Tag Archives: popes

Let me tell you a tale… of intrigue, incense and assassination!

I have no fresh content for you today, I’m afraid, I’m still busy normalising Cluny’s charters’ names and writing bits of book, though not right now obviously because of being at work (and on lunch). But seeing an unexpected commentator on the previous post has put me in mind of popes—you know who you are—and so I draw on my stock of fabulous medieval tales from charters for you.

The three Bulls of John XIII to Vic of 970

The charter in question is now displayed, just to the right of that image (dammit), and you may be able to tell from that that it is not yer usual parchment, but a Bull, awarded to the Bishop of Osona in Catalonia by Pope Gregory V in 998. This would ordinarily have been simple enough, except for the bishop and his entourage actually making the journey halfway across the Mediterranean for it. But on this occasion Gregory had a bit of a problem: two bishops of Osona turned up. Gregory’s reaction is depicted below:

Gregory V rolling his eyes (not contemporary, or even related)

For some time, you see, in fact ever since the last time but one a Bishop of Osona had come out to Rome for approval, the succession to that see had been disputed. Ató, who may have been made an archbishop, even (he wasn’t—but I haven’t managed to get that published yet), in 970, was murdered almost as soon as he arrived home, and after a long and troubled rule so was his successor Fruià, at the behest of one Guadall, a member of the Viscounts of Osona’s family, who then took the episcopal throne for himself. He had the backing of Count Ermengol I of Urgell (whose business it was precisely none of) but not of the Count of Osona, and also of Barcelona and Girona, Ermengol’s brother Ramon Borrell. (You see, this is what happens when a father isn’t around to keep an eye on his kids…) Ramon Borrell favoured one Arnulf, also a member of that same family, but previously Abbot of Sant Feliu de Girona and generally in Ramon Borrell’s following. So, cousin versus cousin backed by brother versus brother: with unusual maturity, they all sailed to Rome in 998 and made it Gregory’s job to decide. Arnulf called Guadall a murderer; Guadall denied it and called Arnulf a usurper. One count on each side. No immediately obvious solution…

How we know Gregory V was a wise man: he didn’t even try to find out who was right and who was wrong by going into the tangled and messy history of the case. Instead, he organised a near-solid day of prayer in the Lateran palace (the popes not yet being in the Vatican), at the end of which, with everyone giddy with incense and overwhelming ceremony, he then declared the whole embassy excommunicate till they could decide who was bishop. Thus cut off from food and their beds (because if there’s one place where you can expect a papal excommunication to be enforced, it’s the pope’s palace, right?) it wasn’t long before the gathering all pointed the fingers of accusation at Guadall, who was duly degraded, his robes being ceremonially torn off him by papal attendants, leaving Arnulf bishop in a way that no-one was going to be able to deny later.

I have always been quite impressed with Gregory V for this.

The Bull from which I fairly freely derive this, though the essentials are there, is edited in E. Junyent (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX-X, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), no 624, and Harald Zimmermann (ed.), Papsturkunden 896-1046, Veröffentlichungen der Historischen Kommission 3-5, Denkschriften (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse) 174, 177 & 198 (Wien 1984-1989), no. 357; an older edition with facsimiles is P. Kehr, Die ältesten Papsturkunden Spaniens, erläutert und reproduziert, Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Jahrgang 1926, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Nr. 2 (Berlin 1926), doc. VII. The Bull was taken to Rome for restoration in 1927, which made it a good deal more legible, as can be told from the resultant facsimile edition, Pontificum Romanorum Diplomata Papyracea quae Supersunt in Tabulariis Hispaniae Italiae Germaniae phototypice expressa iussu Pii PP. XI (Roma 1929), where this one is no. X. On Ató, until I manage to get my paper out, you would have to see Ramon Martí, “Delà, Cesari i Ató, primers arquebisbes dels comptes-prínceps de Barcelona (951-953/981)” in Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia Vol. 67 (Tarragona 1994), pp. 369-386, and on the murderous Guadall and family, Manuel Rovira i Solà, “Noves dades sobre els primers vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260, online here, last modified 20the November 2001 as of 30th December 2007, at pp. 151-3 & 155.

Seminary XIX: Rosamond McKitterick looks at the Liber Pontificalis

There is a certain speed one has to get up to with Professor McKitterick’s papers, at which one can take in a full manuscript description in about five seconds. Without this one can get hopelessly lost as the details of stemmas and contents ravel inextricably before you. Or at least, this is how it happens to me, and I’ve been listening to Professor McKitterick a long time now. But this time, at the Institute of Historical Research‘s now-legendary Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on 13 February, where she was speaking to the title “The Liber Pontificalis in its Early Medieval Historiographical Context”, there were only three or four manuscripts gone into in detail and after about ten minutes of floundering I caught up and was able to follow the string of intriguing and subtle points.

Miniature from a late manuscript of the Liber Pontificalis

The Liber Pontificalis, for those unfamiliar, is a collection of papal biographies that runs from Peter up to the mid-ninth century. It is believed, so Professor McKitterick told us, to have been written in two big bursts, a first draft circa 530, an update probably in the 570s, and then a new set of lives added in the seventh century after which it was sporadically updated life by life. The paper showed that there was at least some reason to believe the `second draft’, the 570s version, circulated independently, and the later versions are not widely known.

Her basic points were that, firstly, there is all kinds of stuff going on in Italy at the time, the Ostrogothic wars, Justinian’s attempted reconquest, and so the repeated agenda of the popes proving how superior they were to the patriarchs of the East in theological argument has all kinds of agendas to it; and secondly, that even in Italy there is a ferment of historical writing at the time, all dealing with this idea of how to cope with the fact that Rome, which previous centuries of Christianity had managed to appropriate into their intellectual world view as centre of a new, holy Roman Empire (not that one! but think ‘Eternal City’ -> ‘City of God’ in good Eusebian tradition) was no longer centre of the world, but only centre of the West, and that rather shakily what with the Lombards. So what you get is a debate over the popes versus the emperors, and Professor McKitterick was urging us to see the LP, not as an official history, at least not when it was composed even if it later became one, but as a contribution to that debate, using secular serial biographies like Suetonius and the Historia Augusta as a model for a new set of ruler-histories replacing the emperors with the popes. And she emphasised that this was going on at the same time as a long-term programme of replacing Roman Imperial monuments with new Christian building, starting new processions governed by the liturgy, and thus remapping how people link up the city in their minds, and so on. In short, there’s an awful lot of change going on in Rome, and the popes are a big part of it, but not everyone view the changes the same way and the Liber Pontificalis is only one of the voices shouting about it, merely the best-preserved. (Though one irony that came out of the paper is that none of the surviving manuscripts seem to come from Rome itself.)

Professor McKitterick’s work is these days mostly on intellectual history, in a way, and she and I cross paths little except in wondering how people went about getting charters written. How much the average Roman man in the street cared about all this, when he could still be running round whipping the local maidens in the Lupercalia as the LP records with distaste, is a good question perhaps. But her work, by making the most of a huge volume of basically intellectual source material, opens up a vastly rich world of thinkers who were not stuck in ivory towers, but walking those same streets, thinking about what went on there, and then writing stuff from which we can sometimes get back at their world.