Category Archives: manuscripts

A prayer for driving away a storm

Here’s a draft translation of a prayer for driving away a storm (or a ‘Wettersegen’ in German), from a tenth-century manuscript, Munich clm 6426, which a recent catalogue has described as the ‘pastoral handbook’ of Bishop Abraham of Freising (d. 994).

This prayer may be intended for recitation by a local priest, and if so it offers a rare insight into religious practice at the local level. Of particular interest are the selection of biblical passages, the combination of Old and New Testament figures and the reference to the demon Mermeunt.

For more details about the manuscript, see Anna Dorofeeva, ‘Reading early medieval miscellanies’, in Scribes and the Presentation of Texts, ed. C.W. Dutschke and B.A. Shailor, Bibliologia (Brepols, forthcoming in 2021). This draft English translation is based on Anna’s careful transcription of the Latin. An edition by Adolf Franz is also available, online, though the base text is from a different manuscript.


First a litany.
Kyrie Eleison, three times.
Christe Eleison, three times.
Christ, hear us, three times.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Michael, pray for us.
Holy Gabriel, pray for us.
Holy Raphael, pray for us.
Holy Matthew, pray for us.
Holy Isaiah, pray for us.
Holy Mark and holy Jeremiah, pray for us.
Holy Luke and holy Ezekiel, pray for us.
Holy John and holy Daniel, pray for us.
All the saints, pray for us.
Three times: may the cross of Christ be a cool refuge for us.
May the cross of Christ be an aid for us.
May the cross of Christ be always our salvation.
O cross of Christ which we always venerate, may you deign always to be with us against all our enemies.
Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Our Father.
I spoke, O Lord, have mercy upon me.
Be our aid in the Lord’s name.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
Have mercy on me O Lord according to your glory.
Save your people O Lord, and bless them.
May the Lord keep us from all harm and preserve us in all goodness, and lead us to eternal life.
O Lord, hear my prayer. 
Rise up O Lord and help us.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who through the great power of prayer and his raised right arm bound you, o devil, and redeemed the whole world from you, and cast you down, o most impious satan, into the depths of the abyss: may he through his power and raised right arm keep your ministers in confusion. Through him I adjure you, that in this place and this parish you are not able to do harm or injure through evil waters or through ice or through storm or through murmured incantation. Depart this place of God and of his ministers and this sanctuary of God. 

When the 11 disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ went out to the sea and boarded a boat, the devils came together and raised up the wind and gales of the sea and a strong storm against them. Then the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ were saddened, afraid that they would drown in the waves. They prayed to the Lord with one voice, ‘Save us Christ our teacher, save us son of the living God, restrain the devil and this wind’, and so forth. Then the prayer of the disciples was heard, and the Lord approached them on the boat, and the disciples saw him walking on the water. And when they recognised that he was the Lord, they were overjoyed with a very great joy, and at once a great calm came over the waters. 

I adjure you, angels of Satan, through the Lord of heaven and earth, through Him who first shaped Adam the first man in the beginning, through him who saved Noah in the Flood, I adjure you through him who saved Ananias and Azaria and Misael in the fiery furnace, I adjure you through Him who led the sons of Israel through the Red Sea by means of His servant Moses, I adjure you through Him who redeemed the whole world through His precious blood, that you shall not be able to come and do harm to this place and this parish, neither through a storm nor through evil waters nor through any lightning nor through any other means. 

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead and you, the enemy, through fire. I mark you, clouds of Christ, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. I mark you. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.

Sing the whole of Psalm 147. 
The Our Father and the creed. 
Holy God, holy and powerful, holy and immortal, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us, You who reign in all eternity.

Another prayer against a storm.
Remember O Lord God what you swore to our fathers, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob on Mount Sinai, that you would turn your anger away from these lands.
We command you, all the angels of hell, that you may hold back your rainfall for the calm waters where the Saviour was baptised, and where the holy Mary mother of the Lord carried him in her shining womb. I order and I command you not to throw the stones of your tempest within these boundaries but send them into dry and deserted places. So that on the Day of Judgement you cannot say that it was not forbidden to you. And I forbid it to you through Him who descended a thousand feet into the Red Sea. Aios Aios Aios Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani. This means: My God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus Christ who hung in Golgotha, tell the angel striking with the sword to hold back his hand over these fields, and let the anger which has gathered upon this city or this region cease. 

I adjure you, Mermeunt, who is in charge of this storm. I adjure you through the name of Him who in the beginning made heaven and earth, and established everything in the foundations of his power, that you shall not permit the storm to pass this boundary. I adjure you, Mermeunt, through the right hand of Him who formed Adam the first man in His own image, that you shall not permit the storm to pass this boundary. I adjure you, Mermeunt, through Jesus Christ our Lord, the only son of God, who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, whose feet walked upon the sea and who commanded the blowing winds, who gave light to the eyes of the blind, and who called Lazarus forth from the tomb after four days, that you shall not permit the storm to pass this boundary, in these: Ager, Alsrarius, Tuthos, Tuthones, Seruc, Celuc, Lacam. *

When Jesus climbed aboard the boat, the disciples followed him. And behold, the sea was greatly disturbed, and the boat was struggling in the waves, while he slept. And they approached him and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us from these dangers’. And he said to them, ‘What are you afraid of, you of little faith?’ Then he stood up and commanded the winds and the sea, and a great calm descended. At once the men were astonished, and said ‘Who is this, whom the winds and sea obey?’

* It is unclear whether these are local place names, as used to be thought, or names of different parts of heaven, as has recently been suggested.

‘Giving for the sake of the good’: the defence of simony and intellectual plurality in eleventh-century Europe

Here’s a ‘research postcard’ hastily written amidst the turmoils of term – some early reflections on a topic I’m hoping to work on more in future, prompted by the opportunity to present at a department seminar on the theme of intellectual plurality.

Eleventh-century Europe was not short of big issues, but one of the biggest of the lot was simony. That’s the term given to the illicit purchase of ecclesiastical office, i.e. paying to become a priest or a bishop, or conversely selling the roles. The involvement of money in advancement became a hot topic in the church centuries before it was considered controversial in secular contexts, where state offices were openly and unproblematically trafficked into the early modern period. And the eleventh century played a special role in this development. Though simony was an old concept, it wasn’t until the eleventh century that the noun itself, “simony”, named after Simon Magus in the bible, was coined. That makes the eleventh century a pivotal period in the deep history of European corruption.

In the abundant eleventh-century arguments about simony, it can be hard to find traces of intellectual pluralism. There were plenty of debates, but they mostly concerned the consequences of simony rather than its nature: these were debates about just how bad simony was, not debates about whether it was actually bad. We do have some reported defences of simony and simoniac practices, but these defences are almost always embedded within criticism of the practice: critics imagining how wicked simoniacs might defend themselves, for instance by sneakily distinguishing between the office and the revenues that came with the office, before the critics go on to demolish these flimsy arguments with ease and panache.[1]

In a way, this makes the eleventh-century simony crisis hard to explain. If everyone agreed simony was wrong, why was it so commonly practised, and so hard to eradicate? There are lots of answers to this, but one is double-think. Corruption is after all famously subjective in all its forms. My little token of appreciation is your underhand bribe; my hint that you might show some gratitude for my help is your shameless extortion. As we all know from experience, it’s perfectly possible for people to employ double standards – to keep doing something that we would loudly condemn if we saw others doing it.

But was that all there was to it? Another potential explanation is suggested by one text – and only one. It survives in just a single manuscript, kept in the library established by Nicholas of Cusa in the tiny town of Kues in Germany, where it’s shelved as Codex Cusanus 52. The text itself is written on a single fragile parchment leaf which was originally an independent sheet, only later bound into this manuscript.[2] This is a work that is preserved by the skin of its teeth. And it is unique in apparently representing a genuine and sincere argument made in favour of simony: in favour, in other words, of paying for clerical office.

The treatise, perhaps intended as a sermon, was written by an educated cleric, maybe around the 1080s, and the surviving copy is not much later, depending on how one assesses the palaeography (see helpful comments from Twitterstorians here, with a broad consensus on c. 1100 – possibly earlier, maybe Italian). I won’t rehearse all the treatise’s arguments now; it’s enough to say that its basic emphasis is on intention. It’s not bad to pay for office if it’s done for good reasons: for instance, to stop someone really terrible from taking the post instead, or to give something back to the church in return for all the revenues that one receives as a consequence of promotion. As the text says, ‘Perhaps foolishly, we think that it is possible to give money for consecration without blame’ (…pro consecratione interdum pecuniam sine culpa dari posse forsitan stulte putamus). And it illustrates this point with an analogy. To defend a flock of sheep from wolves, one needs a staff or a stick: what does it matter exactly how one acquires the stick, provided one intends to use it well, and to keep the wolves away from Christ’s sheep? A stick that you’ve paid money for hurts the wolf just as much. In short (to quote the treatise), “To give for the sake of good is always good’ (dare causa boni semper bonum sit).

So, what to make of this unique text? Although it was edited in 1905 by Siegmund Hellmann, it’s been little studied (probably because it wasn’t included in the main body of simony materials which had been published a decade earlier); indeed it still doesn’t have a generally acknowledged name or title. Is it an intellectual exercise, an early example of the kinds of scholastic practice arguments designed to improve scholars’ logic and rhetoric – in other words, not to be taken at face value? Or does it rather suggest that serious arguments in defence of simony were sometimes made, even if they have been obscured by archiving pressures, which tended over time to weed out works making uncomfortable arguments? (along similar lines to works by people later judged heretical, which stood fairly little chance of being preserved, at least from this distant period).

I need to do more work on this. But at the moment, I’d incline towards the latter interpretation, because it helps explain the tenacity of simony. As Roman Deutinger suggests, we can understand better why simony was so difficult to eliminate if there were people resisting the wave of condemnation, in reasonably sophisticated ways, even if their line of argument did not in the end carry the day. In other words, perhaps simony’s persistence was not just the product of double-think or double-standards, or of the challenge of shifting economic realities, but of genuine intellectual plurality, even though that diversity of views has now become very hard to hear amidst the din of the polemics that triumphed.

By implication, I’d argue the treatise suggests that the eventual hegemony of now common-place assumptions about corruption and office in the European context was contingent. The acceptance that paying for office is unacceptable, which eventually crept into secular life too, wasn’t inevitable or pre-ordained, but the result of arguments and debate. Perhaps we didn’t need to read an eleventh-century treatise to realise that, but it’s good to be reminded.

[1] The best analysis of these defences is Roman Deutinger, ‘Simonisten rechtfertigen sich: mittelalterliche Antworten auf den Vorwurf der Simonie’, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 120:2 (2009 ), pp. 145-159. I am grateful to Herr Deutinger for sharing his article.

[2] Codex Cusanus 52 (Kues). On the manuscript, see Becker, Benediktinerabtei St. Eucharius, who associates the ms with St Eucharius of Trier (though without discussing this particular inserted page).

“Is not every Christian emperor also a priest?”

Looking back from the twenty-first century, we naturally tend to arrange the past into different sections. The historians who work on late ninth-century Carolingian Francia, for instance, find themselves in a different field from those who work on the seventh-century Roman Empire. And understandably so, since the political and cultural set-up of these societies were quite distinct.

Often, however, medieval texts moved across time and space in ways that challenge these subdivisions, layering different histories upon one another. A good example is a work in Greek about the imperial trial in 655 of the firebrand monk Maximus the Confessor. This text, known as the Relatio Motionis, was written by sympathisers of Maximus, and it has some remarkably clear and unequivocal statements about the secular status of the emperor.

For instance, it records that Maximus was challenged with the question ‘Is not every Christian emperor also a priest?’. To this Maximus calmly explained that the answer was: ‘No, he is not. For he does not stand by the altar, nor does he lift up the bread after it has been sanctified, saying Holy of Holies. He does not baptize, nor does he create the chrism, nor does he make bishops or priests or deacons, nor anoint churches, nor does he carry the signs of priesthood, that is the pallium and the Gospels, although he does wear the signs of empire, the crown and the purple.’ So much for Caesaropapism.

Now, the Relatio Motionis is usually read as evidence for debates in seventh-century Byzantium, which it surely is. Yet the Greek account of Maximus’s trial was also translated into Latin in ninth-century Rome by a well-known cleric named Anastasius the Librarian. Moreover, the only surviving manuscript of this translation – Paris BnF. Lat. 5095 – was made not in Rome, but in ninth-century Francia.

This manuscript has usually been evaluated as useful evidence firstly for reconstructing Maximus’s original statements and secondly for understanding Anastasius’s translation campaign, but as always in medieval history, it’s worth looking at manuscripts and not just through them. In a recent article, I’ve argued that Paris 5095 was copied at the behest of Bishop Hincmar of Laon, who was interested in Maximus’s persecution by rulers, and how he handled it. Hincmar had been deposed as bishop by King Charles the Bald in 871, but did not gracefully accept his new circumstances and settle into retirement. Instead he fought against his deposition, accusing Charles the Bald of having acted tyrannically. I argued that the Paris 5095 manuscript, including the trial of Maximus the Confessor, was part of the bishop’s efforts to stage a come-back, which resulted in qualified success in 878.

In other words, a Latin translation made in Rome of a Greek text was being read with great interest in Francia in the 870s, as part of debates over the nature of Carolingian kingship and its relation to the church. To what extent can and should we therefore read the Latin Maximus as a Carolingian text, as well as a Roman and indeed Byzantine one?

For a fuller version of this argument (with references to further reading), see C. West, ‘”And how, if you are a Christian, can you hate the emperor?” Reading a Seventh-Century Scandal in Carolingian Francia’, in Karina Kellermann, Alheydis Plassmann and Christian Schwermann, eds., Criticising the Ruler in pre-modern societies – possibilities, chances and methods (Bonn, 2019), 411-430: open access version

Hincmar’s trial by ordeal? An unpublished text

Back in 2016, I published an English translation of a ninth-century ‘trial by cold water’ liturgy on this blog. That text came from a now lost manuscript of St-Remi of Reims, which was enough for me to suggest a possible connection with Hincmar of Reims, who we know was keen on the trial by ordeal (he discusses it extensively in De Divortio).

However, in 2017 I re-read an article by Rudolf Pokorny which drew my attention to an early modern manuscript now in Paris, shelved as Collection Duchesne 64. Duchesne 64 includes a table of contents and a partial transcription of another lost medieval manuscript, from Liege, which mostly contained Hincmar’s own works. Pokorny noted that Duchesne 64’s transcription included a trial by ordeal liturgy, but he didn’t edit it in his article. In 2019 I finally got round to looking up the ordeal copied in Duchesne 64, which is online thanks to the amazing Gallica, and gave a paper about it in St Andrews at the SAIMS grad conference.

There are some good reasons for supposing that Hincmar might have been involved in putting this liturgy together (though it’s slightly different from the version from the lost St-Remi manuscript). I’m still planning to work more on this text, and to set it in the context of Hincmar’s thinking about the ordeal, but since that probably won’t happen this summer, I thought I’d share my re-transcription of the Latin in the meantime. Thanks to Giorgia Vocino for advice on some of the most testing bits of Andre Duchesne’s seventeenth-century handwriting; there are still a few bits I haven’t quite established, and any errors that remain are of course mine (and please tell me when you spot them!).

Examen aquae frigidae

Quando Romani propter invidiam tulerunt domno Leoni papae oculos et linguam propter
thesaurum sancti Petri, tunc venit ad imperatorem Karolum, ut eum adiuvaret de suis inimicis.
Tunc imperator reduxit eum Romam, et restituit eum in locum suum, et thesaurum supradictum
non potuit invenire aliter nisi per istud iudicium. Quod iudicium fecerunt beatus Eugenius et Leo et imperator, ut episcopi et abbates et comites firmiter teneant et credant, quia probatum habuerunt illi sancti
viri, quia illud invenerunt.

Cum volueris hominem mittere ad examem aquae frigidae, apprehende illos quos vis
examinere, et duc eos ad ecclesiam, quibus cantet Presbiter missam, faciat eos ad ipsam offerre. Cum
autem ad communionem venerint, antequam communicent, interroget eos sacerdos conjurando ita.

Adiuro vos homines, per Patrem et Filium et Spiritum sanctum, per sanctam Trinitatem, et per vestram christianitatem quam suscepistis, et per sanctum euangelium, et per istas reliquias quae in ista ecclesia
sunt, ut non praesumatis ullo modo communicare neque ad altare accedere, si vos fecistis quod
vobis imputatur, aut consensistis.

Si autem omnes tacuerint et nullus hoc …, accedat sacerdos ad altare et communi
-cet illos quos voluerunt in aquam probare. Cum autem … communicaverint, dicat sacerdos ad singulos
Hoc corpus et sanguis domini nostri Iesu Christi sit tibi hodie ad probationem. Et expleta missa, faciat ipse sacerdos aquam benedictam, et accipiens eam pergat ad istum locum ubi iudicium facere habent…
omnibus illis bibere aquam benedictam. Cum autem dederit, dicat ad unumquemque Hac aqua fiat
tibi hodie ad probationem.

Postea vero adjurat aquam in hanc modum, in qua illos probare voluerunt: Adiuro te aqua
in nomine Dei patris omnipotentis qui te in principio creavit et iussit ad humanis necessitatibus,
[f. 50] qui etiam te iussit segregari ab aquis superioribus. Adiuro te etiam per ineffabile
nomen Iesu Christi, filii Dei omnipotentis, sub cuius pedibus mare se calcabile prebuit. Adiuro
te etiam per Spiritum sanctum, qui super baptizatum … dominum descendit. Adiuro te per nomen
sanctae et individuae Trinitatis, cuius voluntate aquarum elementum discissum est, et populum
Israel siccis pedibus per illud transivit. Ad cuius etiam invocationem Heliseus ferrum ferventum
quod de manubrio exierat super aquam natare fecit, ut nullomodo, ut nullomodo [sic]
suscipias hominem illum, si in aliquo est inde culpabilis quod illi obicitur, scilicet
opera, consensus, scientia aut ullo ingenio; sed fac eum natare super te, et nulla posset hic
praevalere fantasia aut prestigatio cum quod quaeritur, eo quem occulta cordis non
fallunt revelante modo manifestetur. Adjuro te per nomen Christi precipioque tibi
fidens in sola virtute Dei ut nobis per nomen eius obedias, cui omnis creatura servit,
quem Cherubin et Seraphin ineffabile voce conlaudant, dicentes: ‘Sanctus, sanctus,
sanctus, dominus deus sabaoth, pleni sunt celi et terra gloria tua, osanna in excelsis’,
qui regnat et dominatur per infinita secula seculorum. Amen.

Finita … huius… adiurationem aquae, exeat illos vestibus suis, et faciat
eos osculare sanctum euangelium et crucem Christi. Postea de aqua benedicta aspergat secundum
morem quod super unumquemque eorum. Et conversus ad hominem illum, qui …debet ad iudicium, dicat
Adiuro te homo in presento iudicio aquae frigidae, et per invocationem domini nostri Iesu Christi. Adiuro te
per Patrem et Filium et spiritum sanctum, et per Trinitatem inseperabilem, per Mariam matrem domini
nostri Iesu Christi, et per omnes angelos et per archangelos, virtutes et potestates, principatus domina-
-tiones thronos, Cherubin et Seraphim, et .. per omnia caelestia agmina, et per …judicii
Dei et per 24 seniores, et per 4 evangelistas Marcus et Mattheum Lucam et Johannem et per 12 apostolos
et 12 prophetas, per martyres per confessores et virgines, et per tres pueros qui cum ceteris
ante Deum assistunt, Sidrach Misach, et Abdenago, et per 144 milia qui empti sunt de terra,
et sequentes agnum quocumque …et per omnem populum Dei sanctum et per baptismum, quo in Christo per
sacerdotem regeneratus es, te adiuro, ut, si hoc furtum fecisti vel aut facere alterum vidisti
aut bajulasti, aut in domum tuum recepisti, aut in aliquo consentaneus fuisti, aut si habes cor
incrassatum, induratum, et culpabilis es, non te praesens suscipiat aqua, neque aliquo maleficio
tuo res possit occultari quam credimus dei omnipotentia manifestari. Propterea te deprecor domine
Iesu Christe ostende nobis maiestatis signum tale, ut si culpabilis in hoc facto iste homo est nullatenus ab hac
aqua recipiatur, et hoc facias ad laudem et gloriam et invocationem nominis tui, ut cognoscant omnes qui
tu es dominus noster Iesus Christus qui cum patre et spiritu sancto vivis,  et regnas in secula seculorum amen. His dictis ex more colligatus in nomine Domini deponatur in aquam qui deponandum est.

The erasure of the eleventh-century simony debate

Amongst the many treasures of Bamberg’s city library, celebrated for its medieval book collection, is a manuscript shelved as Bamberg Msc. Can. 4. Made in the late tenth or early eleventh century in or around Milan, the manuscript is well known for its unique version of the ‘Donation of Constantine’, which has long been associated with King Otto I’s imperial coronation in 962. But in this blog I want to concentrate on an important yet mysterious text which was copied into the manuscript’s final pages around the middle of the eleventh century.

In the Bamberg manuscript, this text is labelled as ‘Letter of Pope Paschasius to the archbishop of Milan’. This is also the label that the text is given in many other manuscripts, and in some early modern editions based upon them. But looking closely, you can see that in the Bamberg manuscript, this title, or at least part of it, has been written over an erasure (see the blog’s cover image).

What was the original title of the letter written here? The question matters, because this is probably the earliest record of what was a very important text. The ‘Paschasius’ letter is generally thought to have been the very first text to argue that simoniacal ordinations were invalid – that in other words, priests and bishops who had paid money for their ordination were not bad priests, they were not priests at all. That was an argument that rocked the eleventh-century church, because it had enormous implications. Say a bishop had greased palms for his promotion – then any priests he subsequently ordained would not really be priests, and the sacraments they distributed would not really be sacraments either.

The ‘Paschasius’ letter’s dating and authorship are therefore crucial for an understanding of the arguments about simony in the 11th century. And whatever this and other manuscripts may say, we can be sure that the ‘Paschasius’ letter was not actually written by Pope Paschasius, because there has not yet been a pope of that name. So, who wrote it, and when?

In his edition of the text for the MGH in 1891, Friedrich Thaner attributed the letter to an Italian monk named Guido of Arezzo. He therefore labelled it the ‘Epistola Widonis’ (ie, Letter of Guido), and dated it to around 1031. But Thaner’s attribution has not gone entirely unchallenged. In 1941 Anton Michel argued that the letter had instead been written by Humbert of Moyenmoutier (or Silva Candida), on the basis of stylistic and content analysis, and also on the grounds that Guido of Arezzo showed no demonstrable interest in simony in any of his other work. In the 1980s, however, John Gilchrist dismissed Michel’s arguments and reasserted Guido’s authorship. Modern historiography has more or less followed Gilchrist’s lead. Yet Gilchrist was apparently unaware of arguments made in favour of Humbert’s authorship by Elaine Robison, arguments that were subsequently amplified by Margot Dischner.

Does it matter whether the ‘Paschasius’ letter was written by Guido of Arezzo, Humbert of Moyenmoutier, or any other author? Yes, very much so, for two reasons. Firstly, because as Michel, Robison and Dischner argued, the text is in some ways a précis of Humbert’s arguments in his ‘Three Books against the Simonists’ – but whereas the latter is known only from a handful of manuscripts, the ‘Paschasius’ letter was widely copied. Identifying Humbert as the author of the letter would change how we think about both texts. The letter would be the vehicle through which ideas elaborated at length in Humbert’s ‘Three Books’ were concisely disseminated.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the authorship has implications for the dating of the entire eleventh-century simony debate. If dated to 1031, the ‘Paschasius’ letter is the early opening salvo in a debate which then picks up speed in the 1040s. If however Humbert (or someone linked to him) was its author, the letter must have been written quite a bit later, most probably in the 1050s. In that scenario, the question of simoniacal ordinations may not even have arisen in Italy until the arrival of Pope Leo IX and his circle from Lotharingia, and the simony debate did not begin gradually in the 1030s, but with a bang in 1049.

The question of the original attribution of the text in its oldest witness, perhaps written not long after the text was first compiled, is therefore of considerable importance, and I hope at some point to visit the library in Bamberg to have a look at the manuscript myself, since sometimes it’s possible to see things in the flesh that can’t be discerned on the screen. If the erasure was thoroughly done, however, the manuscript may be able to hold onto its secret. Medieval history can, just sometimes, be a frustrating business.

No mercy for the simoniacs

In 1059, the campaign to rid the church of the evil of simony moved up a gear. Simony was the sin – contemporaries said heresy – of acquiring ecclesiastical office in exchange for gifts, or promises of favour. At a council in Rome, Pope Nicholas II declared that all priests who had secured their position in this way were now deposed.

But Nicholas went further than that. He not only deposed priests who had paid for their offices, he also targeted priests who had been ordained by such priests, even if their own ordination had been carried out for free (gratis). This was a radical and controversial measure, reminiscent, as Conrad Leyser has pointed out, of the Donatist schism in the fifth century, because it implied that the sacraments of simoniac priests were invalid. Its practical implications were so great that Nicholas accepted that priests already freely ordained by simoniacs might stay in their offices – but by merciful concession, not by the letter of the law.

Nicholas’s decree also dealt with matters of papal election, so it might be tempting to read its far-reaching statements about simony as primarily an act of dramatic rhetoric, aimed at a local, Roman audience. Was it really intended to have an impact in the Latin church as a whole?

Actually, the answer might be yes. There’s a clue in the manuscript transmission – ie, how the text was preserved in the Middle Ages. Nicholas’s decree was copied not in manuscripts written in Rome, but in manuscripts based on a compilation of Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury – and quite separately, in a manuscript now preserved in Vic in Catalonia. As Rudolf Schieffer pointed out, this suggests that Nicholas II took care to promulgate his decisions beyond Rome, sending out not only this decree, but also related material such as an oath sworn by the recanting heretic Berengar of Tours, which accompanies the 1059 decree in all manuscripts.

The Vic manuscript is especially interesting, however, since it also contains a copy of Humbert of Moyenmoutier’s 1058 treatise Three Books Against the Simoniacs. It’s long been debated how much this radical text spread, since not many copies of it now survive. But its proximity to the 1059 decree about simony in the Vic manuscript suggests not only that it might have spread more than we might think, but that it might even have been actively disseminated by the papacy as part of its anti-simony campaigns.

The mid-eleventh-century papacy is often overshadowed by Pope Gregory VII, but it’s becoming ever clearer how much he was the product, and not the cause, of ‘reform’.

Pope Nicholas II’s 1059 decree (PDF)

Bishop Altfrid’s Report, summer 862

Much of what we know of early medieval high politics is based on texts written for public consumption: the final version of agreed charters, crafted formal records of meetings, or commemorative (or subtly critical) histories. It’s perhaps this slant of the evidence which has led some historians to emphasise the ritualised quality of those politics. Amidst the records of choreographed assemblies and ceremonies, the actual workings of political process are hard to discern: the surviving evidence appears all highly polished surface, with little indication of whirring cogs beneath.

But just occasionally a text survives, usually by the skin of its teeth, that seems to let us see (to mix metaphors) under the bonnet of the spluttering engine of Carolingian dynastic political manoeuvring. The text presented in this blog in translation for the first time, thanks to one of my former students, Hayley Harrison, is a good example.

It’s a letter sent in the summer of 862 by Bishop Altfrid of Hildesheim (†874) to his king, Louis the German (of East Francia). Altfrid had travelled to West Francia on his king’s behalf, to conduct diplomatic negotiations with the king’s brother, King Charles the Bald (of West Francia). He wrote this letter to let King Louis know how things were going. Although Altfrid was from a Saxon family, he had probably been educated in West Francia (perhaps at Corbie), and already had some experience of acting as an envoy between Louis and his royal relatives, so he was a natural choice for this embassy. His predecessor as bishop of Hildesheim was moreover the exiled Ebbo of Reims, so we can assume that Altfrid was quite well informed about wider Frankish politics.

The letter doesn’t explain the specific purpose of Bishop Altfrid’s mission to King Charles, but we do know it touched on the affairs (so to speak) of King Lothar II, Louis and Charles’s nephew, who had just recently divorced his wife Theutberga at the Council of Aachen in April 862, and was now gearing up to marry Waldrada. Indeed this was probably the embassy’s main focus: Louis wanted to reconcile Lothar and Charles, and to help draw a line under his nephew’s recent political difficulties. That was not, however, how things turned out.

As the letter explains, Bishop Altfrid first travelled to Lotharingia, picking up envoys from the young Lothar, before they all proceeded to King Charles’s court, at his grandest ceremonial centre, Compiègne. There, as Altfrid reported to Louis, the two embassies met with very different receptions. To Altfrid, Charles was gracious and cordial; to Lothar’s envoys, he was conspicuously cold and peremptory. Lothar was a king mired in sin, and Charles would have no dealings with him until he mended his ways. Charles did want to talk about Lothar’s case – but with Louis, privately, and in Lothar’s absence.

As Stuart Airlie has argued (1), we see in Charles’s public behaviour a message as clear as the words that were spoken (or written, if as seems possible the ‘Capitulary of Savonnières’ represents an echo of this meeting, perhaps even the ‘other record’ the letter mentions). Until Lothar had resolved his marital problems, his followers and clients were not welcome in Charles’s kingdom. And a king who could not ensure his followers were treated with public respect was a king seriously failing in his responsibilities.

If Lothar II had not yet grasped that the Aachen Council of 862 would not simply extricate him from the crisis engendered by his attempted divorce, he ought to have begun to realise it now.

Translation of Bishop Altfrid of Hildesheim’s letter (pdf)

Image: Nordrhein-Westfalen Landesarchiv in Münster, Kindlingersche Sammlung vol. 40, fol. 210v-211r

1: Stuart Airlie, ‘Unreal Kingdom: Francia Media under the shadow of Lothar II’. In: Gaillard, M.Margue, M.Dierkens, A. and Pettiau, H. (eds.) De la mer du Nord a la Mediterranee: Francia Media, une Region au Coeur de l’Europe (c.840-c.1050). Centre luxembourgeois de documentation et d’etudes medievales, pp. 339-356

Ninth-century popular heresy?

Clerics preaching that God could be worshipped anywhere and that the cult of relics was a fraud, spreading their dangerous message in the countryside, and preying in particular on credulous and uneducated women…

…This may sound like a summary of some 11th or 12th-century criticism of heretics, like that of Ralph Glaber. But actually it’s a resumé of a ninth-century miracle story, recorded in the Miracula sancti Dionysii of Paris (an English translation is provided below).

The Miracles of Saint-Denis is a surprisingly neglected ninth-century  source.  It’s divided into three books. According to Levillain and, following him, Stoclet, the first two books (BHL 2202) were written in the 830s by none other than this blog’s old friend, Hincmar of Reims, who had been a monk at St Denis before his elevation to the Reims archbishopric in 845.[1] It’s certainly striking that extracts from them survive in Reims BM. 1395, a ninth-century manuscript from St Remi.

A third book of miracles was written later, around 877 (BHL 2203).[2] Most historians have been less interested in this book: Levillain because it had nothing to say about the Merovingian kings, Stoclet because it has less topographical information for the history of the monastery. In his recent book on Dionysian hagiography, Michael Lapidge also thought Book III wasn’t that interesting – just “a sequence of brief and unilluminating miracles”.[3] Yet it’s in this book that our miracle story of the ‘pseudo-preaching’ clerics and their victims is to be found.

Obviously one can’t take such an account at face value. But it’s nevertheless interesting that in his recounting of the miracle, the author, presumably a monk of St-Denis, went to some trouble to justify the monumentality of the early medieval church, using a string of biblical precedents. That suggests a perception of a genuine counter-argument of the kind attributed to the ‘brainless’ clerics in the story – one that might be linked to contemporary arguments about church property, mentioned in an earlier blog.

Since it’s at the end of the miracle collection, could this story have been added later? That’s in principle possible, since the earliest manuscript is 12th-century, and miracle collections did sometimes grow by accretion. But the story’s author notes that he had mentioned the place of Chaudrades “above”, in a cross-reference to chapter 10 of Book III, whose ninth-century credentials seem pretty strong (e.g. references to pagi, the personal names, etc). So any addition would have been fraudulent in intent. Given that we know there was some ambivalence about relics in the ninth-century, this seems an over-complicated solution.

What’s most surprising about the story is its suggestion that ‘ordinary’ people, not just clerical elites (or sub-elites), might have been affected by such views in the Carolingian period. How to interpret this evidence is a problem that needs to be chewed over. In any case, it’s a reminder that early medieval miracle collections deserve more attention than they tend to receive – and for none is that more true than the Miracles of Saint-Denis.

Note on the Latin edition of the Miracula Sancti Dionysii (with links to the manuscripts on the ever-amazing Gallica)
The standard edition of the Miracula Sancti Dionysii is Mabillon’s Acta Sanctorum Ordinis sancti Benedicti, based on two 13th– and 15th-century manuscripts (Paris BnF nal 1509 and Paris, Arsenal 1030). Mabillon later came across the much older Reims BM 1395. He published two more miracles he found there, but without updating his earlier edition, although the Reims manuscript clearly provides alternative readings. And Mabillon didn’t know at all about Vatican Reg. lat. 571, a late 12th-century manuscript, which has a full text that may well be better than the manuscripts Mabillon used. A new edition of the Miracula could be based on the Vatican manuscript, drawing on the Reims extracts (already edited by Luchaire as an appendix to his study).[4]

Miracles of St Denis, Book III, Ch. 15: draft translation

Latin edition: Mabillon Acta Sanctorum p. 329

Paris nal. 1509, s. xiii, p. 372 (copied from 2447, acc. E.A.R. Brown)
Paris lat. 2447, s. xiii, fol. 184
Vatican Reg. 571, s. xii, fol. 95v
Paris lat. 2873B (s. xv), fol?

About two women who suffered from spasms and were eventually cured

There were two women, one of whom lived in Chaudardes of Laon (Caldarda Laudunensium) which I mentioned above, and the other in the village (vicus) of Breuil, whose faith was subverted by pseudo-preaching clerics. These clerics mocked the afore oft-mentioned Denis. They said that God was everywhere and did not need to be sought anywhere else, although Jacob placed the stone where he said the true God was [Genesis 28], and Naaman was cured nowhere else but the River Jordan [2 Kings 5], and certain kings of Israel who walked perfectly before God were blamed only because they worshipped him in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ wished to be born nowhere else than in a house of bread [ie the Eucharist]* – Jesus who gives life to those who worthily consume him, and is a future judgement for those who take him unworthily…**

Eventually these women, urged by the admonitions of their neighbours, came together amongst the crowds that gathered on the sixteenth kalends of October [16th Sept]. While we were celebrating the night office on the holy Sunday night, suddenly amongst the whole multitude they began to suffer from that disease which we call spasm. After they had collapsed to the ground many times like madmen, they looked like they were dead. They suffered for this for a long time, until they confessed that they had not only believed what they had heard from the brainless clerics, but had often mocked those who sought the saint.

*Thus Mabillon (in panis domo). The Vatican manuscript however has an abbreviation mark on the p and a suspension mark over the a: not panis but p̱ānis. Answers on a postcode please.
**the Latin continues ita ibi per quindecim dies sana est reddita (‘thus for fifteen days ?health was returned there’) which is difficult to make sense of.

[1] Levillain, Études sur l’abbaye de Saint-Denis; Stoclet, ‘Les miracula sancti Dionysii, commentaire et donnees topographiques’, in Wyss, Atlas historique de Saint-Denis. The BHL website lists six manuscripts:

The BHL list omits the Reims 1395 manuscript and Paris nal 1509, pp. 305-349.

[2] The BHL website lists four mss with BHL 2203 (all also contain BHL 2202, ie Books I-II):
Vat Reg. 571  (s. xii)
Paris lat. 2447 (s. xiii)
Paris lat. 2873B (s. xv), and
Paris nal 1509 (s. xiii) pp. 349-373 (copied from Paris 2447, acc. EAR Brown)

The Montpellier FM 1, Paris lat. 2445A and Paris lat. 17631 do not have text from the third book.

[3] Lapidge, Hilduin of Saint-Denis.

[4] Luchaire, ‘Étude’.

Peasants and emperors in ninth-century Francia

A book about the Frankish emperor Charlemagne, based on a conference held in Paris in 2014 (twelve centuries after his death), has just been published. I contributed a chapter about a decree issued by the great emperor in the year of his imperial coronation (800), concerning the obligations owed by tenants to their lords. Since the chapter’s not open access, I thought I might unpack its content a bit here.

The decree is known as the Capitulary of Le Mans (Capitulare in pago Cenomannico datum) – it’s quite a famous text that’s widely cited as evidence for the early medieval peasantry. In brief, Charlemagne regulates how much labour tenants can be expected to do for their landlords, capping it at three days a week maximum, and less for the richer tenants. In spoken versions of the paper (though not in the written version!), I described the decree a little tongue-in-cheek as the first European Working Time Directive. Here’s an open-access English translation of the capitulary which I put together.

The Capitulary of Le Mans was copied in lots of early manuscripts (including Paris BnF. ms Latin 5577, now online thanks to Gallica). But *spoiler alert* the chapter actually argues that it probably wasn’t issued by Charlemagne after all (sorry!)…

Yet I’m not sure that actually matters all that much. Even if we can’t securely associate it directly with the ruler, the notion it expresses that kings might or should take such an interest in “the peasantry”‘s daily life was pathbreaking. And I think that makes the Capitulary of Le Mans a key source for the emergence of the medieval ‘three orders’ ideology – albeit in a version intriguingly and significantly different from that which developed post-860.

Image: the inimitable Stuttgart Psalter, f. 124v.

How to deal with a mentally ill bishop

A post by Rachel Stone

In the early 850s, the clergy and people of Nevers, a small city in central France, had a problem: their bishop, called Herimann, was behaving strangely. There were complaints of his “excesses” and the “persistence of his frivolity” (perseverantia levitatum). He had been frequently corrected for this behaviour and rebuked by other bishops “moderately and sharply” (modeste et acriter), but the problems had persisted.

But the unsuitable behaviour of this turbulent bishop was not solely due to Herimann’s character flaws. The first account we have, from the Council of Soissons in April 853, also reports that he had some “bodily trouble” and talks of his “infirmity”. Later reports describe him as having “lost the soundness of his understanding” (sensus integritate privatus) and “similar to the insane” (insano similis). How did the Carolingian church respond to a bishop with what sounds like serious mental health problems? And what can this case tell us about the role of bishops in the early Middle Ages?

The response of the Council of Soissons in the spring of 853 to the problem of Herimann was a pragmatic and temporary one, with the main responsibility falling on Herimann’s metropolitan, Archbishop Wenilo of Sens. He was to send a bishop to Nevers to administer the see; he was also to take Herimann back with him to Sens for the summer, a season which worsened Herimann’s condition (aestivum tempus, quod valde contrarium infirmitati illius ferebatur). After the summer, and once Herimann had, the council hoped, been “accustomed to suitable abstinence, instructed in episcopal gravity, informed about apostolic behaviour”, the clergy and people of Nevers could recall him to his see.

These measures appear to have worked: the Council of Verberie in August of the same year reported that Herimann had been restored to his see and it stressed that he had been removed only because of his illness and not because of any “faults of character or public sins”. Unfortunately, this recovery was not permanent: around five years later the problem recurred.

We have three sources for the second part of this episcopal drama. One is a letter from Lupus of Ferrières (presumably on behalf of Wenilo) to an unnamed pope, asking for permission to depose Herimann, who, “frequently admonished and long expected to grow well again, is not able to fulfil his office, his mind not being whole (mente non integra)”. The second is a letter from Pope Nicholas to Archbishop Wenilo, replying either to Lupus’ letter or a similar one. Finally, there is the fragment of a letter from Charles the Bald to Wenilo (Tessier no. 224) which announces that the royal ministers Liudo and Geilo will take over the administration of the diocese. By 862, the bishop of Nevers is recorded as being Liudo, probably the same person, which has normally been taken to imply that Herimann was dead by that point.

The dating of all these letters is uncertain, although Lupus’ letter is probably from 858 and the reply by Nicholas has thus been dated to 858-860. Nicholas’ reply cannot have been welcomed by Wenilo. After praise of Wenilo for respecting papal authority, Nicholas then goes on to criticise him for summoning Herimann to synods when he was ill. Nicholas also comments that he cannot judge about Herimann’s “excesses” in his absence and without more details about whether he was of sound mind when he committed them. He states that Herimann should be consoled and his infirmity sympathised with rather than punished, although Nicholas approves of Wenilo admonishing Herimann if this is done from true charity.

Nicholas, in other words, was probably trying to take over the judgement of the case himself in order to assert his papal authority. We have no further record of papal involvement, however, and the letter by Charles the Bald may suggest that Wenilo took a different route. Although Charles’ ordering of administrators to be sent to the diocese could be dated at any period between 853 and 860 (and Charles was present at the Council of Soissons in 853), it is tempting to see this letter as a response to Wenilo’s inability to depose Herimann, reflecting a desire to put on a permanent footing alternative administrative arrangements that had already been used intermittently before.

Disciplining or deposing a bishop in the ninth century was normally a contentious matter, and therefore most sources discussing such matters reflect conflicts within the episcopate. Here, however, is a case where there was relative consensus, where we can see councils and the king working together effectively to solve a difficult problem. What made Herimann’s case so difficult was not a bishop being too ill or infirm to carry out his episcopal duties. The Council of Meaux-Paris 845-846 had already issued a canon (c. 47) on the topic, which envisaged the bishop handing over his power of ordination to his archbishop and the administration of the diocese to suitable subordinates. The problem with Herimann, I would argue, is that the probable nature of his mental illness caused specific administrative problems.

Retrospective diagnosis of any illness is always speculative and is particularly difficult when we have so few details. But are there are some revealing features in the sources on Herimann. Firstly, there is no mention of any head trauma or other injury (which Carolingian authors were aware could cause mental health problems). Secondly, the illness was long-lasting, but intermittent: Herimann had recovered sufficiently by August 853 to be re-entrusted with his see. That argues against degenerative brain disorders. Thirdly, there was a seasonal effect, with additional problems for Herimann in the summer. There have been a number of studies showing such a pattern for mania and schizophrenia, but not for other mental illnesses.

I think that Herimann was more likely to have had bipolar disorder with manic episodes than schizophrenic symptoms. There is no mention of possession (which might be used to explain hallucinations), and Herimann is described only as “similar to the insane”, suggesting that he may not have been obviously delusional. Instead, we have references to “excesses” and “frivolity” and an implied lack of episcopal gravity. Charles the Bald refers to complaints from Nevers of the “insolence” shown by Herimann. This all fits well with manic symptoms of heightened energy, euphoria and rapid speech, possibly in the milder form of hypomania.

We cannot know for certain whether Herimann experienced manic episodes, but such mania might have caused particular problems for the Carolingian church. To see this, it is useful to consider another aspect of Herimann’s life: his commissioning of manuscripts. The British Library today holds Harley 2790, a gospel book probably written in Tours and containing a short poem recording how it was donated by Herimann to the cathedral church of St Cyr, Nevers:

Harley 2790 folio 19v - Herimann poem

Me quicumque legis, Herimanni sis memor oro
Cuius me studio possidet iste locus
Obtulit eclesiae sibi commissae memorandus
Praesul me fateor, pro bonitatis ope
Me sancto Cyrico tali sub conditione
En dedit ut pereat qui cupit abstrahere (f. 19v)

I pray whoever reads me remember Herimann
By whose zeal this place possesses me
The memorable one offered it to the church committed to him
I acknowledge that the bishop on account of the riches of goodness
Gave me to St Cyr under such a condition
That he might perish who desires to take me away.

The gospel book has decorated canon tables, but is not a particularly ornate work otherwise. Nevertheless, any substantial manuscript like this (of around 270 leaves, each slightly bigger than A4) would have been expensive to produce in terms of paying for parchment and scribal labour. And the otherwise unremarkable poem suggests Herimann’s “zeal” (studium) to do good via generosity, at a time when he was presumably in better mental health.

It’s interesting to bring that together with some of the complaints about him in 853 and 858. In 853 there were complaints about his “excesses” and how these had caused “injury to the most sacred order”. Herimann “was accustomed to act strangely (ineptire)…and indiscreetly to do certain things that could have lead to the shipwreck of the powers (facultates) and matters/possessions (res) of the church”, as well as carrying out acts that were a danger to salvation. Charles the Bald talks of the “agitation” of the church’s res, with no stability, “either in the disposition of the demesnes (villas dominicas) or the arrangement of all business”.

This raising the intriguing possibility that serious alarms about Herimann were raised because of two common symptoms of hypomania: overspending and over-generosity. It is easy to imagine such recklessness with money and property as having the potential to cause severe damage to the diocese’s finances.

Yet people during hypomanic episodes are not delusional in the sense of having false beliefs, even if they recklessly overestimate their capabilities. The Council of Verberie mentions in passing that Wenilo had taken Herimann into his keeping in the summer of 858, because no-one in the church of Nevers had wanted to do so, “partly perhaps from undue piety, partly from reverence to a lord (reverentia seniorali)”.

A key issue is that early medieval bishops had a large amount of autonomy: there were, for example, no formal financial structures to check their spending. Suffragan bishops like Herimann might in theory be subject to their archbishop’s oversight, but the only archbishop we know regularly interfering with their suffragan’s activities was Hincmar of Rheims. The main check on a bishop’s behaviour was the informal one of his need to maintain his local reputation among his clerics and congregation. That may have been inadequate in this specific case. Was Herimann’s behaviour difficult to deal with because it was an exaggerated version of how a good Christian should deal with money? After all, appropriate spending and generosity by bishops was admirable behaviour.

The Council of Verberie stressed that Herimann had not committed any public sins, implying that any possible mania or hypomania had not led him to behave in a sexually inappropriate or aggressive way (two common symptoms of hypomania). If Herimann was behaving extravagantly with the diocese’s funds, but was not obviously “insane”, his damaging behaviour might have been peculiarly difficult for his subordinates to protest about or prevent.

Historical and cross-cultural studies have rightly stressed the variation in symptoms, diagnoses and responses to mental illness in different societies. Modern medical research has also been interested in how social class affects the prevalence and treatment of mental illness and whether particular occupations lead to higher risks of mental health problems. Herimann’s case tells us something else interesting about the connection between mental illness and social role: particular occupations and social organisations in any culture may be better able to cope with some forms of mental illness than others. A Carolingian lay nobleman, for example, described in the sources as very active, risk-taking, sociable, irritable, extravagant, self-confident and with strong sexual desires, would probably be regarded by most of as entirely typical, even though these are many of the symptoms of hypomania. In contrast, it’s easy to imagine the Carolingian episcopate as being reasonably well able to shelter a depressed bishop for some considerable period of time without him becoming controversial.

It is unlikely that Herimann was the only ninth-century bishop with mental health problems (especially since the office was normally held until death). His real difficulty was probably that his particular symptoms were ones that were unusually disruptive to his episcopal office.

Image credit: BL Harley ms 2790, now online