Tag Archives: Miró Bonfill

Kalamazoo 2015, Part 1

People in conversation at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, West Michigan University, Kalamazoo

Other people in conversation at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, West Michigan University, Kalamazoo (official photo)

Well, we’ve had another lapse in posting, for which I apologise, but there was good reason, I promise you, not least the International Medieval Congress just gone, which was a success but really very busy. I will write about that at some point, I promise, but my ridiculous backlog is only made more so by the passing of another IMC, not least because the next thing I have to write about is an ICMS, the International Congress on Medieval Studies at West Michigan University, which I didn’t make it to this year but did last year, that being where the trip to the US lately described wound up, and that’s how far behind I am. Given that, while I don’t want to say nothing about it I do want to say less than usual, so: I am going firstly to let all the stuff about dreadful accommodation, food and coffee go as standard; secondly I will add that the actual town of Kalamazoo does however have some places worth exploring for food and drink if you are not, as I used to be, determined to scrounge all the free alcohol going on campus; and thirdly, I will try and keep my reportage on the papers I saw down to one sentence of summary or commentary each, a writing challenge I should probably set myself much more often. So, here we go with day 1, 14th May 2015!

45. The State and its Loyal Constituencies in Late Antiquity

  • Michael Kulikowski, “Saying No to Government: Disintegrating and Reinstating States”
  • One sentence for this is actually all I have, because I arrived late to the session and missed almost the whole paper. That sentence therefore is: “A ‘collective sovereignty’ model of northern barbarian kingship gets picked up by those further south over the 5th and 6th centuries”; make of it what you will, but I wish I’d seen more.

  • Stefan Esders, “Regnum, Civitas, and Pagus: Rearranging Spatial Structures in Merovingian Gaul”
  • Arguing that although in Merovingian Gaul many of the functions of the Roman state fell away or were loaded onto new counts or old bishops, the territorial structures through which they continued to be organised necessitated a continuing level of fiscal sophistication that we could safely call a state. As Julie Hofmann pointed out, the missing part of this picture was Church organisation and its imprint on bishops’ fiscal responsibilities, but that was a part of the study still to come.

  • Guy Halsall, “Political Communities? A Comparison of the Roman and Merovingian Polities”
  • Guy, who it was that I had particularly come to see, argued instead that Merovingian Gaul was not a state, in as much as there was no single identity of which people could claim membership, but several, Frankish military, Catholic Christian, Arian Christian, Gallo-Roman aristocrat or peasant, all partially replacing the now-discredited Roman civil and patrician identity that, until Justinian I’s campaigns excluded them from it, the ruling élites in this area were still emulating. Michael Kulikowski pointed out that that identity had never been available to most of the Roman population either, but Guy argued that patronage would have joined them up to its holders.

Gold tremissis of the Merovingian King Chlothar II (584-628) in the British Museum, London

Arguably a part of a state apparatus, a gold tremissis of the Merovingian King Chlothar II (584-628) in the British Museum, London. By PHGCOM – Own work by uploader, photographed at the British Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5969234

80. Leadership Profiles in the Tenth- and Eleventh-Century Church

  • Edmund McCaffray, “Leading by Example: customaries and abbatial conservatio at Cluny in the eleventh century”
  • Argued that we should see John of Salerno’s biography of the famous Abbot Odo of Cluny less as a straight biography than as a set of descriptions of the abbey’s custom justified by Odo’s good example, something that became irrelevant as actual custumaries became common and the Life was rewritten.

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “In the Teeth of Reform: reprofiling the Catalan Episcopate around the year 1000”
  • Argued that the commonly-propagated picture Catalan Church of the millennial era as a worldly monopoly of the comital family is based on misreadings of Catalan secondary work, rather than actual evidence, but that a binary appraisal of them in terms of being reformed or not in any case misses out what most of what made them suitable for their jobs. Rereading this paper makes me think I should get on and do something more with it, it’s maybe quite good.

  • Pieter Byttebier, “Intitulatio or Æmulatio? Developing New Forms of Episcopal leadership in Eleventh-Century Lotharingian Contexts”
  • A series of examples of new, and often foreign, bishops, boosting the reputation and even cults of their predecessors in order to better anchor themselves in the local traditions of their offices, and arguably imitating what could be known of their lives—Heer Byttebier argued it, but some of those supposed imitations were post mortem so I had trouble taking his case at full strength. Someone in questions asked about the æmulatio part of his title and he admitted that he had no examples as yet, so probably more could be done here.

St Clement of Metz  leading the dragon Graouilly to the River Seille

One feat probably beyond imitation, St Clement of Metz leading the dragon Graouilly to the River Seille, a legend of the tenth century. Domaine public, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17574925

99. Women and Power to 1100 (A Roundtable)

Quite how I, with only one paper on anything like gender to my name and that unpublished, got in on this may never be entirely clear but it was fun and I don’t think I disgraced myself. I think Julie Hofmann won the day early on with her remark that we’ve been being surprised by women with power in the Middle Ages since 1908, but her deepest point may have been that when you’re dealing with power, their gender is not as important in defining what power someone has as their placement in society and their efficacy at using that. There was a general preference for the word ‘agency’ over ‘power’, which got challenged in discussion by Teresa Earenfight for I think good reason—Lois Honeycutt offered ‘autonomy’, a right to decide, as being closer to what we were getting at. Martha Rampton spoke about magic, one sphere in which women were perhaps dominant, up until around 1000 at least, and I focused on the apparent plenitude of examples from my material of women doing stuff without reference to men, usually with property but still untrammelled, and suggested that even that could more usefully be seen as a way they operated within larger family contexts than trying to separate them out into a female sphere that never existed by itself, any more than a male or indeed, as Jonathan Lyon pointed out, royal or imperial, sphere did. Lastly in the formal section, Phyllis Jestice pointed out that work on women and power has either focused on individual strong women or the whole aristocratic class and asked if there was a middle level where variation and over-generalisation might coalesce into useful conclusions. In discussion I managed to steer that through my favourite point that we need to distinguish between things that are usual but infrequent and things that are actually unusual, and Julie reminded us that the limits on female power were less institutions than straightforward misogyny, so looking at rules about what women could do only gives us the tip of the iceberg. This was all fun to be part of and I felt a lot like a real scholar afterwards, but I can’t help feeling looking back that although progress does seem to have happened these are all quite old problems. The new work that many of us were agitating for seems to be hard to do.

Countess Matilda of Canossa, enthroned with attendants, manuscript portrait from the Vita Mathildis by Donizone

Not everybody can be Matilda of Canossa…

So that was the end of the first day, and then there was a certain amount of free wine and catching up with people. I can’t, by now, remember who those were, or what we did for food, but I don’t think we can have gone far because there was a blogger’s meet-up later in the evening. I felt somewhat as if I shouldn’t show my face at that given how little blog I’d written in the previous few months, nay, years, but others were in the same case and in any case these are to some extent my people, so, if any of you are reading, Another Damned Medievalist, Notorious Ph. D., the Medieval History Geek and Vellum (and others? Sorry if I’ve forgotten you), it was good to catch up and I learnt a lot in that conversation too. It overran well into the evening sessions: does anyone ever go to those? I’m not sure I ever have. Anyway, with that all concluded, it was off to my awful bed and ready for the next day, on which I will try and report shortly!

In Marca Hispanica XII: do not walk whole valley at once

I’m sorry to disappoint Gesta, but I don’t think I can make the extra composition time it would take to do all my Catalonia posts in Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band filk. It seems to me that if I were to do it for this one the song to use would probably be `Ali Baba’s Camel‘, since the placename in question is syllabically almost as long as that title and the references to running miles and miles could probably be left in, and if anyone wants to have a go, I would love to see it. But actually I am just going to show you pictures of a place called Vallfogona, and talk about visiting it.

The village of Vallfogona del Ripollès, seen from the road above it

The village of Vallfogona del Ripollès, seen from the road above it

I wrote at length about Vallfogona in my book, and as far as its early history goes it is possible that no-one knows more than I do about it. Unlikely, I hope, but possible; I know of no-one else who’s studied the area, which was a reason why I looked at it. The other is that it’s immediately south of the church, nunnery as was, canonry, monastery and canonry again as was in between those states, of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, and Abbess Emma of that there establishment made sufficient inroads on the area that we see quite a lot of through the window of her transaction charters for the area. For a while she had land scattered all through it, especially in a couple of settlements called la Vinya and Arigo, the latter named for its founder and now just a farmstead called el Rauric just down the road from the main modern village, Vallfogona.1

El Rauric, in Vallfogona del Ripollès

I'm pretty sure this is el Rauric, but if a knowledgeable local wants to set me right I shan't disagree; signs were hard to find

She probably also built the first church there, which was actually at Arigo, I think, though the documents don’t actually say, they just call it ‘the church’, ipsa ecclesia. But it was close to Arigo, at least, and el Rauric is now very close to the newer church, Sant Julià, whose precursor Emma’s successor Abbess Ranló put up in time for it to be consecrated in 960.2. The current building preserves none of it, we think, but it’s hard to tell, as the building is firstly in danger of collapse and secondly has been rather messed about over the years…

Sant Julià de Vallfogona

Sant Julià de Vallfogona

More beneath the cut… Continue reading

Talking about bishops in Oxford

Statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic in the Plaça de la Catedral de Vic

Statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic in the Plaça de la Catedral de Vic

There is a story, which somehow no-one told on the day I’m writing about, about Professor Richard Southern. Trying to get a colleague with a promising new research student to send her to a conference, he met with some resistance; his colleague didn’t think the student yet had anything ready to present. “Oh, come on, old boy,” Professor Southern is supposed to have expostulated, “she must have a bishop.” On 4th September 2010, there was a small conference in Oxford and I for one felt I was living up to that story by turning up with a paper about a bishop rather than ground-breaking new research. That said, he was actually an interesting bishop—there was brief discussion of how well a book called Interesting Bishops of the Tenth Century would sell, we thought it might do all right—and other people’s papers were rather more interesting than I (at first) felt mine was. The conference was called “The Clerical Cosmos: Ecclesiastical power, culture, and society, c. 900 to c. 1075“, and was capably organised by Bernard Gowers and Hannah Williams, both future colleagues which, given the standard of the conference, can only be a good thing.

I don’t have time to do the full write-up, but here is a list of the papers.

    Session 1

  • Julia Barrow, “Boy Clerics 900-1075”
  • Theo Riches, “Changing episcopal attitudes to popular belief c. 1000, as illustrated by the heresies of Châlons-sur-Marne”
  • Sarah Hamilton, “Response”
  • Session 2

  • Simon Williams, “Preachers, Rebels and Courtiers: The representation of Bishops in Liudprand of Cremona’s Antapodosis
  • Dominik Waßenhoven, “Episcopal claims and self-perception during royal successions in the Ottonian-Salian kingdom”
  • Conrad Leyser, “Response”
  • Session 3

  • Jon Jarrett, “Dilettante or Politician: Count-Bishop Miró of Girona (970-984) and his intellectual cosmos”
  • Richard Allen, “Before Lanfranc. The career of Mauger, Archbishop of Rouen (1037-1054/5), reconsidered”
  • John Nightingale, “Response”
  • General Response

    Given by Henry Mayr-Harting

All of these deserved note in their various ways. Dr Barrow as ever covered considerable ground and had more evidence in reserve with which to answer questions, and reminded us that as far as Isidore of Seville was concerned adolescence went on until one was [edit:twenty-eight, and youth (iuuentus) until] fifty! She also explained something I probably should have known, that there are seven grades of ordination in the Catholic Church, but that by the ninththirteenth century at least it was common to go through the first four (doorkeeper, lector, exorcist and acolyte) all at once, which is presumably what my guys were expressing when they called themselves clericus. Theo went closely into three episodes of heresy at Châlons (he hadn’t read that morning’s blog post…) that are documented only from Liègeelsewhere and that really tell us rather more about how one Liège clericvarious biographers wanted atheir heroic bishops to be seen than about the heretics.1 In the response Sarah Hamilton raised the question of whether the increased number of episcopal vitae in this period could be seen as one more index of the growing social change and ferment, thus invoking the spectre of the feudal transformation, about which I then argued fiercely with Conrad Leyser for much of lunch.2 Alex Woolf, there by strange coincidence, observed I think quite rightly that by gearing up their response to it the bishops of the early eleventh century were recognising a power to heresy, but I felt that the thing that was going on was much more socio-economic than the change of mentalities most other people saw here, a bigger population, more surplus all round and much more town-dwelling making the speed with which ideas found new adherents newly faster than the old counter-measures could defeat.

Later tenth-century manuscript page of Liutprand's Antapodosis now in Münich

Later tenth-century manuscript page of Liutprand's Antapodosis now in Münich, from Wikimedia Commons

In the second session Simon Williams continued his mission of making people take Liudprand more seriously than is generally done by making it explicit how much of the sex and gossip he lards his narrative with is directed to the main attack of the Antapodosis, eroding and ridiculing the reputation of King Berengar II by a kind of literary sleaze campaign. Dominik Waßenhoven meanwhile looked at the change in the rôle bishops took in elections in the German kingdom and suggested that it mostly arose out of disputes but could never then be removed. In his response Conrad asked a classic Timothy Reuter question, roughly, what does it do to our perspectives if Germany is taken as normal and functional rather than the countries like England and France where episodes of crisis like Magna Carta accidentally create a constitutional monarchy that the Whigs thought was the natural order. It’s a good question, though as Theo observed this is rather the core assumption of most German scholarship.

The third session had me in it. It has struck me that the most exciting way to cover my paper here might be to transcribe my marginal cue notes, so here goes, with no concession to comprehensibility:

Miró is a famous intellectual, where famous at all. Main source for him however is charters. Hard to see anyone here except through land and power, but Miró was more, we know. This has all been covered—in Catalan—his style, vocab., verse etc. but not really put into context of his life.3 Ancestry gives him independence. Brothers; mother’s regency; ascent into orders 938-947. Problems with Unifred – royalty helps? Promotion; 957 revolt. Main source disposal of forfeited land. The army episode and subsequent invisible deal with Borrell II. Back to diaconate. Donation time begins. Bait and switch at Sant Joan; very political donations, clearing it out of their lands. Sunifred dies with some warning; Miró becomes count, then a bishop dies. Girona’s problem status. Borrell’s trip to Rome; the neophyte. Bishop Miró with Bishop Godmar. Ató’s murder; Empúries connection; Miró a compromise candidate? Return to the county; careful use of title. Rome trips; reform commands. In later years concentrates on Besalú—Sant Pere de Besalú, Sants Miquel i Genís; hardly in Girona and chapter don’t seem to care much. Death and burial – in Ripoll. Church commitment continuous but sometimes drowned out in record. Must have known Gerbert when newly count. Nothing odd for a count to be patron, or to go to Rome; but reform concern (if his) and lack of children is odd; more bishop than count. A peace-maker, not warrior cleric; talks Borrell down. Writing peace too: the Ripoll consecration creates shared ancestral past for all counts –false, but who cares, or knows? Then uses this historical consensus to bind them into an immunity, their alliance replacing king and by inclusion implicitly creating Catalonia. His intellectual cosmos thus leaves marks on the ground; his thoughts have political effect. ‘Bizarre baroque’, yes, a reluctant count, an ephemeral diocesan, but politician more than dilettante even if always thinking and talking.

Man, even my short notes are long. The other paper in the session was an excellent one in which it was persuasively argued by Richard Allen that Mauger Archbishop of Rouen, son of Duke Richard II of Normandy, was removed not because of all of the myriad and scandalous failings that later chroniclers attribute to him but because of messy family politics. John Nightingale’s response to us asked whether we were in a reform age here yet or not; I thought that I personally was not, and this led to considerable discussion as to how much change in European mentalities we could justifiably really attribute to Pope Gregory VII. Even cynics such as us were inclined to think: quite a lot really. This was particularly nicely expressed in Henry Mayr-Harting’s magisterial, nay, professorial response, in which he stressed that we had chosen a period to look at in which the whole basis of clerical culture had been undergoing change. No accident there, I’m sure, and that’s probably why it was such a lively gathering.

1. Theo was first to make reference to an article that kept coming up again and again, and which would obviously be the key reference for anyone wanting to do more with these ideas, it being Timothy Reuter, “Ein Europa der Bischöfe. Das Zeitalter Burchards von Worms” in Wilfried Hartmann (edd.), Bischof Burchard von Worms 1000-1025, Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen Kirchengeschichte 100 (Mainz 2000), pp. 1-28, of which an English translation is apparently forthcoming.

2. I observed to Theo after this that I didn’t seem to be able to talk to Conrad at all without falling into a fierce argument, friendly-like but still basically continuous. Theo pointed out quite neatly that it’s not just Conrad with whom I seem to do this and wondered if there could be a common factor…

3. I have since writing this remembered that Josep María Salrach did his tesí de llicençiatura on Miró Bonfill, and I haven’t read it, so it seems very likely that I am even less original than I had hoped with this perspective…

Leeds 2010 report I

Since I’ve already been to one other conference that I’m already opining about on other people’s blogs, and since I there plugged all heck out of this blog (not that this seems to have brought any great slough of visitors) it’s probably time I wrote something about Leeds. This year’s was a good Leeds despite the weather; I’ve said before now that bad weather can ruin Leeds because everyone is crammed inside small overheated rooms and can’t find each other, but although it bucketed down for much of the conference I didn’t find that to be the case this year. I had the impression that there were fewer people there than usual, in fact, although there were as many sessions as far as I can tell so I guess it was non-presenters who decided they couldn’t spare the money this year. Fair enough I suppose, but those who were there had a good time I think.

1. Keynote Lectures 2010

Gerald of Wales's Map of the Atlantic Sea

Gerald of Wales's Map of the Atlantic Sea, c. 1200

The theme of this year’s Leeds was travel and exploration, and I did as usual and basically entirely avoided the theme except for the keynote lectures. These were also about the only point when I didn’t have timetable clashes, too; for some reason the early medieval sessions were unusually conflictual this year, which I think may also reflect that there were an awful lot of them. Anyway. The keynotes were both good, and the first of them was Patrick Gautier-Dalché speaking to the title “Maps, Travel and Exploration in the Middle Ages”. What he was addressing here was the fact that to us, often, a medieval map looks worse than useless, used as we are to measurable scales and Mercator’s Projection. In fact, he argued, although maps were largely representational rather than scientific in the Middle Ages, they were far from useless. Some might be just for looking at, in the old picture worth a thousand words scenario, because a map, even a distorted one, is still a very good way of encoding geographical information.1 Then, they could even be useful for actually getting to places, if you approached them in the right way. The Map of the Atlantic Sea by Gerald of Wales above, M. Gautier-Dalché claimed though if the image above really is it I see no sign of this, is marked up with not just the pilgrimage routes through Western Europe, but the distances between their various stopping points. As long as you could find someone to put you on the road to the next destination, therefore, you would still be able to use the map to budget your provisions and journey time and maybe carry some very basic local information. In cases where precision navigation was a bit more essential, to wit at sea, maps perhaps served as aides-mémoire more than literal graphical information; a reminder of what a certain coastline looked like when you approached it, what the hills round the port are like, and so on. Not much use for doing it first time, but perhaps quite useful for doing it first time in say, ten years. The last example was maps’ use in judicial cases; unlikely, you might think, but apparently Columbus’s maps were produced in court in 1535 to prove that he had actually discovered, and indeed drawn, the coasts of South America. So a map might be a teaching tool, a contemplative resource, a planning aid, a piece of judicial proof, and was above all an interpretation, but Mercator has perhaps spoiled us to their possibilities.

An ancient stitch-and-glue boat hull on display in a restaurant in Zadar, Croatia

An ancient stitch-and-glue boat hull on display in a restaurant in Zadar, Croatia

The second keynote was given by Dionysius Agius, and was entitled, “‘In these Seas Horrors beyond Count Befell [Us]: travel in medieval Islam”. This was less of an argument and more of a tour of the evidence for medieval Islamic travel, which was fine by me as I know very little of it beyond the names of Ibn Battuta and al-Mas’Udi, and it was also accompanied with some fabulous, and indeed very presentist pictures, illustrating continuities of construction technique, goods trafficked, routes and so on, not least the stitched boats of which an older example is shown above. He talked us through the trade routes, both overland and overseas, without leaving much time for detail on any of them, just telling us a good story or two, and you know, this too is a skill, especially for a keynote on a specialised theme before a general audience. I did sort of know, for example, that the ends of trade routes across desert zones (and indeed the middle of them) tend to shift according to where the nomads who run the entry-points to them have currently got their shops set up, but it was as well to be reminded in the same few minutes as having the seasonal cycle of the currents of the Indian Ocean explained, there being a large part of the year when it’s far easier to go one way than the other, which is then reversed for another equally large part. After all, some people were plotting to get goods all the way along both routes. The other thing that I technically knew but which was well linked up here was that, at the period when Islamic ships were breaking out into the Indian Ocean (and indeed further) they were far from the only ships sailing it; indeed, as Professor Agius pointed out, they were sufficiently outsized and outnumbered by Indian and Chinese vessels that sometimes those groups were induced to provide warship escorts to keep away fleets of cannibal pirates (or so the travel narratives earnestly tell us, anyway). Whether the stories of Sindbad the Sailor really have a medieval context may, as we have said here before, be doubted, but Professor Agius happily brought them in anyway to illustrate the sort of stories that were probably told. So, not afraid to indulge in anachronism, and perhaps even Orientalism, but not to a bad purpose I thought and an entertaining lecture to attend.

105. Texts and Identities, I: Merovingian Queens – Narratives and Politics

Fifteenth-century illuminatiion of Queen Clothilde offering prayers to St Martin

Fifteenth-century illumination of Queen Clothilde offering prayers to St Martin

This was where the clashes started. I probably wanted, in retrospect, to go to 104. Popular Politics and Resistance in East and West but I hadn’t fully absorbed what I’d be missing (Robert Moore insisting there was no popular heresy that counts in early medieval Europe, Andrew Marsham saying what were apparently really interesting things about rebellion against the Umayyads and Bernard Gowers, whom I already needed to meet, talking about peasants, which I am very sorry I missed but may at least be able to get a copy of) until I’d run into one of the speakers from 105 and assured her I’d be at her paper. A man of my word, therefore, I was there for the following:

  • Julia Hofmann, “Betrayal or Portrayal? The Depiction of Fredegund and Clovis in Gregory of Tours’ Decem Libri Historiarum V. 39-49″. I mainly attended this so as to have seen Julia Hofmann and Julie Hofmann in the same room, in fact. Here the argument was that whereas Gregory of Tours was usually hopelessly partial in his depictions of Merovingian court politics, which is an obvious problem for working out whether he can be trusted to tells us about them, in this particular bloody and skulduggerous episode of family in-fighting he appears to have loathed both protagonists about equally, which suggests that it may even be a fair depiction. I’m not convinced we’d think the same if it were Liutprand of Cremona, myself, though I do understand the great emotional need not to write off so much of our evidence for the sixth century as Gregory represents.
  • Erin T. Dailey, “Merovingian Polygamy”, a title that drew me in but disappointed rather as it largely concluded that there probably wasn’t really any Merovingian polygamy per se, and did so largely by refusing to nuance the category of concubine, which as a couple of people pointed out to me afterwards needs doing because sometimes concubines’ children become kings. So, while marriage may be an important distinction (and valuable security for the wife, as long as the mother-in-law wasn’t Brunhild) it isn’t a total one, and the fact that there’s only ever one queen at a time doesn’t remove the need to ask how far queens are different. Only twenty minutes, I know, but he was pressed on the matter in questions and didn’t get much further with it.
  • Linda Dohmen, “The Adulterous Queen in Early Frankish Historiography”. Full disclosure requires that I admit that I’ve known Linda for ages and it was her I’d promised to come and see, but I thought this genuinely was a good paper, carefully balanced between spice and analysis. It also did something useful by balancing Gregory of Tours out with other sources covering the same era, in their equally biased ways, the Liber Historiae Francorum and ‘Fredegar’.2 What stories like the classic one about King Chilperic, coming home early to Queen Fredegund fresh out of the bath, catching her unawares with a slap on the rear and she telling off the lover she assumed it was rather than the husband it actually was, illustrate, other than in some ways there’s not much difference between a sixth-century court and a twentieth-century soap opera in terms of plot, is that a lot of people were prepared to get into risky situations for a chance to get with the queen, and not, we presume, simply because Merovingian kings selected irresistible brides Balthild not withstanding,3 but because it was a position of power; queens could bring legitimacy to a pretender or an arriviste, could be grounds for launching a coup or mounting a rebellion and could, also, be vital tokens of continuity when those events were unrolling for other reasons. Here as often happens we need a way to express this sort of position of power often occupied by women in the Middle Ages, power which is not the same as agency, which they often didn’t enjoy (Fredegund as with so much else an exception here), being unfortunate prizes to be contested between men who certainly did, but still incredible focuses of… what? One almost wants to use ancient anthropological terms like tabu, did I not know that modern-day anthropologists of my acquaintance (and indeed modern-day feminists) would probably kick me in the constructs for it. But the word ‘power’ doesn’t really get there, and it’s very hard to discuss without accepting the sources’ language of objectification. So yes, this one is still making me think.

209. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: reassessing politics and culture in the 10th century

Decorated initial showing Pope Gregory VII excommunicating King Henry IV of Germany

Decorated initial showing Pope Gregory VII excommunicating King Henry IV of Germany

My colleague Rory Naismith and I have been at the same conferences several times now, and at Kalamazoo we were somehow scheduled against each other, which has happened before too. This not being the case this time, I told Rory I would go to his session (221. The Anglo-Saxons and Rome, II: routes, coins and manuscripts) and then gathered that one of its speakers had pulled out and that this one was on in the same time-slot… I think I’ve still seen more of his papers than he has of mine but he definitely has the moral high ground for now. However, I struggled to find the session I was going to instead and so arrived in a terribly full room slightly after the beginning of…

  • Theo Riches, “Once Upon an Iron Age: telling the story of the long 10th century between Carolingians and ecclesiastical reform”. Some day I hope Theo will write a follow-up to Tim Reuter’s contribution to the feudal transformation debate; I’ve heard Theo discuss this and his Germanist’s perspectives are really interesting.4 However, he keeps letting some excuse about that not being his actual subject get in the way, and so this was not that paper but instead a likewise interesting one about bishops and ritual. He was picking up on a recent piece of Steffen Patzold‘s about the use of ritual in Ottonian court society, as propounded by Gerd Althoff, which makes the very useful distinction between the rules of the game and manœuvres in the game, and the need to be aware which the evidence is showing us.5 This fits well with my objections to some of the French school of dispute scholarship that emphasies competing norms; sometimes, I like to point out, people are actually abnormal, and this was implicit in Theo’s discussion.6 Theo also wanted us to remember the audience, and that it is not necessarily passive; these rituals may be worked out beforehand, but they are pointless unless they are seen, which means that they are also open to interpretation. Patzold sees a change in bishops’ rôles in these contexts in the 820s, from potestas to ministerium, moving from being in charge of their own subjects to the whole of God’s people, with a consequent distancing from politics in detail. Theo suggested seeing this as move from being a player of the ‘game’ to being an umpire, and that the 820s are the point when episcopal lordship starts to become qualitatively different. This was music to my ears as my very first Leeds paper suggested that bishops in my area were lay lords plus, with extra means of recourse and a few corresponding restrictions, but essentially doing the same things;7 Theo’s take here, and Steffen’s behind it, may give me the means to nuance this. I also really liked Theo’s statement in questions that “Canossa breaks deditio, you can’t use it any more” (deditio being a ritual of simulated self-abasement to demand forgiveness from a ruler for disobeying him). This is one of many ways in which the contest between King Henry IV of Germany and Pope Gregory VII overdrives medieval politics, he’s right, things do break in that contest, and arguably not least the Holy Roman Empire…
  • Steven Robbie, “The Duchy of Alemannia in the Early Tenth Century: an ethnic community?” followed Theo, which is hard enough to do, but Theo speaks quite loudly and Steven speaks quite softly; also, it was after lunch and the room was hot and stuffy. I fear Steven may have lost some of the attention of his audience for what was quite a subtle take on the question of the Stamme, the core ‘ethnic’ territories that are supposed to underlie German duchies in a certain old-fashioned sort of historiography. Steven illustrated that this won’t work for Alemannia, which is reconstructed pretty much as needed in the political circumstances of each age and only maps to later Swabia in fairly transient ways. When all of Alemans, Thuringians and Swabians are supposed to be the same ancestral community, you realise that ethnogenesis is a game that many can play.
  • Simon Williams, “Playing to the Gallery: reinterpreting Liudprand of Cremona’s Antapadosis in its contemporary context”, did indeed play to the gallery in as much while I may some day hear a Liutprand paper in which the speaker does not tell the story everyone’s favourite Italian scandalmonger reports about Queen Guilla hiding a valuable belt where only a woman could, this was not it (and neither, of course, is my report of it). However, he did do some interesting stuff pointing out how quickly Liutprand’s work circulated, well within his lifetime too, so even if he was initially writing for a small audience that wasn’t what he revised for. Simon in fact suggested that the target audience was Bishop Abraham of Freising and perhaps Bishop Dietrich of Metz as well as Bishop Rather of Verona, and that we underestimate Liutprand if we see him as a marginal player. Liutprand writing about you, in other words, was something like being mentioned in Tatler; probably unpleasant and trivial but unfortunately read by people whose good opinion of you may be important some day…

Coffee break next but I find it combines badly with adrenalin, so I didn’t, because next was nothing less than my paper!

301. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: strategies of legitimization on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” is actually one of my better pieces of work, I think, and compares three contemporary Catalan counts’ reactions to what I’m now arguing is a resurgent Carolingian royal self-assertion by King Lothar III. This is kind of part two of my Haskins paper from 2008 and I hope to have them both in process soon so I’ll say no more here unless people are curious enough to ask.
Grant of King Æthelred II to Abingdon Abbey, 993 (Sawyer 876)

Grant of King Æthelred II to Abingdon Abbey, 993 (Sawyer 876)

  • Levi Roach, “The Voice of Æthelred?” explored the group of lengthy royal charters of King Æthelred the Unready in which he apologises for the misdeeds of his youth and makes compensation gifts. Levi was arguing that the imagery employed here is sufficiently consistent, across several archives and many scribes, that these documents must represent an actual statement of sorts by the king, even if he probably didn’t choose the actual written phrasing. Charles Insley, who gave a not dissimilar paper a few years ago,8 was generous enough not to point this out in questions, but Levi rallied to what I think is actually new ground in reaction to a question from Steven Robbie about how long it can possibly take to be sorry; these documents after all span most of a decade. Levi’s response was that the only way it all makes sense is a rather paranoid policy of penitence till the bad stuff stops happening, which after these charters stopped was shifted onto the whole kingdom under the influence of Archbishop Wulfstan; in other words, this court’s response to crisis is to escalate repentance until the handles come off and it all goes to Hell… Which, even if it’s overstated, gives one to wonder how neutral a perspective on things anyone at Æthelred’s court could possibly have maintained… What price groupthink? and so on.
  • David Woodman, “The Rewriting of the Anglo-Saxon Past: a Middle English Rhyming Charter of King Æthelstan and the Beverley Cartulary (BL, MS Additional 61901) in context”, lastly, dealt with a rather lovely piece of Middle English fabrication in which Beverley Minster tried to claim foundation by the selfsame rex totius Britanniae in the fourteenth century. The result looks and reads nothing like an Anglo-Saxon charter, and nor does much of the stuff it’s put into a beautiful cartulary with, but it still won them several cases. David set out exactly who the enemies were in this case, and explained the success of the claim not in terms of the cluelessness of the panel judging but of opposition between the abbey, Archbishop Neville of York and Richard, Second of That Name, Kynge, but one was still left with echoes of the story in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the eponymous publication’s lawyers successfully argue that beauty is truth so the prettier story is automatically true, as one would like rather like Æthelstan to have been one of those congenial souls

Now. I want to talk to you, Internet, about the Problems and Possibilities strand and what’s happening with it, but this is long enough already. I’ll do it in a separate post later on. Instead let it be noted that I managed to miss two separate receptions where free wine was available, somehow, mainly to get lightly drunk with such fine upstanding members of the Internet as Another Damned Medievalist and Ealuscerwen, in the same place but not with Gesta, which seems to be the usual way of things, and a few people who have real names, and I went to bed merry and exhausted.

1. Something that all of us who were in Siena and now also commenting at In The Medieval Middle seem to be agreeing on; a conceptual map of that city might be a lot more use than a strictly geographical one.

2. Pronounced, as I once heard Roger Collins say in a paper he was giving on the author in question, “with the inverted commas silent, like the P in Psmith”.

3. In fact, it surprises me that in a session about Merovingian queens not only did Balthild only get a passing mention, but her supposed seal was completely omitted. It’s got to be part of any discussion about how queenship is visualised, hasn’t it, especially since if it is what is claimed, it’s actually a source generated by or at least for the queen. I begin to wonder if there’s a perhaps a case for asking medieval historians to ask themselves, “is there a good reason your paper is entirely text-based?” And I am not just saying this because it’s lewd, I am saying this because I think we were already dancing near the lewd and it would have been a way to let it in without risking sounding as if one actually wanted to talk about sex.

4. Referring to T. Reuter, “Debate: the ‘Feudal Revolution’. III” in Past and Present no. 155 (Oxford 1997), pp. 177-195.

5. Referring here to Gerd Althoff, Spielregeln der Politik im Mittelalter: Kommunikation in Frieden und Fehde (Darmstadt 1997) and S. Patzold, Konflikte im Kloster. Studien zu Auseinandersetzungen in monastischen Gemeinschaften des ottonisch-salischen Reichs, Historische Studien 463 (Husum 2000).

6. See, if you should really want to, my review of Stephen D. White, Feuding and Peacemaking in Eleventh-Century France, Variorum Collected Studies 817 (Aldershot 2005) in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 15 (Oxford 2006), pp. 124-125.

7. J. Jarrett, “Sales, Swindles and Sanctions: Bishop Sal·la of Urgell and the counts of Catalonia”, paper presented in session ‘Telling Laymen What to Do’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 21 July 2005, available to you as J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), pp. 289-313, online here.

8. His webpages mention a chapter, “Rhetoric and Ritual in Late Anglo-Saxon Charters” in P. Barnwell and M. Mostert (edd.), Medieval Legal Process: Physical, Spoken and Written Performance in the Middle Ages, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 19 (Brepols 2009), which will probably be worth consulting on this if it’s actually out; a rapid web-search reveals publication dates of 2008, 2009 and ‘in preparation 2008-2009’, but the publishers seem less sanguine. In fact, damn, I need that book even though I heard half the papers…

The Case of the Disappearing Abbot (sorter penance)

I had been holding off on writing this post because I knew that it would be probably be wrong unless I could check a few things in the recent edition of the the charters of Santa Maria de Serrateix, but on due inspection there’s one copy in the UK and it’s in Birmingham.1 (The IHR has had one on order since mid-2007 so I don’t think this is really the UK’s fault.) More relevantly, on overdue inspection, it’s not actually Serrateix I meant to write about, so the excuse is kind of gone. This is the Case of the Disappearing Abbot that I promised Ms Highly Eccentric after enlisting the dark arts to Choose my own Archive.

Fifteenth-century depiction of Count Guifré the Hairy

Fifteenth-century depiction of Count Guifré the Hairy

Before I can explain this, some kind of background is necessary. If you remember Count Guifré the Hairy, we can start there. Guifré, who ruled Barcelona, among other places in the area, from 878 to 898, died leaving a brother, a cousin, four sons and a daughter in charge in his various counties and foundations, the sons including the eldest, Guifré II Borrell (898-911) and the youngest, Sunyer (911-947) who succeeded in turn in the three counties of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, and the middle one, Miró II el Jove (898-927), who ruled Cerdanya, and perhaps Besalú in succession to his uncle Radulf (878-924). With me so far? Miró II died and left four sons, looked after by his widow their mum, Ava. Sunyer didn’t make things easy for them, but by the 940s they were ruling in their own right, Guifré (927-957) (yes, they love those old names in this family) and little bro Oliba Cabreta (927-990) in Besalú and Sunifred in Cerdanya (927-967), with the other little bro Miró III Bonfill (967-984) going into holy orders and spending his early adult years as a deacon learning to Latinise impossible Greek words.2 Nonetheless, and despite being older, these brother counts (and the deacon) were at a territorial disadvantage compared to Sunyer’s sons, Borrell II and Miró III (yes, I know, they’re in different counties so we’re supposed to be able to tell them apart, OK?), who succeeded him in 947.3 The reasons were firstly that the big conjunction of Girona, Barcelona and Osona, and Urgell which Borrell ruled alone, contained the two biggest cities and almost all the coastline, and secondly that it contained almost all of the frontier, a small salient in the pagus of Berguedà bordering Cerdanya being the Besalú brothers’ only access to the riches of al-Andalus. Worse: the Barcelona brothers also had three of the area’s four bishoprics, including two of the three whose territories lay in Besalú and Cerdanya, and the third wasn’t under the Besalú family’s control either.

Control of the Church was important in this area and the elder cousins went various ways about getting some. Eventually, in 970, Miró Bonfill became bishop of Girona, which is a long story for another time, but before that the brothers had done quite a lot to push the independent nunnery of Sant Joan de Ripoll, on their borders, under their thumbs, nicking its lands and exchanging others back on bad terms, and eventually setting up a rival monastery right next door across the border. This was a two-handed operation: Oliba Cabreta and Sunifred took lands off the nunnery which were in their territory and gave them to the rival, and Miró Bonfill gave the victims extra lands elsewhere to soothe them, lands that, interestingly, were mostly close along the border and recently acquired from Borrell II, another story for another time.4 They pulled exactly the same double on the Girona border, donating heavily to Sant Esteve de Banyoles but also building a rival house, and that was Santa Maria de Serrateix, which is why I got confused. But the one we want is Sant Pere de Camprodon, whose documents have only very recently been entirely published.5 I’m not sure that Camprodon was built with that purpose in mind, in fact, as the donations of scammed land there are all rather after the story that I’m about to tell, but it certainly wound up as a counterweight to Sant Joan.

Church of the monastery of Sant Pere de Camprodon as it now stands, from Wikimedia Commons

Church of the monastery of Sant Pere de Camprodon as it now stands, from Wikimedia Commons

A church at Camprodon was consecrated in 904, which is the first we see of it.6 By 946 it seems that it was a monastery, though that document is only known from a register, and the compiler of the register, for whom Camprodon would obviously have been a monastery, may have updated his source.7 Either way, it seems to have belonged in some sense to the bishop of Girona, because in 948 the eldest brother of the Besaluú comital family, Guifré of Besalú gave Bishop Godmar II some land elsewhere in exchange for the church and its land. We know this because in 952, when Guifré made a trip north to meet King Louis IV (936-954) at Rheims for a variety of reasons, one of the things he came back with was a royal precept of immunity for what was now apparently a monastery.8 That precept names Guifré as the founder, so we have to think of him as being personally connected with this place even if it seems like a whole-family investment. It also explains the exchange by which Guifré acquired the place. That exchange also survives, or at least a document that claims to be that exchange does, but it’s been hailed as a forgery not least because it adds a quite incredible price-tag of 1000 solidi from count to bishop. Someone added this in superscript to the precept as well, and on the whole I think it can be discarded though why one would add it—one could hardly claim it had never been paid or something—I don’t know.9

The precept also mentions gifts to the new monastery from the counts’ mother Ava, which we have, and several from its first abbot, Laufred, which we don’t.10 That’s important. All of this Louis placed under immunity:

establishing all of the which above-mentioned things with the integrity of all the properties under our mundeburdus, as it is called, by royal authority most intactly against the disturbances of all men, and we order that no public judge or any judicial power whatever shall dare to trespass over the churches or the places of the aforesaid monastery for the hearing of cases by judicial custom or the exacting of tolls or preparing of works or any renders or taxing the vassals or their followers or requiring any written demands, but shall presume to exact neither road-tax nor gate-tax or pasturage or toll or any unlisted exaction… 

(This is only a standard formula but I still love it. No possibility uncovered.)

Now, Laufred is the missing abbot. We don’t see him in person, except maybe once in 948 at a hearing where, if it is he, he attests as Lamfredus abbas et diaconus. I’m not convinced this is the same man; this Abbot Lanfred doesn’t turn up anywhere else either but that doesn’t mean they have to be the same guy.11 So maybe calling him the disappearing abbot is unfair, because actually he may never appear, but we know he was in charge at Camprodon because Count Guifré told Louis so, and because he is named in another document, which is the consecration of his successor Teuderic.12 And Teuderic was being appointed because Laufred had disappeared. To be more precise, he went on pilgrimage ‘because of his sins’, or so it says, but he apparently never came back. Whither he went we don’t know, though Rome would have been a popular choice at this time and also more than slightly dangerous, not least because of the danger of malaria. Anyway, there’s nothing too mysterious about that, but it seems that Camprodon never got word. The consecration of Teuderic says that they waited seven years for Laufred’s return before plucking up the courage to ask the counts if they could have a new abbot. Now, they didn’t ask Guifré, because he had been killed in a revolt at Besalú which would have been one of the other stories I could have told you.13 That happened in 957, so in 962 they asked his brother Sunifred Count of Cerdanya, who was very busy at exactly this time cutting deals with Abbess Fredeburga of Sant Joan de Ripoll by which the nunnery got only a bit of its lands back in exchange for other lands which went, guess where, Camprodon.

Gratuitous picture of Besalú as it now stands behind its fourteenth-century bridge

Gratuitous picture of Besalú as it now stands behind its fourteenth-century bridge

So are you seeing a stitch-up here or am I just being over-suspicious? The place is a monastery by 948, but the consecration of Teuderic claims that Laufred wasn’t appointed till after the trip to the king. And that’s odd because the king’s scribes were told he was abbot. Or at least, an abbot: this and the 948 hearing could be reconciled if he were abbot of somewhere else and parachuted into Camprodon after it got its immunity. That might explain why we don’t see him here much; but it doesn’t explain why the first thing he did was head off on pilgrimage never to return. Either way, after he left until 962, and possibly before, Camprodon was running with no abbot. And they couldn’t get a new one under Guifré they had to wait a long time before they could get one even from Sunifred, and then it seems to mesh with other schemes of his. It looks as if the counts didn’t want an active abbot here, and Teuderic doesn’t last long either, as Abbot Audà first appears in 965.14

But, having appointed one at all, why not replace him once he’d gone? Well, there could be any number of reasons for that: if you’re hard-nosed you might want to think that the counts were taking the revenues, and if you were in the middle you might note that Laufred appears to have been fairly wealthy and that Guifré’s relationships with his nobility were apparently strained and so perhaps he was determined not to risk offending an apparent ally gone missing, or perhaps more importantly the remaining family, by handing Laufred’s rights over to someone else. I confess that when I first read this document my sentimental conclusion was that Guifré didn’t want to admit that his friend was dead. This is probably too soft, and I would now opine that the middle road probably makes more sense. But it’s odd. I suppose that the key lesson is that a monastery can be a very short- to mid-term political tool and that, while I’m sure the counts didn’t mind having their souls prayed for, they weren’t really bothered about keeping this place running to rule. The important thing was that it was where it was, a thorn in the side of the independent and wealthy convent at Ripoll, and for that they were willing to invest.

1. Jordi Bolòs i Masclans (ed.), Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Maria de Serrateix (segles X-XV), Diplomataris 42 (Barcelona 2006).

2. The family is covered as background in Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època (Barcelona 1948; 1948; 1962), 3rd edn. repr. as “L’Abat Oliba i la seva època” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents 13-14 (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), II pp. 141-277. On Miró especially there is also Josep María Salrach i Marès, “El bisbe-comte Miró Bonfill i la seva obra de fundació i dotació de monestirs” in Eufèmia Fort i Cogul (ed.), II Col·loqui d’Història del Monaquisme Català, Sant Joan de les Abadesses 1970 II, Scriptorium Populeti 9 (Poblet 1974), pp. 57-81, with English summary pp. 422-423, and Salrach, “El comte-bisbe Miró Bonfill i l’acta de consagració de Ripoll de l’any 977” in Estudis de llengua i literatura catalanes oferts a R. Aramon i Serra en el seu setanté aniversari IV, Estudis Universitaris Catalans Vol. 26 (3a època Vol. 4) (Barcelona 1984), pp. 303-318.

3. There is actually one recent article on these two I haven’t yet got hold of, Miquel Coll i Alentorn, “Dos comtes de Barcelona germans, Miró i Borrell” in Marie Grau & Olivier Poisson (edd.), Études Roussillonnaises offertes à Pierre Ponsich. Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et d’histoire de l’art du Roussillon et de la Cerdagne (Perpignan 1987), pp. 145-162.

4. A story told, indeed, in Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming).

5. Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, S. Riera i Viader, Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2005), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, 2 vols, docs 116, 257, 268bis, 296, 301, 304, 317, 319, 328, 337, 346, 351, 360, 365, 374, 375, 384, 395, 400, 415, 425, 428, 446, 453, 512, 528, 529, 531, 568, I, III & V, and P. Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, docs 278, 437 & 623. In hunting through all these briefly I found a late purchase by Abbess Emma I didn’t know about so I shall have to update that post now as well. I’ll refer to the charter volumes as either CC5 or CC6 in what follows.

6. CC5 116. On Camprodon’s history see Jordi Vigué i Viñas, Antoni Pladevall i Font, N. Peirís i Pujolar & Xavier Barral i Altet, “Sant Pere de Camprodon” in Pladevall, Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987), pp. 85-95, where a lot of the relevant documents are also edited. There is also Miquel Sants Gros i Pujol, “Sant Pere de Camprodon, un monestir de Besalú” in Art i cultura als monestirs del Ripollès (Montserrat 1995), pp. 69-87, which apparently contains a number of things I should have been aware of a while ago but which, I confess, I haven’t seen.

7. CC5 268bis.

8. The precept is edited as, and my translation quoted below is made from, Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis per a Catalunya, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-52), 2 vols, Camprodon I.

9. CC5 III.

10. Ava’s gift is CC6 278.

11. CC5 288. This is a good hearing, this one: let me jog your memory… However, it is also a seventeenth-century copy and the copyist doesn’t appear to have been very clear what the names were.

12. CC5 351. This is the point to admit that this is a very odd, and perhaps suspicious document, even before someone added that price: the scribe seems to have deliberately chosen odd vocabulary (that would however be more common in the twelfth century) and it calls Louis IV imperator, all of which seem to me like signs of a later fabrication. The surviving document appears palæographically and physically to be an original, however. It’s good enough for a story at least, but if I were using this for proper publishable work I would be a lot more careful about its narrative.

13. On which see Salrach “El comte Guifré de Besalú i la revolta de 957. Contribució a l’estudi de la noblesa catalana del segle X” in Amics de Besalú i del seu Comtat (edd.), II Assemblea d’Estudis sobre el Comtat de Besalú, pp. 3-36.

14. CC5 365.

In Marca Hispanica VII: Besalú and its rainy gardens

Trying, more or less unintentionally, to get as many of the old comital capitals into one trip as possible? Possibly, but I had been told to go to Besalú anyway, and it had been on my mind since the road from Hostalric to Vic through Arbúcies and Sant Hilari de Sacalm, that we’d taken to get to Vic from where we were staying, had led us through place after place whose name I knew. I knew them from a single document, usually, that document being the will of the Count-Bishop Miró III Bonfill, Count of Besalú 957-984 and Bishop of Girona 970-984, having previously been a deacon from early in his life. Miró was a fascinating man who seems to have read Greek, in fact to have generally read a lot and sponsored astronomical research as well as founding shedloads of monasteries.1 But as we drove along that road, it became clear that he had also carefully amassed a swathe of property by his death that led more or less directly along the route from his bishopric to his county’s capital. I don’t know if they’re all a comfortable day’s walk from each other or not, but I wouldn’t put it past him. He’d have found that new road very convenient, as he must have done the journey rather a lot. So I was already fairly happy to be seeing some of his work. Because, you know, they say charity begins at home, and so when you get right into Besalú you can see how Miró took this to heart, because the town square is mainly taken up by this:

The old monastery of Sant Pere de Besalú viewed from the Plaça de Sant Pere

`This’ is the old monastery of Sant Pere de Besalú, that Miró founded, and though it would have surprised him like this because of a twelfth-century rebuild, it’s still a good focus, and although the nave is locked away from you by a glass door you can stand in the porch at its open end, and for the cost of a Euro, illuminate the altar at the other for three minutes, which is quite a nice gimmick. But this is getting ahead of things, because to actually get that far you have to park up outside the town and come in this way:

The Pont de Besalú and the town behind it

There’s been a bridge here since the eleventh century, but lots of what you see here is fourteenth-century, and its building generated quite a drama;2 I don’t know how people got across the river before that, although on the day we were there it was shallow enough to ford no problem, despite the rain that may or may not be evident to you in the photoes. And behind it the town just sort of piles up, medieval stones on medieval stones:

The outside of Besalú seen from halfway across the Pont de Besalú

And then once you’re across the bridge, you are in this maze of medieval streets, that has basically not changed except in terms of cleanliness and shopfronts since the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. It’s like Girona’s medieval centre except much more compact and, whereas Girona is kind of like one large museum piece, here people were still living and working in it. I thought this continuity of use was fantastic, apart from anything else for the quality of building it implied but also for the apparent cultural assumption that you couldn’t go replacing this stuff. That said, again and again during this trip I came across buildings that turned out, despite being apparently medieval in style and fabric, to have been there only since the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries or even later; it was just the way people built here for a long long time.

But it’s not just buildings. From the bridge side the town slowly climbs down to where the river loops round in slightly more reachable fashion, and out there there is an expanse of market gardens, the Horts de Besalú, that apparently go back to the tenth century, although I assume that the actual terracing and structures are more recent than that at least:

The Horts de Besalú taken from the river through a mist of rainfall

These gardens were something of a revelation to me, dull though they look, firstly because I see the word ‘ortos’ a lot in my documents and this made it make a lot more sense in my head. Secondly, although I couldn’t get a decent picture that would bring this out, because the cabbages and cauliflowers growing in some of these gardens were bigger than some children, I mean truly giant vegetables that would make nonsense of the entries at most British country fairs. And thirdly because they’re achieving these monster vegetables with an irrigation system that looked extremely familiar. Forgive the strange angle, which was adopted not for style but to get the complexity of the system in:

The irrigation channels in the Horts de Besalú

I grant you straight away that these are made of concrete and may well not be any more medieval than you or me. However, compare these, which are in Shiraz in Iran and may have been since about the same time Besalú’s bridge was put in place:

A medieval qanat in Shiraz, Iran

If it works, why fix it I guess?3 Admittedly, the pouring rain that shortly after this drove us to take refuge in a café and then run for Girona where my companion of the journey so far had to catch a plane, and also forbade any more photoes, made an irrigation system seem pretty redundant, and it was sloshing out spare water like a storm drain, which it had effectively become, but the low river still told us why it was there, and why people had been maintaining this essentially ninth-century Arabic technology so that they could continue to grow outsize cauliflowers. Really, they haven’t changed much of medieval Besalú, it’s worth a look.

1 On Count-Bishop Miró and his monastery work see Josep María Salrach, “El Bisbe-Comte Miró Bonfill i la seva obra de fundació i dotació de monestirs” in Eufèmia Fort i Cogul (ed.), II Col·loqui d’Història del Monaquisme Català, Sant Joan de les Abadesses 1970 vol. II, Scriptorium Populeti 9 (Poblet 1974), pp. 57-81, with English summary pp. 422-423; on his learning and savvy generally, see Salrach, “El comte-bisbe Miró Bonfill i l’acta de consagració de Ripoll de l’any 977” in Estudis de llengua i literatura catalanes oferts a R. Aramon i Serra en el seu setanté aniversari Vol. IV, Estudis Universitaris Catalans Vol. 26 (3a època, Vol. 4) (Barcelona 1984), pp. 303-318.

2. There has recently been a historical novel set around its building, indeed, by Martí Gironell and called El Pont dels Jueus (Girona 2007), though how close it is to history would be something to read up on I suspect.

3. If the irrigation is something you find interesting, aside from Googling for « qanat » you could try either (for Catalonia especially) Pierre Guichard, “L’aprofitament de l’aigua” in B. de Riquer i Permanyer (ed.), Història Política, Societat i Cultura dels Països Catalans volum 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. Josep María Salrach i Marès (Barcelona 1998; repr. 2001), pp. 332-333, or more generally Thomas F. Glick, Irrigation and Society in Medieval Valencia (Cambridge MA 1970), online at http://libro.uca.edu/irrigation/irrigation.htm, last modified 8 December 2001 as of 26 March 2008.