Back to an unknown monastic paradise: Carolingian Benedictine monasticism in early medieval Catalonia in the mirror of its manuscript tradition

It is a well-known story of early medieval monastic life that the Europe-wide diffusion of the Benedictine life-style was intrinsically connected to the Carolingians’ reform of the Church. This older form of religious life imposed its dominance over other male (and female) monastic rules in the Southwestern periphery of the Carolingian Empire from the reign of…

A tenth-century murder? The strange death of Queen Bertilla

The long tenth century provides plenty of stories of powerful women. Sometimes, we can get to know their lives fairly well. In other cases, they only leave scarce traces in written records. Queen Bertilla (c. 855−915) is one of the latter. For that reason, she is not the best known of the women that fill…

The Battle of Stilo, July 982

According to the chronicler Thietmar of Merseburg (III.20–1), in July 982 Emperor Otto II stood on a beach in Calabria, the southernmost region of mainland Italy. He had just suffered a disastrous loss against the forces of the emir of Sicily, Abū’l-Qāsim, whose soldiers had decimated the troops drawn from across Otto’s empire.  Accompanied by…

Carolingian nostalgia and Carolingian assemblies

Given the unpredictability of politics in our own time, it shouldn’t require a great leap of imagination to realise that those who lived in the last days of the Carolingian Empire might not have realised that that’s what they were doing. But like any polity that lasts across several generations, the empire inevitably became nostalgic…

A Letter from Abbot Odilo of Cluny

In the early middle ages, letter-writing was a difficult art to master. Letters were supposed to follow elaborate stylistic models. The language was supposed to be sophisticated and rhetorically complex. Many letters were conspicuously public documents, written to be read aloud, and not only by the recipient. But accomplished letter-writers could use their skills to…

Oh I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day (?): the Festive Period, the King’s Court, and Discord in West Francia and England in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries

The importance of Christmas in both Anglo-Saxon England and West Francia is clear from the fact that many events were anchored to Christmas: acts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are described as happening ‘forty days before Christmas’ or on ‘the Easter after Christmas’, for instance, while the annalist Flodoard of Rheims strove to begin each year’s…

I’ll be in Rome for Christmas: Ottonian memories of the past at Christmas

Where do you spend Christmas? For medieval rulers, this was a very important question, and one that had many possible answers. In the tenth century, the itinerant Ottonian rulers spent Christmas at many different places across the empire, often at major cities like Frankfurt, Pavia, Rome, Cologne and Ravenna. Celebrating Christmas was one of the…

Wandering Archangel Michael: the Gargano legend from Eastern Italy to Catalonia

From the last decades of the eighth century, the cult of the Archangel Michael spread throughout various Western regions and became a common European religious and spiritual phenomenon. Two important sanctuaries, Monte Gargano on the eastern coast of Italy and Mont Saint Michel in north-western France, invoked numerous pilgrimages at this time. A number of donations,…

Towers of Faith: Views on the Biblical Landscape of the Tenth-Century Iberian World

The Bible in the Early Medieval Iberian World The world of the Iberian Bible is a fragmented one in a double sense. The transmission of old Bibles from late antique and Visigothic times and the production of new Bibles from the late eighth century onwards were situated in a scattered, if not fragmented Christian society…