Tag Archives: nuns

Name in Print XXIV: women writing in tenth-century Catalonia

I have been waiting to be able to post this for some months, and now thanks to the good offices of Cambridge University Press and the continuing operation of the Royal Mail even in lockdown—about which I am genuinely thankful and also slightly remorseful, not that anyone should be catching anything from me at this time—I can. In September of last year I got an article out that I have been hoping to see in print for a very long time, and about a week ago I finally got my own copy, so now it’s time to announce it here!

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Remeber this charter? Surely you must. It is, of course, Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Our subject is a piece of work with a very long history indeed, pretty much all of which has been recorded on this blog. In 2007 I first recorded some frustration with a scholarly view that nuns in Catalonia couldn’t write, because I knew full well two charters that they signed autograph, showing that they could at least write their own names.1 One of these was the above, where actually you have at least four and maybe more nuns doing so, along with signatures for some of them by the scribe as if he didn’t expect them to do so.2 The palaeography of this document, which at that stage I knew only from a bad colour scan I made from the Catalunya Romànica, is actually really tricky, but at some point before late 2009 I had realised that the fact that they all signed in different hands meant that they had not been taught to write at Sant Joan, and so presumably already knew how to write, more or less, when they arrived.3 In other words, this document proves lay female literacy in certain circles of tenth-century Catalonia. By early September 2009 I was trying to work out what those circles were, using prosopography, and then I got to stand up in front of one of my old supervisors and explain my first results. So far so good, and this is where the complications started…

Initially, it was proposed to publish the proceedings of that conference as a celebratory volume for that aforesaid supervisor, but the person who bravely took on the editing was not then in a safe position of employment, and they spent longer in the precariate than is good for one and had to concentrate on other things. It took a little while for that to become clear, but around 2013 it did, and then I was looking for a new home for what I thought was quite a good piece. In mid-2015, already, Magistra et Mater alerted me to a relevant-looking call for papers for an edited volume on women in the Iberian Peninsula, and so I brought the paper up to date, having by then caught up with Michel Zimmermann’s work on the subject and thought a bit harder about the gender angle due to the excellent company I had been keeping, and sent off an abstract in November of that year.4

Initially this seemed to go well. I was invited to send in a full version, which I duly did in May 2017—in the middle of this the prospective publisher had been swallowed up by a bigger fish, so the delay wasn’t the editors’ fault, it’s just the kind of thing that happens to my publications… That was accepted, as I understood it anyway, but I then got into a tangle with the editorial panel over female agency, which they wanted emphasised. I felt that Sant Joan, which was shut down by papal decree in 1017 after an all-male embassy of relatives of the then-abbess went to Rome and told his Holiness that the nuns were ‘parricides and whores of Venus’, and then chucked them out onto pension estates and established a bishopric for a male relative on the patrimony instead, was a really bad place to look for that and preferred my old first-wave interpretation, that it was tough to be up against the Man in circa 1000 Catalonia.5 I sent in a revised version in May 2017, got feedback, and then sent another in January 2018 which I hoped was an acceptable compromise, pointing out that the nuns had most agency when they acted alone but that was also when they had the least power. To that, I quickly got back a decision that shifts in the theme of the volume meant that my chapter was no longer going to fit. So it was orphaned again.

Cover of Traditio volume 74 for 2019

Cover of Traditio, volume 74 for 2019

Now, at this stage, for reasons I won’t go into, it was very important for me to get some more quality publications into play. So, I cast around for possible alternative homes and lit upon the venerable periodical Traditio, where long ago I had been encouraged to send something else that, as it turned out, wasn’t ready. I like to try to cross these misses off when I can, and I had not given up on Traditio. So I took a careful look at their editorial board, added suitable references to relevant work, revised again with the previous rejection comments at least partly accommodated, and sent it off again the very next month. This meant working during strike, but not on anything I was supposed to be doing, so I thought I could justify it. And when Traditio‘s review timetable rolled around to it in April 2019—about which they were explicit from the start, and 100% accurate—they accepted it, almost as was, which was the kind of good news I badly needed at that time.

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, "Nuns, Signatures, and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia" in Traditio Vol. 74 (Cambridge 2019), pp. 125–152

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures, and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia” in Traditio Vol. 74 (Cambridge 2019), pp. 125–152, DOI: 10.1017/tdo.2019.7

And so, after a series of copy-editing back-and-forths with a keen and competent Fordham graduate student over June to August 2019, and then finally proofs in late September 2019, in very late September 2019 it went online, and I was assured that print copies were winging their way to me.6 Now at last I have them and so the world can know, if you hadn’t seen it already, that it exists. I’m rather pleased with it, too; I always thought it was a clever piece of work, though I say it as shouldn’t, and I think it has found a suitable home. (It has also been an exemplary editorial experience, for which I am very thankful.) If you want to see it, I have an access link I can share with a small number of people (which means signing up to Cambridge Core), or there may be other means of sharing we can work out; just let me know! But, basically, ta-da! Article. I thank you…


1. I was then kicking against M. Zimmermann, “Langue et lexicographie : l’apport des actes catalans” in O. Guyotjeannin, L. Morelle & M. Parisse (edd.), “Pratiques de l’écrit documentaire au XIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 155 (Paris 1997), pp. 185-205, the start of a grand tradition of disagreeing with that learned man’s work.

2. Your editions of reference for this charter would be Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: Estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951), doc. no. 128, or Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia Volum IV: Els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 645.

3. The scan came from Antoni Pladevall i Font, Núria Peíris i Pujolar, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Xavier Barral i Altet, R. Bastardes i Parera and Rosa M. Martín i Ros, “Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Rom&aagrave;nica X: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987), pp. 354–410 at p. 364, where Udina’s text is also reprinted. After a while, however, I was able to get a much better facsimile out of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, whose shelfmark for it is Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Sunifred 39, and which they kindly let me publish, for which many thanks.

4. Zimmermann’s work here referred to being M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols.

5. By this stage, because I thought it had been accepted, I had cited it in a few places as forthcoming in this volume, so if you really want to do some cyber-stalking you can probably find out the volume’s notional details, but I shan’t name it here, because it’s not yet out, could still change, isn’t mine to cite any more and, frankly, as things have turned out they probably did me a favour by rejecting it, as well as making it a better article, so ingratitude seems misplaced.

6. Citation therefore: Jonathan Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures, and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia” in Traditio Vol. 74 (Cambridge 2019), pp. 125–152, DOI: 10.1017/tdo.2019.7.

Eat like a Carolingian nun (but check with a doctor first)

The ruins of Notre-Dame de Soissons

The ruins of Notre-Dame de Soissons (perhaps betraying calcium deficiency?)

Taking in the last of those Jean Verdon articles I mentioned in my recent and apparently misjudged post about the range of female monasticism, I find a reference to an article by Michel Rouche about famine.1 In it he apparently refers to a forged charter of Charles the Bald for the nunnery of Notre-Dame de Soissons, which specified the food that the various estates it claimed should render and the size of the community.2 That size was 260 nuns and 200 servants and domestics of various kinds, which would have made the place far and away the largest Carolingian-period nunnery known and seems unlikely to be true.3 But, since the claims were presumably intended to be plausible whenever they date from, Rouche thought, and Verdon agreed, that they were reasonable evidence for the dietary allowances of an early medieval nun. So, dividing the daily allowance by the number of nuns, we get per inmate:

  • 1,440 g of bread
  • 1.38 l of wine
  • 70 g of cheese
  • 133 g of dry vegetables
  • 16 g of salt
  • 0.6 g of honey (which I guess was used in accumulated dollops)

Verdon (or perhaps Rouche) calculates that this is 4,727 calories and says that the required daily intake is 2,400. That was France in 1975, and a rapid websearch suggests that UK women are advised by the National Health Service to keep calories down to 2000 a day. Of course, there is a big difference in how many calories the nuns were burning in just not freezing for at least half the year, but Verdon is presumably still right when he observes that this diet was seriously lacking in protein and vitamins. I assume (without evidence) that they would have supplemented this with fruits and vegetables of the season when there were some, but it’s still not a rich diet despite the supposedly rich nunnery. All of this mainly leaves me wondering what the motives of the forgers were and how much information they had about food use from the house’s refectory, but since we like medieval factoids, there’s one for you, with suitable cautions about how the fields of both diplomatic and nutrition have moved on a bit since 1973 and how I haven’t checked in with at least one of them while writing this post.


1. Jean Verdon, “Notes sur le rôle économique des monastères féminins en France dans la seconde moitié du IXe et au début du Xe siècle” in Revue Mabillon Vol. 58 (Ligugé 1975), pp. 329-344, at p. 332 where he cites Michel Rouche, “La faim à l’époque carolingienne : essai sur quelques types de rations alimentaires” in Revue Historique no. 508 (Paris 1973), pp. 295-320 (some details supplied by me; non vidi).

2. The charter is †A. Giry, †M. Prou & G. Tessier (edd.), Recueil des Actes de Charles II Le Chauve, Roi de France (Paris 1927-1947), 3 vols, II no. 494, discussed by Rouche at “Faim”, p. 299 (cit. Verdon).

3. Comparators listed by Jean Verdon, “Recherches sur les monastères féminins dans la France du nord aux IXe-XIe siècles” in Revue Mabillon Vol. 59 (Ligugé 1976), pp. 49-96 and idem, “Recherches sur les monastères féminins dans la France du Sud aux IXe-XIe siècles” in Annales du Midi Vol. 88 (Toulouse 1976), pp. 117-138. The largest known to Verdon otherwise (though figures are rare) is Ste-Croix de Poitiers, which boasted a hundred nuns in the time of Louis the Pious (idem, “Monastères féminins dans la France du Sud”, pp. 133-134); congregations of 10 or 12 were much more usual (and in the former case, strictly speaking uncanonical).

Bunch of cross-dressing skinheads the lot of them

Between 1975 and 1978 a chap by the name of Jean Verdon who has subsequently become quite important in the field—Regesta Imperii counts 23 books, produced at a fairly Pratchett-like rate—and who had at that stage only a couple of articles out suddenly came out with about ten more, of which a fair bunch were on nuns, one or two more on monasticism and the remainder either on women or the Chronicon Sancti Maxentii, of which he was then finishing an edition.1 I presume that this must have been his thèse d’état, broken up into papers, but in those I’ve so far tracked down, the nuns ones mainly because of finishing a paper, this is certainly never said. Tracking them down is quite an effort though. I’m lucky, in as much as just down the road from my current location is a library which has all of Revue Mabillon, Annales du Midi and Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale and probably some of the others too on open shelves, but that can’t be true of many places. Some of the articles are really close analysis of social contexts, and some are little more than lists of recorded houses of female monastics with some generalised (and now badly dated) history attached.2 But tucked into one of the latter I find this piece of Carolingian conciliar legislation which made my eyes widen rather:3

Si quae sanctemoniales causa religionis, ut eis falso videtur, vel virilem habitum sumunt vel crines adtondent, quia ignorantia magis, quam studio eas errare putamus, admonendas castigandasque decernimus…

Which, if I’m getting it correctly, Englishes roughly as:

If nuns for the cause of religion, as it falsely seems to them, either put on a male habit or shave their hair, since we suppose them to err more from ignorance than from zeal, we decree that they are to be admonished and castigated…

I’m afraid this made me think, irreverently I suppose but not uselessly, of the women’s colleges here in Cambridge when I was an undergraduate. Most people in these institutions were completely usual, and I don’t mean to suggest that the other colleges were any less weird in their various ways—some more—but the parallel of all-female institutions invites comparison. Because of their segregated environment, it was my sense then that the women’s colleges tended to pick up more than their share of two extremes, new undergraduates who didn’t feel ready or whose parents didn’t think them ready for the world outside their all-girls school, and radical ‘nu-feminists’ who wanted an environment from which men were mostly excluded. Some of the latter, indeed, wore male or ungendered clothing by policy and some shaved their heads; I fell half in love with one of the latter who later got back in touch with me only to invite me to her wedding, but that’s another story. The point I’m going to make with this, badly perhaps but stay with me, is that the sheer range of experience early medieval women’s monasticism is made to contain, from the teacher Abbess Hild of Whitby through Hrotsvita of Gandersheim and her poetry to the Merovingian rebel princesses of Poitiers and the many many denunciations for lust, laziness, disorder or plain old ignorance (on which Verdon mainly concentrates on in at least one article, sad to say), was kind of all there; earnest religious afraid of the dangers of the world, angry women keen to have power in an all-female space, dedicated teachers (of both girls and boys, I was supervised in Newnham College for a couple of years), and those who were fonder of close company than their agreed code of conduct might have permitted.

Eleventh-century capital from Poitiers showing two men squaring up to fight, with a woman behind each trying to pull them apart

Eleventh-century capital from Poitiers showing two men squaring up to fight, with a (veiled?) woman behind each trying to pull them apart, from the Musée de Saint-Croix, Poitiers; somehow appropriate...

Of course these colleges are bigger than most nunneries would have been; for the simile to work one really needs the colleges to contain several variant congregations, which as I say, it seemed to me that they did. In the medieval case, an awful lot presumably depended on the abbess and other sources of prescription and enforcement. An effective abbess maybe wouldn’t have let this sort of thing happen, but on the other hand one also has to consider the nuns themselves and their station before one decides what ought to have been possible for an abbess: Gregory of Tours tells us that despite a future saint as abbess and a Mother Superior whom she had appointed, despite the entreaties of him as bishop and of other senior churchmen and orders from the king, yet, already, it still took actual military force to make the princesses at Ste-Croix de Poitiers, and the scratch group of bandits and soldiers they’d gathered, stand down from their revolt: “We are of royal blood,” he has them say, “and we will not set foot inside our nunnery until the Mother Superior has been dismissed.”4 Enforce an observance on that! An early medieval nunnery might have been any of these places, depending on who had founded it, who was recruited and who was in charge and how those factors interacted: a retreat for the pious, a family estate with liturgical cladding, a school for the local nobility, a hospital for travellers… it’s not surprising that despite the Carolingians’ best efforts, one Rule never really fitted all.

So there must necessarily have been a range of responses to standards of female monasticism, depending on who was involved. The article of Verdon’s that set this post off stresses, in its very closing pages, that there were many ‘good’ houses among the ‘bad’, accepting the contemporary moral binary of his sources, but this council extract seems to show a more nuanced treatment; acting weird out of zeal might have been different (OK? or more punishable? I don’t know) but plain ignorance was to be corrected, the girls to be set back on track and allowed to continue more properly. To me, you see, that seems more like the academic college than a carefully-sealed-off zone of exclusion designed to protect purity at all costs. So let’s be prepared for flexibility of standards, I suppose. This may not be a very good analogy, but I hope there’s a point in there somewhere that doesn’t completely succumb to wilful anachronism…


1. The ones I’ve caught so far are J. Verdon, “Recherches sur les monastères féminins dans la France du nord aux IXe-XIe siècles” in Revue Mabillon Vol. 59 (Ligugé 1976), pp. 49-96, “Les moniales dans la France de l’Ouest aux XIe et XIIe siècles. Étude d’histoire sociale” in Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale Vol. 19 (Poitiers 1976), pp. 247-264 and idem, “Recherches sur les monastères féminins dans la France du Sud aux IXe-XIe siècles” in Annales du Midi Vol. 88 (Toulouse 1976), pp. 117-138, and I guess I also need to get through idem, “Notes sur le rôle économique des monastères féminins en France dans la seconde moitié du IXe et au début du Xe siècle” in Revue Mabillon 58 (1975), pp. 329-343. The edition I mention is idem (ed.), Chronique de Saint-Maixent, 751-1140 (Paris 1979). For the rest, you can hit up Regesta Imperii as easily as I could

2. Verdon, “Notes sur la rôle économique”, is definitely the former, and idem, “Recherches sur les monastères féminins de la France du nord” and “Recherches sur les monastères féminins dans la France du Sud” are definitely the latter. That said, though in any individual case you would have to do further research since the sources tend to be hagiography or the Gallia Christiana which is not really that much better for accuracy and critique, just having a reasonably-full list of all recorded houses is quite useful, whether they’re dodgy or not.

3. Concilium Vernense (December 844), ed. Alfred Boretius & Victor Krause in eidem (ed.), Capitularia regum francorum Vol. II, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges sectio II: Capitularia Regum Francorum) II (Hannover 1897), online here, no. 291, cap. 7, quoted from Verdon, “Recherches sur les monastères féminins dans la France du nord”, pp. 64-65 & n. 305.

4. Gregory of Tours, Libri historiarum francorum decem, transl. Lewis Thorpe as History of the Franks, capp. IX.39-43, quote at IX.40.

Links of coolness (mainly featuring death or actual cold, but some brighter)

Well, I’ve been busy for so long that quite a lot of exciting stuff has come out of the ground or otherwise appeared on the web. First and foremost, it would seem that some of the stuff presented at that Bristol conference that I said I wasn’t allowed to talk about has now been released.

The grave of Archbishop Wichmann of Magdeburg, newly opened

The grave of Archbishop Wichmann of Magdeburg, newly opened

At the conference they had video from a microcamera intruded into the coffin of this man, who was once Barbarossa’s Chancellor, but hadn’t yet opened it. Now they have, which I learn from this article on The Times‘s website, in case your German’s not up to that first one, and I found the Times one because of this post by Michelle Moran at her History Buff blog. In case you can’t see, he is holding a chalice and a book. Go and look at the pictures! Rarely is a dead body so amazing.

Skulls in the burial pit on the Ridgeway, Dorset

Skulls in the burial pit on the Ridgeway, Dorset

So, I said I’d tell you and so I have. But of course just lately most of the focus has been on another set of dead bodies, the fifty-one apparently-Vikings at Weybridge, Dorset. A quick sken at the Anglo-Saxon Archaeology blog reveals ten separate articles just on the front page and I seem to remember that there were more. Here I think I should give the palm of coverage to my colleague Rory Naismith who has covered it for the Cambridge Department of Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic’s blog here. If you want an expert’s take, there is one, albeit suitably cautious.

The ruins of Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh

The ruins of Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh

One more set of dead bodies with no images as yet, but in some ways more interesting, is a group of female burials that have been found at Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, in Devon. The archæologist in charge, Sam Turner, is saying that this suggests there was a nunnery on the site. I see the reasoning, but I wonder, because of the dating, which from the article in the South Devon Herald Express to which David Beard linked at Archaeology in Europe, which continues invaluable, they say only that the site is at least 1000 years old. I think, reading between the lines, that this is because they have found a church underlying the current ruins, which are Norman (and only this ruined because of a fire in 1992, worse luck), and since those are Norman these must be Saxon. What the relation of the burials to either church is not clear from the short notes in the papers, or whether the bodies themselves have yet been dated, and I’d very much appreciate any further information anyone might have. The reason I’m cautious is that in 1018 there was a monastery, Buckfast Abbey, founded just down the hill from this sight, and so the dating is kind of crucial to work out whether the abbey was replacing a nunnery, moving in alongside, or merely a resumption of monastic life in male reform style on a site where female religious observance had ceased long before. Or, whether they’ve just struck a bit of the graveyard where women were, as these are not the first burials recovered from the churchyard (as you’d expect). So, cart before the archæological horse? Or genuinely archæological evidence of a very late Saxon double monastery? Apart from anything else, I note that in 2005 Andrew Reynolds and Dr Turner published this site as a monastery, so I’d very much like to know what the earlier evidence was, and will keep my eyes and ears open.1 Hey Andrew, you’re not reading are you? (Worth a try…)

Antler carving of a presumed Norseman found at Sigtuna

Away from bodies, but back to Vikings, and also relating to arguments that have been had here about our favourite bone of contention, it should be noted if you didn’t—I got it from David Beard’s Archaeology in Europe again—that a new temperature index for medieval Greenland has been compiled from sea-shells pulled out of sediment cores, and shows a fairly severe collapse in the temperature in that area in the decades after the settlement of Iceland in c. 890. Of course, I’m more interested in the bit where they say, “winter temperature variability increased between 990 and 1120, a time when written records suggest that crops occasionally failed. By 1250, things heated up again and summer temperatures reached 10 degrees Celsius, possibly the highest in three centuries. Within decades, though, temperatures began to plunge again”, but the reminder that all our temperature data (and this is still true now) is local data first and foremost is salutary, because this is not really what we see in mainland Europe.

Mosaic floor from the Umayyad palace at al-Sinnabra

Likewise about things coming out of the ground, although in a very different area and of very different size (though possibly less significance: think on that, ye mighty…) is this summer palace of the Umayyad Caliph Mu’awiya that Israeli archæologists have located at al-Sinnabra on the shores of the Lake of Galilee. I learn this from News for Medievalists, and I haven’t missed the recent controversy over their content, but this one links to the press release I’ve just linked, so I see no problem with tipping the hat here.2

Then, I’d also like to notice two things that are about texts rather than objects, firstly this excellent article by Patricia Cohen for the New York Times about how to archive Salman Rushdie’s computer files, which taps into so much stuff I’ve written here before about digital decay and the need for truly long-term digital preservation strategies, which I was pointed at from Cliopatria, and which contemplates, among other things, preserving the hardware on which the files were used so as to replicate the author’s mise-en-page, which is a wonderful idea. They make mention of a Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device at Stanford University, basically a really advanced data recovery machine, and I’m quite glad there is one of those but I think we’ll need more…

And of course, as has correctly been observed by Goblinpaladin at Opinions of a Reformed Dropout, this is approximately the most brilliant thing in the world, a chap called Jackson Crawford who has taken it upon himself to rewrite the story of Star Wars as Old Norse saga, Tattúínárdœla saga. My Old Norse is basically non-existent, and he has provided English translations only reluctantly, but the actual effort of reimagining the characters and storyline into a Viking Age setting is a considerable part of his achievement. I’d say go read it but since he speaks of having 8,000 visitors per day I’d guess you probably already are. Nevertheless, just in case… Ah me how I love the Internet.


1. Andrew Reynolds & Sam Turner, “Discovery of a late Anglo-Saxon monastic site in Devon: Holy Trinity church, Buckfastleigh” in Archaeology International Vol. 5 no. 8 (London 2005), pp. 22-25.

2. I confess to some slight bemusement at the extent of this. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never met its operators, but I never thought Medievalists.net was anything other than self-promoting journalism. The selection of articles and the coverage given to fiction has always left that impression on me, and the choice of digitised scholarly work they choose to host also seems to embrace availability rather than discrimination. At least they are now consistently giving links. The whole thing has made me think a lot more carefully about how I use hot-linking, though. It’s always seemed to me a way to pass traffic to a deserving site and notify them that I’d borrowed their image, and the bandwidth implications had never struck me. They probably don’t arise with the number of visitors I get here, but all the same, and because often hot-linked images disappear, I should rethink that. Any thoughts from people I’ve linked to?

I am beginning to see a trend here

bcv-023

I knew this would happen. The more of Michel Zimmermann’s huge thèse I read, the less likely I get to be able to conduct a civil conversation with him, even though I learn a lot as well. If I had to sum this difference of perception up, I would usually say that I find it difficult to believe as easily in the influence of the people who request charters made in what the scribes then write, especially when it comes down to word choice. But here I am also coming up against a broader issue which I suppose is just down to how huge the pile of evidence we share is. This problem is, Professor Zimmermann is revelatory about what one can see in the vast Catalan charter material, but I can often fault him when he asserts that something cannot be found in the material. Assertions of evidentiary silence when there’s so much background noise are always going to be risky.

An exchange between Count Borrell II and the monks of Santa Maria de Ripoll, 957

An exchange between Count Borrell II and the monks of Santa Maria de Ripoll, 957, large image linked beneath

For example. Zimmermann, in a really interesting chunk about whether people really do sign their own names in these documents, who they are when they do (almost always clerics, unsurprisingly, but not always) and so forth, notes that even if the signatories to a charter can’t write, they may be able to draw a signum, a graphical device loosely based on a cross in a circle or on a triple S (from subscripsit), and you can see a few above.1 Sometimes the scribe draws those too and the people just draw one of the dots in the angles of the cross: he says this can be seen in several documents but doesn’t reference them dammit.2 But he also says that people start to mark themselves out by individualised signa in the twelfth century (as with the notaries’ marks we talked about a while back), but not before.3 Well, er, what about the above one? And what indeed about that charter by the nuns of Sant Joan that has featured here so often? There’s at least eight different signa on that. Why don’t they count?4

Arrangement of the succession to the abbacy of Sant Joan de Ripoll, 948

Yes, here it is again, but you see the signa, right? Large version beneath

Now I suspect the answer is simply that Zimmermann, when he was doing this work, didn’t read in the original what was already edited. He does cite a few documents from the edition of the Sant Joan charters and a few from Vic, which are the two corpora I know best and know twit his generalisations here (because they have excellent, if sparingly allocated, plates, and of course I’ve seen a few of the real things too).5 But because they were already edited when he was working, I imagine he didn’t do the same kind of painstaking archive work on them. Neither did I of course, but because I was so far away from them I made extra sure I’d read the palæographical notes. Anyway. So there’s my nuns with their variety and he doesn’t seem to know. And in fact he doesn’t seem to know much about nuns at all:

… toute une catégorie de religieux, les moniales en l’occurrence, reste étrangère à la culture écrite.

I’ll translate:

… a whole category of religious, to wit, nuns, remained strangers to written culture.

Now he justifies this by reference to the nuns of Sant Pere de les Puelles de Barcelona, pointing out that between 986 and 996 they frequently appear in transactions and not only do they not sign but even the abbesses don’t, once or twice having the scribe profess their inability to do so!6 Well, okay, and it’s not like nunneries are thick on the ground in this period (there are three in the whole of Catalonia, though a fair few female religious in other contexts), but if that’s the period you’re looking at then Sant Pere is the wrong one to pick, because it had been sacked and its population captured as slaves in 985.7 So everyone there in 986 is a new recruit, even the abbess, who may be a comital daughter (of Count-Marquis Borrell II, as it happens; small world innit) but she cannot have been more than 18; Borrell and his wife only married in 967, and there’s no indication that Adelaide Bonafilla was their oldest child though she could have been; the oldest son was only born in 972.8 Okay, old enough to have been schooled but far from a senior ecclesiastic. It’s not like there are very many charters featuring the Sant Joan nuns but they do exist (and he knows they do, because he mentions one of them giving a Psalter to a church; strangers to written culture my foot).9 Did he just not look through the small print in Udina’s edition closely enough? Well, maybe, but one further quote has me meanly suspecting another explanation:

… Guischafredus, auteur d’une donation commune avec sa femme Eilo en 955, tient à préciser que seule la maladie l’empêche de souscrire. De crainte sans doute d’être confondu avec sa femme dans la même inaptitude!

Not without distaste, I translate:

… Guiscafred, actor in a donation made in common with his wife Elo in 955, makes sure to specify that only frailty prevents him from subscribing, doubtless for fear of being confused with his wife in the same ineptitude!

« Sans doute », Prof. Z.! I mean, isn’t that the first possibility that occurs to you, dear reader? No? No, me neither. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but I wouldn’t have let it go to the printers myself.10 It leaves me wondering whether three pages in twelve hundred on women and repeated denials of nuns’ ability to write should really be put down to missing some key charters, or whether there’s a more basic problem here.


1. Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 86-91. The charter is printed in (and scanned from) Federico Udina Martorell (ed.), 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), doc. no. 139.

2. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 89.

3. Ibid., I pp. 89-90.

4. The nuns’ charter is Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 128, but I mentioned that already.

5. Edited in Udina, Archivo Condal, and Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX i X, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs.

6. Zimmermann, Érire et lire, I pp. 82-83.

7. And of course Zimmermann wrote the basic synthesis on that event, so knows this perfectly well: “La prise de Barcelone par al-Mansûr et la naissance de l’historiographie catalane” in L’Historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle. Actes du Congrès de la Soci´té des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur. Tours, 10-12 juin 1977, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest Vol. 87 (Rennes 1980), pp. 191-218.

8. The family is set out by Prosper de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los Condes de Barcelona Vindicados, y Cronología y Genealogía de los Reyes de España considerados como Soberianos Independientes de su Marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), vol. I online at http://www.archive.org/details/loscondesdebarce01bofauoft, last modified 10 Jul. 2008 as of 15 Jan. 2009, I pp. 64-81; Borrell had Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 173, additionally dated by the birth of his son, so I guess he was relieved. They do seem to have had a lot of girls.

9. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 500, referring to Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 160.

10. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 82.

Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica I

At last the truth can be revealed. Why was I writing a paper about nuns all of a sudden? Why hadn’t it been in the sidebar as my next due paper? What was all the foreshadowing in that earlier post about? Now it can be told.

RM Monogramme

Very recently Professor Rosamond McKitterick had a significant birthday and, seeing this coming from some way off, various of her students had had the idea of a birthday conference. This, and its title which forms the subject header, was largely the brainchild of Richard Pollard, who also designed the monogram you see above and generally did the bulk of the donkey-work while the rest of us who were in one way or another participating kept quiet, tried not to tell ask anyone for help that wouldn’t be able to do similarly and, in the case of David McKitterick, her husband, made sure she kept the relevant weekend free without explaining why. And duly at 14:00 on September 12th she was escorted into Trinity College in Cambridge and found a gathering of about forty of her fellows, erstwhile and current students there basically to say thanks. As the person in that gathering with, I think, the longest hair other than Rosamond herself, and possibly one or two of the younger women, I feel myself uniquely qualified to say, “there was a whole lot of love in that room, man”. She’s had an awful lot of students and a lot of them have gone on to be important themselves. Some of us still hoping, also. But, well, it’s a conference. With due discretion and all that, obviously I’m still gonna blog it, if only to list the names…

Rosamond McKitterick, Professor of Medieval History and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Rosamond McKitterick, Professor of Medieval History and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

The folder I have my notes stashed in has the monogram on the front. It contains a short biography of Rosamond, the programme, a map and contact details (all very well to hand out on arrival, but surely only useful before! this is my only criticism of the organisation) and a full or as-near-full-as-possible bibliography of Rosamond’s work, which registers (deep breath) six monographs, another co-written, six volumes of essays that she edited, another that she co-edited, and two volumes of collected papers, and eighty-two articles and chapters (not including stuff in the volumes she edited), one alone of which was co-written. If you don’t know Rosamond’s work, this may give you an idea that she is an important scholar in quantity as well as quality. Then, on the specially-printed notepaper (why yes, they did get some funding since you ask…), we have notes on the following papers.

    Keynote Address

  • Janet Nelson, “New Approaches to Carolingian Reform, or 1969, 1971, 1977 and All That”. The keynote address, which placed Rosamond in the context of her teaching by Walter Ullmann, something that Jinty also went through, and drawing the roots of Rosamond’s first work into the many branches it now has, full of shared remembrance and intriguing background that could have been supplied by no-one else.

    Session 1. The Reformatio monastica karolina

  • Marios Costambeys, “Paul the Deacon, Rome and the Carolingian Reforms”. Argued that Paul the Deacon‘s conception of Rome deliberately ignores its Christian and recent Imperial heritage, referring to it in terms of its earliest history to place both its history and the new Frankish rule in inarguable and uncontested Antiquity.
  • Rutger Kramer, “The Cloister in the Rye: Saint-Seine and the early years of Benedict of Aniane”. More or less as title except that that was the only terrible pun involved, a critical reading of the Vita Benedicti Anianensis pondering whether Benedict was in fact at first one of Carloman’s party not Charlemagne’s and how far his initial monastic conversion might have been a political retreat, then moving into questions of how his initial drive for asceticism apparently transformed to a desire for uniformity ‘that we can believe in’.
  • Sven Meeder, “Unity and Uniformity in the Carolingian Reform Efforts”. Argued that the Carolingian ideal of unity should not be mistaken for uniformity and that it was always ready to accept a good deal of diversity to which its own efforts only added. Arguable, but probably not with the Oxford English Dictionary definitions used; Susan Reynolds would have been unable to stay quiet in questions had she been there.
  • Some critical questions here especially for the latter two papers, and perhaps most notable among them James Palmer asking if, in fact, Carolingian reform could ever have succeeded adequately for its proponents or whether a perception of failure was built in. Sven responded, I think wisely, that the ultimate aim was to make the kingdom favoured by God and so the proof would be seen in events. It’s an interesting cycle of paranoia that this kind of drive might have set up, however. I think we see something similar with Æthelred the Unready‘s vain attempts to prescribe extra piety when the Danes just keep coming in his autumn years.

condal128

    Session 2. Reform from without, reforms to without

  • Benedict Coffin, “The Carolingian Reformation in the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Churches”. Drawing out even more similarities between Carolingian and English reform movements as well as a few crucial differences, not least that in England it was primarily Benedictine not royal.
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia”. You basically saw a chunk of this paper already, and I had to leave a lot of detail out, but it went OK and did everything I hoped for. Completely overwhelmed however by…
  • Julia M. H. Smith, “Wrapped, Tied and Labelled: importing Jerusalem, recycling Rome in the early Middle Ages”, exploring the contents of the altar in the Sancta Sanctorum in the Lateran in Rome, which transpires to have been installed by Leo III and to have contained, in 1906 when it was last opened, a mind-boggling assortment of Holy Land soil, branches, twigs, etc. from significant places there, as well as martyr relics probably from the other patriarchal sees, replacing Rome’s pagan history with a new one imported from Jerusalem and elsewhere. The illustrations were fascinating and it was a really interesting paper.
Behind those grilles is the box installed by Leo III

Behind those grilles is the box installed by Leo III

The evening was rounded off, well, for me at least, with a pre-dinner paper given by Yitzhak Hen. I won’t attempt to describe that here except to say that what I’ve written about his work here before may have failed to take his sense of humour into account. Then, there was a wine reception and a dinner, but I, with my usual mismatch of engagements, ran into London for one of the best gigs I’ve been to for a long time. But I was back the next day, aching of neck and back and short of sleep, and I will describe that later.

A retraction: last angry nun neither so angry nor as last as advertised

I suppose it’s a good day when you go to two libraries and come home with not just most of the work for one’s next paper done, but also with ideas for three different blog posts. However, I could wish the first one didn’t have to be “I was wrong”. Thank goodness, however, that I caught it in time to alter that bit of the book. What am I on about? Back on 13 October 2008 I posted a post called “The last angry nun in Sant Joan de Ripoll“. (If anyone reading knows what song I riffed the title out of, you have unusual but good taste sir or madam.) It talks about one particular nun at Sant Joan de Ripoll, Elo, whose signature we had and who from her subsequent appearances could be shown to have been scarcely a teenager when she signed that document, in 948, and to go on to be a probably nonagenarian exile from the nunnery after it was shut down in 1017, who would have remembered almost all its history and would doubtless have had strong and bitter views about the shut-down.1 It’s a great story, but it’s wrong, as a pingback there from this post now sadly declares. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right this time, mind, but after this why would I believe me?

A better scan of the 948 document signed by Elo, among others

A scan, better than I last had, of the 948 document signd by Elo, among others, Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Cancilleria, pergamins Sunifred 39, full-size linked beneath (large!)

You see, the day before I wrote this I went back through the relevant charters trying to count the nuns of Sant Joan of whom we know for a new paper about them specifically. I found three documents in this search that I’d seen before, but before I took this interest, and then I seem to have assumed that my files were complete enough to make assertions like those in the post in question. Now, I could explain at length—by now I’m sure you believe me about that—but I’ll be short about it this once; there were at least two women called Elo at that nunnery. One was placed there by her parents in 926, and she was of important ancestry: her mother, who was called Guinedilda and made the donation, was one of those semi-independent religious women called deo votae, and her late husband, Elo’s father, Teudemon, had held the land that was now being given to the abbey direct from the king.2 (That in itself is fascinating: Elo was presumably quite young at this point, and obviously not of legal age, so at most 13? so her father can only have died in 913, which suggests that he got his land from Odo or Charles the Simple, which is after the Frankish kings supposedly stopped having much influence here.) So they had connections.

Then there’s the document above. There’s more than one signature there for Elo, but that’s the case with several of the nuns; the neat black signatures are all but one signatures of nuns by the scribe (though apparently in a different ink to the rest of the charter? this is a complicated document) and in some cases the nuns appear to have signed as well, the scribe perhaps not expecting women to be able to write and they happy to prove him wrong. So I hadn’t thought about it much; but actually there are two scribal signatures in the name of Elo so there must have been two there then, of whom one could write and one couldn’t. One was probably the royal vassal’s daughter, but the other one, well, she might be our girl, or she might be someone else of the same name. There are two signatures by women called Elo in an exchange of 964 as well, and the same is true there.3 But in 1002 a man called Asner gave some land at Torrent in the Vall de Ripoll to a nun called Elo at Sant Joan who was his daughter, and her focus in that same area means that we know that she is the one who goes on till 1032.4 And that 1032 appearance makes it clear that my claim about her being the last nun is also rubbish.

That takes a bit of explaining (and then a sanctemonialis ex machina ending). The 1032 document is Elo’s last appearance, but not just hers. It’s the publication of a will and Elo was one of the executors.5 The deceased, however, was another deo sacrata, which is the title Elo also used after her expulsion in 1017, and she was called Guinedilda. This woman also appears in the 964 exchange so if there were only two Elos she and Guinedilda had known each other a long long time, fifty-five years at least and Guinedilda was at least 69. Though, even if Elo de Torrent was a new girl in 1002, it had still been at least thirty years since then, let’s not forget.

The thing here is, Guinedilda bequeathed most of her belongings, which were reasonably numerous, to Sant Joan, which by now was a canonry tied to a new and ephemeral bishopric at Besalú, occupied by the son of the count who got the abbey closed down, though it was already by then being called Sant Joan de les Abadesses. Yes, it stinks doesn’t it? But apparently Bishop Oliba of Vic, whom we’ve met before, made sure that all the nuns were provided with a living from the nunnery’s lands at the expulsion, and probably therefore those lands had to come back to the house when they died. It just took these two a long time to do that.

So, to reprise the earlier post’s assertions. If there were two, rather than three, nuns called Elo, and Elo de Torrent is one of those named in 948, she must still have been pretty gosh-darned old at final appearance: legal age was 14, so she must have been at least 14 in 948, therefore 83 or older at the expulsion and at least 98 when she had to see her old cloistermate to the grave! But it might be that Guinedilda, about whose uncommon name I’m more confident, was seen to the grave not by so venerable a fellow nun-in-exile but by a younger amanuensis who might only have been, er, first appearance and therefore at least legal age 1002? Last appearance 1032 so, 44 or older then.

However, neither of these venerable ladies can have been the last nun of the abbey. Why not? Because the ousted abbess, Ingilberga, reported to the somewhat incredulous Pope Benedict VII as a meretrix veneri but installed in the episcopal palace at Vic and remembered there as a venerable and pious woman, was only remembered as such after 1055. Till then she was still alive, being venerable and pious in real time. And she was oblated in 987 and took the abbacy before 995, so she must have been at least 14 then and therefore at least 74 at her death. Guinedilda was older. But Ingilberga was the last, outliving all those who’d deposed her, including the half-brother who’d installed her remorsefully in his palace. She was the last angry nun. And she probably had the best right to be, as well.6

The nave and apse of the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

The nave and apse of the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses


1.The document is, as well as at the shelf-mark in the picture caption, edited in Federico Udina Martorell (ed.), 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), doc. 128, and also edited and translated into Catalan in Antoni Pladevall i Font, Nuria Peirís i Pujolar, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, Xavier Barral i Altet, R. Bastardes i Parera & R. M. Martín i Ros, “Sant Joan de les Abadesses”, in Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya romànica X: el Ripollès (Barcelona 1987), pp. 354-410, whence this facsimile.

2. The lost documents were inventoried in the Llibre de Canalars, a record of the abbey’s charters by the chatty Abbot Miquel Isalguer (1457-84), which Udina edited in Archivo Condal, pp. 448-499 for the period of his book. This is no. 149 there, and also 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, doc. no. 201.

3. Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. nos 148 & 163; she’s also in Sobrequés et al., Catalunya carolíngia V, doc. no. 360, which is another part of the same exchange.

4. He appears giving Elo land in Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (eds), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 19-21 (Barcelona 1998), doc no. 62.

5. Feliu & Salrach, Pergamins, doc. no. 226.

6. If for some reason you wished to follow up the sad history of Ingilberga, the basics are dealt with in R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època, (Barcelona 1948; 2nd edn. 1948; 3rd edn. 1962), 3rd edn. repr. as “L’Abat Oliba i la seva època” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. J. Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i documents XIII-XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols, II pp. 141-277, at pp. 190-200 of the reprint, which is of course about the remorseful half-brother but deals with his family as well, and more personally in Esteve Albert i Corp, Les Abadesses de Sant Joan, Episodis de l’història 69 (Barcelona 1969, 2nd edn. 1999), pp. 43-51, but you would probably also benefit from knowing that the documents of the expulsion are now edited in E. Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari i Escrits Literaris de l’Abat i Bisbe Oliba, ed. A. M. Mundó, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica XLIV (Barcelona 1992), Diplomatari nos. 10 & 49.

The last angry nun in Sant Joan de Ripoll

From thriller titles to Western echoes, although I don’t think Sant Joan de les Abadesses is really the west of anywhere. Nonetheless, it’s back there we go once more, because I have been revising the book again (now in second draft) and come across this snippet that makes for a story such as I like to tell you all.

Cloister of the abbey of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Cloister of the abbey of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Stop a minute in this cloister and I’ll tell you about someone who used to live here, back in the day, when the abbesses still ruled and a dominant Castile was still a glint in Fernán González’s eye. But first I need to set you up with some background. You probably remember Abbess Emma? Well, her end is obscure; no-one knows where she’s buried, and we don’t know exactly when she died. The last mention of her dates from 942, then there aren’t many documents for a bit and then in 949 there was a big meeting at Sant Joan whose matter makes it clear that she’d been dead for a while.1 The meeting was attended by various great and good of the area, including the deacon Miró Bonfill, one of Emma’s nephews, Bishop Guadamir of Vic, Archdeacon Ató of Vic who would be the next bishop, Viscount Guadall of Osona and Bishop Godmar II of Girona, but it was headed by two more of Emma’s nephews, Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, fairly new to the job and probably about 19 years old, and by his elder cousin Count Sunifred of Cerdanya. Neither of these two exactly ruled Sant Joan, because the area had since 899 been technically under royal immunity (King Charles the Simple‘s signature on the document that says so is the blog header up there), but Sant Joan’s properties were mainly split between Osona and Cerdanya, so it was these counts that problems at Sant Joan mostly affected.2

And problems there were, because as the scribe reports, after Emma’s death Borrell’s since-deceased father Sunyer had, ‘out of cupidity’, imposed an abbess of his own choosing, ‘an unsuitable woman, as later became clear’. These dark words are all we know about Emma’s immediate successor, a catspaw for the greedy count who had also acquired a more or less controlling interest in the valley immediately overlooking the monastery from the south, which was now held by Borrell.3 She was also dead now, however, or otherwise removed, and the meeting was to decide on a successor. Sunyer’s malpractice had apparently caused him great remorse in his final years as a monk at Notre Dame de la Grasse, but the counts weren’t letting go of the wealthy convent for all that, and the successor was the recently-widowed dowager countess of Urgell, Adelaide, Borrell’s and Sunifred’s aunt-in-law. She doesn’t seem to have taken the job seriously, goes on appearing as countess and by 956 had been replaced by one Ranló, though as Adelaide had married the counts’ uncle Sunifred II of Urgell in 907, she may well have been dead by the time we first see Ranló (though Ranló, too, was at least 63 by this time and probably older; long-lived religious women is a bit of a theme round here).4

The record of the meeting of 949 over the succession to Sant Joan

The record of the meeting of 949 over the succession to Sant Joan

But it’s not Adelaide I want to tell you about. Here is a scan of a photograph of the record of this meeting, and under it there should be linked a full-size version which blows up rather better. From the full-size version, if not from this small one, you can probably see that there are a lot of autograph signatures, Borrell’s dead centre in splendid capitals probably being by the scribe Guillad, and Sunifred conspic. by his a. but Gentiles, who had been Emma’s chief notary, appearing in the full-size glory of his own hand, above left of Borrell’s, for the last time ever. Never mind him, though, he’d had his share of the limelight; the really interesting thing is that four of the nuns also sign, apparently in their own hands. Guillad either didn’t know they could write, or thought they needed help, as he put their names in himself, but their own signatures appear also, above and to the right of Gentiles’s rather up-and-down rustic capitals hemmo d~o dicata (you see, Emma was a popular name in this area by now…), immediately above her RIHELDES D~O DIcata, Riquilda, to her right Chindiberga, right over to the left again on the next line Carissima, ‘dearest’, and back up again, just to the right of the younger Emma, ELO †. I mention Elo last because she’s the subject of the post (at last, you say!). The nuns Bellúcia and Aldècia are also made to sign by Guillad, but they apparently didn’t or couldn’t write so I shan’t locate their signatures for you (can’t actually see Bellúcia’s, I admit). On to Elo.

We know a little bit about Elo because she goes on appearing after the others. The writing nuns also turn up as witnesses to a couple of big exchanges with Count Sunifred and the deacon Miró, and also their brother Count Oliba Cabreta, in 962 that effectively set up the new comital monastery of Sant Pere de Camprodon on land that Abbess Fredeburga gave in exchange for land that had once been Sant Joan’s, but got taken over after Emma’s death.5 As I’ve observed before, it’s tough to be up against The Man in late-Carolingian Catalonia. Anyway, the same four signed one of the three documents from that deal too, but thereafter we don’t see Carissima, Riquilda, Chindiberga or the younger Emma any more, whereas Elo turns up again. This is mainly because her father, whose name is Asner, seems to have had no other heirs, so kept granting her extra land. As she got older, in her turn she granted this to Sant Joan, which is how come we have the documents.6

The nave and apse of the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

The nave and apse of the abbey church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

But times had changed at Sant Joan during Elo’s lifetime, as I’ve mentioned before. You can see from the mess that Sunyer left behind and how his successors dealt with it that the counts were keen on clipping Sant Joan’s wings. In 1017 this came to a head when Abbess Ingilberga and her nuns were appealed before Pope Benedict VII by a load of Catalan dignitaries, who said that the convent was populated by ‘parricides and whores of Venus’ and obtained its dissolution. Elo did do quite well out of her father, but she doesn’t appear to have needed to kill him for this to happen, and Ingilberga certainly didn’t kill her father, who was Oliba Cabreta, because he had died a monk in Monte Cassino in 990. What their personal morals were like I couldn’t say, except that Elo didn’t acknowledge any heirs in her charters. So we might suspect a stitch-up, and even if we didn’t the fact that the abbey immediately became part of a new bishopric of Besalú into which the leading count’s son was installed as bishop kind of clinches the deal. So poor Elo was out on her ear, reputation besmirched and sanctity imperilled, although Bishop Oliba of Osona, perhaps somewhat bothered by having sworn before the pope that his half-sister was a father-murdering whore, did at least establish that the nuns all got an allotment of land to support themselves on before the remainder went to the new bishopric. The ousted abbess got to live in the episcopal palace, even, it’s not exactly righteous hatred is it?7

Anyway, I bet Elo was OK. She amassed quite a lot of land from her father, and she last appears in 1028. So let’s just do the arithmetic there: first appearance in 949, last in 1028, that’s an eighty-year career more or less! She can’t have been very old when she first appeared; no wonder her script is so child-like, she was in fact a child… And since she presumably wasn’t age zero in 949, she’s quite likely to have been ninety or more by the time she died: not a bad run! Which tells us first that Sant Joan were schooling their nuns from an early age, and secondly that that meeting was a bone of contention, because at this rate they got pretty much everyone with an interest in the nunnery, from the oldest (old Gentiles the notary) to the youngest (Elo and Carissima and so on) to make their marks and endorse it. I wonder how bitterly Elo might have remembered that in 1017 when she was turfed out of the cloister where she’d spent the previous, what, sixty-eight years from child to venerabilis femina, and ‘devoted to God’ throughout. I don’t suppose she was cheerful about it.

On the other hand, she must have had a huge fund of stories to tell anyone who listened. The place was being called Sant Joan de les Abadesses, ‘St John’s of the Abbesses’, by then (before then it was just, you know, Sant Joan de Ripoll) and she’d known those abbesses, at least the last four, probably five, might even just have remembered the first and greatest of them all, Emma the elder. None of the other nuns can have lived on so long after the dissolution, she really must have been the very last nun of Sant Joan. She could have answered the question “did Count Arnau really ravish the abbess, Auntie Elo?” with the correct reply, “No, little Quixilo, because Count Arnau was not real,” *whap* and so on,8 because she was there at the time (the Comte Arnau legend is later, but so very annoying that I’d like Elo to have quelled it anyway). She must also have been a figure of renown, of course, a relatively wealthy and extremely old woman with a long career of religious service behind her and the guilty respect of most of the local churchmen. Whether that made her complain any the less or feel better about things, I doubt, but unlike some people she had some basis for thinking that things had been better in her youth, no? So there you go, ladies and gentlemen: Elo, the last angry nun of Sant Joan de Ripoll.


1.Last mention in Frederico 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), doc. no. 120; this meeting is no. 128, and the picture below comes from the facsimile in that volume.

2. The immunity is Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 11, and edited in a few other places too.

3. See Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 126-131 & 143-146; the episode will also be covered in the publication of this as Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming).

4. One subsequent appearance in Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 130 still calls her Countess, not Abbess. On Ranló see Jaume Marqués Casanovas, “Domna Ranlón, ilustre dama gerundense de mil años atrás” in Anales del Instituto de Estudios Gerundenses Vol. 15 (Girona 1962), pp. 317-329.

5. Ibid. docs nos 162 & 163, plus also 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, doc. no. 360.

6. Her appearances are: Udina, Archivo Condal doc. nos. 128 & 163, Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (eds), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 19-21 (Barcelona 1998), doc nos. 62, 117 & 187 & Miquel Sants Gros i Pujol, “L’arxiu del monestir de Sant Joan de les Abadesses: notícies històriques i regesta dels documents dels anys 995-1115” 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. 87-128, with English summary pp. 423-424, doc. no 29.

7. The documents here are Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari i Escrits Literaris de l’Abat i Bisbe Oliba, ed. Anscari M. Mundó, Memòries… XLIV (Barcelona 1992), Diplomatari nos 10 & 49; for commentary see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època (Barcelona 1948; 2nd edn. 1948; 3rd edn. 1962), 3rd edn. repr. as “L’Abat Oliba i la seva època” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. J. Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII-XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), II pp. 141-277, or in English Adam J. Kosto, “Oliba, Peacemaker” in I. Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la fi del 1r mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 135-149 or indeed Jarrett, “Pathways”, pp. 152-153.

8. I don’t hit children, least of all my relatives, just so you know. And Elo was probably too frail or too holy or both to do so either. It’s just artistic licence OK? As long as we’re clear. Good.

Frontier communes in tenth-century Barcelona

The Leeds paper is going well, but the supporting materials are still under way; the week ahead is being a right pig to organise; and I have to be slept and sane before I try and herd medieval bloggers, and at this time in my life `slept’ and `sane’ appear to conflict with each other badly. Anyway, I once more have no fresh content, so I’ve just done a brisk run through one of the charter files I keep looking for something to tell you about. And as it happens what I’ve come up with chimes nicely with The Naked Philologist demanding more female medieval interest figures in her blogging, and posts elsewhere about nuns indeed; so it’s time for female monasticism!

In early medieval Spain, there were few nunneries, far fewer than there were monasteries. In Catalonia, in particular, there were only three by 1000, possibly four, and all of those comital foundations which probably had strong requirements for entry (by which I mean, substantial land grants). The oldest was Sant Joan de les Abadesses, so dear to my heart, but even that had only been founded in 885; before that, then, what did Spanish women with religious urges do?

The answer lies in a Latin phrase, deo dicata, ‘dedicated to God’ (feminine), and it’s a practice going back to the sixth century if not before. I mean, you could draw it back to Cæsaria of Arles and her private convent if you wanted. Basically, imagine that you are a widow of independent means. You may well therefore need to stop people trying to make you remarry so as to reclaim your land, or you may just genuinely want to live la vida apostólica, or indeed both. So you go to the local bishop, if you’re doing it by the book anyway, and you agree that a certain portion of your estate will be set aside from secular jurisdiction under his protection, and there you live, with a priest visiting regularly to check on you, or indeed being resident if you’re that rich, simply and piously, praying a lot but not under any particular Rule or anything; these terms get worked out in each individual case.

The river Llobregat passing through Monistrol de Montserrat

Sometimes you could do this in a town house, and not really lose much by way of society; sometimes, for whatever reason, you might have had to go further afield. The charter I picked up on is one in the Arxiu Capitular de Barcelona, in which one such deo dicata, Aurúcia, gets a chunk of land for such religious purposes from none other than Count-Marquis Borrell II (which is of course why I know). It’s right out on the frontier, on the Riu de Llobregat (which is far enough out even in the late tenth century) and another of the boundaries is “ipsa limite”, ‘the frontier itself’ (though I’m never sure exactly what that means; it turns up in Girona too, which was never on the frontier). And, interestingly, she wasn’t alone; another deo dicata had land next door, and her husband is referred to, ‘the judge Odesèn who is now a monk’. Odesèn turns up enough previously that we know they had some land between them; but if all these snippets should be combined, near the end of their lives they seem to have all decided to sort out their souls and go and live like farmers (possibly quite rich farmers, for sure) in the wilderness. This was 986, not even a year after the sack of Barcelona by Muslim troops who must have come very close by this area (and the land is at a place called Torre, indicating a local fortification), so it’s not a location I necessarily would have chosen! but good on ’em all the same. It sounds idyllic. Of course you could only really have the idyll if you could afford to be idle, but Aurúcia was plainly very rich; we also have her will, what makes this clear. But here she is living, or attempting to live, a genuinely good life. It’s funny what you find in charters.

Edit: I suppose there are worse things to typo than `love’ for `live’, but I still wish I wouldn’t.


The charter in question is edited as Àngel Fabregà i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. 160, and Aurúcia’s will is doc. 220 there. On female monasticism and deo votae, what I know about is basically in Spanish languages, specifically Montserrat Cabré i Pairet, “«Deodicatae» y «Deovotae». La regulación de la religiosidad femenina en los condados catalanes, siglos IX-XI” in A. Muñoz Fernández (ed.), Las Mujeres en el Cristianismo Medieval: imágenes, teóricas y cauces de actuación religiosa, Colección Laya 5 (Madrid 1989), pp. 169-182 or Cabré, “El monaquisme femení” in Borja 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. J. M. Salrach i Marés (Barcelona 1998, repr. 2001), pp. 174-175. You can however now at least have a look in Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007), pp. 164-188, and I’m sure there must be generic treatments you have closer to hand.