruel (edd.), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de Cluny (Paris 1876-1903), 7 vols, doc. no. 112, discussed in Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 89-90.

3. He appears in at least: Francesc X. Altés i Aguiló, “El Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Ceília de Montserrat I: anys 900-999” in Studia monastica Vol. 36 (Montserrat 1994), pp. 223-302, doc. no. 96; Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 278; Àngel Fabrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Sèries IV: Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. nos 162, 166, 170, 172 & 220; Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 37, 46, 50, 60, 88, 91, 97 & 109; 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. no. 1526; & Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Barcelona 1951), doc. nos 207, 211, 218, 227, 228 & 237.

4. Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, I pp. 345 figures Oruç as an actual Greek; Philip Banks, “«Greeks» in Early Medieval Barcelona?” in Faventia Vol. 2 (Barcelona 1980), pp. 73-88, online here, last modified 15th November 2006 as of 9th August 2009, suggests that he and the other six such Greci visible in early medieval Catalonia were local-born sons of an otherwise unattested Greek-speaking Sicilian immigration in the earlier tenth century. I have a nasty feeling that the suggestion of a link with Borrell’s judicial reforms, since I am the person who thinks they happened, originated with me, but obviously that wouldn’t explain the others.

5. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, p. 90 n. 26, referencing Michel Zimmermann, “La connaissance du grec en Catalogne du IXe au XIe siècle” in Michel Sot (ed.), Haut Moyen Âge : Culture, éducation et société. Études offertes à Pierre Riché (La Garenne-Colombes 1990), pp. 493-515.

6. Maria appears in Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 109.

7. On the two-named populations, see Victor Aguilar & Francesco Rodríguez Mediano, “Antroponimia de origen árabe en la documentación leonesa (siglos VIII-XIII)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media Vol. 6 (León 1994), pp. 497-633.

Domna grammatika: a surprise from Michel Zimmermann

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle)

Cover of Michel Zimmermann’s Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle)

I am now, nearly, finished reading Michel Zimmermann’s huge book Écrire et lire en Catalogne that has given me so much difficulty along with its information, only the bibliography and appendices (themselves two hundred pages) to go.1 One of the problems with understanding what is going on with this work is its pedigree. It is a version, little revised, he says at the outset, of his thèse d’état, a huge-scale thing akin to a German Habilitationsschrift that doesn’t really exist in the UK or US systems and doesn’t, any longer, in France either. Firstly, this means that a lot of it dates from a long time ago and when one comes across references to ideas published ‘recemment’ in 1978, one begins to wonder how much it was updated to reflect Zimmermann the learned professor as per 2002 rather than Zimmermann the young scholar as per 1982.2 Furthermore, these beasts could easily be the fruits of a decade’s work and then here he is updating it in the 2000s, so there’s prospect for quite a lot of change of opinions and knowledge even between its chapters. This may explain a thing I found in the last chapter which I didn’t expect, either from the material or the writer, and which for balance I thought I had to mention here.

The last chapter, a mere slip of a thing at 140 pages, is about what people learned in Catalonia and how, ninth to thirteenth centuries. This work gave rise to several other articles for its author in the eighties and if you put them back in somehow this would be a respectable little book by itself, and a useful one. It ineluctably duplicates some of the rest of the book as well, though not as much as the previous chapter, almost all of which is already present in the first volume somewhere.3 Here the author worked harder to eliminate what was redundant, and the citation is also more thorough and it generally reads more easily. I don’t know whether this makes it earlier or later in the book’s process, but it’s pleasant. There is, anyway, a substantial section on cathedral schools and teachers and one of the first things this does is to analyse the titles that are used of teachers in the documents. Caput scolae is the one we see most of, as below, ‘headmaster’ almost, but behind that (and I would say, largely later) we also see scholastici (advanced students?) and grammatici, and the surprising thing is that among that latter group there are two women.4

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

A gift by the Archpriest Ermemir to Riculf, caput scolae of the cathedral of Vic, named on the first line (Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297, with my fingers at the corner

These records are not quite as unambiguous as one might wish.5 We only have the name of one of them, Guisla grammatica, and the other appears as only homo domna gramatika, which looks as if it must be a scribal error in some direction or other, possibly for Hemmo, Emma; the Greek spelling of ‘gramatika‘ gives me strange memories of a lady I met once in Cambridge but also makes me wonder if the scribe thought the word couldn’t be declined, like Hebrew terms, though in that case why did he only know it in the feminine? Moreover, the first is potentially to be identified with a Guisla who was the wife of one Guillem, and he may be one of the other grammatici around the cathedral of Vic at this time, as they certainly had one of that name. In other words, Zimmermann suggests, she might be a grammaticus‘s wife using the family title, rather than actually having any teaching role herself; the cathedral’s grammarians certainly seem to have passed the title down to their heirs, but those heirs presumably also inherited the teaching? We don’t know for sure. But it’s interesting, and it’s also something that based on other parts of the book I wouldn’t entirely have expected M. le Prof. Z. even to have mentioned. Vic was somewhere with a history of encouraging female learning and study in a small way, and it’s nice to think that might have briefly been institutionalised as lay instruction took off more widely in the mid-eleventh century.


1. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècles, Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols.

2. Ibid., II p. 889 notes work published in 1978 by Colette Jeudy as having been made public ‘recemment’. Now, I struggle myself with admitting that the 1980s no longer counts as ‘recent’ (it’s still a horrible memory for me) but I think my working practice now is, don’t call anything recent which didn’t come out during the youngest likely readership’s lifetimes…

3. We do, admittedly, get the third run-through in the book of the inventories of the libraries of Ripoll and Vic, which also appear in the appendices, but here it’s just for books containing scientific material that Gerbert of Aurillac might have been able to see. This includes MS Ripoll 106, which we discussed here a while back; it’s kind of nice to think that he probably also flipped through it. (Though, to him, it would have been ‘recent’…)

4. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, II pp. 870-886 and here esp. pp. 878-881 for what follows.

5. Even in citation, alas: Zimmermann references these documents as Arxiu Capitular de Vic, nos 1052 and 1060, and gives a date for one of them that seems to preclude these numbers being dates, not shelfmarks. They’re not complete shelfmarks, however, says I as one who knows the ACV a little bit, and though the documents may be in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segle XI) (Vic 2006-), I haven’t gone and looked, I admit, as for some reason no library in this country has more of it than fascs 1 & 2, even though I know darn well the thing is finished because I got given its plates in an adventure I have yet to tell you about

Prince Quintilian of Montgrony: a correction

With certain enviable exceptions, every historian has sometimes to admit that they got something wrong, and this will not be the first time I do so here, but up till now I’ve only once had to do this about something I got into print. Sadly, this has now arisen, as in August 2012 I came across something that meant I had to let go of one particular bête noir of my work on the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, that being the information supposedly preserved there about the area of Mogrony (now Sant Pere de Montgrony).

Sant Pere de Montgrony

Sant Pere de Montgrony, centre of the point of contention in its slightly more modern form of both building and spelling, from Wikimedia Commons

In 2003, when I sent in the text for what would become my first paper, it contained a goodly chunk about Mogrony, because I was contending that everything Sant Joan’s documents said about this place was essentially made up.1 This included the surviving versions of the nunnery’s endowment in 887, which claim the place for the nunnery in a way that they clearly not only could not later enforce but a full century later did not even mention when going to court about it.2 I went for this as follows:

“The castle of Mogrony has often been said to have been a centre of a princely lordship in the eighth century whose line donated or sold the place to Count Guifré. This suggestion rests on almost no actual evidence, and much of what underpins it existed, if at all, in the Sant Joan archive.56 In 899, the year after the death of Count Guifré the supposed donor, in which Charles the Simple was invited to place his protection over all of Sant Joan’s property, it seems that the castle was not among that property, as all that was mentioned at Mogrony was ‘the cell of Mogrony with its limits and bounds’.57 Furthermore, when in 906 the assembled bishops of the province of Narbonne offered Emma similar guarantees, they too only mentioned ‘the cell which is called Mogrony with the parish subjected to it’.58 Thus, though Sant Joan was clearly a force in the area, there is no early evidence that it then held the castle.”

That, I think, all holds up, but the devil is as so often in the footnotes, and in particular n. 56:

56 The suggestion originated with Francisco Codera y Zaidín (in his ‘Límites Probables de la Dominación Árabe en la Cordillera Pirenaica’, Boletín de la Real Academia de Historia 48 (Barcelona, 1906), pp. 289–311, repr. in idem, Estudios Críticos de Historia Árabe Española (Segunda Serie), Colección de Estudios Arabes 8 (Madrid, 1917), pp. 235–76, at pp. 307–9 in the original). It was based on observations of a lost manuscript by Jaime Villanueva (Viage Literario a las Iglesias de España tomo X: viage a Urgel (Valencia, 1821), p. 19), some very hypothetical onomastics and a report of another now lost Sant Joan manuscript, otherwise unknown even to Masdeu before the 1939 sack, and unseen by Codera. Nonetheless, the suggestion has been picked up and expanded by Abilio Barbero (in ‘La Integración Social de los “Hispani” del Pirineo Oriental al Reino Carolingio’, in P. Gallais and Y.-J. Riou (eds), Mélanges Offerts à René Crozet, Professeur à l’Université de Poitiers, Directeur du Centre d’Études Supérieures de Civilisation Médiévale, à l’Occasion de son Soixante-Dixième Anniversaire, par ses Amis, ses Collègues, ses Élèves et les Membres du C. É. S. C. M., vol. 1 (Poitiers, 1966), pp. 67–75, at p. 72, the article reprinted in A. Prieto (ed.), Conflictos y Estructuras Sociales en la Hispania Antiqua (Madrid, 1977), re-edited A García Bellido et al. as Conflictos y Estructuras Sociales en la España Antiqua (Madrid, 1986), pp. 151–65), Esteve Albert (Les Abadesses [de Sant Joan, Episodis d’Història 69, (Barcelona 1965)], pp. 10–17), A. Vadillo Pinilla (‘El Dominio de San Juan de las Abadesas: algunas consecuencias de su formación’, in M.A. Ladero Quesada (ed.), En la España Medieval IV: estudios dedicados al Professor D. Angel Ferrari Núñez Tomo II (Madrid, 1984), pp. 1019–45) and Albert Benet i Clarà (‘Castell de Mogrony’, in idem, A. Pladevall i Font and J. Vigué i Viñas, ‘Castells i Viles del Ripollès anteriors al 1300’, in Pladevall [(ed.)], Catalunya Romànica X[: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987)], pp. 26–32, at p. 28). Given the weakness of the original suggestion (uncited after Barbero’s article), I do not think their respective conclusions about Mogrony and its rulers can easily stand.
57 ‘Id est in praedicto pago ausonensi cella Mucronio cum finibus et adiacenciis suis . . .’: see n. 25 above.
58 HGL V 32: ‘. . . cellam quoque [sic] dicitur Mucuronio cum subjuncta sibi parrochia…’.”

Despite my total lack of understanding of non-English capitalisation of titles at that point, I exult even now in the pedantry and bibliographical research that resulted in that footnote – no-one, but no-one, ever seems to cite Codera in such a way that the actual title on the spine of the book is mentioned, and the two reprints of Barbero’s piece confuse the record massively too, but the problem is with Codera and with Villaneuva. Y’see, what Codera said is that there was a document at Sant Joan that mentions a princeps Quintilianus hanging out at Mogrony in the year 736, and others have built on this a model of vestigial lords hanging on in their local areas long after the Muslim conquest. Nowadays, what you could not do in 2003, you can find Codera online and see this.3 I translate:

“Father Villanueva was the first who encountered and published a short notice of this person: in a codex of the monastery of Ripoll, in eighth-century script, he found the following chronological text: ‘From the Incarnation moreover of the Lord Jesus Christ to the present first year of Prince Quintilian, which is Era [774], are 736 years.’ While we had no more notices referring to Quintiliano than that which Father Villanueva published, it was necessary to doubt this person’s existence, suspecting a problem with the date; but with new data encountered, such as the notice of the death of Quintiliano in the year 778, at which date, according to a martyrology of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, he was ‘senioris de Mocrono‘, it seems that we must admit the existence of this person as ‘lord’, ‘king’ or ‘chief’ of a more or less extensive territory in the mountains of Montgrony, all the more since in a document of the year 804 figures another Quintiliano, lord of Montgrony, who could easily be the descendant or successor of Prince Quintilian (I).”

Here again, though, the footnote is crucial:

“(I) We owe these notices and bibliographical data referring to Quintiliano to our good friend Don Joaquín Miret y Sans, distinguished investigator of the history of Catalonia.”

This is, you will notice, as well as being a fine example of regula magistri, not really a citation, and although the sack of Sant Joan de les Abadesses in the Civil War might go some way to explaining why, of course, none of these Sant Joan materials mentioning Quintilà survive, many of their other charters survived and nothing there from 804 can have come from them in the first place. Miret never published this stuff, anyway, to the best of my knowledge, so there’s no way of knowing what he saw, but it’s always seemed significant to me that the history of Sant Joan by the pre-war archivist, Josep Masdeu, who died in the defence of his documents indeed, did not mention this stuff.4 That, even now, leaves me feeling that it’s much safer, when everything else we have from Sant Joan about Montgrony is faked or disputed, to mistrust anything from there about the place when it can’t be examined. The problem is with what Villanueva saw, which now looks likely to be authentic.

Apse and apsidioles of the west end of the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Sant Joan de les Abadesses, should-be location of the evidence missing from this post’s argumentation

Let us note first off that Villanueva and Miret don’t have to have been talking about the same thing. Villanueva had a dating clause or some kind of chronological summary that one might attach to a chronicle or similar; it doesn’t survive either but then that is much less surprising than at Sant Joan because the Ripoll archive was entirely burnt in 1835. What Miret had found seems definitely to have been notices of some lord of Montgrony, quite possibly in faked donations to Sant Joan that must therefore have postdated 987 when no such documents were available to them. Miret’s cites don’t call the guy ‘princeps’, though, and Villanueva’s does not associate him with Montgrony. We can’t now explain what Miret saw, but none other than Michel Zimmermann reports a very simple solution for what Villanueva had, proposed by Rudolf Beer in his attempt to reconstruct as much as possible of Ripoll’s lost library:5

“In the middle of a table of ancient eras and of the lives of the patriarchs, one finds [says Zimmermann as if the MS still exists, though I cannot see from what he says that it does] a curious note: Ab incarnatione autem Dni Jhu Xpi usque in presentem primum Quintiliani principis annum, qui est era LXX quarta sunt anni DCCXXXVI. Villaneuva restores DCC before the year of the Era and concluded from it that the page was written in 736: he was constrained to deduce from it that, twenty years after the Muslim invasion, there ruled a prince whose name recalled that of the ancient kings of Toledo, probably installed with refugees in the Pyrenean valleys where the Saracens had not yet ventured. R. Beer prefers to correct DCCXXXVI to DCXXXVI and turn Quintilianus into Toledan royalty.”

This seems to me to be very likely to be right. Ripoll certainly had some pretty old books, this being exactly the context of Zimmermann’s discussion, and that one of them could have been a theological and chronographical volume dating to 636 is far from impossible, though its loss is a bit of a blow if so.6 In that case, the Prince Quintilà was no mere prince as the English use would have it; he was the king, no less. What he was not, however, was anything to do with Montgrony, and that place’s supposed lord’s ephemeral trace in unlocatable manuscripts may some day force me to write another retraction. Still: I should have looked at Beer before I wrote, maybe even at Zimmermann if there were then any copies in the country, and maybe even thought of this elegant solution myself, rather than assuming all these people were just wrong. I’ve said elsewhere that Villanueva wins as many disputes with modern scholars as he loses when someone decides he was wrong, even now; I’m not sure that handing him this one doesn’t mean he wins them all7


1. J. Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2005), pp. 229-258, here at pp. 235-241. I also reprised this view in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (New Series) (Woodbridge 2010), p. 47 n. 107 and “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †A. Deyermond & M. Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 109-110, perhaps the one I now regret the most: “… Quintilà has become an accepted feature of an excitable kind of historical writing (Vadillo 1984; Benet, Pladevall & Vigué 1987: 28), but there is really no good reason to suppose he ever existed.” (p. 110).

2. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. 4, 8 & II, the last being the fake version including the castle of Mogrony; cf. ibid. doc. no. 1526 where the area is contested with the nunnery bringing no documents in evidence.

3. F. Codera y Zaidín, “Límites probables de la dominación árabe en la cordillera pirenaica” in Boletín de la Real Academia de Historia Vol. 48 (Barcelona 1906), pp. 289–311, repr. in idem, Estudios críticos de historia árabe española (segunda serie), Colección de Estudios Arabes 8 (Madrid 1917), pp. 235–76 at p. 308 & n. of the original:

“El P. Villanueva fué el primero que encontró y publicó una corta noticia de este personaje: en un códice del Monasterio de Ripoll, de letra del siglo VIII, encontró el texto cronológico siguiente: «Ab incarnatione autem Dñi Jhu Xri usque in presentem primum Quintiliani principis annum, qui est Era LXX quarta (falta la nota DCC) sunt anni DCC.XXX.VI.» Mientras no hubo más noticias referentes á Quintiliano que la publicada por el P. Villanueva, cabía poner en duda la existencia de este personaje, sospechando que pudiera haber equivocación en la fecha; pero encontrados nuevos datos, cual es la noticia de la muerte de Quintiliano en el año 778, en la cual fecha, según un martirologio de San Juan de las Abadesas, era senioris de Mocrono, parece que hay que admitir la existencia de este personaje como señor ó rey ó jefe de un territorio más ó menos extenso en los montes de Montgrony, tanto más, cuanto en documento del año 804 figura otro Quintiliano, señor de Montgrony, que bien pudo ser hijo ó nieto y sucesor del Príncipe Quintiliano (I).


 (I) Debemos estas noticias y nota de la bibliografía referente ´ Quintiliano á nuestro buen amigo D. Joaquín Miret y Sans, distinguido investigador de la historia medioeval de Cataluña.”

4. Josep Masdeu, Sant Joan de les Abadesses: resum historic (Vic 1926); the Sant Joan documents not published in Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos XVIII (Madrid 1951) are now published as Joan Ferrer i Godoy (ed.), Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Joan de les Abadesses (995-1273), Diplomataris 43 (Barcelona 2009). The earliest survivor is from 885 and that’s one of the dodgy ones, Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 4 (= Udina doc. no. 3).

5. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècles, Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, II pp. 632-633 n. 32:

“Au milieu d’une table des ères antiques et des vies des patriarches, on trouve une curieuse note : Ab incarnatione autem Dni Jhu Xpi usque in presentem primum Quintiliani principis annum, qui est era LXX quarta sunt anni DCCXXXVI. Villanueva rajoute DCC devant l’année de l’ère et en conclut que la page fut écrite en 736 ; il est contraint d’en déduire que, vingt ans après l’invasion musulmane, régnait un prince dont le nom rapelle celui des anciens rois de Tolède, probablement installé avec des réfugiés pyrénéennes où les Sarrasins ne s’étaient pas encore aventuré. R. Beer préfère corriger DCCXXXVI en DCXXXVI et rendre Quintilianus à la royauté tolédane.”

The reference is to Rudolf Beer, Die Handschriften des Klosters Santa Maria de Ripoll, Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (philosophisch-historische Klasse) 152, 153, 155 & 158 (München 1907-1908), transl. P. Barnils as Los manuscrits del Monastir de Santa María de Ripoll (Barcelona 1910), cited by Zimmermann from the Spanish with no page reference.

6. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, II pp. 620-674 on the survival of Visigothic culture in Catalonia: he opts for a very limited spectrum of such material essentially focussed on Isidore and the Spanish versions of the works of Gregory the Great leavened with a little canonical material.

7. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi“, pp. 118-119.

Back in my bad books: l’affaire Zimmermann encore une fois

(The current flood of blogging here may just have led you to miss a couple of earlier posts, most obviously the notice of the Leeds IMC 2013 bloggers’ meet-up. That’s here, should you want it. Now read on!) I feel like I’m going many rounds in this struggle, and by now so do you I expect, but the conflict I have over this book is an ongoing issue. The last chapter of the first volume of Michel Zimmermann’s Écrire et lire en Catalogne deals with books, with who owned them, how many there were in the libraries we can talk about, what they were and what that tells us about what was going on, intellectually, in these places.1 It is really well done: he goes careful with the evidence, indicates when he’s guessing at the probable contents of a lost manuscript, is genuinely informative about what odd terms for certain works probably mean, all with a sound foundation in the local and international scholarship (at least as far as I’m any judge, I’m reading this book to learn not to check it, after all) and his conclusions are interesting and balanced. The short version would be, Catalonia was not quite the leading European zone of international culture its partisans have sometimes made it in the tenth to twelfth centuries; its leading centres were certainly somewhere in the top ranks, but the study of theology seems to have been oddly rare, the liberal arts were really only to be found in a couple of monasteries and most of what you can see in the libraries and references to books is a mostly-Carolingian liturgical enterprise with a continuing Gothic tinge to the way books of Scripture were read and commented on, which finally went out of the door when the Cistercians and the Victorines brought in new thinking. By that time, the cathedrals had taken over from the monasteries as the main centres of education again.

A battle scene from the Biblia de Ripoll

Lessons for the illiterate from Catalan Bibles, 1: fighting looks cool

He also observes something that I feel stupid for never having really taken up from my reading beforehand. Firstly, it was a rare person indeed in the tenth century almost anywhere who had had the opportunity to read the whole Bible. Most churches would be equipped with the Psalms, the Gospels if they were lucky, and more likely than not not all of either of those but a volume of two of greatest hits in the form of a lectionary, Flores psalmorum or eventually Breviary.2 Even the big centres might not have the whole thing. But if they did, and this is the thing that had never occurred to me before, they likely had it mostly in the form of commentaries by scholars, much in the way that these days that we, if we have our own copy of one of our sources, most likely have a critical edition (or a Penguin translation, but that technology was yet to come).3 I had observed quite how popular these commentaries are, but not stopped to think that, duh, that was probably because a commentary will also contain most or all of the actual text. So, after mentally hitting myself in the brain a few times, I now feel better about my understanding of tenth-century book-larnin’.

But. I mean of course there’s a `but’. You might think it only a small `but’, or, depending on your social politics, you might think it more serious. You’ll remember, perhaps, how I’ve snarked that I first picked up this book to learn about nuns’ literacy, and found that Zimmermann denies it existed even though he cites a charter that six nuns signed and another one in which one (whose name was Caríssima) gave a Psalter to a church her nunnery had newly had built.4 You may also remember how I have snarked repeatedly that it mentions women on 3 of its 1219 pages, which is in fact a little unfair because I was counting indexed entries; it might be, ooh, nearly twice that really. But snark is not feeling like enough by now. The evidence Professor Zimmermann deploys in this chapter is mainly gifts of books to churches, and he gives a long list of them as an appendix indeed which is extremely useful, especially compared to other parts of the text where he often doesn’t identify the charters he’s using, only gives their dates. On p. 526 he tells us whom these books are all from, and notes that it is overridingly bishops and priests, sometimes abbots, very occasionally the counts and once, just once, a monk. The afore-mentioned Carissima, cited by himself earlier, here escapes mention. Just an unfortunate slip of the memory? (Again?)

Sant Hilari de Vidrà

Sant Hilari de Vidrà, whose earlier instance held Carissima’s Psalter

Well, maybe. But then further on, pp. 591-592, Professor Zimmermann discusses cathedral libraries, and here we are well served because there are actually two tenth-century inventories of property at the cathedral of Vic that itemise the books. And, oh, I am so conflicted: he sets up Vic in its time in the neatest two paragraphs I ever saw on it,5 they’re so good I have to quote them:

L’histoire chaotique du diocèse et l’instabilité de la vie canoniale expliquent que n’ait pu se former à Vic une bibliothèque aussi importante et de croissance aussi regulière que celles qui se constituaient au même moment dans les abbayes. Lorsqu’en 888 l’évêque Godmar s’installe dans la nouvelle cathédrale érigée in vico Ausonae, il se préoccupa immédiatement d’organiser la vie du clergé selon les prescriptions de la Règle d’Aix, mais les chanoines ne conservèrent pas longtemps la vie commune : le diocèse était en pleine réorganisation et les clercs étaient appelés à exercer des charges paroissiales qui les tenaient éloignés du chapitre. Le 10 juin 957, l’évêque Guadamir accueille favorablement la plainte d’un groupe de chanoines venus le trouver sur son lit de mort cum querela de canonica que iam retro fuerat instituta et per negligentia erat dissipata157 : il décide de doter le chapitre afin de permettre à douze clercs de pratiquer la vie commune (ut communiter vivere possitis) et de suivre les recommandations des Pères (secundum instituta Sanctorum Patrum fidelissimi dispensatores existatis). Mais cette vie regulière, si elle s’est maintenue, ne devait concerner qu’un petit groupe de chanoines : au même moment, d’autres clercs vivent en dehors du chapitre, font construire leurs propres maisons dont ils disposent librement à leur mort et, à chaque nouvelle élection épiscopale (en 1010, puis en 1018), ils se font confirmer la libre disposition de leur maison infra possessionem sancti Petri. Les testaments des chanoines attestent sans équivoque qu’au XIe siècle la plupart des membres du chapitre résidaient dans leur propre maison et disposaient librement de leurs biens ; beaucoup d’entre eux, avec le titre levita, possèdent un équipement militaire complet et assurent la garde de châteaux aux limites de diocèse ; ils sont étrangers à toute forme de vie commune et même religieuse. Vers 1080, l’évêque Berenguer Seniofred de Lluça [sic] tente une nouvelle restauration de la discipline, mais sa décision, confirmée par une bulle d’Urbain II, ne fut guère suivie d’effet ; il en resulta du moins une gestion plus cohérente de la mense capitulaire.

L’individualisme des chanoines eut des conséquences décisives sur la formation de la bibliothèque. En dehors des livres indispensables au culte et à l’office, qui appartiennent au trésor de l’Église, les autres manuscrits restaient la propriété des chanoines, qui les achetaient, vendaient, léguaient ou transmettaient à celui – fréquemment un neveu – qui leur succédait dans la charge. Même les livres appartenant au fonds commun étaient fréquemment prêtés à des individus ou à des églises paroissiales dépendant du chapitre. Le catalogue de la bibliothèque capitulaire ne saurait donc constituer l’inventaire exhaustif des textes connus aux Xe et XIe siècles des chanoines de Vic, qui comptaient parmis eux plusieurs érudits : sous l’épiscopat d’Atton, protecteur de Gerbert, tout d’abord. puis sous celui d’Oliba, devenu évêque de Vic en 1018.

157 Diplom. Vic, doc. 302.6

I translate, roughly, for non-Francolexics:

The chaotic history of the diocese and the instability of canonical life explain why Vic was never able to form a library as important and as regular in its growth as those that were forming at the same time in the monasteries. When in 888 Bishop Godmar moved into the new cathedral erected ‘in the vico of Ausona’, he straight away busied himself with organising the life of the clergy according to the precepts of the Rule of Aachen, but the canons did not maintain the communal life for long: the diocese was in the throes of complete reorganisation and its clergy were being called to take on parish duties that took them far away from the chapter. On the 10th June 957, Bishop Guadamir favourably received the plea from a group of canons who had come to find him on his deathbed ‘with a complaint about the canonry that there once used to be and which had been dissipated through negligence’: he decided to endow the chapter so as to allow twelve clerks to live the communal life and to follow the recommendations of the Fathers. But this regular life, if it survived, must have concerned only a small group of canons: at the same time, other clerks lived outside the chapter, building their own houses of which they disposed freely at their deaths and, at each new episcopal election (in 1010, then in 1018), they got the free disposition of their houses ‘subject to the possession of Saint Peter’ confirmed. The canons’ wills testify unambiguously that in the eleventh century most of the canons lived in their own houses and disposed freely of their property. Many of them, bearing the title of deacon, owned full military equipment and undertook the guard of castles at the edges of the diocese; they were strangers to any form of common or even religious life. Around 1080, Bishop Berenguer Sunifred de Lluçà attempted a new restoration of discipline, but his decision, backed in 1099 by a Bull of Pope Urban II, hardly had any effect. It did result, at least, in a more coherent management of the chapter’s provisioning.

Modern metal statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic

A modern representation of Bishop Oliba, patron of big library budgets

The individualism of the canons had decisive consequences on the formation of the library. Apart from the books that were indispensable for worship and the offices, which belonged to the Church treasure, the other manuscripts remained property of the canons, who bought them, sold them, bequeathed them or transmitted them to the person – frequently a nephew – who would succeed them in their position. Even books belonging to the common stock were frequently lent to individuals or to parish churches dependant on the chapter. The catalogue of the library thus cannot constitute an exhaustive inventory of the texts known to the canons of Vic in the tenth and eleventh centuries, canons among whom there numbered many scholars. In fact, from the mid-tenth century onwards, the cathedral was the site of intense cultural activity, in the episcopate of Ató, protector of Gerbert, first of all, then in that of Oliba, made Bishop of Vic in 1018.

That, right there, that is my study area explained in six hundred words. On reading that I really wanted to love this book again. And then two pages further on, he gets properly into the booklists. Now, I’ve talked about one of these inventories here before, because one of the interesting things about it is that a quarter of the books were on loan as he describes, and it records who had borrowed them. If you quickly have a look at that post, and what I thought was important about it, you’ll be much better prepared for what follows when you come back; go on. Okay? Good, so, pp. 592-593 see Professor Zimmermann discuss these loans, and on p. 593 he notes, “Quant à Richeldes, il conserve le livre des Rois.”

‘Il conserve’? ‘Il conserve’? It’s a woman’s name, this is not a controversial or odd assertion, nor is there a man’s name I know with which it could easily be confused. Richeldes, Richildis, Riquildis, Riquilda or any variant spelling you like, it’s a woman and she’s reading Kings. Why is this worth obscuring? What would it do to this man’s world if, in 971, one more woman could read? I don’t know, but by now I feel quite strongly that it’s not OK.


1. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), I pp. 523-613.

2. One particularly interesting instance of the Flores, which is the same as a florilegium, a kind of personal best-of collection of improving texts, and one that Zimmermann indeed notes, is the will of Dacó adolescens. We have this in the form of its publication before judges, which exists as a single-sheet in the Arxiu Capitular de Vic, but the original actual will as made by the boy was not formally drawn up like that; evidently things were quite dire, as it was written for him in a book in which he had the Flores psalmorum and a few other orationes and then he made his mark in it and that was the will. There’s so much that’s interesting about this: he was too young to be holding property so what he actually bequeathed was his rights in his father’s property, he had books but he couldn’t write, he was important enough that two cathedral clerics came and helped him write his will (in which they both feature, we might notice)… but no more is known of him but this document, which is edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1849 among other places.

3. I suppose if we wanted to work that analogy a step further we could observe the similarity between Flores-volumes and modern-day source anthologies.

4. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 645 & 856, cit. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I pp. 302 n. 111 & p. 500 respectively, from the older edition of Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), nos 128 & 146.

5. You could get a lot more detail, and in English, from Paul Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick 1983), online here, pp. 14-67, but that is, you have to admit, more than two paragraphs.

6. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I pp. 591-592; the inventory is Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1106.

Rereading for improbable heretics

[The first draft of this was written on the train towards an IHR Earlier Middle Ages seminar, 7th March 2012. Yeah, I know, sorry.]

Approximately the first real charters I read for my work on Catalonia were the church consecration acts from the diocese of Urgell, well up in the Catalan Pyrenees.1 They are fantastically interesting documents, but I always go back to them with a certain trepidation because what I thought was significant then often wasn’t, and I missed quite a lot of stuff that should have leapt out at me. I just didn’t have a sense of what was usual and what wasn’t in this material then, basically. The continuing effort to read Michel Zimmermann’s Écrire et lire en Catalogne has brought me up against one of these hidden significances, but it is honestly one I would never have thought of and it’s fantastic, as well as being unique, I think, if he’s right.2

Urgell charter of sale of 839 on parchment

A sale document of 839 from the Urgell archive. A consecration act would be bigger and have more capitals in it but wouldn’t necessarily be any tidier…

The situation as Zimmermann tells it is this. Some time before 901, Bishop Nantigis of Urgell, who was a busy man during his time in office, as we have eighteen church consecrations by him and one set of council acta where he signed, as opposed to only six charters of any other sort, came out to Guils del Cantó in Alt Urgell to consecrate the church of Sant Fruitós there. A guy called Adeudat features quite large in the document, which stresses his many sins and his need to atone with alms. He and his parents had more or less set up this church, and now he wanted to finish the job. There had been one before, but it was “tiny and rustic”, and so Adeudat did “whatever I could to make it great and installed a peal of bells there” and got the bishop to come along and consecrate the new building. So, fairly obviously Adeudat and his parentes, which might mean only kinsmen, rather than his father and mother, were big people in this little place. There are no other donors mentioned, and his family kept the lands round the church; the document that tells us all this is Adeudat’s will, in which he bequeathed the church, its property and liturgical tackle and the lands around the church to his nephews.

So, it seems inarguable that Adeudat had been the priest of the villa up to this point. He stresses, furthermore, that Nantigis had appointed him priest at the cathedral of Urgell, and that he carried out the rebuild project at Nantigis’s orders, but equally, he and his family were pretty clearly rooted in the area. They had presumably gone to Nantigis to get their status quite literally enshrined in the wider hierarchy. That to me is fascinating, and I didn’t see it first time round, but this isn’t where Zimmermann goes with it, because he instead concentrates on the unusual levels of guilt about sin that Adeudat expresses (“I Adeudat the priest, an unhappy sinner, and as I may truly say a sinner above other men”—super, does he mean that he is superior in sin, or that he is a sinner and is also in authority over other men, eh?) and on the liturgical gear that Adeudat leaves to the church.3 The explanation for Zimmermann is in two of the books Adeudat gave, which are quite unusual. As well as “the better antiphonary in the church, the missal which is the new mystery, the conspectus of the Evangelists, a sermonary” and a hymnal, there is a “chronicle” and a “Toledan service-book”. The Latin is “ordo toletanum”.

Page from the so-called Visigothic Antiphonary of León

Adeudat’s books are unlikely to have been quite this snazzy, but you know, worth bequeathing apparently…

Now, this I did notice when I first read it, indeed I eagerly mailed both Rosamond McKitterick and Jinty Nelson to ask what they thought, partly because I thought they might know but also because I was keen to let them know I was doing work and finding stuff. It could be said that my impostor syndrome takes odd forms. Anyway, I was then interested in the ‘chronicle’, which we can’t really guess at although my guess if I had to would be Isidore of Seville’s Greater Chronicle.4 Perhaps, however, I should have picked up on the Toledan ordo, because actually this is the kind of time that the old ‘Mozarabic’ liturgy was being phased out in this area in the general Carolingian spirit of correctio, being replaced with a new Gallo-Roman hybrid that the Carolingian court felt was the ‘real thing’.5 That, in turn, is presumably what is represented by the “missal which is the new mystery”, missalem qui est novo mistico, and later in the book Zimmermann cites work that identifies these texts, which turn up more widely too, as a codex mixtus, a miscellany of liturgical bits much like the later breviaries, by which your Visigothic Church priest might have carried round all he needed for an average year’s work.6 So OK, he has Visigothic liturgical books, that’s interesting but, out in the wilds like this, maybe not so odd, and perhaps they belonged to his parents, who knows?

This is, however, also not just the time but the area where the Carolingians had had to come down quite heavily on the heresy known as Adoptionism, the idea that Christ was not of his physical self divine but chosen to house divinity by God.7 The chief proponent of this locally had been none other than Bishop Felix of Urgell, Nantigis’s predecessor-but-three-or-four, and of course the other big figure in it had been Bishop Elipand of Toledo. So, carrying round a Toledan service book may have some awkward implications at this exact spot and time.

The church of Guils de Cantó, Alt Urgell, Catalonia

The Romanesque church of Guils de Cantó that presumably replaced Adeudat’s work… BURYING WHO KNOWS WHAT SCANDAL! Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Zimmermann goes all the way with this, in a couple of elegant sentences. Many a church in this area was founded by immigrant Hispani clerics, presumably fleeing from the darkening situation for Christian clergy in al-Andalus. For Zimmermann, Adeudat is best seen as one of them, Toledo-trained (which his library does seem to suggest) and quite possibly heretical, and Nantigis made him pretty clear that that was not the way. His sins that provoked his donation, though this was a topos used by almost all donors to the Church, especially churchmen, may therefore have been quite specific, preaching what he hadn’t realised was held to be heresy to his flock, and his efforts to atone sincere, even if calculated to retain his local status.

I’m not quite sure about a couple of aspects of this. The biggest of these is that if the books in question were heretical, they surely would have been destroyed. If they weren’t, however, there’s no reason to suppose that Adeudat was. After all, they were apparently still suitable gifts for the church in 901, and Nantigis was still around then because Adeudat commended all his property to the bishop to make sure that the church got what it needed to continue in his family’s management. It seems more likely to me, therefore, that the ordo was just a regulation ‘Mozarabic’ liturgy. In that case, the effort to replace the Mozarabic liturgy clearly wasn’t very sincere or thorough here yet. The other thing is that Adeudat’s family were all here too. I don’t really see how we can imagine that these Toledan fugitives came north carrying a rook of books, liturgical even though the main man wasn’t yet a priest, and somehow became the dominant interest in a whole village. Although it must be said that that might be what they were doing by setting up the church with the bishop’s backing, it seems a lot more likely to me that they were locals. In which case, the books don’t tell us about an Andalusi training and the whole thing comes to bits. So I’m not sure that it’s methodologically sound, at all, but I like the story it tells so much that I’m reluctant to abandon the chance of placing a recanting Toledan Adoptionist high and rich in the Pyrenees.


1. Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Les actes de consagracions d’esglesies del bisbat d’Urgell (segles IX-XII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 1 (Montserrat 1978), pp. 11-182, and idem (ed.), “Set actes més de consagracions d’esglésies del bisbat d’Urgell (segles IX-XII)” in Urgellia Vol. 2 (Montserrat 1979), pp. 481-488, now united with new numeration as Les actes de consagracions d’esglésies de l’antic Bisbat d’Urgell: segles IX-XII (Urgell 1986).

2. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècles), Biblioteca de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), pp. 496-497.

3. Please don’t ask me what a villa was at this time; there’s a reason I haven’t translated it…. Some kind of rural circumscription of which the church might be the only focal point, how’s that?

4. This text has been re-edited since I first had to wonder about its presence in Urgell: for a translation and more details see Sam Kanto & Jamie Wood, “The Chronica Maiora of Isidore of Seville: an introduction and translation” in E-Spania Vol. 6 (Paris 2008), DOI: 10.4000/e-spania.15552, online at http://e-spania.revues.org/15552, last modified 15th December 2008 as 0f 15th June 2013.

5. On the problems with the word ‘Mozarab’ and its derivatives, see Richard Hitchcock, Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain: identities and influences (Aldershot 2008). For the correctio ideology I suppose most influential on me is probably Karl-Ferdinand Werner, “‘Hludowicus Augustus’. Gouverner l’empire chrétien : idées et réalités”, in Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), pp. 3-123. I should note, though, that the Catalan scholarship tends to blame the final push on the liturgical front on Bishop Frodoí of Barcelona (862-890, not known to have been a hobbit), canonically said to be a Frank pushing Charles the Bald’s agenda; I know of no evidence for either of these things. On the evidence that there is, see Gaspar Feliu, “Els inicis del domini territorial de la seu de Barcelona”, in Cuadernos de historia económica de Cataluña Vol. 14 (Barcelona 1976), pp. 45-61 at pp. 46-48.

6. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I pp. 526-530.

7. See John C. Cavadini, The Last Christology of the West: Adoptionism in Spain and Gaul, 785-820 (Philadelphia 1993).

The rudest tree you ever did see written about

To continue, a lighter note in the knells of Zimmermann critique for once! Just at the close of chapter 6 of his immense Écrire et lire en Catalogne, Michel Zimmermann references as an amusing throwaway a document which I had seen before, but mislaid my reference to, and of which I was delighted to be reminded. The document is an ordinary land-grant, albeit by a count, although it has its own fascinations: among the things granted are ‘waste churches’, for example, which have been made to bear far too much significance in the past1 but which leaves an intriguing tale untold. It may possibly have something to do with the fact that on the boundaries of the property there was a guardia maurisca, if that’s correct a Muslim guard-tower, although we have seen that often when such things are invoked they were actually Carolingian and a tower is a more likely Carolingian than Muslim feature out here.2 But the reason to love the document is that one of the other boundaries is, as the scribe puts it:

On the tip of the higher pine tree, which has a mendacious and malformed name, a name which is however perfectly well-known to everyone, which on account of its deformity we avoid writing… 

Did you get that? The scribe is refusing to tell us what the boundary tree is called because it has a rude name. And that’s why Zimmermann mentions it, and for once tells us where the document can be found.3 But ladies and gentlemen, the story does not end there. That name that could not be uttered, the place where the scribe wouldn’t go? We’re going there. (Here are some preparatory instructions.) Because, not every scribe shared this fine sense of language, you see, and the property is also referred to in a later papal confirmation by Pope John XV, from which we can supply the name.4 Now I know I said there had to be more swearing on this blog but I want to be sure you’re ready for this so I’ve run it through ROT13 in consideration of your tender minds and gentle souls. Those who feel strong enough to decode it should run the following string through this web-page. Ready?

PNSENYVB

Oh, and I also put the Latin in this footnote, oops.5 Now, this is actually more interesting than it might appear, on inspection. I can’t myself see anything up with this word—and okay, if I’m going to discuss it I suppose I have to name it, Cafralio. But if I bend my brain suitably, I can imagine that a scribe who was looking back at an unfamiliar script with closed letters `a’ might somehow read “coprolio” and there I start to see the problem, although it is a problem in Greek.6 So it’s interesting, because whereas the script change in this area and time was generally from Visigothic bookscript (what the palæographers of the area call escritura condal), which has an almost-triangular letter `a’, to Caroline minuscule which has a rounder one, here we appear to have a scribe who didn’t recognise what must be Caroline script. But that itself is a problem for me, because this ought to being done from notes, and I can’t imagine that people made notes in Caroline, it’s a book hand. The notes should be cursive, and any cursive I know of in this area would have had open letters `a’, I think, not that there’s much to go on.7 And there is also the fact that while John XV’s scribes were happy with the name, an earlier and much more contemporary papal Bull from Benedict VI does not feature it.8

Sample of text in escritura condal

Sample of text in escritura condal, reading "& ipsas meas equas ·IIIIor·", from Arxiu Capitular de Vic, Calaix 9, I, no. 50, photograph by me

Sample text in Caroline-influenced escritura condal

Sample text in Caroline-influenced escritura condal, reading "In hac vero audiencia", from Biblioteca Universitària de Barcelona, Pergamins C 20; note that the scribe used both forms, differing at the beginning of `audiencia' from the end

So, OK, one option is that there was an earlier document, perhaps written by a Frankish scribe or from one of those flash guys near Barcelona, and Sant Pere de Rodes’s scribe couldn’t read it but thought he could. That seems awkward to me because Caroline is supposed to be legible, that’s the point, and there would be lots of other letters to compare these with in the document which ought to prevent the mistake. Okay, maybe it wasn’t very good Caroline. But the other option is that the first scribe is right about what the name is—and he does say that it’s well-known to everyone—and while they didn’t dare put it in the text they used for Pope Benedict (which was probably this same charter9), they decided later on that they really needed the boundaries of this property (which was much contested) in a papal Bull and so bowdlerised it to Cafralio for the text they took to Rome for John XV. That sounds pretty silly, but it does seem to me less improbable… Or, is there a Latin reading that would make more sense that I’m just too innocent to see?


1. Albert Benet i Clarà, “La incursió d’hongaresos a Catalunya l’any 942” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 9 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 568-574, uses any indication of a destroyed or abandoned church to map the progress of the Magyar raid into Catalonia and Spain in 942; I’m not sure that’s what they spent all their time doing, myself… See my “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (ed.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London: Queen Mary University of London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 115-119, which also contains my worst academic pun committed to print. SO FAR.

2. I’m sure there is literature on this but it won’t come to mind; the one I’m thinking of is the supposed Torre dels Moros astride the Casserres peninsula, discussed most thoroughly in Antoni Pladevall i Font, Sant Pere de Casserres o la Presència de Cluny a Catalunya (Manlleu 2004), pp. 51-55.

3. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (siècles IX-XIII), Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I p. 423 citing 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. CXVI, which must by now be reprinted in the Catalunya Carolíngia but I’m not in a position to look that up just now: “In sumitatem de ipso pino altiore qui habet inhonestum atque incompositum nomen, cujus tamen nomen omnibus notissimum est, quem nos propter deformitatem scribere devitamus.”

4. That being de Marca, Marca Hispanica, ap. CXL, which certainly must be better edited in Harald Zimmermann [no relation I believe] (ed.), Papsturkunden 896-1046(Wien 1984), but again I don’t right now have the access to check.

5. “Cafralio”. <looks around nervously>

6. That doesn’t actually prohibit it, however. On this Zimmermann is quite good, as far as I’m any judge: see Écrire et lire, I pp. 297-312. He sees the use of Greek words here mainly as stylistic showing-off by borrowing from word-lists and glossaries, but that would do for this case.

7. The local palæography is covered in M. Josepa Arnall i Juan & Josep M. Pons i Guri, L’escriptura a les terres gironines (Girona 1993), but there just isn’t really any preserved cursive from this era as far as I know, except the odd chancery-like signature.

8. De Marca, Marca Hispanica, ap. CXVII, again presumably better edited in Zimmermann, Papsturkunden, if only I could reach it.

9. That’s how papal documents of this era tended to be done, with a model you brought with you and got copied up in advance: see Hans-Henning Körtum, Zur Päpstliche Urkundensprache im frühen Mittelalter: die päpstlichen Privilegien 896-1046, Beiträge zur Geschichte und Quellenkunde des Mittelalters 17 (Sigmaringen 1995).

Bearing the sins of Michel Zimmermann

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle)

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle)

That title sounds more negative than I really want. You will have observed by now that I have what might best be called a complex relationship with the work of Professor Michel Zimmermann, which I have described here as “three-quarters brilliance”.1 As I continue on through the book, however, more and more secure that he does not have the answer to the question I’m trying to solve, I am becoming more perplexed by the sins of omission than the sins of commission that it could be seen to commit. This is, after all, a 1219-page book in two volumes; it’s slightly surprising to find that he’s omitted anything at all. But we have seen, for example, that there are only three dealing with women, and now I find something else discussed very briefly that I was really hoping for more on, which is one particular form of curse that I occasionally see in the Catalan documents which cries out for study. So I thought I’d ask you guys about it!

You may be wondering what I’m doing with documents with curses in in the first place, since sometimes those can be quite, well, quite literally occult, but honestly it’s above-board: almost all medieval charters end with what’s technically called a sanctio, a clause that sets out what will happen to those who interfere with the transaction declared in the charter.2 Sometimes this is purely a financial penalty, albeit sometimes a completely unrealistic one, but more often (especially as charters that are preserved frequently concern grants to churches) there is a spiritual sanction. Now Zimmermann enthusiastically dedicates seventy-five pages of Écrire et lire to this (so, only say, twenty-five times the amount of space he gives to half of the population), and rather than being impressionistic and just giving examples of the sort of things one can find in the material, which is how he frequently proceeds in the book, leaving one wishing he’d also done the numbers, here he was actually working from a quantitative sample. I am in no position to criticise someone for only using information technology in one part of their thesis of course, but it certainly adds something to this section: we can here say with some certainty what curses are used when, where, how much and how for long.3

Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Wifredo I 8

Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Wifredo I 8, low-quality but larger image linked through

So, OK, here’s the one I mean, and you may be able to see the text on the larger version linked underneath that image, starting line 22 just after the paragraph break:

Peccatis nostris anime illius sit obligatum que pro hac re cupimus esse purgatum

Or, translated:

Let his soul be burdened with our sins, of which we hope to be purged through this matter.4

This is unusually elaborate, actually: it would be more usual to find it just as “peccatis nostris animae illius sit obligatum”, and there are other things about this charter that make it unusual.5 Firstly, as said when I first got this image, it bears the autograph signature of Abbess Emma! (Bang in the middle, first line of signatures, split by the discolouration.) But that’s not actually odd, it can be seen elsewhere.6 More unusual is the fact that the scribe, Athanagild of the chapter of Vic, finished the document off with a line of characters that look like Dingbats, at least partly Greek as far as I can see not wholly and thus a bit hard to work out! Athanagild’s occasional flourishes are well-documented here, and who knows what he was up to on this occasion, but I’ve included the full version because it makes it a bit clearer what the supposed mechanism is here.7 The idea of a donation to the Church, and this is mainly what Zimmermann’s eighty pages are about here, is that, as one of the common introductions to these documents has it, “we have heard the preaching of the Holy Fathers that alms may free the soul from death”. That is, giving to the poor (or to the Church, who will then minister to the poor, albeit perhaps only the poor in spirit) potentially gets you out of going to Hell. That is, the donation will hopefully purge your soul of sin.8 In that case it makes a certain amount of common sense that someone who messes with that joyful process should wind up with the penalty of which the donor had hoped to be free. And so we get a few documents, more than Zimmermann notices but still not many, that add that hope into the curse like this.

And what does Michel Zimmermann have to tell me about this? Well, basically just that it happens and is a bit odd. He notices that it seems to die off around about 1030, and wonders if this might be because of increasing pressure from the papal reform effort, keen on reinforcing the separation of clerical and lay power.9 And indeed that is exactly why this is so interesting, and why I wish he had more to say about it. This is, I think, completely unjustifiable in church terms: this is not just priestly power, this is binding and loosing, the power entrusted to St Peter. The average layman, or even the often-but-not-always-clerical scribes who write these documents, is simply not allowed to deposit a load of sin on someone else! Only God can say for sure who is a sinner and who isn’t. This is an extreme example of a wider phenomenon, admittedly, as many of these documents and lots elsewhere too prescribe excommunication for breaching the charter’s terms, which strictly speaking is something only a bishop can impose. Zimmermann goes into that in some detail, and concludes that the thought of the documents, as it were, is that God will impose this at the Final Judgement, not that it is intended to apply in the world right at the moment of infringement. I find this convincing in itself, although it has to get over the fact that as excommunication becomes less permanent and more worked-out in theological terms the documents start allowing one to repent and be relieved of it, which means it can’t be at the Final Judgement after which, as one document points out, God will forget about the sinners. I think that’s OK, and since that starts about 1030 it may even correlate with whatever pressure is driving out these particular curses, but I’m still left with an impression that it’s the document itself that is the agency here, representing the Word of God ahead of time. It is, as often observed, no coincidence that these texts are often called scripturae. So, I don’t know the canon law of excommunication very well, still less anything that might cover this: am I right in thinking that this is, quod vulgo dicitur, “well weird”? Have you ever seen anything like it elsewhere? How is it justified? What do you make of it? Michel Zimmermann and I are stumped…

Last phrase of scribal signature from Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins, Wifredo I 8

Also, what the heck was Athanagild aiming for here?


1. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols.

2. A quick stab at Regesta Imperii’s OPAC suggests that you’re not going to find anything very much in English about these that isn’t extremely specific to an area, though on those lines Jeffrey Bowman’s “Do Neo-Romans Curse? Law, land, and ritual in the Midi (900-1100)” in Viator Vol. 28 (Berkeley 1997), pp. 1-32, repr. in his Shifting Landmarks: property, proof, and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca: 2004), pp. 56-80, is very clear and interesting. For some guidance in a language where they care about such things, try Olivier Guyotjeannin, Jacques Pycke & Benoît -Michel Tock, La diplomatique médiévale, L’atelier du médiéviste 2, 3rd edn. (Turnhout 2006), pp. 82-83.

3. Zimmermann, Érire et lire, I, pp. 348-423, esp. pp. 365-380 and 410-422.

5. Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Wifredo I 8, ed. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 10 with facsimile lám. 4, also printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 37, cit. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 409 without reference beyond the date. Check out that jussive subjunctive! (You know who you are.) Also, I should like to note the irony here. Zimmermann quotes the document without reference, as said, but with a year; I knew I’d seen it somewhere so searched my notes files for the word ‘purged’, found the document fairly easily, and yes, it turns out that because it’s the one Emma signs, not only do I already know it quite well but in fact I had a facsimile of it pinned to the board in my office the whole time I was trying to work out which one it was. “It’s behind you…”

5. Others doing this for example Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 164, 179, 496, 563, 827 & 1327, and certainly more even in that edition that I just didn’t note.

6. In a charter printed and pictured in Nathaniel L. Taylor, “An Early Catalonian Charter in the Houghton Library from the Joan Gili Collection of Medieval Catalonian Mansucripts” in Harvard Library Bulletin New Series Vol. 7 (Cambridge MA 1997), pp. 37-44.

7. Athanagild’s other appearances are, sticking with Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, for convenience though all are printed in earlier editions too (of which Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX-X), ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), catches most and has many facsimiles), nos 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 19, 27, 35, 38, 48, 101, 283 & 285. I have my doubts about those last two, so much later than the others, expressed here.

8. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire I, pp. 348-361.

9. Ibid., I, pp. 378-380.