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Le petit peuple dans l’Occident médiéval

 | 
Pierre Boglioni
, 
Robert Delort
, 
Claude Gauvard

Troisième partie. Culture du petit peuple. Systèmes, conduites, valeurs

Popular Religion in Early Medieval Pastoral Literature

Bernadette Filotas

Texte intégral

  • 1 See P. Boglioni, «Pour l’étude de la religion populaire au Moyen Âge: le problème des sources», in (...)

1Pastoral literature, whether normative (the decisions of church councils and synods, penitentials, and secular laws dealing with religious matters), hortatory (sermons) or topical (e.g., pastoral letters and tracts) is one of the major sources, possibly the most important, for the study of medieval popular religion1. For the period between the sixth and eleventh centuries, its importance is even greater than for the rest of the middle ages since it is the only form of early medieval document to confront directly, if seldom, the actual beliefs and religious practices of common people. The purpose of this paper is to examine this source for the kind of information it yields about religious ideas and practices of the «petit peuple», that is, the lower orders of society, the urban and especially the rural poor. Here, the word «religion» is used loosely, to mean both actions or rites that imply beliefs in supernatural forces and also the traditional practices labelled sacrilegious or pagan in the literature, words which suggest that contemporary churchmen considered them to have an important religious component.

2Pastoral literature has four main drawbacks as a source for popular religion. The first three are general:

  • 2 C. Declercq ed., Concilia Galliae A. 511-A. 695, CCSL 148A (Turnhout, 1973).
  • 3 The religious element in some of these is debatable. Was the claim to the right of sanctuary, made (...)

3In the first place, a survey of the literature results in isolated scraps of data which cannot be organized to give a coherent picture of popular religion. The texts, drawn from a period of over five centuries and an area taking in most of Western Europe, have relatively relatively little to say about lay culture in general. Their focus was primarily on theological and ecclesiastical questions: articles of faith, sacraments, Church organization, clerical discipline, charitable institutions. The laity as a whole was a lesser consideration. The Gallican Councils may serve as an example2. Between 511 and 695, they enacted over 550 canons. Only about sixty of these, approximately eleven percent, refer to practices that may be interpreted as reflecting the religious attitudes of the laity3. Some of these concerned only proprietors and the educated, not the most disadvantaged groups. The poor were not in a position to make gifts of land to the Church, for example, nor to insist on having their dead buried within the precincts of the church, nor to engage in heretical disputations; the lay religiosity reflected in such canons is primarily that of the well-to-do. Many of the canons dealing specifically with popular culture, that is, the customs of the subordinate classes, concerned traditional, so-called pagan, customs and rituals which clerical authors were seldom interested in observing or describing accurately.

  • 4 Die altgermanische Religion in der amtlichen kirchlichen Literatur des Abendlandes vom 5. bis 11. (...)
  • 5 Caesarius of Arles’ direct influence is clear in frequently repeated injunctions against making vo (...)
  • 6 A. Gurevich, Medieval Popular Culture: Problems of Belief and Perception, trans. J.M. Bak and P.A.(...)
  • 7 Rudi Kiinzel has suggested criteria to be used to identify descriptions based on actual observatio (...)

4Secondly, pastoral literature is highly repetitive. Wilhelm Boudriot and Dieter Harmening have shown that, on the subject of paganism and superstition, the authors copied from earlier texts, particularly from the sermons of Caesarius of Arles (c. 502-542) to the extent that the texts often prove nothing more than the persistence of literary tradition and give little credible information about popular customs at the time and in the places where they were written4. This assessment may be overly pessimistic. The testimony of busy administrators and conscientious pastors must be taken seriously, even if with reservations, especially since they did not invariably copy previous material wholesale, but selectively5. Aron Gurevich observed of penitentials, the most repetitive of pastoral texts, that they «were practical guides and not exercises of abstract learning devoid of any connection with the time when they were composed». Like Jean-Claude Schmitt, Gurevich saw in the repetitions proof of «the stability of the vital phenomena» described in the literature6. Nonetheless, it remains true that only passages capable of being authenticated independently can be accepted with confidence as describing contemporary popular culture, and there are relatively few of these7.

  • 8 Et licet hinc gaudeamus, fratres carissimi, quia vos ad ecclesiam videmus fideliter currere, contr (...)
  • 9 E.g., Sunt quidam, et maximae, mulieres, qui festis ac sacris diebus atque sanctorum nataliciis no (...)
  • 10 Conc. Romanum (745) 6, MGH Concilia 2.1, 39.
  • 11 Ep. 78 (747), MGH Epistolae Selectae 1 (M. Tangl ed., Berlin, 1926), 169.

5Thirdly, pastoral literature is, in general, one-sided. Passages concerning popular religion deal almost entirely with forbidden beliefs or practices (remnants of pagan cults, superstitions, magico-religious techniques) and with perceived abuses of Christian sacramentals and holy places (chrism, baptism, the Eucharist, church premises), and all but ignore forms of piety acceptable to the religious and secular authorities. References to popular Christianity are incidental. We know that church services were well-attended in sixth century Arles, because Caesarius of Arles expressed his satisfaction at the numbers of people attending mass, while grieving that some of his flock were even more assiduous in the practice of idolatry8. We also know that saints’ feasts and the anniversaries of church dedications provided occasions for genuinely popular celebrations, because synods and sermons complained repeatedly about the behaviour (indecent singing and dancing) of those attending the vigils9. We happen to know about pilgrim ages to Rome because the heretic Aldebert was charged with discouraging people from making the trip to the limina of the apostles10. We know that many eighth century Englishwomen in particular were fond of going to Rome, because St. Boniface begged Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury to restrain nuns and matrons from such pilgrimages, since the majority lost either their lives or their chastity on the way Lombard, Frankish and Gaulish towns were filled with English adultresses and prostitutes, he wrote11. But there is very little about the other devotions sanctioned by the Church, the prayers and cult of saints, relics and miracles that other sources indicate were also popular.

6The fourth drawback is a limitation on the usefulness of this kind of document for the study of the religion of any specific social class. In this context, explicit references to different layers of society are rare and often tend to obscure religious differences between the customs of rich and poor, great and small, clerical and lay. The old practices and beliefs may have lingered the longest in the villages and among the labourers and poor, but the texts make clear that significant numbers of nobles and landowners, even clerics, at least tolerated and often even shared some of the reprobated customs and beliefs of their people.

  • 12 De incantatoribus uel eis, qui instinctu diabuli cornua praecantare dicuntur, si superioresforte p (...)
  • 13 Conc. Toletanum XVI, 2, Concilios Visigoticos e hispano-romanos (J. Vives ed., Barcelona, 1963), 4 (...)
  • 14 In his regionibus pene omnes homines, nobiles et ignobiles, urbani et rustici, senes et iuvenes, p (...)

7In Frankish territory, for instance, the mid sixth century synod of Eauze (Dept. of Midi-Pyrénées) condemned the practice of putting spells on horns. Persons of higher rank were to be excommunicated, those of humbler rank or slaves were to be whipped. Childebert’s edict of 554 shows that it was not only slaves but also freemen and persons of even more honourable status who passed the vigils of feasts in drunkenness, obscenity and song, and whose women celebrated Sunday by dancing through the settlements12. Beyond the Pyrénées, the Council of Toledo of 693 ordered bishops and civil officials to take action against idolaters and the worshippers of stones, trees and wells «whatever their origin or rank» (cuiuscumque sint generis aut conditionis)13. In the early ninth century, Agobard of Lyons stated that «practically everyone, nobles and commoners, city folk and peasants, old and young» believed that storms were raised by weather magicians14.

  • 15 Et [...] hanc cartam generaliter per omnia loca decrevimus emittendam, praecipientes ut quicumque (...)
  • 16 Conc. Toletanum XII, 11, Vives, 98-99.

8In early Merovingian Gaul and in Visigothic Spain, nobles were reluctant to enforce the laws against idolatry. Childebert’s edict called proprietors to account for failing to destroy the idols in their fields or for preventing priests from doing so15. The Council of Toledo of 681 deprived masters of their rights over slaves whom they did not restrain from idolatry and it subjected them to excommunication. It also excommunicated and exiled freeborn persons who were implicated in idolatrous behaviour16. If such laws were necessary, it may have been merely because masters were indifferent to their peasants’ spiritual welfare and unwilling to risk trouble by destroying idols dear to them. But it is also possible that the landowners themselves were afraid that destroying the idols would affect the fertility of the fields and therefore their own well-being.

  • 17 Et aliquotiens ligaturas ipsas a clericis ac religiosis accipiunt; sed illi non sunt religiosi vel (...)
  • 18 Ac ne id fortasse uideatur omissum quod maximefidem / catholicae religionis infestat, quod aliquan (...)
  • 19 Si episcopus quis aut presbyter sive diaconus vel quilibet ex ordine clericorum magos aut aruspice (...)
  • 20 Nolite exercere quando luna obscuratur, ut clamoribus suis ac maleficiis sacrilego usu se defensar (...)
  • 21 Si quis clericus maleficus vel si qua mulier malefica, si aliquem maleficio suo deciperat, inmane (...)
  • 22 «“Contra Paganos”-“Gegen die vom Dorfe”? Zum theologischen Hintergrund ethnologischer Begriffe», J (...)

9When it comes to magical practices, the involvement of the clergy is proved by a host of texts. Caesarius of Arles preached against amulets containing relics or sacred texts made by clerics or religious17. According to the Council of Agde (506) clerics consulted the sortes sanctorum for themselves and taught their use to others. The Council ordered excommunication for priests and clerics who were magicians and enchanters and made amulets. The Canons of Martin of Braga (572) did the same for the clerics who were enchanters and made magic knots18. The Council of Toledo of 633 ordered the deposing and incarceration of any bishop, priest, deacon or cleric who consulted soothsayers19. In the penitential attributed to Bede, five years of penance were recommended for clerics who practiced magical rites during lunar eclipses, consulted magicians, used various kinds of amulets, or honoured Thursday or the Calends of January «for a pagan motive»20. Penitentials emphasized the role of clerics as magicians, particularly in destroying or seducing people by sorcery21. In fact, Dieter Harmening has argued that penitenials as a whole are a source not for peasant but for clerical magic22.

  • 23 Gregory of Tours, Gloria Martyrum 84, 95, MGH ScrRerMerov, 1 [B. Krusch ed.], 545; Guibert of Noge (...)

10When such precise information is not available in pastoral texts, often a reference to other sources will show that the elite shared in magical beliefs and indulged in magical practices. For instance, Gregory of Tours tells of two great nobles, one a Breton and the other a Lombard, who bathed their aching feet in altar vessels. The very noble and pious parents of Guibert of Nogent turned to a cunning-woman (anus quaedam) to have a spell of impotence undone. Hincmar of Reims appears to have believed whole-heartedly in the efficacy of love magic23.

  • 24 G. Morin ed., Sancti Caesarii Arelatensis sermones, CCSL 103 and 104 (Turnhout, 1953).
  • 25 PL 110, 814-826.
  • 26 Homilia de sacrilegiis, C.P. Caspari ed. (Christiania, 1886). See also the sermon attributed to St (...)

11Despite these drawbacks, pastoral literature does contain indices which allow us to attribute certain practices to different social groups, including the most disadvantaged. Legal texts (acts of councils and synods, capitularies) recorded efforts to suppress the public manifestations of traditional religious concepts, especially in the rituals of the countryside. Penitentials focussed on private behaviour. Since a guiding principle of these was the adjustment of the penalty to the individual penitent, variations in suggested penances imply lower responsibility and therefore lower status. Among the most valuable sources for popular religion are a handful of sermons which were intended for the laity or concerned their behaviour: some of Caesarius of Arles’24, Martin of Braga’s De correctione rusticorum, some of the homilies of Rabanus Maurus25, and a few anonymous sermons. The richest of these is the Homilia de sacrilegiis, probably composed in the northern part of Frankish territory by a Frankish cleric around the second half of the 8th century26. Several of its paragraphs deal in a highly concrete fashion with the activities of peasants. It may be assumed, therefore, that the author intended the homily for rural audience, and that he considered that all the practices he described were familiar to them.

  • 27 Ammonete ergo familias vestras, ut infelicium paganorum sacrilegas consuetudines non observent (Se (...)
  • 28 [U]t si qui uiri ac mulieres diuinatores, quos dicunt esse caragios atque sorticularios, in quiusc (...)
  • 29 Qaecumque mancipia sub speciae coniugii ad ecclesiae septa confugerint, ut per hoc credant posse f (...)
  • 30 Si quis adfontes aut arbores vel lucos votumfecerit aut aliquit more gentilium obtulerit et ad hon (...)

12In some cases, the texts identified subordinate members of society by using unambiguous terms such as familia, mancipia, servus and ancilla, litus or ignobilis vulgus. Domestic servants in Christian households participated in the New Year’s revels of sixth century Arles and dabbled in magic that their Christians mistresses were ashamed to touch personally27. Freemen and slaves of both sexes acted as fortune-tellers and healers in the Visigothic state; their clientele included members of all ethnic groups28. Certain slaves in the diocese of Orleans appear to have believed that intercourse (turpis concubitus) within the premises of a church constituted marriage29. Saxons of all ranks, the semi-free as well as nobles and the freeborn, risked heavy fines to make their vows and eat sacrificial meals by springs and in groves. The «ignoble mob», according to Regino of Prüm, were accustomed to celebrate wakes with singing and uproarious laughter30.

  • 31 A. López Calvo, «La cataquesis en la Galicia medieval: Martin Dumiense y el De correctione rustico (...)
  • 32 Sunt aliqui rustici homines, qui credunt, quasi aliquas mulieres quod vulgum dicitur strias esse d (...)
  • 33 Conc. Romanum [745] 6, MGH Concilia, 2.1, 39.
  • 34 Sed dicit aliquis, ego homo rusticus sum, et terrenis operibus iugiter occupatus sum (Sermon 6.3, (...)

13Terms such as rusticus, vulgus, vulgares and plebs are less reliable indicators of social standing since they were applied both to common folk specifically and to the laity in general. Rusticus, for example, might mean simple-minded, unsophisticated or ignorant of the requirements of Christianity, rather than peasant. Martin of Braga’s De correctione rusticorum describes beliefs and practices, such as the belief that the year began on the Calends of January, or the custom of pouring food offerings on the hearth, which were by no means restricted to peasants31. An eighth century sermon accused rustici homines of believing in witches that harmed children and beasts, and in various kinds of water and wood spirits. These beliefs were generalized, and rustici here probably signifies «naive» rather than «peasant»32. St. Boniface claimed that many rustici believed that the heretic Aldebert was a saint and miracle-worker but, at the same time, he admitted that Aldebert was able to persuade «unlearned bishops» to ordain him bishop. Moreover, we have seen that Aldebert urged his followers not to make pilgrimages to Rome, a practice surely more common among the better off than among the poor33. Here too, rustici includes people of some wealth and standing. But when Caesarius of Arles complained of the many rustici and mulieres rusticanae knew «indecent diabolical love songs» by heart but could not learn to sing godly hymns, he made clear that in this case he had peasants in mind34.

  • 35 E.g., Ut plebem admoneat, ut in atrio ecclesie non content nec choros muliercule ducant (Capitula (...)
  • 36 Et quia carnales homines idiote, Alamanni vel Baioarii vel Franci, si iuxta Romanam urbem aliquidf (...)
  • 37 Decrevimus [...] hostias immolaticias, quas stulti homines iuxta aecclesias ritupagano faciunt sub (...)

14Patronizing and derogatory terms also may suggest that the texts concern members of a despised social group. Terms such as muliercula and meretricula were more likely to be applied to peasant women or servants than to women in a more prosperous situation. Thus the women who sang and danced in churches in tenth century Helmstadt, their Rhenish sisters who were tricked by the devil into thinking that they participated in Diana’s Ride, and the «little trollops» who promenaded around the Piedmontese countryside on the eve of St. John’s Day, dancing, singing and fortune-telling, probably can be ranked among the classes of the poor35. On the other hand, St. Boniface surely did not have only servants in mind when he complained of the scandal suffered by his carnal and «idiot» Bavarians, Alamanians and Franks when they were exposed to the public carryings-on of New Year’s celebrants in Rome. Many of the pilgrims must have been men of some substance36. Similarly, there is no guarantee that the Austrasian Council of 742 referred only to peasants when it tried to prevent stulti homines from offering pagan-style sacrifices around churches in the names of the martyrs and confessors37.

  • 38 Perscrutandum si aliquis subulcus vel bubulcus sive Venator, vel ceteri hujusmodi, dicat diabolica (...)

15In rare cases, the texts identified a group by an occupation limited to the lower classes. Men whose work took them away from the villages roused the concern of some churchmen. A mid seventh century council of Rouen drew attention to the custom of swineherds, cowherds and huntsmen of bewitching bread, herbs and knots, hiding them in trees or throwing them in crossroads to protect their own animals from disease or to inflict disease on the animals of others. Herdsmen and reapers who stayed in the fields and woods for prolonged periods lived «in the manner of beasts»; they were to be made, or permitted, to attend mass on Sundays and feastdays38.

  • 39 Et quia audivimus quod aliquos viros vel mulieres ita diabolus circumveniat, ut quinta feria nec v (...)

16The relevance of data to social class depends on the period and circumstances. The practice of honouring Jupiter on the fifth day of the week offers an instructive example. Caesarius of Arles was the first to mention it as a practice that had newly come to his attention. He denounced workers in and around Arles, especially women in the textile industry, for refusing to work on Thursday in honour of Jupiter39. New technology in weaving made its appearance in Gaul at approximately this time with the introduction of the horizontal loom with pedals, a machine already well known in Egypt, particularly Alexandria. Given the central position of Arles on trade routes between the Mediterranean world and the European hinterland and the traditional importance of its textile industry, it may be speculated that the observance of Thursday as holiday in honour of Jupiter (either the deity or the planet) was imported, together with the new loom, by foreign artisans. In this case it is clear that Caesarius was targeting a definite practice ascribed to women textile workers, and men working in some other, unspecified industry.

  • 40 E.g., Nulla mulier praesumat [...] in tela vel in tinctura sive quolibet opera Minervam / vel cete (...)
  • 41 30.3, Schmitz 2, 695.

17But the observance of Thursday is also found in about a dozen other documents, of Spanish, Frankish and English origin, from the sixth century to the eleventh. Some mentioned the refusal to work, others merely the honour paid the day «according to pagan custom». Textile workers are not cited again in this context, although pastors continued to be suspicious of women in this trade-texts from sixth century Galicia, early eighth century Gaul, and eleventh century Worms show a concern the magic they practiced during weaving, spinning or dyeing40. On the other hand, the Double Penitential of Bede-Egbert included clerics among those who kept the fifth day in honour of Jupiter as well as indulging in other forbidden customs41. The practice apparently had spread, and was no longer attributed only to workers.

18Direct evidence of this sort is rare, but information concerning the beliefs and practices of a few social groups can also be found in texts which deal with the rituals and magical practices associated with different kinds of activities, particularly agrarian work.

  • 42 [Q]uocumque te uerteris aut aras diaboliperspicis [...]pecudum capita adfixa liminibus (Maximus of (...)

19Here a distinction can be made between beliefs and practices. It is likely that the majority, rich or poor, clerical or lay, believed, for instance, in the influence of the stars and the moon on human affairs, in magicians who brought in storms or drove them away, or in the efficacy of amulets. But texts which deal with actual practices affecting farming, the fertility of the fields, the harvest and the care of animals reflect, in different regions and at different periods, the belief-system and customs of the peasants themselves. Sermons are valuable in highlighting local customs. They show, for example, fifth century peasants in the Po Valley placing animal heads around their fields, sixth century Galicians predicting the prosperity of the New Year from bread and rags placed into a box for mice and moths to eat, and peasants around early ninth century Salzburg hurrying to enchanters and fortune-tellers of both sexes, to sacred springs and woods, when misfortune struck them and their herds42.

  • 43 Et qui signa caeli et Stellas ad auratum inspicet, et qui boues, quando primum arare incipit, et c (...)
  • 44 Nullus praesumat [...] pecora per cavam arborem vel per terramforatum transire (Vita Eligii, MGH S (...)

20A particularly detailed picture of rural life in northern Gaul during the eighth century emerges from various sermons and legal texts. There peasants watched the stars for the propitious moment to begin ploughing or breeding their animals. They manured their fields, pruned vines, cut trees or fenced in their houses according to the phases of the moon. They used spells and charms to protect themselves and their animals, to prevent or heal snakebites, and to keep worms from their vegetables and fruit43. They drove their livestock through hollow trees and trenches dug in the ground, examined animal droppings for omens, ploughed magic furrows around the settlements, built «Needfires» and carried idols around their fields44.

  • 45 Ut cloccas non baptizent nec cartas per perticas appendantpropter grandinem (Duplex legationis edi (...)
  • 46 Corrector sive medicus 5.194, Schmitz 2, 452.

21Weather magic to protect crops from storms and drought must have been largely peasant magic. A Carolingian edict, for example, forbade baptizing bells or hanging notices on poles to avert hail (practices which probably required the help of the parish priest). Inscribed sheets of lead and enchanted horns used for the same purpose, and February rites to drive out winter, are found in the Homilia de sacrilegiis45. In the Rhineland at the beginning of the eleventh century, village women went out into the fields and the river banks to perform a rain-making ritual described in astonishing detail by Burchard of Worms46.

22Isolated texts of this sort are signs of country folk’s continued sense of direct connection with the natural world and their continued reliance on traditional sources and means to guarantee health, fertility and prosperity. This did not necessarily entail a rejection of the sacramentals of the Church, but rather their integration into traditional patterns of thought and behaviour.

  • 47 Iam vero illut quale vel quam turpe est, quod viri nati tunicis muliebribus vestiuntur, et turpiss (...)
  • 48 Nam Deus omnipotens ideo sidera constituit in coelis ut hominibus deservirent in terris [...] Hanc (...)
  • 49 Qui dies aspicet, quos pagani errantes soles, lunes, martes, mercures, ioues, ueneres, saturni nom (...)

23The literature presents the practices of other occupations only rarely. A few hints of military rituals are given. Caesarius of Arles claimed that soldiers masqueraded as women during New Year’s celebration. According to an eighth century Bavarian Council, lots were sometimes cast before single combat which created an opportunity for «spells, diabolical tricks or magic». There may be a suggestion of drinking rituals in a Carolingian capitulary which forbade members of the army to invite a comrade or anyone else to drink47. Eight or nine texts drawn from all over Western Europe between 600 and 1000 insist that workmen should not depend on the moon to decide when to build a house. These were not necessarily labourers only, since Atto of Vercelli noted in tenth century Piedmont that master-builders followed the counsels of astrologers48. The Homilia de sacrilegiis evoked the old notion that the day of the week determined when to travel and buy and sell, a point of interest to peasants and peddlers as well as merchants on a larger scale49. This is all. Pastoral literature gives no insight about the rituals or magical practices of other trades, such as fishermen, sailors, charcoal burners, miners, smiths.

  • 50 [C]astigate quoscomque tales cognoscitis, admonete durius, increpate severius; Et si non corrigunt (...)
  • 51 E.g., Mulier si aliquem interemerit malitia sua, id est, per poculum aut per artem aliquant, VIII (...)
  • 52 Cum autem gentilis cumburunt, hoc est ustulauerunt mortuos suos parentibus, nullus amicus, nemo ch (...)

24Other indications of status are found in the punishment imposed for offences or in details suggesting poverty. When Caesarius of Arles urged good Christians to reprimand those who were guilty of pagan practices, he might have had culprits of any social standing in mind. But when he went on to encourage his hearers to whip and cut off the hair of persistent idolaters, he envisioned inferiors (slaves or children) as the objects of such discipline50. In secular law also, the unfree were whipped, but nobles and freemen were fined or exiled for offences. Some penitentials accepted poverty as a mitigating factor in abortion, even when magical means were used51. The pagans who cremated their dead in northern Italy during the eighth or ninth century ranked among the poor, since they had to borrow carts from their Christian friends (well-to-do peasants, maybe even landowners) to transport the firewood necessary for the funeral pyres52.

  • 53 Fecisti quod quaedam mulieres facere soient etfirmiter credunt [...] ut si vicinus ejus lacte vel (...)

25A final index to consider is malign magic. The rich and powerful, those who have ready access to the means of force, are seldom accused of using magic to kill their enemies or to acquire property. Accusations of that sort are usually levelled against the more powerless members of society (murder by magic, especially by poison, was typically attributed to those to whom the socially accepted means of violence were denied, that is, to clerics and women). In addition, claims to having the power to inflict harm magically are usually made by the weak, not the powerful. But powerlessness is relative, and even men well-established socially and economically might be tempted to use magic against their superiors, or women against their husbands. The case is clearer with what might be called economic crimes committed by magic. In Burchard of Worms’ penitential, women were accused of having or of claiming to have the ability to steal the productivity of their neighbours’ bees and cows, or to destroy their neighbours’ piglets and chicks with the evil eye. Men gave little toys and shoes to elves and gnomes playing in their barns and granaries so that they would bring them the goods of other people53. These show a modest level of expectation, functioning on the level of village economy.

26Such texts, dealing with the beliefs, rituals and magical techniques of the poor, demonstrate certain aspects of popular religion. They deal, however, only with the practical matters involved in the daily struggle to survive and succeed.

  • 54 [U]t isti mangones et cotiones qui sine omni lege vagabundi vadunt per istam terram, non sinantur/ (...)

27But there was another side, usually ignored in the literature. I should like to end with a passage that exposes a quite different aspect of popular religion. It comes from Charlemagne’s Admonitio Generalis of 789. One of its clauses required the authorities to prevent peddlars and tramps from wandering about the land deceiving people, and it demanded that they stop those vagrants who «wandered around nude, loaded with chains, saying that they had imposed this on themselves as a penance»54. We know that they are peasants because the edict orders them to settle down and do agricultural and servile labour and canonical penance if they have committed some «unusual and capital sin». This has nothing to do with traditional beliefs and techniques, but it reveals the extent to which the Church’s teachings on sin and penance had been internalized and appropriated by at least some members of the masses. It also reveals a moral world in which the organized Church seemingly had no role to play. This text illumines, if only for a moment, a hidden but immense richness and complexity of the spiritual life of simple and uneducated Christians in the early middle ages.

Notes

1 See P. Boglioni, «Pour l’étude de la religion populaire au Moyen Âge: le problème des sources», in J.-M.R. Tillard et al., Foi populaire, foi savante. Actes du Ve Colloque du Centre d’études d’histoire des religions populaires tenu au Collège dominicain de théologie (Ottawa), Paris, 1976, p. 93-148.

2 C. Declercq ed., Concilia Galliae A. 511-A. 695, CCSL 148A (Turnhout, 1973).

3 The religious element in some of these is debatable. Was the claim to the right of sanctuary, made by slaves as well as freemen (e.g., Conc. Aurelianense [511] 1-3, CCSL 148A, 4-6), based on trust in the political power of the Church only or also on a concept of holiness intrinsic to the church building itself? Do admonitions against association with Jews and pagans (e.g., Conc. Claremontanum [535] 5, ibid., 106-107; Cone. Clippiacense [626-627] 16, ibid., 294) reveal merely the continuance of traditional social relations or hostility toward the Church’s teachings and sympathy for these groups, maybe even participation in some of their beliefs?

4 Die altgermanische Religion in der amtlichen kirchlichen Literatur des Abendlandes vom 5. bis 11. Jahrhundert ([1928] Darmstadt, 1964); Superstitio: Überlieferungs-und theoriegeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur kirchlich-theologischen Aberglaubensliteratur des Mittelalters (Berlin, 1979).

5 Caesarius of Arles’ direct influence is clear in frequently repeated injunctions against making vows to or in the vicinity of trees and springs (ad arbores, ad fontes vota vovere), consulting soothsayers and healers (sortilegi, divini, praecanatores, caragii), the observation of auguria, and the celebrations of the New Year. But even in these cases, the authors did not copy indiscriminately. For example, Caesarius described two or three types of masquerades during the festivities of the Calends of January: as animals (cervus, annicula), as women and, perhaps, as monsters (Sermons 192.2 and 193.1 and 2, CCSL 104, 780, 783-784) (for bibliographic data, see fn 24). There are almost thirty references to animal costumes in subsequent literature, but only about half a dozen to transvestism (some of which were not necessarily associated with the New Year and in some of which women participated).Masking as monsters at this time of the year is not mentioned elsewhere in this literature. Forced drinking appears in Caesarius’s sermons and in numerous penitentials, but the drinking contests described by Caesarius (Sermon 46.8, ibid., 210-211) are not found again, although they are suggested once, in Burchard of Worms’penitential (Corrector sive medicus [1008-1012] 19, 5.85, H.J. Schmitz, Die Bussbücher und das kanonische Bussverfahren [1898; Graz, 1958] 2, 428).

6 A. Gurevich, Medieval Popular Culture: Problems of Belief and Perception, trans. J.M. Bak and P.A. Hollingsworth [Cambridge, 1990] 37. See also J.-C. Schmitt, «Les ‘superstitions’ », in J. Le Goff and R. Rémond eds., Histoire de la France religieuse, v. I (Paris, 1988), 450-451.

7 Rudi Kiinzel has suggested criteria to be used to identify descriptions based on actual observation, such as similar practices described in mutually unrelated, independent texts, use of a hitherto unknown technical term for a religious phenomenon or use of a vernacular term or the obvious translation of a vernacular term into Latin («Paganisme, syncrétisme et culture religieuse au haut moyen âge; Réflexions de méthode », Annales ÉSC, 4-5 (1992), 1055-1069).

8 Et licet hinc gaudeamus, fratres carissimi, quia vos ad ecclesiam videmus fideliter currere, contristamur tamen et dolemus, quia aliquos ex vobis cognoscimus ad antiquam idolorum culturam frequentius ambulare, quomodo pagani sine deo et sine baptismi gratia faciunt (Sermon 53.1, CCSL 103, 233).

9 E.g., Sunt quidam, et maximae, mulieres, qui festis ac sacris diebus atque sanctorum nataliciis non pro eorum, quibus debent, delectantur desideriis advenire, sed ballando, verba turpia decantando, choros tenendo ac ducendo, similitudinem paganorum peragendo advenire procurant (Concilium Romanum [826] 35, MGH Concilia 2 [A. Werminghoff ed., Hanover and Leipzig, 1896] 2, 581).

10 Conc. Romanum (745) 6, MGH Concilia 2.1, 39.

11 Ep. 78 (747), MGH Epistolae Selectae 1 (M. Tangl ed., Berlin, 1926), 169.

12 De incantatoribus uel eis, qui instinctu diabuli cornua praecantare dicuntur, si superioresforte personae sunt, a liminibus excommunicatione pellantur ecclesiae, humiliores / uero personae uel serui correpti a iudice fustigentur, ut, si se timore Dei corrigetforte dissimulant, uelut scriptum est, uerberibus corrigantur (Synodus Aspasii Episcopi [551) 3, CCSL 148A, 163). Quicumquepost commonitionem sacerdotem vel nostropraecepto sacrilegia ista perpetrare praesumpserit, si servilis persona est, centum ictus flagellorum ut suscipiat iubemus; si vero ingenuus aut onoratior fortassepersona est... (Childeberti I. regis praeceptum, MGH CapRegFr 1 [A. Boretius ed., Hanover, 1883], 3). The rest of the text is missing.

13 Conc. Toletanum XVI, 2, Concilios Visigoticos e hispano-romanos (J. Vives ed., Barcelona, 1963), 499.

14 In his regionibus pene omnes homines, nobiles et ignobiles, urbani et rustici, senes et iuvenes, putant grandines et tonitrua hominum libitu posse fieri (De grandine et tonitruis [815-817] 1, CCCM 52 [L. Van Acker, Turnhout, 1981], 3).

15 Et [...] hanc cartam generaliter per omnia loca decrevimus emittendam, praecipientes ut quicumque admoniti de agro suo, ubicumque fuerint simulacra constructa vel idola daemoni dedicata ab hominibusfactum, non statim abiecerint vel sacerdotebus hoc distruentibus prohibuerint, datisfideiussoribus non aliter discedant, nisi in nostris obtutibus praesententur (MGH CapRegFr 1, 2).

16 Conc. Toletanum XII, 11, Vives, 98-99.

17 Et aliquotiens ligaturas ipsas a clericis ac religiosis accipiunt; sed illi non sunt religiosi vel clerici, sed adiutores diaboli (Sermon 50.1, CCCM 103, 225).

18 Ac ne id fortasse uideatur omissum quod maximefidem / catholicae religionis infestat, quod aliquanti clerici siue laid student auguriis et sub nomine fictae religionis, quas sanctorum sortes uocant, diuinationis scientiam profitentur, aut quarumcumque scripturarum inspectione future promittunt, hoc quicumqe clericus uel laicus detectusfuerit uel consulere uel docere, ab ecclesia habeatur extraneus (Conc. Agathense [506] 42, CCSL 148, 210-1). Quoniam non oportet ministros altaris aut clericos magos aut incantatores esse, autfacere quae dicuntur phylacteria, quae sunt magna obligamenta animarum (ibid., 21 [68], 228). See also Martin of Braga, Canones ex orientalium patrum synodis [572] 59, in C.W. Barlow ed., Martini Episcopi Bracarensis opera omnia [New Haven, 1950], 138).

19 Si episcopus quis aut presbyter sive diaconus vel quilibet ex ordine clericorum magos aut aruspices aut ariolos aut certe augures vel sortilegos vel eos, qui profitentur artem aliquam, aut aliquos eorum similia exercentes, consulere fuerit deprehensus, ab honore dignitatis suae depositus monasterii curam excipiat, ibique perpetua[e] poenitentia[e] deditus scelus admissum sacrilegii luat (Council of Toledo IV [633] 29, Vives, 203).

20 Nolite exercere quando luna obscuratur, ut clamoribus suis ac maleficiis sacrilego usu se defensare posse confidunt, caraios, cocriocos et divinos praecantatores filacteria etiam diabolica vel herbas vel sucinos suis vel sibi impendere vel Vferia in honore Jovis vel Kal. Janor. secundum paganam causam honorare, si clerici V annos, laid III vel V annos peniteant (Liber de remediis peccatorum [721-731] 3, in B. Albers, «Wann sind die Beda-Egbert’schen Bussbücher verfasst worden, und wer is ihr Verfasser? », Archiv für katholisches Kirchenrecht, 81 (1901), 411).

21 Si quis clericus maleficus vel si qua mulier malefica, si aliquem maleficio suo deciperat, inmane peccatum est, sedperpenitentiam redemi potest, VI annis penitentiam agat, III annis cum pane et aqua per mensuram et in residuis annis, abstineat se a vino et a carnibus (Poe nitentiale Vinniani [1st half, 6th cent.] 18, in F.W.H. Wasserschleben, Die Bussordnungen der abenldändischen Kirche [Reprint, Graz, 1958], 112). See also Paenitentiale Columbani (c. 573) 6, in L. Bieler ed., The Irish Penitentials (Dublin, 1963), 100).

22 «“Contra Paganos”-“Gegen die vom Dorfe”? Zum theologischen Hintergrund ethnologischer Begriffe», Jahrbuch für Volkskunde, 19 (1996), 487-508.

23 Gregory of Tours, Gloria Martyrum 84, 95, MGH ScrRerMerov, 1 [B. Krusch ed.], 545; Guibert of Nogent, Monodia 1.12, PL 156 856-859; Hincmar of Reims, Ep. 22, De nuptiis Stephani et filiae Regimundi comitis, PL 126, 151, and De divortio Lotharii regis et Theutbergae reginae, MGH Concilia, 4 Supplementum (ed. L. Böhringen, Hanover, 1992) 205-206.

24 G. Morin ed., Sancti Caesarii Arelatensis sermones, CCSL 103 and 104 (Turnhout, 1953).

25 PL 110, 814-826.

26 Homilia de sacrilegiis, C.P. Caspari ed. (Christiania, 1886). See also the sermon attributed to St. Eligius of Noyon (Vita Eligii, MGH ScrRerMerov, 4 [B. Krusch ed.], 705-708), the anonymous sermons published by G. Morin («Textes relatifs au symbole et à la vie chrétienne», Revue Bénédictine, 22 [1905], 505-524) and W. Levison, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century [1946; repr. Oxford, 1976], 302-314.

27 Ammonete ergo familias vestras, ut infelicium paganorum sacrilegas consuetudines non observent (Sermon 193.2, CCSL 104, 784); Interdum soient aliquae mulieres, quasi sapientes et christianae, aegrotantibus filiis suis, aut nutricibus aut aliis mulieribus, per quas diabolus ista suggerit, respondere et dicere: Non me ego misceo in istis talibus rebus [...] Et cum haec quasi excusons se dixerit: Ite, etfacite vos quomodo scitis; expensa vobis de cellario non negatur (Sermon 52.6, CCSL 103, 232).

28 [U]t si qui uiri ac mulieres diuinatores, quos dicunt esse caragios atque sorticularios, in quiuscumque domo Ghoti, Romani, Syri, Greci uel Iudei fuerint inuenti, aut quis ausus fuerit amodo in eorum uana carmina interrogare [...] Illi uero qui tali iniquitate repleti sunt et sortes et diuinationes faciunt et populum preuaricando seducunt, ubi inuenti uel inuente fuerint, seu liberi seu serui uel ancille sint, grauissimi publice fustigentur uenundentur, et pretia ipsorumpauperibus erogentur (Conc. Narbonense [589] 14, CCSL 148A, 256-257).

29 Qaecumque mancipia sub speciae coniugii ad ecclesiae septa confugerint, ut per hoc credant posse fieri coniugium... (Conc. Aurelianense [541] 24, CCSL 148A, 138).

30 Si quis adfontes aut arbores vel lucos votumfecerit aut aliquit more gentilium obtulerit et ad honorem daemonum commederet, si nobilis fuerit solidos sexaginta, si ingenuus triginta, si litus quidecim (Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae [775-790] 21, MGH CapRegFr, 1, 69). [Inquirendum, si presbyter] carmina diabolica, quae super mortuos nocturnis horis ignobile vulgus cantare solet et cachninnos, quos exercent, sub contestatione Dei omnipotentis prohibeat? (De synodalibus causis [c. 906] [F. G. A. Wasserschleben ed. ; reprint, Graz, 1964] I Notitium 73, 24).

31 A. López Calvo, «La cataquesis en la Galicia medieval: Martin Dumiense y el De correctione rusticorum», Estudios Mindonienses, 13 (1997), 509-523; here, 511.

32 Sunt aliqui rustici homines, qui credunt, quasi aliquas mulieres quod vulgum dicitur strias esse debeant et ad infantes vel pecora nocere possint vel dusiolas vel aquaticas vel geniscus esse debeat (Anonymous sermon [late 8th-19th century] Levison ed., England and the Continent, 310). The prevalence of witchcraft beliefs is proved by the Salic and Alamannic legal codes which penalized those who wantonly accused others of being strigae, but did not question their existence. The Edict of Rothair, however, refused to accept such beliefs as credible (Pactus Legis Salicae 64, MGH Leges, 1.4.1 [K. A. Eckhart ed., Hanover, 1962] 230-232; Leges Alammanorum Pactus 31, MGH Leges, 1, 5.1. [E. Heymann ed., Hanover, 1888] 23; Edictum Rotharii, 376 [in C. Azzara and S. Gasparri eds., Le leggi dei Longobardi [Milan, 1992], 100).

33 Conc. Romanum [745] 6, MGH Concilia, 2.1, 39.

34 Sed dicit aliquis, ego homo rusticus sum, et terrenis operibus iugiter occupatus sum (Sermon 6.3, CCSL 103, 32). This was one of the sermons identified as being intended for a rural parish, in which Caesarius took care to adapt both subject matter and illustrations to peasant congregations.

35 E.g., Ut plebem admoneat, ut in atrio ecclesie non content nec choros muliercule ducant (Capitula Helmstadiensia (c. 964) 7 [R. Pokorny, «Zwei unerkannte Bischofskapitularien des 10. Jahrhunderts», Deutsches Archiv, 36 [1979], 506). See also Regino of Prüm, De synodalibus causis II, 371, 354-356 and Atto of Vercelli (d. 961), Sermon 13, PL 134, 850-851.

36 Et quia carnales homines idiote, Alamanni vel Baioarii vel Franci, si iuxta Romanam urbem aliquidfacere viderint ex his peccatis, quae nos prohibemus, licitum et concessum a sacerdotibus esse putant et nobis inproperium deputant, sibi scandalum vite accipiunt (Boniface to Zachary [742] Ep. 50, MGH Epistolae Selectae 1, 84).

37 Decrevimus [...] hostias immolaticias, quas stulti homines iuxta aecclesias ritupagano faciunt sub nomine sanctorum martyrum vel confessorum [...] prohibeant (5, MGH Concilia, 2.1, 1, 3-4).

38 Perscrutandum si aliquis subulcus vel bubulcus sive Venator, vel ceteri hujusmodi, dicat diabolica carmina super panem, aut super herbas, aut super quaedam nefaria ligamenta, & haec aut in arbore abscondat, aut in bivio, aut in trivio projiciat, ut sua animalia liberet a peste & clade & alterius perdat (Conc. Rothomagense [650] 4, Mansi 10, 1200); Admonere debent sacerdotes plebes subditas sibi, ut bubulcos atque porcarios, vel alios pastores, vel aratores, qui in agris assidue commorantur, vel in sylvis, & ideo velut more pecudum vivunt, in Dominicis & in alii Festis diebus saltern vel ad Missam faciunt vel permittant venire (14, ibid., 1202). Burchard of Worms thought the former clause relevant enough to practices in his diocese to include it in his penitential, see the Corrector sive medicus, 5.63, Schmitz 2, 423-424.

39 Et quia audivimus quod aliquos viros vel mulieres ita diabolus circumveniat, ut quinta feria nec viri operafaciant, nec mulieres laneficium (Sermon 13.5, CCSL 103, 68); [V]erum est quod ammonemus, ut non solum in aliis locis, sed etiam in hac ipsa civitate dicantur adhuc esse aliquae mulieres infelices, quae in honore Iovis quinta feria nec telam / nec fusumfacere vellent (Sermon 52.2, ibid., 230-231).

40 E.g., Nulla mulier praesumat [...] in tela vel in tinctura sive quolibet opera Minervam / vel ceteras infaustas personas nominare (Vita Eligii, MGH ScrRerMerov, 4, 706).

41 30.3, Schmitz 2, 695.

42 [Q]uocumque te uerteris aut aras diaboliperspicis [...]pecudum capita adfixa liminibus (Maximus of Turin [d. 470] 91.2, in A. Mutzenbecher ed., Maximus Taurinensis. Sermones, CCSL 23 [Turnhout, 1962), 369); Iam quid de illo stultissimo errore cum dolore dicendum est, quia dies tinearum et murium observant... ? Quibus si per tutelam cuppelli aut arculae non subducatur autpanis aut pannus, nullo modo pro feriis sibi exhibitis, quod invenerint, parcent. Sine causa autem sibi miser homo istas praefigurationes ipsa facit, ut quasi sicut in introitu anni satur est et laetus ex omnibus, ita illi et in toto anni contingat (Martin of Braga, De correctione rusticorum 11, Barlow, 190). Presbyteri per omnia populum ammoneant, non pro mortalitate animalium, non propestilentia, non pro infirmitate aliqua neque pro variis aliis eventibus ad malos viros aut feminas aut ad auguriatrices aut maleficas aut/ incantatores aut falsas scripturas aut ad arbores vel ad fontes aut alicubi (Arno of Salzburg, Synodal Sermon [c. 806], in R. Pokorny, «Ein unbekannter Synodalsermo Arns von Salzburg», Deutsches Archiv, 39 [1983], 393-394).

43 Et qui signa caeli et Stellas ad auratum inspicet, et qui boues, quando primum arare incipit, et cum arietes et hircos in grege dimitti, qui ista omnia obseruare se dicit, sciat, se fidem perdere, non esse christianus, sedpaganus; Quicumque [...] nouam lunam contralunium uocat, et in aliqua utilitate operis sui [...] letamen uehendum aut uineam potandam adque colendam, aut in silua ligna incidenda, aut domum continnandam aut quocumque aliud agendum, et per lunam sibi/fieri impedimentum credit; Quicumque [...] in animalibus mutis aut in hominibus incantat, et prodesse aliquid aut contra esse iudicat; et qui ad serpentes morso vel ad uermes in orto uel in aliasfruges carminat et quodcumque aliutfacit Y (10, 13 and 14, Caspari ed., 8-9).

44 Nullus praesumat [...] pecora per cavam arborem vel per terramforatum transire (Vita Eligii, MGH ScrRerMerov, 4, 706). De auguriis vel avium vel equorum vel bovum stercora vel sternutationes; De igne fricato de ligno id est nodfyr; De sulcis circa villas; De simulacro quod per campos portant (Indiculus superstitionum etpaganiarum, 13, 15, 23 and 28, MGH CapRegFr, 1, 223).

45 Ut cloccas non baptizent nec cartas per perticas appendantpropter grandinem (Duplex legationis edictum [789] 34, MGH CapRegFr, 1, 64). Quicumque [...] qui grandinem per laminas plumbeas scriptas et per cornus incantatos aueretere potant Y; [Q]ui in mense februario hibernum credit expellere, uel in ipso mense dies spurcos ostendit Y (Homilia de sacrilegiis 16 and 17, Caspari ed., 10-11).

46 Corrector sive medicus 5.194, Schmitz 2, 452.

47 Iam vero illut quale vel quam turpe est, quod viri nati tunicis muliebribus vestiuntur, et turpissima demutationepuellaribusfiguris virile robur effeminant, non erubescentes tunicis muliebribus inserere militares lacertos (Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 192.2, CCSL 104, 780). De pugna duorum, quod wehadinc vocatur, ut prius non sortiantur, quam parati sint, neforte carminibus vel machinis diabolicis vel magicis artibus insidiantur (Conc. Neuchingense [772] 4, MGH Concilia, 2.1, 100). Ut in hoste nemo parem suum vel quemlibet alterum hominem bibere roget (Capitulare Bononiense [811] 6, MGH CapRegFr, 1, 167).

48 Nam Deus omnipotens ideo sidera constituit in coelis ut hominibus deservirent in terris [...] Hanc illis legem Creator omnium in principio posuit, nec ultra subvenire vel nocere valent: quamvis sint mathematici, qui haec nascentibus praeesse [...] architectis doceant observare (Atto of Vercelli [d. 961] Sermon 3, PL 134, 837A).

49 Qui dies aspicet, quos pagani errantes soles, lunes, martes, mercures, ioues, ueneres, saturni nominauerunt, et credet sibiper hos dies uiam agendam uel negotium faciendum... (12, Caspari ed., 8).

50 [C]astigate quoscomque tales cognoscitis, admonete durius, increpate severius; Et si non corriguntur, si potestis, caedite illos; si nec emendantur, et capillos illis incidite (Sermon 53.2, CCSL 103, 234).

51 E.g., Mulier si aliquem interemerit malitia sua, id est, per poculum aut per artem aliquant, VIII annos poeniteat. Si paupercula est, V annos (Poen. Ps.-Theodori [mid-9th century] 21.6, Wasserschleben, 587).

52 Cum autem gentilis cumburunt, hoc est ustulauerunt mortuos suos parentibus, nullus amicus, nemo christianorum debet iugum/suum aut carrum ad adducere lignum ad conburendum eos (Poen. Oxoniense II [8th/9th century] 41, R. Kottje ed. [Turnhout, 1974], CCSL 156, 197-198).

53 Fecisti quod quaedam mulieres facere soient etfirmiter credunt [...] ut si vicinus ejus lacte vel apibus abundaret, omnem abundantiam lactis et mellis quamvis suus vicinus antea se habere visus est ad se et ad sua animalia, vel ad quos voluerint ad vitam e suiusfascinationibus et incantationibus se posse convertere credant? Credidisti quod quaedam credere soient, ut quamcunque domum intraverint, pullos aucarum, pavonum, pullos gallinarum, etiam porcellos, et aliorum animalium foetus, verbo, vel visu vel audito oscenare etperdere posse affirment? (Corrector sive medicus 5.168 and 5.169, Schmitz, 446). Fecistipueriles arcus parvulos, et puerorum suturalia, et projecisiti sive in cellarium sive in horreum tuum, ut satyri vel pilosi cum eis ibi jocarentur, ut tibi aliorum bona comportarent, et inde ditior fieres? (ibid., 5.103, 432).

54 [U]t isti mangones et cotiones qui sine omni lege vagabundi vadunt per istam terram, non sinantur/vagare et deceptiones hominibus agere, nec isti nudi cum ferro qui dicunt se data sibi poenitentia ire vagantes... (79, MGH CapRegFr, 1, 60-1).

Auteur

Université de Montréal

© Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2002

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