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  • The Naughty Canon of Catalonia and the Sack Friars:The Dynamics of "Passage" From Monk to Mendicant
  • Robert I. Burns, S.J. (bio)

This sordid tale of the runaway monk Ramon de Moranta during the tumultuous reign of King Jaume the Conqueror (1228–76) affords a glimpse into the intersecting worlds of the feudalistic Gregorian Reform, the cresting mendicantism of the doomed Friars of the Sack and the decline of the military orders, the complexities of monastic prisons, the punitive "transfer" of clerical lifestyles, and the staged ritual and rhetoric in the theater of religious life in the medieval Catalan realms. It also illumines the historiographical resources of the king's archives today.

King Jaume the Conqueror (1228–76) is the most celebrated ruler of the realms of Arago-Catalonia, a congeries of kingdoms and polities stretching from Southern France down the coast of Mediterranean Spain and overseas. His wide-ranging conquests from Islam, the concomitant mercantile ascendancy and cultural renaissance, the lively proliferation of ecclesiastical institutions, and his several comprehensive law codes all contributed to his rise as a Mediterranean world figure. Today that status is reflected in his administrative archives, notably in the unique registers, volume after volume preserving many thousands of charters on fragile early paper. Lesser collections of the great monarch here include particularly the Pergamins or Parchments, some three thousand disparate charters incised on animal skins. Oddly enough, few of those parchments pertain to the king himself or to his affairs but serve as a grab bag and depository for chance contemporary items. Researchers encounter a given parchment by happenstance; unless that item resonates with the peculiar interests of the rummaging scholar, it is, of course, passed over with [End Page 245] only a glance. One such charter from a local Catalan monastery, recovered and reproduced here, is valuable simultaneously on several neglected historiographical fronts.1

On its face, the long document narrates the case of one Ramon de Moranta, a canon regular making amends in 1272 for an appalling fall from grace; at that level, the charter forms part of the monastic and religious order network then expanding under the patronage of King Jaume. At another level, the main story illustrates a dynamic of medieval religious life, the transitus or transfer of a monk from one order into another, and the more important dynamic of shifting a criminal cleric from one order into a monitored and punitive environment. Both topics hold practical and metaphysical pitfalls for the investigator. Their unfolding here also touches on the bizarre practice of monastic prison. At still another level, the principals have drawn a psychological profile of poignant human interest. More exciting, the document incorporates a rare glimpse of the Friars of the Sack, a vital new mendicant order that quickly spread like wildfire until brutally suppressed. For many years, I have been hunting down the scattered survivals of Sacks' archives around the western Mediterranean for just such glimpses of its reputation and inner life. Finally, the parchment as an artifact calls for due attention as a mode of legal procedure with its rhetorical parts, lawyerly boilerplate, dual-letter format, and script peculiarities, necessitating as well a full transcription and translation.

The monastery of Santa Maria de l'Estany lay in a small, rainy valley, where a central marshy pond or pool yields the Latin name stagnum, Catalan l'estany. The town itself, including at that time about twenty-five newly arrived families, stands outside Manresa in the diocese of Vic(h),which is north of Barcelona on Catalonia's inland district called El Bages. The remnants of the monastery are a gem of Romanesque architecture, the unique cloister particularly a magnet for tourists. Critical to its role in our tawdry story was its fame as a center of Europe's Gregorian Reform. It had begun life in 1080 as a chapter of Canons Regular under a version of Augustinian rule. By the time of our 1272 episode, a dozen priest-canons served its liturgical life, as well as [End Page 246] another dozen associates (beneficiats comensals), with a dozen lay maintenance workers. Its impressive patrimony or endowment included castles, feudal jurisdictions, some twenty affiliate churches, and a seat...


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