The Turbulent Career of a Monk of the Year 1000:
Documentary Inversions and the Tale of Ademar of Chabannes (989-1034)*

Richard Landes, 1995


On October 1, 1026, the people of Angoulême, the canons of the cathedral and the monks of St. Eparchius bid farewell to one of the most remarkable expeditions in the history of Christendom. A vast collective pilgrimage that included some of the most important members of Aquitanian society -- the count of Angoulême, the count of Deols, the abbot of St. Eparchius -- set out for Jerusalem. At its head rode the charismatic monastic reformer and partisan of the Peace of God, Richard abbot of St. Vannes in Flanders. Never before had so large and illustrious a contingent of Christian faithful, lay and clerical, set out on the greatest and most arduous of all the pilgrimages. They would take the land route, through the wilds of Hungary only recently coverted, through Constantinople, through Moslem-held Syria and Palestine.
Among those left behind in Angoulöme were the count's son and heir, Alduin and his wife Alaiz from Gascony, and the master of the abbey's scriptorium, Ademar of Chabannes, then in his late 30s. Just as the presence among the pilgrims of his father Wil- liam conferred on Alduin the power of his father's office, so the participation of Ademar's abbot, the monastery's lay advocate, the monk Amalfredus and presumably other brethren, left this energetic and highly accomplished man in the prime of his life with considerable freedom and authority. Whatever his earlier place in the monastic hierarchy, he now figured among those in charge. At the least this meant that he would have a free hand to pursue some literary projects he had been developing for some time now, in particular, the first history written in Aquitaine since the Roman Empire.
During his abbot's absence, Ademar's freedom of movement increased as well. No one could deny him permission to visit the Cathedral high on the bluff, within the city walls, where he could consult the great volumes in the Chapter scriptorium, espe- cially the canonical and historical collection. And he could always count on a good reception from the Bishop, a cultivated man who appreciated Ademar's talents, and gave him commissions. Ademar had his fullest confidence, particularly since that time Bishop Roho had seen a Norman scholar enthuse so about Ademar's dedicated copy of the Liber Pontificalis. And of course trips to the city meant, for a man raised in the cloister, an unusual amount of contact with crowds... a source of information for a good historian, and an object of earnest exhortation from a good priest and monk.


His history demanded some difficult archival work reconstructing the period from Charlemagne's death to the pre- sent. As for the period not covered in his written sources, Ademar turned to his contemporaries, to their far richer accounts, laced with a bewildering variety of judgments about the actors and the deeds. Trying to sift them, reduce them to the acceptable forms of a laconic historical tradition, connect them in a continuous narrative proved tremendously difficult. Writing history in such times was a dangerous endeavor: too many accusations of heresy circulated, and it was only a few years ago that, for the first time in its history, the Latin Church had burned clerics for their unorthodox beliefs.


When he had finished, he had a unique document; a bold statement of the situation not only in Angoulöme, where the counts of the city ruled with strength and love of the Church and God, but of the whole known world, where yearly, if not daily, new and wondrous things occurred. After showing it to his fellow monks and to Roho his bishop, he took the text to Limoges, to the abbey of St. Martial where he had studied as a young man with his illustrious uncle Roger the Cantor. Here again he was a welcome guest and respected scholar; here, where he had visited and worked on a number of occasions, Ademar had the run of the best library south of Fleury. They even felt honored when Ademar wrote his learned marginalia in their manuscripts. In fact, last time Ademar had come to Limoges, some two years earlier, he came to mourn his uncle Roger, who died just after Easter, April 26, 1025, the same year as the abbot and the vicount of Limoges. It was then, in fact, that his historical interests had first taken shape; the same year, it turned out, that both the Western and the Eastern Emperors had died.


Limoges was then the most active religious center in all Aquitaine, site of the relics of St. Martial, who attracted ardent crowds of pilgrims from all over Europe. His cult had, in the past generation, produced liturgical and hagiographical innovations on a grand scale, and his monks were near the comple- tion of their new basilica under construction for a decade. The new abbot, Odolric, was an enthusiastic supporter of many of the most recent religious developments in Aquitaine: relic delations in statuary reliquaries, public participation in liturgical ceremony, basilicas tailored to the needs of lay pilgrims, and so on.


In fact, Odalric's scriptorium was energetically pushing the new legends about their patron saint -- fanciful but powerfully attractive stories supposedly from the pen of his first disciple Aurelian, about Martial's Jewish origins, his companionship with the historical Jesus, the enthusiasm he inspired in the people of Aquitaine. These stories had particular appeal to the influx of pilgrims to the relics of Martial, which, in 994, had miraculously saved the multitudes from the atrocious "holy fire" that devoured its victims from within. It was then that the Peace of God had first come to Limoges, amidst the tears and shouts of joy of the populace; and Martial had remained the Peace's greatest sponsor ever since. The most concrete express- ion of this novel and enthusiastic cult was the royal basilica of the Holy Savior, Martial's resting place, now in its tenth year of construction and within a year of the choir's completion. In fact Odolric's monks, among the best-trained public performers of liturgical ceremony in all France, were preparing their processional antiphons for the elaborate celebration they planned for the consecration of the choir the following November, in 1028.


This visit to Limoges was the most exciting yet. Ademar watched the building campaign and ceremonial preparation with wonder and not a little envy. But then the monks of Limoges liked his work as well. Of course not everyone agreed with some of his accounts, and some passages he needed to rewrite or, bet- ter yet, drop. But these were minor criticisms. The real need for a second and much expanded draft came from all the details and new stories the monks suggested he include. Much of course concerned the abbey of St. Martial and the city of Limoges, but even these tales participated in the greatness of the day, and reverberated over Christendom.


Easter fell early that year, on March 26th. Ademar celebrated it in Angoulöme, his abbot and count in Jerusalem; and at Rome, pope John crowned Conrad emperor in the presence of king Canute. By late spring, two unusual visitors arrived in Angoulöme with news of the pilgrims. A much-travelled monk of St. Catherine's, Simeon, had accompanied the party from Con- stantinople to Jerusalem and had begun the return trip only to be stopped at Belgrade by some suspicious Hungarian officials. Forced to go by sea, Simeon and his companion Basil reached Angoulöme considerably ahead of the larger body of pilgrims. They brought with them some stunning news: the monks' abbot had died on the way to the Holy City.


No one was more affected by this news than Ademar. However mixed his feelings may have been, he thrilled to the possibility that he would become the new abbot. Not only did he have impeccable credentials, both in his education and in his family, but his connections with Limoges made him a politic choice. Dur- ing their wait in Angoulöme, which may have struck the two Greek- speaking monks as a bit provincial, Ademar had played host. He may even have taken them to see the remarkable events developing in Limoges. Whatever combination of dubious reticence at the Aurelian legends and admiration at the new basilica Simeon and Cosmas may have felt, all this activity made a deep impression on their guide. As he had already once done, at the end of his studies at St. Martial some fifteen years earlier, Ademar returned to Angoulöme with many notes -- mental and written -- taken in Limoges.


On June 21, according to rumor, a rain of blood fell on the Aquitanian shore. By the feast of John the Baptist three days later the word had spread through all of Aquitaine of this hor- rendous prodigy that had occurred so close to the monastery where the Baptist's head had been found only a dozen years earlier. The news so disturbed the duke that he wrote the king of France asking his guidance. Robert took it no less seriously, and consulted two of his most trusted churchmen from that region, Ful- bert of Chartres and Gauzlin of Fleury. Their common prognosis: a time of great tribulation and high mortality, perhaps civil war; it was undoubtedly a time for repentance and reform.
In July of 1027 the count returned, passing through Limoges, where the monks of Saint Martial accompanied him with festive splendor. The rumor rapidly spread of his imminent arrival in Angoulöme, and, as Ademar himself described it, the count's own city outdid its more famous neighbors in enthusiasm and ceremony:


All the lords, not only in Angoulöme, but in Perigord and Saintonge, and people of all ages and both sexes ran joyously to catch a glimpse of him. And the monastic clergy of St. Eparchius came a mile outside the city to greet him, dressed in white robes with varying ornaments, rejoicing with a vast crowd of people and clerics or canons. And all, shouting to the heavens "Te Deum laudamus," led him forward as was the custom.


Filled with pride at the reception he had helped prepare, Ademar awaited eagerly the moment he could present the first draft of his history -- whose secular heroes were the counts of Angoulöme -- to William. Given his parentage with the comital family, his exceptional erudition, and all these recent accomplishments, Ademar could entertain high hopes for his candidacy to the now vacant post of abbot.


But the count's council dashed his hopes. William selected the new abbot from among his fellow pilgrims, the monk Amalfredus! Ademar had encountered the first serious setback of his career. After the freedoms and hopes of Richard's absence and death, Ademar now had to return to the scriptorium and live once again under the rule of another. No matter how free a hand he might have, it was bitter medicine.


Ademar was not alone in his disappointment following the count's return. Alduin, William's heir for more than a decade now, and his wife, Alaiza, chafed under his father's renewed tutelage. William's intensified piety, and the wildly enthusiastic almost messianic reception the populace accorded him cast an unwelcome shadow over Alduin. Too many people went to complain to his father about the abuses of power he had committed during his father's absence, and the inordinate influence of his wife, the willful Gascon. In fact, she more than anyone, found William's return intolerable. Not only did she lose her position of dominance, but now her arch-rival, her mother-in-law, had returned to power as the count's wife. The foretaste during the previous nine months of life in the court of her daughter-in-law, had convinced Gerberga to press forward the cause of her other son, Geoffrey, married to a lower class, but far more amenable and unpretentious woman.


With the abbacy lost for the indefinite future, Ademar returned to the scriptorium, to the world he knew best. In fact, the loss of the abbacy was a blessing in disguise: all that responsibility, all those cares; Ademar had been called to a far more arduous and unique a task -- historian. His task was to write that new version of his chronicle of the age. He worked hard. His archival work expanded; his section on contemporary events doubled in length from the first draft, incorporating all the suggestions gathered in Limoges. Here, although his monastery and county remained the center of the tale, his subject matter and the target audience widened. This time the city of Limoges and Martial's monastery held a substantial place in the narrative; and the Duke of Aquitaine, William of Poitiers, received a panegyric that virtually named him king of his duchy.


Ademar also gave more structure to the narrative and a more polished style to the presentation. The stories had more clear- cut connections, and language took on a more confident tone. And Ademar introduced himself. Not only his genealogy, but his own vision, experienced that terrible year the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, of a celestial Christ on the cross, weeping rivers of tears over Limoges. No doubt this was the first history written in Aquitaine since antiquity, and possibly the greatest ever.


But while Ademar worked fully absorbed on this great historical endeavor, another tragedy struck. Without any apparent cause, the newly returned count sickened and took to a bed laid out in the church of Saint Andrew where he could hear the office night and day. Great men came from all over to visit him and wondered aloud at how so mysterious an illness could have happened to so pious and just a ruler. But the count's condition continued to decline steadily over the next half year, until, in the week before the first Easter since his return, gazing constantly on the crucifix, William of Angoulöme passed away.


Although William probably knew that he had been poisoned by his eldest son's ambitious wife, the court accused a common woman of sorcery. As soon as the assassin's husband, the new count Alduin, took power -- and contrary to his dead father's explicit wishes -- he ordered the "witch" burned. Within days open hostilities broke out between Alduin and his half-brother Geof- frey, and the Easter season was a time of feverish castle build- ing. The civil war and attendant disasters that Fulbert and Gauzlin had predicted with great certainty from the rain of blood the previous year had found their fulfillment. Ademar was not the only one whose hopes had been shattered by the return of the pilgrim party: now all of Angoulöme, so joyous in the summer of 1027, looked anxiously to a menacing future.


But Ademar could do something about it; and his opportunity came in November 1028, when he attended the consecration of the basilica regalis in Limoges. There he was converted to the cult of St. Martial the apostle. He had, of course, always shown respect for Martial, especially when at Limoges; but previously he had kept his distance from the new hagiographical tale that placed Martial in the company of the living historical Jesus. He was too well trained to be taken in by such pious fables, fine enough for encouraging the rustics of this world, lay and cleri- cal, but hardly the kind of thing for a man who not only had read Gregory of Tours, but aspired to join his company among the ranks of great historians.


This time, though, something happened. Perhaps it was the presence of all the great nobles of the realm including the Duke himself, perhaps the flawless execution of the ceremonial by the monks of the monastery, perhaps the enthusiasm of the crowds treated to a giant feast of meat and wine, perhaps it was count William of Angoulöme's preference for St. Andrew the apostle over St. Eparchius, Ademar's patron confessor, perhaps it was all this and more. In any case, Ademar saw the light.


Martial was God's chosen channel for the salvation of Aquitaine on earth as in heaven. Counts and dukes, kings and popes, as pious and just as they might be, were only future cadavers; but Martial reigned with Peter at Christ's side in heaven, and he alone could promise the kind of intercession that the people of Aquitaine needed. In fact, Ademar's conversion to Martial's cult came with a specific revelation: since Martial had accompanied Jesus, had been present at the Last Supper, had wit- nessed the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentacost, he was an apostle. And clearly, given his present authority and popu- larity, he deserved an apostolic liturgy.


The idea was as dangerous as it was attractive: for all the fantastic possibilities it opened up -- new liturgies, more resplendent ceremonies, another delation of the relics, vast new claims of authority over the religious life of Aquitaine, it would surely draw still more criticism upon the abbey, drawing attention to the weak documentation upon which they laid their claims. But here Ademar had much to offer. Not only could he help with the work involved in creating an apostolic liturgy, but his historical and hagiographical talents could provide the kind of documentation the monks needed: a new Vita that could make the apostolic claims more compelling, a careful campaign of erasure and rewriting to place Martial in his proper place in the liturgies and give him his due in hagiographies, the arguments necessary to convince the erudite opposition he had once been a part of, a new redaction of his history that gave Martial the prominence he deserved in the developments of the day.


Ademar's eloquent insistence carried the day. For the next nine months the monks of St. Martial worked constantly to produce the apostolic liturgy in sufficient copies for its inauguration on the 3rd of August, 1029, the day of the dedication of the episcopal Church of St. Stephen. Ademar did not return to Angoulöme, but now joined Martial's scriptorium as a resident historian, hagiographer, and liturgist. He recorded events in the great volume of Easter tables; he prepared a new and still greater version of his history while writing a Gesta of Martial's abbots; he composed, copied and annotated liturgical texts in honor of the apostle Martial. And in addition to these literate tasks, he, the outsider won over from skepticism to the mysterious truths of faith, debated with the erudite opposition, clerics who with ridicule and incredulity presumed to reject the claims of the Aurelian Vita sancti Martialis.


By the end of July the parties began to arrive: the pilgrims eager for further expressions of their patron's authority, the clerics summoned to the synod that would prepare for the day, the lords, abbots and bishops from surrounding regions invited to participate, among whom Ademar's monastic brethren from Angoulöme and his earthly parents from north of Limoges, and many others of all ages and both sexes drawn to the latest exciting episode in the career of St. Martial. A diocesan synod meeting three days before had established the canonicity of the Vita Prolixior, for- bidding further criticism, and handed out handsomely produced copies of the correct, apostolic liturgy to the participating religious communities.


Everything was set: the crowds, the authorities, the ceremony, the new liturgy. At dawn of the 3rd Ademar sat meditating upon the relics in their ornate chasse, anticipating the procession that would bring Martial to the altar of the Cathedral for the inaugural mass, and back to the monastery in triumph: the third delation in living memory. How far he had come from that day of disappointment when all his ceremonies and writings had failed to win him the abbacy of his monastery in Angoulöme! How small his fellow monks, even his abbot seemed amidst the dignitaries present.


The shouts of Stephan and Daniel, his brethren from the scriptorium, shattered these reveries. In the chapter room of the canons, someone was loudly denouncing the monks of St. Mar- tial, accusing them of arrogance and greed, of ridiculous intellectual pretension, of blasphemous lies sure to bring down God's wrath on them and all Aquitaine. No one could silence this prior of the famous monastery from Chiusa named Benedict, and none could withstand his attacks. He demanded documentary evi- dence proving Martial's monks claims that their cult dated back to the origins of Christianity. Did Ademar have anything that could satisfy this foe? He was calling for a public burning of all the missals that the scriptorium had produced and Odolric had just distributed! Quickly, if not, all is lost!


Ademar hastened to the site in time to hear Benedict shower- ing contempt on the rustic Latin and stammering responses of his adversaries, mocking their credulous, typically parochial, pretensions. And though Ademar tried his gambits, all of them based on the antiquity of the Vita Prolixior, Benedict scorned the fable; unlike the cathedral canons for whom he spoke, he felt no reluctance to challenge the findings of the diocesan synod. He called the Aurelian Legend a load of manure, and compared per- forming the new liturgy to dumping dung on the altars. And worst of all, he shouted his arguments in a crude vernacular that even the crowd could understand, causing consternation everywhere. He demanded proofs: "Bring on the books!" Ademar temporized, promising to show them after the mass, after the events of the day about to begin.


Things went badly. Not only were the canons triumphantly contemptuous of the apostolicity, the crowds showed distress. That Lombard, with his vulgar barbarisms, had laid a dire curse on the entire people of Aquitaine. "Within five years a great scandal will break out in Limoges and all Aquitaine will suffer a terrible persecution because this liturgy is unacceptable to God." That was all an already anxious crowd had to hear: even the most fervent believer could no longer stifle the mounting criticisms of the apostolic claims. Some ecclesiastics rejected it as a novelty invented by ambitious and arrogant monks who sought to manipulate the populace to their profit, while some particularly devout laymen rejected relic cults altogether, call- ing them idolatrous, and had been pointing to the claim of apostolicity as a perfect example of this spiritual victim- ization. The monks were losing the crowd. The monks preformed their apostolic mass; but the resounding popular response upon which they had predicated their daring attempt did not materialize.


A second encounter took place later that evening in the scriptorium of the monastery, Ademar's turf, where they could examine the documents. His parents were waiting to see him in what should have been his moment of triumph. He entered locked in debate with the Lombard. Aimericus, a monk of the house, brought forth an old codex containing the Aurelian legend. But this, Benedict retorted, was merely the invention of the monks after the older and truer life of St. Martial had perished in the fire some seventy years ago. In that one none of this nonsense was to be found. The newer one, as usual was the false, the older, the true.


"Not so!" shouted Ademar passionately. The new can be true and the old false. Anyway the Aurelian was the original life, lost in the forgetfulness of generations, replaced with this "older" false life. He brought out more proofs: a very old liturgical book that referred to Martial the apostle, Ademar's very best forgeries. The deception was good, and made Benedict hesitate; but this master of debate had no need of a closer inspection. He already had Ademar regretting his foolish outburst on new truths. Benedict drove home the point: such ravings suggested worse than arrogance and forgery, they smelled of heresy.


Ademar was stung. How often he had used that ploy, and now in his most dire moment, he was its victim. No! On the con- trary, the fact that Limoges had been free of heresy from the time of Martial right to the presence was a proof of their mis- sionary's apostolicity. This city alone had escaped the devia- tions so characteristic of the day. Only a true apostolic teach- ing could have such efficacy. Ademar began to rave on, accusing the Lombard of every heresy his erudite mind could recall from Augustine's list. He would not let his enemy speak, he shouted him down. Benedict left laughing.


Only one monk, Gauzbert, remained true to the cause. The others -- even his closest allies Daniel, Stephen, Aimericus -- fell before the attack. The defeat was total: while not everyone on the outside knew the gory details, the bishop was furious, the monks humiliated. Some of the populace were dismayed; others openly mocked the churchmen and their pretensions.


Early the next morning Ademar returned to Angoulöme in the company of his abbot, his fellow monks, his bishop. The homecom- ing was a calvary of anguish, where wave upon wave of bitter shame broke over his spirit. Ademar, faced with the prospect of humiliation before those very brethren he had so hastily abandoned the year before, could not bear to lose face, and pretended it all had been a great success. His denial was so insistent, his abbot thought it best to humor him, allowing him to say his apostolic mass -- Ademar was after all a priest -- before sending him back to the scriptorium to do copy work.


But Benedict of Chiusa and his companion Bernard, the doctor from Ravenna, did not disappear. On the contrary, they dined out on the affair for the rest of the summer, moving from religious house to religious house, regaling the monks and clerics with the tale of their victory, turning Ademar and all Limoges into the laughing stock of Aquitaine. In one of these places, a monastery at Buxeria on the border between Angoulöme and Limoges, Benedict told his story to an audience swelled by the celebration of the octave of the Virgin's birth, the second week in September. Among them were two monks from St. Eparchius who had only heard Ademar's version. They objected, "But we thought Ademar was a fine grammarian, and that he had held his own." "Hah," retorted Benedict, "he ran away from me then, and he wouldn't dare look me in the face again."


When the monks returned to St. Eparchius with this tale, Ademar exploded in anger, invoking prophetic dreams and denounc- ing these footloose monks, out without permission. But the damage had been done. Just as more than one religious house gloated over Martial's abbey's fall, so Ademar's brethren, resentful at his inconstance and self-importance, seized the occasion to humiliate him relentlessly. Isolated in a hostile and close community which specialized in the wars of envy, suf- fering the arrows of humiliation at the hands of those who knew him best, Ademar thought only of Limoges, of somehow retrieving himself, of escaping this hellish "nest of scorpions." The reports from Buxeria left him no choice; he had to defend him- self. And so, once again, he took up the pen and began to write -- an apology, a defense of his actions at Limoges, a last desperate call to anyone to restore him to favor... "To Bishop Jordan of Limoges, to abbot Odalric of St. Martial, to other prominent ecclesiastics of Limoges, to Arnald bishop of R...., and to Theodoric bishop of Metz, to the dowager empress Cunigunda and her son the emperor Conrad, to the duke of Aquitaine, to the pope..."


The letter was magnificent, if a bit long. It went on more than a full gathering of double-columned parchment, written in small but elegant letters, moving with rhetorical science and rhyming prose from a lively description of events replete with flashbacks and forwards, to a full panoply of arguments in favor of Martial's apostolicity. Everything from the most utilitarian appeal to the most ardent vision filled the pages with Ademar's passion. He even submitted himself to divine judgment, calling on God to strike him dead in the very moment that he was writing if He did not want Martial called an apostle... No text could claim such daring and immediacy as this one. Ademar had put his talents to fullest use.


It didn't work. His abbot, willing to allow him leeway within the monastery, forbade him to send the letter, and sent him back to the scriptorium with penitential copywork. Ademar's isolation and powerlessness had reached the outer limits. He had no choice but to repent his sins, and Lord knew how many they were -- garrulity, ambition, disloyalty, dishonesty, forgery, pride... A less determined, or more humble monk than Ademar would have given in, would have confessed his sin, wept over the penitential psalms as he sang with his brethren, begged his monastery and his patron saint for forgiveness. An unyielding but less talented monk might have run away, or, his abbot permit- ting, gone on a long pilgrimage.


But Ademar still had access to the world where he remained the most accomplished man in Aquitaine, the world of the scriptorium, of parchment, of text. And retreating from his inter- personal impotence to a world he controlled better than anyone else, Ademar conceived, and embarked upon a fantastic program of forgery and fictional history that would make everything right and true. Because things had actually happened as they should: the apostolicity had been joyfully received; the doubts raised by Benedict had been answered by two great Peace Councils in 1031 where a certain monk from Angoulême had carried the day for Martial with his exceptional eloquence. Eventually the pope con- firmed their position, and condemned all who would raise further objections.


Ademar started to create the documentary world where all this happened with a collection of sermons preached at Limoges on various occasions commemorating the local saints, all elaborating the themes of the Vita Aureliani, many giving ample details of the councils of 1031. The turning point came when he made the key forgery, the most dangerous and the most necessary one: the papal letter. After that the whole corpus fell into place: more sermons, interpolations in texts from past ecclesiastical authorities confirming the Aurelian legend: Isidore, Theodulf, Clement of Rome.


But to what avail? No one would believe this nonsense. On the contrary they would laugh at it or even denounce it. Indeed. And so Ademar gave up trying to win them over. He sought to have the last laugh, the one from beyond the grave; and he did so by turning his historical sense on the future. This corpus was not meant for contemporaries. It was for a future generation, when the memory of current events would have faded as had those of past generations, memories Ademar had effortlessly manipulated when he composed his history about the days of the emperor Char- lemagne. And for these later generations, all the documentation, all the proofs he lacked that fatal August 3rd, would be there. Whatever one could accuse him of, Ademar was not disloyal to his new patron, Martialis apostolus.


Over three years of feverish activity later, Ademar bundled up this work, in fact his entire life's work, even his youthful copywork, and took it with him to Limoges. With this extremely valuable library, including the longest and most revealing con- temporary material, much of it on Limoges and her great monastery, he allayed the monks' anger with him for making them a laughing stock of Aquitaine. He also gave Gauzbert a secret pile of material to hide away, including a set of Easter Tables for the years 1065-1596, something no one would need for another gen- eration. But at the back of the tables, Ademar had placed the forged letter from the Pope. By the time someone consulted them, his document would have survived most every living adult. By then, all the present leaders of society, lay and clerical would be dead, and another generation could decide whether to try again.


And then Ademar, having done his best by Martial, turned to the care of his own soul. He set out for Jerusalem with the great throng of pilgrims who wanted to usher in the millennium of the Passion at the site Christ would most likely return, the Mount of Olives. And like a number of those pilgrims, he left with no intention of returning; quite the contrary, he yearned to pass away in the holy city, the Vision of Peace where Martial had first received his apostolic mission. And so he did, the follow- ing year, at the age of 45.


Scripta Manent: From Living Failure to Posthumous Victory


As Ademar had anticipated in composing his texts, in time the monastery of Saint-Martial found his final donation quite useful. Less than a generation later, after both the presiding abbot (Odolric +1040) and bishop (Jordan +1051) had passed away, the monks of Saint-Martial again tried to launch the apostolicity.2 Now they posthumously adopted their comrade from Saint-Cybard, calling him Ademarus venerabilis... bonae memoriae... monachus sancti Martialis."3 Resurrecting Ademar's manuscripts, they copied his forged papal missive and his invented conciliar canons into the monastery's great Bible;4 and they systematically replaced confessor with apostolus wherever they found Martial's name in the manuscripts of the scriptorium. But it was too soon. The viscount of Limoges, an adolescent when the initial debacle had occurred in 1029, called in the Cluniacs to take over the proud and independent monastery (1062).5 These outsiders ini- tially showed little enthusiasm for the apostolic cult and con- spicuously avoided any use of the title apostolus for Martial.6 But sometime around the turn of the century the monks success- fully reintroduced the apostolic cult, making full use of the forgeries Ademar had provided. From that point on, the monastery prospered along with Limoges, where the apostolicity of Martial "prevailed as law until the nineteenth century."7


Even in its years of triumph, the apostolic cult had its opponents: In the later twelfth century the author of the Iter sancti Iacobi recommended a visit to the only-recently important relics of Saint-Leonard of Noblat near Limoges, but made no men- tion of Saint-Martial, an oversight somewhat akin to urging the tourist in Paris to visit the Centre Pompidou without mentioning Notre Dame just down the road.8 The Protestants, of course, attacked the cult with unabashed vigor, and by the seventeenth century, the abbey was in decline.9 To make ends meet, the abbots began to sell their magnificent collection of manuscripts, including some of Ademar's finest codices;10 but the vast major- ity of his collected works went to king Louis XV in the massive sale of 1730.11 And there in Paris at the Royal, then National, Library, they have remained, complemented by single manuscripts in Berlin, Leiden, and a fragment in Rome.


From these libraries, Ademar work entered into the mainstream of historiographical activity as genuine, rather than forged, texts: the manuscripts were described and partially edited; key forgeries appeared under the names of those persons to whom Ademar had originally attributed them; and the tale of the apostolic controversy was told as Ademar would have wished. Even those who most adamantly rejected Martial's apostolicity-- Protestants, later Catholic modernists--never thought to question Ademar's depiction of a credulous populace and manipulative ecclesiastical hierarchy embracing this pious invention.12


Only in the late 1920s did an outsider to medieval history reread Ademar's work and detect the full range of deception at work. In a brilliant piece of detective work, Louis Saltet tore aside the veil of illusion Ademar had so deftly woven around his humiliation. Invoking recent work on pathological liars, Saltet traced in arresting colors the disturbed yet cunning mental con- dition of this "mythomaniac."13 Reality, it seemed, had been the exact opposite of the message which the rich dossier of texts had transmitted. This apparently classic exemplum of medieval piety-- labelled either quaint or credulous by historians of various Christian loyalties--turned out to have been a far more complex and shocking tale. And the new version not only overturned the prevailing view of Ademar as an earnest and pious man, but challenged many assumptions about the religious sentiments of the day. It was time for a new history of Aquitaine in this period.


But the new history had to wait. Although published in a well-known journal--the Bulletin de litterature ecclesiastique-- and mentioned in some prominent publications, Saltet's work failed to alter the historiographical treatment of Ademar and his work for yet another generation. Indeed, for the next fifty years, out of twenty-six publications that dealt solely or in large part with Ademar of Chabannes, only five even mentioned Saltet. Two rejected his analysis summarily, while one buried it in an ancillary bibliography.14 Two studies on music and liturgy integrated it into their analysis of key manuscripts but without attracting the attention of historians.15 Given this extraordinary neglect, it is no surprise that studies of both Ademar and his Aquitaine continued to reconstruct the period without mention of the evidential problems.
Indeed, even in the last twenty years, despite the broad acceptance of Saltet's theories among the small group of scholars who work directly on Ademar, most medievalists have either remained unaware of the situation or have tended to minimize its significance.16 Still more strikingly, even historians who acknowledge Saltet's argument find it difficult to absorb the implications of it; they reconstructed events as if he had never written. Writes one historian immediately after citing Saltet approvingly: "The dispute [on the Apostolicity] provoked heated discussions at the councils of Bourges and Limoges in 1031 and continued to be ventilated thereafter."17 This is exactly what did not happen.


To some extent, whether he anticipated this response or not, Saltet had, in reflecting on the persistant misreading of Ademar before his time, offered an insight into the problems of inter- preting such a dossier:


To see this [Ademar's loss and forgery] clearly, one has to "read" these texts. But we do not take the trouble to read this kind of text, nor, frankly, the trouble to have them read. And that is how a most revealing note is missing from the concert of the legend, so that even connoisseurs, if not alerted, get lost. How could it be otherwise. As legend is sentimental inflation, it prepossesses. By an illusion that is only natural, one thinks it not only a reflection of the truth, but of the right attitude [bon esprit]. And thus the Ademars win!18


Apparently they continue to win even after being exposed. It is less, I think, a problem of evidence as it is of imagination. Saltet's Ademar lives and moves in a different one from that we have imagined for these credulous days when European culture was still so young and immature. Ademar's tale, then, is not a small piece of the puzzle which, with a few modifications, can fit the pattern. Rather, he represents a potentially crucial anomaly, that small discordant detail which signals the presence of an entirely different pattern which we have yet to imagine. He is a piece to a different puzzle; and like the scientific revolutions triggered by such anomalies, understanding Ademar may mean shift- ing our imaginative paradigm about the nature of Aquitanian society at the turn of the millennium.


All of this raises large questions, of import to all medievalists, indeed all historians of societies in which literacy is the near-monopoly of a small, self-defining group, and hence history is their history.19 How often do the documents, as do these, present us with a distortion of the actual situation? Admittedly, Ademar's case is exceptional. He stands out even among medieval forgers, since much of his work is aimed at achieving personal vindication rather than communitarian goals.20 His forgeries and fictions thereby have an unusually systematic quality to them; and the survival of his autograph corpus has few parallels until the Early Modern period.21 Ademar's documentation thus presents us with a doubled distortion: it represents the manipulations of an individual within the small group that con- trolled the production and preservation of the written record. The resulting radical inversion in the depiction of events might give us pause. How often did this happen?22 How often did less stark cases occur? What can modern historians do to correct for such possibilities? Finally, how do we deal with these cases once we have identified them?

Notes


1. This text is a narrative reconstruction of the extensive study of the documents that I published recently: all support for this will be found therein: Relics, Apocalypse, and the Deceits of History: Ademar of Chabannes, 989-1034 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).
2. See Epilogue: On Timing, Editing, and Forgery," ibid., pp. 328-32.
3. The epithet venerabilis appears in the rubric to a selection and revision of some of his sermons on St. Martial done in the 1060s (BN.lat. 3785, ff.182r-193r; see Daniel Callahan, "The Sermons of Ademar of Chabannes and the Cult of St. Martial of Limoges," Revue benedictine, 86:3-4 (1976), p.265); the other two remarks appear in an obituary added to one of Ademar's own manuscripts in the 1050s (Leiden, Voss. 8o 15, f.141v, see below).
4. BN.lat. 5 II, f.130.
5. Geoffrey of Vigeois, Chronicon, 16, ed. Labbé, Nova bibliotheca manuscriptorum,
II, p.287f; Charles de Lasteyrie, L'abbaye de saint-Martial de Limoges (Paris, Picard, 1901) pp.83-86; Andreas Sohn, Der Abbatiat Ademars von Saint-Martial de Limoges (1063-1114): ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des cluniacensischen Klosterverbandes (Beitrage zur Geschichte des Alten Mönchtums und des Benediktinertums, 37; Munster, 1989) pp.46-78.
6. See, for example, their martyrology, done in the 1070s, in which they left blank spaces before Martial's name rather than give him the title used in the texts they were copying: BN.lat. 5272, ff.19, 37v.. See A. Sohn, Abbatiat Ademars, pp.142-150.
7. Henri Leclerqc, "Limoges", article in Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (ed. Cabrol and Leclercq) v.IX:1 (1930), col. 1153; Sohn, Abbatiat Ademars, pp. 286-287.
8. See R. Landes, "The absence of St. Martial of Limoges from the Pilgrim's Guide: A Note Based on Work in Progress," in The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James, ed. John Williams (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1991), pp. 227-33.
9. The Protestant attack eventually provoked a spirited three volume defense by Bonaventure de Saint-Amable, Histoire de Saint Martial (Limoges, 1676-83).
10. Presumably this is when the two of the most important manuscripts became separated from the collection: Leiden, Universiteitsbibliothek, Voss. 8o 15 and Deutsche Stadtsbibliothek, Phillips 1664.
11. See Leopold Delisle "Les manuscrits de Saint-Martial de Limoges: réimpression textuelle du catalogue de 1730," Bulletin de la Sociéte Archéologique et Historique du Limousin, 38 (1895) pp. 1-64.
12. Louis Duchesne published the key text ("St. Martial de Limoges," Annales du Midi, 4 (1892), pp. 298-330) as part of a long debate with the nineteenth century avatar of Bonaventure, the canon Arbellot (for bibliography, see Michel Aubrun, L'ancien diocèse Limoges des origines au milieu du XIe siècle, (Clermont-Ferrand, Institut d'Etudes du Massif Central, 1981, fasc. 21), pp. 55-8.
13. See the series of articles by Louis Saltet in the Bulletin de la société écclésiastique from 1925-1931.
14. See Leclercq, "Limoges," cols. 1143-1153. Leclercq, who published his remarks in 1930, came in for severe criticism in Saltet's final argument: "Un cas de mythomanie," (1931) pp. 163-165.
15. Paul Hooreman, "Saint-Martial de Limoges au temps de l'abbé Odolric (1025-1040)," Revue belge de musicologie, 3 (1949):5-36; J.B. Porter, "Rites for the Dying in the Early Middle Ages, I: St. Theodulf of Orleans," Journal of Theological Studies, ser. 2, 10 (1959): 43-62.
16. See Landes, Relics, Appendix 6, "Saltet in subsequent historiography." Note that K.F. Werner's entry in the Lexikon des Mittelalters (vol. 1 cols. 148-149) does not mention Saltet in the bibliography.
17. Steven Sargent, "Religious Responses to Social Violence in Eleventh Century Aquitaine," Historical Reflections, 12 (1985), pp. 230-231 and n.46. Similar dichotomy in the work of Michel Aubrun, Le diocèse de Limoges, pp. 74-77 and 202-17.
18. Saltet, "Une discussion," p. 289.
19. See Jack Goody, The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 1-44; Ernst Gellner, Plough, Sword and Book (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 70- 84.
20. "The most characteristic types of medieval forgery... have in common that they were of no personal advantage to the forger..." Giles Constable, "Forgery and Plagiarism in the Middle Ages," Archiv für Diplomatik 29 (1983), p. 7.
21. For the best survey of autograph corpora in this period, see Monique-Cécile Garand, "Auteurs latins et autographes des XIe et XIIe siècles," Scrittura et civilta, 5 (1981), pp.77-104.
22 For a striking example of massive and systematic forgery, see the career of Edmund Backhouse: Trevor-Roper, The Hermit of Peking. My thanks to Paul Meyvaert for the reference.

 

Return to Richard Landes' Home Page

Return to the People of the CMS Page