Tag Archives: Sunyer I of Empúries

In Marca Hispanica XXI: the Palace of Saint Stephen, and others

Having confused matters by likening a shrine of one of the earliest English saints to a Catalan church, now I’m going to deepen the confusion with a post about an actual Catalan church. And, furthermore, it’s badly out of sequence because I went to this place on my second trip to Catalonia in January 2009. Only then I didn’t mention it or take any photos (hence the one, only, Wikimedia Commons image for this post) because I didn’t realise it was relevant…

The church of Sant Esteve de Palautordera

The church of Sant Esteve de Palautordera, from Catalan Wikipedia

Well, why on earth not? Look at the ornamentation along the top of the nave there. I gather the tower was rebuilt in 1581 so that shouldn’t necessarily have caught me, but still. And worse, I should have known because I’ve read about it, albeit in the first documents I read relating to this area, not even during my doctorate but during my M. Phil. At that point, though, I had no connection to the place at all and wouldn’t have known the name, which is: Sant Esteve de Palautordera. It is documented as early as 862, in a grant by King Charles the Bald of the Western Franks to Count Sunyer I of Empúries, interesting as it’s a way from his territory as we know it.1 Perhaps because of that, by 908 the church was with Count Guifré II Borrell of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, whose tomb I went to see this time out; and by 911 he had passed it onto the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès, whose tower I use as my avatar. So every which way I turn the place is connected to something I’ve already done, and I found this out how? By idly checking the place out in the Catalunya Romànica when writing up the post on Sant Pere de Vilamajor.2 Now of course the church you can see is not the church that was being granted and that presumably dated to my period, this being twelfth-century where it’s older than the rebuild and the original probably being wooden, but nonetheless the site, where I have been only for completely non-historical reasons, is positively loaded with significances I never knew.

There are two further reasons this is embarrassing. The first is the name of the place. You may be aware from my earlier writings here that place-names in Palau- are thought significant by some writers in this area; mostly the fact that the word, which is translatable as ‘palace’, crops up is taken to mean that they were once fiscal estates, and indeed, I found when studying Gurb that one of the largest of these areas, Palau de Voltregà, was almost entirely held by the comital family in the early tenth century and that its alienation to Santa Maria de Ripoll (without which, and their eventual loss of it to Santa Pere de Vic, we wouldn’t know much about it) required the signature of a mysterious judge called Centuri son of Centuri, whose status I examine in that little paper I was suggesting you buy the other day but who seems to have been concerned solely with fiscal properties.3 Now, there is an alternative view espoused by Ramon Martí of the Universitat de Girona that these place-names actually represent Muslim garrison sites from the brief Muslim occupation of Catalonia.4 This, shall we say, has not commanded universal acceptance, and if you follow the first link in this paragraph you will be taken to a paragraph where not only do I not accept it, I bring up an old story about one such place where the ‘Palau’ appears to have been the bishop’s sixteenth-century tithe barn, or so at least is the local story. You know where that place was? That’s right, here. You know when the place-name is first attested? 986.5 The local story is wrong. I should just shut up sometimes.

And the second reason? I found out in the Catalunya Romànica that Sant Esteve has what is apparently a rather fine relief of the Mother of God dating from about the same time as the tower rebuild, but I didn’t see it. (Neither can I find a photo online.) I didn’t see it because I was actually in the church for a service, for reasons to do with my domestic life and not for explanation here, but which were enough to cause minor ructions with the people I was staying with who had to get me down there. So things were already fraught, and I tend to find dropping in on others’ worship embarrassing, as I have none of my own. It doesn’t help when the service is not in a language in which I am comfortable—all the behavioural clues have to be got from movements of the congregation—and accompanied by an invisible guitar rather than anything more high church, which is what my limited Anglican experience tended to be. Organs, you know, which you could supposedly find in the most isolated Catalan churches in the ninth century after all. Anyway, the whole thing was sufficiently trying that I sat at the back and snuck out soon after it was over, and thus never actually went in far enough to realise how old the place or its paintwork were. I should hand back my historical explorer’s badge and my qualifications as a historian of the medieval Church. So okay, now I’ve confessed I feel a bit better, but no less stupid. But it was best that you know.


1. Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya (Barcelona 1926-1955), 2 vols, Particulars XXV, which awards the properties to the local Sunyer after the removal from the Frankish Marquis Hunfrid of Barcelona in 862. Presumably this was not least because if Sunyer hadn’t acted for Charles it seems pretty unlikely that anything could have been done to dispossess Hunfrid.

2. Where Carme Barbany i Gurans and M. Rosa García i Parera, “Sant Esteve de Palautordera” in Antoni Pladevall i Font (ed.), Catalunya Romànica XVIII: el Vallès Occidental, el Vallès Oriental, ed. Maria-Lluïsa Ramos i Martínez (Barcelona 1991), p. 413, give the details used here.

3. For Palau, Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 107-108 and refs there; for Centuri, idem, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond and Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain : a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 104-107, which also discusses Palau briefly.

4. R. Martí, “Palaus o almúnies fiscals a Catalunya i al-Andalus” in Hélène Debax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal : Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie (Toulouse 1999), pp. 63-70.

5. So say Barbany & Garcí, “Sant Esteve de Palautordera”, though I’m not sure of the basis: Abadal, Catalunya Carolíngia II, Sant Cugat del Vallès III, does mention the place, as “Vitdameniam, que vocant Palatium, in valle Dordaria”, but goes on to mention several other villages in the valley and I’m not sure it isn’t just repeating the earlier concession to Sunyer, which seems to me to be just as close to making the link of the names, i. e. not very. There’s no missing that it’s the right place, however; the church is named further on, along with its still-sister up the road, Santa Maria. But Santa Maria would be another post.

Revenge served stone cold? The Santa Maria de Roses inscription

For a brief flickering moment, back to the research. Trying to make things play with the altar slab from Sant Pere de Casserres and all its names has meant following up a lot of similar lumps of marble (and in one case wood) in the hope that they will tell me more about what people were scribbling on altars where and when. In this, advice from Mark Handley has been invaluable and I’d like to thank him for that. An answer of sorts has emerged, and will be in the paper some day when, but for the meantime one of these examples presents a probably insoluble query. But these days, that just means it presents a blog-post, right? So here it is.

The church of Santa Maria de Ciutadella, previously the abbey church of Santa Maria de Roses (from Rosespèdia)

The church of Santa Maria de Ciutadella, previously the abbey church of Santa Maria de Roses (from Rosespèdia)

There is not so much left these days of the monastery of Santa Maria de Roses (although Rosespèdia, the excellent community Wiki from which I borrow the above image demonstrates that the church will still hold a concert). It was probably never that huge, although it lasted a long time, till 1592. We first find it mentioned for sure in 944, when it was being handed into the middle of a clanging dispute over the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes (not Roses).1 Roses was allotted to Rodes (stay with me) but that didn’t help much as Rodes was itself being claimed by Sant Esteve de Banyoles. It was another four years before all the relevant counts could be brought to agreement and Rodes was allowed to be independent.2 But by 960 Santa Maria de Roses was a monastery in its own right (the 944 document calls it a cella) and so it thereafter stayed, Sant Pere de Rodes not withstanding.

Map of the Catalan counties c.950, by Philip Judge and Jonathan Jarrett

Map of the Catalan counties c.950, by Philip Judge and myself, from the book

But this isn’t yet complicated enough. It’s complicated because of where all these places are. Sant Pere de Rodes—which is one of the most gorgeous ruins in Catalonia— was then in the county of Empúries, ruled by one Count Gauzfred along with Rosselló (now Roussillon, in modern France). But Sant Esteve de Banyoles is in Girona, which was ruled in 944 by Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona. By the time of the final settlement Sunyer had retired to the monastery of Notre Dame de la Grasse, far to the north in Carcassonne, and his rôle had been taken over by the probably-teenaged Borrell II (natch) and his brother Miró, though Miró, even younger, appears to have played no part in this affair and Sunyer, monk or not, still appears as one of the negotiators in the 948 document. So the dispute between the monasteries is also one about whether the counts of Girona get a dependent church deep in Gauzfred’s territory or not. Where is Santa Maria de Roses in all this, you may ask, and you may then understand Gauzfred’s concern better if you know that Roses is just along the sea-shore from Empúries, Gauzfred’s capital, which the church overlooks. This was presumably not property that he wanted going to someone whom the counts next door could boss around.

Reassembled fragments of the dedicatory inscription from Santa Maria de Roses

Reassembled fragments of the dedicatory inscription from Santa Maria de Roses

All this makes this thing, which was recovered from the site in 1937 and is now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya’s premises in Sant Pere Galligants in Girona, rather hard to explain.3 The inscription transliterates, expands and translates more or less as follows (Latin in the footnote):

The famous Count Sunyer, choosing celibacy and spurning life for the love of Christ, trading perishable things for an eternal body, for his burial ordered the church to be repaired from the foundations by his wife and sons. They, studiously following the precepts, managed to fulfil them, instituting a suitable worthy man for the ministry of Christ, Argibadus, namely, a priest and perfector of these works. By order therefore of the spirit of Prince Sunyer, I who am called Argibadus finished this work.4

Right, so, what? When this was put up, apparently the church needed repairs; there is no sign that it was monastic or that it belonged to someone else. These ought all to be good reasons to make this an early early record, from before its acquisition by Sant Pere de Rodes, and you might think that it naming Count Sunyer makes that a problem. In fact, however, though Sunyer of Barcelona seems to have made the name unpopular, it had previously been a common one among the counts of Empúries: Gauzfred had a short-lived brother of the name, his grandfather of the name had ruled fifty years in Empúries (something this family seem to have been good at was living for ages, little Sunyer aside) and supposedly forced Guifré the Hairy into acknowledging King Odo by putting up rival episcopal candidates with Odo’s consent, and his father, also Sunyer, had waged naval war on al-Andalus and been killed by Bernard of Septimania’s son William, who had by then ceased listening to his mother.5 It’s a proud lineage. The only wrinkle is the obvious implication of the inscription that the relevant Sunyer became a monk, which is not recorded of any of these Sunyers, only the one of Barcelona.6 But if he had been, as he had, Count of Barcelona, why was he not buried in his own territories, or more relevantly, at la Grasse, where he presumably died?

If you zoom in on the centre, the monastery site is flagged, but note Castelló d'Empúries just down the coast (and ignore the modern marina development between the two)

Well, the easiest solution seems to be that one of the counts of Empúries had a late and otherwise unattested conversion, really, doesn’t it? Not only is, in my fairly untutored opinion, this stone’s script earlier than Sunyer of Barcelona (compare his elder brother’s stone from 911, which might be nearer the mark), but there is the problem of the intermittent and intermittently subject monastic cell to explain otherwise and I simply cannot imagine Gauzfred allowing his principal rival to be buried over-looking him and his city.7 And it is very clear that Gauzfred controlled the whole site by 976, if not well before, and was claiming to have repopulated it from scratch after it was desolated by the pagans, which is chronologically very unlikely and which this stone more or less proves false, but which indicates a fair degree of control.8 But might it also indicate an alternative story that needed to be squashed? There was after all a dispute over this house that involved all our parties. Could our one known monastic Sunyer actually have managed to be buried in his rival’s back yard, by way of having the last word after being forced to back down? I can’t, quite, credit it, but the sheer petty commitment to superiority it implies is quite impressive to imagine even if it can’t be true.


1. That document printed in Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-1952), 2 vols, Sant Pere de Rodes I.

2. Ibid., Sant Pere de Rodes II.

3. I learnt about this from P. de Palol Salellas, “Una lápida medieval de Santa Maria de Rosas” in Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia Vol. 19 (Barcelona 1946), pp. 273-278, but in the web-searching for this post also came across the more recent Hug Palou i Miquel, “El temple de Santa Maria de Roses. Noves aportacions als primers documents” in Annals de l’Institut d’Estudis Empordanesos Vol. 24 (Empúries 1991), pp. 32-53; both of these include a facsimile and a transcription of the slab, and it’s the latter’s image I’ve borrowed here. The latter paper is online through Revistes d’ACcès Obert, here. In attempting to find this paper just now, moreover, I also found J.—M. Nolla, “Roses a l’antiguitat tardana. El cementiri de Santa Maria”, ibid. Vol. 30 (1997), pp. 107-146, which reveals that here as in so many places there was a late antique burial ground here before there was a church, but I haven’t yet had time to soak this one up.

4. Palou, “Temple de Santa Maria”, p. 58, expansions in round brackets, editorial insertions in square ones: “CELEB(RI)S COM(ES) SVNIARIVS CELIBE(M) / ELIGENS VITA(M) SP(ER)N[EN]Sq(VE) XP(IST)I P(RO) AMORE CADVCA P(RO)PRIO / MERCATVS E(ST) CO[R]PORE EETERNA NA(M) SVO TV(MVLA)TV IVSSIT RE / PARARI A FVNDAMENTIS ECCL(ESI)A CONIVSq(VE) EI(VS) CV(M) / FILIIS EI(VS) SEqVENTES P(RE)CEPTA STVDIOSE HOC ADIMPLE / RE CVRAVERV(NT) STATVENTES QVE(N)DA(M) P(RO)bV(M) DIGNVMq(VE) XP(IST)I / MINISTRV(M) ARGIBADV(M) VIDELICET SACER(DOS) ET / [OPER]IIS HVIVS P(ER)FECTOR • IVSSV IGITVR / SVNIARII PRINCIPIS ALMI QVI VOCOR • / HOC OPVS EXPLEVIT ARGIBADVS“.

5. The ecclesiastical controversies covered to a good extent in J. Morera Sabater, “Un conato de secesión eclesiástica en la marca hispánica en el siglo IX” in Anales del Instituto de Estudios Gerundenses Vol. 15 (Girona 1962), pp. 293-315 and now J. Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1-41 at pp. 9-12; for Sunyer II’s naval career you would probably need to go back to Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Els primers comtes catalans, Biografies Catalanes: sèrie històrica 1 (Barcelona 1958; 1980). The genealogies of all this lot are more or less sorted out by Martin Aurell, “Jalons pour une enquête sur les stratégies matrimoniales des comtes catalans (IXe-XIe s.)” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 281-364.

6. In Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 148, about which you have heard before, as well as in a welter of forged la Grasse documents that are much too tricky to go into here. It should however be noted that it is only those documents which tell us where Sunyer became a monk.

7. I’m pleased to see that the same has also apparently occurred to our quasi-resident sage of the databases, Joan Vilaseca, whose Cathalaunia.org page for this inscription tentatively suggests a redating after 913, after Antoni Cobos Fajardo, Joaquim Tremoleda Trilla and Salvador Vega Ferrer, L’Epigrafia medieval dels comtats gironins (Girona 2009-2010) (non vidi) who suggest 909; as Joan says, Count Sunyer II was active till at least 913 so this cannot easily be right.

8. In Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2003), 2 vols, doc. no. 434, on which see J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout: Brepols forthcoming).