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When Ego Was Imago

Visualising the Middle Ages

Edited by
Eva Frojmovic, University of Leeds (UK)

Editorial Board
Professor Madeline Caviness, Tufts University (USA)
Professor Catherine Harding, University of Victoria (Canada)
Professor Diane Wolfthal, Arizona State University (USA)

When Ego Was Imago
Signs of Identity in the Middle Ages

Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak

On the cover: Seal of Ansel of Garlande, lord of Tournan-en-Brie, appended to a char-
ter of September 1192; Paris, Archives nationales, L 460 no 1. With kind permission
of the Archives nationales.

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bedos Rezak, Brigitte.

When ego was imago : signs of identity in the Middle Ages / by Brigitte Miriam
p. cm. — (Visualising the Middle Ages, ISSN 1874-0448 ; v. 3)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-90-04-19217-1 (hbk. : acid-free paper) 1. Middle Ages. 2. Middle
Ages—Sources. 3. Charters—Europe—History—To 1500. 4. Seals (Numismatics)—
Europe—History—To 1500. 5. Identity (Psychology)—Europe—History—To 1500.
6. Signs and symbols—Social aspects—Europe—History—To 1500. 7. Visual com-
munication—Europe—History—To 1500. 8. Individuality—Europe—History—To
1500. 9. Interpersonal communication—Europe—History—To 1500. 10. Europe—
Social conditions—To 1492. I. Title.
CB353.B384 2010

ISSN 1874-0448
ISBN 978 90 04 19217 1

Copyright 2011 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Hotei Publishing,
IDC Publishers, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and VSP.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated,

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Fees are subject to change.
In Memory of my Father
Jacques Bedos (1925–2007)
‫זכרונו לברכה‬

List of Plates ...................................................................................... xi

List of Abbreviations ........................................................................ xxv
Acknowledgments ............................................................................ xxvii

Introduction ...................................................................................... 1



Chapter One Beyond the Text: Medieval Documentary

Practices ........................................................................................ 9
Medieval Charters, Then and Now ............................................ 9
Documentary, Production and Conservation .......................... 13
Diplomatic Discourse and the Performance of Charters ....... 17
Acculturation to Documentary Practices ................................. 22
The Authentication of Charters: Persons, Signs, Seals ............ 26
The Scope of Medieval Charter Referentiality ......................... 31

Chapter Two Toward an Archaeology of the Medieval Charter ... 37

The Archival Profile of Saint-Fursy of Péronne ....................... 40
The Production and Reproduction of Charters at
Notre-Dame of Homblières ................................................... 44
The Dispersed Charters of the Counts of Ponthieu ................ 46
Authority, Authenticity, and the Intertextuality of Diplomatic
Discourse .................................................................................. 49
Narrative Form and Material Format: A Mutual
Engagement .............................................................................. 50

Chapter Three Sign Theory, Medieval and Modern ................. 55

The Role of Theory in Sigillography .......................................... 55
Evaluating Sign Theories ............................................................. 60
A Mutually Challenging Encounter: Semiotic Anthropology
and the Middle Ages ............................................................... 65
viii contents



Chapter Four The King’s Sign ......................................................... 75

A Merovingian Icon: The Royal Seal ........................................... 76
Carolingian Rulers: The Power of Royal and Imperial Seals .... 78
Post-Carolingian Kingship: Sealing in Transition ..................... 84
Capetian Kings: The End of a Prerogative and the
Re-Invention of the Royal Seal ................................................ 90

Chapter Five Eucharistic Theology and Episcopal Signature ..... 95

Episcopal Modes of Communication .......................................... 96
The Debate over Real Presence and the Appearance of
Episcopal Seals ........................................................................... 102

Chapter Six Medieval Identity: Subject, Object, Agency ............ 109

A Network of Schools and Chanceries ........................................ 113
The Augustinian Paradox and its Role in Scholarly
Controversy ................................................................................ 121
Personhood and Individuality ...................................................... 129
The Ego of Diplomatic Discourse ................................................. 132
Persona in Sign and Metaphor ..................................................... 140
Ego to Imago .................................................................................... 150
From Identity to Stereotype .......................................................... 152

Chapter Seven Images of Identity and the Identity of Images ... 161
Images and the Senses: From Gregory the Great to
Guillaume Durand .................................................................... 161
The Currency of Imago: Augustine, Byzantine
Anti-Iconoclasm, and Twelfth-Century Scholarship ........... 171
Mirror ............................................................................................. 180
Imprint ............................................................................................. 186
Replica ............................................................................................. 202
contents ix



Chapter Eight Difformitas: Invective, Individuality, Identity ..... 209

The Invectiva of Arnulf of Lisieux ................................................ 210
Strategies of Character Assassination .......................................... 216
The Rhetoric of Vilification .......................................................... 220
‘Difformitas’ as Individuality ........................................................ 225

Chapter Nine The Semiotics of Personality in the Middle Ages ... 231
Identity and Individuality ............................................................. 233
Individuality and Personhood ...................................................... 235
Urban Identity and the Ideal City ................................................ 238
The Saint and the City ................................................................... 243
Urban Identity and the Historical City ....................................... 247
The Individuality of Human Collectives ..................................... 249

Conclusion ........................................................................................... 253

Bibliography ......................................................................................... 257
Index ..................................................................................................... 287
Plates ......................................................................................... (after 296)

Note: The catalog entries by Louis Douët d’Arcq and Germain Demay
refer to collections of casts, which are located in the Service des sceaux
of the Archives nationales (Paris); these casts are of original seals
housed in a wide variety of French archives.
Call numbers to Douët d’Arcq’s collection of casts, of seals from the
Archives nationales, are preceded by the letter D.
Call numbers to Demay’s collection of casts, of seals from the region
of Flanders, are preceded by the letter F.
Call numbers to the « Collection supplément à la collection des
moulages des sceaux des Archives nationales » are preceded by the
letter S.

I. Paris, Archives nationales, L 809 no 34: 1215, Donation of revenues

to the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés by Robert of Braines, son of
Robert, count of Dreux, and his wife, Alienor.
Left: Robert’s seal displays an equestrian in arms, with the shield
bearing a checky:
The seal of Robert is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1,
no 1548.
Right: Alienor’s seal displays a standing woman holding a fleur de
lis and a bird:
See below, Plate VIII, a focused illustration of this seal. The seal
of Alienor is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no 2048.
Alienor’s seal is further described in Archives nationales, Service
des sceaux, « Collection supplément à la collection des moulages des
sceaux des Archives nationales, » no 2146.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.
xii list of plates

II. Paris, Archives nationales, J 168 no 15: 1206, Chirograph in which

Matthew III, count of Beaumont-sur-Oise and grand chamberlain
of France, and Ansel, lord of L’Isle-Adam settled their dispute
about various tolls. The document is edited by Teulet, Layettes du
Trésor des chartes, vol. 1, no 816.
Right: Matthew’s seal displays an equestrian in arms, with the
shield bearing a lion:
The seal of Matthew is described in Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1,
no 1052.
Left: Ansel’s seal is armorial: fess, in chief a martlet:
The seal of Ansel is described in Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1,
no 2449.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

III. Paris, Archives nationales, AE/II/101 (K 19 no 5/2): 1058, Henry,

king of France (1008–1060), protects the abbey of Saint-Maur-
des-Fossés from his own cooks’ pressure tactics when acquiring
the abbey’s cattle for the royal table. The seal is missing. Signatory
crosses of the king, of Queen Anne of Kiev, and of their two sons
Philip and Robert are present on the diploma. This document is
edited by Jules Tardif, Monuments historiques (Paris, 1866; reprint,
1977), no 275.
Photo Archives nationales, http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mis-
tral/caran_fr, with kind permission.

IV. Pontoise, Archives départementales du Val-d’Oise, 9H81: 1123,

Peter of Dammartin, bishop of Beauvais, having just received
the priory of Saint-Aubin of Chambly from Count Matthew I of
Beaumont-sur-Oise, endows the abbey of Saint-Martin of Pontoise
with the priory. The seal of Peter of Dammartin displays a seated
figure in episcopal vestments, holding a book and a crozier:
The seal of Bishop Peter is described in Archives nationales, Service
des sceaux, « Collection supplément à la collection des moulages
des sceaux des Archives nationales, » nos 2856 and 4624.
Photo Bruno Millien, with kind permission of the Archives dépar-
tementales du Val-d’Oise.
list of plates xiii

V. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

matrices originales, no 18: early fourteenth-century seal-matrix of
the chapter of the collegial church of Saint-Quiriace of Provins,
accompanied with medieval wax impressions originally issued
from this matrix but detached from the documents to which they
were once affixed. The seal matrix displays an episcopal bust in
vestments, holding a cross and a crozier:
The seal matrix is described in Clément Blanc, «Répertoire
numérique informatique sur fiches de la collection des matrices
des Archives nationales, » no 18 and in Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux,
vol. 2, no 7284.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

VI. Paris, Archives nationales, J 168 no 3, 1180: the seal of King Philip
Augustus (1180–1223) is appended to a confirmation by the king
of a donation made by Edive of Moucy to Count Matthew III of
Beaumont. The document is edited by Teulet, Layettes du Trésor
des chartes, vol. 1, no 302. This is Philip Augustus’ first seal of
majesty, or great seal:
The seal is described by Dalas, Les sceaux des rois et de régence,
no 70, and by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no 38.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

VII. Paris, Archives nationales, J 168 no 11, 1202: the seal of Matthew
II of Montmorency, constable of France, is appended to an agree-
ment reached between him and Matthew III, count of Beaumont
and grand chamberlain of France concerning tolls to be paid
by the inhabitants of Beaumont when they brought merchandise
to the lands of Montmorency. The document is edited by Teulet,
Layettes du Trésor des chartes, vol. 1, no 660. The seal of Matthew
of Montmorency displays an equestrian in arms, with the shield
bearing a cross cantoned with four eagles:
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no 2942.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.
xiv list of plates

VIII. Wax seal impression (left), and plaster cast (right), of the seal of
Alienor, wife of Robert of Braine. For full reference to this seal
and to the document to which it is appended, see plate I above.
The mold for the plaster cast was taken in the late nineteenth
century, before the original wax had deteriorated.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

IX. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de mou-

lages, D 6781. Plaster cast of the seal of Peter Lombard, bishop
of Paris, taken from an original wax seal impression dated 1159.
The seal of Peter Lombard displays a standing figure in episcopal
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no 6781.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

X. Paris, Archives nationales, L 809 no 28: 1176, Hugh, abbot of

Saint-Germain-des-Prés, founds annual prayers for the soul of
Brother Simon. Hugh’s seal displays a standing figure in abbatial
costume, holding a crozier and a book:
The seal of Abbot Hugh is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux,
vol. 3, no 8902.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

XI. Paris, Archives nationales, L 809 no 1: 1234, Sale by Aimery

‘Veltrio” of Issy of his rights associated with land held by the
abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Left: The seal of Aimery is armorial: a greyhound passant, in
chief a label of four points:
[. . .]SIGILL[. . . .] LE VIAUDRE.
Right: The seal has an epigraphic counter-seal, displaying a fleur
de lis.
The seal and counter-seal of Aimery le Viaudre of Issy are
described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no 2470.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.
list of plates xv

XII. Rouen, Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime, 7 H

2151: 1085, William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy and
king of England, confirms the abbey of Fécamp in some of its
English possessions. William’s seal is missing but his signatory
cross (signo sancte crucis and sigillo meo cum regali auctoritate
confirmo) is still there, together with those of several witnesses,
including Lanfranc of Bec, Count Alan of Brittany, and Robert
count of Meulan.
From http://www.archivesdepartementales76.net/viewer.php?
pic=img/photos/7h2151.jpg, with kind permission.

XIII. Paris, Archives nationales, LL 1352, fol. 121v–122r: Fifteenth-

century cartulary of Saint-Martin des Champs, Paris. Copies of
charters in the name of Matthew II (d. 1177), count of Beau-
mont, in which the testimonial clauses have been abbreviated
or elided. See critical editions of these documents in Depoin,
Recueil de chartes et documents de Saint-Martin des champs, vol.
2 (Paris, 1913), nos 372 (ca. 1160) and 438 (bef. 1177).
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

XIV. From Arts et actes de France (Paris, 1979, p. 62 no 1); Paris,

Archives nationales, AE II 26: 710, Judgment by King Childebert
III (d. 711) allowing the abbey of Saint-Denis to receive in full
the tolls from the fair of Saint-Denis. Only traces of the applied
seal remain on this document, which is edited in Tardif, Monu-
ments historiques, no 44.
Plaster cast of the seal of Childebert III, taken from an original
wax seal impression dated 694–695: Paris, Archives nationales,
Service des sceaux, Collection de moulages, D 7. Childebert III’s
seal displays a facing head with long hair parted in the middle,
between two crosses:
The seal is described by Dalas, Sceaux des rois et de régence, nos
8–9, and Douët d’Arcq, Collection de sceaux, vol. 1, nos 7–8.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

XV. Facsimile of a diploma of Emperor Louis the Pious (778–840),

who confirms in 839 a barter transaction involving the abbot of
Fulda, Rabanus Maurus, and his vassal Helmeric (original docu-
ment: Marburg, Staatsarchiv).
xvi list of plates

Applied seal of Louis the Pious, impressed from an antique

intaglio and displaying a profile on the right:
The seal is described by Dalas, Sceaux des rois et de régence, nos
19–20, and Douët d’Arcq, Collection de sceaux, vol. 1, no 17.
From http://geschichte.digitale-sammlungen.de/kaiserurkun-
den/chronologie/chronologie800, with kind permission.

XVI. Partial facsimile of a diploma of King Philip I: 1095, subscrip-

tions of the witnesses and the royal seal, applied inverted
(original document: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France,
Collection Bourgogne, vol. 79, no 162). King Philip is using
his second great seal, which displays a crowned figure seated
in majesty, holding a short rod and a scepter topped with a
fleur de lis:
The seal is described by Dalas, Sceaux des rois et de régence,
no 64, and Douët d’Arcq, Collection de sceaux, vol. 1, no 34.
From Alain de Boüard, Manuel de diplomatique française et
pontificale, Album, vol. 1 (Paris, 1929), pl. XXXVII.

XVII. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 152. Plaster cast of the seal of Adele of Cham-
pagne, dowager queen of Louis VII, taken from an original
wax seal impression dated 1190. The seal of Adele displays the
standing figure of a woman, crowned, wearing a coat over her
dress and holding a fleur de lis:
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no 152.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XVIII. Paris, Archives nationales, J 168 no 19: 1218, sale by Payen

Presles, lord of Franconville, of woodland to John, count of
Beaumont. The document is edited by Teulet, Layettes du Tré-
sor des chartes, vol. 1, no 1329.
Payen’s seal is armorial: a cross on a checky:
list of plates xvii


The seal of Payen is described in Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1,
no 3309.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XIX. Paris, Archives nationales, J 168 no 20: seal of Henry, abbot of

Saint-Denis and conventual seal of the abbey of saint-Denis, both
appended to a chirograph, dated 1217, recording an agreement
between the abbey of Saint-Denis and John, count of Beaumont
(1164–1222), about forest rights and usages. The document is
edited by Teulet, Layettes du Trésor des chartes, vol. 1, no 1231.
Right: The conventual seal displays a seated figure in ecclesiasti-
cal vestments, holding a book and a crozier:
On the counter-seal to this seal, see below Plate XXIV. The seal
is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 3, no 8370.
Left: The seal of abbot Henry displays a standing figure in abba-
tial costume, holding a book and crozier:
On the counter-seal to this seal, see below Plate XXIV. The seal
is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 3, no 9017.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XX. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, F 138 and 142. Sulfur casts of the seals and counter-
seals of Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders, and of his second
wife, Matilda of Portugal, taken from original wax seal impres-
sions dated 1170 (Philip) and ca. 1197 (Matilda).
Upper right: The obverse of Matilda’s double-sided seal dis-
plays a shield bearing the standing figure of a woman holding
a flower:
Lower right: The reverse of Matilda’s double-sided seal displays
a shield bearing five coats of arms (Portugal ) arranged in the
shape of a cross:
xviii list of plates

Matilda’s seal is described by Germain Demay, Inventaire des
sceaux de la Flandre, 2 vols (Paris, 1873), vol. 1, no 142.
Upper left: The seal of Philip of Alsace displays an equestrian in
arms, with the shield bearing a lion:
Lower left: Philip of Alsace’s counter-seal displays the coat of
arms of Flanders, a lion:
Philip’s seal is described by Demay, Inventaire des sceaux de la
Flandre, vol. 1, no 138.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

XXI. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, F 197, 1555, 1556, D 436. Plaster casts of the seals of
Baldwin, count of Hainaut (from an original wax seal impres-
sion dated 1182), of Gerard of Saint-Aubert (from original wax
seal impressions dated 1185 and 1194), and of Louis, count of
Sancerre (from an original wax seal impression dated 1230).
Upper right: First seal of Gerard of Saint-Aubert, displaying an
equestrian in arms:
Gerard’s first seal is described by Demay, Inventaire des sceaux
de la Flandre, vol. 1, no 1555.
Lower right: Seal of Louis, count of Sancerre, displaying an
equestrian in arms, with the shield bearing a bend cotised:
Louis’s seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no
Upper left: Seal of Baldwin, count of Hainaut, displaying an
equestrian in arms:
Baldwin’s seal is described by Demay, Inventaire des sceaux de
la Flandre, vol. 1, no 197.
Lower left: Second seal of Gerard of Saint-Aubert, displaying an
equestrian in arms, the shield chevronny with a bordure:
list of plates xix


Gerard’s second seal is described by Demay, Inventaire des
sceaux de la Flandre, vol. 1, no 1556.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives nationales.

XXII. Laon, Archives départementales de l’Aisne, H 343: 1103, Enguer-

rand, bishop of Laon, assigns a church to the hermits who had
built it. The seal is missing; the sealing clause reads: ut autem
hec constitutio firma et illibata in perpetuum permaneat, hoc
privilegio, nostra imagine munito,. . . . firmare precepimus. The
document is edited by Dufour-Malbezin, Actes des évêques de
Laon, no 55.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives dépar-

XXIII. Paris, Archives nationales, J 224 no 12: 1376: seal of the Châtelet
of Paris, appended by a colorful flow of silk to an act of Hugh
Aubriot, Provost of Paris. The seal of the Châtelet of Paris, seat
of the royal jurisdiction of the Prévôté of Paris, displays a large
fleur de lis fleuronnée between a small castle (châtelet) and a
shield party per pale, a semy of fleurs de lis (France) and a
bend cotised potent-counterpotent (Champagne). The seal is
described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2, no 4462.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XXIV. Paris, Archives nationales, J 168 no 17: seal of Henry, abbot of

Saint-Denis and conventual seal of the abbey of Saint-Denis,
both appended to a chirograph, dated 1210, recording an
agreement between the abbey of Saint-Denis and the count of
Beaumont, about forest revenues. The document is edited by
Teulet, Layettes du Trésor des chartes, vol. 1, no 938.
Upper right: The conventual seal displays a seated figure in
ecclesiastical vestments, holding a book and a crozier:
Lower right: the counter seal to the conventual seal displays
two heads in profile, facing each other:
xx list of plates

The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 3,
no 8370.
Upper left: The seal of Abbot Henry displays a standing figure
in abbatial costume, holding a book and crozier:
Lower left: The counter-seal to Henry’s seal displays a bearded
head, turned to the right:
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 3, no 9017.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XXV. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 1050, 1051, 1052. Plaster casts of the seals of
Mathew II, count of Beaumont-sur-Oise (from an original wax
seal impression dated 1173), Mathew III, count of Beaumont
(from an original wax seal impression dated 1177), and of Elea-
nor of Vermandois (from an original wax seal impression dated
Paris, Archives nationales, J 168 no 6: 1189, Agreement
between Hugh, abbot of Saint-Denis and Matthew III, count
of Beaumont-sur-Oise, sealed with Matthew’s second seal, and
a counter-seal. The document is edited by Teulet, Layettes du
Trésor des chartes, vol. 1, no 359.
Upper right: Second seal of Matthew III, displaying an eques-
trian in arms, with the shield bearing a lion:
Lower right: Counter-seal to the second seal of Matthew III,
displaying a shield bearing a lion:
Matthew’s second seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux,
vol. 1, no 1052.
Upper middle: First seal of Matthew III, displaying an eques-
trian in arms:
list of plates xxi


Matthew’s first seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux,
vol. 1, no 1051.
Lower Middle: seal of Eleanor of Vermandois, wife of Mat-
thew III, count of Beaumont-sur-Oise. This seal is used as a
counter-seal to the first seal of Matthew III. It displays the
standing figure of a woman:
Eleonor’s seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1,
no 1053.
Upper left: Seal of Matthew II, count of Beaumont-sur-Oise,
displaying an equestrian in arms:
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no 1050.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XXVI. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 1054, 1055, 1056. Plaster casts of the seals of
Philip of Beaumont (from an original wax seal impression
dated 1190), and of John, count of Beaumont (from original
wax seal impression dated 1200 and 1217), both brothers of
Mathew III (d. ca. 1208), count of Beaumont-sur-Oise
Paris, Archives nationales, J 168 no 15; on this document and
its seals, see above plate II.
Upper right: second seal of Matthew III; see above, plate
Lower right: second seal of John, as count of Beaumont-sur-
Oise, displaying an equestrian in arms, with the shield bearing
a lion:
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1,
no 1056.
Upper left: seal of Philip of Beaumont, displaying an eques-
trian in arms, with the shield bearing a lion:
[. . . .]I. DE. BELLOMONTE
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1,
no 1054.
xxii list of plates

Lower left: first seal of John of Beaumont, as younger brother

of Matthew III displaying an equestrian in arms, with the
shield bearing a lion:
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1,
no 1055.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XXVII. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 5745. Plaster cast of the first city seal of Beau-
vais (from an original wax seal impression dated 1228). The
seal displays urban buildings within a fortified wall, under
the word CIVITAS:
The seal is described by Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes,
no 94, and Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2, no 5745.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XXVIII. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 5570. Plaster cast of the first city seal of Mar-
mande (from an original wax seal impression dated 1244).
The seal displays a bird’s eye-view of a cityscape:
The seal is described by Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes,
no 387, and Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2, no 5570.
Photo by Clément Blanc, with kind permission of the
Archives nationales.

XXIX. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 603 bis. Plaster cast of the reverse of the two-
sided seal of Humbert II, dauphin de Viennois (from an
original wax seal impression dated 1343); the obverse shows
an equestrian in arms. The seal displays a cityscape, above a
shield bearing a dalphin between the word VIE / NA:
list of plates xxiii


L[continued in the field]UPELLI
The seal is described by Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 1, no 603.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XXX. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 5554 bis, 5629 bis, 5852 and bis. Sulfur casts of
the city seals of Castres (from an original wax seal impression
dated 1303), Pamiers (from an original wax seal impression
dated 1267), and Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val (from an original
wax seal impression dated 1303).
Upper right: Reverse of the two-sided seal of the city of Pam-
iers, displaying the legend of saint Antonin:
The seal is described by Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no 513
bis, and Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2, no 5554.
Lower right: Reverse of the two-sided seal of the city of Castres,
displaying the bust of man emerging from a shrine:
The seal is described by Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no 187
bis, and Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2, no 5629.
Upper left: obverse of the city-seal of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val,
displaying a church; sun and fleur de lis in the field:
The seal is described by Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no
605, and Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2, no 5852.
Lower left: reverse of the city-seal of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val,
displaying the legend of saint Antonin:
The seal is described by Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no 605
bis, and Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2, no 5852.
Photo by Clément Blanc, with kind permission of the Archives
xxiv list of plates

XXXI. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 5699. Plaster cast of the third city-seal of Metz
(from an original wax seal impression dated 1505, although
the use of the seal is attested as early as 1283). The seal dis-
plays the stoning of saint Stephen, with the executioners
wearing the Judenhut:
The seal is described by Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes,
no 410, and Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2, no 5699.
Photo by author, with kind permission of the Archives

XXXII. Paris, Archives nationales, Service des sceaux, Collection de

moulages, D 5802 et bis. Sulfur casts of the seal and counter-
seal of the city of Soissons (from an original wax seal impres-
sion dated 1228). The seal displays a standing figure in military
attire, flanked on both sides by seven individuals:
The counter-seal displays a four-storied edifice, possibly a
Seal and counter-seal are described by Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux
de villes, no 667 and bis, and Douët d’Arcq, Sceaux, vol. 2,
no 5802.
Photo by Clément Blanc, with kind permission of the Archives

Arch. Nat. Archives nationales de France

Arch. Dep. Archives départementales
BNF Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris
CCLS Corpus Christianorum Series Latina
CCCM Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis
Col Column
MGH Monumenta Germaniae Historica
Ms. Manuscript
Lat. Latin
PL Patrologia Latina

Although millions of medieval seal-dies and seal impressions are still

extant in libraries, museums, archives, and private collections, medieval
historians are unlikely to have their attention drawn to what consti-
tutes for the medieval west a premier repository of images, fingerprints
and DNA material, names, titles, and toponyms. I owe my interest in
diplomatics and sigillography to the Ecole nationale des chartes, and
in particular to Professor Robert-Henri Bautier who held the chaire in
Diplomatics while I was a graduate student at the Ecole and who, to
my immense benefit, served as my dissertation advisor. Full realiza-
tion of the massive, yet virtually ignored presence of seals came when
Jean Favier, then Director of the Archives de France asked me to head
the Seal Department of the French national Archives. Although I was
to occupy this position for only three years before I emigrated to the
United States, seals invaded my imagination imposing themselves as
eloquent artifacts from the medieval past. Fellow chartistes (gradu-
ates of the Ecole des chartes) and curators made a long-distance focus
on sealed charters possible by providing generous counsel and help
with communication. Clément Blanc, Ghislain Brunel, Jean-Pierre
Brunterc’h, Annie Dufour-Malbezin, Oliver Guyotjeannin, and Lau-
rent Morelle know how much my research was enabled and stimulated
by their intimate knowledge of French medieval charters and docu-
mentary practices. For an appreciation of seal usage at the European
indeed international level, I am indebted to the International Com-
mittee of Sigillograhy. It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge here
my gratitude to Paul D.H. Harvey, whose indefatigable leadership of
the Committee and whose own work on seals have gone a long way
to transform the study of seals. Membership in the Committee also
afforded me the opportunity to visit several European archives and
to obtain first hand a deep appreciation of the importance of geo-
political factors in the use and format of seals. My thanks to the many
archivists in England, Spain, Italy, the Vatican, Germany, Switzerland,
the Czech Republic who have widely opened the doors to their archi-
val treasures and unstintingly shared their expertise.
It took time and the faith of many to move seals away from their
underappreciated position in the auxiliary sciences and toward the
xxviii acknowledgments

main-stream of historical research. Faith was displayed by academic

colleagues who, disregarding the prejudices against the technical
aspects of our discipline, invited me to speak to their seminars and
in their conferences, who encouraged me to contribute essays and to
publish articles, and who spent precious time in thoughtful conversa-
tions and critical reading of my essays. For the support and inspiration
they provided with their openness, accessibility, and assistance, I thank
John Baldwin, Peggy Brown, Caroline Bynum, Giles Constable, Jeffrey
Hamburger, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Richard Parmentier, Gabrielle
Spiegel, and John Van Engen.
Time was made available through grants and fellowships, and I am
grateful to the following institutions whose awards made it possible
to concentrate on research and writing. It was while I was a member
of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (1996–1997) that I
began gathering and studying seal metaphors in parallel with a system-
atic review of northern European charters produced between 950 and
1200. A Distinguished Faculty Research Award from the University
of Maryland, College Park, Office of Research and Graduate Studies,
General Research Board (GRB, 2001–2002), provided the opportunity
to focus on twelfth-century sign theory. During the recent award of
a Guggenheim Fellowship (2008–2009), I organized and redacted the
present book. Parts of the argument developed therein have been honed
in various book chapters and articles to sharpen the analysis presented
here of medieval identity. Earlier versions of chapter 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, and
9 have respectively appeared in: “Diplomatic Sources and Medieval
Documentary Practices: An Essay in Interpretive Methodology,” in
The Past and Future of Medieval Studies, ed. John Van Engen (Notre
Dame, 1994), pp. 313–343; “Toward an Archaeology of the Medieval
Charter: Textual Production and Reproduction in Northern French
Chartriers,” in Charters, Cartularies, and Archives. The Preservation
and Transmission of Documents in the Medieval West, ed. Adam J.
Kosto and Anders Winthrop (Toronto, 2002), pp. 43–60; “Ritual in
the Royal Chancery: Text, Image and the Representation of Kingship
in Medieval French Diplomas (700–1200),” in European Monarchy.
Its Evolution and Practice from Roman Antiquity to Modern Times,
eds. Heinz Duchhardt, Richard Jackson, David Sturdy (Stuttgart,
1992), pp. 27–40; “ ‘Difformitas.’ Invective, Individuality, and Identity
in Twelfth-Century France,” in Norm und Krise von Kommunikation.
Inszenierungen literarischer und sozialer Interaktion im Mittelalter, eds.
acknowledgments xxix

Alois Hahn, Gert Melville, and Werner Röcke (Münster, 2006), pp.
251–271; “Ego, Ordo, Communitas. Seals and the Medieval Semiotics
of Personality (1200–1350),” Die Bildlichkeit korporativer Siegel im
Mittelalter. Kunstgeschichte und Geschichte im Gespräch, ed. Markus
Späth (Cologne, 2009), pp. 47–64. Some of the material in chapters 3
and 6 appeared in “Medieval Identity: A Sign and a Concept,” American
Historical Review 105 (2000), pp. 1489–1533. The argument developed
in chapter 7 comes from two essays: “From Ego to Imago: Mediation
and Agency in Medieval France,” The Haskins Society Journal, vol. 14
for 2003 (2005), pp. 151–173 and “Replica: Images of Identity and the
Identity of Images,” in The Mind’s Eye. Art and Theological Argument
in the Medieval West, eds. Jeffrey Hamburger and Anne-Marie Bouché
(Princeton, 2006), pp. 46–64. Thanks are offered to the presses and to
the volume editors for permission to integrate some of the published
fruits of earlier efforts within the present volume.
Julian Deahl, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Brill, Medieval Stud-
ies, encouraged my research on seals, signs, and images by indicat-
ing an early and sustained interest in welcoming its results into his
series “Visualizing the Middle Ages.” Working with Marcella Mulder,
Editor at Brill, was a pleasure; she coached me with patience, humor,
wisdom, and advice throughout the difficult process of transforming a
manuscript into a book.
My Father is no longer here to accompany me in the fields of his-
tory. History was for us a gateway to a comfortable spot where, by
sharing and competing for knowledge, while contesting our often
divergent interpretations of human action and jointly marveling at
human inventiveness, in comforting each other when the evidence for
human violence was overwhelming, we exchanged our most intimate
feelings in a climate of trust and love. This book is dedicated to his
memory, because memory is the fabric of life, the victor of death.
Patiently helping and tolerating me through it all, never relax-
ing his unflagging support, has been my husband Ira Rezak. I hope
that he knows how much having him in my life is what makes it so

Old Field, June 2010


Each chapter of this book has an air of independence. Indeed, every

one originated with a separate book in mind. However, as their vari-
ous conclusions came into view, each became a new starting point
on a receding horizon, suggesting the contour of yet another inter-
pretive environment. Far from clinching an argument, these conclu-
sions seemed to push the quest forward. Treated as conjectures, they
each became useful vantage points from which to see and set out to
explore connections, dimensions, landscapes that had been invisible
when I first began my research. Unlike Penelope, I did not dissolve
the texture of my work every night, but all the same, the end of each
chapter did not so much effect linear progress but rather produced an
urge to re-visit terrain already covered, to pursue novel pathways now
To impose a definitive Olympian perspective on the maze which
my research has traversed would be to impose a false logic of heu-
ristic and epistemological control that I did not experience as such.
Of course, my immersion in the complexities of medieval identity
as conceptualized in contemporary texts and as enacted by markers
of individuation invited a sampling of the theoretical smorgasbord
offered by the postmodern practice of history. Indeed, my own interest
in theory was developed within the ambiance of twenty-first century
academic endeavor, but my growing engagement with medieval sign
theory emerged, rather, from trends inherent in the medieval texts and
artifacts themselves, from those charters which had been sealed in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries with personal signs of identity. In con-
sidering the milieus in which this form of writing was conceived and
produced, it soon became clear that these signs, seals, were a fulcrum
of decisive theoretical debates about the relationship between language
and reality, sign and referent, image and model. Faced with ample
evidence of medieval theorizing, I was struck by the realization that
theorization was hardly the exclusive province of twenty- and twenty-
first century scholars, and also by the idea that, though any theory’s
principles can be abstracted as analytical tools, the actual shape of the-
ory in historical time is primarily formed through its engagement with
specific contemporary events. One has only to think of the breadth
2 introduction

of controversy associated with, say, Deconstruction, Post-Colonialism,

or System Theory to appreciate their contemporary political, indeed
ontological implications. In some instances, records of theoretical
discourse may be the only surviving traces of otherwise unrecorded
historical occurrences. Engaged with the actual circumstances sur-
rounding its formulation, theory is in ongoing dialogue with praxis,
with the world of bodies and objects by means of which communica-
tion occurs, the warp and weft of social reality. Although there need
be no systematic causal linkage between theoretical ideas and socio-
cultural organization—to my knowledge, neither the Hellenistic world
nor Post-Carolingian Europe produced a corpus of postcolonial and
subaltern theory—, the historian is often able to observe a particular
symbiosis of ideas, objects, and practices. It is the identification and
analysis of such particular associations, uniquely composed and oper-
ative in specific historic timeframes and spaces, which intrigue me.
Each component of such associations is, by virtue of being present in
context, situated to perform in a distinctive fashion. Associative pat-
terns present many options to the society within which they form and
operate. As the full range of these options is invariably broader than
the specific whole into which reiterated practice tends to settle them,
their struggle for agency in turn disrupt the associative patterns from
which they originated, and thus activate change in social dynamics.
The associative pattern that is the subject of this book was preva-
lent between the mid-eleventh century and the early thirteenth cen-
tury, entangling scholars, lay and ecclesiastical elites, engraved and
imprinted images, the written word, and a set of theological and
metaphysical discussions intensely focused on the manner of signifi-
cation, the matter of representation, and the definition of personhood
and individuality. This association first became apparent as I sought
to contextualize the appearance of seals on non-royal charters in a
way that would do justice to all the medieval actors concerned. I fol-
lowed these eleventh- and twelfth-century charters and their records
of transactions, not so much forward, in their explicit disposition of
goods and souls, their organization of people, but backward, by inves-
tigating those responsible for their conception, formulation, redaction,
and manipulation. The actual composers of the charters I encountered
were schoolmen, masters broadly involved in the arts of rhetoric and
composition. Although their written output encompassed many differ-
ent genres, letters, charters, glosses, exegetical treatises, philosophical
ruminations, the lexicon they deployed crossed the borders of these
introduction 3

distinctions. I first happened upon a seal metaphor in exegetical writ-

ings attributed to early twelfth-century schoolmen in Laon, whose most
notable figure, Anselm of Laon, served also as the bishop’s chancellor
in charge of the new production of episcopal sealed charters. The inter-
section of seal usage and seal metaphor prompted me to take up two
lines of research. In the first, I sought to determine the extent to which
the seal metaphor was used during the twelfth century. Instances of
such usage proved so numerous and so wide ranging in their seman-
tic dimensions that I decided to focus the present analysis on those
metaphors that engaged the clarification of identity, whether of God
or man, and the explication of images’ signifying modes. In a second
line of research, I explored the ways in which the operations of both
artifactually-based metaphors and of artifacts were mutually enabled
by their concomitant use. In so doing, I discovered that the seal’s
effectiveness in both rhetoric and praxis resided in its mode of pro-
duction. It was less as an object than as a process that seals were mobi-
lized. The process in question was imprinting, a technique whereby a
material containing an image in its inner matter comes into contact
with another material upon which the image is pressed and thereby
revealed. For schoolmen tending to realism, this process exemplified
the reality and supremacy of forms and ideas over matter. Dualism
of this sort informed the widely held Augustinian sign theory which
considered that meaning was derived from the sign’s ideal referent
and was radically independent of the tangible sign itself. However, my
sustained exploration of seal impressions and of seal metaphors has
revealed that in the twelfth-century seals were conceived as embody-
ing their referents’ characteristics. The transcendence of realism was
thus somewhat displaced over time by notions of immanent forms of
signification; seals both clarified and enacted this shift. Thus a paradig-
matic alteration in both the conception and the utilization of seals and,
more generally of material signs, was brewing. The emphasis was no
longer on the transfer of the engraved image independently of its sup-
port. Rather, attention came to be re-focused on the consubstantiality
of the engraved image and its constitutive material; on the contact
between the engraved support and the receptacle of its impression; on
the power of autopoiesis—since the transfer of the image that occurred
between two materials was independent of and hidden from human
agency—and, finally, on the imprinted image as a receptacle preserv-
ing the cont(r)actual mark of its origin, indeed of the presence of its
causal agent (model, prototype). Thus, in seal metaphors, the vector of
4 introduction

signification was no longer teleologically determined but, embedded in

concrete signifying modes, produced meaning as a knowable empirical
conduit for the understanding of effect as caused, of authenticity as
origin, and of representation as presence.
Anthropological and sacramental theology were prime venues for
the newly deployed seal metaphors which served an experimental
immanent semiotics. These were the arenas in which arguments were
mustered concerning the real presence of Christ’s historical body in
the eucharist, the nature of personhood in the Trinity, and the onto-
logical and ethical implications of the creation of man in the image of
God. The concomitant diffusion of the newly promoted sealed charter
brings us back to the delicate issue of the nature of the relationship
between such diverse phenomena.

The application of seals for documentary purposes is not usually con-

sidered from the perspective of twelfth-century theology and sign
theory. Part I addresses questions concerning this methodology. The
diffusion of sealing practices has most typically been related to literacy,
bureaucracy, ruling politics, and to a lesser extent law. As for the seals
themselves and the charters to which they are affixed, their study has
fallen primarily, though no longer exclusively, within the purview of
diplomatics, the traditional auxiliary science devised for the critical
study of charters and diplomas, with sigillography a special subset for
the treatment of seals. In chapters 1 and 2, I argue that medieval sealed
charters have heretofore been considered primarily as a source, raw
material to be exploited within the paradigms established by modern
disciplines in the humanities. The function, one might even say the
personality of the twelfth-century seal, however, does not lend itself to
being confined within the boundaries of modern disciplinary organi-
zation. Firstly, seals themselves were not produced as historical docu-
ments. Secondly, twelfth-century epistemological patterns ran along
quite different lines from our modern analytical categories, which
latter methodologies consequently disrupt the texture of these earlier
medieval patterns. I have attempted to restore the historical agency
and contingency of seals by tracing the itinerary of sealed charters
from the circumstances of their production, to their contemporary
performance, and through the various uses and manipulations which
they inspired and to which they were subjected. Situating seals and
sealing practices within their original medieval conceptual and utili-
tarian spheres of use and thought, however, would be a task difficult
introduction 5

to accomplish without recourse to a diverse range of interpretive tools

derived from diplomatics, semiotic anthropology, cultural history,
material culture, and literary criticism. However, since I believe that
our modern disciplinary-based approaches to the past often impose
distinctions that ignore or even obfuscate the connections that existed
between past phenomena, I am not advocating free willing inter-dis-
ciplinarity. Inter-disciplinarity has greatly contributed to the rigidi-
fication of our epistemological models, fostering the belief that by
transcending specific disciplinary models we somehow abolish them.
In fact, inter-disciplinarity re-enforces an illusion that discipline-based
research is natural when it is actually only a normative behavior that
ignores the arbitrariness of its own configuration. Thus, a modern
mixture of disciplines tends to bury the associative patterns of the past
under the tangles of our own making. The caveats I have just stated
about disciplinarity also extend to theory, as I argue in chapter 3. Nev-
ertheless, modern theoretical and disciplinary categories are certainly
of value under two conditions: when they enable recognition of their
own, often inadequately acknowledged foundational role in our cul-
ture, and also when they foster the identification of differing concep-
tual sluices for the flow of knowledge, the transit of perception, and
the transfer of experience. These are methodological considerations
which I hope to have adequately addressed within this book.
Part II considers the modalities of seal forms and sealing practices
from the early Middle Ages through the first decades of the thirteenth
century. The purpose of such a broad chronological span is a demon-
stration of the extent to which the notion of the ‘medieval seal’ consti-
tutes an umbrella-term for a variety of objects and events that actually
differed widely from time to time, from place to place, in use, aspect,
and interpretation. Chapter 4 focuses on the changing character of
royal French seals which, as iconic signs of documentary authoriza-
tion, were a ruling prerogative in pre-millennial Europe. In chapters
5 and 6, mostly concerned with France and the western part of the
Empire during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, I demonstrate con-
nections between the spread of seal usage beyond kings, to bishops
and high ranking elites, and a medieval socio-academic concern for
mediatic processes. In dealing with such matters, schoolmen turned
to patristic literature (to Augustine in particular) on language, signs
(sacraments), and images, bringing to the fore texts that had hereto-
fore received little attention. At stake apparently was an anxiety that
symbolic representation had no presence. Several experiments were
6 introduction

pursued in order to extend presence so that is could permeate repre-

sentational procedure. In one, the eucharistic sign, self-referenciality
was posited, with identity assuring the rapport between sign and thing,
a status that remained uniquely confined to this particular sign. In
another, the image, likeness and resemblance were invoked, with the
understanding that resemblance implied some aspect of the presence
of that image’s model. This coupling, image and resemblance, was a
strong motif of twelfth-century sensibility and self-perception, animat-
ing a religious desire for the emulation of divine or saintly models
but also inspiring an iconographic vocabulary of social representation
based upon the ontologic notion that to be was to be alike. Chapter 7
engages the third experiment in assuring presence in representation.
Image remained central to this experiment, but not just any image.
I argue here that twelfth-century intellectuals discerned quite differ-
ent modes of signification at work in painted, sculpted, mirror, and
imprinted images. In examining medieval scholarly analyses of such
differences, I have found that the imprinted image was accorded a pre-
eminent representational status, as an entity which related to its model
not only via visual resemblance but also through physical contact. In
the world of sealing practices, however, although seals originally and
long after bore marks of personal bodily contact, they came by the
thirteenth century to be considered as replicas, one of the other, thus
demonstrating that objects may have the power to inflect indeed to
alter the cultural framework within which they operate.
Part III considers images and individuals on the basis of two related
premises previously explored in part II: the appropriateness of the
image as a personal sign of identity, and the ontological nature of man
as the imprinted image of God. Chapter 8 argues that such premises
enforced sameness at all levels of personhood, whether subjective or
objective, and thus produced individuality as alterity, as a negative
marker. In chapter 9, I consider personhood and identity from the
perspective of corporate beings, towns in particular, interpreting the
reasons for the individual expression of collective identity.





Historians have their method, just like anyone else,

and they’re jealous of it, but the Iliad shames any
history of Greece, and Dante stands supreme above
the world’s collected medievalists. Of course, the
medievalists don’t know it, but everyone else does.
As a way to arrive at the truth, exactitude and meth-
odology are, in the end, far inferior to vision and
Mark Helprin1

Medieval Charters, Then and Now

According to the Carolingian poet Rabanus Maurus, writing served

best the interests of the truth and was the perfect norm of salvation.2 At
the beginning of the thirteenth century, Gerald of Wales commented
that “writing is an exacting business. First you decide what to leave
out, and then you have to polish up what you put in.”3 Writing, from
both perspectives, encompassed a wide variety of forms: manuscripts,
documents, seals, engraved metals and stones. Such written sources
are cited interchangeably by medievalists who use them as primary
materials, as a solid basis from which, and in continuity with which,
to project their own historical writings.
I propose to discuss a specific class of the documentary sources
available for Northern France between 1000–1230, so-called docu-
ments of practice, pragmatic records, otherwise known as charters.4

Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War: A Novel (New York, 1991), p. 30.
PL CXII, Carmen ad Bonosum, col. 1608B: Nam Scriptura pia norma est perfecta
salutis, /Et magis in rebus valet, et magis utilis omni est, / Promptior est gustu, sensu
perfectior atque / Sensibus humanis facilis magis arte tenenda/, quoted by Robert
Favreau, “Fonction des inscriptions au Moyen Age,” Cahiers de civilisation médiévale
32 (1989), pp. 204–232, at p. 224.
Gerald of Wales, The Journal Through Wales and the Description of Wales (New
York, 1978), quoted by Marc Drogin, Biblioclasm: The Mythical Origins, Magic Powers,
and Perishability of the Written Word (Savage, Md, 1989), p. vii.
The following sources have been used in this chapter: Chartae Latinae Antiqui-
ores, ed. Albert Bruckner and Robert Marichal. Vol. XIII: France, ed. Helmut Atsma
10 chapter one

Such documents have long been seen as records of legal and economic
activity, showing the world as it was, not as it should have been. In
reading charters, medievalists expect to lift the ideological veil and to
lay hold of the raw material of a retrospective seriography.5 In the age
of postmodern criticism, however, an attempt has been made to erase
presumptive distinctions between ideologically distorted literary texts
and transparent documents. This in fact has led to a redefinition of the
same differentiation but now oriented along a semiological cleavage.
In intellectual texts, processes of meaning production are the subject
matter which may thus be seen in direct operation. On the other hand,
documents are the effects of meaning produced. Charters as products,
rather than as processes, readily lend themselves to a content-oriented
approach,6 and having been left virtually untouched by the waves of
textual criticism, are freshly available for diplomatic analysis.

and Jean Vezin (Zurich, 1981); Clovis Brunel, Recueil des actes des comtes de Pontieu
(Paris, 1880); Marie Fauroux, Recueil des actes des ducs de Normandie de 911 a 1066
(Caen, 1961); Pierre Gasnault, “Les actes privés de l’abbaye de St Martin de Tours
du 8e au 12e siècle,” Bibliothèque de I’Ecole des chartes 112 (1954), pp. 24–66; Olivier
Guillot, Le comte d’Anjou et son entourage au XIe siècle, 2 vols. (Paris, 1972), vol. 2:
Catalogue d’actes; Jean-François Nieus, Les chartes des comtes de Saint-Pol (XIe–XIIIe
siècles) (Turnhout, 2008); Fernand Vercauteren, Actes des comtes de Flandre/Oorkon-
den der graven van Vlaanderen, 1071–1128 (Brussels, 1938); Thérèse de Hemptinne,
Actes des comtes de Flandre/Oorkonden der graven van Vlaanderen, 1128–1168 (Brus-
sels, 1989); Walter Prevenier, Actes des comtes de Flandre/Oorkonden der graven van
Vlaanderen, 1191–1206, 3 vols. (Brussels, 1964–1977).
I have already addressed the context for and implications of increasing lay documen-
tary practices in “The Confrontation of Orality and Textuality: Jewish and Christian
Literacy in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Northern France,” in Rashi, 1040–1990.
Congrès européen des études juives, ed. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna (Paris, 1993), pp. 541–
558, and “Civic Liturgies and Urban Records in Northern France (Twelfth-Fourteenth
Centuries),” in City and Spectacle in Medieval Europe, ed. Kathryn Reyerson and Bar-
bara Hanawalt (Minneapolis and London, 1994), pp. 34–55.
For documentary pratices in Northern France prior to the mid eleventh century, see
Olivier Guyotjeannin, “ ‘Penuria scriptorium.’ Le mythe de l’anarchie documentaire
dans la France du Nord (Xe–première moitié du XIe siècle),” Bibliothèque de l’Ecole
des chartes 155 (1997), pp. 11–44. A special issue of the Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des
chartes 155 (1997), contains the proceedings of a roundtable held on Pratiques de
l’écrit documentaire au XIe siècle. A special issue of Médiévales 56 (2009), Pratiques de
l’écrit, ed. Etienne Anheim and Pierre Chastang, pp. 5–113, also bears primarily on
early medieval documentary writing. See chapter 6 below, especially at notes 50 and 54
for a review of historiographical debates on the growth of medieval literate practices.
Georges Duby, The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined (Chicago, 1980),
p. 147.
This contradictory argument is Hayden White’s, “The Context in the Text: Method
and Ideology in Intellectual History,” in The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse
and Historical Representation (Baltimore, 1987), pp. 185–213, at pp. 187, 210–211.
beyond the text 11

The centrality of documentary sources in the epistemology of medi-

eval history is best exemplified by what was, and still to a very great
extent is, a discipline proper to the field of medieval studies: Diplomat-
ics. Diplomatics has long centered on a detailed examination of written
documents for the purpose of extracting what they say. This assumed
epistemological centrality of the document, however, does not corre-
spond to the role, significance, and meaning of documentation in the
time and place it was generated. I am not suggesting that medieval
historians reject written sources merely because they were not cen-
tral to the medieval mechanics of social action and communication. I
do suggest that recovery of medieval charters’ meaning and evidential
capacity requires analysis of their operations within the society that
produced them, operations that involved being marginal agents, forg-
eries, lexically imprecise texts, linguistic (Latin) and semiotic (letters)
mysteries, ineffective legal tools, distrusted evidence, challenged recep-
tacles of memory, un-consulted archives, ambivalent symbols, ritual
objects, or sacred monuments. Many historians and diplomatists have
listed these many “dysfunctional” characteristics. Perhaps the time has
now come to consider not only the documents, but documentary prac-
tices, and not a failing system but one that worked; we need to explore
how and to what effect. Northern French medieval charters are avail-
able to us as material presences, as objects that were made because
desirable, that have since lived in oblivion, that have been manipu-
lated by silence. They were not produced as sources, and diplomatics
may not therefore dissociate the empirical examination of documents
from a three-tiered awareness: (1) of the principles of historians’ rela-
tion to the documents, (2) of the medieval idea of the document, and
(3) of the fact that in medieval times, everything was off the record so
to speak save that which was read to an audience within earshot.7
The very concept of written source is fundamental in more than
one way to the medieval historian, precisely because the balance
between the sources and the gesture required to establish them is so
tilted toward the founding nature of that gesture. The past that is being
examined is the document, that is a material which is a product, an
ongoing construct, and certainly not a given. Through the comprehen-
sive taxonomy of diplomatics, the medieval status and role of charters,

In the striking wording of Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of
Change, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1979), p. 10.
12 chapter one

which has yet to be assessed, has been changed: from being social
phenomena and cultural artifacts, charters have been rendered into
data, no innocent term. Transformed into a “given,” the very modali-
ties of charters’ creation and being no longer inhere in the medieval
sphere of their use, but in their position within a reified sequence of
types. The charter thus has come to derive meaning as a referential
signpost within the larger class of documents. The multiplicity and
redundancy of documentary signals have been condensed by diplo-
matists and historians who use various schemes of classification. But
these classifications, having become the primary signals, are accepted
and repeated at the cost of original detections. Medieval charters have
partially been detached from their identities and are therefore of tre-
mendously diminished evidential capacity. Because of the epistemic
strategy of their very students they have been severed from many of
their original functions and messages. Further consequences of such
strategy are a narrowing of the already small pool of themes covered
by scribal material, an obscuration of the implications of situated uses
of literate modes, and a requirement that medievalists rely heavily on
contexts as enabling analytical frameworks for charters that were long
supposed to document precisely their own contexts and circumstances
of production. In here proposing an agenda by which to learn directly
from the object itself, to discover what allowed it to be conceived, to
read the chain of its generative acts, I of course build on a rich legacy
of diplomatic critique. However, I wish also to suggest some newer
avenues for future consideration.
Since Mabillon (1632–1707) first placed documentary criticism on a
firm footing in the late seventeenth century, the discipline of diplomat-
ics has been based upon specific set of assumptions. (1) Documents are
to be considered from the viewpoint of their authors, so that categories
include royal diplomas, aristocratic, or monastic, or episcopal charters,
all of which may also be divided into the subcategories of public and
private deeds. (2) Documents which contain the disposition and will
of an agent are to be seen primarily as having been drawn up to serve
probative juridical functions. (3) Documents were drawn up accord-
ing to specific forms and to particular sets of rules in order to achieve
validity. (4) Documents are all part of archival deposits in an order
that is historically significant because it was imposed by the institu-
tion that originally generated or received them. (5) Forged documents
must be differentiated from genuine. Although current diplomatics
embraces, in principle, every form of documentary evidence, it never-
beyond the text 13

theless focuses mainly upon juridical matters by confining most of its

investigation to documents with legal implications and by emphasiz-
ing that these medieval charters have a primarily judicial function.8
In my own practice of diplomatics I began with the formulaic
approach just outlined. In studying Northern French documentary
practices of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, however, I found that
this formalization had imposed the shape of its own method upon the
objects of its study; it obscured evidence of the ways in which these
objects operated. Far from being confined to the juridical, the docu-
mentary practices that I identified suggest combined systems which
are best analyzed without the preconception of an imaginary, unitary,

Documentary, Production and Conservation

Northern French charters are manuscript. By repeating this obvious

characteristic, we are reminded that modes of documentary production

Mabillon’s magistral exposé is found in his De re diplomatica libri VI (Paris,
1681). Much scholarship has been devoted to Mabillon; see for instance Léon Levillain,
“Le ‘De Re Diplomatica’,” in Mélanges et documents publiés à l’occasion du 2e cente-
naire de la mort de Mabillon (Ligugé-Paris, 1908), pp. 192–252; Rutherford Aris, “Jean
Mabillon (1623–1707),” in Medieval Scholarship. Biographical Studies on the Forma-
tion of a Discipline. Vol 1: History, ed. Helen Damico and Joseph B. Zavadil (New
York, 1955), pp. 15–32; Blandine Barret-Kriegel, Mabillon (Paris, 1988); “Jean Mabil-
lon,” with partial English translation of the De Re Diplomatica by Richard Wertis,
in Historians at Work, vol. 2, ed. Peter Gay et Victor G. Wexler (New York, 1972),
pp. 161–198.
The best discussions of diplomatics are found in Robert-Henri Bautier, Chartes
et chancelleries. Etudes de diplomatique et de sigillographie médiévales, 2 vols. (Paris,
1990), especially pp. 3–33,167–182; Leonard Boyle, “Diplomatics,” in Medieval Stu-
dies: An Introduction, ed. James Powell (Syracuse, 1976), pp. 69–101; Georges Tes-
sier, “Diplomatique,” in L’histoire et ses méthodes, ed. Charles Samaran (Paris, 1961),
pp. 633–676; and most recently in Olivier Guyotjeannin, Jacques Pycke et Benoît-
Michel Tock, Diplomatique médiévale (Turnhout, 1993; 3rd rev. éd., 2006; references
throughout the book are to the first edition of Diplomatique médiévale).
It is not my purpose to deny medieval charters any legal function. For studies
that emphasize the use of charters as legal evidence in southern Burgundy, see Karl
Heidecker, “30 June 1047: The End of Charters as Legal Evidence in France?” in
Strategies of Writing. Studies in Text and Trust in Medieval Europe, ed. Petra Schulte,
Marco Mostert, Irene van Renswoude (Brepols, 2008), pp. 85–94, and Heidecker,
“Communication by Written Texts in Court Cases: Some Charter Evidence (ca. 800 B
ca. 1100),” in New Approaches to Medieval Communication, ed. Marco Mostert, first
ed. (Turnhout, 1999), pp. 101–126; second edition. in preparation for 2008–9. See also
below at notes 25–26, and chapter 6 at note 55, for additional bibliography on the role
of charters in the settlement of disputes.
14 chapter one

were not mechanical; they always involved the mediation of a conscious

intelligence, of a process of human creation at the material level. If his-
torians organize their data in relation to conscious expressions and in
the continuity of signs left by scribal activities,9 then medievalists must
be careful to distinguish within their documents the dual level of con-
sciousness which informs the written characters and their semantics.
Medieval self-consciousness about written modes of representation
may be experienced through a work that is not only the residue of an
event but is also an event in its own way, one that directly prompted
other scribes to repeat or to improve its formulation.
Northern French charters between 1000–1230 yield up their full
significance only when attention is paid to the circumstances of their
production and conservation, to their diplomatic discourse, to the
modalities and significance of their use, to their operations within
society, and to the symbiotic relationship they entertain with yet other
systems of signs: the heraldic emblems and images engraved on the
seals attached to these charters (Fig. 1).
Charters in the name of lay lords became more numerous dur-
ing this period even as documentary practices extended from cleri-
cal and monastic to lay milieus. However, up until the beginning of
the twelfth century, the process and control of written records had
remained the monopoly of religious establishments which drafted and
preserved those records of land endowments made to them and those
acts which settled disputes over land ownership in their favor. The
donor in whose name a charter records the decision to transfer land
remains a problematic author from the viewpoint of the creation of
the document: though he may have ordered the document to be made,
as is sometimes specified in the charter, he is certainly not the one who
composed and wrote it. Therefore, in addressing existing catalogues
of the acts of the counts of Anjou, Champagne, Flanders, Ponthieu,
Saint-Pol, or of the lords of Montmorency and Nesles, a critical early
step should be establishment of the scribal provenance of such deeds.10

In the word of Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History (New York, 1988),
p. 210, who has inspired much of my own consideration of the craftsmanship of the
historical discipline, as has George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the His-
tory of Things (New Haven, 1962), and to some lesser extent Tendances, perspectives,
et méthodes de l’histoire médiévale. Actes du Centième congrès national des Sociétés
savantes, vol. 1 (Paris, 1977).
This is the method I followed in order to assess the circumstances for, and the
significance of, the diffusion of sealing during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, see
chapter 6 below.
beyond the text 15

This is also true for royal diplomas which, too, between the tenth and
the twelfth centuries, were drawn up primarily outside the royal chan-
cery by their ecclesiastical recipients. Actually, it would be useful to
conceive of charters and diplomas, and thus to organize their potential
editions, from the viewpoint of their originating scriptoria. This would
define spheres of scribal activity and serve to map their interactions
with the zones and assertions of lay authorities.
Such an approach shifts the emphasis from the charter as an act of
individual or familial will to the charter as part of an archive. Here
the historian and diplomatist must be cautious, for there may be no
necessary contiguity between the archive of an abbey and documents
drafted in its scriptoria. The archive might well, for example, include
documents produced elsewhere, especially from other religious institu-
tions endowed with their own writing bureaus. As a result, cartularies,
which from the twelfth century onward registered copies of monastic
title-deeds held in a particular archive, cannot be used systematically
to document the output of its abbey’s scriptorium.11 Nevertheless,
the inclusion of a charter as part of a particular archive imparts to it
a specific function, at the very least, preservation; but to what end?
As discussed below, in cases of contested transactions, monks rarely
referred to charters in trying to prove their rights, and these were often
too vague about the property transferred. Even the witnesses listed in
the charters were not those called for testimony; testimony and its
authenticity still resided with people, not with charters.
Asking in the broadest terms what was meaningful in the very act of
archiving, attention may be drawn to documentary practices in North-
ern French towns, which reveal a formal requirement for city archives.
Urban governments produced documents for their citizens who wished
to put their contracts into writing. The format of these urban records,
known as chirographs, consisted of several copies of a text recording
that a covenant had been made in the presence of specifically named
town officials. The identical texts were then cut apart along a marked
incision so that parties to the conveyances could each receive an iden-
tical version of the text. Authenticity was to be proven by matching
the cut edges of the copies with a reference copy deposited within the
city archive, which served as a matrix from which the other versions
of the transaction derived their authenticity. Chirographs were used to

Specific instances of such situations are analyzed in chapter 2 below.
16 chapter one

some extent by ecclesiastical institutions and by the nobility (Fig. 2),12

but not in the systematic way that came to characterize the documen-
tary practice of Northern French towns. This has led to the veritable
equation of chirographs with urban records.13 When a portion of the
chirograph bearing the names of all parties to the transactions was
placed in the urban archive, these individuals were inscribed within
the ongoing narrative of the city’s history. This event made them part
of the very substance of the collective identity from which they as
individuals derived the means and meanings of their social behavior.
Such archives, which were stored in the town hall, compelled a defini-
tion of this most urban of spaces, and ultimately of the town itself, as
the very source for documentary authenticity, as the locus credibilis.14
Archives thus played a critical symbolic role in marking the city as an
authoritative center of credibility, and in imprinting its society with
an authentic identity.15

Michel Parisse, “Remarques sur les chirographes et les chartes-parties antérieures
à 1120 et conservées en France,” Archiv für Diplomatik 32 (1986), pp. 546–567.
Fifty thousand urban chirographs from the thirteenth century onward are still
extant in the city archives of Douai, as well as several thousands each in the city
archives of Valenciennes and Abbeville, R.-H. Bautier, “L’authentification des actes
privés dans la France médiévale,” in Notariado publico y documento privado: de los
origines al siglo XIV. Actas del VII Congreso Internacional de Diplomatica (Valencia,
1986), pp. 701–772, at p. 744; reprinted in Chartes, sceaux, et chancelleries, vol. 1, pp.
269–340, at p. 312.
Article 4 of the 1352 charter of the town of Saint-Josse reads: “et porra on par
devant eulx [the échevins] passer et faire toutes obligations, acors, recognoissanches
faites entre parties; et de ychelles feront chartres ou chirograffes, dont il tenront une
des parties, et en bailleront a cascune partie autant se elles le requierent.” Augustin
Thierry, Recueil des documents inédits de l’histoire du Tiers Etat. Tome quatrième:
pièces relatives a l’histoire municipale d’Abbeville . . . (Paris, 1870), p. 638.
The urban chirograph remained in use through the second half of the fourteenth
century. The later-developed system of registering deeds of title from which were
issued as many originals as needed also involved the maintenance of these registers in
urban archives. See mention of registers in the 1343 statute for the administration of
Rue, article 3: “Item, que les escriptures des chartes de le dite ville et des autres coses
seront faites a l’anchien usage, et y ara caier propres pour les chartes, et seront passées
en plain eskevinage, et les chirographes recordées, et les chartes seelées; et y ara propre
caier as causes, as mises et as recheptes, chascun a l’ordenanche, et un pour les plais,
prochiés et arrés.” (Thierry, Recueil des documents inédits, vol. 4, p. 672.)
Alain de Boüard, Manuel de diplomatique française et pontificale. Tome II. L’acte
privé (Paris, 1948), pp. 238–241; Bautier, «L’authentification des actes privés,» p. 739;
Georges Espinas, La vie urbaine de Douai au Moyen Age, 4 vols. (Paris, 1913), vol. 1,
p. 536; Henri Sellier, L’authentification des actes par l’échevinage (Lille, 1934), p. 144,
quoting an article from the customal of Cambrai: «Lettres en ferme [i.e., in city archi-
ves] sont mères en elles, faisantes plainte foy de ce qu’ elles contiennent.»
This argument has been further developed in Bedos-Rezak, “Civic Liturgies and
Urban Records in Northern France.”
beyond the text 17

Diplomatic Discourse and the Performance of Charters

Clerical scribes thus controlled the form, terminology, and language

of the diplomatic discourse. They wrote in Latin, which they alone
knew (the earliest preserved vernacular document is a 1205 city record
from Douai). Charters originating from a single scriptorium tend to
display standardized features but, and here diplomatics may have been
guilty of over-categorization, standardization was specific to the local-
ity, and the overall texture of scribal culture remained fluctuating,
uneven, and multiform. As a result of this, and not merely because
charters are rather few, quantification is of little value and ill suited
to the conditions of scribal culture. Shared features within charters
of identical scribal origin include lexical specificities, textual forms,
traditions and topoi for the preambles. All these articulate the cultural
and ideological models ambient in a given scriptorium. They should
consequently be analyzed with reference to the volumes produced by
or kept in the library of the specific scriptorium in order to investigate
the borrow-terms from classical texts and medieval treatises and their
application in charters to the description of what was perceived as
social reality. It would also be worthwhile to look at a scriptorium’s
textual production in toto so as to evaluate the extent to which Latin
words were polysemic, and from which terminological traffic the ulti-
mate patterns of semantic unity flowed. Such philological filiation,
once established,16 would allow one to consider the ways in which
diplomatic discourse engaged the reality that was its object. What was
it within living experience that inspired such modes of representation
but was yet not identical to it? Is the combination of themes (in pre-
ambles), titles (nobilis, consul, miles), acts (donation, exchange, agree-
ment), a lexicon of what took place, or a structure within which might
be organized a manifestation congenial to the relationships, imaginary
or otherwise, which the scribes bore to their own social and cultural
situations? With the general increase of written documents in the elev-
enth and twelfth centuries, there appeared all sorts of new elements,
such as specific social categorizations and political definitions. Were
these entirely new elements or elements newly put into writing? Now
that, by means of written artifacts, a medium for the preservation of

See an instance of this in Bernard S. Bachrach, “Neo-Roman vs. Feudal: The
Heuristic Value of a Construct for the Reign of Fulk Nerra, count of the Angevins
(987–1040),” Cithara 30 (1990), pp. 3–30, at p. 9.
18 chapter one

complex context is made available, have we evidence for a new con-

text, or for a new medium? We know that property was transferred
previously without the benefit of charters; charters allowed new means
for solemnizing, validating and executing the transfer, but the transfer
itself was not new. Some social categories, among witnesses especially,
appear so suddenly in eleventh-century charters that they are likely to
have been consolidated over the years. Pushing the argument to an
extreme, could we, in talking about a feudal revolution, for instance,
be confusing the clarification of social concepts performed through
writing with a possibly a-synchronous growth of specific social struc-
ture? If this were the case, might not the “feudal revolution” above all
be a revolution in diplomatics?17
The relationship between the social terminology used in these docu-
ments and constitutional reality, and the related question of the evi-
dential capacity of charters, are perhaps best addressed by considering
the charter as an agent for the structuring of society. In eleventh-
century Northern France, diplomatic discourse extended far beyond
the bare recording of transactions. It declared the donors’ motivations,
inscribing them within the rationale of Christian ethics and salvific
eschatology. It garbed donors with titles of dignity, thus articulat-
ing a social system by which the donors’ status was given definition,
meaning, and precedence. It also shaped kin groups in reporting the
modalities of the laudatio parentum, and networks of dependence and
solidarity when listing witnesses.18 Documentary discourse and prac-
tice sacralized the whole process: thus a formula came systematically
to accompany the autograph cross of the donor (Fig. 3), stating that
the cross strengthened the act, would prevent it from being attacked,
or would bring excommunication or divine retribution upon whom-

The argument in favor of a feudal mutation during the eleventh century is made
by Jean-Pierre Poly and Eric Bournazel, La mutation féodale, Xe–XIIe siècle, 2nd ed.
(Paris, 1993). For the argument against a feudal revolution at the turn of the sec-
ond millennium, with a presentation of the full debate, see most recently Dominique
Barthélémy, The Serf, the Knight, and the Historian, trans. Robert Graham Edwards
(Ithaca, 2009); in chapter 2, pp. 12–36, Barthélémy challenges the traditional distinc-
tion made in diplomatics between charters and notices, which supports the equally
traditional notion that the notice was a degenerated form, representative of the socio-
political turmoil of the eleventh century.
Steven D. White, Custom, Kinship, and Gifts to Saints. The Laudatio Parentum in
Western France, 1050–1150 (Chapel Hill and London, 1988).
beyond the text 19

ever failed to respect the content of the charter.19 Further sacralization

was achieved by the custom of placing it on the altar.20 The supernatu-
ral protection explicit in the deed’s association with cross and altar
implied that the written act functioned as representative of a superior,
irrevocable order, and that the document itself might mediate divine
punishment; threats of malediction and of excommunication were
now regularly incorporated within final clauses.21 These textual con-
structs in charter format might be, and were, read aloud in translation
thus involving the audience in an oral experience which shaped and
communicated awareness of their socio-cultural environment.22 The
charters themselves came to play a central part in the performance of
rituals and social forms maintained in the oral tradition then preva-
lent in aristocratic lay culture. Many charters state that they have been
touched by everybody’s hand in order to prevent any quarrel, or refer

Guillot, Le comte d’Anjou, vol. 2, p. 9, note 21: 1056, donation of Count Geoffrey
to the abbey of Marmoutier: cartam istam . . . sacratissime crucis in eadem effigiato
vexillo quo adversus omnem possit esse tuta calumniam munivimus; Fauroux, Recueil
des actes des ducs de Normandie, no. 43 p. 148: 1015–1026, donation of Duke Richard
II to the abbey of St Ouen: . . . per signum crucis cum excommunicatione hanc cartam
firmavit. . . .
Fauroux, Recueil des actes des ducs de Normandie, for instance no. 149 p. 334:
1040–1050, confirmation by Duke William of a donation in favor of the abbey of
St Leger, . . . pro sua suorumque salute, donationem supra altare posuit, de his omnibus
que Hunfridus dederat. . . . See also a discussion of placing charters on altars in Boüard,
Manuel de diplomatique, vol. 2, pp. 112–114; Guyotjeannin, Diplomatique médiévale,
p. 86. The placement of charters on the altar was a current phenomenon during the
eleventh and twelfth centuries.
Yvonne Bongert, Recherches sur les cours laïques du Xe au XIIe siècles (Paris,
1949), p. 43, indicates several instances of such threats in tenth- and eleventh-century
charters. There is scholarly consensus on the fact that the use of documentary clauses
involving spiritual maledictions against betrayers of a charter’s content grew numer-
ous during the tenth and early eleventh century and declined in the later part of that
century; see a review of the evidence in Lester K. Little, “La morphologie des malédic-
tions monastiques,” Annales. E.S.C. 34 (1979), pp. 43–60, at p. 47; Little, Benedictine
Maledictions. Liturgical cursing in Romanesque France (Ithaca, 1993); Jeffrey Bowman,
“Do Neo-Romans Curse,” Viator 28 (1997), pp. 1–32; Michel Zimmermann, “Pro-
tocoles et préambules dans les documents Catalans du Xe au XIIe siècle: évolution
diplomatique et signification spirituelle,” Mélanges de la Casa de Velasquez 10 (1974),
pp. 41–76, 11(1975), pp. 51–79, at vol. 10, pp. 51–54.
On the charters being read aloud and on the vocal participation of its audi-
ence, see Little, “Maledictions monastiques,” p. 48; White, Laudatio Parentum, pp.
37, 208; Emily Tabuteau, Transfers of Property in Eleventh-Century Norman Law
(Chapel Hill, 1988), pp. 207, 212–215, 220. On lay donors gaining social identity
through their patronage of religious houses, see the comments of John Howe, “The
Nobility’s Reform of the Medieval Church,” American Historical Review 93 (1988),
pp. 317–339, at p. 334.
20 chapter one

to the eloquia and gesta, words and gestures of a donor, or have objects
physically attached to them—knives or rods by conveyance of which
acts of alienation had traditionally been performed.23 By being spoken
and manipulated, charters served to represent a particular order; they
asserted control of time and space. They can be conceived as literally
producing and organizing social meaning. Perhaps they should even
be evaluated as embodiments and instruments of power, on behalf of
clerics who had the power and knowledge (a virtual monopoly of lit-
eracy) to state the order of the universe, and on behalf of lay magnates
who came to see the written word as representative of their power
because it was a means for the expression and reinforcement of a
social order in which they were accorded images of superior status.
The charters issued from and kept by a single monastery allow the
identification of an aristocratic group unified by its gifts in its inter-
actions with this monastery; perhaps it is possible here to perceive
a medieval version of a clientele. By inscribing lay gifts, the titles of
the donors, their family connections, the list of their witnesses, the
scribes are also inscribing a social order, mapping zones of author-
ity, organizing its hierarchy. In noting that eleventh- and twelfth-
century donations to Ile-de-France abbeys register a sociological shift
by which small landholders become totally excluded in favor of wealthy
noble donors, I wonder whether it is possible to conceive that monks
screened their donors, or at least the recording of gifts, so as to create
through an archive that pattern of landholding and that structure of
authority corresponding to their specific vision of social order; and
they enacted this order through documentary practice and symbolic
manipulation of charters.
Could this hypothetical performative function have been so central
that adoption of its perspective may now be used to shed light on what
appear to be charters’ dysfunctional aspects? Although the land and
property rights granted to monasteries and their saints are responsible
for the documentary explosion in eleventh-century Northern France,
a recent analysis of eleventh-century Norman charters shows how few
charters describe the land transaction being recorded accurately; nor
is it clear what witnesses were to do, or did, in defense of a challenged

Bedos-Rezak, “The Confrontation of Orality and Textuality,” p. 549; Boüard,
L’acte privé, pp. 112–120; Michael T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record.
England, 1066–1307, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 307–317.
beyond the text 21

alienation.24 In Anjou it appears that, even when a charter was con-

tested in the lifetime of the listed witnesses, the witnesses called upon
for testimony might actually be different from those listed.25 There are
virtually no records of written charters being cited as proofs against
the challengers of their content. A substantial disjunction exists
between text and life experience when the discursive claim is made by
donors within charters that they wanted their gifts to be permanent
for there is much evidence of other people’s or even of the donor’s
own, challenges to those very gifts whose permanency was presented
as surrounded by various modes of assurance, among them the charter
itself.26 The textually expressed purpose of the charter, initially, was to
provide such assurance, but neither its recording of actions, nor of the
names of those witnesses who would have to testify to these actions
in case of a contestation, seem to have resulted in the completion of
such actions. Though often denominated “obstacles to oblivion,” char-
ters nevertheless appear to have failed in their function of preserving
memory and were not necessarily invoked when land transfers were
actually challenged. This may indicate that, during the period under
consideration, expert memory was continuously assembled in numer-
ous settings where the working intelligence of daily life was repeat-
edly reshaped and constituted as the base of the knowledge of the
past. Similarly, the permanence associated with a gift of land may not
simply have involved possession of the land and its use. It also involved
and required regular challenge, because in order to be preserved,

Tabuteau, Transfers of Property, pp. 11–12, 148–149, 212.
Guillot, Le comte d’Anjou et sort entourage, vol. 2, pp. 18–20; Barthélémy, “The
Serf, the Knight,” p. 24, citing cases from the Loire Vallée, disputes Guillot’s statement.
Barthélémy’s eagerness to show that notices were produced with clear functional pur-
poses to which they were adequate is well taken; his perception of the charters and
notices’ functional purposes, however, remains itself too dependent upon a traditional
conception of acta as primarily legal instruments.
See such cases in Tabuteau, Transfers of Property, p. 113, and in White, Laudatio
Parentum, passim. Cases of charters that seem dysfunctional with respect to their
explicitly intended purposes are numerous but there also exist instances in which
charters were produced in support of claims. My purpose, in focusing on the dysfunc-
tional, is to show that charters operated well beyond the legal and economic spheres
assigned to them by modern scholarship, see above at note 8.
Since the publication of an earlier version of this chapter (Bedos-Rezak, “Diplo-
matic Sources and Medieval Documentary Practices: An Essay in Interpretive Meth-
odology,” The Past and Future of Medieval Studies, ed. John Van Engen (Notre Dame
and London, 1994), pp. 313–343), the agency and efficacy of medieval charters have
received much attention; for a selective bibliography on the question, see chapter 6
below at note 55.
22 chapter one

ownership had to be seen as being preserved. Permanence also inhered

in the very social relationships that were created, maintained, and con-
tinued to operate throughout the ongoing negotiations surrounding
titles to land and revenues. For the negotiations and settlements of
disputes involved both donors and beneficiaries, and their groups of
witnesses as well, that is, a whole society addressing the complexity
of its inner hierarchy and dynamics. The permanence of gifts was thus
conceived as part of an ongoing process, not as a static situation, and
was the necessary framework for the definition of social groupings.

Acculturation to Documentary Practices

In the eleventh and early-twelfth centuries, charters were part rather

than proof of those processes by which land was transferred. To see
this period of the Middle Ages as having a history without texts would
indeed be excessive. Yet charters may be best considered as written
objects rather than as texts since they were not produced by their lay
donors, were written in a foreign language and could not be easily
deciphered, since in short, as written texts, they existed outside the
living experience of the great majority of medieval people. By consid-
ering their nature as objects, the medievalist elicits their role in rituals,
in the visual, tactile, and auditory sensitivity of medieval people. This
enables an understanding of documentary writing as a scripture, as an
inscription of order, as a medium operating through a strong sense of
the holy, and itself as mediation between the earthly and the divine.
If a function of communication is to be part of an understanding of
these charters, medievalists must seek to uncover the various modali-
ties of the non-literate legibility of such documents. Charters had lev-
els of signification, since they were publicized, engraved on the doors
of cathedrals or of city walls,27 and since ultimately concrete writing of
things ceased to be marginal and symbolic, becoming for the lay aris-
tocracy an integral and defining project of documentation. Charters
progressively came to acquire those legal meanings and functions of
proof and title deeds they were later analyzed as having, though never

Examples from Arras, Blois, and Germany are given in Favreau, “Fonction des
inscriptions au Moyen Age,” pp. 210–214. Sustained exchanges between the disci-
plines of epigraphy and of diplomatics would be fruitful.
beyond the text 23

to the point, I think, where they should be considered mere reposito-

ries of evidentiary texts.
Any proper consideration of Northern French charters between
1000 and 1230 must take into consideration the fact of their rapid
multiplication, the processes by which clerical scribes convinced non-
literate laymen to transact affairs by means of writing and by which the
secular nobility came to adopt a literate mode, the ultimate success of
which was clearly dependent upon their own willingness to participate.
Ample evidence of vigorous monastic scribal activities testify, among
other things, to the important role of monks in acculturating the laity
to documentary practices. This role is increasingly obvious to us today,
and it appears that the format of the lay aristocratic charter evolved in
the specific historical and ideological context of the churchmen’s need
and preference for writing, but the modes of acculturation have yet to
be unraveled from the evidence of empirical practices.28 A systematic
study of aristocratic command within final clauses of charters that trans-
actions or agreements be put into writing, would be instructive for trac-
ing the increasing participation of the laity into literate modes, and the
moments and circumstances of its initiative in the matter. Whether,
and if so when, at some point monastic scriptoria acted on behalf of
the nobility as writing bureaus even for those gifts not made in these
monks’ favor might also shed light on the ways in which the laity came
to resort to literate modes and to conceptualize the notion of a chan-
cery for its own use. Ultimately princely charters came to be drafted in
princely chanceries. Evidence of a chancellor is attested around 1080
in Anjou,29 ca. 1107 in Blois,30 ca. 1106–1135 in Normandy,31 ca. 1125

In his Begging Pardon and Favor. Ritual and Political Order in early Medieval
France (Ithaca and London, 1992), pp. 207–213, 241–288, Geoffrey Koziol analyses
instances of diplomatic discourse in which monastic scribes display sensitivity to the
status of the charters’ authors, thus producing documents that would be acceptable to
these authors as enhancements of their eminence. More generally, Koziol argues that
diplomatic discourses varied according to regional structures of political authority.
Guillot, Le comte d’Anjou, vol. 1, pp. 420, 422.
Michel Bur, La formation du comté de Champagne (Nancy, 1977), p. 425.
Walter Prevenier, “La chancellerie des comtes de Flandre dans le cadre euro-
péen a la fin du XIIe siècle,” Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des chartes 125 (1976), pp. 34–93,
at p. 46; see also Thérèse de Hemptinne, W. Prevenier, Maurice Vandermaesen, “La
chancellerie des comtes de Flandres (12e-14e Siècle),” in Landesherrliche Kanzleien im
Spätmitelalter (VI. internaz. Kongreß für Diplomatik, München, 1983), 2 vol., (Munich,
1984), vol. 2, pp. 433–454.
24 chapter one

in Champagne,32 and ca. 1136 in Flanders.33 Though clerics continued

to form the staffs of these secular chanceries, potentates nevertheless
now secured for themselves control of those documents written in
their own names, which previously had typically been drawn up by
the scribes of the recipient ecclesiastical institutions. However, while
it is clear that this evolution involved the increase, not of lay literacy
but of an irreversible lay use of and accommodation to written docu-
ments, this sequence has been noted rather than analyzed. Cited as a
de facto premise for studies on literacy, it has been considered as an
epiphenomenon of administrative evolution, as a consequence of the
revival of Roman law, or simply as a by-product and the instrument
of economic growth.34 The lay adoption of literate modes has not been
posited as a cultural reorientation with its own sphere of modalities
and significance. Yet, in Northern France, lay aristocratic participation
in documentary practices actually preceded all these administrative,
legal, and economic developments.
Having discussed the uses, meanings, and effects of charters within
the society that produced them, I wish to outline further a few lines of
inquiry. It was over gifts of land that the noble and the scribal worlds
met, and noble assimilation to documentary forms cannot be sepa-
rated from a consideration of the value system inherent in specific uses

Theodore Evergates, The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne, 1100–1300
(Philadelphia, 2007), pp. 8, 11, 16 places the appearance of a chancery during the rule
of Count Henry I (1152–1181). There seems, however, to be references to chancellors
as early as ca. 1125, Bur, La formation du comté de Champagne, p. 426.
Prevenier, “La chancellerie des comtes de Flandre,” pp. 34 sq.; Hemptinne, Pre-
venier, Vandermaesen, “La chancellerie des comtes de Flandre.” Both these studies
qualify some of the earlier remarks by Henri Pirenne, “La chancellerie et les notaires
des comtes de Flandre avant le 13e siècle,” in Mélanges Julien Havet (Paris, 1895), pp.
The following studies, based on an implicit acceptance of a revival of documen-
tary modes in tandem with general legal, economic, or administrative developments,
provide excellent insights into the operation of literate modes within the medi-
eval mentality from the eleventh century onward: Brian Stock, The Implications of
Literacy (Princeton, 1983), pp. 32–34, who is sensitive to the fact that the process by
which the medieval literate culture shaped itself is poorly understood; Franz H. Bäuml
“Varieties and Consequences of Medieval Literacy and Illiteracy,” Speculum 55 (1980),
pp. 237–265; Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record. England; the series Utrecht
Studies in Medieval Literacy, ed. Marco Mostert, gathers an ever growing corpus of
publications dealing with the history of non-verbal, oral and written communication
in the Middle Ages. For a study on literacy that concludes that “literacy was there
to be simply acquired, and it was acquired simply because it was there,” see Simon
Franklin, “Literacy and Documentation in Early Medieval Russia,” Speculum 60
(1985), pp. 1–38, quotation p. 38.
beyond the text 25

of landed property.35 According to the charters, land, and therefore

wealth, circulated through gift. Gift is a peace-time mechanism for the
redistribution of landed wealth. It was through land alienation, and no
longer through land plundering, that the nobles might enhance their
prestige by behaving generously and by controlling the structure of
their environment. Inspired by the Peace of God, a notion began to
enter noble culture that rights won by arms could no longer provide
an absolute and legitimate justification for status and land-holding.
It is quite possibly in connection with this reassessment of the place
of warfare within the noble ethos that the relevance of documen-
tary modes for rights over the land established its importance within
the lay aristocratic mentality. As a result of the zeal of tenth- and
eleventh-century reformers, the monastic attitude to religion progres-
sively penetrated the aristocracy which, by the eleventh century, was
accustomed to be concerned about the Day of Judgment,36 and to
consider its penitential needs as being directly related to its proclivity
for warfare. The crux of the issue seems to have been the redemptive
significance achieved by pious gifts.37 The relationship created between
lay donors and religious institutions involved God and his saints, and
ultimately was based on the lay concern for salvation. The eleventh
and twelfth centuries were the great period of donationes pro anima,
donations for the soul, which involved a lay gift of land to an abbey
in exchange for the donor’s and selected beneficiaries’ redemption of
sins and salvation after their deaths.38 This linkage of and reciprocity

For an analysis of the uses made of property as part of a history of ideas, see
Barbara Rosenwein, To Be the Neighbor of Saint Peter: The Social Meaning of Cluny’s
Property, 909–1049 (Ithaca and London, 1989).
On the centrality of salvation within aristocratic spirituality, see Constance
Bouchard, Sword, Miter and Cloister. Nobility and the Church in Burgundy, 980–1198
(Ithaca and London, 1987), pp. 225–229, 241–246; Howe, “The Nobility’s Reform of
the Medieval Church,” 333–334; Gerd Tellenbach, Church, State and Christian Society
(Oxford, 1959), p. 84.
S. White, “ ‘Pactum . . . Legem Vincit et Amor Judicium’: The Settlement of Dis-
putes by Compromise in Eleventh-Century Western France,” American Journal of
Legal History 22 (1979), pp. 291–309, at pp. 302–306 (reprinted in his Feuding and
Peace-Making in Eleventh-Century France [Aldershot, 2005], V), who enlarged his
argument in Laudatio Parentum, chapter 5, with specific developments on the extra-
economic significance of land and land transactions in medieval society.
Gasnault, “Les actes privés de St Martin de Tours,” p. 43; Brunel, Recueil des
actes des comtes de Pontieu, p. xl; Vercauteren, Actes des comtes de Flandre, pp. viii,
xx, xlv; Fauroux, Recueil des actes des ducs de Normandie, pp. 29, 35; Guillot, Le comte
d’Anjou, II, passim; Nieus, Les chartes des comtes de Saint-Pol, nos 1, 4, 5, 9, pp. 83–84,
87–90, 93.
26 chapter one

between religious and lay interests was crucial for the development
of the mechanisms of property transfer, principally by means of the
written record. It is indeed in the area of property law that orality
came largely to be superseded. Yet, in the twelfth century, writing
did not secure the stability of gifts. Gifts were social actions which
were represented not as abstract categories, but as events embedded
in, and expressive of, a given social network. The referents of such
social acts were actual circumstances which were to be remembered
in the form of particular lived experiences. Charters articulated and
gave meaning to a specific social structure. They had not yet evolved
into trans-temporal compositions functioning as their own referents;
they encapsulated the present, but could not control the future, that
is, provide permanence and stability, because they had not achieved
self-referential authority.

The Authentication of Charters: Persons, Signs, Seals

A tendency toward such authoritative format may be inferred from the

evolving modes of documentary enforcement. Divine maledictions or
the sign of the cross had attempted to bring supernatural sanctions to
bear. Power for the maintenance of permanent donations came to be
also vested in, or to be the responsibility of, a certain category of indi-
viduals termed viri authentici, viri boni, viri legales, or viri legitimi.39

The formulae pro anima and lay eschatological concerns were already present
in early medieval charters, also expressing the notion that gifts of earthly property
involved heavenly salvation: Marculfi Formulae, ed. Karl Zeumer, Monumenta Germa-
niae Historica, Legum V. Formulae (Hannover, 1886), pp. 74, 75, 76, 78, 98, 100, Hei-
nrich Fichtenau, Arenga. Spätantike und Mittelalter im Spiegel von Urkundenformeln
(Cologne, 1957), pp. 143–144. What is new in eleventh-century charters is the system-
atic association between gifts of land to saints, their redemptive effects, and concerns
for their memory and stability. See an analytical survey of the purposes and functions
of gifts to saints in White, Laudatio Parentum, pp. 74–76, 154–156; Bouchard, Sword,
Miter and Scepter, pp. 225–246; Rosenwein, To Be the Neighbor, pp. 41, 136–139.
Charters containing mention of viri authentici have been identified in the card
catalogue of the Novum Glossarium Mediae Latinitatis (Nouveau Du Cange), IRHT
and now Institut de France (Paris). The specific function of the homo legitimus in Eng-
land has been analyzed by Charles Odegaard, “Legalis Homo,” Speculum 15 (1940),
pp. 186–193. Discussions about viri authentici have remained inconclusive with regard
to their status and function. No in-depth study of the topic is available; see the few
comments in Guillot, Le comte d’Anjou, vol. 2, pp. 16–18; Auguste Dumas, “Etude
sur le classement des formes des actes,” Le Moyen Age 43 (1933), pp. 81–97, 145–182,
257–264, at pp. 153–157; Boüard, L’acte privé, pp. 142, 230, 266; Tabuteau, Transfers
of Property, pp. 151–153, 156; Bernard Guenée, “Authentique et approuvé. Recherches
beyond the text 27

Whenever these individuals are identified, they are men, never women,
of some authority and distinction, and they are specifically presented
as known. They may include the local count, castellan, or bishop, dig-
nitaries who exercised judicial functions. Most often, however, they
are invoked in the charters as an anonymous group of men, whose
suitable presence and “authentic” quality gave worth to the transac-
tion and to its written record. This anonymous rendering makes it
difficult now to evaluate whether such worth derived from these indi-
viduals’ moral, political, or military character. Local knowledge must
have informed the specific composition of such groups whose mem-
bers clearly enjoyed a local reputation. Their participation in the act,
and in its recording, was as particular individuals, based on their status
within the community that had faith in them. Yet, it was precisely as
an anonymous group that these witnesses displayed an official char-
acter. They constituted a category, and although authenticity may also
have emanated from their authority as individuals, it is possible to
perceive here the use of an a-temporal category which extended living
memory and its credibility across time, and which implied the abstract
concept of office.
With the appearance of seals on episcopal and aristocratic charters
in the late eleventh century, the quality of authenticity became inher-
ent in the seals themselves and in the sealed charters, that is, in objects
(Fig. 4).40 The authentic charter was an iconic document in which sev-
eral systems of signs—the letter, the image, the heraldic emblem—
entertained a symbiotic relationship. The traditional scholarly view
of the medieval seal has focused almost exclusively on its function
in the authentication of written documents. This classical concep-
tion, while accurate, is perhaps incomplete for a phenomenon which

sur les principes de la critique historique au Moyen Age,” in La lexicographie du latin

médiéval et ses rapports avec les recherches actuelles sur la civilisation du Moyen Age:
Colloques internationaux du C.N.R.S., 589 (Paris, 1981), pp. 215–229, at pp. 216–217,
reprinted in Guenée, Politique et histoire au Moyen Age (Paris, 1981), pp. 265–278;
Bongert, Recherches sur les cours laïques, p. 257; Jan Ziolkowski, “Cultures of Autho-
rity in the Long Twelfth Century,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology (JEGP)
108 (2009), pp. 421–448, at pp. 429–430. I wish to thank Professor James Simpson for
bringing this essay to my attention.
On the diffusion of-seal usage within French society, see below, chapters 6–7;
Bedos-Rezak, “The Social Implications of the Art of Chivalry: The Sigillographic Evi-
dence (France, 1050–1250),” in The Medieval Court in Europe, ed. Edward Haymes,
Houston German Studies 6 1986), 142–175, reprinted in Form and Order in Medieval
France. Studies in Social and Quantitative Sigillograpby (Aldershot, 1993), VI.
28 chapter one

presents much broader implications. For in the Middle Ages, the seal
was a fact of civilization, and its perception merely as a means of docu-
mentary validation would fail to take adequate account of the addi-
tional dimensions which provide insights into the medieval construct
of social identity. A new goal for medievalists, therefore, would be
to present seals as a medium for several cultural discourses: political,
familial, individual, and gender, and to assess seals’ specific participa-
tion in the very social processes they expose.
Study of the social and cultural implications of seals must involve an
understanding of the objects themselves. The seal presents a dualistic
aspect. For the matrix, engraved intaglio, impressed a raised image
upon a secondary surface, most often of wax or lead (Fig. 5). This
technical definition would appear to obscure many cultural nuances
pertaining to seals as implements of social importance. Such a defini-
tion, however, does underscore the essence of seals as active agents,
the value of which lies in their creative capacity, in their power of
becoming (the impressions) as well as simply of being (the intaglio
matrices).41 This regenerative potential lies close to the essence of liv-
ing things—not of inanimate objects—and herein may lie the repre-
sentational capacity of seals. Seals were active extensions of their users.
The seal matrix, designed to be impressed into a receptive surface, was
carved in the negative. In this form seals were “inner-directed,” func-
tioning as quasi-amuletic objects, and as personal accoutrements of
status. When impressed, the seal projected a three-dimensional image
and any inscription included within the seal device became legible. In
this outward-directed form, the seal functioned as a sign, conveying
identity, status, prestige, and power-covenant. Since the seal operated
through the medium of its progeny, as a progenitor, and was intended
for repetitive use under a wide variety of circumstances, it had to dis-
play the most essential elements of a sealer’s identity. This rendered the
choice of titles especially significant, and the resultant textual impres-
sions provide a coherent continuum of social vocabulary which may
be analyzed by comparison with changing usages within charters and
literary sources. The issue of identity also rendered the choice of image

On seals as active agents, see Margaret Cool Root, The Art of Seals: Aesthetic and
Social Dynamics of the Impressed Image from Antiquity to Present (Ann Arbor, 1984),
pp. 8–9, 17, 18.
beyond the text 29

important,42 for on seals in particular, text and image participate in a

single discourse, the dialectic of which involves the linkage of a per-
sonal identity, specified in a seal’s legend, to a more general group ori-
entation, inherent in its iconography. On their seals kings invariably
appear enthroned with regalia (Fig. 6), lay magnates are equestrians in
arms (Fig. 7), noblewomen are endowed with attributes of virginity and
fertility (Fig. 8), and bishops (Fig. 9) and abbots (Fig. 10) are garbed
in ecclesiastical vestments. For these social categories, the underlying
convention dictated that seal owners be represented as categories and
not as individuals. The seal’s iconography thus fostered a symbology
of power and articulated organizing principles of society, while the
personal identification of its individual owner was totally dependent
upon an inscription. This relationship between a seal’s text and image
involved neither complete complementarity, nor redundancy, nor a
tension of opposites; rather it created a space in which the particular
(written legend) and the collective (image) combined to generate an
identity that was operative in itself, and that constituted a mode by
which medieval society could distinguish its essential elements. An
extensive data base exists for the analysis of this particular representa-
tional system and its social framework, which analysis provides insight
into the mechanisms and implications of social encoding:43 How much
of a given social group’s actuality depended upon the modalities of its

Pictorial renderings on seals are referred to by the sealer as his image, imago
mea; see below, chapter 7, for an analysis of this concept and practice of imago with
reference to the contemporary theological category of likeness.
I have assembled a corpus of some 500 seals prior to 1200, which are analyzed in
the following essays, all reprinted in Form and Order: Bedos-Rezak, “Les sceaux juifs
français,” in Art et archéologie des Juifs en France médiévale, ed. Bernhard Blumen-
kranz (Toulouse, 1980), pp. 207–228; Bedos-Rezak, “Signes et insignes du pouvoir au
Moyen Age: le témoignage des sceaux,” Comité des Travaux historiques et scientifiques.
Section de philologie et d’histoire jusqu ‘en 1610. Actes du Cent Cinquième Congrès
national des Sociétés savantes [Caen, 1980] (Paris: CTHS, 1984), pp. 47–62; Bedos-
Rezak, “Women, Seals and Power in Medieval France, 1150–1350,” in Women and
Power in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. Mary Erler and Maryanne Kow-
aleski (Athens and London, 1988), pp. 61–82; Bedos-Rezak, “Medieval Women in
French Sigillographic Sources,” in Women and the Sources of Medieval History, ed.
Joel T. Rosenthal (Athens and London, 1990), pp. 1–36; Bedos-Rezak, “Towns and
Seals: Representation and Signification,” in Town Life and Culture in the Middle Ages
and Renaissance: Essays in Memory off. K. Hyde, ed. Brian Pullan and Susan Reynolds,
Bulletin of the John Rylands Library of Manchester 72 (1990), 35–48.
30 chapter one

Other critical elements of the sigillographic process include the

modalities of sealing practices and the circumstances of their diffu-
sion. I began to examine broad patterns of sealing after systematically
gathering and analyzing an exhaustive corpus of French seals prior
to 1200.44 This investigation revealed that, until the eleventh century,
the use of seals for documentary validation was virtually confined to
the royal chancery. By the middle of the eleventh century, documen-
tary seal usage extended to bishops and lay magnates.45 There is much
evidence indicating a new consciousness within the elites of their
own relationship to signs. The spread of episcopal seals is cotermi-
nous with contemporary theological debates on eucharistic and sac-
ramental semiotics.45 A striking characteristic of the nobility during
the eleventh and twelfth century is the way it constituted itself as a
group in part through the agency of its seals. For seals served as sym-
bols of this nobility’s principles and self-image when displaying the
equestrian warrior (Fig. 7), of its kin structure when showing heraldic
devices (Fig. 11), of its members’ sense of personal identity when root-
ing every perception of the self only within the group, whether that of
the functional order—those who fight—or of the family. Aristocratic
seals seem to indicate that the medieval sense of self was about resem-
blance, that the self was itself the sign that signs of representation were
in conformity with reality.
But what reality? Seals, while offering their owners a means of lit-
erate participation and operating as literate forms in a scribal con-
text, also evoked and incorporated many elements of current practice
and symbolism. In their physicality they were successors to those
symbolic objects that had previously actualized transactions. And, as
already mentioned, seals also included an image, as though an icon
were needed to authenticate writing. According to Gilbert Crespin,
Abbot of Westminster (1085–1117), “just as letters are the shapes and
signs of spoken words, pictures exist as the representations and signs
of writing.”46 The power that came to inhere in seals therefore had
several dimensions: as an inscribed object, the seal authenticated an

See above, note 43
See below, chapter 6.
Quoted in Michael Camille, “The Book of Signs: Writing and Visual Differ-
ences in Gothic Manuscript Illumination,” Word and Image 1 (1985), pp. 133–148, at
p. 135.
beyond the text 31

individual; by its iconographic device, social structure and written

language; by means of its impression, a particular document.
Seals guaranteed participation to and absolute provenance for the
written records of any author since, no matter how many impres-
sions might be needed over time, their graphic consistency were more
reliable than the simple signs and impersonal subscriptions which
had been previously used. The unique verifiability of a sigillographic
commitment also involved, at first, a greater allocation of individual
responsibility. The network of witnesses to a transaction and to its
drafting came to be replaced by the seal, which now was routinely
announced in the charters as the witness to the transaction.47 In this
way, the written word was to some extent emancipated from the limi-
tations of direct human testimony just as the legal rights and respon-
sibilities of groups increasingly were shifted toward individuals. So in
the early steps of its dissemination, documentary writing also bears
upon the position of the individual within society, since the spread of
written contracts led to a devaluation of traditional wider networks of
kin or vassalic solidarities and interactions.

The Scope of Medieval Charter Referentiality

In the next steps of its dissemination writing achieved, by a twofold

reification, self-referential status. Seals, in embodying the characters
of their owners, their fame, their authority, their authenticity (all
three qualities are interchangeable in the period under consideration),
impressed the charter with their strength. By the thirteenth century,
seals were, in Northern France, mandatory signs of documentary vali-
dation. The authentic charter, that is, a self-referential authoritative
deed, which might also be a forgery,48 had come into being. Signs of
its reified status are the development of specific characteristics that

The list of witnesses had disappeared by the early thirteenth century and from
then on the seal is the only witness to the charter: . . . in cujus rei testimonium, presens
sriptum sigillo nostro fecimus roborari. . . . On the appearance of these formulas see
Brunel, Recueil des actes des comtes de Pontieu, p. cx, and Arthur Giry, Manuel de
diplomatique (Paris, 1894), p. 575.
On the distinction between diplomatic authenticity which deals with forged
documents, and legal authenticity which deals with documents having intrinsic legal
force, see Georges Tessier, “La diplomatique,” in L’Histoire et ses méthodes, ed. Charles
Samaran, Encyclopédie de la pléiade 11 (Paris, 1961), pp. 633–676, at p. 671, and
chapter 7 below at note 105 and p. 203.
32 chapter one

defined its material essence. Thus, the notion of the authentic charter
came to mean that it was an original document and not a copy, that it
displayed specific textual forms, and that it was in good condition.49
If one level of reification stimulated material definitions of the char-
ter, the other empowered the social representations of diplomatic dis-
course to act as standards of social being. These material and textual
processes of reification operated reciprocally so as to create within the
charter the seemingly self-evident cohesion upon which were predi-
cated the workings of self-referentiality. In becoming a necessity for
the operation of trust and credibility, the authentic charter replaced
a structure of society in which the reliability of the written word and
that of its contextual social organization more actively reinforced one
another. In being axiomatically credible, the authentic charter became
normative. The circumstances for its efficacy no longer required an
integrated community remembering the forms of actions of particular
groups. Rather, the charter narrated specific circumstances in the for-
mulaic terms of general truth.
Increasing sensitivity to the problematic of evidence and of author-
ity led medieval society on an experimental path that took it from
recourse to the sacred, to dependency on the human and the local, to
a concept of authenticity that had a sanctioned material form and a
formulaic content. Thus authenticity became attached to law-bound
objects, and charters’ self-referentiality gave way to a rule-referential
quality, generated and controlled by authority. The fiction of self-
referentiality was not sustained for long, if at all. The operation of
documentary authenticity, in depending upon an authority external to

Such are the definitions given in the decretals of Pope Innocent III (1198–1216),
which were incorporated in the Decretales, systematically compiled in 1234 during
the papacy of Gregory IX: X.2,22,6; X,5,20,4. Useful and detailed discussions of Inno-
cent III’s rules for the criticism of suspect seals and documents appear in Reginald
Poole, Lectures on the History of the Papal Chancery (Cambridge, 1915), pp. 152–
156; Mariano Welber, Sigillograhia. Il sigillo nella diplomatica, nel diritto, nella sto-
ria, nell’arte. Vol. 3: I sigilli nella storia del diritto medievale italiano (Milan, 1984),
pp. 176–180; Peter Herde, “Urkundenkritik und Massnahmen gegen Fälscher,” in
Beiträge zum päpstlichen Kanzlei- und Urkundenwesen im 13. Jahrhundert. (Kallmünz,
1961), pp. 102–103, 113–115; B. Bedos-Rezak, “The Efficacy of Signs and the Mat-
ter of Authenticity in Canon Law (800–1250),” forthcoming in Zwischen Pragmatik
und Performanz. Dimensionen mittelalterlicher Schriftkultur, ed. Christoph Dartmann,
Thomas Scharff, and Christoph Weber (Turnhout, 2010).
beyond the text 33

itself, created an area for the development of such an authority. By the

late fourteenth-century, the authentication of French documents was
very much in the hands of royal officials, notaries and tabellions.

Our linear conception of history has fostered a study of medieval

Europe as an antecedent to, as the crucible of, or as other than, the
modern West, with a consequently strong emphasis on those issues
that are relevant to contemporary Western life. It is true that whatever
past may be their subject, historians write primarily the history of their
own times. However, the Middle Ages need not be seen in direct conti-
nuity or discontinuity with Western history. The felicitous rapproche-
ment with anthropologists has shown that even where differentiated
modalities of human experience are not part of the past, interpretive
methods devised for their study may be relevant for past societies.
The anthropology of living societies has inspired many medievalists to
turn a renewed attention to law, demography, kinship, urbanization,
marginalization, rituals, taboos, elites, minorities, emblems and totems
(heraldry), and material culture. Medievalists can in turn contribute
specific insights into the principles that govern their own relations to
sources. Medieval historians have been accused of looking, not at the
past, but at documents. Anthropologists have come to recognize that
“doing ethnography is like trying to read (in the sense of ‘construct
a reading of’) a manuscript—foreign, faded, full of ellipses, incoher-
ences, suspicious emendations, and tendentious commentaries.”50 That
which they call their data are their own constructions of other peo-
ples constructions. Understanding what is said by the occurrence and
preservation of documents and artifacts and through their agency, the
identification of structures of signification therein, the assessment of
these structures’ and of the modalities of their documentation’s, social
ground, and import are all of primary concern for medievalists. They
aim at the identification of the very terms of interpretation to which
persons of the medieval past subjected their experience. Because of the
nature of the medieval written word, as mostly manipulated within
a clerical monopoly, medievalists have more than other historians
been accustomed to look for the obliquity of their written sources. As
a result medievalists rarely handle their sources without adopting a

Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,”
in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973), pp. 3–30, at p. 10.
34 chapter one

critical approach to them. It is in the field of medieval studies that such

techniques of documentary analysis as codicology, paleography, sigil-
lography, philology, and linguistics have been finely honed. That such
critique, in traditional diplomatics, has produced a typology of char-
ters and of their internal and external characters, mostly with a view
toward the establishment and perfection of a grid that precisely ascer-
tains documentary authenticity, is not enough. In traditional medieval
studies, documents of practice, once their authenticity is established,
have tended to emerge as transparent texts which can assert objective
truth independent of the subjective act that intended the document
and of the operations of language within it. Such concepts led scholars
to believe that they might read directly about tangible aspects of past
experience. As a documentary and representative text, the medieval
charter has been seen less as the cultural artifact of than as the self-
interpreting model created by a civilization for its economic, legal, and
administrative purposes. Attention and explanation have therefore pri-
marily focused on the actions the sources document. This attitude is of
course shared by most historians of all places and periods who select
their object of study, gather all documents relating to that object, study
their documents from the viewpoint of this object with far less atten-
tion to the circumstances grounding documentary production, and try
to resolve contradictions by applying the principles of authenticity and
forgery, and by distinguishing legendary from historical documents.
This technique does not invalidate documentary critique itself, nor
should it prevent medievalists from reflecting further on their sources,
an action which constitutes one of their great contributions to the
hermeneutics of history. For attention to sources is not simply a tech-
nique and a method. It is at the very center of historical interpretation,
since any source is primarily a source about itself, a form that outlines
the contour of an absence, a sign that projects in the present since no
other plane of duration gathers the historian and her source into the
same instant, a text concerned with appearances noted in the present
but occurring in the past, and an event carried by a material arranged
in a pattern that still makes sense today.51 Acceptance and analysis
of the source’s self-reflective nature enables medievalists to grasp the
specific process of meaning production implied by the discursive and

This formulation is strongly inspired by Kubler, The Shape of Time, pp. 17,
beyond the text 35

existential mode of that source and permits the retrieval both of the
ideological and evidential status of the text, and of the ideological and
social standards from the past. Our recognition of past events is condi-
tioned by the ideologies and assumptions of the scribes from the past,
but it is still debatable whether what we retrieve is the medieval axis
of reference and intelligibility. In fact, the medieval conceptual and
textualized categories (God, land, salvation, proof, authenticity) that
we use as representations of that society, as explanation that makes it
intelligible to us, were in effect the very questions they had to explain
through axiomatic truth. For the medievalist, all documents should be
seen as at once true and false (a construct). They should inspire a dia-
lectic between those operations of language that represent events and
the modalities of documentary fabrication and conservation. Special
concern is required for the crucial yet unyielding mimetic engagement
between documentary form and that of society.
In the relationship between interpretive positions and theoretical
approach to sources, the source is too often simply there, somehow to
be shaped by the conceptual approach to which it will be subjected,
and is treated only from the viewpoint of its thematic content, not
from that of its functional, symbolic, and cultural dimensions. It is
not surprising that to this day diplomatics, even in its most positivist
formulation, has not become part of the locus of concern or armamen-
tarium of modern historians. Yet the problematization of sources may
become increasingly central to the epistemological and hermeneutical
apparatus of a discipline increasingly aware that archival work is frag-
mentary, and that history’s synthesizing formations are shaped by a
research that remains specific, partial, selective, and an uncomfortable
equilibrium between the aura of the documents and the discourse that
names them and dictates their reception. The erudition associated with
medieval studies need not alone lead to a substantiation of fact, but
might also prompt attention to the material sense of writing, to the
residual presence in it that informs our relation to, and our construc-
tion of, the past.
Scholarship has shied away from practice and technicalities to the
point where almost anything that places history in rapport with them
has been classified as “auxiliary science.”52 As a new faculty member,
I was once introduced as a dabbler “in all kind of antiquarian things.”

This remark is from Certeau, The Writing of History, p. 69.
36 chapter one

Yet history, medieval and other, is a practice mediated by technique,

be that of deciphering and reading foreign languages, editing, encoding
and decoding. None of these activities preclude the interpretive activ-
ity that is conventionally associated with the noble making of history.
To the contrary, I hope that I have demonstrated, and will continue
to argue, that Northern French charters reveal their fullest significance
when analytical and interpretive attention is given to, and inspired by,
their technicalities. A source must have objective materiality in order
to be here. It denotes a past insofar as it refers to an absence, so histo-
rians of all hues must make as much of this presence as possible when
the rest of their object of study is well beyond physical recovery.


Quintilian observed that “it is often easier to achieve more than to

achieve the same; producing an exact replica is very difficult.”1 Medi-
eval scribes and, later, scholars of the French Ancien Regime have left
us a legacy of texts known as copies which amply illustrate Quintilian’s
observation. The work of medieval copyists may perhaps be seen as
modulating something already written, as working with, and between,
the lines of antecedent texts which, although considered by us as origi-
nals, were, through the treatment they received when copied, evidently
capable of becoming something more, or something less. It is as if
there were no original documents but only texts, tacitly unfinished,
never fully complete, ever available for a later hand to re-present their
contents yet again. Such a strategy for reproduction may have been
based upon a belief that all documentary texts were equally functional,
whatever the material format or the specific textual version in which
they appeared. Because strict duplication seems to have been eschewed
in producing the various versions of a single deed, it maybe that the
so-called archetype was never an original document in our modern
sense, but truly an “act” by which actions, transactions, or judgments
were accomplished. In that sense, every surviving document reporting
such events may best be understood as a copy.
This formulation is not, of course, the standard doctrine espoused
by modern diplomatists who, since Mabillon (d. 1707), have tended,
more or less systematically, to assume the existence of an original doc-
ument perceived as unique, of an Ur-text from which later versions
necessarily had to originate, and against whose authenticity the ade-
quateness of any other copy may and need be tested.2 The normative

Quoted by Gerald L. Bruns, “The Originality of Texts in a Manuscript Culture,”
Comparative Literature 32.2 (1980), pp. 113–29, at p. 114.
Dom Jean Mabillon’s methodology is expounded in his De re diplomatica Libri
VI (Paris, 1681). For analyses of Mabillon’s epistemological contributions to the dis-
cipline of history and of his role in the creation of the so-called “auxiliary sciences,’’
see Blandine Barret-Kriegel’s edition of Jean Mabillon, Brèves réflexions sur quelques
règles de l’histoire (Paris, 1990).
38 chapter two

definition of a medieval diplomatic original is a document extant as

a single parchment and exhibiting signs of validation (Figs. 1, 2, 12).3
Thus the characteristics of an original reside mainly in its format and
in its physical aspect. In seeking to identify those qualities which sepa-
rate originals from copies, the discipline of diplomatics has promul-
gated a theoretical principle that situates and substantiates authenticity
itself within the physical uniqueness of original documents. Medieval
scribes, however, those who undertook the actual work of reproduction,
seem not to have been so concerned with unique and authentic originals
in the same sense that Mabillon was. Indeed, the very signs identi-
fied by Mabillon and retained by subsequent generations of diploma-
tists as undoubted markers of authenticity—e.g., seals, handwriting,
dates, chirographic inscriptions, lists of witnesses—were actually de-
emphasized by medieval copyists (Fig. 13). It is possible that memory
alone was the principal antecedent of deeds recorded in charters of
confirmation, pancartes, or cartulary entries. Furthermore, in a certain
sense, every diplomatic text, whatever its format, has a claim to origi-
nality since it is a unique, handcrafted artifact. Any preexisting text
from which a copy was made might thus have served as an exemplar.
There seems to have been no equivalent to our modern concept of an
“original” in the medieval lexicon, where the word authenticum, when
used to refer to a charter or diploma, simply invoked its authority,
not its temporal primacy.4 Originality can be a matter of authentic-
ity, authority, or priority. How then are we to arrive at the medieval
understanding of documentary originality which, I am suggesting, is
possibly something other than the Ur-text posited by Mabillon? I pro-
pose here to examine the medieval concepts of “copy” and “original”
by looking at the filiation of three groups of documents initially pro-
duced in northern France before 1200: first, all the acta given for and
by the chapter of Saint-Fursy of Péronne; second, all the acta given for
and by the abbey of Notre-Dame of Homblières; and third, all the acta
given in the name of the counts of Ponthieu. The data of interest thus
originate north of Paris, mainly in Picardy. In the case of the comital

M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, England 1066–1307, 2d ed. (Oxford,
1993), p. 84.
Olivier Guyotjeannin, “Le vocabulaire de la diplomatique en latin médiéval: Noms
de l’acte, mise par écrit, tradition, critique, conservation,’’ in Vocabulaire du livre et de
l’écriture au Moyen Age: Actes de la table ronde, Paris 24–26 September 1987, ed. Olga
Weijers, Etudes sur le vocabulaire intellectuel du Moyen Age 2 (Turnhout, 1989),
pp. 119–134, at pp. 128–29.
toward an archaeology of the medieval charter 39

charters of Ponthieu, published by Clovis Brunel in 1930, we are deal-

ing with a documentary corpus which, though articulated around the
principle of authorship (the charters are all given in the name of the
counts of Ponthieu), had no historical organic existence as such, since
the charters were preserved in widely dispersed archives.5 Most of the
charters of Saint-Fursy, gathered by William Mendel Newman and
published by John Benton and Mary Rouse, were, on the other hand,
historically constituted as an archive by the chapter ever since their
production and entered into a, now lost, thirteenth-century cartulary.6
Similarly, a majority of the charters of Homblières, also gathered by
William Mendel Newman and published by Theodore Evergates and
Giles Constable, were organized as a medieval archive by the monks
who produced a now lost cartulary around 1170.7 Contrasting these
two formats of charter grouping, the modern gathering and the his-
torical archival formation, may help bring into focus those dynam-
ics which underlay the production, reproduction, and preservation of
medieval charters.
Even taking into account the destruction by fire, war, and other
catastrophes, which obviously obscure the distinction between loss
and simple absence, it is possible to detect significant patterns of
charter preservation. There would seem to be three ways in which the
diplomatic texts here under consideration might have existed before
1200. First, it is conceivable that they did not exist—here I refer to
those texts whose only retrievable mention postdates the time of their
alleged issue. Second, they may indeed once have existed, although evi-
dence for their existence should not systematically be assumed merely
from the presence of later copies. Medieval cartularies, for example,

Clovis Brunel, ed., Recueil des actes des comtes de Pontieu, 1026–1279 (Paris, 1930).
William Mendel Newman and Mary A. Rouse, eds., Charters of St-Fursy of
Péronne (Cambridge, Mass., 1977). The thirteenth-century cartulary is discussed at
pp. 1–3, where the editors make it clear that they included in their edition texts not
belonging to the archives of Saint-Fursy. Among the archives that contributed acta to
this edition are those of the chapter of Noyon (no. 6), the abbey of Arrouaise (nos.
17, 22, 36, 37), Notre-Dame of Eaucourt (no. 2), the chapter of Arras (nos. 68, 69),
Saint-Barthélémy of Noyon (no. 9), the abbey of Mont-Saint-Martin (no. 21), the
Hotel-Dieu of Péronne (no. 58), and the abbey of Saint-Thierry of Reims (no. 30).
William Mendel Newman, Theodore Evergates, and Giles Constable, eds., The
Cartulary and Charters of Notre-Dame of Homblières, Medieval Academy Books 97
(Cambridge, Mass., 1990). The lost cartulary of ca. 1170 is discussed at pp. 20–23; also
included in the edition are acts issued by the abbots of Homblières or relevant to the
abbey found in the archives of other monasteries: Ourscamps (no. 41), Mont-Saint-
Martin (nos. 46A, 76), Vicoigne (nos. 70, 82, 85, 105), Prémontré (no. 75), Ribemont
(nos. 91, 91A, 92, 92A, 92B, 93, 94, 99, 101), and Saint-Quentin (nos. 100A, 104).
40 chapter two

usually register texts without specifying their provenance, and I have

not assumed that an “original” was copied unless this is specifically
claimed. On the other hand, vidimus charters refer to particular docu-
ments purportedly being “renovated.” The eighteenth-century Bene-
dictines Dom P.N. Grenier and Dom Queinsert, who worked through
Picardy’s archival holdings, never failed to mention the fact when they
transcribed from a so-called “original” those copies they made which
later entered the Collection Moreau and the Collection Picardie at the
Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. The third and last category
is of originals, which as earlier described have come down to us in a
direct material sense.

The Archival Profile of Saint-Fursy of Péronne

Saint-Fursy of Péronne, the burial site of the Irish monk and mission-
ary Fursa (d. ca. 650), had housed a community of Irish monks since
the seventh century. The monastery survived the Northmen’s inva-
sion of 880 and played an important role as a center from which the
insular Irish culture spread to continental Europe. Sometime in the
mid-eleventh century, Saint-Fursy was converted into a chapter of
secular canons thus becoming a collegiate church. Its monastic past
and subsequent secularization have left no documentary traces; there
are neither extant nor copied charters for Saint-Fursy dated before
the twelfth century. The fire that destroyed the church in 1130 may
have claimed some charters, although the eighteenth-century Bene-
dictine scholars still saw a fair number of originals pre-dating 1130. A
cartulary, now lost, was composed in the thirteenth century, but the
circumstances of its creation are unknown. A version of this cartulary
is still extant but only in an abbreviated form produced in the seven-
teenth century.8 I have analyzed the filiation of the seventy-six Saint-
Fursy documents ranging from 1102 to 1200.
Only two originals are still extant, preserved in the archives of the
beneficiaries of the dean of Saint-Fursy’s deeds.9 Twenty-three addi-

Newman and Rouse, eds., St-Fursy, pp. x, xiii–xviii.
One, Newman and Rouse, eds., St-Fursy, no. 9, pp. 28–29, the charter given in
1122 by the treasurer of Saint-Fursy to the abbey of Saint-Barthélémy of Noyon, was
kept by this abbey and never copied. The other, no. 38, pp. 55–57, was a chirograph
given in 1177 by the dean of Saint-Fursy for the abbey of Vaucelles. The part of the
chirograph that is still extant in the archives of Vaucelles was never copied, while the
toward an archaeology of the medieval charter 41

tional originals, though today no longer extant, were seen, transcribed,

and described in the eighteenth century by Grenier or Queinsert, who
give precious details about their physical appearance, including the
state of their seals. Over half of the twenty-five originals still extant in
early modern times predate 1150. All but three were entered in Saint-
Fursy’s thirteenth-century cartulary; of these three exceptions, two were
Twenty of the now lost twenty-three originals came from the
archives of Saint-Fursy. Fewer than half of these, which had been both
preserved at Saint-Fursy and copied into its cartulary, were given in
the names of authors other than the chapter of Saint-Fursy, and thus
represented incoming documents which had been kept as both exem-
plars and copies; such authors included the pope, the archbishop of
Reims, the bishop of Arras, and two local abbots (of Saint-Pierre of
Honnecourt and Vermand), but only two laymen, Ralph, count of Ver-
mandois, and Peter, castellan of Péronne. Therefore, more than half of
the documents preserved and copied at Saint-Fursy were acta given
in the name of the local chapter and dean, that is, outgoing materials.
The fact that Saint-Fursy was able to preserve and copy deeds given in
its own name resulted from the relatively large number of chirographs
issued by its chapter and dean. A chirograph recorded an agreement
between two parties and was written out in duplicate on a single sheet
which was then cut in half, with each party receiving an actual half of
the original document, usually authorized by the seal of the other party
(Fig. 2). As a matter of fact, twelve of these now lost originals, that
is more than half, were chirographs. They must have initially existed
in duplicate, in the archives and cartularies both of Saint-Fursy and
of the other parties concerned. Although chirographs might serve as a
record of outgoing documentary production, diplomatists tend to deny
chirographs this explicit function, insisting that their duplicate format

version retained by Saint-Fursy, and now lost, was entered in Saint-Fursy’s thirteenth-
century cartulary.
First, Newman and Rouse, eds., St-Fursy, no. 9, pp. 28–29 (above, n. 9); second,
no. 12, pp. 31–32, the version of a chirograph given in 1122 by the dean of Saint-
Fursy to Notre-Dame of Eaucourt, in whose archive an eighteenth-century copy was
made by Queinsert, thus implying that Saint-Fursy might have either lost its version
by the thirteenth century or elected not to copy it within the thirteenth-century cartu-
lary; and third, no. 19, pp. 37–38, a version of another chirograph given in 1126–35
by the dean of Saint-Fursy about Saint-Fursy’s land at Aubregicourt. Although the
eighteenth-century copy of this latter document was made in Saint-Fursy’s archive, for
reasons that are unclear the thirteenth-century cartulary had no copy of it.
42 chapter two

resulted from their role in settling property exchanges or agreements

involving reciprocal obligations.11
Finally, forty-five out of the seventy-six charters (i.e., 59 percent)
known to have been issued prior to 1200 have come down to us exclu-
sively via medieval cartularies, with the bulk (forty charters) preserved
within the lost thirteenth-century cartulary of Saint-Fursy.12 Only four
of these cartulary entries were completely transcribed by the eighteenth-
century scholarly Benedictines, but in the absence of extant originals,
Dom Grenier’s transcriptions from the cartulary clearly demonstrate
that the cartulary contained carefully copied texts, though without
mention of the charters’ physical aspects.13
The bulk of the cartulary entries without extant originals date from
the last quarter of the twelfth century. One third of these, all charters
but for one chirograph, are acta issued by the dean and chapter of
Saint-Fursy. The remaining two-thirds are papal bulls and episcopal
charters, though there are also two lay charters (issued by Ralph, count
of Vermandois, and Philip, count of Flanders and Vermandois).
To recapitulate: Saint-Fursy’s holdings of seventy-six texts dated
prior to 1200 include twenty-five (one-third of the total) known from
originals which span the eleventh and twelfth centuries, though with
a concentration in the early part of the twelfth century. This suggests
that the fire of 1130 cannot by itself explain the pattern of lost origi-
nals. Surviving originals, often in the form of chirographs, were for
the most part issued by the dean and chapter of Saint-Fursy; they have
also survived as cartulary entries. The forty-five texts that are known
only from medieval cartularies, particularly Saint-Fursy’s thirteenth-
century cartulary, are primarily papal bulls and episcopal charters

Laurent Morelle, “Archives épiscopales et formulaire de chancellerie au XIIe
siècle: Remarques sur les privilèges épiscopaux connus par le Codex de Lambert de
Guines, évêque d’ Arras (1093/94–1115),” in Die Diplomatik der Bischofsurkunde vor
1250/ La diplomatique épiscopate avant 1250: Referate zum VIII Internationalen Kon-
gress für Diplomatik, Innsbruck, 1993, ed. Christoph Haidacher and Werner Köfler
(Innsbruck, 1995), pp. 255–67, at p. 264 n. 8, where the author cites several corpuses
of and studies on episcopal charters, all supporting the conclusion that the chirograph
was not used by the bishop as a means of keeping exemplars of deeds expedited in his
name. See note 33 below.
The five charters not copied with the thirteenth-century cartulary of Saint-Fursy
come from the twelfth-century cartulary of the abbey of Arrouaise (two), from the
thirteenth-century cartulary of the chapter of Noyon (one), and from the thirteenth-
century Livre blanc of the chapter of Arras (two).
See for instance Newman and Rouse, eds., St-Fursy, no. 62, pp. 70–71.
toward an archaeology of the medieval charter 43

which date from the late twelfth century. This may have been the time
when the now lost cartulary of Saint-Fursy was initiated, which may
well suggest a tendency of discarding incoming materials after they
had been copied. Significantly, those acta issued in the name of the
dean and chapter of Saint-Fursy, and known only from the cartulary
of Saint-Fursy, also tend to date from the second half of the twelfth
century; furthermore, they are charters, and not chirographs as in the
earlier period. This suggests, first, that once the cartulary was in opera-
tion the dean and chapter used it to enter their own outgoing deeds
and, second, that chirographs may have, after all, also involved a con-
cern for registering outgoing production.14
In examining the cartulary entries as a whole, by far the largest
proportion was devoted to deeds issued in the name of Saint-Fursy,
which record the alienation of land by the chapter of Saint-Fursy but
do not refer to the chapter’s rights and possessions. It is therefore not
possible to trace the ways in which the chapter’s patrimony was origi-
nally constituted since no reference is made to earlier donations or
endowments. None of the charters from the Saint-Fursy corpus men-
tions the ritual manipulation of charters, such as their placement on
altars, or their roles as symbolic objects in the conveyance of property.
Interestingly, neither the original charters nor the cartulary assert the
antiquity or the rights of the house. The pattern of archival holding,
and of copying, emphasizes the documentary authorship and initia-
tive of the dean and chapter; no lay protector emerges for the church
of Saint-Fursy, and little reference is made, and then only rather late,
to episcopal or papal authority. To the extent that an identity is pro-
jected, it is that of a collegiate and independent church, with strong
ties to other religious institutions, but with virtually no evidence of
lay patronage, and with no memory of either its own monastic past
or of the constitution of its patrimony. The central message projected
by both the cartulary and the archival profile is that Saint-Fursy was
engaged in a systematic documentary practice centered on administra-
tion rather than on proofs or assertion of property.

See above, n. 11, and below, n. 16 and 33.
44 chapter two

The Production and Reproduction of Charters

at Notre-Dame of Homblières

Homblières, a former nunnery which became a Benedictine abbey of

monks at the end of the tenth century, produced a cartulary ca. 1170
specifically to resolve a dispute with the nearby abbey of Saint-Nicolas-
des-Prés of Ribemont. Though now lost, the cartulary itself, together
with some medieval charters, was transcribed in the seventeenth cen-
tury.15 Of the 107 known documents prior to 1200, 5 are still extant
as originals, while 16 additional texts were transcribed directly from
originals still extant in the seventeenth century. As with Saint-Fursy,
these originals tend to belong to the earlier part of the period under
consideration, with nine prior to 1100, another nine prior to 1150, and
only three for 1150 to 1200. They all emanated from various donors
and were copied into the cartulary of 1170, but for four charters issued
by the abbots of Homblières, which were preserved in the archives
of their beneficiaries. Homblières also produced a substantial number
of chirographs, most of which date from the middle of the twelfth
century and which seem to be responsible in part for the registration
within the cartulary of those outgoing charters issued in the name of
the abbot of Homblières.16 Only nine texts (including the four originals
just mentioned) out of the twenty-eight given by the abbot of Hom-
blières are found exclusively in the archives and cartularies of monas-
teries other than Homblières. These tend to involve concessions to the
recipients of the acta, or settlements of disputes in which Homblières
was either arbiter (rather man a party) or the losing party. Thus, the
abbey seems to have maintained a comprehensive archive of its outgo-
ing documents, with the preparation of a cartulary resulting at once in
greater recording activity while rendering less necessary the retention
of outgoing exemplars. Homblières’s cartulary, however, is more bal-

Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, pp. 14, 20; see at p. 22 a
table clearly rendering the filiation of all known copies of Homblières’s thirteenth-
century cartulary.
In a chirograph of 1155–60 recording an exchange of land between the abbot
of Homblières and the canons of Arrouaise living at Magières, the final clause reads:
In hunc modum inter se scriptum confecerunt et sigillorum impressione ita consig-
naverunt ut ecclesia de Humbleriis habeat ipsum scriptum consignatum sigillo eccle-
siae de Arroisia, et canonici apud Margellas commanentes idem scripturn habeant
signatum sigillo ecclesiae de Humbleriis. Pactionis huius hi testes sunt . . .” (Newman,
Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, no. 78, pp. 154–55, at p. 155).
toward an archaeology of the medieval charter 45

anced than Saint-Fursy’s, registering the protection and patronage of

lay and ecclesiastical powers. Their incoming charters constitute more
than half of the cartulary’s content. Those incoming charters which
preceded the redaction of the cartulary were preserved both as origi-
nals and as cartulary entries.
If the subsequent fate of Homblières’s archives ultimately leaves
open the question of a purposeful destruction of originals in connec-
tion with the drafting of the cartulary,17 the very production of the
cartulary seems to have been associated with two events. From an
internal viewpoint, the cartulary displays a plethora of notices datable
to the time of its production. In attempting to understand the origin of
these many late cartulary entries, it is possible to suggest the hypoth-
esis that Homblières might have maintained an inventory of minor
oral transfers from the late eleventh century,18 which may have been
further elaborated at the time of their entry into the cartulary. It is also
conceivable that such notices were formulated directly from the mem-
ory of the cartularist who was contemporary with the transactions they
record. In the cartulary title of one such notice, the knightly donor is
called Rainerus “The Long,” a nickname which does not appear within
the text of the notice itself. This interpretive insertion by the cartular-
ist testifies to his familiarity with the event recorded independently of
the preserved text.19 Whatever the antecedents of these notices were
(memory, drafts, or inventories), it seems clear that the creation of the
cartulary fostered an expanded textual format. The abbey seems to have
remained economically viable until 1372, but there are very few docu-
ments to be found pertaining to Homblières after the completion of
this cartulary. These later documents provide an extremely fragmentary
picture of the history of the abbey, of which virtually nothing is known

Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, pp. 20–21, 30 n. 153: the
abbey was abandoned in 1607, and its archives and cartulary were sent elsewhere for
safekeeping. Both were seen and used in the first half of the sixteenth century. The
cartulary had disappeared by the 1770s.
Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, p. 104.
Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, p. 163. For further discus-
sions of the role of memory in cartulary redaction, see the studies in Olivier Guy-
otjeannin, Laurent Morelle, and Michel Parisse, eds., Les cartulaires: Actes de la table
ronde organisée par l’Ecole nationale des chartes et le G.D.R. 121 du CN.R.S. (Paris,
5–7 décembre 1991), Mémoires et documents de l’Ecole des chartes 39 (Paris, 1993),
particularly Laurent Morelle, “De l’original à la copie: Remarques sur l’évaluation des
transcriptions dans les cartulaires médiévaux,” pp. 91–104, at pp. 100, 104.
46 chapter two

after 1250.20 Did the copying of charters into a cartulary somehow

discourage donations by increasing their irreversibility? At the very
least, the case of Homblières makes clear that the survival of outgoing
acta was greatly jeopardized when dependent solely upon the archival
policies of the charters’ recipients.

The Dispersed Charters of the Counts of Ponthieu

The counts of Ponthieu were originally the avoués, the protectors, of the
abbey of Saint-Riquier; they adopted the comital title sometime in the
middle of the eleventh century, when a scion of the lineage married
the widow of a count of Boulogne.21 The 151 acta issued in the name of
the counts of Ponthieu prior to 1200 have been collected. Only a very
small number of such comital acts were preserved within the cartulary
of Ponthieu. This was a lay project undertaken when Edward II, king
of England, inherited the county of Ponthieu in 1290 and ordered the
recording of all deeds implying rights of and upon the county.22 It
bears repetition here that this grouping of comital documents was not
constituted as a medieval archive but is a modern corpus, a gathering
of charters originally dispersed among the various recipients of comi-
tal acta. The extent to which the survival of these charters has chiefly
depended upon these recipients’ archival strategies is one of the issues
that will be further considered here.
Of the 151 acta, 43 (roughly a third) remain extant as originals. All
forty-three originals were kept in the archives of beneficiaries, mostly
religious institutions, but also in a few lay archives, royal or urban.
This is a much higher proportion of extant originals than at Saint-
Fursy and Homblières. Since their survival corresponds not to a spe-
cific archive but to a specific author, one may wonder if perhaps the
counts had some particular interest in the preservation of the acta

Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, p. 15.
Brunel, ed., Pontieu, pp. ii–iii.
Paris, BnF, lat. 10112; Ernest Prarond, ed., Le cartulaire de Ponthieu (Paris,
1897); Brunel, ed., Pontieu, xiv. Theodore Evergates, “The Chancery Archives of the
Counts of Champagne: Codicology and History of the Cartulary Registers,” Viator 16
(1985), pp. 160–79, discusses briefly the chancery cartulary of Ponthieu at p. 161, and
precedes his analysis of the cartulary registers of Champagne with a general review of
secular cartularies at pp. 159–61. More recently, Lucie Fossier and Olivier Guyotjean-
nin have established a list of extant secular cartularies: “Cartulaires français laïques:
Seigneuries et particuliers,” in Les cartulaires, pp. 379–410.
toward an archaeology of the medieval charter 47

produced and sealed in their names. Thus, ca. 1173–79, John, count of
Ponthieu, in a charter for the abbey of Notre-Dame of Le Gard, which
was never copied, specified that “ut hoc inconcussum atque durabile
in eternum permaneat, cartam ecclesie Beate Marie de Gardo dedi,
testium subscriptione ac sigilli mei appositione premunitam.”23 How
strong a comital injunction to retain the charter this really is can-
not now be fully ascertained, but the rhetoric is slightly unusual and,
accompanied by the actual preservation of the charter, supports the
hypothesis that lay authors may have desired and ordered the conser-
vation of their own sealed deeds of charity. At any rate, the majority of
the Ponthieu originals were comital foundations or confirmations of
donations. All were sealed. Those abbeys which did not draft cartular-
ies, such as Perseigne, tended to have vidimus charters made of earlier
comital grants in their favor.24 Though the texts of all extant Ponthieu
originals are also found in medieval cartularies of the thirteenth cen-
tury onward, only the 1409 and sixteenth-century cartularies of the
Templar house at Fieffes mention die seals.25 Apart from these excep-
tions, descriptions of seals otherwise are noticed only in seventeenth-
and eighteenth-century scholarly copies.26 Vernacular translations of
Latin originals maintained in the archives of urban communities have
survived from the fifteenth century onward.27
A further twenty-nine acta of Ponthieu, though now lost, were seen
and copied from the originals, mostly by eighteenth-century scholars.
However, in the medieval period vidimus charters were requested by
those abbeys which apparently did not have a medieval cartulary at all

“In order that this grant remain intact and be preserved for ever, I gave a charter
to the church of Notre-Dame of Le Gard and provided it with witnesses’ subscriptions
and my appended seal;” Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 98, p. 141. A still extant original
apparently not copied during the Middle Ages, this charter was nevertheless copied
by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scholars.
Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 81, pp. 119–20.
Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 49, pp. 74–75 (1154); no. 51, pp. 76–77 (1154); no. 65,
p. 98 (1161); see below, n. 42.
See a seventeenth-century seal description by Gaignières in Brunel, ed., Pontieu,
no. 18, pp. 32–33 (1112), at 33; François Roger de Gaignières (1642–1715) also drew
the seal. Most of Gaignière’s seal drawings have been catalogued by Joseph Roman,
“Les dessins de sceaux de la collection Gaignières à la Bibliothèque nationale,” Mémoires
de la Société nationale des Antiquaires de France 9 (1909), pp. 42–158.
For instance: Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 60, pp. 89–91 (ca. 1159); no. 95, pp. 134–38
(1177); no. 109, pp. 157–66 (1184).
48 chapter two

(such as Saint-Pierre of Abbeville, whose Livre noir dates from 1487),28

which had late cartularies (such as the abbey of Ourscamps, whose
cartulary dates from the fourteenth century),29 or by towns which did
not register their deed (like Crecy or Waben).30 Surveying the use of
vidimus charters in relationship to extant and lost originals, it appears
that institutions without cartularies were more apt to have sought
them. All twenty-nine of these now lost originals were sealed but for
one, a mid-eleventh-century charter for Marmoutier that predates the
comital practice of sealing.31
Finally, seventy-six comital acts of Ponthieu prior to 1200 are known
only through copies, constituting half of the corpus under consider-
ation. Among these are the earliest known comital charters, given for
the abbey of Saint-Riquier, whose archives perished in a fire in 1131.
These charters are known both through their transcription by Hariulf
in his Chronicle of that abbey written between 1088 and 1104, and
through an inventory of Saint-Riquier’s charters of 1098.32 Actually,
comital charters of Ponthieu are not understandable according to a
principle of filiation as were those of the chapter of Saint-Fursy and
the abbey of Homblières. There is no clear-cut category of acta linked
either to the originals or to copies as a class. However, even this obser-
vation may provide insight into the relationship between diplomatic

Texts from the Livre noir of Saint-Pierre of Abbeville, now lost, were copied in
the eighteenth century; see Brunel, ed., Pontieu, 41. See a 1482 vidimus of a 1136–37
comital donation to Saint-Pierre at no. 25, pp. 40–43.
Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 123, pp. 185–86, where the fourteenth-century cartulary
is mentioned; Ourscamps had a vidimus made in 1233 by Simon, count of Ponthieu,
of its comital privileges (no. 291, pp. 424–45); the vidimus is referred to as a carta
Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 131, pp. 198–200, at 198, where is given the filiation of
Crecy’s charter of franchise (received from the count of Ponthieu in June 1194), and
with it a survey of Crecy’s archival arrangements. Crecy obtained a vidimus of its charter
of franchise in 1484 from King Charles VIII. Waben received its communal charter
from the count of Ponthieu in April 1199 (no. 148, p. 225) and a vidimus of this char-
ter from Simon, count of Ponthieu, in May 1235 (no. 298, pp. 433–35).
Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 14, p. 27.
Hariulf, Chronique de l’abbaye de Saint-Riquier (Ve siècle-1104), ed. Ferdinand
Lot (Paris, 1894); the 1131 fire, provoked by the count of Saint-Pol, is discussed at
p. xxxvii; the inventory is edited in appendix IX, pp. 314–18. In his chronicle, Hariulf
copied all charters given by the counts of Ponthieu and listed in the 1098-inventory
but one, Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 2, p. 2 (1020–45). On Hariulf ’s relationship to the
archival holdings of Saint-Riquier, which he selectively used as a source for his chron-
icle, and for specific reference to those documents which he did not include, see Lau-
rent Morelle, “Histoire et archives vers l’an mil: Une nouvelle ‘mutation’,” Histoire et
archives 3 (1998), pp. 119–141, at pp. 130–31.
toward an archaeology of the medieval charter 49

discourse and medieval archival strategies. Both the chapter and the
abbey archived and recorded their textual holdings, tapping memory
and rough drafts, keeping track of the outgoing documents they had
authored, and organizing the incoming charters in their favor, which
they had often originally scripted as well. Even when separated from
their archival sequence, the comital charters of Ponthieu still share
similar trends although manifestly emanating from, and recorded or
archived in, different writing bureaus or scriptoria.

Authority, Authenticity, and the Intertextuality

of Diplomatic Discourse

On the basis of the empirical observations made thus far, I would now
like to explore the possibility that the format of the charter prior to
1200 itself may have, at least in part, evolved in synchrony with par-
ticular ideas about the role of text in projecting permanence and in
enabling preservation.
Ponthieu confirmations and notifications of land donations may
be found in all three of the categories we have been considering: still
extant originals, originals extant in the Middle Ages and now lost,
and texts known to us exclusively in later versions. Cartulary entries
record actions but not necessarily actions initially preserved in writ-
ing. These entries textualized without necessarily copying. Copying,
however, was manifest in two different forms. First came the chiro-
graph, which, as a duplicate text, enabled each party to keep a record.
Perhaps chirographs, as has already been suggested here, should be
seen as an antecedent of the copy for archival purposes.33 An abbey’s
archival holding might thereby achieve a shift from passivity, that
of mere recipient, to a more active posture, as an ongoing force in
internal and local affairs. This conception emphasizes the role copying
may have played in image-making: in the case of Saint-Fursy, and to
a lesser extent of Homblières, the chirograph seems to have enabled
such a shift in institutional profile. The other form of copying involved
not straightforward duplication but the borrowing of pre-existing pas-
sages from diplomatic discourse: preambles, formulas, or geographic

See notes 11 and 16 above.
50 chapter two

descriptions.34 Here the concept of conceptualizing an original docu-

ment gave way to a need to appropriate authoritative textual formats.
There is no evidence that a written formulary circulated in Ponthieu,
but many comital charters share discursive arrangements which,
apparently independent of their loci of production, reproduction, or
preservation, testify to the importance of textual repetition in docu-
mentary authorization. Yet copying is intertextual, not from original
sources to secondary texts, but between various texts invested with the
same agency. The function of such copying was to produce an original,
that is, in medieval terms, an authoritative text.

Narrative Form and Material Format: A Mutual Engagement

I mentioned earlier, in discussing Saint-Fursy’s and Homblières’s

holdings, that earlier texts seemed to have a better chance of surviv-
ing in charter format. Might these charters particularly have been kept
because of their symbolic value, the part they played in the traditio of

Both charters (of 1100) by Guy, count of Ponthieu, for the Cluniac priory of
Saint-Pierre of Abbeville relate the same event in similar but slightly different terms:
one may have been the draft for the other (Brunel, ed., Pontieu, nos. 8, 9, pp. 10–20).
In no. 8, the invocation and preamble have been borrowed from a diploma given by
Philip I in 1075–76 to the same priory: Maurice Prou, ed., Recueil des actes de Philippe
I er (Paris, 1908), no. 79, pp. 200–202. The charter (1145–71), extant as an original and
confirming, in the name of William, count of Ponthieu, all donations made to the
Cistercian abbey of Perseignes (Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 81, pp. 119–20), took for its
model the founding charter of Perseignes, given by Count William in 1145 and also
still extant as an original (no. 32, pp. 52–56). Three of Count John of Ponthieu’s char-
ters for the church of Saint-Josse-aux-Bois (Dommartin) show evidence of intertextual
borrowings: no. 106, pp. 150–54 (extant original from 1183) was used in the comital
charter no. 111, p. 167 (1183–85), which itself served as model for no. 112, pp. 167–72
(1185). Two comital charters granted for Valloires borrow various excerpts from each
other (no. 72, pp. 107–9 [1170]; no. 103, pp. 146–47 [1183]). The preamble of another
comital charter for Valloires (no. 144, pp. 216–20 [1198]) is also found in a charter of
the bishop of Amiens, given in 1178 for Valloires. A grant of land to the leprosary of
Val Buigny by John, count of Ponthieu, in 1186 (no. 114, pp. 174–75), simply repeats
the invocation, preamble, pro anima formula, and corroborative clause from an earlier
charter by the same count for the Val Buigny in 1177 (no. 95, pp. 134–38); both char-
ters are extant as originals. The examples listed so far (which are discussed together
with additional cases in Brunel, ed., Pontieu, pp. xx, lxxxix–xc, xciii–xcviii) support
the notion that beneficiaries of comital generosity drafted and preserved those deeds
granted in their favor, which enabled them to use earlier charters as models. However,
the circulation of models went beyond institutional boundaries. Two comital charters
for the Val Buigny (no. 108, pp. 155–57 [1180–84]; no. 126, pp. 188–91 [1191]), both
still extant in the original, have the same preamble found in a charter of Thibaut,
bishop of Amiens, given in April 1156 to the Cistercian abbey of Valloires.
toward an archaeology of the medieval charter 51

the privilege or land transferred? I wish to suggest that another ele-

ment of resonance and effectiveness may be found in the narrative
format of these documents. The narratives focus on human presence
and gesturing, referring to witnesses, to the presence of local elites,
to the kisses exchanged, to the oaths sworn.35 Even when such docu-
ments were sealed, the seal typically remained unannounced within
the final clauses.36 The effect of such narratives located the act of initial
recording within the medium, the single piece of parchment. After
such a text was entered into a cartulary, however, there was no lon-
ger evidence of the document’s independent existence. It may well be,
therefore, that it was the developing practice of textual reproduction
that fostered a particular need to distinguish between various versions
of a deed, a distinction which came to be articulated around mate-
rial considerations. It is striking to note the coterminous appearance
within diplomatic discourse of literary preambles which assert the use of
writing as necessary to keep peace and memory,37 of narratives pointing

Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, no. 66, pp. 137–38 (1152).
The knights and their wives confirmed their gift of land to Homblières by oath and
transferred the land by placing branch and turf with their own hands before the image
of Saint Hunegund: “hujus autem pactionis verba praefati milites cum uxoribus et
liberis suis sacramento firmavere ipsamque terram ramo cespiteque sanctissimae vir-
ginis Hunegundis feretro propriis manibus in eleemosynam reliquentes posuerunt.”
In two extant originals (1173), John, count of Ponthieu confirms possessions respec-
tively to the abbey of Cercamp and to the church of Notre-Dame of Le Gard (Brunel,
ed., Pontieu, nos. 87, 88, pp. 124–26), ending each charter with the following clause:
“et sciendum quod hanc elemosinam ego, Johannes comes, et Guido, frater meus,
presentibus prefatis testibus in manu Hescelini, tunc abbatis Caricampi, reddidimus.”
In the charter (1159), still extant as an original, by which John, count of Ponthieu
confirmed its possessions to the church of Saint-Josse-aux-Bois in the presence of the
bishop of Amiens, the very final clause reads: “ego Teodericus, Dei gratia Ambianen-
tium episcopus, presens scriptum Johannis, comitis de Pontivo, concessione ejusdem
meo confirmo, et ne a quoquam ullo tempore unquam ausu temerario violetur, con-
turbetur, vel infringatur, pontificali auctoritate precipio, et pervasorem hujus rei a
Patre, et Filio et Spiritu Sancto maledico, et donec resipuerit, ecclesiastica censura
anathematizo. Amen. Amen” (Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 62, pp. 93–95, at 95). On the
medieval use of kisses to seal contracts, see Yannick Carré, Le baiser sur la bouche:
Rites, symboles, mentalités, à travers les textes et les images, XI–XVe siècles (Paris, 1992).
See for instance the charters given by Ralph, count of Vermandois, to Saint-
Fursy in 1110 (Newman and Rouse, eds., St-Fursy, no. 7, pp. 26–27), and by Baldric,
bishop of Noyon, in 1112 (no. 8, pp. 27–28); the charters of William and Guy, counts
of Ponthieu, respectively for the priory of Saint-Pierre of Abbeville (Brunel, ed., Pon-
tieu, no. 21, pp. 35–37 [1103–29]) and for the church of Anchin (no. 33, pp. 56–57
Preambles promoting the use of writing are numerous during the twelfth cen-
tury. See for instance the charter of the abbot of Vermand for Saint-Fursy (Newman and
Rouse, eds., St-Fursy, no. 42, pp. 59–60 [1182], at 59): “ego, Gillebertus, abbas Veromandi
52 chapter two

to the material aspect of the charter,38 to its drafting,39 and to its vari-
ous manipulations,40 and of final clauses announcing in some detail
the affixation of the seal.41 Diplomatic discourse of the late twelfth
century came to focus less on the transaction’s human agency than
on the steps taken for its recording and on the physical aspects of
this recording. An important result of such narratives was that by
describing the charter as an object within the text, the charter was
freed from its former dependency upon a specific medium. Thereafter,
whatever its material format, a kind of textual self-referentiality was
achieved whereby the text-as-charter might continue to exist, whether

ecclesie, . . . propter labilis memorie fugam et nostri occasus instantiam vivacibus litteris
notum esse volumus quod . . .” For preambles associating peace and writing, see the
charter of John, count of Ponthieu (Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 52, pp. 78–79 [1154], at
78: “ut pax ecclesie conservetur, et res sibi deputate integre permaneant, grandi cum
cautela providendum est. Inde est quod vir sanctus loquebatur: ‘Propter fratres, inquit,
meos et proximos qui in te habitant, loquebatur pacem de te, propter domum domini
Dei nostri, que est in te, quesivi bona tibi.’ Quod vero ad eandem rem pertinet litteris
imprimendo ad posteros nostros mittimus . . .”), or the chirograph of Garin, abbot of
Homblières (Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, no. 71, pp. 144–46
[1155], at 145: “Quam quietissime viverent homines si duo verba e medio tollerentur,
meum videlicet et tuum, sancta ecclesia ob concordiam filiorum chartularum reperit
ingenium quatenus ipsarum lectione extinguantur litium flammae dato cuique suo
In this as in other charters, the count of Ponthieu draws attention to the materi-
ality of the charter (Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 36, pp. 59–60 [1126–47], at 60): “prede-
cessores nostri, sue paci ac nostre providentes utilitati, libertates et dona ecclesiarum
scriptis publicis tradiderunt. Quorum exemplum ego Wido, gratia Dei comes Pontiv-
ensis, imitans, presentibus et futuris Ecclesie filiis hujus karte pagina volo notificari
quod . . .”
The bishop of Amiens ordered the document written and divided as a chirograph
between the two parties (Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, no. 47,
pp. 106–8 [1142], at 107): “Quo praedicto modo factae commutationes ne aliqua in
posterum oblivione aut occasione possint dissolvi, scripto eas mandari atque inter
eos per chirographum dividi praecepimus, testiumque subscriptione et sigilli nostri
impressione roborari curavimus.”
Charters deposited upon the altar: Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 73, pp. 109–10
(1119–70) (“Anno millesimo centesimo decimo octavo, Gaufridus de Ansnevilla
firmavit cartam supradicte donationis, cum uxore sua Avitia, et filio suo Willelmo;
ipsamque cartam posuerunt super altare Sanctae Trinitatis . . . Ego Willelmus, comes
Pontivorum, concedo et confirmo sicut presens carta testatur . . .”); no. 81, pp. 119–20
(1145–71) (“Ego Vullelmus, Pontivorum comes et Alenconii . . . ad majorem confirma-
tionem, ex propria manu mea super altare dicte abbatie posui presentem cartam sigilli
mei munimine roboratam . . .”).
Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 105, pp. 148–49 (1183), at 149: “Igitur ut elemosina ista
rata permaneat, presentem cartam siggilli nostri appositione firmatam posteris nostris
legendam atque tenendam transmittimus . . . Recognita est autem hec donatio in cam-
era apud Cresci, coram Beatrice comitissa, ipsa concedente et testante, que etiam in
testimonium presenti carte siggillum suum apposuit.”
toward an archaeology of the medieval charter 53

in a cartulary or elsewhere. Two further conclusions may be essayed

here. This newer “literate” narrative may account for the destruction
of charters that sometimes followed the making of a cartulary, and
for the preservation of earlier documents which had been couched
in the earlier “human” narrative. The “literate” narrative may also
account for the striking disinterest medieval cartularists evinced toward
seals;42 they saw no need to mention seals specifically, or to repro-
duce them, since the seals came to be textualized within the diplomatic
discourse itself.
Textual retention of the sealed-charter format was thus important,
though retention of the original charter itself may have become sec-
ondary. We must repeat here that the majority of deeds under scru-
tiny in this study have come down to us only in cartularized format.
The phenomenon medieval diplomatists should be considering, in my
opinion, is not so much the transformation of a putative original into a
copy, but the medieval need for and process of repetition and re-enact-
ment. Medieval documentary truths are in a sense the truths of action
done double, of action re-produced. For it was when medieval society
came to recognize itself through documents, that repetition—and I
mean here registration, certification, cartularization—confirmed writ-
ten records as testimonials. Whether in charters or in cartularies, a
given diplomatic text belonged to an intertextual system, and was
probably not understood as a discrete instance of discourse in isola-
tion from the archive which contained it. The very fact that medieval
charters were transmitted in several medieval formats may indicate
that they had to be thus transmitted in order to achieve institutional
validation and to become an object of knowledge. The appearance of

For some rare mentions of seals by medieval cartularists, see above, n. 25, and
Newman, Evergates, and Constable, eds., Homblières, no. 52, pp. 115–16 (1145).
Homblières’s medieval cartulary seems to have contained a drawing of the seal of
Gerard, Lord of Ham, which the seventeenth-century cartularist copied (circa scutum
sigillum Gerardi Hamensis domini), unless he was also able to see the original charter.
General studies on the treatment of seals in cartularies include Emile Brouette, “Une
source sigillographique méconnue,” Revue belge de numismatique et de sigillographie
101 (1955), pp. 113–120; Jean-Luc Chassel, “Dessins et mentions de sceaux dans les
cartulaires médiévaux,” in Les cartulaires, pp. 153–170; Robert A. Maxwell, “Sealing
Signs and the Art of Transcribing in the Vierzon Cartulary,” Art Bulletin 81 (1999),
pp. 576–597; Laurent Morelle, “De l’original à la copie: remarques sur l’évaluation
des transcriptions dans les cartulaires médiévaux, in Les cartulaires, pp. 90–104;
Markus Spaeth, “Das ‘Regestum’ von Sant’Angelo in Formis. Zur Medialität der Bil-
der in einem Klösterlichen Kopialbuch des 12. Jahrhunderts,” Marburger Jahrbuch für
Kunstwissenschaft 31 (2004), pp. 41–59.
54 chapter two

single-leaf charter-texts within cartulary codices may have been a pri-

mary sign that such texts were part of a canon of authorities, which in
turn was to become the basis for yet other documentary formats such
as subsequent confirmations from ruling elites. Thus the movement
from charter, to cartulary, and back to charter is circular rather than
linear, progressive, and hierarchical; such movement does not record
a gradual loss of authority.43

The writing of a single diplomatic text could take several shapes in the
Middle Ages, appearing as a charter, incorporated in a confirmation
(pancarte), duplicated in a chirograph, entered into a cartulary, verified
by a vidimus. Though all these formats contain evidence of duplication
and may be seen as referring to a single transaction, they nevertheless
do not simply involve replication. Even where a copy is textually iden-
tical, it typically is not, strictly speaking, a simple duplicate because it
lacks autograph subscriptions and other signs of authorization such as
the seal. In asking how medieval copies derived the means and mean-
ings of their functions, and what these functions were, I would like to
suggest, perhaps heretically, the possibility that, by eschewing precise
replication while making “copies,” medieval scribes and their super-
visors demonstrated that their goal was less to reproduce artifacts of
the acts themselves than to maintain a process of textualization which
would assure these acts’ ongoing canonization as discursive practices.
Perhaps for medieval literati, the text remained open, even as they
increased their dependency upon writing for the management and evi-
dence of business, even as they framed their charters in formulas and
signs which finalized the act of writing and authorized its results.

See for instance the acta of the counts of Ponthieu for the church of Saint-Josse-
aux-Bois. In the case of Brunel, ed., Pontieu, no. 61, pp. 91–92 (1159), two copies were
made in 1586, one by a member of the Parisian Parlement from a now lost cartulary
and the other by the greffier des francs-fiefs from a copy said to have been collated
from the original. No. 104, pp. 147–48 (1159), no. 107, pp. 154–55 (1183–84), no. 111,
p. 167 (1183), and no. 112, pp. 167–69 (1185) were also copied in 1586 from the lost
cartulary by the Parisian parlementaire.


The Role of Theory in Sigillography

Presence, during the twelfth-century, appears to have been registered

increasingly by artifacts, and no longer solely in human beings.1 Such
an impression stems from an overview of the cultural landscape of this
epoch (1050–1225), which offers texts, images, and artifacts in unprec-
edented numbers.2 Among the artifacts then newly and significantly
visible were seals and sealed charters.
Seals have a long history. Originating alongside if not actually pre-
ceding the invention of writing, sealing remained in most civilizations
a significant mechanism for marking and protecting ownership, sign-
ing commitment, designating identity, representing authority, and
authenticating documents. In parallel to their role in the sphere of
practice, seals have also served as a metaphoric focus. Mesopotamian
and biblical texts, Platonic and Aristotelian treatises, patristic and early
medieval commentaries, all incorporate sealing imagery as a concep-
tual tool.3 Such historical longevity does not necessarily imply congru-
ence of the cultural and modal significance of the seals themselves.
Yet historian-sigillographers of all hues have assumed continuity of
seal usage between very different societies as a category of historical
explanation, thereby promoting interpretation of the seal as a single
historical, and thus a-historical, object.4

I transpose here C. Stephen Yaeger’s felicitous expression in The Envy of Angels.
Cathedral Schools and Social Ideas in Europe (Philadelphia, 1994), p. 14.
Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy. Written Language and Models of Inter-
pretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton, 1983); Michael T. Clanchy,
From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066–1307, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1993);
Armando Petrucci, Writers and Readers in Medieval Itay, trans. Charles M. Radding
(Yale, 1995); John Van Engen, “Letters, Schools, and Written Culture in the Eleventh
and the Twelfth Centuries,” Dialektik und Rhetoric im früheren und hohen Mittelalter,
ed. Johannes Fried (Munich, 1997), pp. 97–132; Jean-Claude Schmitt, Le corps des
images: Essais sur la culture visuelle au Moyen Age (Paris, 2002).
See for instance the stimulating essay by Elena Cassin, “Le sceau, un fait de civili-
sation dans la Mésopotamie ancienne,” Annales E.S.C. 15 (1960), pp. 742–751.
The seal’s world history, from its beginning in 3000 bce Mesopotamia to the
modern period, is given in Erich Kittel, Siegel (Braunschweig, 1970); in his wide-ranging
56 chapter three

In addressing the new appearance of seals on charters issued in the

name of French non-royal elites between 1000 and 1200, my earlier
work grounds this diffusion laterally, within the very circumstances of
its occurrence, rather than approaching it vertically, as an event some-
how predicated or determined by historical continuity.5 As I analyzed
the diffusion of seals along the axes of regionalism, politics, and gen-
der, I have come to rethink four previous assumptions that have long,
almost axiomatically, dominated the field of medieval sigillography, or
sphragistics, that is, the study of seals,6 and have in my view obscured
the actual historical significance of medieval seals, relegating them to
the world of antiquarianism and connoisseurship.
The first assumption is that the seal’s function, between the elev-
enth and fifteenth centuries, was to authenticate documents. This
notion, which was first articulated at the end of the twelfth century
and received its prescriptive formulation in the thirteenth, cannot
account for the early pattern of non-royal seal usage. In fact, when late
twelfth-century canon lawyers began to reflect on documentary vali-
dation, they assigned the power of authentication only to the sigillum
authenticum, the authentic seal. The meaning of authentic here does
not derive so much from a concern about counterfeits but from the
desire to establish the capacity for authentic seals to confer full validity
on documents devoid of witnesses. However, if from its very incep-
tion the concept of the authentic seal involved a precise understanding
of the seal’s effect, this effect was specifically understood to emanate

and influential essay, Robert-Henri Bautier argues that seals and sealing practices
spread from the Ancient Near East to the medieval West. “Le cheminement de la bulle
et du sceau des origines mésopotamiennes au XIIe siècle occidental,” Revue française
d’héraldique et de sigillographie 54–59 (1984–1989), pp. 41–84, reprinted in Chartes,
sceaux, et chancelleries. Etudes de diplomatique et de sigillographie médiévales, 2 vols
(Paris: Ecole des chartes, 1990), vol, 1, pp. 123–166.
An overview of the main historiographical trends in sigillographic studies is given
in Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak, “Une image ontologique: Sceau et ressemblance
en France préscolastique (1000–1200),” Etudes d’histoire de l’art offertes à Jacques
Thirion. Des premiers temps chrétien au XXe siècle, ed. Alain Erlande-Brandenburg et
Jean-Michel Leniaud (Paris, 2001), pp. 39–50, at pp. 40–42, and also here throughout
chapters 5, 6, 7.
B. Bedos-Rezak, Form and Order in Medieval France: Studies in Social and Quan-
titative Sigillography (London, 1993).
The best general treatises on medieval seals include Wilhelm Ewald, Siegelkunde
(repr. Munich, 1969); Michel Pastoureau, Les sceaux (Turnhout, 1981); Paul D.A.
Harvey and Andrew McGuiness, A Guide to British Medieval Seals (London, 1996);
Andrea Stieldorf, Siegelkunde (Hannover, 2004); Vocabulaire international de la sigil-
lographie (Rome 1990).
sign theory, medieval and modern 57

from the public authority of popes and rulers. Thus the authenticating
power of seals was conditional on the status, conceived as public, of
their owners. By the late thirteenth century, when jurists attempted
to provide the authentic seal with a broader sociopolitical conception,
they insisted that for a seal to function as an authenticating device it
must be well known. Even when finally producing such imprecise and
relative definitions, jurists did not conceal the fact that viewpoints in
the matter of seal validation differed widely; they recognized that the
meanings and agency of seals depended on local custom.7 In short,
medieval legal discussions of seals, not to mention actual sealing
practices, far from displaying consensus about the seal as a validating
device, testify to the difficulty legal scholars had in articulating the
values and beliefs implied both by the authenticating and by the seal-
ing processes. The question for these scholars was the very nature of
the authority underlying the seal’s efficacy, since non-royal seals did
not base their owners’ authority on royal grant and affiliation, nor did
seals invoke the political hierarchy as party to the act they witnessed.
A second hypothesis holds that seals spread because of the con-
current revival, in the twelfth century, of trade and urbanization, the
growth of bureaucracies, the reintroduction of Roman Law, and the
spread of literacy. Enabling conditions should not be mistaken for
explanations, nor do the circumstances lend themselves readily to a
chronology indicating the precedence of one phenomenon over the
others. There had been a moderate continuum of unsealed charters
given in the name of lay authors since early medieval times, but only
when they came to be sealed did such texts lead to that generalized and

“A charter’s full credibility depends upon an authentic seal, that is, a seal which is
well known and famous.” The medieval concept of seal authenticity and concern for
documentary validation are studied in A. Dumas, “Etude sur le classement des formes
des actes,” Le Moyen Age 43 (1934), pp. 146–66; Mariano Welber, Sigillografia: II sigillo
nella diplomatica, nel diritto, nella storia, nell’arte, Vol. 3: / sigilli nella storia del diritto
medievale italiano (Milan, 1934), pp. 181–228; B. Bedos-Rezak, “In Search of a Semi-
otic Paradigm. The Matter of Sealing in Medieval Thought and Praxis (1050–1400),” in
Good Impressions. Image and Authority in Medieval Seals, ed. John Cherry and James
Robinson, (London, 2008; British Museum, Occasional Paper series), pp. 1–7, at pp. 3–4;
Bedos-Rezak, “The Efficacy of Signs and the Matter of Authenticity in Canon Law,”
forthcoming in Zwischen Pragmatik und Performanz. Dimensionen mittelalterlicher
Schriftkultur, ed. Christoph Dartmann, Thomas Scharff, and Christoph Weber (Turn-
hout, 2010); see also studies quoted in chapter 6 below pp. 114, 131, and at notes 11
and 49.
See chapter 7 below, for further analysis of the legal discourse on seals, and at notes
103, 106 for the sigillum authenticum.
58 chapter three

irreversible social dependence on the written word that has continued

up to the present day. Thus it seems that seals furthered rather than
resulted from literate modes. This suggests that seals played a unique
role in fostering, to borrow M.T. Clanchy’s expression, medieval trust
in writing. Basing his argument on English records (1066–1307),
Clanchy gives the most satisfactory account to date of the seal’s abil-
ity both to encompass and to translate the meanings of the symbolic
objects and gestures that had previously validated written deeds, or
indeed had entirely substituted for them.8 This scenario elegantly situ-
ates the seal as a bridge between the literate and the non-literate, deftly
bypassing a polarized historiography that had either associated seals
with the growth of literacy or labeled them a technique for illiterates.
However, these theories did not adequately confront the fact that there
is no systematic or even necessary relationship between seals and the
growth of literacy. Charlemagne (d. 814), for example, reinforced the
dependence of his administration on the written word by turning to
a system of notaries to impart authority to non-royal documents even
though his own chancery was sealing the royal diplomas.9 Then, too,
areas of Southern Europe that had retained a higher rate of documen-
tary practice throughout the early Middle Ages also used the notariate,
adopting sealed charters comparatively late.10 Thus there clearly were
successful medieval literate practices independent of sealing, and the
adoption of seals as preferred signs in Northern Europe from ca. 1050
evolved in specific cultural circumstances.
A third presumption maintains that seals were icons of power. Inter-
pretations of seals as evidence both for and of social and political pro-
cesses assume a causal relation between the function and meaning of
seals and the status and authority of their owners. I have reconsidered
this putative causal relationship in the light of the fact that there is no
extant evidence of literate intercourse between lay individuals for the

Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, pp. 308–317.
See chapter 6 at note 54 a discussion of Carolingian literacy. On the Carolin-
gian notariate, see R.-H. Bautier, “L’authentification des actes privés dans la France
médiévale: Notariat public et juridiction gracieuse,” in Notariado publico y documento
privado, de los origines al siglo XIV: Actas del VII Congreso intemacional de diploma-
tica, Valencia, 1986, 2 vols. (Valencia, 1989), vol. 2, pp. 707–709, reprinted in Chartes,
sceaux et chancelleries, vol. 1, pp. 275–277.
Bautier, “L’authentification des actes privés,” pp. 713–736, and pp. 281–304 in
Chartes, sceaux et chancelleries.
sign theory, medieval and modern 59

purpose of transacting land in eleventh and twelfth-century France.11

Such operations of lay society not involving churchmen appear to have
been accomplished primarily by means of oral and gestural modes. In
this period, as before, churchmen held a scribal monopoly and were
responsible for both the production and the conservation of charters.
The ecclesiastically scripted but lay-sealed charter thus indicates secu-
lar participation in and acculturation to documentary modes, which
were fostered as much by the preexisting churchmen’s scribal and
scriptural culture as by sealing. The new category of sealed charters
must therefore be analyzed within the contextual framework of their
originating scriptoria. The sealed charter, heretofore interpreted solely
as an act of individual or familial will, must now be reconsidered as a
text and artifact articulating cultural and ideological models ambient
in specific scriptoria.
A fourth prejudice, indeed a paramount force that has focused seal
scholarship on artistic considerations and legal functionality, and has,
more generally, shaped traditional sigillography as an antiquarian dis-
cipline, is its heuristics, based on casts. Archival collections usually
consist of casts made from molds directly taken from single origi-
nals, the best impression of a given seal type. Seal catalogs typically
describe such casts, thus discounting information inherent in original
seal impressions and subsuming such variants into a single archetype.
The use of casts as standard objects of study tends to transform the
seal into a fixed type, undermining its most fundamental signifying
and operative principle, reiteration, by which medieval seals produced
identity through identical devices. Aftercasting denatures seals by alter-
ing their locus (from documents) and their status (as signs), abstractly
recasting them as separate objects of knowledge, removed from their
original cultural sphere of discourse and practice.12
Restoring seals to their historicity, as agents within the culture that
produced and used them, extends our understanding of the instru-
mentality of seals well beyond their long-recognized documentary
function. A semiotic approach to seals enables them to be reexamined
as signs and symbols, and redirects the analysis toward their modes

For an analysis of documentary practices in this period, see chapter 6 below.
B. Bedos-Rezak, “Le sceau médiéval et son enjeu dans la diplomatique urbaine
en France,” in La diplomatique urbaine en Europe au Moyen Age. Actes du Congrès de
la Commission internationale de diplomatique, ed. Walter Prevenier and Thérèse de
Hemptinne (Louvain-Apeldoorn, 2000), pp. 23–44, at p. 35.
60 chapter three

and areas of signification (rhetoric, sign theory, authority, personifi-

cation, identity), toward the assumptions encoded by seals about the
nature of their operation, and toward the effect of seals in and on the
society that manipulated them.
It is noteworthy that medieval authors themselves explicitly defined
seals as signs. This might earlier have suggested a semiotically informed
study of them to historian-sigillographers, yet it was not the sigillographic
literature that first proposed a semiotic analysis of seals.13 Rather, broader
works on sign theory and anthropology have helped bring to my atten-
tion both the nature and implications of seals as semiotic agents and
processes and the extreme sensitivity to semioticity during the period in
which seal usage spread. Of particular relevance for the conceptualiza-
tion of such an approach is semiotic anthropology.

Evaluating Sign Theories

“Semiotic Anthropology,” an expression coined by Milton Singer at

the University of Chicago in the mid-1970s,14 arose from a philosophical

A recent impulse has directed the field of diplomatics toward the sphere of semiot-
ics, wherein documents are analyzed from the viewpoint of their discursive, as well as
their graphic and material forms. Peter Rück, “Der Urkunde als Kunstwerk,” in Kaiserin
Theophanu. Begegnung de Ostens und Westens um die Wende des ersten Jahrtausends,
ed. Anton von Euw and Petern Schreiner, vol. II (Cologne, 1991), pp. 311–333: in this
essay, Rück considers medieval documents well beyond the tenth century and exposes
his methodology, which calls for a full consideration of writing as shapes, of the design
of the page, and of such symbolic signs as chrisms and monograms; see also a fur-
ther presentation of his method in P. Rück, “Beiträge zur diplomatischen Semiotik,” in
Graphische Symbole in mittelalterlichen Urkunden, ed. Peter Rück (Sigmaringen, 1996),
pp. 13–47, and Hermann Jung, “Zeichen und Symbol. Bestandsaufnahme und interdisz-
iplinäre Perspektiven,” in Graphische Symbole, pp. 49–66. Seals, however, have not been
included in these remarkable analytical developments. I began to explore the relevance
of semiotics for the analysis of seals in two essays: B. Bedos-Rezak, “Medieval Identity. A
Sign and a Concept,” American Historical Review 105 (2000), pp. 1489–1533 and Bedos-
Rezak, “Une image ontologique.” A recent discussion of ancient seals parallels my own
interpretation of medieval seals: Verity Platt, “Making an Impression: Replication and
the Ontology of the Graeco-Roman Seal Stone,” Art History 29 (2006), pp. 233–257.
Richard J. Parmentier, trained at Chicago by Michael Silverstein, and himself a
leading practitioner and eloquent theoretician of semiotic anthropology, has recently
presented a remarkably thorough and comprehensive analysis of this discipline in
“The Pragmatic Semiotics of Culture,” Semiotica 116/1(1997), pp. 1–115 (see p. 14 for
the appearance of the term ‘semiotic anthropology’). Organized in four parts, each
abundantly provided with a critical review of the relevant bibliography, Parmentier
traces, in part one, the itinerary of semiotic anthropology from Kant through Wilhelm
von Humboldt and Emile Durkheim to Levi-Strauss and his critic, Clifford Geertz.
sign theory, medieval and modern 61

analysis of language and cognition, and became a methodological pro-

gram actively pursued and taught there by Michael Silverstein. Singer
envisioned semiotic anthropology as offering a theory of means by
which and ways in which signs were related to their meaning, to the
objects designated, and to the culture of the sign users. His approach
challenged Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1857–1913) abstract semiology and
built upon Charles Sanders Peirce’s (1839–1914) contextual semiotics.
Saussure produced a linguistic theory that removed language from
its social embededness. Though his goal was the establishment of a
historical linguistics he in fact situated linguistic value as if it were
independent of semantic meaning and of the context of utterance. He
posited that the sign entertained a dyadic relationship between a sig-
nifier and a signified. This relationship was pre-established by a fixed
code which, based on an equal exchange between unequivocally cor-
responding sign and referent, is shared by producer and interpreter. In
the terms of Saussurean semiology meaning, intentional and definite,
may be retrieved merely by the operation of decodification, since it
passes unmodified between sender and receiver, bracketing both the
external world and the interpretive self. Such a concurrence of sign and
meaning carries three implications. One is the unavoidable conclusion
that the historical agency underlying meaning is of little interest. The
second is the conception of culture as a hermetically sealed entity
ordered by a prescriptive set of codes. The third is the perception
of the human subject as having a perfect coincidence between itself
and its own consciousness.15 Saussurean linguistics shaped the social

In part 2, Parmentier presents applications of and reactions to semiotic methods in

cultural analysis. Part 3 reviews “semiotic approaches to meaning in material culture,”
and proposes outlines of a semiotic perspective that would contribute to an anthro-
pological theory of material objects. Part 4 assesses critically attempts at a semiotic
typology of cultures by considering the work of three prominent semiotic typologists
(Ernst Cassirer, Yuri Lotman, and Jean Baudrillard), and by testing such typology with
the case of the European twelfth century. As such, Parmentier’s essay holds a special
interest for medievalists.
Semiotic anthropology is also referred as pragmatic anthropology, see Robert Preu-
cel, Archaeological Semiotics (Blackwell, 2006), where is given an excellent account
of work done in that field since the 1970s, pp. 66–90. On Preucel’s use of Peircean
semiotics, see R. Parmentier, “Troubles with Trichotomies: Reflections on the Utility
of Peirce’s sign Trichotomies for Social Analysis,” Semiotica 177 (2009), pp. 139–155,
at pp. 151–153.
Saussure’s linguistics have been denounced as “semiotics of identification or
of equal exchange” by Augusto Ponzio, Signs, Dialogues and Ideology (Amsterdam,
1993), pp. xii–xiii, 11–18.
62 chapter three

sciences through the monumental influence of Claude Levi-Strauss’

structuralism. Structuralism considers cultural manifestations (such as
speech, religion, law, cooking, kinship alliance) to be codes of commu-
nication formed by articulated signs, the meanings of which derive not
from their ties to external referents but from their positional values
within a systemic code. The natural and social worlds at once provide
and function as a limitless inventory of possible signifiers, although
these are held to signify only as parts within underlying generative
pre-coded systems (the structures).16
Peirce, on the other hand, considered that only certain types of signs,
which he termed symbols, were defined by their arbitrariness. Thus,
whereas symbolism was one possible mode of signification, charac-
terized by convention, additional signifying modes include indexical-
ity (common context), whereby signs must be in a causal relation of
spatiotemporal contiguity with their objects, and iconicity (common
quality), whereby the sign and its object must somehow resemble each
other.17 His appreciation of the multimodality of signifying processes
enabled Peirce’s ingenious accomplishment, the reconciliation of nat-
ural signs and their epistemological role in the acquisition of knowl-
edge with conventional symbols and their function in the structure
of communication. Pierce achieved this unification by progressively
diminishing the distinction between sign and object. Whatever the
state of an object’s being, whether abstract or actual, that object, Peirce

For a clear and concise criticism of Saussurean linguistics, with additional bibliog-
raphy see R. Parmentier, Signs In Society. Studies in Semiotic Anthropology (Bloom-
ington, 1994), pp. xiii–xv. In Signs and Society, pp. xiii–xv, and “Pragmatic Semiotics
of Culture,” pp. 7–15, Parmentier deftly compares Saussure’s semiology with Peirce’s
Parmentier, “The Pragmatics of Semiotic Culture,” pp. 8–12, 31. See also recent
and synthetic reviews of Saussure’s legacy and Levi-Strauss’ anthropology in Preucel,
Archaeological Semiotics, pp. 21–43; Robert Layton, “Structuralism and Semiotics,”
in Handbook of Material Culture, ed. Christopher Tiley, W. Keane, Susanne Küchler,
Mike Rowlands, Patricia Spyer (London, 2006), pp. 29–42, at pp. 33, 35, 37; Bjørnar
Olsen, “Scenes from a Troubled Engagement, Post-Structuralism and Material Culture
Studies,” in Handbook of Material Culture, pp. 85–103, at pp. 86, 88.
Numerous studies have been devoted to Peirce’s semiotics. I rely here upon Par-
mentier’s two first chapters in his Signs in Society, which were particularly illuminat-
ing: “Peirce Divested for Nonintimates,” (pp. 3–22), and “Peirce’s Concept of Semiotic
Mediation” (pp. 23–44). E. Valentine Daniel offers a thoughtful discussion of Perce-
ian sign theory in his Fluid Signs. Being a Person in the Tamil Way (Berkeley, 1984),
pp. 12–40. A lucid presentation of Perceian’s semiotics is Preucel in his Archaeological
Semiotics, pp. 44–66, and see above at note 14 for a reference to Parmentier’s assess-
ment of Preucel’s use of Perceian semiotics.
sign theory, medieval and modern 63

argued, enters reality as a sign, and this analysis includes the human
self. Thus, knowledge of the objective world, and of ideas, occurs via
representations by signs: human cognition is mediated through signs
and self-consciousness and, to the extent that it is constituted through
social interaction, is a collective property. For mediation to be effec-
tive, the sign must be connected to its object in such a way that the
sign’s identifying properties are determined by the object. In Peirce-
ian semiotics, there is a necessary consonance between representation
and reality: the sign, termed “representamen,” is a mediate realiza-
tion of its object, a realization rendered possible by the fact that the
object determines the character of its sign. Significantly, such realism
can be traced back to John Duns Scot (1265–1308) and Peirce himself
recognized his debt to the medieval philosopher by labeling himself
“a scotistic realist.”18 However, for signification to occur, more is needed
than an expression of the object in the sign. Peirce posited that the
determining influence of the object on the sign produced a mental or
behavioral effect in some interpreter or interpreting representation. This
interpretation constitutes the sign’s meaning. Whereas the sign and the
object are in a direct relationship of mutual determination and represen-
tation, meaning is a subsequent representation, also determined by the
same object but by the mediating role of the sign or “representamen.”19
Meaning is thus a locus of interpretation and, as such, contextualizes
the sign (“representamen”). Signification, therefore, occurs along two
axes. On the one hand, there is determination, flowing from the object

Cited in James I. Wimsatt, “John Duns Scotus, Charles Sanders Peirce, and Chau-
cer’s Portrayal of the Canterbury Pilgrims,” Speculum (1996), pp. 633–645, at p. 634.
On Peirce’s understanding of Duns Scot’s realism, see the comprehensive study by
John F. Boler, Charles Peirce and Scholastic Realism (Seattle, 1963). Also suggestive are
Vincent J. Potter, Charles S. Peirce. On Norms and Ideals 2nd ed. (New York, 1997),
p. 82; Jeffrey R. Dileo, “Peirce’s Haecceitism,” Transactions 27 (1991), pp. 79–109;
Claudine Engelin-Tierceli, “Vagueness and the Unity of C.S. Peirce’s Realism,” Trans-
actions 28 (1992), pp. 51–82; Ponzio, Signs, Dialogue, and Ideology, pp. 70–82; Susan
Petrilli and Augusto Ponzio, “Peirce and Medieval Semiotics,” in Peirce’s Doctrine of
Signs: Theory, Applications, and Connections, ed. Vincent M. Colapietro, Thomas M.
Olshewsky (Berlin and New York, 1996), pp. 351–364.
The philosophy of Duns Scotus has been the object of a recent study by Antonie
Vos, The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus (Edinburgh, 2006).
The case for a coincidence between Augustine and Peirce’s sign theories has been
made by Robert A. Markus, “St. Augustine on Signs,” Phronesis 2 (1957), pp. 60–83,
reprinted in Sacred and Secular. Studies on Augustine and Latin Christianity (Alder-
shot, 1994), XIV.
Parmentier, “Peirce’s Concept of Semiotic Foundation,” Signs and Society, p. 25.
64 chapter three

to both the sign and its meaning. On the other, there is interpreta-
tion, which is historically situated and, as a mediate representation of
its object, produces in turn a further meaning for which it serves as a
sign. Semiosis is thus determined by objects, is contingent upon the
context of its occurrence, and is part of an infinite process, as further
determinations and representations accumulate and shift the role of
each element in the triadic relationsip of sign, referent, and meaning.20
Each of the three elements may pertain equally to such diverse classes
of phenomena as material objects, human actions, or natural laws.21
While semiosis is a limitless process of interpretation, representation
remains guided by determination, for “the object of a sign must resist
in some measure any tendency it may have to be as the thinker thinks
it is.”22
This real relation between sign, object, and meaning is itself predi-
cated on Peirce’s meta-physical notion that the signs used to represent
mental and external realities also share substantial identity with these
realities, and on his ontological view that all knowledge at a given his-
torical moment must to some degree relate to something with which
the knower is already acquainted. Peirce thus produced a relationship
of dialogic adequacy between signs and objects, between meaning and
experience, and between thought and reality.23
This insight is not popular with social scientists, most of whom dis-
miss it as a vestigial Western attachment to the Renaissance theory of
signatures,24 but it is precisely what recommended Peirceian semiotics

Parmentier, “Peirce’s Concept of Semiotic Foundation,” Signs and Society,
pp. 25–27.
Parmentier, “Peirce’s Concept of Semiotic Foundation,” Signs and Society, p. 25.
Peirce manuscript 499 in the collection of the Houghton Library, the rare book
and manuscript library at Harvard University, quoted in Parmentier, Signs in Society,
p. 26.
Discussion of the relationship between sign, object, and thinking subject may
be found in Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (Bloomington,
1986), p. 45; Ponzio, Signs, Dialogues, and Ideology, pp. 3, 12, 39, 42–44; James Hoopes,
“Objectivity and Relativism Affirmed: Historical Knowledge and the Philosophy of
Charles S. Peirce,” American Historical Review 98 (1993), pp. 1545–1555, at p. 1548.
In Renaissance hermeneutics, to search for meaning is to identify resemblance.
In this approach, the world offers itself to human cognition through signs (signatures)
indicating invisible analogies that must be deciphered. On the Renaissance theory of
signs, see Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences
(New York, 1973), pp. 17–45; Timothy Reiss, The Discourse of Modernism (Ithaca,
NY, 1982), p. 32. Parmentier, “Pragmatic Semiotics of Cultures,” pp. 31–32, reports
that contemporary semiotic approaches to cultural analysis are attacked as “a Western
holdover from the Renaissance belief in correspondences or signatures,” and dismisses
sign theory, medieval and modern 65

to semiotic anthropologists, and what should make such semiotics

valuable to historians, for it locates meaning within history by suggest-
ing that it is only in social practice that the sign is used and its sense
determined: semiosis as enacted social practice. Meaning, therefore, is
not disembodied but acts and is enacted within sign systems (linguis-
tic and nonlinguistic alike), which, embedded in context-specific pur-
posive behavior, are at once socially grounded and socially creative.
Contextual parameters are concrete realities—time, space, matter—,
and sign operations all require physically manifested sign vehicles,
experienceable over time. Complementary to this concrete contextu-
alization is the tracking of a given culture’s meta-semiotic understand-
ing through theoretical discourses, ideological assumptions, and social
actions. The material aspect of semiosis does not deprive contextually
grounded signs of meta-level correlates regulating a further range of
acceptable meanings. Thus semiosis, as a multidimensional process
sensitive alike to the formal properties of signs, the material circum-
stances of context, and the influence of meta-semiotic anchors, opens
up ways to study social action seen both as emergent in real time and
projected from meta-semiotic representation.25

A Mutually Challenging Encounter: Semiotic Anthropology

and the Middle Ages

The European Middle Ages, the twelfth century in particular, have

recently been examined through the lenses of semiotic anthropology by
Richard Parmentier, a distinguished practitioner of this methodology.26

such attacks as reductionist logics that seek to locate the “mechanisms of semiosis
in the hard-wiring of the brain or in the universal constraints of communicative
Good discussions of the methodological orientation provided by Peirce’s semiot-
ics, together with an analytical review of their applicability to the humanities and to
the social sciences, are offered by Parmentier, Signs in Society, esp. pp. xiii–xvii and
125–128; Parmentier, “Pragmatic Semiotics of Culture,” pp. 7–8, 15–17.
See above at note 14 on the scope and significance of Parmentier’s work in gen-
eral and for the study of the Middle Ages.
A special issue of Semiotica was devoted to medieval semiotics, Semiotica Mediae-
valia, ed. Jonathan Evans, Semiotica 63–1/2 (1987), pp. 1–239: semiotic approaches to
the study of medieval semiotics have mostly focused on poetics, linguistics, literature,
grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy.
For aspects of twelfth-century medieval sign theory that compare, but cannot
be reduced, to the tenets of semiotic anthropology, see B. Bedos-Rezak, “ ‘Semiotic
66 chapter three

Parmentier considers the twelfth century to have been primarily

governed by Platonic Realism, which affirmed the reality and tran-
scendent referentiality of abstract ideas or universals.27 However, Par-
mentier also comments on the diversity of twelfth-century symbolic
discourses, though without either specifically identifying such dis-
courses, or analyzing the conflicts that erupted over the reality of uni-
versals, about the Christic presence in the eucharist, over the nature
of the persons in the triune God, and over the expression of authorial
presence in script. Based on his perception that twelfth-century semio-
sis had multiple, often contrasting, operative mechanisms, Parmentier
draws the general conclusion that specific semiotic structural elements,
such as Realism, do not necessarily correspond to particular types of
societies but are widespread phenomena acting cross-culturally. For
instance, since universals are conceived as templates of the spatio-
temporal realm, social regimentation and political permanence can be
ascribed to any society that proclaims the transcendent immutability
of universals.28 Realism, in this conclusion, has been essentialized, that
is, assumed to have systematic effects independent of context.
Parmentier’s conclusion involves a radical epistemological shift,
as several aspects of semiosis are decontextualized and universalized,
while the explanatory power of semiotic anthropology is directed away
from categories of cultural order and toward types of cross-cultural
experience. Such an approach raises several problems. First, it denies a
particular semiotic theory, in this case Realism, its own power as sign
and as engine rather than as mere determinant of semiosis. Second,
although synchronic but conflicting semiotic systems are recognized,
those medieval sign operations not accounted for by contemporane-
ous theoretical discourses are subordinated, identified by reference
to anachronistic modern interpretive norms, or conceived as having

Anthropology.’ The Twelfth Century Experiment,” European Transformations 950–1200,

eds., Thomas F.X. Noble and John Van Engen (Notre Dame, Forthcoming).
Parmentier, “Pragmatic Semiotics of Culture,” pp. 78–89. Parmentier’s discus-
sion of the Middle Ages aims in part at testing a novel offshoot of semiotic anthro-
pology—the construction of an evolutionary and comparative typology of cultures
diachronically based on fundamental semiotic processes, see note 14 above and his
“Pragmatic Semiotics of Culture,” pp. 63–65, 78–79.
Also see chapter 6 here at n. 33 for further discussion of the term realism in medi-
eval philosophy.
Parmentier, “Pragmatic Semiotics of Culture,” p. 86; Parmentier reaches this
conclusion in an effort to dismiss the notion that any culture can be characterized by
coherent semiotic criteria.
sign theory, medieval and modern 67

been so pervasive and axiomatic as not to have been recorded in texts.

Third, medieval semiotic processes themselves are translated directly
into analytical tools of modern research, when, in fact, such processes
were constitutive of twelfth-century culture and operated in a vastly
different interpretive context than the tools of current social studies.
Consequently, actual medieval semiotic processes, though initially
contextually anchored and/or meta-semiotically correlated, become,
once reinscribed (and reified) within modern epistemologies, non-
functional, since the ways in which they originally enabled specific and
new signifying forms, new meanings, new forms of meaning, and new
chains of interpretations remain unretrieved. When semiotic practices
are seen simply as presupposed habits, objective discourses, or analyti-
cal tools, the interpretive creativity of signs within historical societ-
ies cannot become a proper subject of historical inquiry. Parmentier’s
comprehensive review of semiotically informed studies on the twelfth
century reports interactions between different media (images/texts,
heraldic emblems/agnatic discourse), different discourses (monastic/
prescholastic), and different esthetics (romanesque/gothic). All of these
media, discourses, and esthetics, however, are analyzed only from the
viewpoint of their engagement with explicit medieval semiotic systems.
Such analyses tend to impute a meta-semiotic, superstructural dimen-
sion to those medieval systems, whereby they are conceived to be
external to the very reality they constitute. The actual semiotic nature
of the heraldic emblem or the gothic cathedral, both new forms in the
twelfth century, their signifying modes and locations within processual
chains of interpretation, and their force in producing specific cognitive
and external realities remain unaddressed in this treatment. Semiotics of
this sort, from the viewpoint of the historian, merely serves to reinforce
the well-known chronicle of innovations.
Thus charting the zones left in shadow as the spotlight of semiotic
anthropology sweeps across the field of medieval history reveals the
paradox at the very heart of semiotic anthropology. On the one hand,
Peirce insists on the necessity of context for semiosis to take shape and
to make sense, and semiotic anthropologists advocate careful exami-
nation of the particular sociohistorical setting within which signs, as
contextually informed material instances, operate. On the other hand,
anthropologists have abstracted Peirce’s sign theory into an analytical
tool held to be applicable to any sign system, on the explicit assump-
tion that “[his] semiotic writings clarify a series of analytical distinc-
tions in sign operations and structure that can be used as a starting
68 chapter three

point for cultural analysis. But just as the calculus, the indispensable
mathematical tool for modern scientific research, makes no claims in
itself about the laws which governs the scientific universe, so Peirce’s
semiotic trichotomies enable the student of cultural codes to ‘calculate’
many dimensions of “signs in society.”29 In the hands of social scien-
tists, the Peircean sign theory has often become a certitude, held to
be applicable to all cultures, to elicit a given culture’s preference for a
particular Peircean mode of signification.30 Peirce’s taxonomic systems
have undoubtedly generated a vast array of sign types,31 but systematic
recourse to his classification limits historical contingency. Even in the
presence of an indigenous theory of signs, anthropologists conclude
that such a theory may have no bearing on notions of signification and
cultural categories within that specific environment.32 It is somewhat
inconsistent for semiotic anthropology to claim contextualization for
semiosis even while essentializing its working definition of the sign.
Implicit in the projection of Peirceian sign theory onto all times and
cultures is a universalization, a hard-wiring, of signification. Do signs
signify independently? Is semiotics a new form of historical determin-
ism, on a par with, say, materialism? Such theoretical essentialism is
especially problematic for medievalists who, at least in some cases, feel
prompted by Peirce’s own knowledge of and reliance on medieval sign
theory to make medieval systems “fit” Perceian semiotic trichotomies.33
In my view, the systematic application of Peirce’s theory runs contrary

Parmentier, Signs in Society, p. xiv. This statement runs in fact against Peirce’s
own belief that there is a necessary equation between representation (the rules and
symbols of calculus) and reality.
Parmentier, “The Pragmatic Semiotic of Culture,” pp. 64–65, where are listed 15
semiotic criteria used by various cultural analysts bent on an evolutionary classifica-
tion of cultures, or epochs, according to prevalent semiotic process. Parmentier is
engaged in a critical examination of such typologization.
Peirce’s distinction among signs is lucidly presented in Parmentier, “Peirce
Divested for Nonintimates,” in Signs in Society, pp. 16–19; see also, Daniel, Fluid Signs,
pp. 12–40, pp. 287–294.
Daniel, Fluid Signs, pp. 231–232, and citing other studies reaching similar con-
clusions. Daniel’s study, however, is an exemplary analysis of Tamil culture, focusing
on the daily phenomena in Tamil villagers’ life so as to understanding the prevalent
system of ranked cultural units, or substances, of which the caste system is but one
of many manifestations.
See parallels drawn between Peirce’s semiotics and medieval logic in Boler,
Charles Peirce and Scholastic Realism; Petrilli and Ponzio, “Peirce and Medieval Semi-
otics,” pp. 351–64; Ponzio, Signs, Dialogue, and Ideology, pp. 70–82. As already men-
tioned (above, note 18), arguing for the coincidence between Augustine and Peirce’s
sign theories is Markus, “St. Augustine on Signs,” pp. 60–83.
sign theory, medieval and modern 69

to his own notion of the contingency of signification on context, and

to his own implication that all knowledge is relative; for, while knowl-
edge is tested by objective reality (and thus is not merely subjective),
reality itself remains dependent on thought (that is, on signs and rep-
resentation, in other words, on culture) in order to acquire knowable
meanings and qualities. Peirce’s semiotics ought to inspire historians
with a sense of the historicity of both sign theory and sign agency, and
of their dialogic ability to encode and articulate specific ontological
and metaphysical views.
The tendency of semiotic anthropology to universalize Peirceian
sign theory only partially undermines the utility of its insights for
historians. Semiotic anthropology is particularly valuable in exploring
material objects as signs because it eschews the systematic application
of a logocentric model of meaning, and thus does not reduce culture
to the single model of a linguistic code.34 It calls for the study of mate-
rial culture beyond technical reductionism or linguistic symbolism
and for an understanding of material culture’s functions beyond the
instrumental or the practical, providing, among other things, a useful
agenda for research by which to explore the nature of the signifying
material, the agents and purposes of its interpretation, and the sta-
tus of the relationship between this material and surrounding cultural
traditions, social organizations, and cosmological powers.35 In being
part of and exposed to the traffic of signs, cultures are seen less as
coherent than as dynamic systems in which both the empirical subject
and the empirical object are full participants. Having re-established
the engagement of social and material relations, semiotic anthropol-
ogy has made way for the ‘return’ of the object in social theory at
the turn of the third millennium. New analytical approaches are now

Nor does semiotic anthropology rely upon the post-structuralist textual analogy.
The analogy of the text considers that a sign cannot refer to itself. It always refers to
something else, which is constituted through that difference. Meaning is thus con-
strued by the play of difference, and the materiality of signs can only be instrumental.
In this sense, the world has always been written, and there is no reality outside the
play of difference; see a particularly lucid, and critical, account of post-structuralism
in Olsen, “Scenes from a Troubled Engagement,” in Handbook of Material Culture,
pp. 85–103.
Parmentier, “Pragmatic Semiotics of Culture,” pp. 43–63; the agenda of questions
is set up on 51.
70 chapter three

considering the performative capacity of things to weave some of the

fabric of social reality.36

Viewed in this way, semiotic anthropology is a modern science, one

which provides contemporary analysts who chose to use it with a
specific epistemology for the exploration of human experience. This
epistemology, however, though sensitive to the historical contingency
of signification and meaning, paradoxically essentializes the Peirce-
ian theory of signs. As a critic of the paradox at work in semiotic
anthropology, I have resisted the adoption of every axiom of semiotic
anthropology but embrace much of its theoretical vocabulary and its
programmatic framework, which, as already stated, invites a focus on
signs in society and on the relationships between persons and things.37

The pioneering studies which directed attention to the concrete historicity of social
objects were gathered by Arjun Appudarai in his Social Life of Things (Cambridge, 1986);
the volume contains an essay of interest to medievalists by Patrick Geary, “Sacred
Commodities: The Circulation of Medieval Relics,” pp. 169–194. Two issues (5 and
6) of volume 19 (2002) of Theory, Culture & Society have been devoted to “The Status
of the Object. Performances, Mediations, and Technique,” introduction by Dick Pels,
Kevin Hetherington and Frédéric Vanderberghe, pp. 1–21. Webb Keane, “Subjects
and Objects,” in Handbook of Material Culture, pp. 197–202. See a compelling analysis
of the “theoretical pluralism” which characterizes the study of materials forms and
artefacts in their relation to society, C. Tiley, “Theoretical Perspectives,” in Hand-
book of Material Culture, pp. 7–11. A strong, though controversial, argument that the
power of artefacts resides less in their being conveyors of meaning than social agents
in and of themselves has been made by Alfred Gell, Art and Agency: An Anthropologi-
cal Theory (Oxford, 1998).
With respect to the seals themselves, archeologists have done significant work on
seal matrices, particularly on the patterns of their disposal after they have been dis-
carded, John Cherry, “The Breaking of Seals,” Middelalderlige seglstamper i Norden, ed.
Michael Andersen and Göran Tegnér (Roskilde, 2002), pp. 81–96; Michael Andersen,
“Bispens sidste hvilested? Middelalderlige bispers seglstamper fundet på kirkegårde,”
Hikuin 27 (2000), pp. 137–154, with an English summary at p. 318.
Recent studies focusing on the non-diplomatic use of seals include R.-H. Bautier,
“Notes sur des usages non diplomatiques du sceau.” Revue française d’héraldique et
de sigillographie, 60–61 (1990–1991), pp. 127–139; Jean-François Nieus, “Les remplois
de sceaux princiers en Lotharingie au XIIe siècle: Pragmatisme ou propagande dynas-
tique,” Recueil d’articles publiés en hommage à René Laurent, ed. Claude de Moreau
de Gerbehaye et André Vanrie, Archives et bibliothèques de Belgique, numéro spécial 79
(Bruxelles, 2006), pp. 47–58; B. Bedos-Rezak, “L’au-delà du soi. Métamorphoses sigillai-
res en Europe médiévale,” Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 49 (2006), pp. 337–358.
On the methodological itinerary that led me to semiotic anthropology, see
B. Bedos-Rezak, “Medieval Identity. A Sign and a Concept,” pp. 1511–1521. See a
review of my approach in R. Parmentier, “Representing Semiotics in the New Mil-
lenium,” Semiotica 142/1–4 (2002), pp. 291–314, at pp. 305–307, and Parmentier,
“Trouble Trichotomies,” pp. 150–151.
sign theory, medieval and modern 71

A heuristic use of the tenets of semiotic anthropology has been par-

ticularly useful in considering the world of post-millennial northern
Europe, where new physical signs were empowered to circulate as
explicit and authoritative images of their owners.38 With respect to
such material media and their relation to representational practices,
social subjectivity, and cultural processes, semiotic anthropology also
provides a clear conceptualization of the differences between refer-
ence, meaning, and agency. Equipped with new analytical possibilities,
I have undertaken to probe the mechanisms—material, theoretical,
hermeneutical—that facilitated the operations of seals as engines of
meaning and of meaningful actions. I have also considered the texture
of such meaning, its own agency within medieval society and explored
the ways in which sealing practices constructed a living reality, situating
persons and constituting actors, stating identity and enabling identifica-
tion, manipulating subjective identity, mapping power, and transform-
ing a written parchment into an expression of executory will.39

There is no denying the heuristic value of Perceian semiotics, as Beatrice Fraen-
kel’s book on the signature so aptly demonstrates, La signature. Genèse d’un signe
(Paris, 1992).
The result of this research is available here in the next chapters, and in B. Bedos-
Rezak, “Une image ontologique;” Bedos-Rezak, “Du sujet à l’objet. La formulation
identitaire et ses enjeux culturels,” Unverwechselbarkeit. Persönliche Identität und
dentifikation in der vormodernen Gesellschaft, ed., Peter von Moos, Norm und Struk-
tur, Bd. 23, (Köln, 2004), pp. 63–82; Bedos-Rezak, “L’ Individu, c’est l’autre. Signes
d’identité et principes d’altérité au XIIe siècle,” in L’Individu au Moyen Age. Indivi-
duation et individualisation avant la modernité, eds., B. Bedos-Rezak and Dominique
Iogna-Prat, (Paris, 2005), pp. 43–57, 311–316.



The power of early medieval kings and the continuity of kingship came
to be closely bound up with the very existence, repetitive use, and for-
mulaic manipulation of texts and images, such as they were performed
in royal chanceries. Formulae and repetitions may imply cultural gap
and loss of meaning. The recurrent production of the king’s image and
script, however, rendered tangible and visible the mark of a distinct
authority, translating notions of transcendental hierarchy into orga-
nizing principles of earthly domination.1
Among early medieval ritual signs of dominance, the sealed diploma
stood as an exclusive royal prerogative, offering a threefold expres-
sion and representation of sovereign power. It bore the text and image

On the general issue of royal ritual, see Bernard Guenée, States and Rulers in
Later Medieval Europe (New York, 1985); Herwig Wolfram, “The Shaping of the Early
Medieval Kingdom,” Viator 1 (1970), pp. 1–20; Philippe Braunstein, “Livre montage.
Percy Ernst Schramm, les signes du pouvoir et la symbolique de l’Etat”, Le Débat 14
(1981), pp. 166–192; Clifford Geertz, “Centers, Kings, and Charisma: Reflections on
the Symbolics of Power”, in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthro-
pology (New York, 1983), pp. 121–146; Rites of Power: Symbolism, Ritual and Poli-
tics since the Middle Ages, ed. Sean Wilentz (Philadelphia, 1985); Louis Marin, Le
portrait du roi (Paris, 1981), translated by Martha M. Houle as Portrait of the King
(Minneapolis, 1988); Ritual of Royalty. Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Socie-
ties, ed. David Cannadine and S. Price (Cambridge, 1987); Culture et idéologie dans
la genèse de l’Etat moderne (Rome, 1985); Gerd Althoff, “The Variability of Rituals in
the Middle Ages,” in Medieval Concepts of the Past. Ritual, Memory, Historiography,
ed. Althoff, Johannes Fried, Patrick J. Geary (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 71–87. The con-
clusions reached by Philippe Buc in his The Dangers of Rituals (Princeton, 2001) have
been considered to be somewhat controversial but this should not obscure the value
of the observations he makes about the epistemological problems associated with the
social-scientific modeling of medieval culture, at pp. 203–247, 255–261. See Buc’s
response to reviews of his book in “The Monster and the Critics: A Ritual Reply,”
Early Medieval Europe 15 (2007), pp. 441–452.
On the role of seals in the symbology of early medieval royal power, see Hagen
Keller, “Zu den Siegeln der Karolinger und den Ottonen: Urkunden als ‘Hoheitsze-
ichen’ in der Kommunikation des Herrschers mit seinen Getreuen,” Frühmittelalter-
iche Studien 32 (1998), pp. 404–441, and Peter Worm, “From Subscription to Seal:
The Growing Importance of Seals as Signs of Authenticity in Early Medieval Royal
Charters,” in Strategies of Writing. Studies in Text and Trust in Medieval Europe, ed.
Petra Schulte, Marco Mostert, Irene van Renswoude, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Lit-
eracy 13 (Brepols, 2008), pp. 63–83.
76 chapter four

through which the will of the ruler was exerted; it blurred the distinc-
tion between the trappings of rulership and its substance; and it set the
royal person apart by making his the only personal image operative
within the body social and politic. From Merovingian times onward,
affixing seals to royal diplomas had become a requisite act of the
behavior of the ruler qua ruler. This practice endured throughout the
Middle Ages but the significance of the royal sealed diploma, its icono-
graphic and discursive modes, and its production, conservation, and
emulation underwent an evolution which, at least through the early
thirteenth century is the subject of this chapter. Symbolic in Merovin-
gian times, documentary seal usage became official and instrumental
in early Carolingian chanceries, formulaic in the kingdoms of the later
Carolingians, the Robertians and the early Capetians, and institutional
during the reign of Philip Augustus (1180–1223). I will analyze this
evolution from two perspectives: First, the extent to which variations
in the production, form, content, and function of royal sealed docu-
ments testify to extensions and contractions of the king’s authority,
and second the degree to which such variations articulate conceptual
and practical engagements with literacy both as a form of communica-
tion and as a ritual of government.

A Merovingian Icon: The Royal Seal

The privileged association between seals and kingship in Western Europe

following the disintegration of the Roman Empire is documented by
the surviving seal-rings of Childeric, king of the Franks (d. 481), of
Alaric II, king of the Visigoths (d. 507); and of Theodoric the Great
(d. 526), king of the Ostrogoths.2 The oldest sealed document with a

These rings are discussed in Erich Kittel, Siegel (Braunschweig, 1970), pp. 103–09,
Martin Henig, “Roman Sealstones,” in 7000 Years of Seals, ed. Dominique Coulon
(London, 1997), pp. 88–106, and Genevra Kornbluth, “The seal of Alaric, rex Gotho-
rum,” Early Medieval Europe 16 (2008), pp. 299–332. Private individuals and bish-
ops of the Merovingian period owned seal-rings as well, see Maximin Deloche, Etude
historique et archéologique sur les anneaux sigillaires et autres des premiers siècles du
Moyen-Age (Paris, 1900); Reine Hadjadj, Bagues mérovingiennes (Gaule du Nord),
(Paris, 2007). These rings have come down to us as matrices, and no impression
issued from them seems to have survived. This may indicate functions such as letter
closure, where the impression was destroyed when the letter was opened. Seal-rings
have also been interpreted as having been used by their owners to imprint their signs
of approval and participation, that is, their subscription, on documents. However, no
such impressions are known, and the few extant early medieval private charters evi-
the king’s sign 77

surviving wax impression is that of the Merovingian king Thierry III in

June 679. The texts of this and of other extant Merovingian diplomas
do not note such seals as were applied, in contrast to the treatment of
the royal monogram and the chancery’s subscription, both of which are
specifically mentioned within the texts of the diplomas.3 This distinction
invites inquiry into the origins and utility of Merovingian documen-
tary sealing. The practice cannot be directly traced to Western Roman
emperors whose documents were, apparently, not sealed. Provincial
Roman officials, however, did affix seals and this administrative prac-
tice may have formed the model for sealing as introduced by the East-
ern emperors into their chanceries. Byzantium represented stability
and continuity in statecraft, and the new Germanic rulers emulated a
practice they associated with rulership. To seal was, for the Merovin-
gian kings, to behave as a ruler, literally to inscribe oneself within the
imperial tradition. However, though the seal validated the king, it did
not yet authenticate his scripts. For the Merovingians, sealing was not
a means of documentary validation; rather, the seal was a sign of the
king, who uniquely issued documents thus marked.

dence that manuscript subscriptions had replaced the late Roman use of signet-rings
by private individuals, Arthur Giry, Manuel de diplomatique (Paris, 1894), p. 631;
Walter Goffart, “Charters Earlier than 800 from French Collections,” Speculum 65
(1990), pp. 906–923. Hartmut Atsma and Jean Vezin, “Aspects matériels et graphiques
des documents mérovingiens,” in Typologie der Königsurkunden. Acta Colloquii
Olomucensis, 1992, ed. Jan Bistrický (Olmütz, 1998), pp. 9–22: The authors mention
some exceptional traces of non-royal sealings, which are also discussed in La diplo-
matique française du Haut Moyen Age, ed. Benoît-Michel Tock, 2 vols., (Turnhout,
2001), vol. 1, p. 29.
See a discussion of Merovingian diplomatics in Georges Tessier, Manuel de diplo-
matique royale (Paris, 1962), pp. 1–38; Maurice Jusselin, “La garde et l’ usage du sceau
dans les chancelleries carolingiennes d’après les notes tironiennes,” Mélanges Emile
Châtelain (Paris, 1910), pp. 35–41, at p. 35; H. Atsma and J. Vezin, “Aspects matéri-
els et graphiques des documents mérovingiens;” Carl Richard Brühl, Studien zu den
merowingischen Königsurkunden (Cologne, Weimar, Vienne, 1998); Theo Kölzer, Tra
tarda antichità e Medioevo: l’edizione critica dei diplomi merovingici, inaugurazione del
corso biennale, anni academici 1998–2000, Scuola vaticana di paleografa, diplomatica
e archivistica (Vatican, 2000).
On Merovingian seals in particular: Andrea Stieldorf, “Zu Gestalt und Funktion der
Siegel an merowingischen Königsurkunden,” Archiv für Diplomatik 47/48 (2001–2002),
pp. 133–166. Thierry III’s seal is described and illustrated in: Martine Dalas, Corpus
des sceaux français du Moyen Age. Vol. 2: Les sceaux des rois et de régence (Paris,
1991), no. 5, p. 81.
78 chapter four

Carolingian Rulers: The Power of Royal and Imperial Seals

The identification of seal usage with royal status continued upon the
ascension of the Carolingians.4 Documentary sealing had become a
systematic practice of the Merovingian chancery and the new dynasty
maintained this tradition, which evoked both continuity and ruling
power. Furthermore, the seals of Carolingian kings and emperors were
no longer merely icons of wax affixed to the bottom of diplomas. They
became the subject of theory, their use governed by specific and sig-
nificant principles, and their iconography and inscriptions sensitive to
politics. These dynamics testify to the administrative and ceremonial
roles that seals came to fulfill. The royal seal manifested the power of
the king by means of its own power to represent the king.
For the first time, during the reign of the very first Carolingian king,
Pippin the Short (d. 768), the seal was announced within the text of
the diploma by a formula that would become typical: anuli nostri
impressione signari jussimus, “we have ordered this to be sealed with
the impression of our ring.”5 Indeed most diplomas issued by Caro-
lingian rulers bear both seals and such announcements. Seals were
not unique as signs of validation, since the manus propria, the ruler’s
monogram, might also be present; but whereas the monogram was at
times lacking, seals were systematically applied (Fig. 15). The inscrip-
tion of the monogram often involved the autograph participation of
the monarch announced in the document in the nominative: manu

As mayors of the palace, the ancestors of the Carolingians sealed charters issued
in their own names, the only magnates to do so; they thus manifested their royal
ambitions and self-perception as rulers in their own right: Tessier, Diplomatique roy-
ale, pp. 40, 72–73. For a comprehensive study of the Carolingian chancery, see Robert-
Henry Bautier, “La chancellerie et les actes royaux dans les royaumes carolingiens,”
Bibliothèque de L’Ecole des chartes 142 (1984), pp. 6–80.
Tessier, Diplomatique royale, p. 90; Bautier, “La chancellerie,” p. 42. On Caro-
lingian diplomatics, see also R.-H. Bautier, “Les actes royaux de l’époque carolingi-
enne,” in Typologie der Königsurkunden, pp. 43–63. In his survey of the scholarship
devoted to Carolingian diplomatics, “Towards a Reappraisal of Carolingian Sovereign
Charters,” in Charters and the Use of the Written Word in Medieval Society, ed. Karl
Heidecker, (Turnhout, 2000), pp. 15–25, Mark Mersiowsky argues convincingly that
the influence of beneficiaries and of the royal entourage on rulers’ diplomatic output
should be taken into consideration when assessing the royal diploma as a locus of
royal will. The author, however, does not discuss the significance of the seal in mark-
ing the document’s authority as originating from a royal order.
the king’s sign 79

propria firmavimus, “we have confirmed with our own hand.”6 The
king does not say, however, as he does for the monogram, that he has
personally affixed his seal but rather that he ordered it to be affixed:
anulo nostro sigillari jussimus. In two surviving royal documents of the
second half of the ninth century, seal announcements also include the
expressions more regio or more nostro insigniri jussimus;7 diplomatic
discourse thus associates documentary sealing with royal custom.
In a capitulary (809) of Charlemagne (d. 814), individuals were
required to appear at the royal palace jussione dominica cum sigillo,
“by a royal order conveyed with a seal.”8 Both spoken and written
words were authenticated by seals, liminal agents operating at the very
hinge of these two modes of communication. In either case, the seal
extended royal authority beyond the person of the ruler.
As an apparatus of state administration, seals produced an order of
reality grounded in permanence by obscuring the contingency inherent

The autograph participation of the ruler seems to have virtually disappeared by
the time of Charles the Bald, see Bautier, “La chancellerie,” pp. 38, 47.
Interest in documents’ graphic symbols was fueled by the influential vision of Peter
Rück, who introduced a semiotic dimension to diplomatic studies, Graphische Symbole in
mittelalterlichen Urkunden. Beiträge zur diplomatischen Semiotik, ed. P. Rück (Sigmar-
ingen, 1996). On the monogram in Carolingian documents, see Ildar H. Garipzanov,
“Metamorphoses of the early medieval signum of a ruler in the Carolingian World,”
Early Medieval Europe 14 (2006), pp. 419–464 and his The Symbolic Language of
Authority in the Carolingian World (Leiden, 2008).
G. Tessier, Recueil des actes de Charles II le Chauve, 3 vols. (Paris, 1943–1955),
vol. 2, no. 76, pp. 214–17 (845, 10 October): . . . more regio manu propria subter fir-
mavimus et de anulo nostro sigillari jussimus . . . See also Tessier’s comments on final
clauses in ibid., vol. 3, p. 172. Die Urkunden Arnolfs, 887–899, ed. Paul F. Kehr, Dip-
lomata regum Germaniae ex stirpe Karolinorum, 3, MGH, (Berlin, 1940), no. 189,
pp. 292sq.: (896, 27 February): . . . et ut praeceptum absque omni inquietudine in sua
soliditate stabile perseveret, manu nostra illud firmavimus ac more nostro insigniri
jussimus . . .
Karl-Ferdinand Werner, “Missus—Marchio—Comes,” Histoire comparée de
l’administration, ed. W. Paravicini and K.-F. Werner (Munich, 1980), pp. 191–239, at
p. 220 and note 105; Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word
(Cambridge, 1989), p. 68, notes a number of references in the early Germanic codes
to the seal of a duke or of a count being used to transmit his orders. She is referring
to a seal termed by some scholars sigillum citationis. This seal is mentioned in the
Lex Alamannorum Hlotarii, chapters XXIII and XXVIII, in Leges Alamannorum, ed.
Karl Lehmann, MGH, Leges nationum germanicarum, vol. 5 (Hanover, 1888), 2nd
ed. by Karl A. Eckhardt (Hanover, 1966; reprint 1992); in the Lex Visigothorum II,
1, 19, in Leges Visigothorum, ed. Karl Zeumer, MGH, Leges nationum germanicarum,
vol. 1 (Hanover, 1902; reprint 2005); and in the Leges Baiuwariorum, Textus legis
primus, chapter XIII, in Leges Baiuwariorum, ed. Johannes Merkel, MGH, Leges, vol. 3
(Hanover, 1863; reprint 1993). Carolingian capitularies seem to indicate that the sigil-
lum citationis derives its power from a royal delegation of its usage.
80 chapter four

in the individual ruler as a person with the continuing symbolic activity

of statehood. In 939–940, when French and German kings contested
the hegemony of Lorraine, a private individual who had donated land
desired her gift to be reinforced anulo regis cujuscumque Deus regno
preesse elegerit, that is, “by the seal of whichever king God would have
selected to rule.”9 This statement implies that the presence of a royal
seal was what mattered. Seals were, from the eighth century onward,
experienced as operative objects through their association with the
office of kingship. Royal seals thus achieved meaning as constitutive
agents of the very conditions and framework that made their produc-
tion and function possible.
This official and effectual quality of the seal was further articulated
through the re-use of seal-matrices. For instance, a matrix of Louis
the German (d. 876), king of the East Frankish kingdom, was utilized
without alteration by his son and successor, Louis the Younger (d.
882), and by Louis IV the Child (d. 911), king of Lorraine, the son of
Arnulf, king of East Francia (d. 899).10 Louis II the Stammerer (d. 879),
king of France, used the unaltered royal matrix of his father Charles
the Bald (d. 877) even though he possessed a seal of his own as well.11
Furthermore new seal matrices were not necessarily prepared when
rulers changed kingdoms; for, after all, the king remained a king. Car-
loman II (d. 884), son of Louis II the Stammerer, was king of Bur-
gundy (879) and of Aquitaine (880) before becoming sole king of
France (882), yet through all of these reigns he sealed with the same
matrix.12 Seal usage thus related more to the office of kingship than
to the territoriality of power. Once again, a contingent dimension of
ruling authority, here of a geographic nature, was erased through the
language of seals. Indeed, until late in the tenth century, Carolingian
seal legends included only the name of the ruler and the titles rex
(king) or imperator (emperor). A territorial designation was entirely

Quoted in Alain de Boüard, Manuel de diplomatique française et pontificale. II:
L’acte privé (Paris, 1948), p. 140 at note 4.
Otto Posse, Die Siegel der Deutschen Kaiser und Könige von 751 bis 1806, 5 parts
in 3 vols. (Dresden, 1909–1913), vol. 1, p. 10, plate 2 no. 7; p. 10, plate 3 no. 3; p. 11,
plate 5 no. 8; vol. 3, pp. 7–8, 10. On the diplomatics of the Carolingians in Francia
Orientalis, see Peter Johanek, “Die karolingischen Diplome der Francia orientalis,” in
Typologie der Königsurkunden, pp. 115–125.
R.-H. Bautier, Recueil des actes de Louis II le Bègue, Louis III et Carloman II,
877–884 (Paris, 1978), p. XC; Dalas, Les sceaux des rois, no. 25, p. 103, and nos. 31–32,
pp. 109–110.
Dalas, Les sceaux des rois, no. 33, p. 111.
the king’s sign 81

absent; the emphasis was on the function and on the nature and
degree of ruling authority as defined by the title.13 It was therefore along
titular lines that matrices were to be engraved afresh, that is, when a
king became emperor. To the best of my knowledge, no Carolingian
emperor retained the title rex on his seal,14 nor did any Carolingian
ruler until the late tenth century indicate on his seal the people or
territory of which he was the king.15 The congruity between seal and
royal office was perhaps best expressed in diplomatic discourse where,
as we have seen, the king ordered his seal to be affixed. The seal was
not a personal possession; it belonged to the royal office, of which it
constituted a ritual appendage, from which it derived the power of
representing royal authority, and for which it constituted a semiotic
field of practice and significance.
Several additional usages further illustrate the seal’s role in the defi-
nition and validation of kingship. The use of seals spread in parallel to
the Carolingian multiplication of kingships. In fact every Carolingian
offspring who ruled a kingdom also used a seal. Louis II the Stam-
merer, the eldest son of Charles the Bald and king of West Francia,
sealed a diploma the very day following his coronation in December
877; the diplomas he had previously issued as the recognized heir to
the kingdom of France had been endorsed only with his monogram.16

On their seals, Merovingian kings titled themselves reges francorum: Dalas, Les
sceaux des rois, nos. 4–11, pp. 80–87. Uncharacteristically, Charlemagne used a ter-
ritorial legend on his earlier seal (769–813): + xre protege carolum regem) franc(o)
r(um): Ibid., no. 16, p. 95. A golden bull of Charles the Bald may have had a territorial
legend (ca. 877), but its description remains controversial: Ibid., no. 30, p. 108. Titles
used in documents issued in the name of the Frankish kings were also devoid of ter-
ritorial precision until the tenth century. Rulers of “ethnic” kingdoms, such as Bavaria
or Aquitaine, tended however to include a territorial designation in their diplomas:
Bautier, “La chancellerie,” pp. 46, 55.
Conversely, when Lothar II, king of Lorraine (855–869), reused the imperial
matrix previously employed by his father Lothar I (between 840 and 855), he had the
term aug(ustum) in the legend replaced by reg(em): Dalas, Les sceaux des rois, no. 22,
p. 101, no. 50, p. 126. G. Kornbluth, “The Seal of Lothar II: Model and Copy,” Fran-
cia 17 (1990), pp. 55–68, proposed (at p. 60) that the engraved crystal on the “Lothar
Cross” at Aachen was Lothar II’s seal-die, which he had copied from Lothar I’s seal;
see also I. Garipzanov, “The Image of Authority in Carolingian Coinage: the image of
a ruler and Roman imperial tradition,” Early Medieval Europe 8(1999), pp. 197–218.
Lothar, king of Francia occidentalis (954–986), displayed a territorial legend on
his second seal (975): Dalas, Les sceaux des rois, no 46, p. 123.
Bautier, Recueil des actes de Louis II, p. XXV. Louis II had been king of Aquitaine
since 867, but no document issued in his name during this period has come down
to us.
82 chapter four

The earliest kings of Aquitaine,17 the kings of West Francia,18 the kings
of Italy,19 the kings of Provence,20 the kings of Burgundy,21 the kings
of Lorraine,22 the kings of Bavaria,23 and the kings of Germany,24 all
sealed upon their assumption of the royal office during the ninth cen-
tury. Even rival contestants for a given kingdom sealed concurrently.
Carloman II, for instance, while king of Burgundy (in 879) had a com-
petitor in the person of Boso, count of Vienne (d. 887), who had also
been elected king of Burgundy and Provence and who issued sealed
diplomas in his own name.25 Similarly, the Robertians Odo of Paris

See above note 16. Seals of the kings of Aquitaine: Louis the Pious (781–806); Dalas,
Les sceaux des rois, p. 98 at note 1; Pippin I (817–838): Ibid., nos. 47–49, pp. 124–125.;
Pippin II (839–848): Ibid., p. 125 at note 3.
Dalas, Les sceaux des rois, nos. 14–46, pp. 93–123. On the evolution of the royal
chancery in West Francia during the ninth century, see Bautier, “La chancellerie,”
pp. 27–30.
Luigi Schiaparelli, Diplomi di Berengario I. Fonti per la storia d’ltalia, 35 (Rome,
1903), no. 12, p. 41 on the seals of Berengar, king of Italy (888–915); L. Schiaparelli,
I diplomi di Guido et di Lamberto re. Fonti per la storia d’ltalia, 36 (Rome, 1906),
p. XVIII on the seals of Guy, king of Italy (889–891), and of his son Lambert. On
the evolution of the royal chancery in Italy during the ninth century, see Bautier. “La
chancellerie,” pp. 22–25.
Seals of the kings of Provence: Charles (855–863), Dalas, Les sceaux des rois, no.
52, p. 128; Boso (879–882): Ibid., no. 53, p. 129, especially at note 2; Louis III the Blind
(890–901): Ibid., nos. 54–55, pp. 130–131. On the evolution of the royal chancery in
Provence during the ninth century, see Bautier, “La chancellerie,” pp. 25–27.
Seals of the kings of Burgundy: Rudolph I (888–912): Dalas, Les sceaux des rois,
no. 56, p. 132; Rudolph II (912–937, king of Italy between 922–925): L. Schiaparelli,
Diplomi di Rodolfo II et di Lodovico III. Fonti per la storia d’ltalia, 37 (Rome, 1910),
p. XIII, and Théophile Dufour, Etude sur la diplomatique royale de Bourgogne Jurane
(888–1032), BNF, Ms. fr. Nouv. Acq. 11727, fol. 47–49, 103sq; Conrad (937–993): Dalas,
Les sceaux des rois, nos. 57–58, pp. 133–134; Rudolph III (993–1032): Ibid., no. 59,
p. 135. The acta of the kings of Burgundy have been published: Die Urkunden der bur-
gundischen Rodolfinger, ed. Theodor Schieffer et al., Regum Burgundiae e stirpe Rudol-
fina, diplomata et acta, MGH, (Munich, 1983).
Seals of the kings of Lorraine: Lothar (855–869): Dalas, Les sceaux des rois,
no. 50, p. 126; Zwendibold (895–900): Ibid., no. 51, p. 127. On the evolution of the
royal chancery in Lorraine during the ninth century, see Bautier, “La chancellerie,”
pp. 20–22.
Seals of the kings of Bavaria: Louis the German (829–831): Die Urkunden Ludwigs
des Deutschen, 829–876, Karlmanns, 876–879, und Ludwigs des Jüngeren, 876–882, ed.
Paul Kehr, Diplomata regum et imperatorum Germaniae, II, MGH, (Berlin, 1932–1934),
p. XXXII; Carloman (830–880): Posse, Siegel, vol. I, plate 3 no. 1; vol. III, p. 8.
Posse, Siegel, vol. I, plates 2 to 5; vol. III, pp. 7–11. On the evolution of the royal
chancery in Germany during the ninth century, see Bautier, “La chancellerie,” pp. 18–20.
Bautier, Recueil des actes de Louis II, pp. XXXIII, XXXIX, XC: crowned in 879,
Carloman II received Burgundy and Aquitaine in 880; from October 879, Boso had
been elected and crowned king of Provence and included part of Burgundy in his
dominion. The first extant sealed diploma of Carloman II was issued by his chancery
the king’s sign 83

(d. 898), Robert I (d. 923), and Rudolph (duke of Burgundy and Robert
I’s son-in-law, d. 936), who reigned over France in competition with
the Carolingian Charles III the Simple (d. 922–923), all issued sealed
royal diplomas.26 However, as soon as a king was functionally replaced
by a non-royal official such as a marchio or a duke, the use of seals
disappeared although the political entity was still called regnum and
the overall administrative structure remained otherwise intact.27 Such
was the sequence for the on-again, off-again kingdoms of Burgundy,
Franconia, Saxony, Bavaria and Aquitaine.28 When a high official was
elected king, and particularly in the era of non-Carolingian kingships,

in November 879. Carloman used the same seal as crowned king (879), king of Bur-
gundy and Provence (880, 882), and king of Francia Occidentalis (882). On the seal
and chancery of Boso as king of Provence and Burgundy (879), see René Poupardin,
Recueil des actes des rois de Provence, 855–928 (Paris, 1920), pp. VI–VII, LX–LXI. The
only extant seal impression of Boso is a forgery, but Boso sealed his diplomas as evi-
denced by their formulas of corroboration: Ibid., no 17, p. 32 (8 November 879), and
R.-H. Bautier, “Les diplômes royaux carolingiens pour l’église de Langres”, Les Cahiers
Haut-Marnais (1986), pp. 145–77, at p. 155. See also above at note 20.
On Odo’s chancery and sealed diplomas, see R.-H. Bautier, Recueil des actes
d’Eudes roi de France, 888–898 (Paris, 1967), pp. XVIII, LVI, LXXV–LXXVI and
Bautier, “Le règne d’Eudes à la lumière des diplômes expédiés par sa chancellerie,”
Comptes-rendus de I’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (1961), pp. 140–57. On
Robert’s and Rudolph’s chancery and sealed diplomas, see Jean Dufour, Recueil des
actes de Robert ler et de Raoul rois de France, 922–936 (Paris, 1978), pp. XXV–L,
LIV–LV. Seals are described in Dalas, Les sceaux des rois, no. 39, p. 117, no. 43, p. 120.
No seals of Robert are extant, although there is documentary evidence for their exis-
tence. On Charles the Simple’s chancery and sealed diplomas, see Philippe Lauer,
Recueil des actes de Charles III le Simple, 893–923, 2 vols. (Paris, 1940–1949), vol. 2,
pp. XLVII–XLVIII; his seal is described in Dalas, Les sceaux des rois, no. 40, p. 118.
On Carolingian regna and ducatus, see K.-F. Werner, “La genèse des duchés en
France et en Allemagne,” Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull’alto medi-
oevo 27 (1980), pp. 175–207, reprinted in Werner, Vom Frankenreich zur Entfaltung
Deutschlands und Frankreichs (Sigmaringen, 1984), pp. 278–310.
In early tenth-century Bavaria, in an action unprecedented on the part of the
principes, Duke Arnulf sealed documents issued in his own name in 908 and 927, and
was followed in this practice by his brother and successor Duke Berthold, R.-H. Bau-
tier, “Le cheminement du sceau et de la bulle des origines mésopotamiennes au XIIIe
siècle occidental,” Revue française d’héraldique et de sigillographie, 54–59 (1984–1989),
pp. 41–84, at p. 65 draws on the study of H. Fichtenau (at Bautier’s note 55) who
showed how the use of a seal by Duke Arnulf paralleled his assertion of political
independence and royal ambitions vis à vis the non-Carolingian king of Germany,
Conrad, whom he opposed. However, doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of
these early Bavarian sealings, of which there remains only textual evidence, A. Stiel-
dorf, Siegelkunde (Hannover, 2004), p. 41. Other similar early instances of princely
seals have also been called into question, Harry Bresslau, Handbuch der Urkundelehre
für Deutschland und Italien, 2 vols, 2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1912–1931; reprint, Berlin, 1958,
with a volume of indices), vol. 1, pp. 708–709. See below, at note 48, on seals attrib-
uted to ninth-century dukes of Brittany.
84 chapter four

he would promptly start to seal documents issued in his own name.

Such was the case with Boso, count of Vienne, elected king of Provence
in 879, with Odo, count of Paris, elected king of France in 888, with
Odo’s brother Robert, elected king of France in 922, and with Odo’s
nephew-in-law, Rudolph, duke of Burgundy, elected king of France in
923. The Welf Rudolph (d. 912) was raised from count in the trans-
jurane region of Burgundy to king of Burgundy in 888. In Italy, Guy
of Spoleto (d. 894) was also elected king in 888. In Germany, Conrad,
duke of Franconia, was elected king in 911 and was succeeded in 919
by Henry, the former duke of Saxony.29 None of these kings could
boast direct Carolingian descent to enhance their royal legitimacy, but
they all sealed: performance of this ritual generated authenticity as a
royal ruler. Indeed, it is clear that these non-Carolingian rulers sealed
only in their royal capacity. For there are extant acts of Odo as count
of Paris, of Robert, as count and abbot of Saint Martin, of Rudolph
as duke in Burgundy, of Boso, as count of Vienne, and of the Welf
Count Rudolph.30 All of their princely charters overtly imitated the
royal diploma, including an invocation, mention of God’s Grace in
the title, e.g. Odo misericordia Dei comes, and even a monogram, but
they did not display a seal.

Post-Carolingian Kingship: Sealing in Transition

The pattern of seal usage just outlined shows how ninth-century Caro-
lingian sealing functioned as a ritual manifestation of the royal office.

On the fragmentation of Carolingian Europe, see R. McKitterick, The Frankish
Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751–987 (London, New York, 1983), pp. 262–64,
306–09; Pierre Riché, The Carolingians. A Family who forged Europe (Philadelphia,
1993), pp. 207–280. For the seals of these non-Carolingian rulers, see above at notes
19, 20, 21, 25, 26. For the seals of the non-Carolingian German rulers, see Posse, Siegel,
vol. I, plate 6 nos. 1–5 (Conrad), 6–7 (Henry), vol. V, pp. 10–11 (Conrad and Henry).
For a survey of early Ottonian and Salien diplomatics, see Theo Kölzer, “Die ottonisch-
salische Herrscherurkunde,” in Typologie der Königsurkunden, pp. 127–142.
For Eudes’ charters issued when he was count of Paris and abbot of St-Mar-
tin of Tours and of Marmoutier, see Bautier, Recueil des actes d’Eudes, nos. 55–58,
pp. 212–26. For Robert’s charters issued when he was count and abbot of St-Martin of
Tours, Marmoutier, and Saint-Armand, see Dufour, Recueil des actes de Robert et de
Raoul, nos. 37–49, pp. 139–200. For Rudolph’s charters issued when he was duke of
Burgundy, see ibid., nos. 50–51, pp. 201–207. For Boso’s charters issued when he was
count, see Poupardin, Recueil des actes des rois de Provence, nos. 15–17, pp. 29–32. For
Rudolph’s charters issued when he was count in the region of transjurane Burgundy,
see Schieffer, Die Urkunden der burgundischen Rudolfinger, nos. 1–2, pp. 91–95.
the king’s sign 85

With the resulting spread of documentary sealing to non-Carolingian

kings however, royal diplomas came to incorporate elements which
derived from non-royal diplomatic traditions, particularly with respect
to means of validation. For example, Rudolph III (d. 1032), though
king of Burgundy, sporadically simply did not seal his diplomas.31 The
king of France, Rudolph, ordered that the signa of the potentates of his
entourage be inscribed so as to confer additional strength, a practice
which, while common in charters, did not appear in contemporary
diplomas issued by royal chanceries. Rudolph as king also issued a
document which was not validated by his seal, but in which a knife
was expressly described as settling the transaction; this again was a
common technique among potentates to establish that a contract had
been duly agreed.32 These instances, as several others, reflect the new
trends that were emerging in the use and meaning of royal seals and
documentary practices.
By the time of King Rudolph (923–936), the majority of French
royal diplomas were being drawn up by their ecclesiastical recipients.
This practice was to be found earlier, albeit to a much lesser extent, in
Merovingian times.33 Among the Carolingians, Charlemagne appears
to have been the first to allow diplomas to be drawn up outside his
own chancery, in the abbey of Saint-Denis; Charles the Bald entrusted
the abbey of Saint-Martin of Tours with similar scribal activity, and
many of the diplomas he delivered in favor of yet other abbeys and
churches have also been shown to have been drafted outside the royal
chancery.34 This is not to say, however, that Carolingian diplomas thus
prepared did not receive the royal seal. On the contrary, the beneficia-
ries duly submitted the texts drafted in their scriptoria to the ruler’s
chancery for his approbation, manus propria (monogram), and seal.

Schieffer, Die Urkunden der burgundischen Rudolfinger, pp. 221–223 (in 994).
Rudolph’s documents with appeals for potentates’ signa, and with knife, were not
written in the royal chancery, see Dufour, Recueil des actes de Robert ler et de Raoul,
p. XLIV, no. 12, pp. 47–52 (nostrosque primates subsignare jubemus, 927), p. XLI, no.
8, pp. 34–38 (Rodulfus, gratia Dei rex . . . nostrum accepimus cultellum et, misso super
altare Sancti Symphoriani, reddimus eamdem terram, 925).
D. Ganz, “Bureaucratic Shorthand and Merovingian Learning,” Ideal and Reality
in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society. Studies presented to J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, ed.
P. Wormald (Oxford, 1983), pp. 58–75.
G. Tessier, “Originaux et pseudo-originaux du chartrier de Saint-Denis,” Biblio-
thèque de I’Ecole des chartes 106 (1945–46), pp. 35–69. The latest surveys of these
developments can be found in Bautier, “La chancellerie,” pp. 28, 53–60, and Mersiow-
sky, “Towards a Reappraisal of Carolingian Sovereign Charters.”
86 chapter four

With the advent of Carolingian rule, laymen were no longer to be

found among the staff of the royal chancery,35 and the production of
royal documents became the exclusive responsibility of clerics from the
chapel, that is, the clergy employed in the Palace, supervised by chan-
cellors who were also clerics. Thus from Carolingian times onward, it
was normative for the Frankish state to draw upon the resources of
the Church for expertise in drafting royal documents. Whether per-
formed in the chancery, or outside by recipients based in ecclesiastical
establishments, the scribal operation invariably involved recourse to
the services of clerics.36 The effective control by churchmen of the means
of literate communication was not limited to the service of the king,
this being but a single facet of their broader commitment to the writ-
ten word as a tool that articulated and supported their own ideological
The evolution of documents produced both by late Carolingian and
early Capetian kings reveals important areas of congruence between

This view of the activities of laymen in the Merovingian chancery has been chal-
lenged by Ganz, “Bureaucratic shorthand.” See a careful review of the debate in Gof-
fart, “Charters Earlier than 800,” p. 917sq. In Carolingian times royal judgements
(placita) were drafted in the office of the Count of the Palace, possibly by a staff of lay
scribes. Carolingian placita are very few, and none is extant for the reign of Louis the
Pious, see Tessier, Diplomatique royale, pp. 115–118, and Bautier, “La chancellerie,”
pp. 68–72.
On the clerical monopoly of writing, see the remarks by Tessier, Diplomatique
royale, pp. 41–57; J. Dufour, “L’au-delà a travers les actes des rois de France et les
rouleaux mortuaires du Xe au XIIe siècle,” Didaskalia 10 (1980), pp. 211–21, at pp. 212,
216; Dufour, Recueil des actes de Robert ler et de Raoul, pp. XVIII, XL; Jean Dun-
babin, France in the Making, 843–1180 (Oxford, 1985), p. 23; Léopold Génicot, Les
actes publics (Tumhout, 1972), p. 21; McKitterick, Frankish Kingdoms, pp. 81, 334.
I focus here on documents issued in the name of kings, and therefore on the cir-
cumstances of their production, which involved a clerical staff. The debate over the
extent of lay literate practices in Carolingian Europe has received much attention; see
for instance Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy. Written Language and Models
of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton, 1983), pp. 12–34;
McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word; Janet L. Nelson, “Literacy in
Carolingian Government,” in The Uses of Literacy in early Medieval Europe, ed. R.
McKitterick (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 259–296; Transforming the Medieval World: Uses
of Pragmatic Literacy in the Middle Ages, ed. Franz-Josef Arlinghaus (Turnhout, 2006);
Karl Heidecker, “Communication by Written Texts in Court Cases: Some Charter Evi-
dence (ca. 800–ca. 1100),” in Marco Mostert ed., New Approaches to Medieval Com-
munication. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 1. (Turnhout 1999), pp. 101–126;
Philippe Depreux, “The Development of Charters confirming Exchange by the Royal
Administration (Eighth-Tenth Centuries),” in Charters and the Use of the Written
Word in Medieval Society, ed. K. Heidecker (Turnhout 2000), pp. 43–62. These studies
also address the interactions between oral and written modes of communication.
the king’s sign 87

liturgical and diplomatic vocabularies, which serves to confirm, if fur-

ther confirmation were needed, the prominent place occupied by the
sacred in the substantiation of medieval political power.37 The texts
of diplomas include systematic and finely developed spiritual pre-
ambles which typically emphasize such religious considerations as
the transitory nature of rewards in this life and the security of eternal
reward.38 Though the peremptory tone of royal charters in expressing
the sovereign’s will is striking, written expressions of royal authority
are invariably also permeated with a sense of accountability to God.
In the final clauses of such documents, the permanence and security
of the royal writ was increasingly entrusted to divine guarantee, with
added threats of spiritual sanctions should its provisions be violated.39
Yet, neither the production of diplomas outside of the royal chancery,
nor the appeal to divine authority under Carolingian rulers resulted in
the contemporaneous creation of unsealed royal diplomas. This format
first appeared only in the post-Carolingian period.
The early Capetians, and their Robertian predecessors such as King
Rudolph,40 utilized other modes of documentary validation drawn
from private procedures, including the exchange of symbolic objects,
the inscription of crosses, and the addition of the signa of their entou-
rage (Fig. 16).41 Perfectly authentic early Capetian diplomas survive

Early medieval royal diplomas included religious textual elements as early as in
Merovingian times. In the late Carolingian period, such elements came to permeate
more systematically many parts of the document such as the titles, preambles, and
sanctions. On early Capetian diplomatics, see Olivier Guyotjeannin, “Actes royaux
français. Les trois premiers Capétiens (987–1060),” in Typologie der Königsurkunden,
pp. 43–63.
Paul Bonenfant, Cours de diplomatique. Deuxième partie: Diplomatique spéciale
(Liège, 1948), p. 5; Génicot, Les actes publics, p. 37; Heinrich Fichtenau, Arenga.
Spätantike und Mittelalter im Spiegel von Urkundenformeln (Cologne, 1957), passim;
Dufour, “L’au-delà,” p. 217sq.; Bautier, “La chancellerie,” pp. 44–48.
Tessier, Recueil des actes de Charles le Chauve, vol. III, p. 175. On the increasing
documentary recourse to spiritual sanctions by the end of the reigns of Lothar I and
Charles the Bald, see Bautier, “La chancellerie,” pp. 58–59.
See above note, 32.
With Hugh Capet, witness-lists began to appear regularly in royal charters as
well, as if the king’s personal action was no longer sufficient to render the royal deed
authoritative. See a witness-list in a diploma (925) from the Robertian king Rudolph
in Dufour, Actes de Robert Ier et de Raoul, no. 8, p. 34. On the general appearance
of witness-list in early Capetian documents, see Dunbabin, France in the Making, pp.
129sq.; Génicot, Les actes publics, p. 41; Jean-Francois Lemarignier, Le gouvernement
royal aux premiers temps capétiens, 987–1108 (Paris, 1965), pp. 73–75, 136–39. O. Guy-
otjeannin, “Les actes d’Henri Ier et la chancellerie royale dans les années 1020–1060,”
Comptes-rendus de L’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (1988), pp. 81–97, at
88 chapter four

which appear never to have been sealed.42 These, however, seem invari-
ably to have been drafted outside of the chancery, for those drafted by
this bureau appear always to have been sealed.43 The seal remained an
established formula of kingship for members of the royal chancery,
but royal seals from the earliest Capetians to Philip I (d. 1108) lacked
the official significance that had been present in Carolingian times,
and they were no longer systematically secured by recipients for docu-
ments drafted in the name of the king.
In assessing these changes, diplomatists have concluded that the
royal diploma had been subject to contamination by the diplomatic
discourse of the private charter.44 This alteration was interpreted as a
sign of the weakening of royal authority; it indeed corresponds tempo-
rally to the feeble rule of the early Capetians. However, princely power
as evoked within magnates’ charters, which lack seals and include lists
of witnesses and symbolic objects, has been assessed as essentially
royal in nature since the content of these charters, such as grants of
immunity, indicate that princes were exercising regalian rights. One
may ask why, if the presence of a witness-list and the absence of a
seal do not expunge the quality of regality from princely charters, it
should be presumed to do so from royal diplomas. Furthermore, non-
chancery scribes responsible for royal documents have been shown
to have been scrupulous in emulating chancery standards while pre-
paring these documents. Lastly, the texts of magnates’ charters also
confirm that such documents were drafted in imitation of the royal

p. 91; Guyotjeannin stresses the distinction between documents produced by the royal
chancery, which aims at retaining Carolingian diplomatic models (and are successful
until Philip I [1052–1108]), and those redacted by beneficiaries, which include signa
and lists of witnesses.
On the distinction between public and private acta, see note 44 below.
Christian Pfister, Etudes sur le règne de Robert le Pieux (Paris, 1885), pp. XXV–
Guyotjeannin, “Les actes d’Henri Ier,” p. 91.
Early medieval documentary culture recognized a distinction between private
charters (involving private individuals) and public acta (issued by rulers). By the elev-
enth century, this distinction became blurred, as diplomatic formats (textual formulae,
status of the author of the document) and juridical content (nature of recorded actions
and warranties) ceased to coincide. Historians are now careful to consider documents
produced from the eleventh century onward from the viewpoint of their authors and,
rather than assuming public authority, they prefer to assess that which might proceed
from and represent such authority, Olivier Guyotjeannin, Michel Picke, and Benoît-
Michel Tock, La diplomatique médiévale (Turnhout, 1993; 3rd rev. ed., 2006; references
are to the first edition), pp. 104–105.
the king’s sign 89

model.45 Consideration of charters and diplomas from the perspec-

tive of their locus of production thus brings a different light to the
medieval conceptualization of the public-private dichotomy. The issue
of the “privatization” of the royal diploma must be readdressed, not
from the point of view of the relationship between text and power, but
from that of the relationship between text and script. What actually
changed was the status and function of the written word within the
framework of a mixed orality. Rather than seeing the new appearance
of witness-lists within royal charters simply as specific evidence for
diminished royal authority, I see this as indicating a new importance
attaching to testimony, which is also reflected in a related change in
the function of the written charter, now termed testimonium or memo-
riale.46 The recording of witnesses’ names was expected to encapsulate
the collective memory of men regarded as being of a character and
status suitable to bear testimony for the business recorded in writing.
This means that though a charter may have lost strength as a legal
dispositive deed, it gained by becoming a proceeding preserving the
performance of consensus. Thus the spreading use of the witness-list
reveals a preference for processes involving the bonding of persons,
within a framework of reliance upon writing.
In its focus on process, this tendency also articulated a changing
conception of authority itself. The notion of a public power proclaimed
within an official document in the name of the state-ruler came, at the
turn of the second millennium, to be replaced by an acknowledgement
that the ruler had to share responsibility for grants or confirmations
with others held in public esteem and able to attest, and possibly to
enforce, the decision. This in turn implied a social and political net-
work in which the remembrance of a shared action and the future
memory of its execution had begun to displace the direct delegation of
authority as the principal buttress of power and prerogative.

Guyotjeannin, “Les actes de Henri Ier,” p. 94; Bonenfant, Cours de diplomatique.
Diplomatique spéciale, p. 51.
O. Guyotjeannin, “Les actes établis par la chancellerie royale sous Philippe Ier,”
Bibliothèque de L’Ecole des chartes 147 (989), pp. 29–48, at p. 31 (testimonium) and 45
90 chapter four

Capetian Kings: The End of a Prerogative and the

Re-Invention of the Royal Seal

Seals, sporadically affixed by kings if systematically applied by their

more traditional chanceries, were undergoing a momentous shift. By
the mid-eleventh century, they were losing their standing as an exclu-
sively royal prerogative. French bishops systematically undertook to
seal by the second half of the eleventh century (Fig. 9),47 and so did
leading members of the lay aristocracy (Figs. 7, 8).48

Merovingian and Carolingian bishops had used their signet-rings to close letters;
in some rare occurrences, they applied their rings to the lower margin of acta redacted
in councils (see chapter 5 below, at notes 3 and 10) or, as seems the case with the
charter given in 872 by Riculf, archbishop of Rouen, to confirm transactions (Arch.
dep., Seine-Maritime, 14H156); Alain de Boüard, Manuel de diplomatique française et
pontificale. Tome 1: Diplomatique générale (Paris, 1929), p. 356 and at note 2. Only
traces of an applied seal subsist on Riculf ’s charter, while the validating clause seems
to have been added at a later time, as the seal itself might have been.
On the beginning of episcopal documentary sealing, see chapter 5 below; R.-H.
Bautier, “Apparition, diffusion et évolution typologique du sceau épiscopal au Moyen
Age,” in Die Diplomatik der Bischofsurkunde vor 1250 / La diplomatique épiscopale
avant 1250. Referate zum VIII. Internationalen Kongress für Diplomatik, Innsbruck,
1993 (Innsbruck, 1995), pp. 225–241, and Harmut Atsma et Jean Vezin, “Remarques
paléographiques et diplomatiques sur les actes originaux des évêques de France du
VIIe siècle à l’an Mil,” Die Diplomatik der Bischofsurkunde, pp. 209–221; Ghislain
Brunel, “Chartes et chancelleries épiscopales du Nord de la France au XIe siècle,” in
A propos des actes d’évêques. Hommage à Lucie Fossier, ed. Michel Parisse (Nancy, 1991),
pp. 227–244; La Diplomatique française de Haut-Moyen Age, vol. 1, pp. 29–30.
On the basis of still extant original charters, early ecclesiastical French seals belong
to the bishops and archbishops of Reims (1040); Cambrai (then in the Empire, 1057),
Amiens (1058); Bourges (1073); Noyon (1084); Soissons (1085); Laon (ca. 1087); Paris
(1088); Chartres (1094); Meaux (1096); evidence from copies seem to indicate the
presence of episcopal seals at Amiens (1036–1058), Langres (ca. 1050); Bayeux (ca.
1050), Poitiers (ca. 1050–1060), Nantes (1067), Sens (1067), Châlons-sur-Marne (ca.
1070), Rennes (ca. 1075), Tours (ca. 1075), Angers (1076), Rouen (1079–1110), Beau-
vais (1089), Le Mans (ca. 1092), and Arras (1097).
Several ninth-century references to non-royal secular sealing involve the dukes
of Brittany at the borders of Francia Occidentalis. None of these early seals have come
down to us, though mention of them is to be found in eleventh-century cartularies
and chronicles. See instances of Breton princely charters that appeared to have been
sealed in the Cartulaire de l’abbaye de Redon, ed. Aurélien de Courson (Paris, 1863),
no. 240, pp. 187–89: Charter of Salomon (29 August, 868), . . . ac sigilli [sic] nostro sig-
illari jussimus . . . ; appendix no. 31, pp. 365sq.: Charter of Erispoë (ca. 851–857): . . . ac
nos postea sigillo nostro sigillari jussimus . . . These cartularized charters can now be
consulted in the fac-simile publication of the cartulary, Cartulaire de l’abbaye Saint-
Sauveur de Redon, with an introduction byHubert Guillotel, André Chédeville et Ber-
nard Tanguy (Rennes, 1998)
Both of these charters and the references to their seals have been accepted as genu-
ine by André Chedeville and Hubert Guillotel, La Bretagne des saints et des rois, Ve–Xe
the king’s sign 91

Seal usage also spread to members of the royal family, and the
pattern of this diffusion is especially significant with respect to the
allocation of kinghip among members of the royal kindred. Of royal
children, the future Louis VI (d. 1137) was the first to use a seal. He
did so as part of his of anticipated association to the throne, the only
associated king ever to use a seal in this capacity. Between 1102–1108,
several of his charters were sealed in this way, and in one of them
Louis even refers to the seal of “his majesty,” while the legend on the
seal itself reads sigillum lodovici designati regis.49 Later royal heirs used

siècles (Rennes, 1984), pp. 288, 319, although the term sigillum replaced anulus in
final clauses only from the eleventh century onward, when the Redon cartulary was
compiled in two stages, between 1062–1084, and 1085–1144. The vocabulary refer-
ring to seals within these transcribed acta is not consistent with known ninth-century
formulae and thus may represent anachronistic interpolations. I wish to thank Julia
Smith for sharing all of these references with me together with still more information
about the sealed charters of Breton princes as contained in the cartularies of Redon
and Prüm, and in the chronicle of Nantes. Professor Smith, however, does not share
my doubts concerning ninth-century Breton princely sealing, Julia Smith, Province
and Empire. Brittany and the Carolingians (Cambridge, 1992), p. 117.
In any case, as with the bishops, the continuous tradition of sealing in Brittany is
traceable only to the second half of the eleventh century, Emile Lefort des Ylouses,
“Sceaux des ducs de Bretagne,” Annales de la Société d’histoire et d’archéologie de
I’arrondissement de Saint-Malo (1978), pp. 92–103.
Early aristocratic seals belong to Baldwin, count of Flanders (ca. 1038), William,
duke of Normandy (ca. 1069), Guy-Geoffrey, count of Poitiers and duke of Aquitaine
(ca. 1079), Fulk Réchin, comte d’Anjou (1085); Renaud II, comte de Bourgogne (1087–
1092); Hugues, comte de Blois-Champagne (1089); Hélie, comte du Maine (1092);
William, comte de Nevers (1096); Neil, viscount of Saint-Sauveur (before 1092), Helie
de La Fleche, count of Maine (1092), Stephen, count of Blois (ca. 1096), William,
count of Mortain (1099–1104), Guy, count of Ponthieu (ca. 1100), Henry, count of
Eu (1106), Odo I, duc de Bourgogne (1111). On the modalities and implications of
the spread of seals from kings to nobles, see chapter 6 below, and B. Bedos-Rezak,
“The Social Implications of the Art of Chivalry: The Sigillographic Evidence (France
1050–1250),” The Medieval Court in Europe, ed. E.R. Haymes, Houston German Stud-
ies 6 (1986), pp. 142–175, reprinted in Bedos-Rezak, Form and Order in Medieval
France. Studies in Social and Quantitative Sigillography (Aldershot, 1993), no. VI;
Bedos-Rezak, “Medieval Seals and the Structure of Chivalric Society,” The Study of
Chivalry, ed. H. Chickering and Th.H. Seiler (Kalamazoo, 1988), pp. 313–372.
“Quod autem ibi in presentia nostra actum ac diffinitum est, nos quoque lauda-
mus, adjudicamus et confirmamus et, ut stabile ac firmum permaneat, nostre majes-
tatis sigillo corroboramus,” charter given by Louis in 1106 in favor of St-Pierre of
Corneille, BNF, Mss. Lat. 17708, fol. 51, J. Dufour, Recueil des actes de Louis VI, roi
de France (1108–1137), 4 vols (Paris, 1992–1994), vol. 1, no. 12, pp. 17–21. Louis’s seal
as rex designatus is no longer extant but is known from a drawing by Mabillon and is
attested by textual evidence from five charters issued between 1102 and 1108, Dufour,
Recueil des actes de Louis VI, vol. 3, pp. 112–113; Achille Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros.
Annales de sa vie et de son règne, 1081–1137 (Paris, 1890), p. 309; Dalas, Les sceaux des
rois, no. 65, p. 144. On the anticipatory association of heirs, see Andrew Lewis, “Antici-
92 chapter four

seals simply linked to their current apanage, with the only mention of
their anticipated kingship being the occasional use of the word primo-
genitus, “first born”, in the legend.50
Contemporary with the designated king’s seal of Louis VI was the
appearance of the first seal ever used by a French queen, Bertrada of
Montfort (d. 1117).51 This sudden appearance of seal usage within the
royal family may owe something to the troubled matrimonial life of
King Philip I (d. 1108). His elopement and subsequent union with
Bertrada of Monfort, wife of Count Fulk of Anjou (d. 1109), produced
both children and a rivalry between Bertrada and Philip’s eldest son
by his first wife, the future Louis VI. Louis’ elevation to the status of
king-designate with the unprecedented matching seal buttressed the
reigning king’s strategy to enhance his son’s position as heir to the
throne. As queen, Bertrada’s name was frequently associated with that
of Philip in the texts of royal diplomas, but she sealed no documents
as queen until she became a dowager. Despite the incorporation of
the royal title in its legend, Bertrada’s seal that was intended only for
charters issued privately in her name. Her possibly deliberate attempt
to assert her royal status by emulating the king’s sealing practice evi-
dently stopped short of full participation in royal diplomatics. The
same is true of her successor, Adelaide of Maurienne (d. 1154), queen
of Louis VI. Adelaide’s prominent role in government is well docu-
mented by a total of ninety royal acta which mention her participation

patory Association of the Heir in Early Capetian France,” American Historical Review
83 (1978), pp. 906–927. Just a few years earlier, the heir to the county of Flanders
was sealing during his father’s lifetime with a seal inscribed: sigillum roberti comitis
junioris; see his seal in René Laurent, Les sceaux des princes territoriaux belges, du Xe
siècle à 1482, 2 vols. in 3 (Bruxelles, 1993), vol. I/1, p. 151.
Seals used by French princes prior to their accession to the throne were termed
sigilla ante susceptum; they appear with the future Louis VIII (d. 1226), Dalas, Les
sceaux des rois, no. 74, p. 154.
On the seals of queens, see B. Bedos-Rezak, “Women, Seals, and Power,” Women
and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. M. Erler and M. Kowaleski (Athens, London, 1988),
pp. 61–82, at pp. 63–65, 75, reprinted in Form and Order, no. IX; Bedos-Rezak, “Medi-
eval Women in French Sigillographic Sources,” Medieval Women and the Sources of
Medieval History, ed. J.T. Rosenthal (Athens, London, 1990), pp. 1–36, at pp. 3, 8,
reprinted in Form and Order, no. X; Kathleen D. Nolan, “The Tomb of Adelaide of
Maurienne and the Visual Imagery of Capetian Queenship,” in Capetian Women,
ed. K. Nolan (New York, 2003), pp. 45–76, at pp. 54–60, and K. Nolan, Queens in
Stone and Silver: The Creation of a Visual Imagery of Queenship in Capetian France
(New York, 2009), pp. 10–11, 21–34, 64–72, 78–98, 152–157. The seals of the French
queens have been catalogued by Marie-Adelaïde Nielen, Corpus des sceaux français
du Moyen Age. Tome III: Les sceaux des reines et des enfants de France (Forthcoming
Paris, 2010).
the king’s sign 93

over a twenty-two-year period. Yet, again, there is no mention of the

queen’s seal until her widowhood, when the personal administration
of her dower required her to issue charters.52 Eleanor of Aquitaine,
thus, was the first reigning consort to seal, though she did so exclu-
sively in matters concerning the management of her duchy.53 Subse-
quent queenly seal usage was consistently confined to private matters;
it never pertained to state affairs, even when Adele of Champagne
(Fig. 17), together with the archbishop of Reims, was left in charge
of the kingdom by Philip Augustus during the period he was away
on crusade. Rather than empower the queen’s seal, the king in 1190
left a royal seal of absence, the ancestor of many later deputed admin-
istrative seals.54 In fact, all seals of the royal family, with the single
exception of Louis as rex designatus, were thereafter limited to private
affairs. Within the hierarchy of royal seals, whether lineal or adminis-
trative, the seal of the king stood as a unique source of authority; and
through its medium so did the king himself, as the generative principle
that gave life to seal impressions, to deputy seals, to all such metaphors
of the king’s fertility. Functioning as an instrument for the idea of the
state, the king’s seal proclaimed the cosmic essence of the ruler, icon
and logos, matrix and genetrix, the one from whose generative power
sprung the ongoing well-being of the kingdom (Figs. 6, 13).
One may in conclusion ask: what did the royal sealed diploma, what
did image and script, accomplish for kingship? The diploma’s material
form and discursive format projected an image of orthodox kingship,
sanctified by God, open to appeal from their subjects, generous where
appropriate and, above all, in control of events. Medieval kingship
had from its very outset been associated with writing. Writing stood
both as a symbol of and as a medium for expressing and ensuring the
continuity of the institution itself. Formulae, unstable as textual and
iconic modes, received generic permanence as sealed diplomas. As a

In Louis VI’s acta, Queen Adelaide intervened to give consent, to provide her
subscription, and even in the dating clause when it is computed by her reigning year,
Dufour, Recueil des actes de Louis VI, vol. 4, p. 14 (list of royal acta including Ade-
laide’s participation); Adelaide’s seal and acta as a dowager are discussed in Dufour,
Recueil des actes de Louis VI, vol. 3, pp. 219–221.
References are given above at note 51.
B. Bedos-Rezak, “Les sceaux au temps de Philippe Auguste,” in La France de Phi-
lippe Auguste—Le temps des mutations, ed. R.-H. Bautier (Paris, 1982), pp. 721–735,
at p. 723, reprinted in Form and Order, no. II; see the seal in Dalas, Les sceaux des
rois, no. 72, p. 152.
94 chapter four

paradigmatic object, the royal sealed diploma blurred contingencies,

such as changes in dynastic, territorial, or individual status, abstract-
ing them from their particular circumstances. The diploma legitimated
new dynasties, Merovingian, Carolingian and Capetian, by identifying
their rulers with established images and textual formulae of rulership.
The royal charter took on an emblematic existence, which endowed
its motifs with independent significance as defining elements of royal
power. This symbolic operation permitted the creation of a past, and
tended to create, across both space and time, the increasingly abstract
notion of a somewhat impersonal entity: kingship. Thus set on stage,
thus set in sign, kingship is above all the formula of kingship. When
scribes came to draw up magnates’ charters, characterizing their non-
royal masters in terms borrowed from royal diplomatic discourse, this
imitation of textual models should not be primarily identified with the
diffusion of actual royal authority, or even simply with the growth of
aristocratic power. For such emulation testifies too both to the ten-
sion generated by an ongoing differentiation of kingship through dis-
tinctive modes of representation, and to the appropriation of these
latter through acculturation. The circulation of these cultural models
endowed the royal charter with a semiotic value that was enhanced
and underscored by the presence of the seal. Iconized, combining the
visible and the legible, the medieval royal charter held simultaneously
the forces of attraction, of representation, and of legitimization; it pro-
duced itself as power, thus constituting both the foundation and the
import of its subject, kingship.


In his preface to the Gesta Episcoporum of Cambrai, a diocese within

the northern French ecclesiastical province of Reims, the author
assured his readers that he had reported only those facts described
by trustworthy oral witnesses, or found in earlier chronicles or in the
charters still extant in the local episcopal archives.1 Writing ca. 1025,
the author of the Gesta expected such charters to be archaic documents
which recorded past events. He referred to these charters as being adhuc
in archivio, as surviving remnants of a type no longer produced, by way
of explaining why he was obliged to depend upon oral testimonies for
more recent events.
As of 1025, episcopal activities in northern France had since about
950 only rarely resulted in the writing of episcopal charters. This low
rate of charter production was maintained until the late 1070s.2 By

Michel Sot, “Rhétorique et technique dans les préfaces des gesta episcoporum (IXe.
XIIe s.),” Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 28 (1985), pp. 181–200, at p. 195.
Not all the bishoprics under consideration were part of the eleventh-century king-
dom of France, as some were then located in the Germanic Empire.
Michèle Courtois, “Remarques sur les chartes originales des évêques antérieures à
1121 et conservées dans les Bibliothèques et Archives de France,” in A propos des actes
d’évêques. Hommage à Lucie Fossier, ed. Michel Parisse (Nancy, 1991), pp. 45–77, at
p. 51. Ghislain Brunel, “Chartes et chancelleries épiscopales du Nord de la France au
XIe siècle,” in A propos des actes d’évêques, pp. 227–244, who takes into consideration
all episcopal acta extant for the eleventh century, that is, both originals and copies,
comes up with larger numbers but his tables make it clear that the bulk of documen-
tary activity took place in the later years of the eleventh century. Erik Van Mingroot,
Les chartes de Gérard Ier, Liébert et Gérard II, évêques de Cambrai et d’Arras, comtes
du Cambrésis (1012–1092/93) (Leuven, 2005), p. 9, notes that Gérard I (1012–1051)
produced a charter every ten years ; his successor, Liébert (1051–1076), a charter a year;
and Liébert’s successor, Gérard II (1076–1092), two charters and a half per year.
French episcopal charters prior to 1200 are currently receiving much attention on
the part of a team of French medievalists (the Groupe de recherche [GR] 0121 of the
French Centre national de la recherche scientifique [C.N.R.S.]) who are preparing a
critical edition of all such texts. See a state of the project, particularly as it relates to
episcopal acts from the bishoprics of Amiens, Arras, Beauvais, Cambrai, Laon, Noyon,
Reims, and Soissons in Michel Parisse, “Importance et richesse des chartes épisco-
pales. Les exemples de Metz et de Toul, des origines à 1200,” in A propos des actes
d’évêques, pp. 19–43, especially pp. 41–43 where an appendice lists for each bishopric
both available publications and work in progress; this report is updated in Parisse, “La
recherche française sur les actes des évêques. Les travaux d’un groupe de recherche,”
in Die Diplomatik der Bischofsurkunde vor 1250 / La diplomatique épiscopale avant
96 chapter five

about 1050, however, and thus during the period of limited episco-
pal documentary output, the format of the episcopal charter changed
significantly as it began to incorporate and to display an impressed
image, the seal (Fig. 4).3 Such documentary sealing, heretofore a vir-
tually exclusive prerogative of the royal chancery, constituted a radi-
cal departure from the previous non-royal diplomatic tradition; it also
preceded the dramatic increase in episcopal charter production which
occurred during the last quarter of the eleventh century. Sealing thus
may have facilitated this increased production rather than having been
the result of it. In this chapter, I wish to present the following sugges-
tive parallel. There seems to have been some concomitance between
northern French bishops’ involvement in the eucharistic controversy
and their introduction of episcopal sealed charters. To be sure, the
production of authoritative episcopal charters was also contemporary
with the administrative activity of an episcopate invigorated by the
program of the Gregorian reform. My purpose here is to bring to light
a set of circumstances surrounding the adoption of sealing practices
that specifically focuses on the seal’s signifying dimension.

Episcopal Modes of Communication

How visible was the bishop at the turn of the millennium? How were
his presence manifested, his authority expressed, his person repre-
sented? Throughout the eleventh century, bishops tended to resort to

1250. Referate zum VIII. Internationalen Kongress für Diplomatik, Innsbruck, 1993
(Innsbruck, 1995), pp. 203–208.
For a comprehensive panorama of the appearance of episcopal seals, see Robert-
Henri Bautier, “Apparition, diffusion et évolution typologique du sceau épiscopal au
Moyen Age,” in Die Diplomatik der Bischofsurkunde vor 1250 / La diplomatique épis-
copale avant 1250, pp. 225–241.
On the appearance of seals on Northern French episcopal charters, see Ghislain
Brunel, “Chartes et chancelleries épiscopales du Nord de la France au XIe siècle,”
pp. 234–238.
On the epistolary use of signet-rings by bishops throughout the early middle ages,
see Bautier, “Apparition, diffusion et évolution typologique du sceau épiscopal au
Moyen Age,” p. 225. Hartmut Atsma and Jean Vezin, “Remarques paléographiques
et diplomatiques sur les actes originaux des évêques de France du VIIe siècle à l’an
mil,” in Die Diplomatik der Bischofsurkunde vor 1250 / La diplomatique épiscopale
avant 1250, pp. 209–221, remark (at p. 210) that no episcopal charters prior to the
eleventh century were sealed although episcopal signet-ring-impressions were some-
times affixed to constitutiones issued in synods (p. 216); see notes 5 and 10 below for
a further discussion of early episcopal sealing.
eucharistic theology and episcopal signature 97

letters rather than to charters as means of communication.4 Such letters

were sealed, that is, closed by waxen impressions from episcopal rings.
The letter’s opening by its recipient therefore involved destruction of the
seal impression whose significance inhered in its integrity upon initial
receipt.5 By means of the skilled deployment of a carefully learned and

See for instance the case of Bishop Lambert of Arras (1093–1115), who had 23
acta issued in his name and gathered a corpus of 128 letters, 41 of which he sent
and 73 of which he received (14 letters were neither sent by nor addressed to him).
Lambert’s epistolary corpus is unusual by contemporary standards in that it contains
a greater number of received rather than sent letters: Laurent Morelle, “La pratique
épistolaire de Lambert, evêque d’Arras (1093–1115),” in Regards sur la correspon-
dance (de Cicéron à Armand Barbès), ed. Daniel Odon Hurel, Les Cahiers du GRHIS
5 (1996), pp. 37–57, and “Archives épiscopales et formulaire de chancellerie au XIIe
siècle. Remarques sur les privilèges épiscopaux connus par le Codex de Lambert de
Guînes, évêque d’Arras (1093/94–1115),” in Die Diplomatik der Bischofsurkunde vor
1250 / La diplomatique épiscopale avant 1250, pp. 255–267, at p. 255.
Giles Constable, Letters and Letter-Collections (Turnhout, 1976), stresses the variety of
medieval epistolary styles and contents, notes the prodigious flowering of letter-writing
in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and reminds us that a wide variety of business
could be cast in the form of a letter. Some diplomatists have argued that, unlike char-
ters and diplomas, medieval letters served no legal or administrative purpose, but others
have successfully shown that there is no clear distinction between official documents and
private letters (Constable, Letters and Letter-Collections, pp. 21–23).
See above, at note 3. On letter sealing, see Constable, Letters and Letter-Collections,
pp. 47, 53.
Bishop Lambert of Arras began a letter to Manassès, archbishop of Reims, with
the following remarks: “We have recently received a letter marked with your seal
from a layman we have never met and whose name we ignore. Opening this letter
in front of our brothers, we discovered that our esteemed colleague Bishop Hugh
of Châlons had been made prisoner . . . As this letter ordered us to stop praising God
for this reason, our brothers doubted that the letter came from you, given the facts
that the messenger was unknown to us and that the injunction did not match scrip-
tural precepts . . . ;” cited in French by Morelle, “La pratique épistolaire de Lambert,
evêque d’Arras (1093–1115),” pp. 42–43. The Latin text of the letter is available in PL
CLXII, no. 70, cols. 674–675: . . . Litteras sigillo vestro signatas a quodam laico et facie
et nomine nobis ignoto nuper suscepimus, et eas coram fratribus nostris aperientes
reperimus venerabilem coepiscopum nostrum domnum Hugonem Catalaunensem in
captione detineri . . . Post haec vero, cum dixissent ut hac de causa a divinis laudibus
cessaremus, dubitaverunt fratres nostri a sede vestrae discretionis hujusmodi litteras
processisse, tum quia legatus omnibus ignotus erat, tum quia praeceptum hoc Veteri
et Novo Testamento minime concordat . . .
Lambert’s rhetorical assumption of forgery (which enabled him to lecture his
archbishop in canon law) sheds an interesting light on the seal’s inability to secure
provenance and authenticity. What gave Lambert his rhetorical opportunity was the
messenger’s unfamiliarity, even though the archbishop’s seal was perfectly recogniz-
able. We have here, therefore, some evidence for the secondary status of letter seals as
signs of authority, and for the key role of the messenger as, at once, the bearer of the
letter and often the spokesman for a message only sketched out in the letter itself. See
a further discussion of the messenger’s role in delivering letters below at note 6.
98 chapter five

crafted rhetoric, such letter-writing was experienced as instrumental

both for self-representation and for ordering affairs. The principal
and characteristic assumption in these letters was that two personnae
were speaking face to face. Since this effect could be achieved only by
those who had mastered the art of composition through training in
rhetoric, rhetorical style was crucial for imprinting the identity of the
letter-writer within the body of the letter, thereby securing the letter’s
genuineness. Thus, informing the efficacy of letters as media was the
notion that their texts embodied their authors, producing authentic-
ity as a matter of ‘author-ity’ and identity. The ultimate fluency and
utility of this epistolary genre demonstrates the achievement of cathe-
dral schools in the eleventh century, where the work of scholars in
cathedral chapters overlapped considerably with that of chancellors
and secretaries in the bishops’ courts.6
The milieu just described, however, did not have the same degree
of control over another aspect of episcopal writing, the charter. While
bishop’s letters emanated from the world of their schools and courts,
episcopal charters were often designed and drafted in the writing
bureaus of the charters’ beneficiaries, most usually monastic establish-
ments.7 Whereas copies of epistolary texts remained in the archives of

Jacques Verger, “Les écoles au XIe siècle,” in Fulbert de Chartres, précurseur de
l’Europe médiévale?, ed. Michel Rouche (Paris, 2006), pp. 33–42, at p. 38; John Van
Engen, “Letters, Schools, and Written Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centu-
ries,” in Dialektik und Rhetorik im früheren und hohen Mittelalter, ed. Johannes Fried
(Munich: 1997), pp. 97–132. While cogently demonstrating the extent to which the
postmillennial world of affairs drew upon the resources of epistolary rhetoric, Van
Engen also notes that prescholastic great masters, several of whom were chancery-
scholars (Anselm of Laon, Peter Comestor) or bishops (William of Champeaux, Peter
Lombard), left virtually no letters. He ponders the possibility of a shift in intellectual
emphasis from letter to commentary (p. 130), and I would suggest that this shift also
involved the passage from letter to sealed charter.
The immense corpus of letters exchanged throughout the eleventh and twelfth cen-
turies shows a particular tendency toward a personalization of style and contents, and
a reliance on authorial style as a proof of authenticity (see note 5 above and chapter
6 below, at notes 2–4). Nevertheless, important information could be left out of let-
ters and entrusted to their couriers for oral delivery: Constable, Letters and Letter-
Collections, pp. 34, 48, 53, and see specific examples of letters referring explicitly to the
messenger’s knowledge of questions to be put orally to the recipient in Morelle, “La
pratique épistolaire de Lambert, evêque d’Arras (1093–1115),” pp. 45–46.
See instances of episcopal acta drafted by beneficiaries in Patrick Demouy, Actes
des archevêques de Reims d’Arnoul à Renaud II, 957–1139, Thèse pour le doctorat
de IIIe cyle en histoire (Nancy, 1982); Annie Dufour-Malbezin, Actes des évêques de
Laon des origines à 1151 (Paris, 2001), and Simone Lecoanet, Les actes des évêques
d’Amiens des origines au début du XIIIe siècle, thèse de l’Ecole nationale des chartes,
2 vols. (Paris, 1957). In Reims and Laon, the episcopal staff maintained a relatively
eucharistic theology and episcopal signature 99

their senders, episcopal charters were typically kept in the archives of

the recipients. Letters derived their authority through the projection of
authorial identity. Charters, by contrast, invoked God’s authority, and
derived their import from a visible affinity with Holy Scripture. Such
an affinity was suggested by graphic logic, which involved the inscrip-
tion of a Chrismon, Trinitarian invocations, biblical arenga, signing
with the cross, divine maledictions, and threats of excommunication
against whomever might challenge the action recorded in the charter.8
So, while letters functioned in the place of their authors as their per-
sonal rhetorical self-representations, charters, even though formulated
in the first-person voice of the bishop, were fundamentally impersonal,
and were not instruments for representing oneself to another.
It may thus seem paradoxical that by the late eleventh century, the
charter was emerging as the preferred means of episcopal represen-
tation. Attention to a key distinction between letter- and charter-
operation reveals that the letter’s performance centered on its legibility
(as rhetorical text exchanged among individuals of similar schooling)
whereas the charter’s performance hinged on its visibility (as a form of
“Scripture”) and its materiality (as a ritual object). The charter ultimately
achieved a wider circulation, particularly among lay elites who, experi-
encing the manuscript charter as kindred to Scripture, could conceive
of it as a ceremonial space of sacred and secure inscription. For learned
bishops, however, the transition from letters to charters required that
the charter become capable of conveying the effect of personalization
achieved by the letter. This was accomplished by exploiting not the
charter’s diplomatic discourse but its materiality. Indeed, the signifi-
cant change in the format of episcopal charters ca. 1050 centered on
the incorporation and permanent display of an impressed image, the
seal, initially leaving untouched the charter’s textual formulae.
That the seals affixed to charters were different from the seals that
were already part of the pre-existent episcopal panoply of signs may
be adduced from several observations. From the early medieval period,
rings had been symbols of episcopal investiture, and bishops regularly

strong control over the production of episcopal charters; in Amiens, the proportion
of episcopal acta prepared by the beneficiaries seems higher.
See chapter 6 below, pp. 133-134 at notes 51–52. The best analysis, with current
bibliography, of the textual, graphic, and linguistic components of diplomatic discourse,
is provided by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Jacques Pycke and Benoît-Michel Tock, Diplo-
matique médiévale (Turnhout, 1993; 3rd rev. ed., 2006; references are to the first edi-
tion), pp. 71–102.
100 chapter five

used these signet-rings to impress waxen stampings to close letters,

to accredit relics, and to seal vessels containing the chrism and other
sacred oils. 9 In fact, bishops had even, on some rare occasions, affixed
impressions of their signet-rings as documentary seals on acta pro-
duced in synods or councils, and on litterae dimissoriae by which they
allowed a priest of their own diocese to leave for another, introduc-
ing the migrant cleric to his new bishop.10 The signet-rings used for
these purposes were of small diameter, bearing an engraved gem that,
whether crafted in ancient or in medieval times, generally bore the
depiction of mythical or religious figures. The seal used on eleventh-
century episcopal charters, however, was no longer imprinted from
the bishop’s signet-ring but rather from a much enlarged seal matrix
which could accommodate a full-fledged physical representation of the
bishop in vestments. Significantly, by the time that bishops undertook
to seal their charters, royal seals had themselves undergone a similar
transformation by which now, much increased in size, they displayed

Jean-Luc Chassel, “L’essor du sceau au XIe siècle,” in Pratiques de l’écrit docu-
mentaire au XIe siècle, ed. Olivier Guoyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle, and Michel Parisse,
Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des chartes 155 (1997), pp. 221–234, at pp. 227–230; Pierre C.
Barraud, “Des bagues à toutes les époques et en particulier de l’anneau des évêques
et des abbés,” Bulletin monumental 30 (1864), pp. 5–74, 353–422, 501–528, 613–670,
at pp. 364–386, 643sq.; Maximin Deloche, Etude historique et archéologique sur les
anneaux sigillaires et autres des premiers siècles du moyen âge (Paris, 1900), pp. LVIII
and passim; M. Deloche, Le port des anneaux dans l’antiquité romaine et dans les pre-
miers siècles du Moyen Age (Paris, 1896) [extr. Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions
et Belles-Lettres 35/2 (1896)], pp. 64–70.
Early episcopal seals may also have had liturgical and funeral functions, Erik Van
Mingroot, Les chartes de Gérard Ier, Liébert et Gérard II, évêques de Cambrai et d’Arras,
comtes du Cambrésis (1012–1092/93). Introduction, édition, annotation (Leuven, 2005),
pp. 182–183.
See above at note 3. The littere dimissoriae belong to the category of letters of
recommendation (also known as litterae commendaticiae or litterae formatae) granted
by bishops to their traveling priests. The most recent work on these letters is by
L. Morelle, “Sur les ‘papiers’ du voyageur au haut Moyen Age: lettres de recomman-
dation et lettres dimissoires en faveur des clercs,” in Se Déplacer du Moyen Age à nos
jours (forthcoming: Bulletin historique et artistique du Calaisis). I wish to express here
my gratitude to Laurent Morelle who generously shared the text of his essay prior to
its publication.
The only original littera dimissoria (826–834) still extant was issued by Peter, bishop
of Lucca and, though lacking a textual clause announcing the apposition of the seal,
it bears the traces of an applied wax seal; the letter is studied by Antonio Mastruzzo
in “Un’epistola formata di età carolingia nell’Archivio di Stato di Pisa,” Annali della
Scuola normale superiore di Pisa, 3e série, 25/4 (1995), pp. 1437–1458, and (with fac-
simile) in Lettere originali del Medioevo latino (VII–XI sec.). I: Italia, ed. Armando
Petrucci, Giulia Ammannati, Antonino Mastruzzo, Ernesto Stagni Mastruzzo (Pisa,
2004), no. 2, pp. 13–19.
eucharistic theology and episcopal signature 101

the full bodily figure of a ruler in majesty (from ca. 1031; fig. 16).11 The
fulcrum of this newly expanding sealing practice was an object, the
seal, whose newly operative format, resemblance, brought to the fore
a signifying mode that was expressly predicated upon a congruence
between sign and referent. That the seal was conceived as an image
when it was systematically affixed, from the late eleventh century
onward, to the episcopal charters of Langres, Noyon, Laon, Reims,
Cambrai, Beauvais, Soissons, and Therouanne, may be deduced from
the fact that final textual clauses within the charters specifically refer
to the seal as imago.12
The actualization of personal authority and identity in engraved
matter marked a profound change in the conception of the relation
between phenomenal appearances and the person represented. By
introducing a mimetic economy into the signifying process, wherein
the seal shared some of the characteristic features of its referent, the
seal as sign marked a radical departure from the semiotic system that
previously had governed the rapport between sign and thing.

See chapter 4 above. Corpus des sceaux français du Moyen Age. Tome II: Les
sceaux des rois et de régence by Martine Dalas (Paris, 1991): the size of French royal
seals began to grow with Charles the Bald (d. 877, nos. 24–26, pp. 103–104) but the
image remained that of an antique profile. A crowned bust with regalia appeared at
the very end of the tenth century on the seal of King Rudolph of Burgundy (d. 1018,
no. 59 p. 135), remained on the seals of the two first Capetians, Hugh (d. 997, no. 60,
p. 139) and Robert the Pious (d. 1031, no. 61 p. 140), but was replaced by an effigy in
majesty when Henry I (d. 1060) had a new seal cut upon his accession to the throne
(no. 62, p. 141).
See chapter 7 below, at notes 84–87. Patrick Demouy, “Les sceaux des archevê-
ques de Reims des origines à la fin du XIIIe siècle,” in Actes du 109e Congrès national
des Sociétés savantes, Dijon, 1984. Section d’histoire médiévale et de philologie. T.
I (Paris, 1985), pp. 687–720, at p. 687; Demouy, “Actes des archevêques de Reims
d’Arnoul à Renaud II, 997–1139,” pp. 183–184 of the introduction; of the many char-
ters that refer to the archepiscopal seal as imago, see no 103, pp. 294–295, Archbishop
Manasses confirms in 1096 the possession of the church of St Georges of Hesdin by
the abbey of Anchin, . . . ut autem hoc decretum nostrum posteris inconvulsum perma-
neat, auctoritate imaginis nostrae testimonioque fidelium corroboravi decrevimus; no.
108, pp. 305–305, Archbishop Manasses confirms in 1097 donations to the abbey of
St-Acheul, . . . nos auctoritate metropolitana et sigilli nostri ymagine, personarumque
autenticarum signis et testimonio, in eternam quietem corroboramus. A list of early
episcopal sealers is given above, chapter 4, p. 90, at note 47.
102 chapter five

The Debate over Real Presence and the Appearance

of Episcopal Seals

The same departure is noticeable in the field of eucharistic theol-

ogy which simultaneously was preoccupying the very same episcopal
milieus responsible for launching the production of sealed charters.13
A consideration of the nature of the eucharistic sign had begun in
the ninth century when a monk of Corbie, Paschasius Radbert (d. c.
860), in the earliest theological treatise concerning the eucharist (De
corpore et sanguine Domini), asserted that the consecrated bread and
wine were the true body and blood of Christ. The eucharist was truth
(veritas) because it was, in reality, what it affirmed to be.14 This posi-
tion was opposed by Ratramnus (d. 868), a fellow monk at Corbie
who, in his own De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, allegorized the physi-
cal element in the eucharist as the figuration (figura) of a truth which
resided elsewhere.15 This debate continued into the next century, taken
up by scholars from the bishopric of Liège who tended to support the

Caroline W. Bynum has recently expressed concern that “recent work seems to
find the eucharist everywhere,” “The Blood of Christ in the Later Middle Ages,” Church
History 71 (2002), pp. 685–714, at p. 686. Eucharistic debates, held particularly among
North European schoolmen, had a strong semiotic component since the central ques-
tion revolved around the extent to which the eucharistic sign (sacramentum) remained
distinct from its thing (res). As they pondered the relationship between signs and real-
ity, Northern schoolmen tended to favor a solution, later to be adopted at Lateran IV
as the doctrine of transubstantiation, that asserted the real and substantial presence of
Christ in the eucharist. They also recognized, however, that the eucharist, as the true
body of Christ, could in turn signify the spiritual body of Christ or Christian unity;
see Gary Macy, The Theologies of the Eucharist in the Early Scholastic Period (Oxford,
1984); Brian Stock , Implications of Literacy. Written Language and Models of Interpre-
tation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton, 1983), pp. 241–315.
Paschasius’s eucharistic writings are available in modern editions: Pascasius
Radbertus, De corpore et sanguine domini cum appendice epistola ad Fredugardum,
ed. Beda Paulus (Turnhout, 1969), and Expositio in Matheo Libri XII, ed. B. Paulus
(Turnhout, 1984). See note 15 below for a select bibliography on Carolingian eucha-
ristic debates.
Ratramnus’ De Corpore and Sanguine Domini has been edited by Jan N. Bakhui-
zen Van Den Brink, 2nd ed. (Amsterdam, 1974), and is also available in PL CXXI,
cols. 125D–170C.
I deal at greater length with the semiotics of the Carolingian eucharistic debates
in B. Bedos-Rezak, “Semiotic Anthropology. The Twelfth Century Experiment,” in
European Transformations 950–1200, Thomas F.X. Noble and John Van Engen, ed.
(Notre Dame, Forthcoming), where I benefited from the studies of Celia Chazelle,
The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era (Cambridge, 2001), and C. Chazelle, “Fig-
ure, Character, and the Glorified Body in the Carolingian Eucharistic Controversy,”
Traditio 47 (1992), pp. 1–35.
eucharistic theology and episcopal signature 103

eucharistic physicalism of Paschasius. Heriger of Lobbes (d. 1007), in

his De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, was fundamentally a physicalist
in his conception of the eucharist. He nevertheless tried to reconcile
the two positions by de-emphasizing the relevance for eucharistic doc-
trine of any distinction between veritas and figura. He argued that,
whichever interpretation was attached to the eucharist (which then
was treated as figura), its meaning was rooted in the fundamental fact
that the bread and wine were the actual body and blood of Christ:
interpretation could neither detract from nor alter the veritas of the
eucharist.16 Significantly, Heriger of Lobbes was responsible for the
production of the earliest sealed episcopal document in Liège, issued
on 19 June 980 in the name of Bishop Notger (972–1008).17 This seal,
actually the earliest extant non-royal medieval seal, precedes episcopal
French seals by three quarters of a century, a gap which corresponds
to a pause in the eucharistic debate.
The debate resumed in the mid-eleventh century when bishops and
their chancery-scholars faced new challenges from Berengar of Tours
(d. 1088) and his followers, whose forceful ideas prompted the North-
ern French schools and chanceries to re-consider the nature of the
eucharistic sign. Berengar rejected physicalism. Refusing to admit that
which was denied by the evidence of the senses or by simple logic,
Berengar insisted that it was bread and wine which remained on the
altar even after consecration, that it was interpretation, a process deeper
than surface senses, which gave the eucharist its true meaning.18

Macy, Theologies of the Eucharist, pp. 21–25; Stock, Implications of Literacy,
pp. 259–272.
The document is published by Jean-Louis Kupper with facsimile, French transla-
tion, diplomatic and historical commentaries, and bibliography in Autour de Gerbert
d’Aurillac, le pape de l’an mil. Album de documents commentés, réunis sous la direc-
tion d’Olivier Guyotjeannin et Emmanuel Poulle (Paris, 1996), no. 44, pp. 300–305.
The seal is also discussed and illustrated in René Laurent, Sigillographie (Bruxelles,
1985), no. 210, pp. 39, 69–70, and plate XVII no. 30: of a 50 mm-diameter, Notger’s
seal displays the bust of a figure holding a book surrounded by the legend NOTKERUS
The eucharistic debate seems to have been part of the confrontation the bishop
of Arras had with a group of dissenters at the synod of Arras of 1025; the redaction of
the synod’s acta, however, is contemporary with Berengar and the full resumption of
the eucharistic controversy, see note 24 below.
Good analyses of Berengar’s position are found in Henry Chadwick, “Ego Beren-
garius,” Journal of Theological Studies 40 (1989), pp. 414–445; H. Chadwick, “Symbol
and Reality: Berengar and the Appeal to the Fathers,” Auctoritas und Ratio. Studien zu
Berengar von Tours, ed. Peter Ganz, Robert B.C. Huygens and Friedrich Niehwöhner
(Wiesbaden, 1990), pp. 25–46; Josef Geiselmann, Die Eucharistielehre der Vorschola-
104 chapter five

Berengar’s rejection of physical symbolism was opposed by Hugh,

bishop of Langres, in yet another iteration of De corpore et sanguine
Christi, written just before the reforming council held at Reims in
1049, the approximate date at which sealing commenced in Langres.19
At the council of Reims, the convener, Pope Leo IX, complained of
many heresies and illicit practices.20 The archbishop of Reims, Guy (d.
1055) stood accused of simony though he was able to clear himself of
the charge.21 Guy, who was the first archbishop of Reims to use a seal,
had refused to endorse the pro-Berengar letter he received from Euse-
bius Bruno, bishop of Angers, around 1050;22 it was also during Guy’s
tenure that the school of Reims re-emerged from the obscurity into
which it had been plunged after the departure of Gerbert of Aurillac (d.
1003). Associated with the resurgence of this school’s fame was master
Herimann, who was lauded by his contemporaries specifically as one
of the distinguished scholars and men of authority who repudiated the

stik (Paderborn, 1926); Ludwig Hödl, “Die confessio Berengarii von 1059, eine Arbeit
zum frühscholastischen Eucharistietraktat,” Scholastik 37 (1962), pp. 370–394; Stock,
Implications of Literacy, pp. 273–287; Allan J. MacDonald, Berengar and the Reform
of Sacramental Doctrine (London, 1930; reprint Merrick, NY, 1977); Macy, Theologies
of the Eucharist, pp. 35–43; Jean de Montclos, Lanfranc et Bérenger. La controverse
eucharistique du Xie siècle (Louvain, 1971); Toivo J. Holopainen, Dialectic and Theol-
ogy in the Eleventh Century (Leiden, 1996).
Hugh of Langres, Tractatus de corpore et sanguine Christi, PL CXLII, cols. 1325–
1334; Stock, Implications of Literacy, pp. 282, 287–89; McDonald, Berengar and the
Reform, pp. 51–53, 273–277.
Jean-Luc Chassel, “L’apparition du sceau dans les actes de la chancellerie de Langres
au XIe siècle,” Cahiers Hauts-Marnais 167 (1986), pp. 77–95, dismisses the documents
sealed by Hugh of Langres but R.-H. Bautier, “Apparition, diffusion et évolution,”
p. 228, maintains the date of ca. 1050 for the appearance of the episcopal seal at Lan-
gres. The difficulty when dating the earliest use of seals comes from the fact that seals
were initially not textually announced, and since most documents no longer exist
as originals but as copies, it is difficult to assess whether they were originally sealed.
Additionally, some of the extant originals bear dubious traces of seals that may point
to a later sealing.
Leo IX knew of Berengar’s teachings but politics precluded his taking a stance
against them at Reims where he issued only veiled thrusts, taking action against Beren-
gar only later at the council of Rome (1050), MacDonald, Berengar and the Reform,
pp. 55–58.
MacDonald, Berengar and the Reform, p. 60.
For the unsuccessful attempt by Eusebius Bruno, bishop of Angers, to secure the
support of Archbishop Guy in favor of Berengar, and for the letter sent by Eusebius
to Guy, see MacDonald, Berengar and the Reform, pp. 65, 84, 90.
On the seal of Archbishop Guy, see Demouy, “Les sceaux des archevêques de Reims,”
pp. 687, 693; the seal displays a bust in archepiscopal vestments, holding the crozier
and an unidentifiable object, surrounded by a fragmentary legend: ARCHI[EPISC]
eucharistic theology and episcopal signature 105

thesis of Berengar of Tours. Contemporary with and then successor to

Herimann (d. ca 1075) at Reims was a second famous schoolmaster,
Bruno (d. 1101), who also served as archiepiscopal chancellor, and
whose scriptural exegesis and theories on the eucharist were to exert
great influence on still another episcopal chancellor, Anselm of Laon
(d. 1117). Throughout the eleventh century then, the school and the
chancery at Reims remained a bastion of orthodoxy supporting the doc-
trine of real presence, the principle that host and wine were the actual
body and blood of the historical Jesus.23
At Cambrai, another anti-Berengar position, that of Bishop Gerard
(d. 1051), was recorded in the mid-eleventh century Acta Synodi
Atrebatensis, a much revised and expanded version of his confronta-
tion with a group of dissenters at the synod of Arras of 1025. The
chapter of the Acta devoted to De corpore et sanguine Domini is a
virtual textbook of eucharistic orthodoxy on real presence. Underlying
the entire text of the Acta is the idea of sacramental realism, based on
the principle that an invisible reality can be meted out in a palpable
form. It is noteworthy therefore that the seal of the bishop of Cam-
brai first appeared in 1057, some fifteen years after the redaction of
the Acta, affixed to a charter given by Gerard’s immediate successor,
Bishop Liébert.24 Similarly, Guy, bishop of Amiens (d. 1075), presided
on 13 July 1058 over the translation of the relics of Paschasius Radbert,

John R. Williams, “The Cathedral School of Reims in the Eleventh Century,”
Speculum 29 (1954), pp. 661–677, at p. 663 on the emergence of the school of Reims
during the pontificate of Archbishop Guy, at p. 664 where “Gozwin, schoolmaster
of Mainz, writing around 1065, lauds him [Herimann] as one of the distinguished
masters and men of particular authority who refuse to have anything to do with the
novelties of Berengar of Tours,” and at p. 669 on the fact that Anselm of Laon “took
his theories of the eucharist and of the rights of the devil over mankind from Bruno.”
Williams is even willing to speculate (p. 669 note 61) that Anselm of Laon might have
been a disciple of Bruno at Reims. J.R. Williams, “The Cathedral School of Reims in
the time of Master Alberic, 1118–1136,” Traditio 20 (1964), pp. 93–114.
Acta Synodi Atrebatensis in Manicheos, in PL CXLII, cols. 1269B–1312D, at cols.
1278B–1284B for the section devoted to ‘De corpore et snaguinis Domini.’ I follow
here Stock’s analysis of Gerard’s positions, The Implications of Literacy, pp. 120–122,
132–133; see note 18 above. On the dating of the Acta, see E. Van Mingroot, “Acta
Synodi Atrebatensis (1025): problèmes de critique de provenance,” Studia Gratiana
20 (1976), pp. 201–229.
On the episcopal seal of Cambrai, see Brunel, “Chartes et chancelleries épiscopales,”
pp. 234–36; Van Mingroot, Chartes, p. 8: the seal belongs to the immediate successor of
Gerard, Bishop Liébert, and its appearance on episcopal charters is also contemporary
with a new development in the production of episcopal acta, the arrival of a chancery-
scholar responsible for output of the bishop’s writing bureau or ‘chancery.’ The first
(extant) document given in the name of Bishop Liébert was sealed and included the
106 chapter five

whose earlier views on the eucharist had, as we have seen, contradicted

the teaching of Berengar; the first episcopal seal of Amiens, Guy’s,
appeared in 1058.25
This chronological outline suggests that the Northern European bish-
ops responsible for initiating the novelty of non-royal documentary seal-
ing, did so while engaged in a strident yet stimulating theological crisis.
The resumption of an enquiry into the reality of the eucharist stimu-
lated a heightened semiotic sensitivity. For, in promoting the notion of
real presence in the eucharist, bishops and their chancery-scholars had
to confront their own current semiotic assumptions, which they, like
their predecessors, derived from Augustine.26 Early medieval scholars
had operated within his dualistic semiotic doctrine, whereby the sign
signaled a thing to which it was external. In this view, signs could not be
regarded as sharing characteristics with, or participate in, the reality they
signified. With dualism governing the relationship between sign and
thing, between image and prototype, how could the eucharistic sign be
conceived as actually being Christ’s blood and body. Eucharistic debates,
therefore, brought to the fore the notion that the modes whereby signs
and images signified their referents might be different and be construed
differently, and that these modal differences in turn could affect the
sign’s meaning. Thus, the eucharistic controversy fostered a reflection
upon presence and representation, and upon the role of covenant and

following final clause: “Werinboldus scolasticus scriptsit et recognovit” (Van Ming-

root, Charters, no 2.01, pp. 77–81 [March–July 1057]).
In the charter whereby he established the abbey of the Holy Sepulcher in specific
expansion of a church foundation made by Gerard, Bishop Liébert urged his succes-
sors to respect his dispositions and threatens them with divine maledictions that are
unusually spiced with eucharistic rhetoric: ‘Quicumque ergo huic coenobio de conces-
sis et concedendis aliquid subripere voluerit et regiae firmitati contraire temptaverit,
hic a corpore et sanguine Domini et communione pacis alienus fiat . . . Wrinbaldus
cancellarius recensuit. . . . ,’ Van Mingroot, Charters, no. 2.03, pp. 84–91.
On the translation of Paschasius’ relics, see Lecoanet, Les actes des évêques
d’Amiens, vol. I, p. 13. The appearance of the episcopal seal is discussed in R.-H.
Bautier, “Apparition, diffusion et évolution,” p. 228.
As with the episcopal seal of Langres, the early evidence for episcopal sealing at
Amiens is rendered complicated by the absence of extant original charters (see above
at note 19). The chronological correlation I have attempted to establish between the
appearance of episcopal sealing and episcopal support for the doctrine of real pres-
ence must be seen as fragile given the incomplete nature of the charter evidence.
Uncontroversial, however, is the fact that sealing practices emerged from these very
episcopal milieus involved in elaborating the semiotics that would underlay the eucha-
rist doctrine of real presence. On the implications of such semiotics for strategies of
representation, see below chapter 6.
See chapters 6 and 7 below for a full discussion of Augustinian’s sign theories.
eucharistic theology and episcopal signature 107

causality, symbolism and incorporation, in the operations of sacramental

and other signs.27 The challenge to Berengar’s symbolic interpretation of
the eucharist pushed bishops and schoolmen alike to consider that signs
could have intrinsic properties, bear a resemblance to or be extensions
of their referents.28 These scholars came to accept that images might
have a natural connection to things, and that signification was not sys-
tematically dependent upon convention. In minimizing the operations
of convention in signification, eleventh-century intellectuals endowed
representation with a strong modality, that is, an ability to project truth
and accuracy. The extent to which seals became effective in representing
their owners owed much to the eucharistic controversy, and to related
contemporary debates, as I hope to show in the next chapter. Although
northern French bishops remained aware that only the eucharistic sign
was capable of being fully identical with its referent, they nevertheless
retained the thrust of such reasoning when they argued that signs in
general represented things by actualizing them through incorporation
of, and intrinsic resemblance to, their essential characteristics.

As the doctrinal crisis called for substantial affirmations of episcopal

authority, bishops launched a new experiment in the signature of per-
sonal identity. They abandoned the personal letter for charters, now
personified and substantiated by their seals. The projection of epis-
copal authority henceforth centered on visibility and materiality, and
was re-organized around iconic signs (seals) conceived and created to
produce a presence which, while not real was nonetheless actual.

A fuller analysis of the semiotic culture of schools and chanceries appears here
in chapter 6, and in Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak “Medieval Identity: A Sign and a
Concept,” The American Historical Review 105/5 (2000), pp. 1489–1533.
The immanent semiotics developed from the eleventh century onward also had
its source in Augustine, particularly in his sacramental theology, see chapter 6 below,
pp. 121–123.


In the two centuries following the turn of the first millennium, literate
individuals in Western Europe rarely if ever resorted to mediated
expression, to indirect communication by means of the written word,
without expressing some sense of the absence of immediacy, that is,
of personal presence. When Bishop Arnulf of Lisieux (d. 1181) could
not attend a council in London, he sent a letter “so that the page might
take the place of his person and the letter might faithfully bring his
voice to life.”1 Slightly earlier, Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) sought
to reassure his correspondents about the authenticity and represen-
tativeness of two letters to which he was unable to affix his seal. In
one letter, he wrote: “I do not have my seal handy, but the reader
will recognize the style because I myself have dictated the letter.”2 The
other letter states: “May the discursive structure stand for the seal,
which I do not have handy.”3 Bernard expects readers to notice his
personal presence, however immaterial, within the fabric of the text,
through its style and diction. His secretary and biographer, Geoffrey
of Clairvaux (or of Auxerre, d. after 1188), emphasized this confla-
tion of person and text by entitling Chapter 8 of his biography: “On
St. Bernard’s writings and the image of his soul expressed in them.”4
Bernard’s and Arnulf’s letters reveal two closely related assumptions,
that there is a symbiotic relationship between human presence and rep-
resentation, one in which representation matches real’ presence, and

Quoted and translated in John Van Engen, “Letters, Schools, and Written Culture
in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries,” Dialektik und Rhetoric im fruheren und hohen
Mittelalter, ed. Johannes Fried (Munich, 1997), p. 114. The London council was gathered
following the schism of 1160, to judge between the claims of rival popes.
Ep. 330; Bernard’s letters are quoted and discussed in Auguste Dumas, “La diplo-
matique et la forme des actes,” Le Moyen Age 42 (1932), pp. 5–31, at p. 21, note 1.
Ep. 339, Dumas, “La diplomatique et la forme des actes,” p. 21, note 1. My admit-
tedly free translation of materies locutionis as “discursive structure” privileges the mean-
ing of locutio as style or manner of speech, and of materies as constituent substance.
On Bernard’s relationship to writing and his ability to function through personal
charisma, see C. Stephen Jaeger, The Envy of Angels: Cathedral Schools and Social Ideals
in Medieval Europe, 950–1200 (Philadelphia, 1994), pp. 272–77.
110 chapter six

second that the written text is an embodiment of its author and articu-
lates a notion of authenticity revolving around authority and identity.
Additionally, Bernard indicates that there was equivalence between
his discourse and his seal, in that both had the capacity to signify his
personality. Written texts, to be sure, were major instruments of the
literate elite’s effectiveness as personalities and public figures,5 but so
too was the aura of their physical presence. Bernard and Arnulf lived at
a time when it was still possible for them to deploy both media—body
and text—equally in matters of authority, even though an irreversible
movement had already commenced during the eleventh century that
was to shift preeminence from personal to textual presence. Bernard,
being literate, could both compose and write in Latin; his authorial
identity might thus be vested just as well in his discursive style as in
his seal. However, what became of such a form of personal identity if
it had to be projected through texts that, produced by others in the
names of non-literate individuals, necessarily lacked the authorita-
tive imprint of authorial style and presence? The phenomenon I wish
to consider in this chapter involves the novel recourse to the writ-
ten and sealed word by the lay aristocracy of northern France during
the eleventh and twelfth centuries. At this time, French nobles were
not yet literate; they lacked Latin beyond the modest requirements of
liturgy, and as yet neither participated in modes of textual and iconic
representation nor controlled the spheres of scribal and iconographic
practice. I believe that the process of the French nobility’s accultura-
tion to such modes of representation as the sealed charter commenced
in writing bureaus staffed by prescholastic clerics, who were actively
involved in discussion on semiotics even as they wrestled with ques-
tions in sacramental theology.
Eleventh and twelfth-century lay elites came to be the subjects of rep-
resentation in the explicit sense that, in situations requiring authority
and commitment, they evolved from immediately present agents to
represented actors. Persons absent in time or place were substituted
by seals, which operated as alternates for those who were absent,
acting in their place. It is intriguing that personal identity came to be
signified just as people began to project their authority and account-
ability beyond their own actual, empirical presence. It is as if absence

Van Engen, “Letters, Schools, and Written Culture,” pp. 107–09, 113–14, discusses
as the key characteristic of letters the intention to represent one self to another, to write
as if two persons were speaking face to face.
See also above chapter 5 at note 6.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 111

were required for the question of identity even to become conceivable.6

Since seals are evidence, in my opinion, of a more general and unprec-
edented shift toward mediation, representation, and the formulation
of personal identity in the medieval West, questions arise about the
conceptual origin, form, signifying modes, and agency of this new
medium, the sealed charter.
My own method in exploring this matter has been to follow not the
principles but the analytical agenda of Peirceian semiotic anthropol-
ogy, which is critically presented in chapter 3.7 By focusing on seals
and on the institutions that produced them, I probe the effect of con-
temporary medieval theory on this sign’s agency, assuming that seals’
semiotic codes were dependent on a theology and an ontology that
fostered their diffusion and interpretation. In this analysis, I do not
seek to establish an absolute symmetry between semiotic theory and
seal praxis. Rather, I examine how the seal was enabled by and how
it encoded a specific set of ideas about signs and semiosis, and show
how seal usage and metaphor contributed to contemporary reflection
on and development of semiotic thinking.8 I ask what idea of semiosis
must have been operative and what the place of ideas within semiosis
was that enabled ideas about sign efficacy to create and shape material
signs. Lastly, wishing to elucidate the social effects of seals as agents that
performed and produced cultural works, I examine the action of seals as
an innovative semiotic trope that, both in theory and in social practice,
re-figured the categories of person, presence, identity, and authority.
I will argue that, in projecting personal distinction, seals acted through
a system of identification, designation, and recognition in which repre-
sentational identity rested on an ontological principle of likeness. The
medieval seal was a serial object: seal iconography utilized a limited
range of distinctive types, themselves established on the basis of a lim-
ited range of stereotyped personae, and the engraved seal-die (matrix)

For a complex analysis of the circumstances that permit the conceptualization of
identity as a political agent, see Pierre Legendre, Le désir politique de Dieu: Etudes sur
le montage de I’Etat et du droit (Paris, 1988), p. 88 sq.
Charles Sanders Peirce’s (1839–1914) philosophical analysis of language and cog-
nition constitutes the theoretical foundation of semiotic anthropology, an interpretive
methodology developed at the University of Chicago in the mid-1970s. See chapter
3 above.
In his essay, “John Duns Scotus, Charles Sanders Peirce, and Chaucer’s Por-
trayal of the Canterbury Pilgrims,” Speculum 71 (1996), pp. 633–45, James I. Wimsatt
argues that Chaucer’s rendering of his pilgrims both as types and as individuals implies
that Chaucer’s art conformed to Scholastic realism. My own method is to look not for
conformity but for interaction between semiotic systems and semiotic processes.
112 chapter six

itself repeatedly projected its owner’s identity by reproducing identical

impressions (Fig. 5). This technology of replication appears to have
served as a model for the formation of medieval identity. Seal users
thus came to develop an awareness of themselves in relation to an
object whose operational principles as a sign were categorization, rep-
lication, and verification. As the elites who used seals came to depend
on representation by signs, the concepts of both social and personal
identity came also to be formulated in relation to such signs. This is
not to say that such representation and such concepts were completely
congruous with any definition of the self-as-an-individual as might then
have existed, or that the notions of individuality and subjectivity were
primarily generated by, or a construct subject to, cultural codes.9 I am
not addressing here the entire postmillennial experience of selfhood
or personhood, but I am exploring a new experiment in signing and
signifying both person and personal identity within northern French
culture and society.
In modern Western societies, while the term “identity” refers generally
to those characteristics used to identify, define, and distinguish persons
so that they can be individually recognized, it is also acknowledged
that these characteristics as well as the very notions of identity and
individuality may vary with time, place, and culture. In the medieval
lexicon, the concept of identity did not address individual personality.
Rather, identity in the eleventh and twelfth centuries centered on a
logic of sameness and operated by assuming a model of similarity,
referring to human beings as members of an identical species, or to

The term “individual” is used throughout this chapter in the neutral sense of a
“single entity which is the subject of cognition in various modes”; Catherine McCall,
Concepts of Person: An Analysis of Concepts of Person, Self and Human Being (Alder-
shot, 1990), p. 12. My argument concerning notions of individuality reopens, on a
minor key, a topic eloquently discussed by Colin M. Morris in his classic The Discovery
of the Individual, 1050–1200 (London, 1972), and ably pursued by John Benton, “Con-
sciousness of Self and Perceptions of Individuality,” in Renaissance and Renewal in
the Twelfth Century, ed. Robert L. Benson and Giles Constable (Cambridge, 1982),
pp. 263–295. For a challenge to some of Morris’s claims, see Caroline Walker Bynum,
“Did the Twelfth Century Discover the Individual,” in Jesus as Mother: Studies in the
Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1982), pp. 82–109, who also gives a full
review of the question and of its bibliography; and Timothy J. Reiss, The Discourse of
Modernism (Ithaca, 1982), pp. 86–89. See John J. Martin, “Inventing Sincerity, Refash-
ioning Prudence: The Discovery of the Individual in Renaissance Europe,” American
Historical Review 102 (December 1997), pp. 1309–1342, and J. Martin, Myths of
Renaissance Individualism (New York, 2004), for a new reading of Renaissance indi-
vidualism. Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research, ed. Lawrence A. Pervin
(New York, 1990), pp. 143–145, gives anthropological and psychological approaches
to the formation of social and personal identity that are intriguing even if not directly
relevant for medieval society.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 113

the person as a psychosomatic whole, a social agent identical to itself

with respect to number, essence, or properties. Since that particular
sign, the seal, which accompanied, indeed articulated, the assertion of
personal identity, participated in this same logic, conceptions of the
sign and the human subject appear to be closely related. Indeed, they
both operated on the basis of a newly elaborated premise of a dialogic
connection between semiotics, theology, ontology, and anthropology.

A Network of Schools and Chanceries

Concern about mediation, signification, and representation pervaded

the eleventh century. The whole of Western Europe was then agitated
by the Investiture Controversy, a dramatic conflict between church
and state in which the pope struggled with the German emperor to
establish absolute ecclesiastical control over the appointment of church
officials. Less emphasized in traditional historiography but central to
this conflict were questions surrounding the effectiveness of certain
signs, particularly material objects. The papal party believed that the
symbols of ecclesiastical office, the ring and the crozier, possessed no
intrinsic capacity to cause any effect but that the valid possession and
application of them effectively and irrevocably established an eccle-
siastic’s right to both office and its associated power. The underlying
sign theory thus held that material symbols were ordinary objects
whose significance derived from a value ascribed to them by common
agreement, by their recognized use in a particular ceremony. At stake
here was the very nature of the operation of signs, the belief that
their efficacy might be based on a contract or covenant and need not
depend on any value inhering in the sign-object used. After a cen-
tury of heated discussions about this semiotic issue, Thomas Aquinas
(d. 1274) was to propose a reversal of this position, arguing that signs
were effective on the basis of inherent or infused virtue.10
In eleventh-century northern France, however, the semiotic debate
extended beyond a consideration of the efficacy of the signs of ecclesias-
tical investiture. The signifying modes at work in language, in writing,

See a lucid discussion of this controversy in William J. Courtenay, “Sacrament,
Symbol, and Causality in Bernard of Clairvaux,” Bernard of Clairvaux: Studies Presented
to Dom Jean Leclercq (Kalamazoo, 1973), pp. 111–122; and Courtenay, “The King and the
Leaden Coin: The Economic Background of ‘Sine qua non’ Causality,” Traditio 28 (1972),
pp. 185–209; both essays are reprinted in Covenant and Causality in Medieval Thought:
Studies in Philosophy, Theology, and Economic Practice (London, 1984), nos. II and VI.
114 chapter six

and in such fundamental signs of divine revelation as the sacraments,

the incarnation, and the Trinity came under intense scrutiny.11 The

The shift from transcendence toward immanence that characterized the under-
standing of sign operation between the Investiture Controversy and Thomas Aquinas
seems also to have animated a broader semiotic reflection, which, in the eleventh
and twelfth centuries, focused particularly on linguistics, sacramental theology, and
authority and authenticity in scriptural and documentary writings. The bibliography
on each of these areas is abundant and is here cited only selectively; see below at n.
42 for references on image and representation in prescholastic thought. On medieval
signs in general, see Marie-Dominique Chenu, “The Symbolist Mentality,” in M.-D.
Chenu, Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century: Essays on New Theological
Perspectives in the Latin West (Chicago, 1968), pp. 99–161; Umberto Eco, Semiotics
and the Philosophy of Language (Bloomington, 1984); Alfonso Maierù, “ ‘Signum’ dans
la culture médiévale,” Miscellanea Mediaevalia 13 (1981), pp. 51–72; Eugene Vance,
Mervelous Signals: Poetics and Sign Theory in the Middle Ages (Lincoln, 1986).
On theories of verbal signification between Augustine and Dante, see Marcia L. Col-
ish, The Mirror of Language: A Study in the Medieval Theory of Knowledge (Lincoln,
1983). On medieval semiotics, see On the Medieval Theory of Signs, ed. Umberto Eco
and Costantino Marmo (Amsterdam, 1989). On the postmillennial questioning of intel-
lectual attitudes forged in Late Antiquity, see Constant J. Mews, “Philosophy and The-
ology 1100–1150: The Search for Harmony,” in Le XIIe siècle: Mutations et renouveau
en France dans la première moitié du XIIe siècle, ed. Françoise Gasparri (Paris, 1994),
pp. 159–203, reprinted in Reason and Belief in the Age of Roscelin and Abelard (Ash-
gate, 2002), no. II.
On the growing centrality of written language, the rise of empiricism, and the trans-
formation of symbolic agency, see C.J. Mews, “Orality, Literacy, and Authority in
Twelfth-Century Schools,” Exemplaria 2 (1990), pp. 475–500, reprinted in Reason and
Belief, no. I; C.S. Jaeger, “Charismatic Body, Charismatic Text,” Exemplaria 9 (1997),
pp. 117–137; Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models
of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton, 1983). For an
alternate view, see Rosamund McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word
(Cambridge, 1987) and below at note 54. Closer to Stock in approaching the issue
of literacy from the viewpoint of textuality is Martin Irvine, The Making of Textual
Culture: “Grammatica” and Literary Theory, 350–1100 (Cambridge, 1994). Both Stock
and Irvine show the extent to which, in a given society, the performance of literacy
is bound up with theories of authority, knowledge, and signification. Brian V. Street,
Literacy in Theory and Practice (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 19–125, gives an overview of
various theories on the interpretation of literacy, including Jack Goody’s.
No study explores systematically the dialectics of scriptural authority and docu-
mentary authenticity (see above, p. 57, and below at notes 49 and 79, and chapter 7,
at notes 106–106), although I discuss some aspects in Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, “Les juifs
et l’écrit dans la mentalité eschatologique du Moyen Age Chrétien occidental (France
1000–1200),” Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales 5 (1994), pp. 1049–1063. Michael
T. Clanchy’s From Memory to Written Record, England 1066–1307, 2nd ed. (Oxford,
1993), esp. pp. 253–317, though primarily based on English records, provides an
insightful analysis of the growth of literate practice that has helped reconceptualize the
study of continental practical literacy. Synthetic treatments of authority and authen-
ticity, particularly with respect to legal and documentary practices, include chapter
1 here, and B. Bedos-Rezak, The Efficacy of Signs and the Matter of Authenticity in
Canon Law (800–1250),” forthcoming in Zwischen Pragmatik und Performanz. Dimen-
sionen mittelalterlicher Schriftkultur, ed. Christoph Dartmann, Thomas Scharff, and
Christoph Weber (Turnhout, 2010); M.-D. Chenu, “Auctor, Actor, Autor,” Bulletin du
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 115

literate elites involved in this inquiry were prescholastic churchmen

who were active both in ecclesiastical schools, where they taught and
directed doctrinal debates,12 and in chanceries, where they supervised

Cange 3 (1927), pp. 81–86, and “Authentica et magistralia,” Divus Thomas 28 (1925),
pp. 257–285; Frederic Cheyette, “The Invention of the State,” in Essays in Medieval
Civilization: The Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lectures, ed. Bede Karl Lackner and
Kenneth Roy Phillip (Austin, 1979); Auguste Dumas, “La diplomatique et la forme des
actes,” Le Moyen Age 42 (1932), pp. 5–31, and “Etude sur le classement des formes des
actes,” Le Moyen Age 43 (1933), pp. 81–264, and 44 (1934), pp. 17–41; Bernard Guenée,
“Authentique et approuvé: Recherches sur les principes de la critique historique au
Moyen Age,” in La lexicographic du latin médiéval et ses rapports avec les recherches
actuelles sur la civilisation du Moyen Age: Colloques intemationaux du C.N.R.S., 589
(Paris, 1981), pp. 215–229, reprinted in Guenée, Politique et histoire au Moyen Age
(Paris, 1981), pp. 265–278; Jan Ziolkowski, “Cultures of Authority in the Long Twelfth
Century,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology (JEGP), 108 (2009), pp. 421–448,
at pp. 429–430 ; Jean-Philippe Lévy, “Coup d’œil d’ensemble sur L’histoire de la preuve
littérale,” in Hommages à G. Boulvert. Index, Quaderni camerti di studi romanistici,
international survey of Roman law 15 (1987), pp. 473–502; La Preuve. Recueil de la
Société Jean Bodin, vol. 17 (Brussels, 1965).
On postmillennial debates surrounding sacramental theology, I am indebted to
Courtenay, “Sacrament, Symbol, and Causality in Bernard of Clairvaux,” and “The
King and the Leaden Coin: The Economic Background of ‘Sine qua non’ Causality;”
Henri de Lubac, Corpus mysticum: L’eucharistie et l’église au Moyen Age, étude historique
(Paris, 1949); Gary Macy, The Theologies of the Eucharist in the Early Scholastic Age
(Oxford, 1984); Irène Rosier, “Signe et Sacrement,” Revue des sciences philosophiques et
theologiques 74 (1990), pp. 392–436; I. Rosier-Catach, La parole efficace. Signe, ritual,
sacré (Paris, 2004); Stock, Social Implications of Literacy, pp. 241–325; Damien van
den Eynde, Les definitions des sacrements pendant la première période de la théologie
scholastique (1050–1240) (Rome, 1950).
Prescholastics were theologians whose intellectual efforts at unfolding problems
in patristic thought were still traditionally inspired by faith and embedded within
a comprehensive philosophy of man’s physical and spiritual power. They, however,
treated a universal range of subjects in a detailed, abstract, and systematic way, which
contributed to the newer scholastic understanding of faith, an understanding that had
lost its previous broader psychological setting. Studies on the activities of various types
of ecclesiastical schools include Emile Lesne, Les écoles de la fin du VIIIe siècle à la fin
du XIIe siècle, Vol. 5: Histoire de la propriété ecclésiastique en France (Lille, 1940); Pierre
Riché, Les écoles et I’enseignement dans I’occident chrétien de la fin du Ve siècle au
milieu du XV siècle (Paris, 1979); Jacques Verger, “Une étape dans le renouveau scolaire
du XIIe siècle,” in Le XIIe siècle: Mutations et renouveau en France, pp. 123–145;
Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire of God: A Study of Monastic Culture
(New York, 1962); Louis Carolus-Barré, “Les écoles capitulaires et les collèges de Soissons
au Moyen Age et au XVIe siècle,” in Actes du 95e Congrès des sociétés savantes (Reims,
1970), Vol. 1: Enseignement et vie intellectuelle (IXe–XVIe siècles) (Paris, 1975), pp.
123–126; Marcia Colish, “Another Look at the School of Laon,” Archives d’histoire
doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Age 53 (1986), pp. 7–22; Valerie Flint, “The ‘School of
Laon’: A Reconsideration,” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 43 (1976), pp.
89–110, reprinted in Flint, Ideas in the Medieval West: Texts and Their Contexts (Lon-
don, 1988), no. I, pp. 89–110; Nikolaus M. Häring, Life and Works of Clarembald of
Arras, a Twelfth-Century Master of the School of Chartres (Toronto, 1965); Jaeger, Envy
of Angels and “Cathedral Schools and Humanist Learning, 950–1150,” Deutsche Vier-
teljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 61 (1987), pp. 569–616;
116 chapter six

the production of written documents.13 As already mentioned in

chapter 5, school and chancery shared not only the same location but,

Odon Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XIIe–XIIIe siècles (Louvain-Gembloux, 1942–

1960), Vol. 5: Problèmes d histoire littéraire, l’école d’Anselme de Laon et de Guillaume
de Champeaux (Gembloux, 1959); Léon A. Maître, Les écoles épiscopales et monastiques
en Occident avant les universités, 2nd ed. (Ligugé, 1924).
Bernard Merlette, “Ecoles et bibliothèques à Laon, du déclin de l’antiquité au déve-
loppement de l’université,” in Actes du 95e Congrès des sociétés savantes (Reims, 1970),
Vol. 1: Enseignement et vie intellectuelle (IXe–XVIe siècles) (Paris, 1975), pp. 21–54;
Eugène Michaud, Guillaume de Champeaux et les écoles de Paris au XIIe siècle (Paris,
1867); Richard W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe, 2
vols. (Oxford, 1995–2001); and “The Schools of Paris and Chartres,” in Renaissance
and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, pp. 113–37; John Van Engen, Rupert of Deutz
(Berkeley, 1983); John R. Williams, “The Cathedral School of Reims in the Eleventh
Century,” Speculum 29 (1954), pp. 661–677; and “The Cathedral School of Reims in
the Time of Master Alberic, 1118–1136,” Traditio 20 (1964), pp. 93–114.
Much work has been devoted to the School of St. Victor, of which the most rel-
evant publications for this study are Fourier Bonnard, Histoire de l’abbaye royale et de
l’ordre des chanoines réguliers de St.-Victor de Paris, 2 vols. (Paris, 1904–1907); Jean
Châtillon, “Les écoles de Chartres et de Saint-Victor,” in La Scuola nell’occidente latino
dell’alto medioevo, 2 vols. (Spoleto, 1972), vol. 2, pp. 795–840, and “De Guillaume de
Champeaux a Thomas Gallus: Chronique d’histoire littéraire et doctrinale de l’Ecole
de Saint-Victor,” Revue du Moyen Age latin 8 (1952), pp. 139–162, 247–272; Jaeger,
Envy of Angels, pp. 244–268; L’abbaye parisienne de Saint-Victor au Moyen Age, ed.
Jean Longère (Paris-Turnhout, 1991); Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the
Middle Ages, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, 1970); Patrice Sicard, Hughes de Saint-Victor et
son école (Turnhout, 1991).
The world of postmillennial chanceries, particularly as it intersects with prescho-
lasticism, has so far received scant attention, see Robert-Henri Bautier, “Chancellerie et
culture au Moyen Age,” in Cancelleria e cultura nel Medio Evo: Communicazioni presen-
tate nelle giornate di studio delta Commissione internazionale di diplomatica, Stoccarda,
1985, ed. Germano Gualdo (Citta del Vaticano, 1990), pp. 1–75, esp. pp. 8–9 for the
French situation, reprinted in R.-H. Bautier, Chartes, sceaux et chancelleries: Etudes de
diplomatique et de sigillographie médiévales, 2 vols. (Paris, 1990), vol. 1, pp. 47–121, esp.
pp. 54–55; Ghislain Brunel, “Chartes et chancelleries episcopales du Nord de la France
au XIe siècle,” in A propos des actes d’évêques: Hommage à Lucie Fossier, ed. Michel
Parisse (Nancy, 1991), pp. 227–244, esp. pp. 238–242; Françoise Gasparri, “Scriptorium
et bureau d’écriture de l’abbaye de Saint-Victor de Paris,” in L’abbaye parisienne de
Saint-Victor, pp. 119–139; Gasparri, “La chancellerie du roi Louis VII et ses rapports
avec le scriptorium de l’abbaye de Saint-Victor de Paris,” in Palaeographica diplomatica
et archivistica: Studi in onore di Giulio Batelli (Rome, 1979), pp. 151–158. In his “Let-
ters, Schools, and Written Culture,” Van Engen stresses the relationships between theory
acquired in school and practice employed in administrative courts (p. 105), and between
instruction in rhetoric and work in chanceries (pp. 109, 123–24, 126–27, 131), con-
cluding that, after 1200, the sites and institutions of schooling became further removed
from administrative loci (p. 131). Bernard Guenée focuses on the historiographical
role of chanceries in “Chancelleries et monastères,” in Les lieux de la mémoire, Vol. 2:
La nation, ed. Pierre Nora (Paris, 1986), pp. 5–30. Monographs bearing on specific
chanceries tend to address the method and scope of documentary production. See
Benoît-Michel Tock, Une chancellerie épiscopale au XIIe siècle: Le cas d’Arras (Louvain,
1991); and Tock, Les chartes des évêques d’Arras (1093–1203) (Paris, 1991).
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 117

significantly, the same staff, which I have dubbed chancery-scholars.14

In many cases, the theologically engaged scholars were themselves
chancellors specifically in charge of the writing bureaus that produced
charters, or else they were bishops or abbots responsible for the writ-
ten output produced in their names.15 A complex skein of filiation,

Studies devoted to the chancellors and staffs of postmillennial chanceries indicate
that the chancellor was often the head of the school as well: Fasti ecclesiae gallicanae:
Répertoire proso-pographique des évêques, dignitaires et chanoines de France de 1200
a 1500, Vol. 1: Diocèse d’Amiens, by Pierre Desportes and Hélène Millet (Turnhout,
1996); Dom Nicolas Huyghebaert, “Recherches sur les chanceliers des évêques de
Noyon-Tournai,” Annales de la fédération historique et archéologique de Belgique, 35e
congrès, juillet 1953, fasc. 5 (Courtrai, 1955), pp. 665–680; John R. Williams, “Godfrey
of Reims: A Humanist of the Eleventh Century,” Speculum 22 (1947), pp. 29–45; Erik
Van Mingroot, Les chartes de Gérard Ier, Liébert et Gérard II, évêques de Cambrai et
d’Arras, comtes du Cambrésis (1012–1092/93). Introduction, édition, annotation (Leu-
ven, 2005), pp. 12–15. On the careers of eleventh-century northern French chancel-
lors, see the pioneering contribution by Brunel, “Chartes et chancelleries épiscopales
du Nord de la France,” pp. 238–242; Patrick Demouy, Actes des archevêques de Reims
d’ Arnoul à Renaud II, 957–1139, Thèse pour le doctorat de IIIe cycle en histoire
(Nancy, 1982), pp. 210–212; Georges Lacombe, La vie et les œuvres de Prévostin (Le
Saulchoir, 1927), pp. 36–46; William Mendel Newman, Le personnel de la cathédrale
d’Amiens, 1066–1306 (Paris, 1972), pp. 5–13; Jacques Pycke, Le chapitre cathédral
Notre-Dame de Tournai de la fin du XIe à la fin du XIIIe siècle (Louvain-la-Neuve,
1986), p. 169. On the career of Berengar of Tours at the cathedral chapter of Saint-
Martin of Tours, where he served as grammaticus, scholasticus, and chancellor, see
Allan J. Macdonald, Berengar and the Reform of Sacramental Doctrine (London, 1930;
reprint, Merrick, 1977), p. 38. Berengar also performed scribal functions for Count
Fulk Nerra of Anjou: Margaret Gibson, “Letters and Charters Relating to Berengar
of Tours,” in Auctoritas und Ratio: Studien zu Berengar von Tours, ed. P. Ganz, et al.
(Wiesbaden, 1990), pp. 5–23, especially p. 8, reprinted. in “Artes” and Bible in the
Medieval West (London, 1993), XVIII. The comital document in which Berengar had
a hand is catalogued and discussed in Olivier Guillot, Le comte d’Anjou et son entou-
rage au XIe siècle, 2 vols. (Paris, 1972), vol. 2, pp. 65–66, no. C 77 (1039). Concerned
with a period slightly after that under consideration here, John Baldwin shows that
those who were employed as regent masters at Paris often achieved high positions in
the church including that of chancellor: “Masters at Paris from 1179 to 1215, A Social
Perspective,” in Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, pp. 138–172.
The network of chancery-scholars sketched here and in chapter 5 (see in par-
ticular notes 23 and 24) could be further expanded. This would require the reading of
numerous charters so as to establish the itineraries of highly mobile scholars whose
intellectual journeys have been abundantly researched but whose services to writing
bureaus have remained virtually unexplored. Also, not surprisingly, little is known of
the staff of early chanceries: Brunel’ essay on the subject, “Chartes et chancelleries épis-
copales du Nord de la France,” and Demouy’s research on the Actes des archevêques de
Reims show the symbiosis between eleventh-century schools and chanceries and that
scribes were recruited from the schools. Scholarly contacts and schools of thought are
sketched in studies quoted above at notes 12 and 14, and also in Robert Javelet, Image
et ressemblance au XIIe siècle, de saint Anselme à Alain de Lille, 2 vols. (Paris, 1967),
vol. 1, pp. xv–xviii. A current bibliography on the masters discussed below is available
in Dictionnaire des lettres françaises: Le Moyen Age (Paris, 1992).
118 chapter six

apprenticeships and training, associations, preferments, and margin-

alizations bound such scholars together over time and considerable
distances. Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury (d. 1089), for example,
was closely associated with Berengar of Tours (d. 1088) in the Loire
Valley before settling in Normandy as master of the cathedral school
at Avranches, founding master of the school at the abbey of Bec,
and abbot of St. Etienne de Caen.16 At Bec, Lanfranc trained both
his successor, Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), and Ivo of Chartres
(d. 1115), who became abbot of a community of Augustinian canons
near Beauvais before receiving the bishopric of Chartres.17 Anselm of
Laon (d. 1117), who had been Anselm of Canterbury’s student at Bec,
became chancellor to the bishop of Laon, while gathering around him,
in turn, such students as his brother Ralph (later to succeed him as
chancellor, d. 1133), Peter Abelard (d. 1142), William of Champeaux
(d. 1121), Alberic of Reims (later archbishop of Bourges, d. 1141), and
Gilbert of Poitiers (head of the Porretain school, chancellor at Char-
tres, and later bishop of Poitiers, d. 1154). William of Champeaux, at
the time of his death in 1121 the bishop of Châlons, had been master
in the cathedral school of Paris before founding the abbey of St. Victor
in Paris.18 At the beginning of its existence, this abbey functioned as a
virtual chancery for the production of royal diplomas while also evolv-
ing as a major doctrinal and spiritual center under the aegis of Hugh
of St. Victor (d. 1141).19 A great admirer of the Victorines, the theo-
logian Praepositanus of Cremona, who in his later years (1206–1210)
became chancellor of the cathedral and university of Paris, is worth
mention in this context, since homiletic materials he derived from his

Jean de Montclos, Lanfranc et Béranger. La controverse eucharistique du XIe siècle
(Louvain, 1971); Lanfranc became a leader of the opposition against Berengar’s views
on the eucharist.
With Ivo of Chartres’s episcopacy (1090–1115), the golden age of intellectual
activity at Chartres commenced, particularly enhanced by three chancellors: Bernard of
Chartres, Gilbert (later bishop of Poitiers), and Thierry of Chartres. The existence of
the School of Chartres has been questioned by Richard Southern, Scholastic Humanism
and the Unification of Europe. Vol. 1: Foundations (Oxford, 1995), pp. 58–101, where
the author presents his argument and replies to his critics ; see a summary of the
debate in Michel Lemoine and Clotilde Picard-Parra, L’École de Chartres. Théologie
et cosmologie au XIIe siècle (Paris, 2004), pp. xi–xiii.
William had also been the student of Roscelin; Jean Jolivet, “Données sur Guil-
laume de Champeaux dialecticien et théologien,” in L’abbaye parisienne de Saint-Victor,
pp. 235–252.
Gasparri, “La chancellerie du roi Louis VII.” See additional bibliography on the
School of St. Victor above at n. 12.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 119

documentary and sealing functions on behalf of the bishop of Paris

are the earliest of this genre to survive.20 Gilbert of Poitiers (d. 1154)
became chancellor of Chartres, succeeding Bernard of Chartres, whose
student he had also been.21 There was a break in scholarly activity after
Gerbert d’Aurillac’s tenure (later Pope Sylvester II, d. 1003) at Reims,
but the school reemerged from obscurity with master Herimann
(d. ca. 1075) and his disciple Bruno (d. 1101), ultimately producing the
controversial logician Roscelin of Compiègne (d. ca. 1125). Bruno also
served as chancellor to the archbishop of Reims, before himself found-
ing the Grande Chartreuse, the mother house of the monastic Car-
thusian Order. Following the chancellorship of the learned humanist
Godfrey (d. 1094), Alberic (d. 1141), who had trained under Anselm
at Laon, became head of the cathedral school at Reims in 1094.22 Bou-
logne, Arras, Cambrai, Amiens, Beauvais, Soissons, Senlis, and Rouen
all had chancellors and bishops who were scholars, although many
schools and their masters remain to be studied in detail.23 The map

I wish to thank Professor John Baldwin and Jean-Baptiste Lebigue for bringing to
my attention this extraordinary sermon in which Praepositanus weaves together theology
and sigillography. I am particularly grateful that Lebigue, who recently (1999) defended
his dissertation at the Ecole nationale des Chartes (Paris) on Praepositanus’s sermons,
which he has edited for this purpose, kindly sent me the sermon’s two extant versions,
respectively in Munich (Clm. 14126, f°2 r°a), and Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale de
France, Lat. 14,804, f° 108v°b); J.-B. Lebigue, “La prédication de Prévôtin de Crémone,”
Positions des thèses soutenues par les élèves de la promotion de 1999 pour obtenir le
diplôme d’archiviste paléographe (1999), pp. 265–268 . There is a brief comment on the
sermon by Lacombe in La vie et les oeuvres de Prévostin, pp. 38–39, who also gives the
sermon’s incipit (p. 186, no. 21) and textual variations between the two versions (p. 191).
In addition to such explicit application of seal usages to theology, Praepositanus made
ample use of the seal metaphor when discussing the creation of man in God’s image in
Summa super Psalterium and Summa Theologica: Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1,
pp. 164, 178, 218, 221, 224–225, 260; 2:134,142,150,189,192,195,197, 221; Lacombe,
La vie et les oeuvres, p. 109.
John of Salisbury was Gilbert’s student. Gilbert was challenged for his teaching
on the Trinity, though not condemned despite Bernard of Clairvaux’s efforts toward
this end.
Herimann rejected the position of Berengar of Tours on the eucharist (see chapter 5
above, at note 23): Williams, “Cathedral School of Reims in the Eleventh Century,”
664–65; Williams, “Cathedral School of Reims in the Time of Master Alberic, 1118–36;”
Williams, “Godfrey of Rheims, a Humanist of the Eleventh Century;” Lambert M.
De Rijk, “Some New Evidence on Twelfth-Century Logic: Alberic and the School of
Mont Ste Geneviève (Montani),” Vivarium 6 (1966), pp. 1–57. Alberic, and another
student of Anselm of Laon who was master with him at Reims, Lotulf of Novara,
fiercely opposed Abelard’s teachings on the Trinity.
Lesne, Les écoles; Southern, Scholastic Humanism; Brunel, “Chartes et chancel-
leries épiscopales du Nord de la France,” insisting on the actual participation of both
chancellors and bishops in documentary production (pp. 240–241), discusses the
120 chapter six

thus established of cathedral schools should be extended to include

monastic establishments, for there was a fluid exchange of individu-
als and ideas between these two institutional worlds. Reform-minded
bishops or their chancellors often founded or reorganized local abbeys;
masters of schools not infrequently returned to cloisters (Bruno,
William of Champeaux); indeed, some scholars produced most of their
work in a monastic environment (Lanfranc and Anselm of Bec).
What was novel about these chancery-scholars and deserves our
attention is the heightened semiotic sensitivity of their theological
debates, their pronounced tendency to ponder the issue of presence
and representation. Two of their constructs were unprecedented in
the medieval West. First, they came to recognize presence and rep-
resentation as essential to the structure governing the generation of
identity, conceiving identity as dependent on sameness but neces-
sarily involving interactions between the similar and the dissimilar.
The identity they contemplated concerned both divine and human
persons and sparked discussions on the very nature of personhood.
Second, they objectified identity by using a new material sign: the seal.
Thus the definition of identity that emerged in the eleventh century
derived from specific concerns initially directed, later redirected, by
the articulation of this definition within a theory of signs. In order to
understand both the concept and the sign of identity, and their agency,
it will be necessary to examine the domains that concerned chancery-
scholars and led them to innovations in thought and social praxis.
These domains included the relationships between language and reality,
between the eucharist and real presence, between the Trinity and the
related subjects of person, image, and resemblance, and between writ-
ing and authority. Such issues were hardly new in the Christian culture
of the West, but in their treatment as a set of related concerns they
indicate a crisis in the dominant signifying system.

chancery-scholars of Soissons and Cambrai. In Cambrai, the schoolman Werimboldus

explicitly recorded his role in the composition of episcopal charters: “Werimboldus
scolasticus scripsit et recognovit” (1057), “S. Werinboldi arciscoli . . . qui hanc kartam
composuit” (1089), quoted by Brunel, p. 242. On Arras, see Häring, Life and Works of
Clarembald of Arras; Tock, Une chancellerie épiscopale au XIIe siècle, pp. 189–191.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 121

The Augustinian Paradox and its Role in Scholarly Controversy

Discussions of linguistics pursued by prescholastics in wrestling with

questions of sacramental theology involved a renewed study of the
fundamental corpus of semio-linguistic theory that had been provided
earlier by St. Augustine (d. 430).24 A resulting interpretive shift in the
understanding of Augustinian theory brought an awareness of what
may be termed the Augustinian paradox. Augustine’s semiotics, pre-
sented in Book 2 of De Doctrina Christiana, are a confusing tangle of
claims and doubts.25 Early church doctrine seems to have privileged
the classical dualism between the sign and the thing referred to by
the sign, whereby only the thing, though ideal and not of this world,
has reality; the dualistic Augustine emphasized the lack of congru-
ence between signifier (indicator) and signified (that which is indi-
cated), privileging eternal ideal objects of reference over signs, and he
deplored linguistic multiplicity and semantic obscurity as a condition
of the Fall. Augustine recognized two classes of signs, signa naturalia,
or natural signs, which he conceived as having a necessary and causal
relationship with their referents (for example, “where there’s smoke,
there’s fire”), and signa data, or given conventional signs (language,
clothing, money), which signify by virtue of their givers’ essentially

Of the large bibliography available on Augustinian sign theory, the following
were particularly helpful: Clifford Ando, “Augustine on Language,” Revue des études
augustiniennes 40 (1994), pp. 45–78; Colish, Mirror of Language, pp. 7–54; De Doctrina
Christiana: A Classic of Western Culture, ed. Duane W.H. Arnold and Pamela Bright
(Notre Dame, 1995); Stéphane Dorothée, “Signum et le métalexique: la notion de
signe linguistique chez saint Augustin,” in Latin et langues techniques (Paris, 2006),
pp. 155–168; J. Engels, “La doctrine du signe chez Saint Augustin,” Studia Patristica 6
(1962), pp. 366–373; B. Darrell Jackson, “The Theory of Signs in St. Augustine’s De
Doctrina Christiana,” Revue des études augustiniennes 15 (1969), pp. 9–49; Maierù,
“‘Signum’ dans la culture médiévale,” pp. 55–57; Giovanni Manetti, Theories of the
Sign in Classical Antiquity (Bloomington, 1993), pp. 157–168; Robert A. Markus,
“St. Augustine on Signs,” Phronesis 2 (1957), pp. 60–83; and “‘Imago’ and ‘similitudo’
in Augustine,” Revue des études augustiniennes 10 ( 1964), pp. 125–143, both reprinted
in Sacred and Secular. Studies on Augustine and Latin Christianity (Aldershot, 1994),
nos. XIV, XVII.
This apt expression is by Thomas S. Maloney, “Is the Doctrina the Source for
Bacon’s Semiotics,” in Reading and Wisdom: The “De Doctrina Christiana” of Augustine
in the Middle Ages, ed. Edward D. English (Notre Dame, 1995), pp. 126–142, at p. 133.
See a discussion of instances where Augustine’s reasoning undermines his own distinction
between signs and things in Eileen C. Sweeney, “Hugh of St. Victor: The Augus-
tinian Tradition of Sacred and Secular Reading Revised,” in Reading and Wisdom,
pp. 61–83, at p. 73. An edition and translation of the De Doctrina is available: Augustine,
De Doctrina Christiana, ed. and trans. R.P.H. Green, (Oxford, 1995).
122 chapter six

arbitrary intentions.26 He seems never to have considered the possi-

bility that conventional signs may function more like natural signs,
because he did not believe that causal dependence or logical implica-
tions between signs and referents were possible models for language
and culture.27 In Augustine’s dualistic and idealistic theory, human
language is an external imitation of a transcendental reality, lacking
its necessarily ideal referent or object and thus fundamentally unable
to express God’s essence, God’s identity as the perfection of self-
reference. Understanding language as a form of alienation, since only
God is Logos—the unique extra-semiotic guarantor of the adequacy
of signs who resists capture by referential language—Augustine effec-
tively deprived human knowledge of the possibility of stable notions
and impeded the reification of human understanding.
Yet Augustine also wished to bridge the abyss between sign and
thing that he himself had so effectively excavated, and this presented
a paradox. The Augustinian solution for connecting word and thing,
for circumventing the deferral and mediation inherent in text and
language, is communion with pure presence, that is, incarnation. As
God incarnate, the word-become-flesh, Christ bridges the gap between
signifier and signified, for in Augustine’s doctrine (as in the later dogma)
of the incarnation and the eucharist, substance and its representation
are one and the same. In this view, “the word of God [the Logos]
suffered no change although it became flesh in order to live in us.”28
Sacraments in this construction are different from other signs; they
actualize the presence of that to which words merely point. In Augus-
tinian theology, the incarnation of the Logos became a model that,
while still limiting linguistic expression, promoted sacramental signi-
fication through presence.29
Thus, although Augustine reiterated the Platonic idea of a schism
between sign and thing, he also left a semiotic legacy of reification,
an escape from the mere referentiality of signs, a locus for unmedi-
ated presence. Worth noting here is the transition from signification

The two kinds of signs are distinguished in Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana,
2.1.2, 2.2.3, Green, pp. 56–59; Maierù, “ ‘Signum’ dans la culture médiévale,” pp. 55–57.
Sweeney, “Hugh of St. Victor,” p. 65; R.A. Markus, “Signs, Communication, and
Communities in Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana,” in De Doctrina Christiana: A
Classic of Western Culture, pp. 97–108, at pp. 98–99, reprinted in Signs and Meanings:
World and Text in Ancient Christianity ILiverpool, 1996), chapter 4.
Augustine, De Doctrina, Green, pp. 24–25.
Augustine, De Doctrina, Green, pp. 22–25.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 123

to reification, from sign to thing to the silence of the word, which,

made flesh, transcends the entire system of discourse.30 Augustine’s
desire for a communion with pure presence undermined the older
representative mediation of signs, but it also provided, in the inter-
pretive hands of prescholastic theologians, the seed for a new theory
of representation. Identicality between sign and object came to inform
a novel signifying process, during the twelfth century, when the eucha-
rist was firmly conceived as being, in and of itself, what it represents. It
has been conventional to invoke a growing acceptance of Aristotelian
thought as accounting for the appearance in prescholastic culture of
the idea that a symbol partakes of the reality it expresses. However, it
may well be that the Augustinian semiotic corpus was itself perfectly
capable of inspiring the belief that immanence was central to the oper-
ation of signification.31
The governing, encompassing question was, therefore, that of the
relationship between signs and the world, and the implications of this
question were brought to the fore in the course of the controversy pro-
voked by the ideas of Roscelin of Compiègne. During the second half
of the eleventh century, Roscelin, the most famous teacher of dialectics
in the schools of northern France, initiated what came to be known as
nominalism and thereby launched a debate about universals. Opposing
nominalists to realists, this debate bloomed into a pivotal controversy
in medieval philosophy. Universals, for instance “man” or “animal,”
were general categories of properties shared by many particular enti-
ties. The discussion focused on the ontological status of these univer-
sal categories: what degree of reality did they possess, from what did
they derive? For the nominalist Roscelin, these categories had neither
objective nor subjective reality. They existed neither in the mind nor in
reality, being simply spoken sounds or verbal expressions for mental
constructs derived from experience with particular entities that exist in

Susan A. Handelman offers very insightful remarks on Augustine’s semiotics and
reification of signs in The Slayers of Moses: The Emergence of Rabbinic Interpretation
in Modern Literary Theory (Albany, 1982), pp. 89–90, pp. 113–120.
Chenu, “Symbolist Mentality,” pp. 134–35, 139–140; M.-D. Chenu, “The Platonisms
of the Twelfth Century,” in Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century, pp. 49–98.
Maierù, “ ‘Signum’ dans la culture médiévale,” pp. 69–70, discusses the many aspects
of Augustinian doctrine and their differing treatment according to situated theological
cultures, and he refutes a radical opposition between Aristotle and Augustine.
124 chapter six

nature alone.32 On the other hand, following the Platonic and Augustin-
ian tradition, the realists maintained that, although universal categories
did not have corporeal existence, they nevertheless did exist outside
the human mind: in God’s mind, where, eternal and immutable, they
were the source of forms for spatio-temporal things.33 Roscelin’s nom-
inalist denial of ideal realities (universals) and of any linkage between
word and physical property contradicted Augustine’s position on the
reality of universal categories but not his distinction between words
and referents. For Roscelin, however, referents were other words and
not real things identical with divine ideas, as they ultimately were for
the Augustinians. Supporters of Augustine’s position, such as Anselm
of Bec, Alberic of Reims, and William of Champeaux, defended it by
shifting from the earlier medieval accent on Augustine’s radical dual-
ism between word and thing to an emphasis on his theory of onto-
logical immanence and participation.34 This theory argued that things
guided the properties of signs, that, inhering in the spatio-temporal

The entire issue of Vivarium 30, no. 1 (1992) is devoted to a discussion over
the origin and meaning of twelfth-century nominalism. See a fuller bibliography on
Roscelin and on his positions below at n. 44.
It is traditional in medieval historiography to contrast nominalists with realists.
The term realism, however, is confusing in the context of medieval studies. Realism,
also called idealism, is the medieval philosophical theory derived from Plato’s formu-
lation, which affirmed the reality of universals (that is, abstract ideas or general forms),
and argued that they were perceptible only by the mind and that they existed sepa-
rately from the material objects they caused. Somewhat confusingly, the term realism
is also used to describe Boethius’s and Pseudo-Dionysius’s doctrine that material
objects and imagery borrowed from sense-perceptible reality had value for sacred
knowledge because of their symbolic capacity and their ability to incorporate the intel-
ligible reality they expressed.
Anselm expressed his opposition to Roscelin in three letters: “To John the Monk,”
“To Fulco, Bishop of Beauvais,” and “The Incarnation of the Word,” all in Anselm of
Canterbury, ed. and trans. Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson, vol. 3 (Toronto,
1976), pp. 3–37. Mews has devoted several studies to Roscelin’s doctrine and its recep-
tion: “Anselm and Roscelin: Some New Texts and their Implications.” I. “The De incar-
natione verbi and the Disputatio inter Christianum et Gentilem,” Archives d’histoire
doctrinaire et littéraire du moyen Age 58 (1991), pp. 55–98; II. “A Vocalist Essay on
the Trinity and Intellectual Debate c. 1080–1120,” Archives d’histoire doctrinaire et
littéraire du moyen Age 65 (1998), pp. 39–90, both reprinted in Reason and Belief,
nos. VI and X; Mews, “St Anselm, Roscelin and the See of Beauvais,” in Anselm:
Aosta, Bec and Canterbury, ed. David E. Luscombe and Gillian R. Evans (Sheffield,
1996), pp. 106–119, in Reason and Belief, no. VIII; Mews, “The Trinitarian Doctrine of
Roscelin of Compiègne and its Influence: Twelfth-Century Nominalism and Theology
Re-considered,” in Mélanges offerts à Jean Jolivet, ed. Alain de Libera et al. (Paris,
1997), pp. 347–364, reprinted in Belief and Reason, no. IX. William of Champeaux’s
Augustinianism is most recently discussed in Mews, “Philosophy and Theology,”
pp. 168–69, with additional bibliography in notes 69–76.
See additional bibliography on Roscelin below at note 44.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 125

realm, universals created similarities among objects. To be sure, par-

ticipation in the transcendent was not a matter of identicality but only
of resemblance; only God, uniquely, possessed true identicality.
Disagreeing with both his teacher Roscelin and with Augustine and
his followers, Abelard denied the existence of anything that is not a
particular. While retaining the notion that the common nature inher-
ent in things of the same species made them similar, he argued that
such similarity fell short of constituting them as universals. For Abe-
lard, words were universals, concepts of things, not images of things.
Yet words functioned by means of images deriving their meaning, not
from the things themselves but from the mode of signification at work
in the human mind. Abelard held that the mind creates at will images
or copies for configuring absent things. These images are the proper
objects of thought and understanding, which thus operate on a likeness
that the mind creates. This likeness has neither substantial reality nor
the underpinning by transcendent universals that, for the Augustin-
ians, accounted for the similarities between things. For Abelard, words
apply the mind to the likeness of things, but words designate images,
not their objects; words therefore signify an understanding of what
they predicate rather than refer to the object itself. By pointing out that
thoughts and understanding are not the same as their objects, Abe-
lard displaced the Augustinian notion that divine realities are actually
present in the human mind where they beget images of themselves. He
located the act of understanding in the mind as the active inventor of
universal concepts with its modus operandi of created images. From
this initial controversy over universals, there emerged a reinforced
vocabulary of “likeness,” and an attendant notion of images as signs
of absent things.35
Conflict over universals also permeated the argument raised by Beren-
gar of Tours in the eleventh century, which prompted northern French
bishops and schoolmen to reconsider the nature of the eucharistic
sign.36 For Berengar, as for Abelard, the issue was the relationship

Abelard’s approaches to the problem of language and reality have received much
attention. This chapter benefited from the studies of James Ramsay McCallum, Abelard’s
Christian Theology (1948; reprint, Merrick, 1976), pp. 40–44; John Marenbon, The
Philosophy of Peter Abelard (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 162–173; Mews, “Philosophy and
Theology,” pp. 168–173; Stock, Implications of Literacy, pp. 362–402. See below at n. 42
for a fuller bibliography on the concept of image and representation in prescholastic
See chapter 5 above.
126 chapter six

of logico-linguistic structures to the mind and to reality.37 Though

relying, as Abelard would later, on the tool of linguistic philosophy,
Berengar argued from and for the older dualistic Augustinian distinc-
tion between sensible and spiritual, between symbol and reality.38 The
rejection of physical symbolism that Berengar and his followers advo-
cated was opposed both by monks (for instance, John of Fecamp) and
by prescholastics like Lanfranc,39 Herimann of Reims, and his student,
the chancellor Bruno, whose scriptural exegesis and theories of the
eucharist exerted great influence on another chancellor, Anselm of
Laon, whose teachings in turn influenced William of Champeaux and
Hugh of St. Victor.40

Stock, Implications of Literacy, pp. 385, 402. Berengar, in rekindling the eucharistic
controversy, also initiated an intense focus on sacramental theology, which dominated
eleventh and twelfth-century prescholastic discussions. Significantly, some of these
theologians extended to all sacraments the notion that the eucharist is a sacrament
because it is Christ’s body. A sacrament (sacrae rei signum), thus, is properly sacramen-
tal when it self-identifies with its signified (signatum); Van den Eynde, Les definitions
des sacrements, pp. 25–27, 138–40. For a theoretical as well as doctrinal assessment
of the debate between Berengar and his opponents, see Colish, Mirror of Language,
pp. 65, 72–74; Macy, Theologies of the Eucharist, pp. 35–53; Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi:
The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 13–25; Stock, Implica-
tions of Literacy, pp. 252–315; Rosier-Catach, La parole efficace, pp. 36–40.
I follow here Stock’s analysis of Berengar’s position in Implications of Literacy,
pp. 273–287. On the Augustinian nature of Berengar’s eucharistic doctrine, see Irène
Rosier-Catach, La parole efficace, pp. 36–40; Macdonald, Berengar and the Reform of
Sacramental Doctrine: although the purpose of this study was to authorize the eucha-
ristic doctrine of the Reformed Church by showing that, like Berengar’s, it was faith-
ful to Augustinian theology, the information presented on Berengar, and the debate
he fostered over the meaning of the eucharist, is abundant and useful. Macy, Theolo-
gies of the Eucharist, pp. 35–43. Van den Eynde, Les definitions des sacrements, pp. 4–7,
discusses Berengar’s Augustinianism with respect to sacraments in general, and on
pp. 24–25 with respect to his theology of the eucharist.
Montclos, Lanfranc et Bérenger; Lanfranc of Bec believed he had witnessed the
miraculous transformation of bread and wine into those of the flesh and blood, as
his student and fellow monk Guitmund (d. ca. 1090–95) recounted in De Corporis et
Sanguinis Christi Veritate, in PL CXLIX, cols. 1449D–1450D; see Macy, Theologies of
the Eucharist, p. 87.
On the leaders of the opposition to and tracts directed against Berengar, see Henry
Chadwick, “Ego Berengarius,” Journal of Theological Studies, 40/2 (1989), pp. 414–445;
Joseph Geiselmann, Die Eucharistielehre der Vorscholastik (Paderborn, 1926); Ludwig
Hödl, “Die confessio Berengarii von 1059, eine Arbeit zum frühscholastischen Eucha-
ristietraktat,” Scholastik, 37 (1962), pp. 370–394; Charles Radding, Theology, Rhetoric,
and Politics in the Eucharistic Controversy, 1078–1079: Alberic of Monte Cassino against
Berengar of Tours (Columbia, 2003); Toivo J. Holopainen, Dialectic and Theology
in the Eleventh Century (Leiden, 1996); Macy, Theologies of the Eucharist, pp. 44–53;
Van den Eynde, Les definition des sacrements, pp. 25–27. Anselm of Laon’s theological
treatment of the eucharist was diversely followed by the Victorines, William of Cham-
peaux and Hugh of St. Victor: Macy, Theologies of the Eucharist, pp. 74–75, 78–86,
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 127

Chancery-scholars were strong promoters of the notion of real pres-

ence, and it was indeed in defense of this concept that they engaged
extensively in larger debates over sign theory, representation, and the
authority and authenticity of the written word, both scripture and
script. The earlier Augustinian semiotics buttressing Berengar’s posi-
tion had stressed the radical duality of signs as involving a negative
dissimilitude: on the one hand, a mental, eternal signified, on the other,
a physical, transitory signifier that refers to its object but is otherwise
inessential to it. As they had done in their discussions of universals
and of the referentiality of language, prescholastic theologians probed
such dualism in developing their eucharistic theology. In so doing,
they scrutinized the economy by which an iconic sign might be simi-
lar to that which it denotes, and the mode involved and the extent to
which it might itself partake of the object represented. As in the dis-
cussion about language and universals, attention was redirected away
from Augustine’s dualism toward Augustine’s appreciation of a sign’s
tangible aspect.41 The incarnation of God was no longer to be eluci-
dated by an image, as had happened when the notion of God as the
original and of Christ as living image made it possible to see them as
one and the same God, though not the same person. Rather, the image
was now held to be the realization of form in matter and came to be
understood as an actual incarnation. Images were promoted to quasi-
personal beings.42 The language of analogy seeped into the language of

103–105. This Laon-Victorine eucharistic theology described the res of the eucharist
as the true body and blood of Christ, and insisted on the substantial (real) presence
of Christ in the sacrament. It considered this physical presence of Christ to be itself
a sign of another reality, the mystical union between Christ and the believer. Gilbert
of Poitiers and Abelard retained this interpretation, only substituting the church for
the believer in the mystical union: Macy, Theologies of the Eucharist, pp. 105, 108,
110, 115, 131. As the sensual reality of the sacrament is held to signify a spiritual
reality, symbolism is maintained. This conception bypasses the conflation of signifier
and signified implied in the physicalist theology of the eucharist, but its recuperation
of the dualism in Augustine’s sign theory occurs through acceptance of a sign (the
eucharistic host), which is itself the embodiment of its object.
Maierù, “‘Signum’ dans la culture médiévale,” pp. 69–70, discusses early theologians’
tendency to rely on Augustine’s depreciation of the signifier vis-à-vis the signified and
to avoid his own attention to the sign’s sensuous character.
Hans Belting, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art
(Chicago, 1994), p. 153. Helpful in guiding me through the concept of image and rep-
resentation in prescholastic thought were David N. Bell, The Image and Likeness: The
Augustinian Spirituality of William of Saint-Thierry (Kalamazoo, 1984); Belting, Likeness
and Presence; Nicée II, 787–1987: Douze siècles d’images religieuses, ed. Francois
Boespflug and Nicolas Lossky (Paris, 1987); Giles Constable, Three Studies in Medieval
128 chapter six

ontology: “to be like” became “to be part of.” The cultural content of
the analogy, that is, the relationship between the object and its image,
was altered so that an iconic representation might be seen as more real
than the empirical experience. This is what occurs according to the
doctrine of transubstantiation, where the consecrated bread and wine
are the true body and blood of Christ. The eucharistic debate produced
the idea that its referential reality could characterize a material sign.
In such a cultural crucible, the material sign became representative
less because of its relationship to a conceptual ideal than for its capac-
ity to embody its referent’s ontological characteristics. In semiotic
terms, the represented object (the signified) became a constitutive part
of the sign (the signifier), because for the sign to stand for its object,
the sign had to incorporate a likeness of that object; it was the expres-
sion of that incorporated likeness that came to be seen as the sign’s
meaning. This newly elaborated semiotic doctrine—though it main-
tained a distinction between objects, the signifying functions of signs,
and their representative capacity—in fact sanctioned a conflation of
signifier and signified so that immanence rather than transcendence
came to govern the rapport between signifier and signified.

Religious and Social Thought (Cambridge, 1995), esp. pp. 179–217; Carlo Ginzburg,
“Representation: Le mot, l’idée, la chose,” Annales: E.S.C. 46 (1991), pp. 1219–1234;
Iconicity: Essays on the Nature of Culture; Festschrift for Thomas A. Sebeok on his 65th
Birthday, ed. Paul Bouissac, Michael Herzfeld, and Roland Posner (Tübingen, 1986);
L’image: Fonctions et usages des images dans l’Occident médiéval, ed. Jerôme Baschet
and Jean-Claude Schmitt (Paris, 1996), particularly J. Baschet, “Introduction: L’image
objet,” pp. 7–26, J.-Cl. Schmitt, “Imago: de l’image a l’imaginaire,” pp. 29–37, Jean
Wirth, “Structure et fonctions de l’image chez saint Thomas d’Aquin,” pp. 39–57,
and Georges Didi-Huberman, “Imitation, representation, function, remarques sur un
mythe épistemologique,” pp. 59–86; Images of Memory: On Remembering and Repre-
sentation, ed. Susanne Küchler and Walter Melion (Washington, D.C., 1991); Javelet,
Image et resemblance; Gerhart B. Ladner, Ad Imaginem Dei: The Image of Man in
Medieval Art (Latrobe, 1965); G. Ladner, Images and Ideas in the Middle Ages (Rome,
1983); Legendre, Le désir politique de Dieu; Louis Marin, Portrait of the King (Minne-
apolis, 1988); William J.T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago, 1986);
Stephen G. Nichols, Romanesque Signs: Early Medieval Narrative and Iconography
(New Haven, 1983); Jean-Claude Schmitt, “Les images classificatrices,” Bibliothèque de
l’Ecole des chartes 147 (1989), pp. 311–341; John E. Sullivan, The Image of God: The
Doctrine of St. Augustine and Its Influence (Dubuque, 1963).
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 129

Personhood and Individuality

The discussion of the identity, whether divine, historical, or allegorical,

of the Christic person present in the eucharist had broached the ques-
tion of the nature of personhood. This question received growing
consideration as the relationship between universals and individuals,
destabilized in the above-described debate over universals, was explored
in a quest to understand, first, the persons comprising the Trinity and
later the human person. Nominalism, by insisting on individuality,
tended to fracture the divine unity of the Trinity into three separate
entities. The nominalist Roscelin, wanting to address the problem of
how the three Trinitarian persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
might be of one substance yet not all incarnate in Christ, analyzed
the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a logical sense, as names
humanly imposed. Although nowhere did Roscelin actually state that
these names signified separate things, his theology of the Trinity pro-
voked attacks by Anselm of Bec, who accused Roscelin of being a
dialectical heretic, one who thought universal substances to be nothing
but the puff of an utterance. In The Incarnation of the Word, Anselm
asserts that proper names designate different persons, indicating that,
while persons bearing such names share a common nature, they are
irreducibly distinct one from the other with respect to distinguishing
properties: in his person, the Son assumed two natures so that the
person of God and the person of man was the same, and that made
the person of the Son different from that of the Father and of the
Spirit, since different persons cannot be the same man.43 Roscelin was
forced to defend his views on the Trinity at a council held in Soissons
in 1092, where he evaded the accusation that he preached division in
divine essence by affirming that his argument related only to names
and nomenclature, not to God himself.44
Abelard pursued this debate in a treatise on the Unity and Trinity
of God, and he argued that divine attributes were not fixed things but

“The Incarnation of the Word” (Epistola de Incamatione Verbi), in Hopkins and
Richardson, Anselm of Canterbury, vol. 3, pp. 9–37, esp. pp. 27–31.
On the debate, see the studies cited above at note 34 and J. Jolivet, “Trois variations
médiévales sur l’universel et l’individu: Roscelin, Abelard, Gilbert de la Porrée,” Revue
de métaphysique et de morale 97 (1992), pp. 111–155; Mews, “Philosophy and Theo-
logy,” 164–68; and C.J. Mews, “Nominalism and Theology before Abaelard: New Light
on Roscelin of Compiègne,” Vivarium 30 (1992), pp. 4–33; François Picavet, Roscelin
philosophe et théologien d’après la légende et l’histoire (Paris, 1911), pp. 50–52.
130 chapter six

names predicated of God to signify certain properties of his being. The

relationships between Son and Father, or Holy Spirit and Father, could
be understood in terms of the relationships between these properties.45
Thus Abelard introduced the notion that members of a same species,
such as men, may yet differ in their properties, or even by definition,
when such properties remain intermixed. The example repeatedly used
by Abelard to clarify this instance is that of the seal’s waxen image.
Both the waxen image made from the material and the material (wax)
from which it is made are the same in essence and number, but they
differ, not only by definition but by property, because the waxen image
must be wax, and it comes from the wax and not from itself (the waxen
image was not generated by the waxen image), but the wax may be
joined as an image or as anything else, in the same way that if a man
is a man, he must be an animal, but the species animal can be a man
or any other animal.46 Abelard’s reasoning illustrates how contempo-
rary discussions of the persons of the Trinity were never far removed
from inquiry into human personhood. Indeed, such debates fostered
the creation and dissemination of the very term “person” (persona).47

Mews, “Philosophy and Theology,” pp. 168–73: Abelard’s treatise “On the Unity
and Trinity of God” is also known as the Theologia “Summi Boni” (first composed
c. 1120), revised as the Theologia Christiana c. 1122–1126, and again as the Theologia
(or Introductio ad Theologiam or Theologia “Scholarium”). The Theologia “Summi
Boni” and Theologia “Scholarium” are edited by Eloi M. Buytaert and C.J. Mews,
Petri Abaelardi Opera Theologica. III: Theologia “Summi Boni” and Theologia “Schol-
arum” (Brepols-Turnhout, 1987; CCCM 13); the Theologia Christiana is edited by
E.M. Buytaert, Petri Abaelardi Opera Theologica. II (Brepols-Turnhout, 1969; CCCM
12). Roscelin taught Abelard, who came to oppose him vigorously even though Abe-
lard may have learned from Roscelin the method of interpreting ancient logical texts
as discussions about words rather than things; see Marenbon, Philosophy of Peter
Abelard, p. 9.
The full text of Abelard’s seal metaphor is given and further discussed below, at
pp. 143–146 and notes 70–71, where the seal metaphor in general receives a systematic
examination. See also chapter 7, at note 65.
M. Bergeron, “La structure du concept latin de personne,” Etudes d’histoire lit-
téraire et doctrinale du XIIIe siècle 2 (1952), pp. 121–161; M.-D. Chenu, “Tradition
and Progress,” in Nature, Man, and Society, pp. 325–326, makes a strict connection
between twelfth-century work in the field of trinitarian theology and the creation of
new terms such as persona; Mary L. O’Hara, The Logic of Human Personality: An
Onto-Logical Account (Atlantic Highlands, 1997), pp. 54–56, discusses Richard of
St. Victor’s (d. 1173) analysis of the notion of the human person to establish the
doctrine of the Trinity. Richard of St. Victor’s trinitarian theology receives full treat-
ment in Nico den Bok, Communicating the Most High: A Systematic Study of Person
and Trinity in the Theology of Richard of St. Victor ([d]. 1173) (Paris, 1996), where
an entire chapter (9) is devoted to “Human Person and the Trinity.” Marcel Mauss,
“A Category of the Human Mind: The Notion of Person; The Notion of Self,” in
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 131

Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173), a twelfth-century theologian who him-

self contributed greatly to the definition and acceptance of the term
“persona” in the course of his work on the Trinity, commented that
the noun “person” is regularly found “in the mouths of all, even of
The prescholastic milieu of schools and chanceries had to consider
human personhood in yet another context, the establishment of docu-
mentary authority. The authority of written documents, in a funda-
mental shift, moved away from immediate dependency on God and
the supernatural, coming increasingly to derive from and depend on
human persons.49 At issue in this shift was a need to project the author-
ity and accountability of human beings beyond their actual, empirical
presence, so as to impart to charters a level of permanence previously
expected only of God. The solution achieved centered on the seal, a
sign-object standing in, substituting, for its owner or user.

The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History, ed Michael Carrithers

et al. (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 1–25, analyzes the notion of person beyond its connec-
tion with trinitarian doctrine.
Richard of St. Victor, De Trinitate, PL CXCVI, col. 933, quoted in Chenu, “Tradition
and Progress,” p. 326; and in O’Hara, Logic of Human Personality, p. 54, with further
comments on Richard’s theological, ontological, and logical approaches to “person.”
On Richard’s revolutionary approaches to concepts of individuality and personality,
see Nico den Bok, Communicating the Most High: A Systematic Study of Person and
Trinity in the Theology of Richard of St. Victor ([d]. 1173) (Paris, 1996).
Guenée, “Authentique et approuvé,” reviews a sample of excerpts from charters
and canon law that testify to the semantic overlap between authority and authenticity:
in order to be authentic, a seal or a written document had to be accredited by or to
emanate from an authority such as the pope, a bishop, or a lay magnate. As, from a
practical viewpoint, this worldly accrediting authority was in the process of replacing
divine authority, the reasoning of canonists in dealing with documentary authentic-
ity became circular, thus revealing their difficulty in conceptualizing the nature of
the authority to be invested in human signs; see further remarks on documentary
authority and authenticity above pp. 57, 114, and below at note 79, and chapter 7,
at notes 105–106. In his elegant and pithy essay Sincerity and Authenticity (Cam-
bridge, 1972), Lionel Trilling remarked on the connection between sincerity, taken as
an element of personal autonomy, and “the intensified sense of personal identity that
developed along with the growth of the idea of society.” Placed within the context of
Hegel’s historical anthropology, sincerity thus becomes a negative virtue “standing
between the self and the disintegration which is essential if it is to develop its true, its
entire, freedom” (p. 47). It is an argument of the present chapter that new and related
concerns for identity, authority, and authenticity seem linked to an evolution toward
social regimentation.
132 chapter six

The Ego of Diplomatic Discourse

In the decades following the year 1000, the number of charters pro-
duced and preserved in northern France increased by several orders of
magnitude, setting off a trend toward written documentation that was
never reversed.50 These charters were issued in the names of the aris-

Pratiques de l’écrit documentaire au XIe siècle, ed. Olivier Guoyotjeannin, Laurent
Morelle, and Michel Parisse, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des chartes 155 (1997); Pratiques
de l’écrit, ed. Etienne Anheim and Pierre Chastang, Médiévales 56 (2009), pp. 5–113.
See below at note 54 an annotated bibliography on the documentary decline that may
or may not have followed the Carolingian reliance on the written word.
In reviewing lay charters in Flanders, Ponthieu, Picardie, Ile-de-France, Normandy,
and Champagne between 900 and 1050,1 found that 10 percent are of the tenth century,
while 90 percent are of the first half of the eleventh century. Sources consulted for this
project include: cartularies and archival holdings cited in my dissertation, La châtelle-
nie de Montmorency des origines a 1368: Aspects féodaux, sociaux et économiques (Pon-
toise, 1980), pp. 349–360, which bear principally on the Ile-de-France; the electronic
database of the ARTEM in Nancy, which gathers all original French charters prior to
1121 (see a partial publication by Michèle Courtois, Chartes originales antérieures a
1121 conservées dans le département du Nord [Nancy, 1981]; for the full inventory of
French original charters prior to 1121, see La diplomatique française du Haut Moyen
Age, ed. Benoît-Michel Tock et al., 2 vols [Turnhout, 2001]); the northern French
charters catalogued in the “Nouveau Wauters,” the electronic database managed by
the CETEDOC of the Catholic University of Louvain-La-Neuve, which includes all
published and unpublished charters produced in historical Belgium prior to 1200 and
is available on CD-Rom: Thesaurus Diplomaticus, ed. Philippe Demonty (Turnhout,
1997); the cartularies of religious establishments located in the bishoprics of Paris,
Senlis, Laon, Beauvais, Amiens, Soissons, Arras, Cambrai, Reims, and Rouen, which
are catalogued, critically described, and available for consultation on microfilms at the
Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (I.R.H.T., Paris): CartulR— Répertoire
des cartulaires médiévaux et modernes, ed. Paul Bertrand (Orléans, 2006; on line:
http://www.cn-telma.fr/cartulR/); episcopal acta from Amiens, Arras, Beauvais, Cam-
brai, Laon, Noyon, Reims, and Soissons (see, on the availability of these episcopal
materials, Michel Parisse, “Importance et richesse des chartes épiscopales: Les exemples
de Metz et de Toul, des origines a 1200,” in A propos des actes d’évêques, pp. 19–43,
esp. pp. 41–43; and Parisse, “La recherche française sur les actes des évêques: Les
travaux d’un groupe de recherche,” Die Diplomatik der Bischofsurkunde vor 1250 I
La diplomatique episcopale avant 1250: Referate zum VIII. Internationalen Kongress
fur Diplomatik, Innsbruck, 1993 [Innsbruck, 1995], pp. 203–08); princely acts, which
have in only a few cases been published under the heading of their princely authors:
Actes des comtes de Flandre/Oorkonden der graven van Vlaanderen: 1071–1128 by
Fernand Vercauteren (Brussels, 1938); 1128–1168 by Thérèse de Hemptinne (Brussels,
1989); 1191–1206 by Walter Prevenier (3 vols., Brussels, 1964); Clovis Brunel, Recueil
des actes des comtes de Pontieu, 1026–1279 (Paris, 1930); Marie Fauroux, Recueil des
actes des ducs de Normandie, 911–1066 (Caen, 1961); Eugène de Lépinois, Recherches
historiques et critiques sur l’ancien comté et les comtes de Clermont en Beauvaisis du
XIe au XIIIe siècle (Beauvais, 1877); William Mendel Newman, Les seigneurs de Nesles
en Picardie (XIIe–XIIIe siècle): Leurs chartes et leur histoire, 2 vols. (Paris, 1971), vol. 2,
pp. 27–161; Jean-François Nieus, Les chartes des comtes de Saint-Pol (XIe–XIIIe siècles)
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 133

tocrats responsible for the transactions being recorded in writing, such

transactions typically involving gifts of land made to religious houses
and to their saints for the salvation of the donors’ souls. However,
the actual production and subsequent control of such written records
remained a monopoly of the ecclesiastical beneficiaries who drafted
them and maintained them archivally.
Both donors and benefactors were interested in ensuring textual and
transactional permanence; the most reliable traditional agency for this
purpose was God. Documentary writing derived much of its power
from a visible affinity with Holy Scripture, an affinity established both
by graphic logic and by liturgical manipulation. Graphic logic involved
such methods as the inscription of a Chrismon, a trinitarian invocation,
the use of Latin, biblical preambles (arenga), and divine maledictions
and threats of excommunication against anyone who might challenge
the gift being recorded.51 Liturgical manipulations included the charters’

(Turnhout, 2008); John Benton and Michel Bur, Recueil des actes de’Henri le Libéral,
comte de Champagne (1152–1181). Tome I (Paris, 2009). In France in the Making 843–
1180 (Oxford, 1985), Jean Dunbabin gives an insightful account of princely charters
produced between 987 and 1108 (pp. 130–32) and between 1108 and 1180 (253–55).
The best analysis, with current bibliography, of the textual, graphic, and linguistic
components of diplomatic discourse is provided by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Jacques
Pycke, and Benoit-Michel Tock, Diplomatique médiévale (Turnhout, 1993; 3rd rev. ed.,
2006; references are to the first edition), pp. 71–102. On the use of spiritual maledic-
tions in charters, see Jeffrey Bowman, “Do Neo-Romans Curse,” Viator 28 (1997),
pp. 1–32; and Lester K. Little, Benedictine Maledictions: Liturgical Cursing in Rom-
anesque France (Ithaca, N.Y., 1993), who, however, tends to focus on English and
southern European charters; Emily Zack Tabuteau, Transfers of Property in Eleventh-
Century Norman Law (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988), pp. 219–22, with a questionable
discussion of the role of signatures in charters.
Fauroux, Recueil des actes des ducs de Normandie, p. 148, no. 43 (1015–1026), donation
of Duke Richard II to the abbey of St. Ouen: “per signum crucis cum excommuni-
catione hanc cartam firmavit.” See further examples of maledictions and threats of
excommunication in C. Brunel, Pontieu, p. 23 (charter no. 11), 1100: sealed act of Guy,
count of Ponthieu, in favor of the monastery of St. Sauveur of Montreuil-sur-Mer,
“infractores autem hujus traditionis, nisi digna satisfactione resipuerint, a Deo et
omnibus Sanctis ejus anathematizati, eterne dampnationi subjaceant. Amen.” Similar
formulas are in use in charters no. 4 (1067) at p. 6, no. 8 (1100) at p. 14, no. 10 (1100)
at p. 21, no. 12 (1100) at p. 25, no. 25 (1136–37) at p. 42, no. 27 (1143) at p. 46, and
no. 62 (1159–60) at p. 95.
Two dictionary entries provide the best discussion of chrismon and trinitarian
invocation: Alfred Gawlik in the Lexikon des Mittelalters, vol. 2, col. 1905; and the
Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, vol. 3–1, cols. 1481–1534. On the
use of the cross within charters, see a state of the question by Michel Parisse, “Croix
autographes de souscription dans l’Ouest de la France au XIe siècle,” in Graphische Sym-
bole in mittelalterlichen Urkunden, Peter Ruck, ed. (Sigmaringen, 1996), pp. 143–155.
The standard work on preambles (arengae) in which is given a catalogue and a survey
134 chapter six

production by priestly scribes and their placement on altars or in

Gospels.52 A manuscript charter was kindred to Scripture and, as such,
was a space of sacred and secure inscription.
The charter’s text, however, was formulated in the first-person voice
of the individual who was making the donation, and it conveyed the
will, the intention, of an individual donor (Fig. 18). The religiously
designed charter located the ego, the “I” of diplomatic discourse, within
the rationale of Christian ethics and salvific eschatology. Therefore,
with respect to those charters given in his own name, and to which he
was entrusting the fate of his soul and of his kin, the donor remained
a problematic author. First, he had not himself created the manuscript
document, which was rendered in Latin, a language he hardly knew.
Second, the written text itself was fundamentally impersonal because
its actual scribe, who remained anonymous, wrote in an official or a
technical capacity, as a fictive person, persona fictiva, in the name of
someone else. Writing in the name of a donor, representing him as
author, the scribe introduced motivations, decisions, and gifts, repeat-
edly using the word ego. Utilizing this first-person form, the scribe,
though semiotically entering the subjectivity of the donor, in fact main-
tained the reference of third person. Hence the locus of subjectivity
transcended the individual, and what presented itself as individual
subjective discourse was actually suffused with multiple voices.53
Diplomatic discourse thus incorporated a cultural “self” that was
quite distinct from an individual body. Yet the postmillennial charter
required a first-person-singular pronominal category, an ego to function
as index, to indicate the originator of the utterance. It may be helpful
to point out here that this method of written documentation developed
in mid-eleventh-century northern France at the end of a period of a
century and a half (900–1050) during which transactions had normally
been accomplished by the oral statements of principals and witnesses,

of thematic evolution is by Heinrich Fichtenau, Arenga: Spätantike und Mittelalter im

Spiegel von Urkundenformeln (Cologne, 1957).
Fauroux, Recueil des actes des ducs de Normandie, for instance, p. 334, no. 149
(1040–50): confirmation by Duke William of a donation in favor of the abbey of St.
Leger, “pro sua suorumque salute, donationem supra altare posuit, de his omnibus que
Hunfridus dederat.” See further examples in C. Brunel, Pontieu, pp. 21, 30, 120, 129,
225. See also a discussion of placing charters on altars in A. de Boüard, Manuel de
diplomatique française et pontificale, T. II: L’acte privé (Paris, 1948), pp. 112–14.
Semiotics, Self, and Society, ed. Benjamin Lee and Greg Urban (Berlin, 1989), esp.
intro., p. 4, and Greg Urban, “The I of Discourse,” pp. 27–51.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 135

usually made under oath and publicized by symbolic gestures and

rituals.54 Set within such oral and visual modes, the empirical presence
of the subject, of ego, had of course been immediate and undoubted.
With the growing importance of writing in the ceremony that sanc-
tioned land transactions, the ego of written diplomatic discourse—a
linguistic category differing from the person uttering the words—could
not provide referentiality through actual contiguity with the charter’s
author. The issue became how to reconcile ego, the linguistic category,
and ego, the physical individual, the actual subject of the enuncia-
tion. It is because the postmillennial charter long remained part of a

On the spoken word as the foundation of social and economic relations between
the tenth and the early twelfth century, see Stock, Implications of Literacy, p. 17; Louis
Stouff, “Etude sur la formation des contrats par l’écriture dans le droit des formules
du Vème au XIIème siècle,” Nouvelle revue historique de droit français et étranger 11
(1887), pp. 249–287, at pp. 274–275. On Norman transactions between lay persons
being executed without charters during the eleventh century, see Tabuteau’s remarks
in Transfers of Property, pp. 7–8, 213–14, 218–19.
Recent scholarship on the Carolingian period (ca. 750–950) emphasizes the central-
ity of the written word during that time: McKitterick, Carolingians and the Written
Word; Janet L. Nelson, “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia,” in The
Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe, ed. Wendy Davies and Paul Fou-
racre (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 45–64. Warren Brown, “Charters as weapons. On the
role played by early medieval dispute records in the disputes they record,” Journal of
Medieval History 28 (2002), pp. 227–248, focusing his analysis on the charters of the
Bavarian cathedral church at Freising argues that clerical scribes used dispute charters
to construct narratives that enhanced their claims even as they delegitimized their
opponents. Brown concludes “That whether or not dispute charters … were ever used
to support a claim at court, the creative effort that scribes put into constructing them
is our best evidence that the stories they told were important” (p. 247).
Nelson, “Literacy in Carolingian Government,” in The Uses of Literacy in Early
Mediaeval Europe, ed. Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 258–296.
Karl Ferdinand Werner, “ ‘Missus, marchio, comes: Entre l’administration centrale
et l’administration locale de l’empire carolingien,” in ed. Werner Paravicini and
Karl Ferdinand Werner, Histoire comparée de l’administration (IVe–XVIIIe siècles)
(Munich, 1980), pp. 191–239. On the assumption that the written word would not
have been aimed at officials unable to handle it, a case has been made for the practical
literacy of Carolingian lay elites and for presenting the development of literacy during
the eleventh and twelfth centuries as a continuation of the Carolingian achievement
(McKitterick, Carolingians and the Written Word). Yet Nelson, “Dispute Settlement in
Carolingian West Francia,” p. 55, concludes that disputes between laymen were settled
through feud, mediation, or arbitration, and went unrecorded.
Whatever the level of Carolingian literate skills and the prescriptive power of the
Carolingian written word, it seems that their legacy, if any, did not affect the realm of
landed transactions, for even during the Carolingian period property matters between
lay elites were settled without recourse to the written word. In post-Carolingian
northern France, legal and administrative dependency on the written word was not
maintained, and only ecclesiastical establishments have left traces of documentary
136 chapter six

ceremonial format, in which the charter’s operations hinged less on its

legibility (as text) than on its visibility (as scripture), that the charter’s
contextual apparatus long continued to derive from and to parallel
the ambient oral modes. The oral and the written did not stand in
opposition, then, but operated jointly within a single framework of
This framework rested on the primacy of empirical presence in the
assertion of authority; it construed power to emanate from character,
to be the effluence of personality. Thus, when gifts of land were con-
tested and resolved by charter, as often happened, such disputes were
not settled by considering the parties as donors and recipients, and by
applying legal rules appropriate to these categories, but rather by an
agreement through which the status and self-esteem of both parties as
particular individuals might be saved and a social relationship between
them created or renewed. Behavior was remembered and inscribed
in the form of statements about particular persons and their actions.55
The attention was to individual will and responsibility, to a personal
examination of the implications of one’s actions, which were under-
stood as involving, beside terrestrial and social consequences, merits
capable of saving (or losing) one’s soul in the afterlife. In short, the
legal realm conjured up by the charters was equated with the realms

Cheyette, “Invention of the State,” pp. 161–162, 167–169. A good treatment of the
mechanisms for the settlement of disputes is Stephen D. White, “Feuding and Peace-
Making in the Touraine around the Year 1100,” Traditio 42 (1986), pp. 195–263,
reprinted in Feuding and Peace-Making in Eleventh-Century France, no. I.
In chapter 1 above (especially at notes 8, 25–26), I argue that, in the case of con-
tested land gifts, postmillennial churchmen rarely referred to the relevant granting
charters in trying to prove their rights, and that these were in any case often too vague
about the property transferred to be of use. Rather, expert memory was assembled
continuously in numerous settings where the working intelligence of daily life—
possession and use of land, social relations—was repeatedly reshaped and maintained
through such recurrent negotiations concerning titles to land. This argument, that
charters were not invoked even when land transfers were challenged, has been taken
up by Laurent Morelle, who further examined the role of the written word in the
settlement of land disputes: “Les chartes dans la gestion des conflits (France du Nord,
XIe–debut XIIe siècle),” in Pratiques de l’écrit documentaire au XIe siècle, pp. 267–298.
Steven Vanderputten, “Monastic Literate Practices in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century
northern France,” Journal of Medieval History 32 (2006), pp. 101–126, fully surveys
the relevant literature before concluding, on the basis of his analysis of the charters of
the Benedictine monasteries of Marchiennes and of Saint-Amand, that the increasing
recourse to the written word was met with resistance and that the role of charters in
disputes was ambiguous. Vanderputten insists that literate practices on a local level
should be carefully considered in order fully to assess changes in literate behavior.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 137

of ethics and theology. The “subjective” and “personal” in the law, far
from diminishing legal authority, in fact constituted it.56
The individual person encountered in prescholastic charters is, pace
Jacob Burckhardt,57 an autonomous, voluntary, and empirically present
agent, situated within a set of social relationships arising out of consent
and cont(r)act. The sources of empirical presence within the charter
were, necessarily, the event recorded and its author. Thus the focus on
the individual coalesced around two related requirements—the need to
anchor the written charter within the concrete ceremony of gift giving,
and the need to embody the determinant elements of this context: the
transaction itself and the actual speakers (empirical, physical persons
who had performed and witnessed the transaction). How to achieve
this incarnation? The answer was a system of signs. Thus the evolution
of the charter’s format from sacred inscription to sealed deed occurred
as an attempt to incorporate within the charter the actual nature of
personal authority rooted in being, soon to be obsolescent.
At first, transactions and their authors loomed equally large. Evi-
dence of the transaction, such as a symbolic rod or knife, was initially
either manipulated together with or even affixed to the charter.58 By
the late eleventh century, however, only donors’ and witnesses’ names

Jaeger, Envy of Angels, p. 274.
Martin, “Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence,” pp. 1309–11, quotes and
discusses Jacob Burckhardt, Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien: Ein Versuch (Basel,
1860), analyzing the influence of Burckhardt’s elegantly argued notion that humanistic
and individualistic ideals originated in Renaissance Italy, while in the Middle Ages,
a veil “of faith, illusion and childish prepossession” made man “conscious of himself
only as member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation—only through some
general category” (p. 1309).
For an excellent discussion, with current bibliography, of the symbols and
ceremonials deployed to foster and memorialize transactions, see Guyotjeannin, Diplo-
matique médiévale, pp. 86–88, which does not, however, entirely supersede Boüard,
Manuel de diplomatique, t. II, pp. 112–119. In 1069, William of Normandy, king of
England, pretended to jab the symbolic knife of the transaction into the beneficiary
abbot’s hand as an “obvious sign” (evidenti signo) of the perpetual rooting of his donation
within the abbey’s inalienable patrimony: Achille Deville, Cartulaire de l’abbaye de
la Sainte-Trinité-du-Mont de Rouen, appendice à Benjamin Guérard, Cartulaire de
l’abbaye de Saint-Bertin (Paris, 1840), no. 67, p. 455. In some cases, the charter was
evidently only symbolic of the transaction, because the parchment itself remained
entirely blank, an unequivocal case of the medium being the message: on the car-
tae sine litteris (blank charters), see Milko Kos, “Carta sine litteris,” Mitteilungen des
Instituts fur Osterreichische Geschichtsforschung 62 (1954), pp. 97–100; Aaron Gurevic,
“Representations et attitudes a l’égard de la propriété pendant le Haut-Moyen Age,”
Annales: E.S.C. 27 (1972), pp. 523–547, at p. 533 note 43; Paul Zumthor, La lettre et
la voix de la littérature médiévale (Paris, 1987), p. 97.
138 chapter six

appear in the charters, preceded by an inscribed cross, a sign not

necessarily autograph, although it might be (Fig. 3).59 The signatory
who marked a cross on a charter, or had it inscribed, would also have
made a ceremonial sign of the cross across his or her body, an act
usually described in the charter’s text.60 The manual and manuscript
crosses were signs both of identity and commitment, typically accom-
panied only by the name received at baptism. Such crosses indicated
individual filiation as son, or daughter, of God, and hence individual
commitment as God’s child; they recorded Christian filiation and the
subscription of a solemn oath made in the presence and in the name of
Christ crucified. Thus the person engaged by the charter was respon-
sible both for the content of the charter, the gift of land, and for his or
her soul, since the land had been given, on oath, to enter the economy
of salvation.
The initially tangible symbols of rod and knife gave way to the
scripted cross on charters. From signs of conveyance to signs of the
authors and the witnesses to conveyance, the focus moved from
the action and its object to the actors. This shift occurred in conjunction
with the increased concern for salvation characteristic of postmillen-
nial aristocratic spirituality.61 The nascent hermeneutics of personal
identity tended to merge with the theology of the soul, but this fusion

Parisse, “Croix autographes de souscription.” It gives me pleasure to acknowledge
here how much I was inspired by Beatrice Fraenkel, La signature: Genèse d’un signe
(Paris, 1992); see her analysis of the cross on documents at pp. 63–65, 176–77 (Fr. signer
and se signer, a parallelism, “to sign” and “to cross oneself,” not rendered in English).
Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record , p. 295, and p. 313 where he quotes
an Anglo-Norman (and possibly spurious) charter given in 1109 by Hugh of Chester
for Chester Abbey in the presence of Anselm of Bec, archbishop of Canterbury:
“Earl Hugh and my barons have confirmed all these things by the seal of Almighty
God, that is the sign of the holy cross, so that each of us makes a sign of the cross
with his own hand as evidence for posterity.” Similar formulas are in use in C. Brunel,
Pontieu, charter no. 14 (1053) at p. 27, charter no. 22bis (1119–29) at pp. 661–62,
charter no. 21 (1103–29) at p. 36.
A particularly eloquent charter, issued for the Cistercian abbey of Clairmarais
by Enguerran, count of Saint-Pol in ca. 1149–1164, testifies to the count’s desire
to enhance the salvation of his soul while there is still time, while he still inhabits
his frail body: ‘Ego Ingelramnus, Dei gratia comes de Sancto Paulo, humanae vitae
brevitatem attendens et ad redemptionem animae meae, dum adhuc vacat et in hoc
fragili corpore subsisto, aliquid acquirere cupiens, necessarium duxi donations quas
ego vel hominess mei comitatus ecclesiae Sanctae Mariae de Claromaresch . . . . con-
tulerunt . . . confirmare et corrobare. . .,” Nieus, Les chartes des comtes de Saint-Pol,
no. 32 p. 116–118 ; remarkably, the charter closely follows the prologue of the Rule
of St. Benedict: ‘Ad vitam volumus pervenire perpetuam, dum adhuc vacat et in hoc
corpore sumus’ (emphasis mine).
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 139

did not last long. For all its potentially powerful symbolism, the cross
functioning as a sign-signature on a charter marked identity only in the
broadest possible terms: membership in a Christian society. Although
the cross might emanate directly from the author of the charter, from
the “I” of diplomatic discourse, it more often was actually traced by
the scribe. In either case, the cross denoted that the authority for the
enforcement of the charter, its ultimate warrantor, was God; indeed,
the cross both signed and signified God.
When seals began to be affixed to documents during the course of
the eleventh century, the manuscript textual cross was still a standard
appurtenance of charters. The charter by which Robert, son of the
count of Flanders, made a donation for the salvation of his soul to the
abbey of Watten in 1093 reads: “In order that these dispositions may
remain firm and untouched through eternity, I have had this charter
confirmed and signed with the victorious symbol of the holy cross, and
with the sign of my authority and the seal of my highness.”62 While
both cross and seal signified a sacred undertaking, and both have
rhetorical presence within the charter, there are two major distinctions
between them as documentary signs. First, the cross remains a written
sign, and in this case non-autograph, whereas the seal is both a mate-
rial object and a figural presence that emanated directly from the
author of the charter. Second, as the fairly standard clause within the
document makes clear, the cross symbolizes Christ victorious, while
the seal signifies the authority, as it is the image, of its owner. The
cross signaled Christian kinship and invoked God’s authority; the seal
marked and invoked personal identity and authority.

On the centrality of salvation in eleventh and twelfth-century French aristocratic

spirituality as evidenced in charters, see the works by Constance Bouchard, Sword,
Miter, and Cloister: Nobility and the Church, 980–1198 (Ithaca, 1987); Barbara H.
Rosenwein, To Be the Neighbor of Saint-Peter: The Social Meaning of Cluny’s Property,
909–1049 (Ithaca, 1989); Linda Seidel, Songs of Glory: The Romanesque Façades of
Aquitaine (Chicago, 1981); Tabuteau, Transfers of Property; Stephen D. White, Custom,
Kinship, and Gifts to Saints: The “Laudatio Parentum” in Western France, 1050–1150
(Chapel Hill, 1988).
Vercauteren, Actes des comtes de Flandres, no 12, pp. 38–41, Bruges, 6 January
1093, at pp. 40–41: Ego Robertus, comitis Roberti Hierosolimitani filius . . . . Ut autem
hec omnia rata firmaque et inconvulsa de hinc in eternum permaneant, et ut ipsi fratres
tam presentes quam posteri pro salute mea et antecessorum successorumque meorum
obnixius apud Deum interveniant neve quis vel ego aut heres vel proheres meus, seu
qualibet alia persona aliquatenus cum jactura infringere audeat, summopere precipio,
cartamque istam cum agye crucis tropheo, cum signo auctoritatis et excellentie
mee sigillo insigniri confirmarique et corroborari astipulans facio.
140 chapter six

Persona in Sign and Metaphor

The historical study of seals has assumed that their forms and uses
reflected such fundamental structures as social relations, political sys-
tems, legal norms, and esthetic trends.63 It is because I have found
politics, law, orality, and literacy inadequate as contexts to account
for the diffusion of seals and the newer formulation of personal iden-
tity in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that,64 inspired by semiotic
anthropology and its programmatic directions,65 I took as the starting
point the analysis the seals themselves and considered sealed char-
ters from the viewpoint of the writing bureaus that originated them.
A review of the corpus of eleventh and twelfth-century aristocratic
charters permits three striking conclusions: these charters, produced
by ecclesiastical beneficiaries, originated from a variety of chanceries
and scriptoria; they were not systematically sealed; and the diversity
of practice seems to correlate with the differing cultures of the specific
issuing writing bureaus. Thus, for example, 61 charters issued in the
name of Ivo of Nesles, count of Soissons (d. 1178) are still extant. In
the early phases of this documentary production, Count Ivo sealed
sporadically, but he began to seal regularly in charters involving Josce-
lin, bishop of Soissons.66 Prior to becoming a bishop, Joscelin (d. 1152)
had taught theology in Paris.67
Attention to the conception and production of sealed charters situate
them within the scholarly world described at the beginning of this
chapter as being in the throes of a semiotic crisis. The scriptoria and
writing bureaus that initiated the sustained production of sealed
charters appear to have been located in abbeys or cathedrals that either

An overview of the main historiographical trends in sigillographic studies is
given in Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak, “Une image ontologique: Sceau et ressemblance
en France préscolastique (1000–1200),” Etudes d’histoire de l’art offertes à Jacques
Thirion. Des premiers temps chrétien au XXe siècle, ed. Alain Erlande-Brandenburg et
Jean-Michel Leniaud (Paris, 2001), pp. 39–50, at pp. 40–42, and Bedos-Rezak. “Medieval
Identity: A Sign and a Concept,” American Historical Review 105/5 (2000), pp. 1489–
1533, at pp. 1511–1516.
See chapter 3 above at pp. XX [complete on galley proofs] for a full discussion
of these contexts limited explanatory power.
See chapter 3 above.
The charters have been published by Newman, Les seigneurs de Nesles en Picardie,
vol. 2, pp. 27–161. Count Ivo’s unsealed charters, no. 7, p. 34, ca. 1141; no. 15, p. 44,
in 1146; sealed charters: no. 12, p. 40, in 1145; no. 13, p. 42, in 1145.
Léon A. Maître, Les écoles épiscopales et monastiques de l’occident depuis Char-
lemagne jusqu’à Philippe Auguste, 768–1180 (Paris, 1866), p. 153.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 141

currently had in residence or had trained those schoolmen who were

active participants in debates about signs and signification in relation
to three theological concerns. To reiterate, these were the eucharist
and the related subjects of presence and representation; the Trinity and
the related issues of person, identity, image, and resemblance; and
the authority of script(ure) and the issue of the referentiality of lan-
guage. Since the maps tracing seal diffusion and prescholastic theo-
logical reflections on sign theory are largely coterminous, it may be
the case that the seal derived its new means of signification, especially
its capacity to present and represent, from the discourses of semiotics
and theology. I propose to interpret the extension of sealing as a mani-
festation of a new semiotics in which, as already discussed, immanence
rather than transcendence governed the rapport between signifier and
signified, thereby making possible new forms for the representation
of reality. This new semiotics emerged from the context of an increas-
ing, though initially contested, acceptance of God’s incarnation as a
hermeneutic axial point. The eucharistic motif had now become the
foundation of a representational model articulated around the theme
of “real presence.” While seals’ agentive valence in representing their
owners owed much to this eucharistic debate, the principles and
modes of their operation as a sign of identify may also be situated in
prescholastic ideas about the nature of personhood, since it was part of
the new semiotic conception that a sign be representative through its
capacity to embody the ontological characteristics of its referent.
Among the conceptual tools chancery scholars used to address the
issue of personhood was the seal as metaphor. I find it suggestive that
the same prescholastic milieus that promoted changes in semiotic
thinking, that entertained concerns about representation, authority,
and personal identity, and that produced the novel medium of the
sealed charter as a solution to these concerns are the very ones that
resorted to the seal metaphor to clarify these concerns. There appar-
ently was no precedence of the metaphorical seal over the documentary
seal, and there may be little advantage in trying to explicate one by
reference to the other, but it is undeniable that both cover the same
semantic territory, organizing and thereby elucidating contemporary
views of identity. In the spheres of both discourse and practice, the
seal, linking the divine and the human, was centered precisely on per-
sons, their agency and representation, and their personal relationships
to others, to God, and to script.
142 chapter six

The seal metaphor was not new in Christian discourse and liturgy
of the eleventh and twelfth centuries,68 but its semantic range was
now extended. Seal metaphors facilitated discussions on the relational
presence of the divine persons—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—within the
Trinity, of the Son in Man, and of the Son in God the Father. Such
metaphors were used particularly in discussing image and resem-
blance, first between the Creator and his Son, who was engendered
and not created, and second between the Creator and his creature, the
human being. As the body of seal metaphors is vast, I will present and
discuss here only a few representative examples.69

The seal metaphor precedes Christian discourse. On its occurrence in late ancient
philosophy, see Stephen Gersh, From Iamblichus to Eriugena: An Investigation of the
Prehistory and Evolution of the Pseudo-Dionysian Tradition (Leiden, 1978), p. 236; Ver-
ity Platt, “Making an Impression: Replication and the Ontology of the Graeco-Roman
Seal Stone,” Art History 29 (2006), pp. 233–257, at pp. 245-249; Manetti, Theories
of the Sign, p. 6, gives the example of the seal as a Mesopotamian divinatory sign: “If a
man dreams that someone gives him a seal—he will have a son.” See further examples
of ancient near Eastern seal metaphors in Elena Cassin, “Le sceau: Un fait de civiliza-
tion dans la Mésopotamie ancienne,” Annales E.S.C.15 (1960), pp. 742–751. The seal
metaphor is also found in Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, serving as model for the process
of making and storing the memorial phantasm; see Mary Carruthers, The Book of
Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1990), esp. pp. 16–32,
33, 49, 62, 72, and 291 n. 5; and Manetti, Theories of the Sign, p. 54. Another ancient
use of the sealing metaphor is in the field of anatomy to explain the physiological
mechanism of conception; it articulated the Aristotelian contrast between form and
matter; see Danielle Jacquart and Claude Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine in the
Middle Ages (Princeton, 1988), p. 37. The seal metaphor appears in both the Old and
the New Testaments (the Apocalypse comes preeminently to mind), and in patristic
texts, where it principally concerns the baptismal rite: Jean Danielou, The Bible and the
Liturgy (Notre Dame, 1956), chap. 3, is entirely devoted to “Sphragis” (Greek: seal);
Geoffrey W.H. Lampe, The Seal of the Spirit: A Study in the Doctrine of Baptism and
Confirmation in the New Testament and the Fathers, 2nd ed. (London, 1967). The seal
metaphor was also used in Byzantine theology, by Theodore of Studios (759–826)
for instance, to explain that an icon derives power from its representational identity
with its archetype, but is otherwise an unsubstantial image “existing between, and
independent of, the sealing die and malleable medium into which the die is pressed.”
Gary Vikan, “Ruminations on Edible Icons: Originals and Copies in the Art of Byzan-
tium,” in Retaining the Original: Multiple Originals, Copies, and Reproductions, ed.
Kathleen Preciado (Washington, D.C., 1989), pp. 47–59, at pp. 50–52. I wish to thank
Dr. James Trilling for bringing Vikan’s article to my attention. Theodore of Studios’
seal metaphors receive further attention in chapter 7 at notes 25–27.
See below n. 73 for a discussion of the relationship between seal and coin meta-
In order to establish a typology of the seal metaphor in prescholastic texts, I began
with the numerous instances gathered and analyzed by Javelet in his monumental
Image et ressemblance. I also searched the CD-ROM of the CETEDOC Library of Chris-
tian Latin Texts (CLCLT-3) ed. Paul Tombeur (Turnhout, 1996), and the Patrologia
Latina Database (PLD, Chadwick-Healy) containing the electronic version of the entire
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 143

When Abelard wished to demonstrate that the Trinity can be dis-

cussed in logical terms, he identified as a principal conundrum the
question of unity (the Godhead) in diversity (the three persons of the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and in proceeding to address this ques-
tion articulated the main thrust of his theological argument through
a seal metaphor:
Quinque autem modis ac pluribus fortassis utrumque per se etiam accep-
tum dici uidetur. ‘Idem’ namque siue unum aliquid cum aliquo dicitur
secundum essentiam siue secundum numerum, idem proprietate, idem
definitione, idem similitudine, idem pro incommunicato. Totidem modis
e contrario dicimus ‘diversum’ ac fortassis pluribus…
Nonnulla autem essentialiter eadem sunt quae tamen proprietatibus
suis distinguuntur, cum eorum scilicet proprietates ita penitus impermix-
tae maneant, ut proprietas alterius ab altero minime participetur, etiamsi
sit eadem numero penitus utriusque substantia. . . . Ipsa quippe materia
cereae imaginis et ipsum materiatum, utpote ipsa cera et ipsa imago

contents of the 221 volumes of J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Latina. Several articles in the
Bulletin de philosophic médiévale (34 [1992], pp. 39–53; 35 [1993], pp. 220–228; 36
[1994], pp. 206–214) address the advantages and disadvantages of PLD; Ron W. Crown
compared the PLD and the CLCLT: “Comparing the Patrologia Latina and the
CETEDOC Library of Christian Latin Texts Databases from a User’s Perspective,”
Journal of Religious & Theological Information 3 (2000), pp. 85–109.
There is as yet no general synthesis of the medieval use of the seal metaphor,
although this usage has been noted by several scholars: Bynum, Jesus as Mother,
pp. 16, 17, 97–98, 194, 210; Carruthers, Book of Memory, pp. 55–57, 71, 180, 304 n. 49,
307 n. 119; Giles Constable, “Renewal and Reform in Religious Life,” in Renaissance
and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, pp. 37–67, at p. 46; Constable, Three Studies, pp.
189, 192, 214–15, 217; Michael Goodich, From Birth to Old Age: The Human Life Cycle
in Medieval Thought (Lanham, 1989), pp. 93–94; J. Jolivet, “Sur quelques critiques
de la théologie d’Abélard,” Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 38
(1963), pp. 7–51, at pp. 29–31; André Pézard, “Le sceau d’or: Dante, Abélard, Saint
Augustin,” Studi danteschi 45 (1968), pp. 29–93, at pp. 33–40, 54–65; Marenbon,
Philosophy of Peter Abelard, pp. 152, 178–79; Rachel Fulton, From Judgment to Passion.
Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary (New York, 2002), pp. 254–265, where the
author reviews the neo-testamentary and patristic use of seal metaphors before
engaging the significance of the metaphor as used by Honorius Augustodunensis in
his Sigillum sanctae Mariae.
Seal imagery was first extended to the obligation of keeping secret that which has
been revealed in sacramental confession by Nicolas of Clairvaux, St. Bernard’s secre-
tary, in Sermo in festo sancti Beato Andreae, PL CLXXXIV, cols. 1054A–1054B: ‘Videat
autem ne unquam de his quae sub signaculo confessionis accepit, aliquam faciat men-
tionem, vel alicui loquenti consentiat.’ Nicolas’ sermon was erroneously attributed
to Peter Damianus, PL CXLIV, col. 833C. Peter the Chanter introduced the term
sigillum: munitissimum est sigillum confessionis (De sacramentis, BNF, Ms. Lat. 14445,
fol. 200 ro.). Léon Honoré, Le secret de la confession: Etude historico-canonique (Bruges,
1924), pp. 45–47; Bertrand Kurtscheid, A History of the Seal of Confession (St. Louis,
1927), p. 111.
144 chapter six

cerea sunt eadem cera, haec scilicet cera; sed tamen ipsum materiatum
ibi nequaquam est materia, nec ipsa materia est materiata, licet ea res
est quae materiata.
Identity and diversity may be described in five, and perhaps more, ways.
There is identity if a thing exists entirely with another thing, that is, by
essence and number. There is identity secondly, in property; thirdly, by
definition; fourthly, by likeness; and fifthly, by incommunicability, when
a thing never changes into anything else. We can say things are identical
in these five ways, and by contrary we can say that they are diverse in
these five ways; that is, if the conditions of identity are not fulfilled then
the things are diverse . . .
Things may be identical in essence and number, but not identical in
property or proper character. This may be the case even when their sub-
stance is the same, their proper functions alone making a fundamental
distinction between them. . . . A wax image, for instance, may be identical
in essence and number with the wax of which it is made. But there is no
interrelation between the proper character of wax which is one thing,
and the proper character of an image, which is another thing.70
Building on his demonstration that the wax and the waxen image are
essentially the same but not the same by property and definition, and
reusing the same metaphor, Abelard demonstrates the simultaneity of
the identity of the triune God and of the difference between the per-
sons of the Father and his begotten Son.
Ponamus ergo ante oculos ceream imaginem et consideremus in ea ipsa
naturam cerae, hoc est ipsam ceream substantiam, ex qua est imago cerea
iuxta philosophos tanquam materiatum ex materia, cum tamen eadem
essentia sit cera ipsa et imago cerea, ut etiam per praedicationem sibi
sociari queant cera ipsa et imago ipsa et dici possit quod imago cerea sit
ipsa. Nec tamen ideo minus dicamus ceream imaginem esse ex cera, non
ceram ex cerea imagine, et ceram ipsam esse materiam cereae imaginis,
non ceream imaginem esse materiam ipsius cerae aut cereae imaginis.
Et rursus imaginem ceream dicimus esse materiatam ex ipsa cera, neque
ipsam ceram aut ipsam imaginem esse materiatam ex cerea imagine.
In qua quidem re considerandum est quod si ea nomina ipsius ‘cerae’
et ‘cereae imaginis’ accipiamus, quae absolute non relatiue dicuntur,

Theologia Christiana, III. 138, 140; Latin text can be found in Petri Abaelardi
Opera Theologica. II: Theologia Christiana, ed. Buytaert, pp. 247–248 (PL CLXXVIII,
cols. 1247D and 1248B); the English translation is from McCallum, Abelard’s Chris-
tian Theology, p. 75. On Abelard’s Theologiae, see note 45 above.
I return to a more detailed analysis of Abelard’s seal metaphors in Bedos-Rezak,
“Semiotic Anthropology. The Twelfth Century Experiment,” European Transforma-
tions 950–1200, Thomas F.X. Noble and John Van Engen, ed. (Notre Dame, forth-
coming). See also chapter 7 here, at note 65.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 145

licet ea per praedicationem sibi ueraciter coniungi propter identitatem

substantiae ipsius cerae et cereae imaginis, ueluti cum cera ipsa sit crocea
et imago sit recta, unum est ipsum croceum et rectum, uel e conuerso.
Si uera ea sumamus nomina quae secundum ipsam generationem aut
constitutionem cereae imaginis ex cera relatiue ad inuicem dicuntur,
utpote materia et materiatum, siue constituens et constitutum, siue causa
et effectus, siue generans et genitum, non licet ea secundum suas pro-
prietates sibi per praedicationem sociari, ut uidelicet dicamus ibi ipsam
materiam esse materiatum, uel ipsum materiatum esse materiam, etc.
Quod si huius similitudinis rationem ad diuinam generationem redu-
camus, facile est ibi cuncta assignare ac defendere quae audimus. Pona-
mus itaque Deum Patrem, ut supra meminimus, diuinam potentiam ac
Deum Filium diuinam sapientiam, et consideremus quod ipsa sapientia
quaedam sit potentia, cum sit ipsa uidelicet potentia discernendi ac
prouidendi seu deliberandi ueraciter omnia, ne quid Deum decipere
possit aut latere. Est igitur diuina sapientia ex diuina potentia quomodo
cerea imago est ex cera, aut quomodo iuxta philosophos species ipsa ex
genere esse dicitur, cum tamen idem sit species quod genus, ut homo
idem quod animal et imago cerea idem quod cera. Ipsa quippe imago
cerea ita est ex cera et ipse homo ex animali, quod ex eo quod est cerea
imago exigit ut cera sit, et ex eo quod homo est ut sit animal; sed non e
conuerso. Sic et ex eo quod est sapientia, hoc est potentia discernendi,
exigit ut sit potentia, sed non e conuerso. Potentia quipped, tam ad dis-
cernendum quam ad alia agenda, se habet sicut cerea imago, et animal
tam ad hominem quam ad non hominem.
Est itaque ‘Filium gigni a Patre’ diuinam Sapientiam ita, ut determi-
natum est, ex divina Potentia esse.
Look at a waxen image. Consider that in it is the mixture of wax: that is,
the wax itself as substance. From this wax, the image becomes, in philo-
sophical language, materialized out of material. The same essence is both
the wax itself and the wax image. We can predicate of the wax that it is
the image, and of the image that it is the wax. Nonetheless, it is also true
to say that the waxen image is from the wax. But the wax is not from
the waxen image. The wax itself is, however, the material of the image.
The waxen image is not the material either of the wax or of itself. Again,
we can assert that the image was realized out of the wax of which it is
composed. Yet neither the wax itself nor the image itself were composed
simply out of the image. Now if we take these names of wax and waxen
image absolutely, not relatively to one another, we can assert anything of
them that will be true of both because the substance is identical. I mean,
for instance, if the wax is yellow and the image an upright figure, then the
thing is yellow and upright throughout. If, however, we take the names
relatively, in respect, that is, of the generation or composition of the
waxen image, thinking of them as the material and the thing materialized
from this material, as cause and effect, or the begetter and the begotten,
then we cannot link them in respect of their particular functions by a
146 chapter six

predicating adjective. We cannot say that the material is the same as the
thing materialized from it etc.
Apply this comparison to the divine generation and my position is
clear. God, the Father, is the divine Power; God, the son, is divine Wisdom.
Now divine Wisdom is a kind of power, since it is the ability to discern
and foresee and deliberate aright against anything that may deceive God.
Hence divine Wisdom coming from divine Power is a sort of waxen image
out of wax. Philosophically, it is a species of genus. The species is the same
as the genus, as a man is the same as an “animal,” or a waxen image the
same as wax. The wax image is from wax as man is from animal. I mean
that, in so far as it is a wax image it must be wax, just as in so far as a
man is a man, he must be an animal. But the contrary is not true. Power,
therefore of discernment and doing all kinds of things may be considered
like wax which has potentially either to be a wax image or anything else:
or, as the animal species, which may be a man or any other animal.
This is my illustration to show that, when the son is begotten of the
Father, I mean that divine Wisdom is from divine Power as I have
Both these passages clearly articulate a concept of identity as a principle
of sameness and also a product of the polarization between similar and
dissimilar, and a concept of property (that is, definition, or proper char-
acter) as that which both characterizes and distinguishes the person.
The seal metaphor in these passages specifically addresses two points.
First, there is priority of the material (or substance or essence) over
the image. Second, there may be diversity by virtue of definition (or
property) when things are identical in essence and number. The pre-
scholastic semiotic of mimetism afforded not only an economy of sig-
nification but also a differential principle of being. It defined a human
person as existing by virtue of relationships of origin, as identical
in the sense of its similarity to humanity (species) but distinct with
respect to properties in relationship to others. Yet it was neither per-
fect identicality nor absolute distinctiveness but rather comparative
likeness—difference in essence, number, and properties—that was

Theologia Christiana , IV. 86–88; Latin text is in Petri Abaelardi Opera Theo-
logica. II: Theologia Christiana, ed. Buytaert, pp. 306–307 (PL CLXXVIII, cols.
1288C–1289A; English translation from McCallum, Abelard’s Christian Theology,
pp. 85–86. I am indebted to Marenbon, Philosophy of Peter Abelard, pp. 151–152, for
a lucid discussion of Abelard’s use of the seal metaphor. Also valuable were Javelet,
Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, p. 142 and vol. 2, p. 115; McCallum, Abelard’s Christian
Theology, pp. 75–77; Mews, “Introduction,” in Petri Abaelardi Opera Theologica. III:
Theologia ‘Summi Boni,’ Theologia ‘Scholarium,’ pp. 204, 207–209, 220.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 147

emphasized. Human personhood and identity were thus formulated

both in relation to God (essence) and to other human beings (number
and properties). As such, the concept of the person that developed in
the twelfth century, modulating likeness to reveal heterogeneity, was
of a unique psychosomatic unit expressing a distinct identity as both
flesh and spirit, capable of representation for the purpose of activity
in the world.72
Prescholastics, in their ontological exploration, privileged an exe-
getical approach that, borrowing from Neo-Platonic readings of Gen-
esis, presented the human being as created in the image of God so
as ultimately to be transformed into his resemblance.73 In this sense,
identity consisted of a God-like image within the human fabric. Here,
the metaphor of sealing was recurrently used to evoke the imprint
of the divine archetype on the human raw material. Commentaries
on Genesis 1:26 (God made man in his image and likeness) from
the School of Laon, from Abelard, and from the canons of St. Victor
contemplated just how human beings might be said to be “in the
image and likeness of God” when they have no common property with
God. Using the seal metaphor, the commentators determined that the
human soul in God’s image is different from the Son who is in God’s

While in the early twelfth century, such theologians as Hugh of St. Victor and
Robert of Melun held that the person is a soul using a body, Hugh actually treated the
human being as an entity composed of body and soul, and by the middle of the cen-
tury schoolmen understood a person to be a psychosomatic entity; Caroline Walker
Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336 (New York,
1995), pt. 2, esp. pp. 127–28, 135, 166, 225, and 256; this study systematically tracks the
medieval ideas of person, self, and individual by analyzing the theological arguments
about bodily resurrection. On the changing connotations of the term and concept of
“person” from antiquity to the modern period, see the recent survey by O’Hara, Logic
of Human Personality. See above notes 1–5 for letters expected by their authors to
represent, and to act in place of, their persona. See below note 82 for studies on the
relationship between the concept of person and personal intention.
The classical study, based on a wide array of theological texts, many of which con-
tain seal metaphors, is Javelet, Image et resemblance. When discussing man’s likeness
to God, Augustine used the metaphor of the coin: Wirth, “Structure et fonctions de
l’image chez saint Thomas d’ Aquin,” p. 41; Mews, “Introduction,” in Petri Abaelardi
Opera Theologica. III: Theologia ‘Summi Boni,’ Theologia ‘Scholarium,’ p. 208. In the
writings of eleventh and twelfth-century chancery-scholars, the metaphor of the seal
governs discussions of resemblance, generation, and creation. Thirteenth-century
theologians, such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, seem to reintroduce the
numismatic metaphor in handling these questions: Courtenay, “King and the Leaden
Coin.” See a demonstration of the assimilation of medieval economics to a general
theory of signs in R. Howard Bloch, Etymologies and Genealogies: A Literary Anthro-
pology of the French Middle Ages (Chicago, 1983), pp. 164–174.
148 chapter six

image, in proportion to the difference between the king’s image on a

seal and the king’s generated image in his son.74 Only the engendered
image (the Son), which shares properties and is consubstantial with
its model, may be equal to it: only the Son is the image of God. The
created image (Man), on the other hand, bears only an analogy to
its model: the human being is in the image of God. Abelard and the
School of Laon were concerned, however, to reconcile transcendence
and immanence, and so insisted on the presence of God within the
begotten Son and, through the Son, within the created human being as
well. Here again, Abelard and the Laon scholars resorted to another seal
metaphor, this time involving the die, its image, and its imprint. God
is the seal’s inherent material (the substance of its die or matrix); the
Son is the figure of God’s substance, the image of God engraved in the
matrix, which in turn imprints itself on the human soul (reason, heart,
memory),75 enabling that soul to be configured as the Son. In this sense,

In the words of the Victorine Robert of Melun: “quae tamen distat ab imagine
Dei quae Deus est quantum imago regis quae in sigillo ejus est ab imagine quae in
ejus filio est,” who adds: “thus, although the human soul shares no common property
with God, it is not inappropriate to say that the human soul has been created in the
image and resemblance of God.” This passage comes from Robert’s Sententiae, Bruges,
Bibliothèque de la Ville, Cod. lat. 191, fols. 186vo.–187ro.; see Javelet, Image et ressem-
blance, vol. 2, p. 41. I wish to thank the anonymous reader who provided the superb
English translation used here as part of his or her review of this chapter.
The text of the School of Laon is given by Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 2,
pp. 46–47 at note 61.
Abelard’s text comes from from Theologia “Scholarium” [Introductio ad Theologiam
II, 13, PL CLXXVIII, col. 1068D], Petri Abaelardi Opera Theologica. III: Theologia
“Summi Boni” and Theologia “Scholarum,” pp. 462–463: Quomodo autem philosophi
hanc personarum distinctionem in una diuinitatis essentia, per similitudinem alicuius
mundane creature, et eorum que in ipsa sunt creatura uestigare poterunt atque inue-
nire, facile, credo, poterit assignari in his que ex materia et forma, uel ad similitudinem
materie et forme dixerunt consistere. Valida similutudo ex philosophis sumpta. Verbi
causa, es quoddam est inter creaturas, in quo artifex operans et imaginis regie formam
exprimens regium facit sigillum, quod scilicet ad sigillandas litteras, cum opus fuerit,
cere imprimatur . Est igitur in sigillo illo ipsum es material ex quo factum est, figura uero
ipsa imaginis regie forma eius, ipsum uero sigillum ex his duobus materiatum atque
formatum dicitur, quibus uidelicet sibi convenientibus ipsum est compositum atque
perfectum. This text is discussed in Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, pp. 82–83,
vol. 2, pp. 46–47.
Peter Lombard (d. 1160), who attended the School of St. Victor before becoming
chancellor and master at Notre-Dame of Paris, and ultimately bishop of Paris, wrote in
his commentaries on the Psalms (Commentarius in Psalmos Davidicos, 4.7, PL CXCI,
col. 88A): “The radiance of your face, that is, the radiance of your grace through
which your image is formed in us, thanks to which we are similar to you, this radi-
ance is signed upon us, it is impressed on our reason, which animates the soul with
a superior force by which we resemble God, upon reason this radiance is imprinted,
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 149

the human being is created as an image, imprinted through the medium

of divine substance but sharing no substantial affinity with it, unlike
the Son, whose image is consubstantially figured of divine substance.
The human creature, conceived as sealed and therefore as replicated
image, is ontologically constituted to participate in its informing
prototype, capable of tending toward the prototype’s realization. In
terms of seal metaphors, human identity is about creation, impression,
oppression, and reformation. Creation is the process by which Man
is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Impression,
that is, the soul formed and signed by the seal of God, expresses the
human capacity for good. Oppression, that is, an opposition to or the
breaking of God’s seal through Man’s sinfulness, involves dissimilarity
and alienation.76 Reformation presents the hope that likeness to God
is an end capable of human accomplishment. Personal formation and
reformation are fundamental processes of human identity that Hugh

like a seal to wax.” Quoted in Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 2, pp. 142–143 note
32, and discussed in vol. 1, p. 173, together with texts from Anselm’s School of Laon,
which also emphasize the imprint of God’s image within human fabric. See also the
commentaries by Gerhoh of Reichersberg (d. 1169) on the Psalms in Commentarius
aureus in Psalmos et Cantica ferialia, II. 30 (PL CXCIII, cols. 1306D–1307A). Glossing
the verse “illustra faciem tuam super servum tuum,” Gerhoh wrote: “hanc faciem tuam
illustra super me servum tuum, et super alium quemlibet servum tuum. Tu es quasi
aurea substantia, et filius tuus cum sit splendor gloriae et figura substantiae tuae,
tanquam regalis aut pontificalis imago in auro purissimo exhibet se ipsum pro incor-
ruptibili sigillo cuilibet servo suo sibi conformando se imprimens. Tuque, Pater, hoc
ipsum sigillationis opus per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso perficis in servis tuis eidem
filio configurandis.”
For a further analysis of these texts, see chapter 7 below, at note 65.
On the image of the broken seal used by Abelard, Achard of St. Victor, Thomas
of Citeaux, and Bernard of Clairvaux to signify alienation and dissimilarity from God,
see Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, pp. 249, 259, 300–01, 312–13; vol. 2, pp. 214,
218, 220, 256. Abelard framed his discussion of the destruction and reformation of
God’s image in man in terms of the seal metaphor: Theologia Scholarium II, 14, PL
CLXXVIII, col. 1073CD, and Petri Abaelardi Opera Theologica. III: Theologia “Summi
Boni” and Theologia “Scholarum,” p. 478: Non tamen ideo ullo modo materiam uel
materiatum in deo concedimus esse, sed in creaturis tantum uel mutabilibus rebus que
sunt accidentium susceptibiles. Sicut uero sigillans, eo ipso quo sigillans est, in aliud
quoddam mollius cui imprimitur procedit, ut uidelicet eius imaginis, que in ipsa eius
substantia iam erat, formam illi tribuat, sic spiritus sanctus donorum suorum distri-
butione nobis infusus imaginem dei deletam in nobis reformat, ut iuxta apostolum,
conformes efficiamur imaginis filii dei [Rom. VIII, 29], id est Christo, ut uidelicet
sequamur vestigia eius, qui peccatum non fecit [I Petr. II, 21, 22], et de ueteri homine
in nouum transeamus. For a further analysis of these texts, see Bedos-Rezak, “Semiotic
Anthropology. The Twelfth Century Experiment.”
150 chapter six

of St. Victor, among others, discussed, resorting frequently to the seal

metaphor, as in this striking passage from the De institutione:
In good men the form of the likeness of God is engraved, and when
through the process of imitation we are pressed against that likeness, we
too are molded according to the image of that likeness. But you must
know that unless the wax is first softened, it cannot receive the form,
and this also, a man can not be kneaded to the form of virtue through
the hand of another’s actions, unless he is softened and all pride and
stiff-necked contrariness removed . . . Why do you think we are enjoined
to imitate the life and conduct of good men, unless it be that by imitat-
ing them we are reformed to the likeness of a new life? For in them the
form of the likeness of God is expressed, and when we impress ourselves
on them through imitation, then we too are reshaped according to the
image of that same likeness.77

Ego to Imago

Paralleling their seal metaphors, the prescholastics who were fostering

the new semiotics displayed in their own chanceries a predilection for
visibility centered on the concept of an imprinted image at once gener-
ated by the principles of likeness and linked to a model. In non-royal
charters, the motif of visibility had previously engaged only a single
modality of representation, the symbolic, constructed by linguistic
signs arranged as a discourse. With seals, a second, iconic modality
was introduced, where representation was achieved by lines and figures
arranged as images. In fact, the linguistic and iconic modes were both

Jaeger’s translation in Envy of Angels, pp. 258–259; Hugh of Saint-Victor, De
institutione novitiorum liber, prol. and chap. 7, in L’œuvre de Hugues de Saint-
Victor, ed. Hugh Bernard Feiss et al., 2 vols. (Turnhout, 1997), vol. 1, pp. (PL CLXXVI,
cols. 925B–C, 932D–933A). See Bynum’s pioneering analysis of Hugh’s seal metaphor
addressing the education of novices in Jesus as Mother, pp. 97–98; the remarks by
Carruthers, Book of Memory, pp. 71 and 307 note 119; and Constable, “Renewal and
Reform,” p. 46. According to his biographer Eadmer, Anselm of Bec also used the seal
metaphor for moral education; Eadmer, Life of Saint Anselm, ed. and trans. Richard
W. Southern (London, 1962), pp. 20–21. In De similitudinibus, PL CLIX, col. 695,
Anselm stated that youth is like a piece of wax, which must be the right consistency,
between hardness and softness, in order to receive a perfect impression; see Goodich,
From Birth to Old Age, p. 93. Anselm also resorted to this trope for the expression of
passionate friendship in addressing one of his correspondents: “He who is imprinted
in my heart like a seal on wax, how could he be removed from my memory?” Epistola
I.4, PL CLVIII, cols. 1068–69, quoted by John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance,
and Homosexuality (Chicago, 1980), p. 218.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 151

present on the seal itself—the legend (text) and the type (image)—
but the essence of their representative power came from their being
produced as imprints. That a seal represents by being an object whose
marked matter has become graven form is crucial in terms of prescho-
lastic semiotics. The seal metaphors previously discussed suggest that
an imprint, by virtue of containing the trace of an origin in its very
matter, is a sign forever indicating a radical presence, for instance, that
of God in human beings. The very act of seal imprinting both articu-
lated and dramatized these principles of marking origin and materi-
alizing presence. Sealers sometimes went so far as to impress parts
of their own bodies on the waxen seal: toothmarks, fingerprints, bits
of hair or beard.78 In the very act of impressing die on wax, the seal
blended with its referent (the sealer), the written text with its enun-
ciating subject (again, the sealer). In terms of prescholastic ontology,
both seals and sealers were imprints carrying within their very mat-
ter the mark of an original. The seal, thereby participating in an exis-
tential relation with the sealer it represented, became an efficacious
sign, a power. Thus was the seal enabled to confer on the document

There are no extant sources describing the eleventh and twelfth-century cer-
emonials of seal imprinting. The only evidence of such imprinting comes from the
seal impressions themselves and from clauses within the texts of the charters that
announce the affixation of seals, as for instance in a charter by Guy of Garlande con-
firming the sale of a wood to the abbey of St. Victor in 1170: “Quod ut ratum atque
firmissimum habeatur, ego Guido presens scriptum sigilli mei impressione corrobo-
rari feci”; Cartulaire général de Paris, Vol. 1, pp. 528–1180, ed. Robert de Lasteyrie
(Paris, 1887), no. 478, pp. 402–403. The corpus of charters given in the name of the
counts of Ponthieu between 1026 and 1279 indicates a preference in early charters for
announcing the application of the seal by the formula sigilli impressione, which insists
on the imprinting process. This formula came to be replaced in later charters by such
expressions as sigilli appensione or sigilli appositione, which focus on the affixation of
the seal to the charter; Brunel, Pontieu, p. LI note 13, where Brunel gives a typology
of the various documentary clauses announcing the seal.
For the centrality of the imprinting mechanism in seal signification, see chapter 7
below, where is also discussed, at notes 100–101, the inscription of bodily imprints
upon seals. Few seals still retain traces of fingerprints, teeth, and beard; see examples
in Alphonse Chassant and P.-J. Delbarre, Dictionnaire de sigillographie pratique (Paris,
1860), pp. 19–20, 147–149, esp. p. 20, where is given the final clause of a charter
of 1121 that reads: “Quod ut ratum . . . perseveret . . . presenti scripto sigilli mei robur
apposui cum tribus pilis barbae meae;” “In order for this [agreement] to remain rati-
fied, I have affixed the force of my seal with three hairs from my beard.” For further
references to and analysis of the imprinting mechanism and bodily imprints on seals,
see B. Bedos-Rezak, “In Search of a Semiotic Paradigm. The Matter of Sealing in Medi-
eval Thought and Praxis (1050–1400),” Good Impressions. Image and Authority in
Medieval Seals, ed. John Cherry and James Robinson, (London, 2008; British Museum,
Occasional Paper series), pp. 1–7.
152 chapter six

its own authority, transforming the document into a monument, which

is the name by which sealed charters came to be known during the
twelfth century.79 In a manner analogous to Hosts imprinted with a
cross, the letters IHS, and, from the twelfth century onward, a cruci-
fixion scene or the lamb of God, seals not only mediated but embodied
the real presence of the individuals who affixed them. Seals allowed
simultaneous presence and representation. Their mode of signification
was through incarnation. The ritual process of sealing also involved a
transformation of substance: it fused two quite different spaces, the
locus on the parchment where the affixed seal affirms that ego was
there and the physical location where the documentary sealing took
place in the presence of witnesses. Above all, sealing changed a writ-
ten leaf of parchment into a monument. This occurred by authorizing
writing, that is, by incorporating the author into the text. Seals were
the incarnation of the ego of diplomatic discourse, marking the charter
so that it acquired substance and body. However, although seals and
the eucharist participated in a common semiotic logic, seals fell short
of sacrality. Their relationship to script occurred at the lower margin
of the page: the ego of the author-donor-sealer and his mark are not
so much within the text but in consubstantial relationship to it.

From Identity to Stereotype

Seals represented individuals and, by personifying their owners, per-

sonalized the written word. From a graphic viewpoint, however, there
is a tension in seals between individualization and categorization. The
text of a seal’s legend contains the individual’s baptismal name but
also both a title (king, count, bishop) and the entity or group ruled,
underscoring the fact that identity was articulated primarily around

Documents came to be seen as monument and as “ammunition:” Fraenkel, La
signature, pp. 17–18, specifically discusses the semantic kinship and ultimate fusion
between monimentum/monumentum (monument or memorial) and munimentum/
munitio (ammunition, fortification), which I noted in B. Bedos-Rezak, “Secular
Administration,” Medieval Latin Studies: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide,
Frank Mantello and A.G. Rigg, eds. (Washington, D.C., 1997), pp. 199–229, at p. 201;
and see Olivier Guyotjeannin, “Le vocabulaire de la diplomatique en latin médiéval:
Noms de l’acte, mise par écrit, tradition, critique, conservation,’’ in Vocabulaire du
livre et de l’écriture au Moyen Age: Actes de la table ronde, Paris 24–26 September 1987,
ed. Olga Weijers (Turnhout, 1989; Etudes sur le vocabulaire intellectuel du Moyen
Age 2), pp. 119–134, at p. 123.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 153

function and its territorial or ethnic circumscription. The legend is

obviously the part of the seal that individualized its owner (fig. 19).
The image of the sealer placed on seals was anthropomorphic, though
not a realistic portrait. I described earlier how the ritual of sealing, of
imprinting, was itself significant in achieving presence and representa-
tion and was often enhanced by bodily marks as part of the imprinting
process. Yet it was also true that a donor might utilize another per-
son’s seal to seal a charter given in his own name; the text in such
cases would duly record the act of borrowing the seal, whereupon the
document produced was considered properly sealed and authorized.80
This specific manipulation indicates, in my opinion, that the generic
gesture of sealing was also effective in committing and representing
an individual, as might be expected of a bodily participation within a
ceremonial culture. It also points to the importance of the spirit, that
is, of the intention to seal, the animus signandi; for intention was the
seal’s intellectual and spiritual element, an important part of both seal
and sealing. Intention was made explicit in a clause within the docu-
ment’s text announcing the affixation of the seal, as well as through the
personal gesture of sealing.81 The referential category engaged by seals
and sealing is, therefore, a physical person who is ethical and account-
able, and endowed with personal intentionality.82

See, for instance, this Norman charter of 1215: “Notum sit omnibus quod ego
Guillermus de Brueriis dedi Deo et beate Marie de Strata quatuor sextaria bladi annu-
atim habenda in terris meis de Brueriis in perpetuam elemosinam . . . et quia sigillum
non habebam presens scriptum sigilli Johannis, tunc temporis vicedecani, roboravi;”
“Let it be known to all that I, William of Bruyères, gave as eternal alms four setters of
wheat to be received annually on my land of Bruyères to God and to Notre-Dame de
L’Etrée . . . And since I did not have a seal I strengthened the present writing with the
seal of John, then vice-dean.” Archives départementales, Eure, fonds de l’Etrée, quoted
in Chassant and Delbarre, Dictionnaire de sigillographie, pp. 177–178.
Guillaume, count of Ponthieu (d. 1129), sealed an agreement with the prior of St.
Peter of Abbeville, pointing out that he had committed himself by speech as he had
signed with his seal, and with his name and the names of his wife and children. The
crosses accompanying the names were probably autograph, although the fact cannot
be established with certainty since the charter is extant only as a fifteenth-century
copy; Brunel, Pontieu, no. 21, pp. 35–37.
For different though complementary approaches to the relationship between person,
personal intention, and concrete worldview, see Léopold Génicot, “Valeur de la per-
sonne ou sens du concret,” in Miscellanea Mediaevalia in memoriam Jan Frederik
Niermeyer (Groningen, 1967), pp. 1–8; and O. Guillot, “La liberté des nobles et des
roturiers dans la France du XIe siècle: L’exemple de leur soumission à la justice,” in
La notion de liberté au Moyen Age: Islam, Byzance, Occident (Paris, 1985), pp. 155–
167. See above note 72 for the changing connotations of the term and concept of
154 chapter six

Depictions of the body on seals are, as I have noted, nonrealistic,

which is not to say that they did not function as a form of portrait
within the medieval rules of figuration. Realism is, after all, simply a
convention, and one that the Middle Ages did not equate or associ-
ate with physiognomic likeness.83 In the charters themselves, authors
refer to their seals as their own image, imago noster, which reveals that
seals and their depictions incorporated elements meaningful to self-
representation.84 Realistic physiognomy was not privileged; emblems
of function and symbols of kinship were. Kings were shown in royal
garb and posture (Figs. 6, 12, 16), nobles as warriors (Figs. 1, 7, 18,
19, 20, 21), and bishops (Figs. 4, 9) in episcopal array. Heraldry, from
the mid-twelfth century onward, served as an iconographic rhetoric
that expressed the identity of a kindred in relation to other groups,
to its own land, and to its separate sub-branches (Fig. 20). From an

Medieval art is traditionally associated with the devaluation of individual like-
ness, a product of nature, and with a preference for symbolizing an individual being in
terms of the “truth” of a general type of image; Belting, Likeness and Presence, p. 132.
The realism or naturalism associated with classical art has, however, been questioned
by Erich S. Gruen, “The Roman Oligarchy: Image and Perception,” Imperium sine fine:
T. Robert S. Broughton and the Roman Republic, ed. Jerzy Linderski (Stuttgart, 1996),
pp. 215–234, who proposes (at pp. 220–222) that while Roman portraits are veristic,
their purpose was not to reproduce a particular face but to convey a stylistic image. I
wish to thank Arthur Eckstein for acquainting me with this essay.
Many examples may be cited from the episcopal charters of Reims, Cambrai,
and Laon, and from royal and aristocratic charters produced in episcopal chanceries;
see Jean Dufour, Recueil des actes de Louis VI, roi de France (1108–1137), 4 vols. (Paris,
1992), vol. 1, no. 180, pp. 373–375: Laon, 1121, King Louis VI confirms an exchange
of properties between Barthélémy of Joux, bishop of Laon, and the Cistercian abbey
of Foigny, and ordered that his confirmation be strengthened with the impression of
his royal image: “Ut vero firmior nostra concession habeatur, nostre regie imaginis
impressione confirmari precepimus.” This diploma was most probably composed
and written in the episcopal chancery of Laon. The written output of the episcopal
chancery of Laon receives a detailed analysis in chapter 7 below, at notes 80–89. The
episcopal acta of Laon have been edited by Annie Dufour-Malbezin, Actes des évêques
de Laon antérieurs à 1151 (Paris, 2001); see for instance charter no. 55, pp. 128–129
(1103), produced by the chancery in the name of the bishop of Laon while Anselm was
chancellor: “Ut autem hec constitution firma et illibata in perpetuum permaneat, hoc
privilegio, nostra imagine munito . . . firmare precepimus;” “We have ordered that this
arrangement be confirmed by this charter affixed with our image.” Brunel, Pontieu,
pp. 165, 187–188, 194, 200, 204, 229; see, for instance, charter no. 56, p. 85 (1155): John,
count of Ponthieu, and his brother Guy confirm the gifts made to the church of St.
John at Amiens by various local lords and begged Thierry, bishop of Amiens, that he
deign to attach the image of his seal (“imaginem sui sigilli”) to their charter. Jan Fred-
erik Niermeyer, Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus (Leiden, 1976), p. 510, lists “seal” as
a primary meaning of imago in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 155

iconographic viewpoint, seals may be said to display abstracted figures

and iconic types. Abstracted figures on seals refer to a conception of
the individual as exoteric, someone who must be seen and decoded.
As iconic types, seals display a severely limited, barely differentiated
repertoire. Seal iconography thus affected the formulation of personal
identity in that, through modulated differences of posture, costume,
and emblems, it established and published a lexicon of images that
classified and limited the contingencies of individual identity. By link-
ing each individual to a formulaic icon, seals tended less to designate
singularity than generic conformity to a group; indeed, they functioned
as an index of shared membership in specific groups (Fig. 21).
Formulaic icons thus suspended individual referentiality, conferring
on seals the status of a system. The text of the legend particularized a
given seal, giving it the status of instance. Thus seal graphism gener-
ated personal identity through a grammar that articulated the orga-
nizing principles of society. In this way, personal identity was defined
and produced as an instance of social order, and thus produced itself
as the verifier of the system it substantiated. The medieval sense of
identity was about resemblance: the person as sign signaled that signs
of representation were in conformity with social reality. This sense of
identity parallels what is conveyed by the seal metaphor: the self as
seal impression. The seal was the form, and the resultant personalized
individual was a likeness.
Seal metaphors and seal graphism were not alone in projecting this
concept of identity. The element of likeness was intensified by the
technique of sealing, which involves duplication. Every seal impression
in wax from a specific matrix was identical. The seal’s competence
and significance was, indeed, predicated on replication. Seals, bearing
conventional images and acting through replication, did not empha-
size distinction so much as likeness. The element of likeness was also
heightened through the very modes by which seals presented them-
selves as representative of their owners: the seal bore and was his
owner’s image, his imago. And the seal owner, as the object of repre-
sentation, himself became an image of sameness, a warranted replica.
The identities of the individual and his seal depended on their
capacity to resemble a model. In its operating and metaphoric princi-
ples, the seal was associated with transcendency (God) and at the same
time also partook of the properties of its referent, an individual. The
seal—operating through the medium of its progeny (the impressions),
through its creative capacity, through its power of becoming (the
156 chapter six

impression), as well as simply of being (the matrix)—was experienced

in analogy to the life process.85 On the mechanism of seal operation,
the individual could project the autonomy of his conscience (we have
seen the importance of intention), his ability to control the idea of
his person. Mechanization and personalization are not contradictory.
Individuals and seals became reciprocal models. Seals, conforming to
and informing the logic of prescholastic semiotics, derived their capac-
ity for signifying from their perceived affinity to, and agency within,
human biography. Thus seals were successful as objects denoting both
identity and authority. They produced identity as a foundation for
documentary authorship, authority, and, ultimately, authentication.
The notion of identity as likeness and replicable resemblance, as it
came to be conceptualized and realized through seals, was to affect
more generally the fabric of social life.

With the diffusion of sealed charters in the eleventh and twelfth cen-
turies, human beings bounded by flesh and consciousness were now
engaging in strategies of deferred representation so that, where they
had previously operated as their own empirical self-representing
agents, they now came to coexist with, indeed relate to, a “double,”
their representative image (imago). This double, which functioned as
if the other (the human absentee) were both present and identical, was
an object, the seal; reciprocally, the seal signified the individual, who
thus came to be newly mobilized as a locus for imparting permanence
and authority to the written word. Such mobilization was therefore
achieved by means of representation conceived both as replicate pres-
ence and as objectification. These two processes had radical effects on
the notion of the individual.86
In the course of embodying the linguistic ego of a charter together
with the physical presence of its individual referent, seal and imago
veered away from personal expression and toward stylization. Seals
empowered not the individual as particular being but the person as
category, the person as representative. The graphic logic of seals estab-
lished a crucial distinction between the individual of flesh and character
and the individual as an impersonation of social roles specified by

In the felicitous words of Margaret Cool Root in her review of Seals and Sealing
in the Ancient Near East, ed. M. Gibson and R.D. Biggs (Malibu, 1977), in the Journal
of Near Eastern Studies, 41 (1982), pp. 58–60.
See above n. 9 the definition of “individual” used in this chapter and the debate
surrounding the “discovery of the individual” in the twelfth century.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 157

codes. The particular living individual of earlier oral ceremonies came

to be increasingly abstracted as an incarnation of a particular social
group. Formulas of identity on seals predicate the notion of individual
as an instance of social organization. The socialization of signs of rec-
ognition prompted a consideration, and an allocation, of emblematic
qualities that came to substitute for individual character. Sigillographic
representation, constituting its subject by exhibiting qualifications
and titles, produced personal legitimacy as a functional effect of the
social framework. Through seals, therefore, the power of authoriza-
tion passed from the individual to the representational framework of
titles and qualifications that enabled, permitted, and authorized his or
her authority. The emergence of the person as a category repositioned
authority itself as an impersonal and atemporal structure capable of
generating itself as state, and duties as law. In producing impersonal
identity as the foundation for authority and authenticity, seals assume
an epiphanic concept of authority that lays claim to function in its
own name, that is, in the name of . . . nobody.87
Individual empowerment by means of seals implied that, as a rep-
resented subject, the medieval human being was reinvented as an
object, becoming a symbolic form wherein the immediate particulars
of personal presence were synthesized and vested in tangible objects,
seals. To be recognized and to be functional as a person, the individual
had to become something else, a sign. Through signs, the individual
acquired definition and was constituted as an effective site for the
production of symbolic activity. Ultimately, individual identity was
subordinated to signs because, in terms of the prescholastic dialectics,
which were used to consider the very possibility of a personal iden-
tity, signs had greater and more stable powers of representation, their
modes of representation involving less portrayal than embodiment.
What arose in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, therefore, was less
“the individual” than a semiotic system, a practice of sign interpretation
that fostered representation of the person as a category. The individ-
ual was a representational device, a point of reference. The individual
consequently appears to have been a casualty of the eleventh and
twelfth centuries, reduced to rule-referential roles, and retreating

In the Odyssey (9, 1, verse 366), Ulysses introduced himself to Cyclops in those
terms: “C’est personne; c’est mon nom”; quoted, translated, and discussed in Leg-
endre, Le désir politique de Dieu, p. 20.
158 chapter six

behind representation and representational signs whose operational

principles lay not in individualization but classification, not in differ-
entiation but replication, not in identification but verification.
Seals did not construct social relationships, but they did catalog
them as a hierarchical set, serving as a formal system for the indication
of social status. The aristocracy, for the period under consideration,
came to recognize itself in terms of its sign-objects, and it was in terms
of these objects that the morality and the standards of the group—
eschatological concerns, warfare, penitential needs, spiritual intentions,
accountability, kindred—came to be expressed. Seals, by establish-
ing social and moral roles as intrinsic constituents of each person’s
identity, fostered an integration of the medieval ethical order. Sealing
practices were developed within the polemical world of prescholastic
schools and chanceries, where debates on semiotics were also doctrinal
and fueled by an awareness that alternative modes of theological inter-
pretation might well lead to the characterization of opponents as alien,
if not heretical. Seen in this light, the objective formulation of identity
through signs may be situated within a larger strategy concerned with
identifying, controlling, and ultimately destroying otherness. Certainly,
the diffusion of sealing and the preoccupation with heresy and doc-
trinal deviance were contemporaneous.88 May not the formulation of
a sign of identity have been stimulated by the struggle for dogmatic
authority and by the related need to oppose those perceived as “other”
and threatening? Such speculative considerations stimulate interest in

In the reforming council held at Reims in 1049, its convener, Pope Leo IX,
denounced many heresies and illicit practices, probably targeting Berengar’s follow-
ers among others (Stock, Implications of Literacy, pp. 146–147; Macdonald, Berengar
and the Reform of Sacramental Doctrine, pp. 56–57). In Cambrai, the anti-Berengar
position of Bishop Gerard (d. 1051) was recorded in the Acta Synodi Atrebatensis (see
chapter 5 above, and chapter 7 below at notes 16–17), a much revised and expanded
version of his confrontation with a group of dissenters at the synod of Arras in 1025
(Stock, Implications of Literacy, pp. 120–39). Roscelin had to defend his views on the
Trinity at a Council held in Soissons in 1092 (Picavet, Roscelin, pp. 50–52). Abelard’s
work was condemned by the Council of Soissons in 1121, the proceedings of which
had been instigated by two pupils of Anselm of Laon, Alberic of Reims and Lotulf of
Novara, and at the Council of Sens in 1140 (Marenbon, Philosophy of Peter Abelard,
pp. 17, 31–32). The violent intellectual climate that pervaded the Gregorian Reform
and its aftermath has been recently analyzed by Dominique Iogna-Prat, “La formation
d’un paradigme ecclésial de la violence intellectuelle dans l’Occident latin aux XIe et
XIIe siècles,” in Le mot qui tue: Histoire des violences intellectuelles de l’Antiquité à nos
jours, ed. Patrick Boucheron and Vincent Azoulay (Seyssel, 2009), pp. 322–331.
See chapter 8 below for a specific instance of the role seals could play in the denun-
ciation of opposition as individuality.
medieval identity: subject, object, agency 159

the actual role of identity and of its signs in the regimentation of social
life, though for the moment we must leave this unresolved.
Prescholastic sign theory informed and enabled the representational
capacity of seals, so that seals could embody the identity and operate
as the imago of their owners through their very modes of signification.
These modes included semantic components (text and image), semiotic
operations (stereotypy, resemblance, replication, and mechanization),
and a metaphorical dimension. Seals were signs that encoded the con-
cept of medieval identity as replicable resemblance. The mode of iden-
tification that seals promoted in the eleventh and twelfth centuries
favored distinction by category. The greater their ability to classify,
the less the seals’ capacity to particularize identity. But of course, in
prescholastic culture, true identity, that is, a perfect correspondence
between an original and its image, as conceived for the Trinity or the
eucharist, could only be a divine attribute.


[The following scene takes place in Sri Lanka (Ceylon).]

There is a ceremony to prepare the artificer during the night before he
paints. You realize, he is brought in only to paint the eyes on the Buddha
image. The eyes must be painted in the morning, at five. The hour the
Buddha attained enlightenment. The ceremonies therefore begin the
night before, with recitations and decorations in the temples.
Without the eyes there is not just blindness, there is nothing. There
is no existence. The artificer brings to life sight and truth and presence.
Later he will be honored with gifts. Lands or oxen. He enters the temple
doors. He is dressed like a prince, with jewellery, a sword at his waist,
lace over his head. He moves forward accompanied by a second man,
who carries brushes, black paint and a metal mirror.
He climbs a ladder in front of the statue. The man with him climbs
too. This has taken place for centuries, you realize, there are records of
this since the ninth century. The painter dips a brush into the paint and
turns his back to the statue, so it looks as if he is about to be enfolded in
the great arms. The paint is wet on the brush. The other man, facing him,
holds up the mirror, and the artificer puts the brush over his shoulder
and paints in the eyes without looking directly at the face. He uses
just the reflection to guide him—so only the mirror receives the direct
image of the glance being created. No human eye can meet the Buddha’s
during the process of creation . . . . He never looks at the eyes directly. He
can only see the gaze in the mirror.
Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost

Images and the Senses: From Gregory the Great to Guillaume Durand

In 600, Gregory the Great (d. 604) wrote to the iconoclastic bishop
of Marseille, Serenus, that images (picturae) in churches allow those
who do not know letters (litteras) to learn something of sacred history
(historia) by seeing (visione) and reading (lectione) on the walls what
they are unable to grasp in written texts. In his letter, Gregory gave
much evidence of his belief in the supremacy of the written word over
the painted image. He repeatedly cast the non-literate as ignorant
simpletons (ignorantes, idiotae) and virtual pagans (gentes). Though
recognizing the image to be functionally analogous to script when the
capacity for reading Scripture was wanting, he nevertheless denied
162 chapter seven

concrete images any of the sacrality that imbued the Bible. He held
that the contemplation of religious images might lead to the adoration
of God, but that the power to do so was not inherent in the image
itself. For Gregory, the effect of an image was limited by what corpo-
real vision could offer, a mere sensual grasp of material forms. It was
the historia painted upon religious images, it was the vision of sacred
history (visio historiae, visio rei gestae) which engaged spiritual seeing
and feelings (ardor compunctionis), and led to proper adoration, that
of the Triune God.1
When early eight-century Byzantine iconoclasm radicalized the
ongoing debates surrounding the place of icons in Christian worship,
the council of II Nicaea, in 787, proceeded to justify the cultic use
of images. A Latin mistranslation from the Greek counciliar acta
led Frankish scholars to believe that the Byzantines had condoned
the adoration of images. On the basis of this misunderstanding, the
Franks found themselves in a tricky situation. Following the tradition
laid down by Gregory the Great, they had to accept images, even while

“. . . Et quidem quia eas [imagines] adorari vetuisses, omnino laudavimus; fregisse
vero reprehendimus . . . Aliud est enim picturam adorare, aliud per picturae historiam
quid sit adorandum addiscere. Nam quod legentibus scripture, hoc idiotis praestat
pictura cernentibus, quia in ipsa etiam ignorantes vident qui sequi debeant, in ipsa
legunt qui litteras nesciunt. Unde et praecipue gentibus pro lectione pictura est . . .
Ac deinde subjungendum quia picturas imaginum, quae ad aedificationem imperiti
populi fuerant factae, ut nescientes litteras, ipsam historiam intendentes, quid actum
sit discerent, quia transisse in adorationem videras, idcirco commotus es, ut eas ima-
gines frangi praeciperes. Atque eis dicendum: si ad hanc instructionem ad quam
imagines antiquitus factae sunt habere vultis in ecclesia, eas modis omnibus et fieri
et haberi. Atque indica quod non tibi ipsa visio historiae, quae pictura teste pende-
batur, displicuerit, sed illa adoratio quae picturis fuerat incompetenter exhibita . . .”,
Epistolae Gregorii Magni, X.13, Ad Serenum Massiliensem Episcopum, PL LXXVII,
col. 1128B–C, 1129A–B; X. 10, S. Gregorius Magnus Registrum Epistularum, ed. Dag
Norberg, (Tumhout, 1982; Corpus christianorum series Latina 140–140A), 140A,
pp. 874–875; Jean-Claude Schmitt, “Ecriture et image: les avatars médiévaux du modèle
grégorien,” in Théories et pratiques de l’écriture au Moyen Age (Nanterre, 1987),
pp. 119–154 at pp. 122–124; J.-Cl. Schmitt, “L’occident, Nicée II et les images du
VIIIe au XIIIe siècle,” in Nicée II, 787–1987 Douze siècles d’images religieuses, ed. Fran-
çois Boespflug and Nicolas Lossky (Paris, 1987), pp. 271–301, reprinted in his Le corps
de l’image: Essais sur la culture visuelle au Moyen Age (Paris, 2002), pp. 63–95; Herbert
L. Kessler, “Real Absence: Early Medieval Art and the Metamorphosis of Vision,”
in Morfologie sociali e culturali in Europa fra tarda antichitá e alto medieovo, Setti-
mana di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo xlv (Spoleto, 1998), pp.
1157–1211, reprinted in Spiritual Seeing: Picturing God’s Invisibility in Medieval Art
(Philadelphia, 2000), pp. 105–148 at p. 120–121; Celia M. Chazelle, “Pictures, Books
and the Illiterates: Pope Gregory I’s Letter to Serenus of Marseille,” Word and Image
6 (1990), pp. 138–153.
images of identity and the identity of images 163

rebuking what they considered to be Byzantine iconolatry.2 This,

they did by denying material images any spiritual significance, and
by emphasizing that whatever knowledge images might impart was
independent of their matter and the form of their production. Con-
sequently, only the mental vision of things having neither images nor
likeness, such as love, might lead to an understanding of what was
being seen. Material and bodily images of physical things, on the other
hand, which varied with the carnal vision of beholders, could convey
no true knowledge of what was being seen.3

On the reception and deliberations of these theories in Carolingian Europe, in the
Opus Caroli regis (formerly titled Libri Carolini ), at the Frankfurt synod of 794, in the
Paris synod of 824, and in the Libellus, see Ann Freeman, “Theodulf of Orléans and
the Libri Carolini,” Speculum 32 (1957), pp. 663–705; Schmitt, “L’occident, Nicée II,”
pp. 274–277; Stephen Gero, “The Libri Carolini and the Image Controversy,” Greek
Orthodox Theological Review 18 (1973), pp. 7–34; A. Freeman, “Carolingian Ortho-
doxy and the Fate of the Libri Carolini,” Viator 16 (1985), pp. 65–108; Hans Belting,
Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (Chicago, 1994),
pp. 297–298; Thomas F.X. Noble, “Tradition and Learning in Search of Ideology,”
in “The Gentle Voices of Teachers”: Aspects of Learning in the Carolingian Age, ed.
Richard Sullivan (Columbus, 1995), pp. 227–260; Opus Caroli regis adversus synodum
(Libri Carolini), ed. A. Freeman et al. (Hannover 1998); Th. Noble, “From the Libri
Carolini to the Opus Caroli Regis,” Journal of Medieval Latin 9 (1999), pp. 131–147;
C. Chazelle, The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 120–124;
Kristina Mitalaïté, Philosophie et théologie de l’image dans les ‘Libri Carolini’ (Paris,
2007; Collection des études augustiennes: Moyen Age et Temps Modernes 43).
On the instructions of Louis the Pious, Jonas of Orléans completed, in 840, the
De Cultu Imaginum (PL CVI, cols. 305B–388A).
Eighth-century western justification of images, held in response to and contempo-
rary with eastern Iconoclasm and with the more moderate anti-image texts of the Opus
Caroli regis (Libri Carolini), was developed within the framework of Pope Gregory
the Great’s writings on the pedagogical utility, and commemorative and spiritual
function of images. Yet, whereas Gregory had assigned to Christ’s incarnation, and
not to image, the capacity to lead from visible to invisible things, an eighth-century
interpolation to Gregory’s Letter to Secundinus applied this capacity to the picture
of Christ itself. Widely quoted thereafter by western supporters of images, the inter-
polated passage asserted that the image of Christ elicited feelings of love, which
carried the mind toward a contemplation of God in the spirit. According to this theory
feelings, not images, lead the mind to contemplation of the invisible God; the role of
images, thus, was purely affective, Kessler, “Real Absence, pp. 1157–1211, reprinted in
Spiritual Seeing, pp. 105–148, with further bibliography. This theory is pure Augustine,
as excerpted from his De genesi ad litteram, De Trinitate, De magistro, De fide rerum
invisibilium, De consensu evangelistarum, and De doctrina Christiana: Whether
conventional or figurative, linguistic or material, Augustinian signs and images were
radically distinguished from their things, the eternal realities to which they pointed.
Signification was thus removed from its sensory and physical basis, and physical
objects disappeared behind those transcendental truths they were assumed to symbolize:
Noble shows admirably the extent to which Carolingian scholars were dependent
upon Augustine’s dualism: “The Vocabulary of Vision and Worship,” pp. 213–237.
164 chapter seven

Centuries later, Guillaume Durand, bishop of Mende, wrote in the

Rationale divinorum officiorum (1285–1292) that ‘images seem better
to be able to move the spirit than scripture, which is why, in the
Church, we show more reverence to images than to books.’ Bishop
Guillaume faulted books for being like hearing (auditum), a sense
which he declared did not much move the soul in bringing sacred
history back to memory, in contrast to images which affect the soul by
placing sacred history right before the eyes.4 Yet, even as he inverted
Gregory’s judgment in comparing the written word and the image,
Guillaume prefaced his chapter on Images, where this statement is
situated, with a quotation from the primary auctoritas on the subject,
the very letter of Gregory to Bishop Serenus just cited.

Numerous studies have analyzed the status of images and artefacts in the early
Middle Ages, of which the following are but a representative sample: C. Chazelle,
“Matter, Spirit, and Image in the Libri Carolini,” Recherches augustiniennes 21 (1986),
pp. 163–184; C. Chazelle, “ ‘Not in Painting But in Writing’: Augustine and the
Supremacy of the Word in the Libri Carolini,” in Reading and Wisdom: The De
doctrina Christiana of Augustine in the Middle Ages, ed. Edward D. English (Notre
Dame, 1995), pp. 1–22; C. Chazelle, “Images, Scripture, the Church, and the Libri
Carolini,” Proceedings of the Patristic, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies Conference
16/17 (1993), pp. 53–76; Schmitt, “L’occident, Nicée II et les images du VIIIe au
XIIIe siècle,” pp. 63–95; J.-Cl. Schmitt, “Liberté et norme des images occidentales,”
in Le corps de l’image, pp. 135–164, especially at pp. 140–44; Kessler, “Real Absence,”
(where the author traces the disintegration, around the middle of the twelfth century,
between physical and spiritual images), and H. Kessler, “ ‘Facies Bibliothecae Revelata.’
Carolingian Art as Spiritual Seeing,” in Spiritual Seeing, pp. 104–148, 149–189; Mary
Carruthers, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images,
400–1200 (Cambridge, 1998); Approaches to Early Medieval Art, ed. Lawrence Nees,
Speculum 72/4 (1997; reprinted (Cambridge, 1998).
‘Pictura namque plus videtur movere animum quam scripture. Per picturam
quidem res gesta ante oculos ponitur; sed per scripturam res gesta quasi per auditum,
qui minus movet animam, ad memoriam revocatur. Hinc etiam est, quod, in ecclesia
non tantam reverentiam exhibemus libris, quantum imaginibus et picturis’, quoted in
Schmitt, “L’occident, Nicée II, et les images du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle,” p. 298.
In his commentaries on Peter Lombard’s Sententiae, Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)
wrote: ‘Fuit autem triplex ratio institutionis imaginem in Ecclesia . . . Secundo ut
incarnationis mysterium et sanctorum exempla magis in memoria nostra essent, dum
quotidie oculis repraesentantur. Tercio ad excitandum devotionis affectum qui
ex visis efficacius incitantur quam ex auditis,’ Sententiae, III, IX, 1,2,7, quoted in
Schmitt, “L’occident, Nicée II, et les images du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle,” p. 296, and
in Jean Wirth, “Structure et fonctions de l’image chez saint Thomas d’Aquin,” in
L’image: Fonctions et usages des images dans l’Occident médiéval, ed. Jerôme Baschet
and J-Cl. Schmitt (Paris, 1996), pp. 39–57 at p. 51; see also Ruedi Imbach and
Francois-Xavier Putallaz, “Notes sur l’usage du terme imago chez Thomas D’Aquin,”
in La visione e lo sguardo nel medio evo. View and Vision in the Middle Ages. I,
Micrologus 5 (1997), pp. 69–88.
images of identity and the identity of images 165

By the thirteenth century, however, the agency of images had clearly

left the sphere of illiteracy for a more general instrumentality affect-
ing the human mind.5 The theory of images had evolved well beyond,
indeed often opposed, Gregory’s postulate, which nevertheless contin-
ued respectfully to be quoted. Bishop Guillaume is in fact representative
of generations of medieval commentators, and even of modern medi-
evalists, who have interpreted Gregory as contrasting image to writing,
and for whom the Gregorian polarity of images and letters, the sen-
sual and the rational, has had an enduring interpretive power. Both
medieval and modern historiography may have reconfigured or even
challenged the specifics of the relationship between script and image
but omitting, for instance, consideration of the role of hearing in this
relationship, has largely persisted in regarding these two media, script
and image, as dialectic elements of an inevitably binary system. Polar-
ization, however, need not have been the principal, still less the only,
meaning of what Gregory wrote. While he argued for the superiority of
writing as a communicative system and distinguished between educated
and ignorant audiences, he also implied a certain degree of analogy
between written text and image with respect to function (didactic),
as well as to cognitive (reading) and signifying (linguistic) modes.
Furthermore, a theory of polarization cannot easily accommodate
a situation wherein literacy developed in parallel to a simultaneous
expansion of images, the situation which obtained in Western Europe
from the eleventh century to the Reformation. Nor did the extension
of literate practices result in an invariable belief that writing was a
superior system of communication. In Eadmer’s account of the con-
troversy between Henry I, king of England, and Anselm, archbishop
of Canterbury, about the royal investiture of churches, both parties
sought support from the Pope. Henry sent three bishops and Anselm
two monks. A formal reply came in 1101, by way of papal letters
which, sealed with leaden bullae and bearing monograms and the
marks of curial officials, were perhaps the most impressive documents

Michael Camille, ‘The Gregorian Definition Revisited: Writing and the Medieval
Image,’ in L’image: Fonctions et usages, ed. Baschet and Schmitt, pp. 89–107; Schmitt,
“L’occident, Nicée II et les images du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle;” Schmitt, “Ecriture et
image;” Lawrence Duggan, “Was Art Really the ‘Book of the Illiterate’?” Word and
Image 5 (1989), pp. 227–251; Kessler, “Real Absence;” H.L. Kessler, “The Function of
Vitrum Vestitum and the use of Materia Saphirorum in Suger’s St.-Denis,” in L’image:
Fonctions et usages, ed. Baschet and Schmitt, pp. 179–203, reprinted in Kessler, Spiritual
Seeing, pp. 190–205.
166 chapter seven

produced in medieval Europe up to that time. King Henry’s episco-

pal envoys nevertheless insisted that they had also received an oral
message from the Pope. This led to a debate about whether to rely on
‘the uncertainty of mere words,’ or upon ‘the deadness of sheepskin
blackened with ink and weighted with a little lump of lead.’ The parti-
sans of the written word, Anselm’s monks, buttressed their argument
with this indignant question: ‘Are not the Gospels written down on
In the mid-twelfth century, canon-law scholars came to focus their
attention upon the nature of proof, early manifesting a tendency to
favor oral testimony over the written instrument in their assertion that:
‘dignior est vox viva testium quam vox mortua instrumentorum.’7 The
primacy of oral testimony, however, remained controversial and did
not achieve canonical status until Innocent III’s decretal ‘Cum Joannes
Eremita’ (1206–1209) endorsed it.8 Pope Innocent IV (d. 1254) went
so far as to denounce the notarial office on the older grounds that it
gave credence to the skin of a dead animal: ‘certum est quod contra
jus est officium tabellionis, quia chartae animalis mortui creditur sine
adminiculo . . . Sunt [chartae] nam hujusmodi quasi contra naturam et
miraculosa[e] . . ., contra leges publicas et contra jus naturale.’9 Even
two centuries later, Niccolo dei Tedeschi, known as Panormitanus
(d. 1453), voiced a continuing distrust for written proofs: ‘quod probatio
per instrumentum est supernaturalis, et contra ius, ut credatur pelli
animalis mortui. Sed probatio quae fit per duos testes est naturalis
secundum ius divinum et humanum: ergo haec est praeferenda.’10 The
position adopted by Innocent III favoring oral testimony did not
remain confined to the domain of canon law but entered both Roman
(civil) law and the French droit coutumier where it remained until

Eadmeri Historia Novorum in Anglia, ed. Martin Rule, RS 81 (London, 1884),
pp. 132–140; Michael T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England 1055–1307,
2nd edn. (Oxford and Cambridge, 1993), pp. 260–262.
Jean-Philippe Lévy, La hiérarchie des preuves dans le droit savant du Moyen-Age
depuis la Renaissance du Droit Romain jusqu’ à la fin du XIVe siècle (Paris, 1939),
p. 88.
Lévy, La hiérarchie des preuves, pp. 90–91.
Innocent IV on X.2.22.14, no. 1; quoted in J.-Ph. Levy, “Coup d’œil d’ensemble
sur la preuve littérale,” Hommages à Gérard Boulve. Index, Quaderni camerti di studi
romanistici/Internalional Survey of Roman Law 15 (1987), pp. 473–502, at p. 24.
Panormitanus on X.2.22.10 (Innocent III’s decretal ‘Cum Joannes Eremita’),
no. 13; quoted in Lévy, La hiérarchie des preuves, p. 102.
images of identity and the identity of images 167

its demise in 1566 when the royal ordinance of Moulins decisively

affirmed the overruling domination of the written proof.11
The rational offered by canon law from the early thirteenth century
onward in support of the oral testimony of witnesses hinged upon
their ability, as living creatures, to stand in person before the judge and
to speak (vox viva), revealing feelings and convictions through their
hesitations, and their flushed or blanching faces.12 In the late four-
teenth century, Baldus (1327–1400), an academic jurist equally well
versed in civilian and canon law, summed up this tradition in terms
that emphasized the impact of the voice on the hearer’s mind: ‘acuitas
vivae vocis fortius et efficacius movet animum auditoris . . . Habet enim,
in se ipsum, removentem intellectum ex veritate ei data a nature.’13
This connection, between speech, hearing, and feelings, is precisely
what Guillaume Durand, though himself an excellent canonist and
liturgist, had explicitly denied when he granted to the visual sense and
to images the power to move the mind.14 True, he was then concerned
with theology rather than with law, but his justification of images, and
his concomitant denigration of books as associated with speech and
hearing, were based upon a psychological argument, as indeed was the
canonistic support of speech. Thus, in the opinions of both lawyers and
theologians, the voice and matter of the written word were considered
to be dead entities; only speech or image might move the soul.
The earliest dissidents to be burned at the stake for heresy (Orleans,
1022) used the same argument later to be invoked by the doctrinally
orthodox monks of Bishop Anselm and in canon law. These dissidents
had belittled their clerical examiners by denigrating the Church’s
book-learning ‘as human fabrications written on the skins of animals.’
To this dead body of carnal fiction, which they deemed a superfluous

Lévy, “Coup d’œil,” pp. 481–4833.
Ps.-Irnerius (d. c. 1130): ‘[testes] quorum auctoritas maxima habetur propter
presentiam . . .,’ Summa Codicis [Trecensis; in this edition falsely attributed to Irnerius,
fl. 1110], ed. Hermann Fitting (Berlin, 1894), C.4.20, no. 1; John of Salisbury (d. 1180):
‘Testes testimoniis praeferantur. Nam cum testes examinari possint, testimonia semper
et apud omnes eadem sunt,” Policraticus V. 14, ed. Clement C.I. Webb (Oxford, 1909).
Accursius (d. 1263): ‘ut [testes] possint terrore iudicis imminente interrogari,’ Glossa
Ordinaria, D. (the first critical edition of the Accursian gloss is being pub-
lished in Italy).
Quoted in Lévy, La hiérarchie des preuves, p. 104.
See above, at note 4.
168 chapter seven

detour away from God, they opposed a knowledge received directly

from God and written in the inner self by the Holy Spirit.15
Images too, however, were decried, by yet other heretics. Their icon-
oclastic position is recorded in the mid-eleventh-century Acta Synodi
Atrebatensis, a much-revised and expanded version of Bishop Gerard
of Cambrai’s (d. 1051) confrontation with a group of dissenters at
the synod of Arras in 1025.16 In chapters XIII and XIV of the Acta,
De veneratione Dominicae crucis and De imagine Salvatoris in cruce,
Gerard argued against their opposition to the veneration of sacred
images. He insisted that the bodily image of Christ or of the saints
informed the illiterate, aroused the inner man, and engaged his spiri-
tual imagination, a position in direct continuity with the Gregorian
notion that images could conduct the viewer beyond the sensible and
toward the Holy.17 Gerard’s argument went further, however, inno-
vating in two directions. First, he considered both the cross (crucis
vexillum, crux, vivificum lignum), that is, the simple linear sign, and
the crucifix, that is, a cross bearing the anthropomorphic image of
the crucified son of man, giving each a distinct treatment in separate
chapters. He buttressed the veneration of the cross by emphasizing its

This account is from Paul, of the abbey of St. Pere de Chartres: ‘Ista illis narrare
potes, qui terrena sapiunt atque credunt ficta carnalium hominum, scripta in mem-
branulis animalium; nobis autem qui legem scriptam habemus in interiori homine a
Spiritu Sancto, et nichil aliud sapimus, nisi quod a Deo, omnium conditore, didicimus,
incassum superflua et a Divinitate devia profers’, Cartulaire de l’abbaye de St.-Père de
Chartres, ed. Benjamin Guérard, 2 vols. (Paris, 1840), i, 114, quoted in Brian Stock,
The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the
Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton, 1983), p. 115; Clanchy, From Memory to
Written Record, p. 262. For a critical review of the texts recording the Orléans epi-
sode, see Robert-Henri Bautier, “L’hérésie d’Orléans et le mouvement intellectuel au
début du XIe siècle. Documents et hypothèses,” in Enseignement et vie intellectuelle
(IXe–XVIe siècle). Actes du 95e Congrès national des sociétés savantes, Reims, 1970
(Paris, 1975), pp. 63–88; Michael Frassetto, “The Heresy at Orlérans in 1022 in the
Writings of Contemporary Churchmen,” Nottingham Medieval Studies 49(2005),
pp. 1–17; Robert I. Moore, The Birth of Popular Heresy (Toronto, 1995), pp. 10–15.
Stock, Implications of Literacy, pp. 120–39; M. Frassetto, “Reaction and Reform:
Reception of Heresy in Arras and Aquitaine in the Early Eleventh Century,” The Cath-
olic Historical Review 83(1997), pp. 385–400.
Acta Synodi Atrebatensis in Manichaeos, PL CXLII, col. 1306B–D: ‘Est vero alia
hujus ratio: simpliciores quippe in ecclesia et illiterati, quod per Scripturas non pos-
sunt intueri, hoc per quaedam picturae liniamenta contemplatur, id est, Christum
in ea humilitate, qua pro nobis pati et mori voluit. Dum hanc speciem venerantur, . . .
Christum solum, non opus manuum hominum adorant . . . Similiter de imaginibus
sanctorum ratiocinari licet, quae ideo in sancta ecclesia fiunt, non ut ab hominibus
adorari debeant, sed ut per eas interius excitemur ad contemplationem gratiae divinae
operationem . . .’
images of identity and the identity of images 169

continuing significance in human destiny, from the Fall (lignum scien-

tiae boni et mali) to redemption (lignum vitae).18 In treating worship
and adoration, however, Gerard discursively transformed the cross
into a crucifix: ‘glorificantes igitur crucem Dominicam, Christum,
quasi pendentem in ea, mente invocamus.’19 Gerard’s approach testifies
to the growing presence of the imago crucis in cultic sensibilities
and in liturgical practices, a role that prior to the eleventh century
had been primarily if not exclusively filled by the signum crucis. This
anthropomorphic turn was not specific to the cross. It also affected the
form of reliquaries, no longer simply caskets, however decorated, but
now typically three-dimensional, assuming the human shape of the
saint or of his or her preserved relic.20 In both instances, the formula
changed from the abstract to the figurative, from the allegorical to
the mimetic, from the symbolic to the incarnational. Second, although
Gerard somewhat conflated signum and imago crucis, and although he
ranked the imago crucis with the imagines sanctorum, he nevertheless
managed to assign to ‘the visible image of Jesus crucified’ a unique
power, that of ‘engraving itself on the human heart so that everybody
may recognize their debts toward the Redeemer.’21 In the Gregorian

‘Primus namque Adam inobedientiae mucrone interfectus est a ligno scientiae
boni et mali, et nos secum traxit in mortem; secundus Adam per palmam obedientiae
a cruce transitivit in vitam aeternam, et nos secum duxit,’ PL CXLII, col. 1305A–B.
PL CXLII, col. 1306A.
In Carolingian times, reservations about images abated when it came to relics.
Sculptures of the ninth century which housed the remnants of saints were figural,
assimilating statue and reliquary: Jean Hubert and Marie-Clotilde Hubert, “Piété chré-
tienne ou paganisme? Les statues-reliquaires de l’Europe carolingienne,” Christianiz-
zazione ed organizazione ecclesiastica delle campagne nell’alto medioevo: espansione
e resistenze. Settimana di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo xviii
(Spoleto, 1982), pp. 235–275.
Ultimately, statues of saints came to be empty of relics and venerated in and for
themselves, Schmitt, “L’occident, Nicée II et les images du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle,” 282–6;
Schmitt, “La culture de l’imago,” Annales, Histoire, Sciences sociales 51/1 (1996),
pp. 3–36 at pp. 14–18; Hans Belting, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image
before the Era of Art, trans. E. Jephcott (Chicago and London, 1994), pp. 299–303;
Cynthia Hahn, “Seeing and Believing: the Construction of Sanctity in Early Medieval
Saints’ Shrines,” in Approaches to Early Medieval Art, ed. Laurence Nees, Speculum
72 (1997), pp. 1079–1106, and Hahn, ‘The Voices of the Saints: Speaking Reliquaries,’
Gesta 36 (1997), pp. 20–31.
“Non enim truncus ligneus adoratur, sed per illam visibilem imaginem mens
interior hominis excitatur, in qua Christi passio et mors pro nobis suscepta tanquam
in membrana cordis inscribitur, ut in se unusquisque recognascat quanta suo Redemp-
tori debeat; dum videlicet juxta Salvatoris sententiam, quae postulat imago Caesaris,
reddantur Caesari, et quae Dei, Deo,” PL CXLII, col. 1306C; Schmitt, “L’occident,
Nicée II et les images du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle,” pp. 287–8.
170 chapter seven

scheme and its early medieval aftermath, images were held to be radi-
cally distinct from the truth, from the absent figures they portrayed;
sensual reactions aroused by images in men had to be transcended in
order to reach proper adoration of the Holy. In Gerard’s words, how-
ever, the bodily image of Christ could mediate a presence of Christ in
man, was itself constitutive of the faithful’s reckoning with Christ’s
passion. Here the evolution was from an image that was seen, over-
taken, and discarded, to one that was imprinted, remained present,
and was capable of actualizing the presence of the figure represented.
At stake in these arguments concerning images, letters, physical
symbols, and sacraments, was the power of mediation, a power whose
nature was increasingly theorized, perhaps even experienced, as capable
of effecting visibility and presence with respect to things invisible or
absent. A perceptible tension now developed at the level of experienced
reality, between the current practice of iconic signs and the traditional
template still being invoked to stipulate the systematic linkage of form
and meaning. The confusion that had arisen concerning the status of
tangible signs in the eleventh century is palpable in Bishop Gerard’s
muddled account of his encounters with the aforementioned heretics.
Each party accused the other of physicality. The heretics blamed the
institutional church for making spirituality contingent upon physical
manifestations. Gerard blamed the heretics for misunderstanding the
place of tangible objects and rituals in religious life and for reject-
ing their mediation. For eleventh- and twelfth-century theorists, the
traditional semiotics inherent in early medieval thought including
that of Gregory the Great seemed inadequate to rebut attack against
physicalism and to theorize its proper place in Christian culture.
Prescholastic thinkers needed to develop both a theory to support
a representational system in which material entities were central to
signification, and the system itself. Prescholastics re-conceived signify-
ing modes that would enable signs to be experienced as if the referent,
the other, the absent one, were present and, if not identical at least
identifiable through resemblance. In prescholastic sign theory, signs
signified through their capacity to embody their referents’ character-
istics. Of this signifying process, eucharistic transubstantiation was
the ultimate if singular model.22 Medieval semiotics thereby shifted

See chapters 5 and 6 above, for the full argument concerning the relationship
between eleventh- and twelfth-century eucharistic debates and semiotic turn. Bedos-
Rezak, “Une image ontologique: sceau et ressemblance en France préscolastique
images of identity and the identity of images 171

emphasis from transcendence to immanence, from deferral to refer-

ence, from representation to actualization.
I propose in this chapter to analyze the formulation of an immanent
theory of signs by focusing upon one specific aspect of prescholastics’
engagement with semiotics, their discourse about and their manipu-
lation of images. I will contend that prescholastic theories of image,
in shunning the concept of image as mirror in favor of a consider-
ation of image as imprint, articulated an awareness of the relation-
ship between modes of iconic representation, the constitution of the
subject, ego, and the construction of subjectivity. I will also argue that
the prescholastic re-interpretation of image as imprint marks a critical
moment in the medieval history of representation since it was as an
imprint, the seal, that the image first emerged within the field of social
praxis. Once there, the imprinted imago evolved further, into a replica
(c. 1180–1250). Each of these formulas, mirror, imprint, replica, inter-
sected and interacted with definitions of the person, and of identity,
ultimately producing a practice of representation which, in turn,
reciprocally affected the body social and the world of images. As the
changed semiotics of prescholastic images appears to have been con-
comitant with new representational practices, the very performance
of these images in society seems to have brought about working defi-
nitions which came to subvert the rules constructed at the theoretical
level. Ultimately, images could and did assert control over their own

The Currency of Imago: Augustine, Byzantine Anti-Iconoclasm, and

Twelfth-Century Scholarship

The prescholastic term imago had currency in several fields. In anthro-

pological theology, imago articulated the essential relationship of man
to his maker, God. In incarnational theology, imago was the image of
God who took human form in the person of his son, and who was on
earth “the image of the father.” In linguistics, the concept of imago
extended to textual metaphors. In what we would call psychology,

(1000–1200),” in Etudes d’histoire de l’art offertes à Jacques Thirion: Des premiers temps
Chrétiens au XXe Siècle, ed. Alain Erlande-Brandenburg and Jean-Michel Leniaud
(Paris, 2001), pp. 39–50.
172 chapter seven

imago referred to mental images produced by dreams, to the memory, to

the imagination. In prescholastic theories of cognition, imago underlay
perceptions of the mind; it was a sign that enabled the contemplation
of things. In the world of material symbols, imago designated the rep-
resentation of forms and thus, in the diplomatic discourse of charters,
imago meant seal.23 The primary sense of imago was mimesis, which
afforded a conceptual tool allowing comparison and appraisal in two
fundamental circumstances: that of humanity created in the image of
God, and that of things experienced in multiple forms (actual, linguis-
tic, iconic etc.). Thus, the prescholastic imago was first and foremost
an agent for the conceptualization of referentiality, bringing images
within the hermeneutical sphere of semiotics.
The centrality of imago in the eleventh- and twelfth-century theo-
logical discourse of northern European schoolmen was fostered by
their interest in creation, the creation of man in the image of God, the
generation of Christ as the image of God. Just as imago was used to
explain relationships of man and Christ to the Godhead, incarnation
and human creation were used to explain the relationship between
images and their referents. Twelfth-century theology and anthropol-
ogy both thus came to be articulated through, and dependent upon, a
fully elaborated theory of imagery. For that very reason, the economy
of representation through images became inseparable from its anchor
in personality, whether human or divine.
Byzantine theologians had already probed the nature of the rela-
tionship between images and physical persons. From the eight-century
onward, anti-iconoclasts insisted that images could represent human
beings such as Jesus, because images always represent persons who
exist within a human body. Thus, Christ-the-man was visible in his
image; but how could the invisible God be said to have been rendered
visible in Christ as in an image? Attempts to answer this question led
to the notion that the Christ-image contained its own archetype: God,
the archetype, was materialized in the son of Man as in an image, a
formula that owed much to familiarity with Platonic thought.24 This

Schmitt, “La culture de l’imago,” p. 4; Bedos-Rezak, “Une image ontologique,”
pp. 39–50, at pp. 42–44; Robert Javelet, Image et ressemblance au 12e siècle, de saint
Anselme à Alain de Lille, 2 vols (Paris, 1967), vol. 1, xix–xxiii.
Beltig, Likeness and Presence, p. 152. Belting carefully demonstrates how the
theory of images produced to oppose the iconoclasts was revolutionary in that it con-
sidered the image and the word of God to be equal media of revelation; in earlier
theories revelation had rested solely on God’s written word. Nevertheless, the anti-
images of identity and the identity of images 173

image (Christ), however, was engendered, and iconoclasts insisted

that it should thus be distinguished from images created by imitation.
The iconophile, Theodore of Studios (759–826), drawing further upon
Neo-Platonism, rehabilitated the created, artificial, image by stating
that all types of image originate in a prototype: “As a seal belonged
to an impression, so a likeness belonged to a model.”25 Here, the seal
metaphor articulates a central aim of Byzantine theology, which was
to trace the image back to the truth of its archetype.26 Of interest here
is the notion that the truth of images rests upon a mechanical imita-
tion of the model’s forms and specific features, that an image actually
depicts the person who was the model. Since an image’s truth derived
from its figural identity with its archetype, and since everything was
created from an archetype, nothing could claim to be real that did not
lend itself to being represented by an image. However, though sharing
an identity of forms, archetype and image differ in substance. Theo-
dore of Studios, who had used the seal metaphor to establish formal
identity, resorted once again to this metaphor to illustrate differences
in substance: “take the example of a signet-ring engraved with the
imperial image, and let it be impressed upon wax, pitch, and clay. The
impression is one and the same in the several materials which, how-
ever, are different with respect to each other; the impression remained
identical [precisely] because it was entirely unconnected with the
material . . . The same applies to the likeness of Christ irrespective of
the material upon which it is represented.”27 In this metaphor, the

iconoclastic theologians also sought to justify their doctrine of images by drawing

upon the patristic tradition. Church Fathers (Basil the Great, ca. 330–79, in particular)
were not concerned about images per se but had invoked them as an explanatory
device to elucidate the two natures of Christ. Resorting to the platonic concept of
archetype (God) and image (Christ, bearer of its archetype), they in effect provided
later theologians with a justification to venerate images in the name of the person they
represented, in the same way that the Father, contained in the Son as in an image,
could be honored in Christ (pp. 149–155).
Patrologiae cursus completus, series graeca, ed. Jacques Paul Migne, 221 vols
(Paris, 1841–1864), vol. XCV, col. 163, vol. XCIX, cols. 432–33; quoted in Belting,
Likeness and Presence, p. 153. On Theodore’s argument that the icon affirms and
proves the truth of Christ’s incarnation, see Constantin Scouteris, ‘La personne du
verbe incarné et l’icône. L’argumentation iconoclaste et la réponse de saint Théodore
Studite,’ in Nicée II, pp. 121–133.
Belting, Likeness and Presence, p. 150.
Quoted in Gary Vikan, “Ruminations on Edible Icons: Originals and Copies in
the Art of Byzantium,” in Retaining the Original: Multiple Originals, Copies, and Repro-
ductions, ed. ed. Kathleen Preciado (Washington, D.C., 1989), pp. 47–59, at p. 51.
174 chapter seven

materiality of the imprinted or representing object itself is ignored; the

substance of the image has no significance. The eleventh-century theo-
logian Michael Psellus further elaborated this position in his treatise
on Genesis 1:26–27 (where God said: Let us make man in our image,
after our likeness . . . . and God created man in His own image, in the
image of God created He him), arguing that there was no intermediate
image between God the invisible, and man who was made in God’s
image; there was no Christ serving as a visible model which could be
distinguished from the invisible model of God himself. This under-
mined the possibility of an actual resemblance between man and God,
and indeed Psellus interpreted the nature of image in Genesis 1:26–27
philosophically, as the capacity of imperfect human beings to progress
toward God and to perfect themselves.28 Psellus, who explicitly rejected
Plato’s comparison of images with shadows, who insisted that an icon’s
true prototype was the “real being” of which the icon was a living
representation, could not fit human anthropology into such a theory
of image.29
My reason for offering an overview of the Byzantine theology of
images is that, from the ninth century onward, this theology had pro-
vided a theory about the relation between image and person, manipu-
lating metaphors (such as the seal) and a vocabulary of imprinting,
both of which came to characterize the western prescholastic dis-

See a translation of Theodore’s text in Cyril Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire,
312–1453: Sources and Documents (Englewood Cliffs, 1972), p. 174.
For additional texts by Theodore of Stoudios employing the seal metaphor to legiti-
mate a theory of images, indeed attaching image-making to the incarnation itself,
see H.L. Kessler, “Configuring the Invisible by Copying the Holy Face,” The Holy
Face and the Paradox of Representation ed. H.L. Kessler and G. Wolf (Bologna, 1998),
pp. 129–151, at pp. 133–34, 150, reprinted in Kessler, Spiritual Seeing, pp. 64–103.
Belting, Likeness and Presence, p. 263; a résumé of Psellus’ commentary on
Genesis 1:26 is given at 529–530 while the full text of the commentary is available in
Michael Psellus, Scripta minora, ed. E. Kurtz and F. Drexl, 2 vols. (Milan, 1936–1941),
vol. 1, pp. 411–414.
Belting, Likeness and Presence, pp. 261–264, and pp. 528–529 where Belting
provides a translation of Psellus’ literary description of an icon of the Crucifixion;
see above at note 28 for Psellus’ commentary on Genesis 1:26. Psellus, in rejecting the
Platonic argument which linked image to prototype in a static relationship, freed icons
to act as their own models and to assign lifelike expressions to the person represented.
As figures in icons could be seen as models of spiritual perfection, the image itself
acquired a programmatic dimension. Psellus’ focus on the ethical meaning of images,
together with his insistence that expressive icons resembled more exactly what they
represented, led him to conclude that likeness between man and God was not a matter
of resemblance but the capacity for human being to perfect themselves.
images of identity and the identity of images 175

course on images.30 However, I do not wish to give the impression that

Byzantine theology directly influenced European schoolmen. Both
parties, to be sure, were drawing upon a common neo-platonic heritage
which, in the case of the West, was mediated mostly through Augustine.31
Yet, both sides transformed the conceptual tools of Platonism, inter-
preting them differently and mobilizing them for different purposes.
Whereas the Byzantines were considering actual images, their power,
and the legitimacy of their veneration, western prescholastics did not
theorize primarily about material images per se.32 The property of image

See above, at notes 1–3, for an account of western justification of images in the
early Middle Ages.
The sixth-century neo-platonic writings of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite
scarcely affected western thought until the twelfth century, and their impact thereafter
is very much debated. On the influence these writings had on Suger (d. 1151), see for
instance Grover Zinn, Jr., “Suger, Theology, and the Pseudo-Dionysian Tradition,”
Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis, ed. P. Gerson (New York, 1986), pp. 33–40; Kessler,
“The Function of Vitrum Vestitum,” pp. 193–194, with relevant bibliography. The
influence of the Pseudo-Dionysius is also found in the theology of Hugh of St.-Victor’s
(d. 1141), see Schmitt, “L’Occident, Nicée II et les images du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle,”
p. 292.
Conrad Rudolph, Artistic Change at St.-Denis: Abbot Suger’s Program and the Early
Twelfth-Century Controversy over Art (Princeton, 1990), argued for the primacy of an
Augustinian influence on Hugh and Suger, an argument further supported by Sarah
Spence, Texts and Self and in the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 28–33.
A suggestive comparison of eastern and western attitudes toward images is given
by Daniel Barbu, “L’image byzantine: production et usages,” Annales, 51/1 (1996),
pp. 71–92. For an analytic survey of postmillenial debates about and attitudes toward
sacred images, see Schmitt, “L’occident, Nicée II et les images du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle,”
pp. 282–301. Further appreciations of the role and meaning of actual images in
eleventh- and twelfth-century western culture may be found in J.-Cl. Schmitt, “Les
images classificatrices,” Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des chartes 147 (1989), pp. 311–341;
Schmitt, “La culture de l’imago;” Giles Constable, Three Studies in Medieval Religious
and Social Thought (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 179–217; L’Image. Fonctions et usages des
images dans l’Occident médiéval, particularly the following contributions by: J. Baschet,
“Introduction: L’image objet,” pp. 7–26, Schmitt, Imago: de l’image B l’imaginaire,
pp. 29–37; La visione e lo Sguardo nel medio evo. View and Vision in the Middle
Ages. Micrologus V–VI (1997–1998), in particular the essays by Thomas Ricklin, “Vue
et vision chez Guillaume de Conches et Guillaume de Saint-Thierry. Le récit d’une
controverse,” V, pp. 19–41 and Michele C. Ferrari, “Imago visibilis Christi. Le volto
santo de Lucques et les images authentiques au Moyen Age,” VI, pp. 29–42. Prescho-
lastic focus on the ontological property of image may explain schoolmen’s neglect
of Carolingian debates (above, notes 2–3). Furthermore, in prescholastic times, any
danger of religious materialism was connected primarily with relics since most of the
images that populated the religious world then assumed the appearance of relics and
gained power from their coexistence with relics. Such images had the bodily appear-
ance of a sculpture; they represented the reality of the presence of the holy within
the world, on terms similar to those of the relic, Schmitt, “L’Occident, Nicée II et
176 chapter seven

that attracted western theoretical attention was more anthropological.33

They pondered the relationship of likeness said by Genesis 1:27 to exist
between God and man-made-in-the-image-of-God. In so doing, they
necessarily reflected upon image, and its modes of and capacity for
representation. However, because they thought about image in terms
of the resemblance between God and man, and among the divine
persons of the Trinity, they also had to confront unlikeness. They were
struck by the realization of difference (in the case of God and man)
and the need for distinction (in the case of the persons of the Trinity).
Contemplating the dialectic of distinction and resemblance they veered
away from a definition of images as synonymous with visual likeness.
They thereby displaced likeness from the visual world of appearances
and reformulated it as an active principle, as a relationship between
form and matter, which involved gradations of contact and presence.
Whereas the Byzantine image was material but insubstantial, and
referred to its model through visual likeness, the image conceived in
the prescholastic west was conceptual, rooted in substance, referring
to its model through participation. Prescholastic interest in matters of
identity, identitas, arose as a concern for the extent to which Christ,
whom they conceived to be the image of God, was identical to what

les images du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle,” pp. 285–286, Belting, Image and Resemblance,
pp. 297–298, 301–302.
Nevertheless, there also existed between the seventh and the twelfth centuries
pictorial holy images and texts on sacred images, both of which explicitly distinguished
art from its invisible archetype while endowing depictions of holy persons with the
sole power to evoke spiritual visions, Kessler, “Real Absence,” pp. 112–134. In the
mid-twelfth century, Suger liberated such images from their restriction to the corpo-
real world with the idea, exemplified at St Denis, “that the sensible world can mediate
between God and man,” Kessler, “Real Absence,” pp. 112–134, 148; Jean-Claude
Bonne, “Entre l’image et la matière: la choséité du sacré en Occident,” in Les images
dans les sociétés médiévales: Pour une histoire compare, Bulletin de l’Institut Historique
Belge de Rome 69 (1999), pp. 77–111; J.-Cl. Bonne, “Pensée de l’art et pensée théo-
logique dans les écrits de Suger,” in Artistes et philosophes, éducateurs? ed. Christian
Descamps (Paris, 1994), pp. 13–50. In her Texts and Self and in the Twelfth Century,
p. 50, Sarah Spence’s analysis of Suger’s De administratione concludes that, for Suger,
that which is signified is anchored in its signifier, that is, an object belonging to this
world. This relative collapse of a distinction between physical and spiritual in the
signifying mode of images, and of signs in general, is one object of the present essay.
The fundamental work is that of Javelet, Image et ressemblance au 12e siècle. For
additional insights see David N. Bell, The Image and Likeness. The Augustinian Spiritu-
ality of William of Saint-Thierry (Kalamazoo, 1984); Gerhart B. Ladner, Ad Imaginem
Dei: The Image of Man in Medieval Art (Latrobe, 1965); G.B. Ladner, Images and Ideas
in the Middle Ages (Rome, 1983); John E. Sullivan, The Image of God. The Doctrine of
St. Augustine and its Influence (Dubuque, Iowa, 1963).
images of identity and the identity of images 177

he represented, that is the Godhead, and to what represented him,

the eucharist. Identitas at this time therefore involved reflections on
identicality, so that the prescholastic theory of image intersected incar-
national thinking and the doctrine of real presence. In asserting that
the eucharist was not a figure of speech but truly the image of God and
the substance of the God-man, prescholastic theologians defined the
eucharist as actually being what it signifies. Such doctrine, in producing
a conflation of sign and thing, disables the dynamics of reference
and undermines the semiotics of representation. Thus, although this
mode of signification pertained strictly only to the eucharist, the argument
for real presence and its principle of immanence ultimately realigned
theories of representation, with consequences for society as a whole.
Images came to be invested with powers necessary to represent persons
in situations requiring commitment and future accountability.34
Prescholastic notions of image, as of so many other matters, drew
extensively upon the Augustinian corpus.35 Augustine had insisted upon
a concept of image which included the idea of likeness, proposing that
while some likenesses can be images, all images are likenesses, but
of a certain kind. For, as he wrote in his Unfinished Commentary on
Genesis, an image is dependent on an original model from which it is
expressed; if one thing is not born of another, it cannot be called an

Despite my great admiration for Hans Belting’s sensitive and formidable work
on images, I cannot concur with his conclusion in Likeness and Presence, p. 305, that
“while [in the west] images were invested with powers necessary to represent a legal
person, this custom was not seen as a philosophical problem.” It is true that no spe-
cific treatise was produced on the representational capacity of images, but the schools,
scriptoria, and chanceries responsible for the earliest production of non-royal sealed
charters were staffed by theologians preoccupied with the definitions of person, image,
and identity, see chapter 6 above.
On the reciprocal interaction between prescholastic theory of image, incarnational
thinking, and the doctrine of real presence, see note 22 above.
Augustine deals with the doctrine of image principally in De Genesi ad litteram
Liber unus imperfectus (ca. 393–395), 57 (PL XXXIV, col. 242; see text in note 36 below);
De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus, (ca. 388–396), 51.4, De diversis quaestionibus
octoginta tribus. De octo Dulcitii quaestionibus, ed. Almut Mutzenbecher (Turhnout,
1975; CCSL 44A), pp., PL XL, cols. 33–34; and Quaestiones in Heptateuchum Libri
VII (419 ce), V.4, Quaestionum in Heptateuchum libri VII. Locutionum in Hepta-
teuchum libri VII. De octo quaestionibus ex veteri testamento, ed. Johannes Fraipont,
Donatien De Bruyne (Turnhout, 1958; CCSL 33), pp., PL XXXIV, cols. 749–50; see
text in note 36 below). In the compilation that he made of Augustine’s comments
on the nature of images, John Heijke gathered 142 texts: St. Augustine’s comments
on “Imago Dei” [an anthology from all his works exclusive of the De Trinitate]
(Worcester, Mass., 1960).
178 chapter seven

image:36 When giving examples of likeness which are also images, in

the Unfinished Literal Commentary on Genesis and in the Liber Quintus
(Quaestiones in Deuteronomium) of his Quaestionum in Heptateuchum
libri septem, Augustine listed without distinction the likeness of a child
to its parents, of a painting to its subject, or of a mirror-image to the
source of its reflection. Although Augustine insisted once again that an
image must be expressed from a model, he now distinguished between
two types of expressed images: the first, where originator/progenitor/
prototype and image are of the same substance, as in the case of Father
and Son,—and the second, where they are not, as in the case of painter
and painting.37 This distinction between the two types of images parallels

De Genesi ad litteram Liber imperfectus, 57, PL XXXIV, col. 242: ‘Et dixit Deus,
Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram.’ Omnis imago similis est
ei cujus imago est; nec tamen omne quod simile est alicui, etiam imago est ejus: sicut
in speculo et pictura, quia imagines sunt, etiam similes sunt; tamen si alter ex altero
natus non est, nullus eorum imago alterius dici potest. Imago enim tunc est, cum de
aliquo exprimitur. Augustine’s statement that likeness does not necessarily include
the idea of image is also found in passages from De diversis quaestionibus, 51, PL XL,
cols. 33–34, and from the Quaestiones in Heptateuchum (see note 37 below), where
the difference between image and resemblance is further illustrated by the fact that
though twins are alike, one is not the image of the other.
Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, V [Deuteronomous]. 4, ed. Fraipont and de Bruyne,
pp. 276–277 (PL XXXIV, col. 749): Ne feceritis iniquitatem, et faciatis vobis ipsis
sculptilem similitudinem, omnem imaginem. Quid intersit inter similitudinem et ima-
ginem quaeri solet. Sed hic non uideo quid interesse voluerit, nisi aut duobus istis
uocabulis unam rem significauerit aut similitudinem dixerit, si uerbi gratia fiat statua
uel simulacrum habens effigiem humanam, non tamen alicuius hominis exprimantur
lineamenta, sicut pictores uel statuarii faciunt intuentes eos quos pingunt seu fingunt;
anc enim imaginem dici nemo dubitauerit: secundum quam distinctionem omnis
imago etiam similitudo est, non omnis similitudo etiam imago est. Vnde si gemini
inter se similes sint, similitudo dici potest alterius cuiuslibet in altero, non imago. Si
autem patri filius similis sit, etiam imago recte dicitur, ut sit pater prototypus, unde
illa imago expressa uideatur. Quarum aliae sunt eiusdem substantiae, sicut filius; aliae
non ejusdem, sicut pictura. Vnde illud, quod in Genesi scriptum est: fecit deus hom-
inem ad imaginem dei, manifestum est ita dictum, ut non eiusdem substantiae sit
imago quae facta est. Si enim eiusdem esset, non facta, sed genita diceretur. Sed quod
non addidit, ‘et similitudinem,’ cum superius dictum esset: faciamus hominem ad imag-
inem et similitudinem nostram, quibusdam uisum est similitudinem aliquid amplius
esse, quam imaginem, quod homini reformando per Christi gratiam postea seruaretur.
See Robert A. Markus, “ ‘Imago’ and ‘Similitudo’ in Augustine,” Revue des études
augustiniennes 10 (1964), pp. 125–43, reprinted in Sacred and Secular: Studies on
Augustine and Latin Christianity (Aldershot, 1994), no. XVI; R.A. Markus, “Signs,
Communication, and Community in Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana,” in De
Doctrina Christiana: A Classic of Western Culture, ed. Duane W.H. Arnold and Pamela
Bright (Notre Dame, 1995), pp. 97–108; reprinted in Signs and Meanings: World and
Text in Ancient Christianity (Liverpool, 1996), chapter 4; and Bell, The Image and
Likeness, p. 36.
images of identity and the identity of images 179

another difference, dear to Augustine and to the prescholastic tradi-

tion: that between an image begotten (genita) and an image made
(facta). For Augustine, therefore, an image could partake of substance
and of form, and likeness similarly might either inhere in substance or
be present by virtue of form (qualities). Thus, likeness is localized, but
it is not thereby explained. Augustine accounted for the likeness in an
image by invoking the principle of participation, an idea he directly
adopted from Neoplatonic thought in which a thing is, not by virtue
of its own being, but simply because it emanates from and therefore
participates in True Being. For Augustine the Christian, however, such
participation could not be the result of emanation as it was for Plato
but must be the result of God’s will.38
This Augustinian legacy, which considered images in terms of the
wider concept of likeness, presented difficulties for eleventh- and
twelfth-century thought and practice. First, Augustine’s notion of
resemblance in substance between God and his son was problem-
atic, for that which is identical in substance cannot be said merely to
resemble or to “be like.”39 Second, although Augustine invoked the
participation of man in God to explain man’s resemblance, he was
satisfied that God was the principle of all participation and therefore
did not find it necessary to prove the principle of participation nor to
present a systematic theory of participation. Third, Augustine, who
employed reflected, imprinted, and copied images indiscriminately in
his treatises, does not seem to have explored the distinctions suggested

Bell, The Image and Likeness, pp. 24–25.
Already in his treatise against Arianism, Adversus Arium, PL VIII, col. 1039D,
Marius Victorinus (d. 370) had applied Aristotle’s Categories (11a17) to the Trini-
tarian problems of his time, proposing a definition of likeness as that which exists
between things by virtue of their qualities, not their substances, for things of the
same substance are said to be of the same substance, not like: “Arius dicit: Filium
factum, scilicet plenum Deum, unigenitum, immutabilem, qui antequam crearetur
non fuerit, propterea quod non sit ingenitus. Haec eadem Eusebius, adjiciens, quod
filius omnia facienti sit similis: nos contra, non enim similem, sed eumdem dicimus,
quippe ex eadem substantia,” Markus, “‘Imago’ and ‘Similitudo’ in Augustine,” p. 128.
In prescholastic times, the operative nature of the resemblance between the persons
of the Trinity provoked much controversy. Abelard, in particular, was condemned
as “Arian” for his proposition that identity between things can be described in at
least five ways: by essence and number, in property, by definition, by likeness, and by
incommunicability, Jean Jolivet, “Sur quelques critiques de la théologie d’Abélard,”
Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Age 38 (1963), pp. 7–51, at
pp. 29–32, 34–35, 50; John Marenbon, The Philosophy of Peter Abelard (Cambridge,
1997), pp. 150–155.
180 chapter seven

by the different iconic modes per se. While all images were expressed
from a model, the mode of their “expression” seems to have been
a matter of indifference to the bishop of Hippo.40 Not so, however,
for the prescholastics who added additional levels of complexity to
the Augustinian corpus of thoughts on images. Even while focusing
upon the mimetic economy of the image, schoolmen innovated. They
explored the nature of reproductive modalities, the role these played
in the image’s capacity to represent its model, and the meaning these
modalities imparted to the resemblance between archetype and image.
In distinguishing between reproductive modes, twelfth-century scholars
brought into the heuristic of signification the mechanics of likeness
between an image and its prototype, thereby providing a means for
engaging and defining resemblance and participation. Thus, prescho-
lastics actively considered the modulation of mimesis between object
and model, and it is to their intellectual constructs, and their import,
that I now wish to turn—but not before, once again, considering


From Augustine onward, the creation of man in the image of God

had meant that human intellect, will, and memory were vestiges of the
Trinity. Though Augustine likened these divine vestiges in the human
soul to a mirror tarnished by the stain of sin, he nevertheless consid-
ered that they, as images of God, were adapted to the understanding
of God.41 In terms of this analogy, the soul was at once image (reflection)

Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, pp. 139–45; Bell, The Image and Likeness,
pp. 22–23. See below at p. 193.
Augustine links speculum and imago in several passages of the De Trinitate XV,
cap. 20, 39: “De creatura etiam quam fecit Deus, quantum valuimus, admonuimus eos
qui rationem de rebus talibus poscunt, ut invisibilia ejus, per ea quae facta sunt, sicut
possent, intellecta conspicerent (Rom. I, 20), et maxime per rationalem vel intellectu-
alem creaturam, quae facta est ad imaginem Dei; per quod velut speculum, quantum
possent, si possent, cernerunt Trinitatem Deum, in nostra memoria, intellegentia,
voluntate,” Sancti Aurelii Augustini De Trinitate libri XV, ed. William J. Mountain
(Turnhoult, 1968 ; CCLS 50–50A), pp. (PL XLII, col. 1088). See further examples in
De Trinitate XV, cap. 8,14 (PL XLII, col. 1067–69); XV, cap. 10–15, 17–23 (PL XLII,
col. 1055), XV, cap. 14–23, 24–44 (PL XLII, col. 1091). These passages may also be
consulted in The Trinity, trans. Stephen McKenna (Washington, 1963), pp. 469–470,
images of identity and the identity of images 181

and sense perception (sight). Augustine, however, when discussing sight,

had been careful to distinguish between the image passively received
and temporarily reflected in the sense organ (the eye) and the inter-
nal image constructed by the soul, wherein it persisted and enabled
true perception. Furthermore, even as Augustine in effect assigned to
the eye the function of a mirror, he did not use the mirror simile to
describe ocular perception but compared it to a trace made in water.42
Centuries later, Hugh (d. 1141) and Richard (d. 1173) of St Victor
continued to emphasize that the rational soul was uniquely able to serve
as the principal and privileged mirror to see God.43 Yet, even though

475–511; see Edward P. Nolan, Now through a Glass Darkly: Specular Images of Being
and Knowing from Vergil to Chaucer (Ann Arbor, 1990), pp. 58–59, 84–85.
Augustine, Ennarationes in Psalmos, ed. Eligius Dekkers and Johannes Fraipont,
3 vols. (Turnhout, 1956; CCLS 38–40), vol. 39, Psalmum CIII, Sermo 1.4, p. 1476;
Herbert Grabes, The Mutable Glass. Mirror-imagery in titles and texts of the Middle
Age and English Renaissance (Cambridge, 1973), pp. 83–85.
Pierre Courcelles, Connais-toi toi-même, de Socrate à saint Bernard, 3 vols.
(Paris, 1974), vol. 1, pp. 240–244; Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, pp. 377–378,
384; R. Javelet, “Psychologie des auteurs spirituels au XIIe siècle,” Revue des sciences
religieuses 33 (1959), pp. 18–64, 97–164, 209–266, at pp. 230–255; Richard of St Victor,
De praeparatione animi ad contemplationem liber dictus Benjamin minor, PL CXCVI,
cols. 51C–D: “Praecipuum et principale speculum ad videndum Deum, animus
rationalis, absque dubio invenit seipsum. Si enim invisibilia Dei per ea quae facta
sunt, intellecta conspiciuntur, ubi, quaeso, quam in ejus imagine cognitionis vestigia
expressius impressa, reperiuntur? Hominem secundum animam ad Dei similitudinem
factum et legimus, et credimus, et idcirco quandiu per fidem, et non per speciem
ambulamus, quandiu adhuc per speculum et in aenigmate videmus, ad ejus, ut ita
dixerim, imaginariam visionem aptius speculum, quam spiritum rationalem invenire
non possumus. Tergat ergo speculum suum, mundet spiritum suum, quisquis sitit
videre Deum sum;” text translated in The Twelve Patriarchs, the Mystical Art, Book
Three of the Trinity, trans. and intro. G. Zinn (New York, 1979), pp. 129–130; Hugh
of St Victor, De sacramentis christianae fidei, PL CLXXVI, col. 219A: “et primum
quod in ea [ratione] erat, quoniam et hoc illi erat primum et principale speculum
veritatis contemplandae inspiciamus. In eo igitur primum et principaliter invisibilis
Deus, quantum ad manifestationem expositum est, videri poterat quod illius imagini
et similitudini proximum et cognatum magis factum erat. Hoc autem ipsa ratio erat
et mens ratione utens quo ad primam similutidinem Dei facta erat ut per se invenire
posset eum a quo facta erat; for the text in English, see Hugh of St Victor, On the
Sacraments of the Christian Faith, trans. Roy J. Deferrari (Cambridge, MA, 1951),
pp. 42–43. John of Salisbury deftly evokes how human reason is an image that sees:
“Est igitur ratio speculum quo cuncta videntur/officioque oculi fungitur atque manus/
conscia naturae verum scrutatur et aequi/arbitra virtutum sola ministrat opes,” Enthe-
ticus de dogmate philosophorum, verse 655–670, PL CXCIX, col. 979C.
On the importance of the relationship between divine reason, human reason, and
the notion of image for prescholastic anthropology, see Javelet, Image et ressemblance,
vol. 1, pp. 169–81, 378–79. A typical statement is that of Peter Lombard: “Imago cre-
ationis est in qua creatus est homo, scilicet ratio,” Commentarius in Psalmos Davidicos,
182 chapter seven

the explicit mirror metaphor set up by the schoolmen located the

frame of God’s identity in the field of vision, the soul-mirror-eye
could only imperfectly comprehend God since, soiled by the blotch
of sin, it was incapable of receiving a faithful image and of represent-
ing accurately. Hugh of St Victor, for instance, denounced the soul’s
bad sight.44 When commenting upon Paul’s statement that one sees
when “per speculum, in aenigmate,” through a mirror, in an enigma,
or through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13.12), prescholastics were

4.7, PL CXCI, col. 88B. Hugh of St.-Victor (in De sacramentis christiane fidei I, 10, De
fide, cap. 9: De sacramento fidei et virtute) stresses the visual dimension of faith, which
he considers to be an act of vision undertaken by a purified being through the media-
tion of images in order to reach contemplation of the divine: “Sed quod est aenigma,
et quod est speculum in quo videtur imago donec ipsa res videri possit? Aenigma est
Scriptura sacra. Quare? quia obscuram habet significationem. Speculum est cor tuum,
si tamen mundum fuerit et extersum et clarificatum. Imago in speculo fides in corde
tuo. Ipsa enim fides imago est, et sacramentum. Contemplatio autem futura, res et
virtus sacramenti. Qui fidem non habent nihil vident; qui fidem habent jam aliquid
videre incipiunt, sed imaginem solam. Si enim fidelis nihil videret, ex fide illuminatio
non esset, nec dicerentur illuminati fideles. Si autem jam ipsam rem viderent, et non
amplius videndum aliquid exspectarent, non per speculum in aenigmate, sed facie ad
faciem viderent,” PL CLXXVI, cols. 342C–D); English trans, in On the Sacraments of
the Christian Faith, p. 181: “The dark manner is Sacred Scripture. Why? Because it has
obscure meaning. The glass is your heart, if, however, it be clean and clear and clarified.
The image in the glass is the faith in your heart. For faith itself is image and sacrament.
But future contemplation is the thing and the virtue of the sacrament. Those who have
no faith see nothing, those who have faith already begin to see something but only
the image. For if the faithful see nothing, there would be no enlightenment from faith
nor would the faithful be called enlightened. But if they already saw the thing itself
and did not await something more to be seen, they would not see through a glass in
a dark manner but face to face.”
Richard, however, also proposed that, properly observed, Nature might also reveal
the Creator: Richard of St.-Victor, Benjamin major, II, 12, De tertio contemplationis
genere: “Nunc vero de tertio contemplationis genere videamus. Ad hoc itaque genus
pertinet quoties per rerum visibilium similitudinem rerum invisibilium qualitatem
deprehendimus, quoties per visibilia mundi invisibilia Dei cognoscimus, ut constet
quod scriptum reperitur, quia invisibilia Dei a creatura mundi per ea quae facta sunt
intellecta conspiciuntur,” PL CXCVI, col. 89D; text translated in The Twelve Patriarchs,
the Mystical Art, Book Three of the Trinity, p. 190; Jeffrey F. Hamburger, “Speculations
on Speculation,” in Deutsche Mystik im abendländischen Zusammenhang, ed. Walter
Haug and Wolfgang Schneider-Lastin (Tubingen, 2000), pp. 353–408, at p. 369.
Soliloquium de arrha animae, PL CLXXVI, col. 953D: “ANIMA: oculus cuncta
videt, seipsum non videt, et eo lumine, quo reliqua cernimus, ipsam, in qua positum
est lumen, faciem nostram non videmus.” Courcelles, Connais-toi toi-même, vol. 1,
p. 240.
It may not be straining the prescholastic position too much to refer here to “the glassy
metaphorics of the mirror”; the expression is Homi J. Bhabha’s, “Interrogating Iden-
tity,” in The Real Me: Postmodernism and the Question of Identity, ed. L. Appignanesi,
ICA Documents 6 (London, 1986), pp. 5–12, at p. 6.
images of identity and the identity of images 183

concerned with limpidity and lucidity, which they equated with purity
of the soul. For the mirror-mind to capture the divine image and thus
to achieve contemplation and knowledge of God, it must be properly
oriented and, most importantly, be pure and clean.45 The soul must be
polished better to reflect divine light so as to see, not the light, but by
the light.46 Indeed, for Hugh of St Victor, to see by means of a mirror
meant merely to see an image; only to see something face to face was
to view reality.47 For Hervé de Bourg-Dieu (d. 1150) as well, to look in
a mirror was to see nothing but an image.48 The Benedictine abbot of
of Bonneval, Ernald (d. ca. 1156) recognized that an image of himself
in a mirror reflected his own features, but he still emphasized that
in contemplating this image he was not seeing himself.49 Thus, while
Ernald’s mirror simile testifies that physical similarity exists between
an image of man and the man himself, it also holds that man’s relation
to himself and to the world can not be the same as direct visual
perception through a mirror.
In discussing the representative capacity of the mirror-image, Robert
of Melun went beyond the issue of tarnished opacity to denounce the
imperfect mediation of the mirror, whose image lacks the ability to
represent an object’s tri-dimensionality.50 Alan of Lille (d. 1203), in

Hugh of St Victor: “Speculum est cor tuum si tamen mundum fuerit et extersum
et clarificatum,” De sacramentis, PL CLXXVI, col. 342C; Gerhoh of Reichersberg:
“Mali operis, quod ego feci, tu obliviscere, ac de libro memoriae tuae dele, sed intende
mihi vel in me, quem tu ad imaginem et similitudinem tuam fecisti. Specie tua et
pulchritudine tua intende in me tanquam in speculum, neque desinas polire, donec
videas in me relucentem tuae imaginis ac similitudinis pulchram faciem,” Commen-
tarius aureus in psalmos et cantica ferialia, 6.54, PL CXCIII, cols. 1656A–B.
In the felicitous words of Ritamary Bradley, “The Speculum Image in Medieval
Mystical Writers,” in The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, ed. Marion Glascoe
(Cambridge, 1984), pp. 9–27, at p. 18.
“Quid est per speculum videre? Imaginem videre. Quid est facie ad faciem videre?
Rem videre,” De Sacramentis, PL CLXXVI, col. 342.
“In speculo autem non nisi imago cernitur,” Commentaria in epistolas divi Pauli:
In epistolam ii ad Corinthios, PL CLXXXI, col. 1031D.
“Ego cum me in speculo vel in purissimo fonte intueor, non meipsum video, sed
exprimit mihi imago mea omnem habitum meum vel gestum, et, quantum ex facie
indicari potest, ipsum mentis affectum, ut ibi videas utrum decolor sim an coloratus,
et manifeste intelligas utrum turbatus videar, an quietus,” Tractatus de operibus sex
dierum, PL CLXXXIX, col. 1533B–C.
“Nulla tamen creatura ipsam sapientiam Dei rationem habuit nisi creatura ratio-
nalis, quae sola sapientiam Dei potest imitari per intelligentiam et cognitionem veri
et amorem boni. Habet enim naturam discernendi inter verum et falsum et bonum et
malum, appetendi bonum malumque spernendi. Ideo etiam solus homo de creaturis
corporeis ad imaginem Dei et similitudinem conditus esse discebatur. Est autem aliud
184 chapter seven

urging the purification of the soul-mirror, pointed out that such puri-
fication should altogether involve bypassing the images reflected in or
seen by the soul since such images in fact stand in the way of contem-
plating eternal realities.51
The mirror-image was thus ambiguous for schoolmen. Its metaphori-
cal use manifests a certain distrust of image per se; mirrors seem to
need lots of cleaning,52 and such cleansing in turn involves escape
from matter.53 A principal implication of the mirror image is simply
that image is unsubstantial, and man’s resemblance to God is spiritual.

ipsam sapientiam Dei imaginem habere et aliud in ipsa imaginem habere. Sicut aliud est
aliquid in speculo imaginem habere et aliud est ad imaginem speculi aliquid factum esse.
Non enim verum est quod omne illud quod in speculo apparet, ad imaginem speculi
factum sit. Nam quod ad imaginem speculi factum est, ipsum imaginum, rerum
ac formarum capax esse necesse est et eas repraesentare posse. “Sententiae magistri
Roberti de Meleduno, liber primus, pars undecima, Bruges, Bibliothèque publique de
la Ville, Cod. lat. 191, f. 136 recto-a, quoted in Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol.
2, p. 140, 288. On the works of Robert of Melun, see Franz Bliemetzrieder, “Robert
von Melun und die Schule Anselms von Laon,” Zeitschrift für Kircheng 53 (1934),
pp. 117–170; Œuvres de Robert de Melun, ed. Raymond M. Martin, 3 vols, in 4 (Lou-
vain, 1932–1952), includes the Quaestiones de divina pagina (vol. 1), the Quaestiones
de epistolis Pauli (vol. 2), and the first book (parts 1–6) of the Sententiae (vol. 3, 1–2);
parts 7–11 and Book 2 (parts 1–2) of the Sententiae remain unpublished. Beryl Smalley,
The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, 1964), p. 68, note 1,
reports O. Lottin’s suggestion that Robert might have used a commentary by Anselm
of Laon on the Pauline epistles.
Expositio prosae de angelis, “Sequitur: ‘mentibus defecatis ab ymaginibus’ [quote
from the Ps. John Scotus], id est ab imaginationibus purgatis. Cum enim contem-
plamur Deum, ut testatur summus Boetius in libro de Trinitate, non oported nos ad
ymaginationes deduci, ut antropomorphonite (sic) deducti sunt, qui Deum corporali-
bus lineamentis distentum esse crediderunt . . .” Expositio prosae de angelis, in Alain de
Lille, Textes inédits, Marie-Thérèse d’Alverny (Paris, 1965), pp. 205–206; On Alan of
Lille and the mirror see Nolan, Now through a Glass Darkly, pp. 98–102.
A similar idea is found in Garnier of Rochefort (abbot of Clairvaux 1186, and
bishop of Langres ca. 1193), Sermones in festa domini et sanctorum, Sermo 31, In
nativitate B. Virginis Mariae: “A specula vero speculatio dicitur, quando mens ita
sursum ducitur, ut nullis signis praecedentibus, nullis causis subsistentibus, mens ab
omni imagine defaecata, ad superessentialem et infinitivam originem simpliciter et
reciproce refertur,” PL CCV, col. 766B.
Although twelfth-century Europe was in the process of re-discovering the ancient
art of making glass mirrors, it was not until the thirteenth century that these glassy
contraptions began to supplant the polished metal mirrors that had been in use until
then, Grabes, The Mutable Glass, pp. 4, 72–73.
As Bradley points out, “The Speculum Image,” p. 11.
images of identity and the identity of images 185

Located in the mind, that is, in the rational part of the soul, such resem-
blance stresses spiritual reform and excludes incarnational image-
After polishing, the mirror-mind is held both to reflect its prototype,
that is, God, and to afford a means of seeing that reflection. In this ver-
sion of the mirror-simile, the image of God in man has itself become
an eye which sees; human speculation discovers the inner self as the
reflection of another.55 This other, God, however clearly reflected
nevertheless remains ultimately unseen since a mirror-image can not
actually be its own prototype. Such an image can only reveal that the
presence of God is hidden. By conceptualizing the mirror, and also
the soul, as images capable of seeing, prescholastics expressed doubts
about the principle of a mirror’s image, considering, as did Paul, that
a mirror does not merely reflect but transforms. For when a mirror
produces an image, it converts an origin into a result, a process which
posits the origin as un-representable. Furthermore, in a mirror, things
appear where they are not. By these logics, there might be no presence
of God in man. The conclusion that God and human interiority do not
coincide, that truth is not in man, implied irreconcilability between
self knowledge and the knowledge of God, a tension which prescho-
lastics, who were very eager to promote self knowledge as a divine

Ladner, Ad Imaginem Dei, p. 14. See, for instance, Anselm of Laon: “Plasmavit
Deus hominem de materia, videlicet de terra fecit, de non materia, id est de anima
ad imaginem et similitudinem suam,” in Munich, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Clm. 13109,
f. 30 verso-a. See note 51 above for Alan of Lille’s denunciation of the “anthropomor-
phonite” who believed that the resemblance between God and man was corporeal. For
that very reason, the mirror-image challenged divine incarnation.
Herbert of Bosham, his Liber Melorum, in Herberti de Boseham S. Thomae Cantu-
ariensis clerici a secretis opera quae extant omnia, vol. 2, ed. John Allen Giles (Oxford,
1846), pp. 108–109 (PL CXC, cols. 1358A–B), stated that our interior eye could reveal
what is within man as the reflection of the Other: “Verum hic noster rationis oculus
quid tam longe tam late per aetherea et aeria, per coelestia et terrestria sic evagatur?
In nobismet est quod quaerimus, in nobis ipsis prae caeteris est, unde haec prima
nostra unitas nobis manifestari possit, et quod est et etiam ex parte aliqua quid ipsa
sit. In nobis, inquam, qui prae caeteris ad ipsius sumus imaginem et similitudinem
conditi. Unde et nobis ex nobis ipsis et in nobis familiarior cognitio haec. Nostrum
igitur rationis oculum retorqueamus in nos ipsos. Ecce enim quia mens nostra ratio-
nalis rationis habet judicium ad discernendum, voluntatis arbitrium ad eligendum, et
memoriae thesaurum ad reponendum. Hoc quod nunc dicimus rationis nostrae oculo
videmus et experimur in nobis. Nihilominus etiam quod non a nobis haec nostra
nobis sunt sed ab alio. Quid enim habes quod non acceperis?” Courcelles, Connais-toi
toi-même, vol. 1, pp. 237–253, quotes texts by Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109) and by
the Victorines in which introspection is held to reveal to man that everything he sees
in himself is in fact not himself.
186 chapter seven

capacity, sought to reduce. Finally, the metaphor of the mirror oper-

ated a conflation between eye and soul so that the soul came to share
some of the limitations associated with the physical and the sensorial:
passive reception, inability fully to understand what is being reflected.56
As they wrestled with the negative implications of the mirror-image,
prescholastics came to develop the interpretive potential of another
form of image, the imprint.


The topos of the imago impressa and of its corollary, the sigillum,
is extensively present in prescholastic rhetoric. Only a representative
sampling can be offered here. With a simple statement, “Imago, id est
similitudinis impressio,”57 prescholastics indicated their belief that the
imprinted image actualizes a resemblance to its prototype. In so doing,
they established the possibility of exploiting the distinction between
image and resemblance even while affirming a necessary continuity
between the two. This posture may further be seen in Gilbert de Hoil-
and’s (d. 1172) exhortation: “Imprint yourself to him [God] so that
his image may be expressed in you, make yourself conform to his
seal.”58 Imprinting, which is not a continuous but a repetitious process,
warrants gradual human reformation because it permits a progres-
sive resemblance to the divine model. By ‘imprinting himself to God’s
seal,” man is conceived as participating in and pursuing God’s creation,
while self-reformation through repeated imprinting is made possible
by the presence of God’s seal within man. As a text from the school

See note 42 above, Augustine’s careful distinction between sight and the soul’s
sculpted image.
Hervé de Bourg-Dieu: “Vir quidem non debet velare caput suum, id est non
debet habere signum servitutis vel potestatis super se, sed libertatis, quia non habet
aliquid super se nisi Deum. Quoniam imago et gloria est Dei. Imago, id est similitu-
dinis impressio, et gloria Dei cernitur in viro, quia unus Deus unum fecit hominem,”
In epistola I ad Cor., PL CLXXXI, col. 926B. This gloss is part of a distinctly gendered
argument in which Hervé justified the veiling of women’s heads.
Sermo xi: “Si quaesisti, si invenisti, si tenuisti dilectum tuum, tene quem tenes; tene,
inhaere; imprime te illi, ut ejus in te velut expressa reformetur imago, huic fias confor-
mis sigillo. Eris autem si adhaeseris: qui enim adhaeret Deo, unus est spiritus. Forte
sicut durae materiae difficulter in te primo fit ejus impressio: etsi laboriosa impressio,
sed dulcis adhaesio,” Sermones in canticum Salomonis, PL CLXXXIV, col. 60A, Gilbert
of Hoyland, Sermons on the Song of Songs, Vol. 1, trans. Lawrence J. Braceland
(Kalamazoo, 1978; Cistercian Publications).
images of identity and the identity of images 187

of Laon put it: “Man, it seems to me, has been created in the image
of God, in his reason. For, as we recognize something by its image or
somebody by his seal, similarly the Creator is recognized by his crea-
ture, by reason as by His seal.”59 Man’s reason is the imprint of God’s
seal. Indeed, as Peter Lombard (d. 1160) pointed out in his commen-
taries on Paul’s epistle to the Romans, “as long as his sins lose him the
seal of the image man will remain only a creature,” a mere animal.60
Yet, even though sin may break the seal of God in men, leaving them
animals,61 even though the image may no longer express its model,
the imprint, albeit deformed, nevertheless remains. For, as Rupert of
Deutz commented (d. 1129), human reason was sculpted in man’s soul
by an imprint of God’s image and proceeded solely from the Creator’s
craftsmanship. Thus, as Rupert stated, the rational creature might lose
its likeness to God but not the divine image directly imprinted by
God.62 This direct and permanent imprinting acted, in the previously
cited quotation from Gilbert of Hoiland evoked above, as a charge
animating desire for conformity with the maker of the imprint; but
for the prescholastics generally, man’s movement toward his ma(r)ker
depended upon his own will to achieve resemblance to God. In such
self-imprinting, activated by man utilizing the divine image within
himself, resemblance with the prototype was only a latent, contingent,
potential. Ever since Adam’s fall, human will to self-improvement
had proven deficient, which is why a return to the likeness to God
depended upon a refurbishment through a new application of the

“Homo enim, ut mihi videtur, ad imaginem Dei factus est per rationem. Sicut
enim per imaginem vel sigillum aliqua res vel aliqua persona cognoscitur, sic Creator
per rationem quasi per sigillum a creatura cognoscitur; Sententiae Berolinenses.
Eine neugefundene Sentenzensammlung aus der Schule des Anselm von Laon,
ed. Friedrich Stegmüller, Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 11 (1939),
pp. 33–61, at p. 44; also quoted in Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 2, p. 141.
“Quod nec de ipsis desperandum est, qui nondum crediderunt, qui et ipsi
credituri sunt, et liberabuntur, qui nondum sunt filii Dei. Sed tantum creatura modo
dicuntur, cum nondum gratiam adoptionis receperunt. Homo enim sigillo imaginis
propter peccatum amisso remansit tantummodo creatura,” Sententiae in Omnes Divi
Pauli Apostoli Epistolas: In epistolam ad Romanos, PL CXCI, col. 1443D.
Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, pp. 249, 293–295.
See for instance Rupert of Deutz, De divinis officiis,VII, 4, PL CLXXI, cols. 184B–C:
“Potuit autem creatura rationalis amittere id quod ad similitudinem Dei facta est,
non potuit vero eo carere quod ad imaginem Dei condita est. Quare? Quia, videlicet,
divinae bonitatis imitatio, per quam Dei similitudino retinetur, creaturae quoque
voluntatem exigit; rationalitas autem, quae impressione imaginis Dei humanae animae
insculpta est, a sola Creatoris arte processit.”
188 chapter seven

seal-die. This re-application was held to occur at baptism. Comment-

ing on Paul’s notion that man was sealed in the Holy Spirit for the
day of redemption,63 Peter Lombard posited that man, like the wax of
the seal, was signed by an image left in him through the intercession
of the Spirit; the form of the new human condition was an imprint
regenerated by baptism.64
The thrust of such commentaries manipulating the seal metaphor
therefore reveals several levels of imprinting at work in man’s onto-
logical make-up. In one, the God-head has imprinted reason within
man at creation; in an other, the Holy Spirit signs the seal of Christ
upon man at baptism; in yet another, willing malleability to God’s seal
by individual men and women may achieve re-formation and a pro-
gressive degree of resemblance to the divinity. In the twelfth-century,
human nature was conceived, not only as having been created and
re-created in the image and resemblance of God, but specifically as an
imprint. Or, to put it differently, the concept of imprint invested the
very notion of image with the power of transforming resemblance (a
differential correspondence between two things) into participation, of
identifying reference to a model (imitation, an existential relationship)
with origin from an archetype (filiation, an essential relationship), and
thus of translating representation into presence. This latter shift was
fundamental in its explicit theorization of immanence, which posited
the presence of God within the begotten Son and, through the Son,
within the created human being as well. Here again, the seal metaphor
was deployed by Abelard (d. 1142) and the Laon scholars to make the

“Et nolite contristare Spiritum sanctum Dei, in quo signati estis in die redemp-
tionis.” Sententiae in Omnes Divi Pauli Apostoli Epistolas: In epistolam ad Ephesios 4:
PL CXCII, col. 207A.
“Sicut contristatur homo cum de propria domo expellitur quam sibi aedificavit,
ita Spiritus sanctus contristari dicitur cum de homine quem sibi mundavit in baptismo,
per prava opera ejicitur, in quo. Quasi dicat: Nolite contristare Spiritum sanctum,
quod non debetis, quia ipse est in quo, id est cujus gratia vos, estis signati, quasi dicat:
Cera in sigillo ejus imagine vobis relicta, id est forma novitatis impressa vobis. [Haimo,
Ambrosius] Vel, estis signati, id est discreti a malis. Et hoc in die redemptionis, id est
baptismi.” Sententiae in Omnes Divi Pauli Apostoli Epistolas: In epistolam ad Ephesios 4,
PL CXCII, cols. 208A–B.
A twelfth-century gloss, erroneously attributed to Walafrid Strabo (d. 849), comments
Paul’s verse in the same fashion: “Et nolite contristare. Per inobedientiam, Spiritum
sanctum, id est praedicatorem veritatis, quod est Spiritum sanctum contristare quan-
tum ad vos. Quod non debetis in quo vos quasi cera signati estis ejus imagine vobis
relicta; vel estis signati, id est discreti a malis.” Ps.-Walafrid Strabo, Epistola ad Ephesios,
PL CXIV, col. 597B.
images of identity and the identity of images 189

point. They brought into play the relationship between the bronze of
the matrix (aes), the image engraved upon it (sigillum), and its waxen
imprint (imago)—the conventional medieval lexicon of the twelfth
century, by the way, though not systematic, used sigillum to designate
both the material of the die and the motif engraved upon it, reserving
imago for the imprinted image. In their metaphor, God is the seal’s
inherent material (the very substance of its matrix); the Son is the figure
of God’s substance, the image of God engraved within that matrix,
which imprints itself upon the wax, the pliable human soul, enabling
that soul to be configured as the Son.65
The application of the seal metaphor to angels gives further insight
into the interpretive depth of the sigillographic motif. Gregory the Great
(d. 604) derived from a passage in Ezekiel that the Bible spoke of the
fallen archangel, Satan, as a signaculum similitudinis, a seal of resem-
blance. Gregory inaugurated an enduring exegetical tradition when he
concluded that angels were seals of resemblance because, as purely
rational beings, they had more likeness to God than man, who, as a
corporeal being, was merely an imago Dei.66 Prescholastics massively

This text from the school of Laon is in Sententiae, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de
France, Ms. Lat. 651, fol. 49 vo: “ratio est imago Dei, id est retinens in se ipsa de Deo
notitiam; sicut enim cera, cui sigillum imprimitur, ipsius sigilli imaginationem retinet
et ad memoriam reducit, ita ipsa ratione quasi quaedam materia et cera in qua Deus
ad memoriam nostram reducitur,” quoted in Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 2,
pp. 46–47 at note 61.
Abelard’s text comes from the Theologia Scholarium, II.13, ed. Buytaert and Mews,
Petri Abaelardi Opera Theologica. III, pp. 46–47 (PL CLXXVIII, col. 1068D): “aes quidem
est inter creaturas, in quo artifex operans, et imaginis regiae formam exprimens,
regium facit sigillum, quod scilicet ad sigillands litteras, cum opus fuerit, cerae impri-
matur.” See Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, pp. 73, 82–83, and vol. 2, pp. 46–47
at note 61, where Javelet gives additional uses of the seal metaphor in which the meta-
phor serves to stress the absolute resemblance and equality between God and Christ.
See chapter 6 above, at notes 70–71, 75.
See also the gloss of “illustra faciem tuam super servum tuum,” by Gerhoh of Reich-
ersberg (d. 1169) in his Commentarius aureus in Psalmos et Cantica ferialia, II.30 (PL
CXCIII, cols. 1306D–1307A): “hanc faciem tuam illustra super me servum tuum, et
super alium quemlibet servum tuum. Tu es quasi aurea substantia, et filius tuus cum
sit splendor gloriae et figura substantiae tuae, tanquam regalis aut pontificalis imago
in auro purissimo exhibet se ipsum pro incorruptibili sigillo cuilibet servo suo sibi
conformando se imprimens. Tuque, Pater, hoc ipsum sigillationis opus per ipsum, et
cum ipso, et in ipso perficis in servis tuis eidem filio configurandis.”
See chapter 6 above, at note 75, for a different contextualization of these texts.
“Ut enim Gregorius exponit: Ille primus angelus ideo ornatus et opertus ordinibus
angelorum extitit quia dum cunctis agminibus angelorum praelatus est . . . qui non
solum ad imaginem Dei ut homo, sed et signaculum similitudinis appellatus est”
[Deus summe] [from the school of Laon], Munich, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Clm. 22307,
190 chapter seven

exploited the Gregorian theme. Peter of Blois (d. ca. 1211), for instance,
wrote that the angel was created close to and in such conformity with
God that the angel is a seal (signaculum) rather than, as man is, a
seal impression.67 This reveals an interesting hierarchy, which Alan of
Lille enlarged significantly. Christ is a seal (sigillum), he wrote, because
Christ and God are consubstantial even as the incused image is intrin-
sic to the substance of the die. This confirms that sigillum, in this con-
text as elsewhere, means seal matrix, that is, the die and the image
incised in it. Given Peter’s and Alan’s differentiated use of sigillum and
of signaculum, it is also relevant to note that sigillum then normally
designated the great seal of contemporary elites, whereas signaculum
was the contemporary term for a personal signet-ring, a seal to be
sure, but lacking the great seal’s import and authority. Alan used the
term signaculum as an analogue for the angel, whose rational nature
resembles God. In Alan’s construct, man is analogized to imago, the
imprinted image in wax. The waxen human imago initially resembles
the formative die. Although it may later lose some of this resemblance,
which is simply one of form rather than one of substance, the imago
remains marked by the original imprinting. Lastly, a nonrational crea-

fol. 86v. Gregory’s commentary on Ezechiel 28. 12–13 (“Tu signaculum similitudinis,
plenus sapientia et perfectus decore, in deliciis Paradisi Dei fuisti,” a text that refers to
the fall of the king of Tyre) is found in XL Homiliarum in Evangelia libri duo, II. 34,
PL LXXVI, col. 1250B: “Unde et ipsi angelo, qui primus est conditus, per prophetam
dicitur: Tu signaculum similitudinis, plenus sapientia, et perfectus decore, in deliciis
paradisi Dei fuisti (Ezek. XXVIII, 12). Ubi notandum quod non ad similitudinem Dei
factus, sed signaculum similitudinis dicitur, ut quo in eo subtilior est natura, eo in
illo imago Dei similius insinuetur expressa.” Gregory the Great, Forty gospel homilies,
trans. David Hurst (Kalamazoo, 1990; Cistercian Studies Series 123), p. 286.
De amicitia Christiana et de dilectione Dei et proximi, PL CCVII, cols. 918A–B, and
ed. and trans. Marie-Madeleine Davy, Un traité d’amour au XIIe siècle (Paris, 1932),
pp. 358–360: “Tale signaculum ante praevaricationem suam se angelus apostata expri-
mebat, testimonio Ezechielis dicentis: Tu signaculum similitudinis, plenus sapientia et
perfectus decore. Angelus siquidem in sua creatione tanta Deo conformitate est unitus,
ut esset potius signaculum similitudinis, quam simile vel signatum. De sigillo quippe
talis similitudo imaginaliter exprimitur qualis in eodem sigillo essentialiter habetur, et
hoc homini competit. Angelis vero pro sua subtilitate naturae Deo expression simili-
tudine adhaerebat, quia totus et tantummodo spiritus erat.” This text is also found in
an anonymous work, the Liber seu tractatus de charitate, cap. XXI, PL CLXXXIV, cols.
617C–D which is a compilation of works by Richard of St.-Victor, Peter of Blois, and
Bernard of Clairvaux. See a commentary on Peter’s text in Javelet, Image et ressem-
blance, vol. 1, pp. 162–163, and vol. 2, pp. 130–131. Peter of Blois (d. ca. 1211) was in
charge of the royal seal at the court of Marguerite of Sicily during the regency of King
William II (1166) and was, by 1174, chancellor of Richard, archbishop of Canterbury
(d. 1184).
images of identity and the identity of images 191

ture is termed signum, a sign indicating God indirectly by its beauty,

its life, its structure, its function, but which has neither direct resem-
blance nor consubstantiality with the divine.68 By these analogies, Alan
elucidates for us the semiotics of seal operation.Whereas the signum
points to, but lacks resemblance with its referent, the sigillum incor-
porates, configures, and actualizes its referent.
The topos of imprint emerged primarily as prescholastics refined
their understanding of the creation of man in God’s image, in the
confused light of Paul’s contention that man is the image of God
(1 Cor. 11:7), and of the general patristic doctrine that Christ is the
image of God—and the instrument of man’s reformation. In other
words, schoolmen considered the topos of the imprint particularly
helpful for clarifying the issues of creation, incarnation, and the poten-
tial for godliness within the individual human soul.69 The following
comparison of the interpretive powers of the imprint to those of
the mirror reveals that, by means of the seal metaphor, it was possible
to articulate an integrated ontology and theory of image around the

“Aliud est enim signaculum Dei, aliud sigillum, aliud ymago, aliud signum. Sigillum
Dei Patris est Filius quasi in omnibus signans ilium . . . . Angelus vero est Dei sig-nacu-
lum, quasi in aliquibus signans ilium, quia in pluribus similis est Deo angelus etsi non
in omnibus. Unde et de Lucifero dicitur secundum statum quem habuit ante casum:
Tu signaculum similitudinis Dei. Sed Filius est sigillum Patris secundum unitatem
essentie, angelus vero signaculum imitationis ratione. Homo vero dicitur ymago Dei
quasi imitago, qui non ita similis est expresse Deo sicut angelus. Quelibet vero creatura
dicitur signum Dei, qui sui essentia, sui ordinatione, sui pulcritudine predicat Deum,”
Alan of Lille,” In die s. Michaelis”, in Alain de Lille, Textes inédits, p. 250; see also
PL CCX, col. 247A–B, where a similar text appears in the Liber Sententiarum attribu-
ted to Alain of Lille: Palémon Glorieux, “Le prétendu Liber Sententiarum et dictorum
memorabilium d’Alain de Lille,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 20
(1953), pp. 229–264. Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, pp. 162–163, and vol. 2,
pp. 129–133.
The emphasis on reason as God’s imprint sometimes extends to the organ of
love: it is thus the human heart that God is said to have formed with his seal so that his
image is expressed there trait pour trait, in the words of Baldwin of Ford, (also known
as Baldwin of Canterbury), Tractatus diversi, Tractatus X: PL CCIV 204, cols. 511B,
516A–B, and Baudouin de Ford, Traités, ed. Robert Thomas (Chimay, 1973–1975):
Pone Me ut signaculum super cor tuum: “Amans nos Deus, et amari desiderans, sig-
naculum formavit, habens imaginem amoris insculptam, quo cor nostrum pressius
signavit, ut coimaginatum similitudinem imaginis in se exciperet, et configuraliter
exprimeret . . . . Aufer a me, Domine, cor lapideum, aufer cor coagulatum, aufer cor
incircumcisum; da mihi cor novum, cor carneum, cor mundum! Tu cordis mundator,
et mundi cordis amator, posside cor meum et inhabita, continens et implens, superior
summo meo et interior intimo meo! Tu forma pulchritudinis et signaculum sanctita-
tis, signa cor meum in imagine tua.” English translation available in Baldwin of Ford,
Spiritual Tractates, trans. D.N. Bell (Kalamazoo, 1986).
192 chapter seven

concepts of presence, permanence, creativity, origin, resemblance, and

The imprinted image posited a mark present within the very fabric
of the inner man. Such image is, however deformed, permanent. The
mirror image, on the other hand, lasts only so long as it is confronted
with or capable of reflecting a primary image. Whereas the mirror is
passive and receptive, the imprint is dynamic, striving for resemblance
with the model from which it derives. For, unlike the displacement of
origin, which characterizes the mirror reflection, the imprint forever
and doubly retains the marks of its derivation. As a trace, it presents
the phenomenological effects of its cause; as an image, it resembles
its cause. From the imprint, an origin can be traced. The imprint,
therefore, verified the creation of man in the image of God, which
may account for the extensive use of the term impressio to describe
the filiation, kinship, and affinity, between God and creatures marked
by His imprint. Whereas the mirror had evoked imitation, displace-
ment, and discontinuity, the imprint implied affinity and participa-
tion. Impressio thus came to project the notion of image as personal, as
a presence which linked cognition of the self and recognition of God
within oneself. It was the inner nature of man, that fabric imprinted
by God, which enabled him to comprehend his “being-image.” During
the twelfth century, discussion of the Delphic precept, “Know Thy-
self (Gnôthi seauton)” went hand in hand with the doctrine of “Man
as Image.”70 The imprint could not only articulate that filiation and
achieve that formal resemblance (despite a difference in substance)
between image and archetype which was necessary for man to be able
to evolve a knowledge of God, but it could also imply that direct contact
which rendered man’s soul God-like as it took on the sculptural form
of the divine seal. The imprint demonstrates that the resemblance of
an image to its model results from a comprehensive process involving
both form and matter. The nature of imprinting makes manifest how
the very receptacle of the form can be made to participate in the
mimetic economy of the image. As the following text from the school
of Laon put it: “one must know that the imprinted image and the
matter receiving the imprint are both called image.”71 In extending

Courcelles, Connais-toi toi-mème, vol. 3, p. 721; Javelet, Image et ressemblance,
vol. 1, pp. 368–371.
Deus Summe, Munich, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Clm. 22307, fols. 90vo–91ro: “unde
quoniam ratio hominis justi lumine divino, justitia Dei, aliisque virtutibus informata,
images of identity and the identity of images 193

the sphere of imago from the field of vision to the material and tactile
dimension of imprinting, prescholastics rooted likeness in empirical
experience. (Recall that Augustine had left the notion of likeness essen-
tially unexplained by subsuming it within the Neoplatonic principle of
In the mirror metaphor, the image, and thus the soul, had the faculty
of sight; in the seal metaphor, the image, and thus the soul, had the
faculty of touch. The mirror metaphor de-substantialized the image, and
suggested its potential transformation into pure sight, an un-mediated
contemplation—as such, the mirror remained a fundamental topos of
mystic spirituality.72 The metaphor of the seal materialized the image

homo propter talem rationem imago Dei est. Sciendum est enim quoniam imago
impressa in re aliqua et ipsa res in qua imprimatur imago appellatur” (text cited in
Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 2, p. 140). This sentence, “sciendum est enim . . . etc.”
(thereafter “the formula”), is also found in two twelfth-century treatises, the Tractatus
theologicus (PL CLXXI, col. 1118C–D) and the Summa sententiarum (PL CLXXVI,
col. 91C–D), spuriously ascribed respectively to Hildebert of Lavardin and Hugh of
St.-Victor. The list of texts unquestionably authored by Hildebert has been established
by Peter von Moos, Hildebert von Lavardin, 1056–1133: Humanitas an der Schwelle
des höfischen Zeitalters (Stuttgart, 1965), pp. 359–377. Numerous discussions have
inclined toward denying the attribution of the Summa to Hugh; see Roger Baron,
Science et sagesse chez Hugues de Saint-Victor (Paris, 1957), pp. 238–242. In both trea-
tises, the formula appears in a chapter devoted to the Creation of man (“De creatione
hominis”). The paragraphs containing the formula are identical but for a few stylistic
variations. They begin with the statement that man was made in the image of the
whole Trinity, continue with the formula, and conclude in the following fashion (the
text is from the Tractatus): “Unde et ipsa ratio imago dicitur, quia tanquam sigillum
impressa est animae, et homo imago Dei dicitur. Augustinus in libro De civitate Dei
(lib. XI, c. 26, 28): Aliud est Trinitas res ipsa, aliud imago Trinitatis in re aliqua.
Propter quam imaginem, similiter et illud in qua ipsa impressa est, imago dicitur. Sic
imago dicitur simul et tabula, et quod in ea pictum est, non propter tabulam ipsam,
sed propter picturam quae in ea est. Ad similitudinem Dei factus est homo, quia
innocens et sine vitio factus est.”
According to the three twelfth-century texts, imago involved a process of image
production, the imprint, which fused image and medium. Thus, body and form, type
and model were dialectically conjugated. The Augustinian origin of the formula is
worth noting. Augustine, however, did not expand upon the implications of the imago
impressa, using the simile of the painting and its connotations of surface tracing,
whereas his twelfth-century commentators, in deploying the seal metaphor, remained
firmly within the semantic field of the imprint and its connotations of in-depth marking.
In Augustine’s simile the medium, though termed imago, is distinct from the image.
With the seal metaphor, the image has penetrated the medium.
Bradley, “The speculum image in Medieval Mystical Writers”; Hamburger, “Spec-
ulations on Speculation.” The imprinted image, however, was not absent from late
medieval mystical experience, particularly among female mystics; see Katharine
Park, “Impressed Images: Reproducing Wonders,” Picturing Science, Producing Art,
ed. Caroline A. Jones and Peter Galison (New York, London, 1998), pp. 254–271;
Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast. The Religious Significance of Food
194 chapter seven

and posited an ontological continuum between being and Being, thus

justifying an experimental knowledge of God by man who, through his
very grasp of his “being-image,” grasps the essence of his relationship
to the Archetype. In manipulating the image-as-imprint to convey
God’s creation of man in His image and likeness, prescholastics ulti-
mately came to conceive that the motifs of divine presence impressed
within the human fabric were in fact constitutive of that very fabric.
They were no longer just comparing the resemblance between two
distinct entities, the immortal human soul and the eternal God.
Through the metaphor of imprinting, this resemblance was reified,
becoming substantial. In the words of Peter Lombard or Hugh of St
Victor, for instance, the soul was no longer simply a semblance; it
had become actual, the immortal nature of man.73 Thomas of Cîteaux
(or of Perseigne, ca. 1189) went even further when he envisioned a
triple image of Christ in man, wherein the flesh of Christ transfers to
the flesh of man.74 Thus, in embracing the imprint as metaphor, the

to Medieval Women (Berkeley, 1987), p. 261. Jeffrey Hamburger analyzed the role
played by seal and mirror metaphors in connoting the nature of the resemblance
informing late medieval representations of John the Evangelist as a Christomorph,
St. John the Divine. The Deified Evangelist in Medieval Art and Theology (Berkeley,
2002), pp. 136–141, 181–183 (on Gertrude of Hefta and the role of the imprinted
image in her visions).
Javelet, Image et ressemblance, vol. 1, p. 220; vol. 2, p. 191 at note 437. Peter
Lombard, Sententiarum Libri Quatuor, Lib. II, Dist. xvi, cap. 5–6, commenting upon
Augustine’s ‘anima facta est similis Deo, quia immortalem et indissolubilem fecit eam
Deus,’ specified: “Imago ergo pertinet ad formam, similitudo ad naturam. Factus est
igitur homo secundum animam ad imaginem et similitudinem, non Patris vel Filii vel
Spiritus sancti, sed totius Trinitatis. Quod imago Dei dicitur et imago ipsa et illud in
quo est.—Augustinus in libro XV de Trinitate. Ita et secundum animam dicitur homo
esse imago Dei, quia imago Dei in eo est [my emphasis]; “sicut imago dicitur et tabula
et pictura quae in ea est. Sed propter picturam quae in ea est, simul et tabula imago
appellatur; ita propter imaginem Trinitatis, etiam illud in quo est haec imago nomine
imaginis vocatur.”: Sententiae in IV Libris distinctae, ed. Ignatius Brady, 2 vols. (Grot-
taferrata, 1971–1981), vol. 1, p. (PL CXCII, col. 685); English translation available in
Sentences, 4 vols. trans. Giulio Silano (Toronto, 2007–2010), vol. 1, pp. 408–409.
Hugh of St Victor: “Factus est homo ad imaginem et similitudinem Dei, quia in
anima (quae potior pars est hominis, vel potius ipse homo erat) fuit imago et simili-
tudo Dei . . . Imago pertinet at figuram, similitudo ad naturam. Haec autem in anima
sola facta sunt, quia corporea natura similitudinem capere non potuit Divinitatis . . .,
De sacramentis christiane fidei, PL CLXXVI, cols. 264C–D.
“Imaginem regis sigillamus, id est Christi, cum eum in corde imaginamur ut
dicamus: ‘signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine’ (Ps., iv, 6). Triplex est
imago Christi: prima est carnis corruptibilis, secunda glorificatae humanitatis, tertia
divinitatis. Primam debemus in corde sigillare ut ei compatiamur; secundam ut ad
similitudinem ejus suspiremus; tertiam ut eam in ejus regno videamus,” Cantica
Canticorum, PL CCVI, col. 546C; Thomas returned to a similar imagery later in his
images of identity and the identity of images 195

prescholastics settled on an essentialist concept of image according

to which the image’s intrinsic structure partook of its model’s nature
from which and by means of which it incorporated the resemblance
necessary to be that model’s image. This theory, with its emphasis on
immanence, found very explicit support and application in the contem-
porary defenses of real presence within the doctrine of the eucharist,75
and in such other phenomena as bleeding hosts,76 stigmata,77 and achi-
ropoietic and miraculous images.78
The new perspective on images was also contemporary with the rap-
idly expanding practice of documentary sealing, effected by imprinted
images which now entered the society at large, becoming signs-
in-action. I have argued in chapter 6 that the French practice of seal-
ing documents spread to non-royal elites from prescholastic milieus.
Here schoolmen, who were also chancellors in charge of the writing
bureaus, launched this experiment in documentary signing as part of
the new immanent semiotics they were contemporaneously elaborat-
ing in their theological and anthropological discussions. This literate,
indeed scholarly, context for the origin of the sealed charter suggests
a more complex theory of the relations between image and experience
than the axis of literacy-illiteracy. When the seals of magnates and
high-ranking ecclesiastics first made their appearance on charters, they
became part of the apparatus which permitted charters’ effectiveness to
derive from and to parallel ambient oral modes. Seals did not immedi-
ately displace the pre-existing armamentarium of protective formulae,

commentaries of the Cantica Canticorum when he expounded the passage ‘Pone me

ut signaculum super cor tuum, ut signaculum super brachium tuum’ (Cant. viii, 6),
PL CCVI, cols. 809A–812 B.D.N. Bell, “The Commentary on the Song of Songs of
Thomas the Cistercian and His Conception of the Image of God,” Cîteaux. Commen-
tarii Cisterciences 28 (1977), pp. 5–25.
See notes 22 and 34 above.
Jean-Marie Sansterre, “L’image blessée, l’image souffrante : quelques récits de
miracles entre Orient et Occident (VIe–XIIe siècle),” in Les images dans la société
médiévale, ed. J.-M. Sansterre and J.-Cl. Schmitt (Brussel, Rome, 1999), pp. 113–130;
Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi. The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1991),
p. 126–127; M. Rubin, “Desecration of the Host: The Birth of an Accusation,” in Chris-
tianity and Judaism, ed. D. Wood (Oxford, 1992), pp. 169–185.
Constable, Three Studies, pp. 202, 214–215.
I argue for a relationship between the twelfth-century’s theory of the imprint
and the concommitant development in the west of the cult of Veronica’s Sudarium
in Bedos-Rezak, “Semiotic Anthropology. The Twelfth-Century Experiment,” Euro-
pean Transformations 950–1200, ed. Thomas F.X. Noble and John Van Engen (Notre
Dame, Forthcoming).
196 chapter seven

dedicating gestures, and validating devices that were either inscribed

upon charters—maledictions, threats of anathema and excommunica-
tion, witness-lists, the laudatio parentum, crosses, and monograms-
(Fig. 16), or involved their manipulation—public reading, placement
upon altars.79
A review of the documentary output from the episcopal chancery
at Laon during the tenure of Anselm (d. 1117, chancellor from 1095)
and his brother and successor Ralph (d. ca. 1134–1136), both of whom
were also schoolmen and heads of the famous episcopal school of Laon,
reveals a suggestive pattern.80 Actual traces of an episcopal seal are first
attested in 1082,81 but sealing remained irregular well into the two first
decades of the twelfth century, that is, some charters simply did not
receive a seal,82 while on others a seal was affixed but with no textual
clause announcing its attachment.83 When the seal was announced, the
clause would read: “hoc scriptum fieri volumus [this is in the voice of
the bishop in whose name the charter is issued] nostroque et nostrorum
assensu corroboratum et sigillo assignatum reddidimus.”84 During
Master Anselm’s headship of the chancery, and at the very time that
the school of Laon was flourishing under his teaching,85 an impor-

See chapters 1, 2, 6 above.
A systematic analysis of the episcopal acta of Laon is made possible by the excellent
diplomatic edition of Annie Dufour-Malbezin, Actes des évêques de Laon antérieurs
à 1151 (Paris, 2001).
Dufour-Malbezin, Actes, pp. 36, 47 and no. 35 pp. 110–12.
For instance, Dufour-Malbezin, Actes, no. 36 (1084, text known from an eighteenth-
century copy), no. 43 (1095, original charter), no. 44 and 45 (1096, texts known from
eighteenth-century copies probably made from the original); no. 82 (1118, text known
from an eighteenth-century copy perhaps made from the original); no. 83 (1118, text
known from an eighteenth-century copy); no. 87 (1120, text known by a copy made in
1665); no. 94 (1121, original charter); nos. 96–97 (1122, texts known from thirteenth-
century copies).
For instance, Dufour-Malbezin, Actes, no. 38 (1087, original charter with traces
of a now missing seal), no. 53 (1100, original charter, the seal is missing), no. 54 (1103,
original charter with its seal intact); no. 78 (1116, original charter, seal missing);
no. 99 (1122, original charter, the seal is missing).
For instance, Dufour-Malbezin, Actes, no. 40 (1091): original charter, the seal is
On Anselm and the school: Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages,
pp. 49–51, 59–69, 73–74, 76–77, 201–202; Valérie Flint, “The ‘School of Laon:’ A
Reconsideration,” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale, 43 (1976), pp. 89–110,
reprinted in her Ideas in the Medieval West. Texts and their Contexts (London, 1988),
no. I, pp. 89–110; Marcia Colish, “Another Look at the School of Laon,” Archives
d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Age, 53 (1986), pp. 7–22. For the complexity
surrounding Anselm’s authorship of texts, see Gui Lobrichon, “Anselme de Laon,”
Dictionnaire des lettres françaises. Le Moyen Age (Paris, 1992), pp. 73–74.
images of identity and the identity of images 197

tant innovation entered diplomatic discourse. From 1103 onward, the

formula announcing that a seal was affixed referred to the “imprint
of our [the bishop’s] image:” “Ut autem hec constituo firma et illibata
in perpetuum permaneat, hoc privilegio, nostra imagine munito et tes-
tium qui affuerunt subscriptione corroborato, interposito anathemate,
firmare precepimus,”86 (Fig. 22), or “et ne aliquis eam [donationem]
deinceps infringere audeat, nos ut scripto, nostre imaginis impressione
munito, cum anathematis interpositione confirmaremus, exoravit.”87
As these final clauses make clear,88 the seal’s performance and signifi-
cance hinged on its being an imprinted image of the charter’s author, in
whose name the charter would typically open in the following fashion:
“In nomine sancte et individuae Trinitatis. Ego Ingelrannus, gratia Dei
Laudunensium episcopus.”89
A consideration of the particulars of diplomatic discourse within
several hundred charters given in Northern France between 1050 and
1250 corroborates the Laon pattern.90 After some flux during the early
eleventh century, the formulae became virtually standardized in stating
that the author of the charter had confirmed it with the impression
of his seal: “que concessio, ut rata et inviolabilis in futuro permaneat,

Dufour-Malbezin, Actes, no. 55 (1103, original charter, seal missing).
Dufour-Malbezin, Actes, no. 74 (1116, original charter, seal missing). See also
no. 98 (1122; text known from a thirteenth-century copy); no. 66 (1114, text known
from a eighteenth-century copy); no. 67 (1114, text known by a seventheeth-century
copy); no. 72 (1115, text known from a late twelfth-century copy). See also no. 75–76
(1116, original charters, seal missing), no. 77 (1116, text known by a thirteenth-century
copy), no. 89 (1120, text known from an eighteenth-century copy), no. 90–91 (1121,
texts known from twelfth-century copies), no. 92 (1121, sealed original charter), no.
95 (1121, text known from a thirteenth-century copy); no. 100 (1123, sealed original
charter); no. 161 (1134, original charter, seal missing). Concluding these documents is
the chancellor’s subscription: “Ego Ansellus [or, ego, Radulphus], cancellarius Sancte
marie, relegi [or, scripsi, or scripsi et subscripsi].”
For reference to other northern French writing bureaus associated with schools
which produced a diplomatic discourse referring to sealing as the imprint of the sealer’s
image, see Bedos-Rezak, “Une image ontologique,” pp. 42–43 and chapter 6 above at
note 78.
See above, documents listed at notes 86–87. See also the invocation and salutation
charters given in the name of Barthélémy of Joux, bishop of Laon between 1113–1151,
who had been recommended to this position by Master Anselm: “In nomine sancte et
individuae Trinitatis. Ego Bartholomeus, Dei gratia Laudunensium presul.”
Sources used for this survey include: Cartulaire de l’abbaye de Saint-Corneille
de Compiègne. Tome premier, ed. Chanoine Morel (Montdidier, 1904); Cartulaire de
l’hôpital Saint-Jean de Bruxelles, ed. Paul Bonenfant (Bruxelles, 1953); Cartulaire des
Vaux-de-Cernay. Tome premier 1118–1250, ed. Lucien Merlet and Auguste Moutié
(Paris, 1838); Recueil des chartes et documents de Saint-Martin des Champs. Tome II,
ed. Joseph Depoin (Paris, 1913).
198 chapter seven

sigilli mei impressione corrobari volui.”91 By the early thirteenth cen-

tury, however, imprinting (impressione) began to be supplemented by
specific reference to the gesture of appending, as stated typically in a
validating clause: “quod ut ratum sit firmiterque in posterum teneatur,
ipsam compositionem litteris tradi fecimus et sigillorum nostrorum
appensione muniri.”92 By the mid-thirteenth century, the clause of
validation tended to include a newer generic formula which asserted
that the seal was appended as an attestation: “In cujus rei testimo-
nium, . . . sigillum meum feci apponi.”93
The progression of these trends,—the formulas overlap and the
examples cited do not exhaust the full lexicon of terms used in validat-
ing clauses—, cannot be explained simply as reflecting contemporary
sealing techniques. True, the earliest western seals were applied directly
to their documents and the wax was stamped after it had already been
laid on the parchment. Applied seals, however, gave way to pendant
seals from the mid-eleventh century onward. In such regions as
Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, the pendant seal had totally replaced
the applied seal by 1110.94 Of course, even after the introduction of
pendant seals, imprinting, that is, the impression of a matrix upon
the soft wax or metal, persisted. Nor had appending totally displaced
imprinting as the specific act which defined and completed the process
of sealing, since the final stamping of the wax seal necessarily occurred
only after its attachments had been inserted into the document itself.

“In order that this concession remain firm and intact in the future, I wished it to
be strengthened with the impression of my seal,” Cartulaire de l’abbaye Saint Corneille,
no. 53, p. 105 (vers 1140). Occurrences of final clauses announcing the impression of
the seal are numerous. Some variants include: Cartulaire des Vaux-de-Cernay, no. 42,
p. 60 (1173–1190): ‘et sigilli nostri sub impressione digne duximus confirmari.’ In
his work on “The chancery of Henry the Liberal, count of Champagne (1152–1181),”
http://scrineum.unipv.it/wight/cell10.htm, Steven M. Wight notes that “The usual
corroboration formula was ‘Et ut hoc ratum et inconcussum permaneat, sigilli mei
impressione confirmari precepi,’ or some variant thereon, such as ‘Et ut hoc memo-
riter et firmius teneatur, scripto commendavi et sigilli mei impressione roboravi.’
Wight based his study on John Benton’s manuscript edtion of Count Henry’s acta,
which has since then appeared as: John Benton and Michel Bur, eds., Recueil des actes
de Henri le Libéral, comte de Champagne (1152–1181). Tome I (Paris, 2009).
“In order that this reconciliation remain firm and be strongly upheld in the
future, we had it put in writing and fortified by the appending of our seals,” Cartulaire
de l’abbaye Saint-Corneille, no. 257, p. 377 (1203).
“In testimony of which, I had my seal apposed,” Cartulaire de l’hôpital Saint-Jean,
no. 68, p. 99 (1247).
René Laurent, Les sceaux des princes territoriaux belges, du Xe siècle à 1482, 2 vols.
in 3 (Brussels, 1993), I/1, p. 70.
images of identity and the identity of images 199

An entire century elapsed between the time pendant seals first appeared
until textual clauses declaring their pendency became standard within
the document itself.
Thus, during the entire initial century of their diffusion, seals were
experienced as, and acted as, impressions. Some formulae indicate that
the charter itself had been impressed (impregnated) with the seal, mea
carta sigillo impressa confirmavi.95 In other clauses, the term impressio
is qualified or complemented by a range of other terms. Thus, we often
read that authors have confirmed their charters with the authority
and impression of their seals, litteras memoriales . . . auctoritate et sigilli
nostri impressione corroboravimus,96 or that their charter has been con-
firmed with an authentic impression of their seal: impressione autentica
nostri sigilli corroboravi curavimus.97 Yet other validating clauses com-
bine impressio with the Latin word character as in sigilli nostri impresso
caractere fecimus confirmari (we have confirmed with the impressed
character of our seal).98 Finally, and significantly, impressio is often
associated with the term imago: Et ne aliquis contra hanc donationem

Historia et Cartularium monasterii sancti Petri Gloucestriae, ed. William H. Hart
(London, 1865), no. DVIII, p. 51 (1149–1183), donation by Robert to the church of St
Gundleus; see also no. DVI, p. 50 (1072–1104), donation by Morgan to the churches
of St Gundleus and St Peter of Gloucester: ‘donationem patris mei et meam carta
mea et sigillo meo impressa confirmavi.’ For later examples of the use of this specific
formula, see Mary Bateson, “The Creation of Boroughs,” English Historical Review, 17
(1902), pp. 284–296, at p. 293: creation, in ca. 1246–1271, of the borough of Warton
(in presenti carta mea sigillo meo impressa).
Cartulaire de l’abbaye Saint-Corneille, no. 35, p. 72 (1114).
Cartulaire de l’abbaye Saint-Corneille, no. 34, p. 71 (1114).
Cartulaire des Vaux-de-Cernay, no. 102, pp. 121–22 (1194); no. 123, p. 205 (1200).
See other examples in Cartulaire de l’abbaye Saint-Corneille, no. 54 p. 106 (ca. 1140);
no. 155, p. 250 (1183); no. 267, p. 387 (1205), and in Cartulaire de l’hôpital Saint-Jean,
no. 29, p. 51 (1226).
I analyse the association of the Latin terms impressio and character in Bedos-Rezak,
“In Search of a Semiotic Paradigm. The Matter of Sealing in Medieval Thought and
Praxis (1050–1400),” in Good Impressions. Image and Authority in Medieval Seals,
ed. John Cherry and James Robinson (London, 2008; British Museum, Occasional
Paper series), pp. 1–7, at pp. 2, and in Bedos-Rezak, “‘Semiotic Anthropology.’
The Twelfth Century Experiment.” On the changing significance of the term and
concept of ‘character’ from the early Middle Ages onward, see Nikolaus M. Häring,
“St. Augustine’s Use of the Word Character,” Medieval Studies 14 (1952), pp. 79–97;
Häring, “Character, Signum und Signaculum. Die Entwicklung bis nach der karo-
lingischen Renaissance,” Scholastik 30 (1955), pp. 481-512; Häring, “Character,
Signum und Signaculum. Der Weg von Petrus Damiani bis zur eigentlichen Aufnahme
in die Sakramentenlehre im 12. Jahrhundert,” Scholastik 31 (1956), pp. 41-69; Häring,
“Character, Signum und Signaculum. Die Einführung in die Sakramententheologie
des 12. Jahrhunderts,” Scholastik 31 (1956), pp. 182-212.
200 chapter seven

venire presumat, imaginis nostre impressione eam corroborari precepi,—

so that no one will presume to challenge this donation, I ordered it
to be confirmed with the imprint of my image.99 This lexicon, imago,
character, and auctoritas began to disappear from the closing formulae
after 1200, as did the term impressio itself.
Such twelfth-century insistence on the seal as imprint suggests the
resonance of sealing with incarnational thinking and its related imma-
nent semiotics. The seal as imprint highlights its indexical nature as
the trace of an actual contact, not only between the matrix and the
wax, but also between the seal and its user. The wax applied to the seal
user’s matrix embodied his person as the true originator of the act
in question—his presence often rendered even more tangible by the
inclusion of bodily marks in the seal, such as finger prints, bite marks,
or actual hairs plucked from his beard.100 The early fifteenth-century
chronicle of the monastery of St Augustine of Canterbury relates that,
after the Norman invasion of England, kings and magnates added to
their charters thin sheets of wax onto which they imprinted the sign
of the cross, leaving as signs for posterity bits of hair and beard also
inserted into the wax. The chronicler, Thomas of Elmham (d. 1420),
asserts that such personalized items could then be found in the many
monasteries that had been created after the Conquest, and provides
two specific examples. The first reference is to the Cluniac priory of
Saint-Pancras of Lewes (Sussex), in which a charter given by William,
first count of Warenne (d. 1088), still contained, at the time Thomas

Cartulaire de l’abbaye Saint-Corneille, no. 180, p. 280 (ca. 1189). Recueil des chartes
et documents de Saint-Martin des Champs. Tome II, no. 315, pp. 206–7 (1148–1149):
‘imaginis nostre impressione et probabilium personarum intitulatione eam [seriem]
corroborari fecimus.’ See other examples in Benton and Bur, Recueil des actes d’Henri le
Libéral , t. I, no. 12, p. 16 (bef. 1152: ‘impressione mee ymaginis signare curavi;’ no. 81,
p. 113 (1156–1157: ‘sigilli mei subtus inscripta ymagine confirmo); no. 197, p. 259
(original charter of 1163–1164), with this particular turn of phrase: “Ne vero pretaxata
temporalis valeat oblitterare prolixitas aut odibilis infirmare presumat iniquitas, apicibus
annotare et sigilli mei impressione subimaginare curavi.”
See above, chapter 6, note 78, for a discussion of the insertion of bodily parts
in seals. Jules Viard, “Singularité sigillographique,” Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des chartes
68 (1907), p. 428: edition of a charter (ca. 1150) in which a Norman knight states he
pressed his teeth into the wax in lieu of a seal: Et ad confirmandum predictam donatio-
nem, hanc ceram pro sigillo dentibus ita impressi; René Gandilhon, “La dactyloscopie
et les sceaux,” Mémoires de la Société historique, littéraire, et scientifique du Cher 39
(1931–1932), pp. 98–100; Oskar Mitis, “Daktyloskopie und Siegelkunde,” Mikroskopie 4
(1949), pp. 361–367; Michel Pastoureau, “Le doigt dans la cire. Cent mille empreintes
digitales médiévales,” in La pelle umana / The Human Skin, Micrologus 13 (20005),
pp. 331–344.
images of identity and the identity of images 201

was writing, some of the count’s hair. The second example refers to
a charter of the Cluniac house of Castle Acre (Norfolk), in which
the count of Lincoln concluded in the following fashion: ‘In hujus
rei evidentiam sigillum dentibus meis impressi, teste Muriele uxore
mea.’ Once again, Thomas noted that the traces of teeth, imprinted
as a seal, could still be seen in the wax.101 Thus, the seal impression,
whether of a matrix and, or, made by parts of the body, was initially
appreciated as a relic of the sealer’s physical contact and participa-
tion. The diplomatic trope of the imprint was, therefore, concerned
with origin and presence. That the authorship and authority of the seal
depended on the person and the personal participation of its owner is
well expressed by the textual combination of impressio and auctoritas,
where auctoritas re-enforces the emphasis on personal origin. In fact,
early diplomatic discourse, in using the terms authentic (authentica)
and authoritative (auctoritate) interchangeably to characterize the seal
impression, testifies to the contemporary semantic synergy between
an actor and an author, both of which terms referred to the person
who originated and caused an act to be.102 Remarkably, the document
in which I found mention of an authentic impression date from 1114,

Thomas Elmham, Historia monasterii S. Augustini Cantuariensis, ed. Charles
Hardwick (London, 1858), pp. 118–19: ‘Post adventum vero Normannorum in Angliam,
tam reges, quam alii domini et magnates, laminas cereas membranis apponebant
cartarum, crucis signum in laminis cereis imprimentes, de capillis capitum vel bar-
barum in eadem cera aliquam portionem pro signo posteris relinquentes, ista patent
in multis monasteriis post Conquestum regni istius fundatis; ut est in monasterio
sancti Pancratii de Lewes de carta Willielmi primi comitis Warenniae, in qua crines
capitis usque in prasens ejusdem comitis permanent. Similiter in monasterio de Caste-
lacre, quo est in ejusdem fundationis, in dioecesi Norwicensi, comes Lincolniensis, qui
pluribus possessionibus eandem ecclesiam dotavit, haec in fine intulit cartae suae: “In
hujus,” inquit, “rei evidentiam sigillum dentibus meis impressi, teste Muriele uxore
mea;” ubi usque in praesens in eadem cera apparent dentium vestigia pro sigillo. His
etiam similia in pluribus aliis monasteriis sunt reperta.’
The 1444-cartulary of the Cluniac Priory of St. Pancras of Lewes has been partially
translated by Louis F. Salzman, The Chartulary of the Priory of St. Pancras of Lewes, 2 vols.
(Sussex Record Society 38, 1932). It has not been possible to identify the charter
described by Thomas in this work.
Marie-Dominique Chenu, “Auctor, Actor, Autor,” Bulletin du Cange 3 (1927),
pp. 81–86; M.-D. Chenu, “Authentica et magistralia,” Divus Thomas 28 (1925), pp. 257–
285; Bernard Guenée, “Authentique et approuvé. Recherches sur les principes de
la critique historique au Moyen Age,” in La lexicographie du latin médiéval et ses
rapports avec les recherches actuelles sur la civilisation du Moyen Age: Colloques inter-
nationaux du C.N.R.S., 589 (Paris, 1981), pp. 215–229; reprinted in Politique et histoire
au Moyen Age (Paris, 1981), pp. 265–278; Bedos-Rezak, “Une image ontologique,”
p. 49. See chapter 1 above.
202 chapter seven

well before canon law had introduced the complicated concept of the
sigillum authenticum, the authentic seal.103


The imprinted image, in twelfth-century theology as in documen-

tary practice, achieved presence rather than representation through a
signifying mode which was conceived to actualize in matter the refer-
ent’s characteristics. It is my contention that the very circulation of seal
impressions within society introduced a discursive and representa-
tional template that came to part ways with the prescholastic anthro-
pology and theory of image that had facilitatedthe diffusion of seals in
the first place. The point here is not to claim that seals themselves were
the only agents effecting change but rather to focus on those aspects
of seals and sealing practices that might have had a role in modifying
documentary authentication, strategies of representations, and the
perception of self.
Seal impressions were products of mechanical reproductive tech-
niques which assured the multiplication of identical images. Such
techniques tended to deflect attention from human agency and toward
the mechanistic aspect of seal origin. The identicality of imprints came
to guarantee both a same origin (the sealer) and a unique original
(the seal matrix). It was thus as true replicas one of another that seal
impressions now expressed (instantiated), though no longer embodied
(substantiated), that presence which assured the authority these impres-
sions conveyed. That contact between the sealing person’s body and
the seal, which had originally been so important a factor in establishing
the seal’s authority, thus came to be displaced by the relationship
between image and image. Some Norman lords, for instance, depos-
ited multiple impressions of their seals in different abbeys by which to
guarantee, through publicity and comparison, any charters they might
later seal.104

Cartulaire de l’abbaye Saint-Corneille, no. 34, p. 71 (1114). On the sigillum
authenticum, see chapter 3 above at note 7 and note 106 below.
Béatrice Poulle, “Renouvellement et garantie des sceaux privés au XIIIe siècle,”
Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartes 146 (1988), pp. 369–380; B. Bedos-Rezak, “Du sujet
à l’objet. La formulation identitaire et ses enjeux culturels,” Gesellschaft und indivi-
duelle Kommunikation in der Vormoderne. Persönliche Identität und Identifikation vor
images of identity and the identity of images 203

The sameness of the seal impressions, to be sure, did not fully displace
the necessary existence of an original, but the adequacy of such impres-
sions was not in practice tested against an original; to the contrary.
Since, as a result of the mechanical reproductive technique, all impres-
sions of a given matrix were assumed to be identical copies, they all
ended up functioning as originals generating their own accuracy, truth,
and validity. In practice, replicated seal impressions were understood
and treated both as copies and originals. This perception, and the
very centrality and potency of sealed documents, intensified medieval
confusion and concern about the nature of forgery. For forgery is but an
extreme form of replication, and replicability, by the thirteenth century,
had become the main criterion used to certify the authenticity of seal
impressions. Replication, by rendering moot the distinction between
original and duplicate, undermined those differences upon which law
bearing on originals and fakes might be based. Replication, replica-
bility, in this sense, made it very difficult, if not impossible, to prove
the real, which led twelfth- and thirteenth-century canon lawyers into
many contradictory pronouncements on seal genuineness.105 Canon
and civil lawyers translated the question of authenticity into a concern
for authority. Focusing on the sigillum rather than the imago, they
struggled (in vain) to achieve either ways to determine the seal’s
genuineness or definitions that would establish its capacity to confer
full validity upon documents to the signing of which there had been
no witnesses. In this latter context, jurists asserted, quite vaguely and
redundantly, that the authority of a seal depended upon custom and
upon the seal itself being well known.106 By the mid-thirteenth-century,
only the seals of high-ranking personae were considered capable of

der Moderne/Identité personnelle et identification avant le XIXe siècle, ed. Peter von
Moos, Norm und Struktur, Bd. 23 (Cologne, 2004), pp. 63–82.
Mariano Welber, Sigillografia. Il sigillo nella diplomatica, nel diritto, nella storia,
nell’arte. Vol. 3: I sigilli nella storia del diritto medievale italiano (Milano, 1984); the
chapter on canon law and seal forgery (153–180) concerns the whole of Christen-
dom. Auguste Dumas, “Etude sur le classement de la forme des actes,” Le Moyen Age,
43 (1933), pp. 146–166; Guenée, “Authentique et approuvé,” pp. 215–229; B. Bedos-
Rezak, “The Efficacy of Signs and the Matter of Authenticity in Canon Law,” Zwischen
Pragmatik und Performanz. Dimensionen mittelalter Schriftkultur, ed. Thomas Scharff,
Frühmittelalterlichen Studien (Münster U. Press, Forthcoming); see chapter 1 above,
at note 48.
The expression “sigillo autentico, bene cognito et famoso” is from Konrad of
Mure (d. 1275), Summa de arte prosandi, in Briefsteller und Formelbücher des eilften
bis viersehnten Jahrhunderts, ed Ludwig Rockinger (Munich, 1863; rprt. New York:
Burt Franklin, 1961), p. 459. See a more recent edition of Konrad’s Summa in Konrad
204 chapter seven

confering full authentification. Lesser individuals needed to apply to

kings, lords, bishops, and civic officials in order to have their contracts
and transactions validated. Within the writing bureaux of such elites,
an especially “deputed seal of juridiction” was consequently estab-
lished with which to seal private deeds under the elite’s authority and
executory force.107 Although the personal seals of private individuals
are attested throughout late-medieval France, they are few and were
typically affixed to ephemeral documents (quittances and the like);
the bulk of extant sealed records bear the administrative seals of elite
jurisdictions. The iconographic format on these later seals is heraldic
or topical (for instance, a building), eschewing anthropomorphism
(Fig. 23). At stake in such a sealing practice is the fact that, by the
mid-thirteenth century, only seals associated with permanence by
virtue of official back-up commanded authority. Seals ceased to signal
personal participation and individual adhesion; their agency was no
longer conceived as deriving from the incorporation of and ontological
resemblance to a particular individual.
Tools are not simply instruments of a human competence; they
transform that competence.108 Prescholastics had construed and used
the imprint as a process of contact which manifested and warranted
the authenticity of presence and the legitimacy of resemblance vis-à-vis
an originating model. Sealing had always required replication but, in
the eleventh- and twelfth-century discourse of schoolmen and charters,
this technique had been muted by their focus on impressio.
Seals as signs-in-action re-aligned resemblance away from the model
toward the imprints that might be issued from a particular mold. This
shift suggests a recognition of and an attempt to compensate for the
distancing from the origin which occurred in practice, since the
moment of contact between die and impression, between seal and
owner was, however undoubtedly historical, only transient. That which

von Mure, Die Summa de arte prosandi, ed. Walter Kronbichler (Zurich: Fretz and
Wasmuth, 1968).
Welber, Sigillografia, pp. 205, and 181–226 where is given a lucid analysis of “the
theory of the authentic seal” in canon law. See note 105 above.
R.-H. Bautier, “L’authentification des actes privés dans la France médiévale.
Notariat public et juridiction gracieuse,” Notariado público y documento privado, de
los origines al siglo XIV. Actas del VII Congreso internacional de diplomatica, Valencia
1986, (Valencia 1989), vol. 2, pp. 701–772, reprint in, Chartes, sceaux et chancelleries.
Etudes de diplomatique et de sigillographie médiévales, 2 vols. (Paris, 1990), vol. 1,
pp. 269–340.
Régis Debray, Vie et mort de l’image (Paris, 1992), p. 177.
images of identity and the identity of images 205

remained, visible and tangible, was the consistency, the identity bet-
ween successive imprints produced from a single die.
When, by the thirteenth century, seals were functioning as repli-
cated images without a readily referenced original to confer authority
and authenticity, they had largely ceased to be an active motif within
anthropological theology. This particular harmony between concept
and praxis had dissolved, and did not reappear with the entrance of
seals into legal discourse. The continuing difficulty legal scholars had
in articulating the fundamental values and beliefs which underlay the
utility and force of seals cannot today be appreciated without consid-
ering the extent to which two distinct concepts of seals—as impres-
sions of presence and as replicated images—blurred the very concepts
of authenticity and of authority.
This ambivalent status of the seal, as imprint relating to its origin
ontologically and as replica blurring origin and originality, may shed
light on the specific trajectory of the medieval seal’s history. From an
image of hermeneutical power it evolved into a sign able to subvert
its own referential modes and the representational system associated
with them. The recurrent primacy of human testimonial and a growing
reliance upon the signature during the later Middle Ages, both a practice
of “presence,” may well be related to that sense of absence brought
about by signs of identity become replicas.



The medieval insult of ugliness (difformitas) played upon and thus in

part reveals aspects of the medieval concepts of identity and person-
hood. Hence, in order to purse my study of these questions, I propose
in this chapter to analyze a specific episode of aggressiveness in twelfth-
century France.
Medieval invectives could constitute an infraction and thus might
be legally punished as threats to the social and eschatological orders,
yet they could also be manipulated to serve as tools for the preserva-
tion of society and religion.1 Many parameters affected the norms and
boundaries of medieval insults including circumstances, purposes, and
targets, so that a fixed definition of invective cannot by itself form the
basis for an analysis of the phenomenon. The epistemological necessity
of having to deploy pre-existing analytical categories in order to
grasp their specific historical nature will not, however, detain us
here.2 Rather, I will consider how narratives of transgressions crossed
social, ethical, and esthetic codes, breaching and mobilizing them
in the process of constituting themselves as insults. Such invectives
transgressed, paradoxically, even as they followed existing contempo-
rary rhetorical rules for the expression of vituperation. As the Aurea
Gemma ca. 1120), one of the earliest ars dictaminis, put it: “If you
propose to vituperate someone, you will show or proclaim him lacking
in all virtues and abundant in all vices; and you will designate his
use of externally located corporal goods [riches, nobility, office, and
glory], which are good as well as bad, as immoderate and intemperate
and thus you will stain his person by all means. If he is learned, show
that he was slothful in study and luxurious in leisure, and try to dem-
onstrate that he was not implacable to enemies and inexorable to

Jean-Claude Schmitt, “Les images de l’invective,” in L’invective au Moyen Age,
eds. Eric Beaumatin and Michel Garcia (Paris, 1995), pp. 11–20, at p. 12.
E. Beaumatin, “La violence verbale. Préalables à une mise en perspective lin-
guistique,” in L’invective au Moyen Âge, pp. 21–36, at pp. 21–24; Claude Gauvard,
“Conclusion,” in L’invective au Moyen Âge, pp. 249–258, at p. 249; E. Beaumatin and
M. Garcia, “Pour rendre-compte,” in L’invective au Moyen Âge, pp. 259–262.
210 chapter eight

friends.”3 Both at the social and rhetorical levels, normative assumptions

about order and conventions were building blocks of the discourse
of insult, shifting the sense of transgression away from the attackers
toward the attacked.

The Invectiva of Arnulf of Lisieux

The text to be considered here is known variously as the Tractatus or

Invectiva in Girardum Engolismensem Episcopum (ca. 1133).4 It is not

The aurea gemma was an early twelfth-century (ca. 1120) manual for letter and
documentary writing (summae dictandi) composed by a French master in Pavia, Henry
Francigenus. The manual included, following Cicero’s classical rhetorics, instructions
for the composition of praise and of invective. Given his training in rhetoric and the
fact that he wrote the Invectiva in Northern Italy, Arnulf had no doubt encountered
the burgeoning literature devoted to the art of letter writing. See Ernst H. Kantorowicz,
“Anonymi ‘Aurea Gemma’,” Medievalia et Humanistica, 1 (1943), pp. 41–57; reprinted
in E. Kantorowicz, Selected Studies (Locust Valley, N.Y., 1965), pp. 247–263; Alain
Boureau, “The Letter-Writing Norm, a Medieval Invention,” in Correspondence:
Models of Letter-Writing from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century, eds. Roger
Chartier, Alain Boureau, and Cécile Dauphin (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 24–58, at p. 42.
On artes dictaminis in general, see Martin Camargo, Ars Dictaminis, Ars dictandi
(Brepols, 1991; Typologie des sources du Moyen Age occidental 60).
“Aurea Gemma”, ed. and trans. Steven M Wight, in Medieval Diplomatic and the ‘ars
dictandi’ (Scrineum, Cantieri, http://dobc.unipv.it/scrineum/wight/index.htm), (Pavia,
1999): 1.73: Si quem vero vituperare proponis, omnibus eum virtutibus vacuum et
vitiis omnibus habundantem ostendes vel predicabis; et bonis corporis extrinsecus sitis,
que communia sunt tam bonis quam malis, inmmoderate et intemperanter usum des-
ignabis et ita personam eius omnibus modis contaminabis. Si litteratus est, desidem
in studio fuisse et luxoriosum ostendes in otio, et inimicis placabilem et amicis
inexorabilem se exhibuisse demonstrare contendes. 1.74: Quemcumque criminari
volueris, considera diligenter, quicquid facere debet ex officio, ut cum eius personam
carpere volueris, ab officio eum errare ostendas. Qui enim officium suum deserit, privari
debet dignitate, que est comes officii. Verbi gratia: Magistratus est officium intelligere
se gerere personam civitatis et ad eius salutem non solum dicta set etiam facta et
consilia debere dirigere. Si ergo officium deserit, id est si curam civitatis negligit et
salutem, cui debet providere, etiam magistratu ipso debet exui, cuius negligit officium
exequi. Idem intelligendum est de ceteris officiis. 1.75: Est enim officium congruus
actus uniuscuiusque persone secundum mores et instituta patrie vel civitatis et hec
est civilis diffinitio. In morali vero philosophia divisio precedit diffinitionem. Officium
aliud perfectum, aliud medium. Perfectum officium est honestum factum, medium
officium est, de quo rationabilis causa reddi potest. 1.76: Si quem laudare volueris, dices
eum hec duo officia observasse. Si quem vituperare collibuerit, ab utroque aberrasse
et in contrarium incidisse insinuabis.
I have used here Julius Dietrich, ed., Arnulfi Sagiensis Archidiaconi Postea Episcopi
Lexoviensis Invectiva in Girardum Engolismensem Episcopum (thereafter, Invectiva),
(Hannover, 1987; Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Libelli de lite, 3), pp. 81–108.
In his detailed introduction (Ibid., p. 85), Dietrich gives a listing of earlier editions, warn-
ing against Migne who, in Arnulfi Lexoviensis episcopi tractatus de schismate orto post
Honorii II papae decessum, PL CCI, cols. 173A–187D, “Gilesianam editionem [Giles, I] . . .
neglegenter, ut assolet, descripsit.”
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 211

clear whether these titles were part of the original composition. The text
neither entitles itself tractatus, nor contains the term, yet its polemic
and aggressive purposes are made clear from the dedicatory letter
with which it commences. There, the author clearly announces that
he will attack, unfavorably discuss, and refute Girard of Angoulême:
“. . . In Girardum Engolismensem . . . invectus, originem nativitatis ejus,
conversationis qualitatem, prelationis causam . . . perstrinxi.”5 In fact,
the Invectiva rhetorically assaults two individuals, Girard, bishop of
Angoulême and papal legate (d. 1136), and Pope Anaclet II (d. 1138).
The author of the Invectiva was Arnulf (d. 1181), then archdeacon
of Sées and later bishop of Lisieux (from 1141 to 1181). Arnulf was
studying Roman law in Italy (almost certainly Bologna) when he
wrote this pamphlet, the earliest known of his extant writings which
comprise 141 letters of personal correspondence. A letter introduced
and directed the Invectiva specifically to Geoffrey de Leves, bishop of
Chartres (1116–1149) and papal legate (1132–1143) but all churchmen
who opposed Pope Anaclet received the tract favorably, particularly
Bernard of Clairvaux who was so impressed with it that he helped
its dissemination throughout Europe.6 Yet, while Arnulf’s personal
correspondence is extant in nineteen manuscripts of the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, his Invectiva, by contrast, is preserved in but a
single fifteenth-century manuscript, appearing neither in the collec-
tions Arnulf made of his epistolary communications nor in any of the
manuscripts collating Arnulf’s correspondence. The pamphlet never-
theless matches the letters in literary merit, displaying Arnulf’s edu-
cation through an abundance of direct classical quotations and Latin
figures of speech.7 The precise pedagogical cursus that allowed Arnulf

Invectiva, p. 85.
Arnulf’s Invectiva shares many points with the letter Bernard wrote in support of
Anaclet’s contender to the papal see, Innocent II to the bishops of Aquitaine (Epistola
126); see below at notes 20 and 21.
On Arnulf of Lisieux, see most recently Carolyn Poling Schriber, The Dilemma of
Arnulf of Lisieux: New Ideas versus Old Ideals (Bloomington, 1990). The manuscript
tradition and editions of the Invectiva are discussed at p. x–xi. Schriber considers that
Arnulf omitted the Invectiva in his public works because it had been written prior to
his rise to the episcopacy; such an omission would thus reflect Arnulf’s understanding
of the office of bishop rather than any embarrassment over his youthful and vitriolic
prose. The circumstances surrounding the production of the Invectiva, including
Arnulf’s education and intellectual network, and the literary merits of the text are
analyzed at p. 2–10.
Further details on the Invectiva’s textual tradition are given in Dietrich, Invectiva,
pp. 84–85.
For additional bibliography concerning the papal schism of 1130–1130, see below
at note 11.
212 chapter eight

to become skilled at rhetoric and one of the earliest practitioners of

the ars dictaminis is somewhat unclear, but there is evidence that he
studied at Sées, Angoulême, Chartres, Rome or Bologna, and Paris.8
He was in any case well aware of the importance of rhetorical educa-
tion. In his letter introducing the Invectiva, Arnulf asserts that science
rather than strong feeling gives rhetoric its texture. Nevertheless, as he
confesses, zeal permeates his work and he seeks credit for good will
if expertise should fail to secure him praise.9 Although there is little
doubt that Arnulf was well versed in rhetorical etiquette and classical
learning,10 the Invectiva also displays an intellectual training associat-
ing Arnulf with major trends in early twelfth-century thought. My pur-
pose here, however, is less to detail Arnulf’s schooling than to analyze

See notes 18 below. In his letter introducing the Invectiva to Geoffrey, Bishop of
Chatres, Arnulf describes himself as Geoffrey’s humble and devoted cleric, thus attesting
that he had spent time in Chartres; Invectiva, p. 85: “Venerabili Dei gratia Carnotensi
episcopo, Gaufrido, Romane ecclesiae legato, Arnulfus, archidiaconus Sagiensis, clericus
ejus humilis and devotus salutem.” A few sentences later, Arnulf explains that he is
unable to assist Bishop Geoffrey in conducting ecclesiastical affairs because he is away
studying law in Italy, “Sed qui me in Italiam desiderata diu Romanorum legum studia
deduxerunt, loci quidem distantia corporale subduxit obsequium, sed spiritualem non
suppressit affectum.”
Passages from Arnulf’s correspondence indicate familiarity with Parisian schools
and personal ties with the abbey of St Victor, where he spent the last years of his
life after resigning his episcopal see in ca. 1181, Schriber, The Dilemma of Arnulf of
Lisieux, pp. xv, 2.
In the course of excusing his audacity in presenting Bishop Geoffrey with meager
eloquence unworthy of the prelate’s wisdom, Arnulf praises the science of rhetoric;
Invectiva, p. 86: “Opus autem ipsum praesumo majestati vestrae, fortassis impudenter,
offere, cum nullatenus orationis jejunae macies mereatur in sapientiae vestrae venire
conspectum . . . . Si quid tamen in judicium libeat devocare, non de qualitate operis,
sed de opificis cognoscatis affectu. Hujus examinationis periculo me securus expono
nec cognitionem formidans nec latam ex cognitione sententiam. Qui licet rhetoricum
colorem formet scientia, non affectus, si non hanc peritiae laudem, saltem bonae
voluntatis gratiam consequemur.”
Arnulf displays his prejudice in favor of liberal education when he derides Girard’s
nephews as illiteratos (Invectiva, p. 88) and the bishops Girard attempted to place on
the sees of Poitiers and Limoges, one as a man of no letters who could not even be
eloquent in his vernacular sermons (et nullarum hominem litterarum et in vulgari
etiam sermone fere prorsus elinguem, Invectiva, p. 104) and the other as a famous
adulterer apt neither at the world nor at the knowledge of letters (nec seculari preditus
nec scientia literarum, famosus apud omnes adulter, Invectiva, p. 105).
On Arnulf’s letter-writing and collections of letters see The Letters of Arnulf of
Lisieux, ed. Frank Barlow (London, 1939; Royal Historical Society, Camden third
series 61); The Letter Collections of Arnulf of Lisieux, trans. C. P. Schriber, (Lewiston,
1997; Texts and Studies in Religion 72); John Van Engen, “Letters, Schools, and Written
Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries,” in Dialektik und Rhetoric im früheren
und hohen Mittelalter, ed. Johannes Fried (Munich, 1997), pp. 97–132.
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 213

the ways in which his patterning of representations operates. His

discursive system makes such representations insulting by anchoring
them within particular concepts of personality then being debated in
the field of theological anthropology. I thereby wish to elucidate the
notions of individuality and identity actually at work in this aggres-
sive system, since they were the sites of transgression and the targets
of violence and, as such, informed the expression and efficacy of the
The invectiva was written ca. 1133 in the wake of a specific event,
the dual papal election that followed the death of Pope Honorius II
in 1130. With Honorius barely dead, the papal chancellor Haimeric
managed the hasty election of Cardinal Deacon Gregory of St. Angelo
as Innocent II by the cardinals in immediate attendance, while yet the
other cardinals elected Petrus Pierleoni, cardinal priest of St. Calixtus,
as Anaclet II. Anaclet and his followers prevailed in the struggle that
soon broke out in Rome and forced Innocent into exile. However,
although Anaclet was able to remain in Rome until his death in 1138,
it was Innocent who ultimately obtained recognition from most of the
churches and rulers of western Europe. The propaganda Haimeric and
his followers produced on Innocent’s behalf did much for his cause,
bringing aboard such potent religious leaders as Norbert of Xanten
(d. 1134), the founder of the Praemonstratensian order of canons
regular, Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux (d. 1153), and Peter the Vener-
able, abbot of Cluny (d. 1156). Indeed, that reformed monastic orders
flocked to Innocent’s banner has led some historians to consider that
the schism of 1130–1138 articulated an ongoing conflict between
old-fashioned Gregorians, exemplified by Anaclet, who continued
to equate ecclesiastical reform with opposition to imperial influence
upon ecclesiastical affairs, and those church leaders, represented by
Innocent, who strove for a spiritual renewal of the church as a whole.11
Whatever the merit of this and other interpretations, the prominent
use of propaganda remains undeniable. In this war of words, the
polemical literature launched by Innocent’s partisans weakened the
position of Anaclet and his supporters. This is not to say that Anaclet
did not have his own propagandists. Reimbald of Liège, a voice of cau-
tion between the polarized factions, in a letter of late 1130 mentioned

For a recent survey on the historiography of the schism, see Mary Stroll, The Jewish
Pope. Ideology and Politics in the Papal Schism of 1130 (Leiden, 1987), pp. 1–9.
214 chapter eight

a text written by Girard of Angoulême in support of Anaclet. Reim-

bauld wondered why Girard’s piece was excluded from a funeral roll
where his own letter had been inserted for greater dissemination.
He directly accused the monks at Cluny, who seem to have received
Girard’s missive, of prohibiting publication of the text and of truncat-
ing it before passing it on to Innocent.12 Girard’s tract is no longer
extant; it was probably destroyed by the partisans of Innocent. Yet,
Arnulf obviously knew of the original tract and summarized it suffi-
ciently in the Invectiva to enable us to infer that it likely was the report
Girard gave of the papal election of 1130. Girard’s account was so det-
rimental to Innocent, affirming Anaclet’s legitimacy on legal grounds,
that it prompted Arnulf’s own need to attack Pope Anaclet himself in
the Invectiva.13 For, though Arnulf, as most northern French church-
men, took the side of Innocent II, he nevertheless primarily focused
his Invectiva against Girard of Angoulême, producing a pamphlet that
has been described as surpassing in violence, vileness of language, and
monstrosity of charges the most libelous texts composed in the cam-
paign of vilification against the Anacletians.14 Girard, however, had
enjoyed a fine reputation prior to the schism of 1130. Of Norman
origin like Arnulf himself, he had been educated in Paris and began
his magisterial career in Périgueux following which he ascended to
the Angoumois episcopate in 1102. An eloquent schoolman, learned
canonist, and highly respected prelate, he was named papal legate by
Pope Pascal II in 1107–1108, thus acquiring extensive jurisdiction over
the ecclesiastical provinces of Bordeaux, Auch, Tours, Bourges, and
Dol. Throughout his tenure as bishop and as legate, Girard focused
sustained attention on the way legal proceedings were conducted,
insisting in particular upon the presentation of authoritative written
proofs.15 His activities also extended to architectural projects, and in

Epistola de schismate,in Reimbaldi Leodensis Opera Omnia, ed. Charles de Clercq
(Turnhout, 1966; CCCM 4), p. 119; Reimbald’s accusation is also partially cited in
Invectiva, p. 85 note 3. See also Stroll, The Jewish Pope, pp. 176–177.
Invectiva, p. 85, note 3, and also chapter 6, p. 102, where Arnulf displays his
knowledge of Girard’s writings in support of Anaclet.
Stroll, The Jewish Pope, p. 160. Bishop Manfred of Mantua also hurled accusations
at Anaclet that equal Arnulf’s in their violence and scurrilousness.
Rowan Watson, “Scribes and Writing Offices: The Charters of the Counts of
Angoulême before the late 13th Century,” in Landesherrliche Kanzlein im Spätmittelalter
(Munich, 1984), pp. 659–679, at pp. 664–665; Soline Kumaoka, “Les jugements du
légat Gérard d’Angoulême en Poitou au début du XIIe siècle,” Bibliothèque de l’Ecole
des chartes, 155 (1997), pp. 315–338.
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 215

1128, he presided over the inauguration of the splendid cathedral he

had undertaken to construct in his episcopal city; St Peter of Angoulême
stands to this day as a splendid jewel of Romanesque architecture.16 At
the root of Arnulf’s vindictiveness there may have been some personal
resentment which developed in the course of antagonistic meetings.
There is little doubt that Arnulf met Girard face to face but no record
of the exact circumstances of these encounters. Arnulf was probably
too young to have been present on the occasion of Girard’s ascension
to the episcopal see of Angoulême in 1102.17 However, he may well
have been in Sées where he is known to have been a canon when
Girard, then bishop and legate, attended the consecration of the cathe-
dral along with Arnulf’s uncle and brother, respectively the bishops of
Lisieux and of Sées. One of the editors of the Invectiva, J. Dieterich,
has speculated reasonably that, since Arnulf attended courses in liberal
arts in Angoulême where Girard exercised his brilliant professorial
talent, he might have been taught by Girard.18 I would further suggest
that master and pupil may well have entered into one those dis-
putes which resonated throughout the twelfth century and which are
most notoriously illustrated by Abélard’s challenges to such masters
as Roscelin, Anselm of Laon, and William of Champeaux. Abelard’s
account of his ‘misfortunes,’ lamenting the attacks hurled at him, is
exactly contemporaneous with Arnulf’s Invectiva.
Even if Arnulf had no personal grudge against Girard, Girard’s
account of the papal election of 1130 and his marshaling of Aquitaine
on Anaclet’s side would have provoked his and others’ ire.19 A year or

Arnulf describes in these terms Girard’s rebuilding of the cathedral, Invectiva,
p. 85: Ecclesiam quidem episcopalem de mortuis edificasti lapidibus, non ut domum
Domini decorares, sed ut inde conquirendi pecuniam duceretur occasio . . . Dicebatur
ad opus ecclesiae postulari, quicquid ad tuam cupiens avaratiam exigebas . . .
This did not prevent him from implying that he had actually seen the event, Invec-
tiva, p. 88: Redit in mentem mihi miserabile illud nefandissimumque spectaculum,
dum te precurrentem multitudo reliqua sequeretur, et tu clerum quadam celeritate
preires ad cathedram, ne revocata ratione stolida mutaretur impulsio, cum alii quidem
trahi soleant et plerumque compellantur inviti. Ea die de Engolismensi ecclesia veritas
et misericordia recessit . . . See below at note 37.
Invectiva, p. 83; see note 8 above.
Aquitaine remained loyal to Anaclet until 1135 when Duke Guillaume IX suc-
cumbed to the emotional rhetoric of Bernard, Stroll, The Jewish Pope, p. 93. The visit
Bernard made to Aquitaine is described by Ernald, abbot of Bonneval (1100–1156)
in chapter 6 of his Sancti Bernardi abbatis Clarae-Vallensis vita et res gestae libris
septem comprehensae. Liber Secundus, PL CLXXXV, cols. 286A–291D. See also below
at note 28.
216 chapter eight

so after the dual election of 1130, Bernard of Clairvaux sent a letter

to the bishops of Aquitaine in an attempt to sever their allegiance
to Anaclet’s legate, Girard of Angoulême. This epitome of epistolary
eloquence constitutes Bernard’s foremost attempt to formulate a legal
argument in favor of Innocent’s election;20 his treatment of canon
law, as indeed the specifics of his accusations, provided a template for
Arnulf’s own assault against Girard and Anaclet.21
Thus far, it is the overall content of Arnulf’s diatribes that has
attracted scholarly attention, at times indignation, though most often
disregard. No detailed study, however, has been made of the Invectiva
from the viewpoints of its organization and of the broad range of
insults it contains, nor does the scope of this chapter permit such a
full analysis. Rather, after a brief overview of the Invectiva’s structure
and of the themes deployed to frame the undesirable, highly negative,
indeed illegitimate personae of Girard and Anaclet, I will focus on a
particular insult, that of “difformitas,” ugliness.

Strategies of Character Assassination

Arnulf attacks Girard and Anaclet in the course of eight chapters,

which combine ongoing character assassination with a sprinkling of
biographical events and a few legal considerations. Beginning with
Girard (chapters 1 and 2), Arnulf initiates his insulting tone by apos-
trophizing the legate directly, addressing him by his first name. That
deference with which Arnulf directed his tract to the attention of
Bishop Geoffrey of Chartres was totally absent when he referred to

Epistola 126, partial edition in Pontificum Romanorum qui fuerunt inde ab exeunte
saeculo IX usque ad finem saeculi XIII vitae, ed. Johann Matthias Watterich, 2 vols.
(Leipzig, 1862; reprint, Aalen 1966), pp. 196–198; full edition in Epistolae. I, Corpus
epistolarum 1–180. Sancti Bernardi Opera Omnia, ed. Jean Leclercq and Henri Rochais,
vol. 7 (Rome, 1957), pp. 109–119. For an analysis of the letter, see most recently, Stroll,
The Jewish Pope, pp. 97–99.
Bernard, for instance, imputed that Girard turned to Anaclet for personal reasons,
only after Innocent II had refused him the status of papal legate. This accusation is found
only in the letter Bernard wrote to the bishops of Aquitaine (Epistola 126, see above
at note 20), in which he heavily blackened Girard’s character, Stroll, The Jewish Pope,
p. 97, with additional references to studies on Girard and on Bernard’s characterization
of him, and p.174, on Bernard’s tendency to denigrate his opponents.
Arnulf borrowed Bernard’s accusation in his Invectiva, p. 101, noting that Innocent
refused Girard the position of legate on the basis of Girard’s poor administrative
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 217

Girard (and later to Anaclet) both of whom, throughout the Invectiva,

were granted neither title nor quality, being addressed as ‘tu’ rather
than the ‘vos’ employed for Geoffrey. The transgression here involves a
linguistic impropriety in that a simple archdeacon, Arnulf, deliberately
ignored church hierarchical formulae. Arnulf’s decidedly negative biog-
raphy of Girard stressed his ugliness, his old age, his humble origins,
his avarice, his debauched sexuality, and his immodest language.
Similar themes reappear in chapter 3, this time to denounce Anaclet.
Indeed, as with Girard, Arnulf dared to refer to Anaclet by his personal
name, Petrus, or Petrus Leonis. The only mention of the papal name
‘Anaclet’ in the Invectiva occurs in chapter 7, where Arnulf castigates
Girard for spreading through Aquitaine the notion that Petrus Leonis
had assumed the papacy under the name of Anaclet “or, more truthfully,
that of antichrist.”22 In Arnulf’s terminology, Petrus’ origins were not
merely humble and ignoble, but vile since spoiled by Jewish ancestry;
Petrus’ whole being is said to declare Jewish perfidy, including his
facial features. Usury, cupidity, and ambition are held to account for
his ecclesiastical advancement; gluttony, incest, and depraved sex to
characterize his deportment.
With chapter 4, we enter a realm of respectful rhetoric as Arnulf now
turned his attention to Innocent. Here again, the mode of address is sig-
nificant; throughout this chapter, Arnulf exalted Innocent in the third
person, never once referring to him by name, either private (Gregory)

Cepisti per fines Aquitaniae discurrendo pristinae predicationi tuae predicare
contraria: Petrum scilicet Leonis Anacleti nomine (sed verius antichristi!) papam
esse . . . Invectiva, p. 103. Arnulf accuses Petrus as being the antichrist several times
throughout the Invectiva, in chapter 3 (p. 93), and in chapter 4 within a speech attrib-
uted to Innocent (p. 98). The chronicle of Maurigny and Bernard of Clairvaux also
emphasized Petrus’ antichristic nature. Ex chronico Mauriniacensi, in Recueil des
historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. XII, ed. Léopold de Lisle (Paris, 1877),
p. 79: Honorius II . . . defunctus est. Cardinales . . . Gregorium quemdam scientia ac reli-
gione praeclarum sibi praeficiunt, et nimis festinantur, ut a quibusdam dicitur, pon-
tificalibus induunt insignibus. Id illius gratia dispensationis factum dicunt, ut Petrum
quemdam, qui saeculariter ad Papatum videbatur aspirare, spe sua frustraretur. Fuit
hic Petrus Petri filius, filii Leonis. Leo vero a Judaismo Pascha faciens ad Christum,
a Leone baptisari et ejus nomine meruit insigniri. Hic vir . . . genuit filium nomine
Petrum, magnae famae magnaeque potentiae post futurum . . . . Inter caeteram sobolem,
cujus plurima multitudine sexus utriusque a quibusdam Antichristus gloriabatur, genuit
hunc Petrum, de quo sermo nunc est, qui litteris traditus a quibusdam Antichristi
praeambulus appelatur.” The chronicler’s description of Petrus and of his lineage is
fair throughout, and he seems to wish to distance himself from the accusations he
relates, although he ultimately concedes that Gregory/Innocent was the better papal
218 chapter eight

or papal (Innocent).23 Innocent was thus evoked expansively, his

contours generically sketched by the qualities which Arnulf ascribed
to him: beauty, integrity, sobriety, chastity, learning, eloquence. Addi-
tionally, Innocent was granted the opportunity to speak. Arnulf pre-
sented him as delivering speeches laden with biblical quotes, which in
turn moved his audience to eloquent words of support. By contrast,
Petrus and Girard were never allowed rhetorical agency. Undefined
by contingencies such as name, Innocent was praised as an exemplar,
while Girard and Petrus were denigrated as individualized beings.
It is also in chapter 4, and thus in association with the praise of
Innocent as a paragon, that Arnulf finally introduced the question of
election, giving a detailed and manipulative account of the recogni-
tion of Innocent as the legitimate successor of St Peter. Repeatedly
denouncing Anaclet as having bought the papal office, Arnulf implies
that there had been but a single election, that of Innocent. In chap-
ter 5, however, he admits, albeit in a tortured exegesis, that Anaclet
had been elected too. “Even if”, Arnulf wrote, “some form of election
were to be invoked in support of Petrus, neither the quality of his life
nor his reputation would back up the promotion of this Petrus, who
usurped the chair of St Peter through bribery after Pope Innocent’s
election, this Petrus whom his very life and name condemn.”24 It is
worth noting that whereas Anaclet continued as before to be desig-
nated as Petrus, Innocent was here called Pope Innocent. Significantly,
the only two such specific references to Innocent by name and office
appear in this single passage of the Invectiva where Arnulf, undertaking
a legal discussion of what had been a double papal election, explicitly
endorses the legitimacy of Innocent’s papacy. The narrative context in
which Arnulf raised the electoral issue is also significant for he was at
this point describing the council of Etampes gathered by King Louis VI
of France in 1130 to determine the legitimate pope. Arnulf reports
that Girard was not present at this council but sent letters. These
letters probably contained the tract, now lost but then censured by the
Cluniacs, in which Girard powerfully argued, on legal grounds, for the

Arnulf begins his encomium of Innocent by addressing Girard with these words:
“At vero, quis sit iste, quem reprobas, consequenter attende.” Invectiva, p. 96, thereafter
referring to Innocent by laudatory circumlocutions.
Porro Petrum per opulentam manum cathedram posterius usurpasse, virum adeo
vita reprobatum et nomine, ut si ipsum etiam quelibet electionis forma defenderet,
promoveri tamen vitae qualitas et infamia minime sustineret, Invectiva, p. 100.
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 219

validity of Anaclet’s election. I will soon return to the ways in which

Arnulf denigrated these letters. Suffice it now to say that at this point
in the Invectiva (chapter 5), Arnulf in effect picked up the legal gaunt-
let thrown down by Girard whose tract seems to have made it impos-
sible at least not to consider that Anaclet had been elected.25 Rather
than responding to Girard’s legal argument, Anaclet emphasized the
personal considerations upon which the council based its decision to
support Innocent. This tactic is evidence of the difficulty Arnulf had
in resting Innocent’s case solely on juridical grounds.26 Such grounds
comprised the following points, stressed by Arnulf: Innocent was
elected first, and by the elite of Roman officials, whereas Anaclet had
bought the papal see, and even if he might justify his election, he still
would not be acceptable given the poor quality of his life and repu-
tation. Ignoring the canonical procedure for papal election available
since the Gregorian Reform, Arnulf cited a decree promulgated by
Pope Leo I (d. 461), enjoining the preference, in case of a divided vote,
of the most learned and most deserving papal candidate.27 Canon law,
as thus manipulated by Arnulf, allowed to focus upon, and so justi-
fied, his technique of personal characterization. The last three chapters
(6–8) accordingly are swollen with a renewed flow of insults as Arnulf
now returned to Girard and his evil success in keeping the emperor,
England, Aquitaine, and Sicily in Anaclet’s camp.28

On the letters sent by Girard to Etampes, see below at notes 31 and 32. At the
time Arnulf was writing, in the mid-30s, neither the legal status of Innocent’s election
nor his claim to the papacy had achieved full consensus.
Modern scholarship is divided about whether or not the legality of the election
was critical in deciding between the two popes. Stroll, however, argues for the crucial
importance of the legality of the election, The Jewish Pope, p. 94.
Sumpta igitur ex magni Leonis papae decreto sententia, ubi se partium vota
diviserant; visus est illis jure canonico preferendus is, qui majoribus studiis juvabatur
et meritis, Invectiva, p. 101.
Even King of France Louis VI (d. 1137) had initially been in favor of Anaclet’s
election, although by the time of the council he held in Etampes (April 1130), he
had been convinced to side for Innocent. Emperor Lothar III recognized Innocent in
October 1130, and King Henry I soon thereafter in January 1131. Aquitaine, inspired
by Girard, remained loyal to Anaclet until 1135 when its duke capitulated to Bernard’s
arguments. Neither Scotland nor Sicily ever left the party of Anaclet. See recently
Stroll,The Jewish Pope, pp. 66–70, 93.
Arnulf reports on the council of Etampes in Invectiva, chapter 5, p. 100; about King
Henry’s recognition of Innocent, Invectiva, pp. 102–103; about Aquitaine and Sicily’s
loyalty to Anaclet, Invectiva, pp. 103–104, with the bulk of these pages devoted to
Girard’s actions in favor of Anaclet’s cause.
220 chapter eight

Arnulf’s strategy was in line with the rhetoric deployed by Bernard

and by Innocent’s other supporters, none of whom made sustained
efforts to argue in depth for or against the canonical validity of either
papal election.29 Rather, choosing the criterion of personal worthiness
as the major determinant of legitimacy, they embarked on a campaign
of defamation, blackening the characters of their antagonists.30

The Rhetoric of Vilification

The Invectiva is constructed symmetrically. The three first and the

three last chapters malign the personalities of Girard, of Anaclet, and
of the Anacletians; the two central chapters praise Innocent to justify
his election. It was from these latter central chapters, at the heart of
the Invectiva so to speak, that Arnulf launched a specific form of insult
which crystallized a theme recurrent throughout the Invectiva. Arnulf,
taunting Girard’s inability to attend the council of Etampes, sneered:
“Ah, Girard! Since you could not be present at this council, you sent a
messenger carrying letters sealed with the image of your ugliness—Cui
concilio quoniam interesse, Girarde, non poteras, Cum litteris tuae
deformitatis imagine consignatis nuntium destinasti.”31 As we have
seen, Girard’s letters presumably presented a substantial legal defense
for Anaclet’s election; yet Bernard, who was at Etampes, indeed swayed
the council to Innocent’s side, never mentioned them.32 Arnulf, care-

Stroll, The Jewish Pope, pp. 82–101. The position currently prevalent among
modern scholars seems to be that, of the two, Anaclet’s election was the least illegal.
In her monograph, The Jewish Pope, Stroll advanced the argument (p. 177) that,
though not passive, Anaclet’s supporters refrained from vilifying Innocent.
In section 3 of the Invectiva, Arnulf states his wish to describe the qualities of the
two competing popes, p. 92: “Placet hoc loco mihi utriusque personae describere qual-
itatem, ut de duobus similem similis elegisse proberis et cupidum cupidus adorasse.”
Invectiva, p. 100. See a brief discussion of this passage in Brigitte Bedos-Rezak,
“L’Individu, c’est l’autre. Signes d’identité et principes d’altérité au XIIe siècle,” in
L’Individu au Moyen Age. Individuation et individualisation avant la modernité, eds.
B. Bedos-Rezak et Dominique Iogna-Prat (Paris, 2005), pp. 51–52.
It is conceivable that Arnulf was referring to letters closed by an imprint from a
signet-ring, and not to patent letters (charters) authorized by a documentary seal. The
term imago, however, tended to designate a seal rather than a signet-ring, and the
expression ‘consignatis’ refers to a validating rather than to a closing device. Neither
the ring nor the seal would be likely to carry a physiognomic portrait of Girard but,
unlike the ring, the seal could have accommodated the full fledged representation of
an episcopal figure.
Henri Maratu, Girard évêque d’Angoulême vers 1060–1136 (Angoulême 1866),
p. 278.
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 221

ful to avoid giving substance to the content of the letters by revealing

them in full, instead cast doubt on their legitimacy by denigrating their
seal, that is, the very device that confirmed their authority. The seal, in
Arnulf’s words, bears the image of Girard’s “difformitas.”
Twelfth-century seals did carry an image. Indeed, a primary mean-
ing of imago in this period was seal, and Arnulf’s formulation echoes
the final clauses of many contemporary northern French charters in
which individuals in whose names the charters were issued stated that
they had strengthened the recorded deed with an imprint of their
image (Fig. 22).33 Seals often presented an anthropomorphic figure, but
eschewed any display of particular physiognomic traits. The seal was
an image of likeness, a portrait of status and function emblematized by
attributes and official attire. Episcopal seals would typically have dis-
played a bishop in full vestments, coiffed with miter and brandishing
a crozier (Fig. 4, 9). No actual seals of Girard seem to have survived
but there is evidence that he did seal the charters issued in his name.
Many such charters have survived and mention in their final clauses,
that he had affixed the seal of his authority in order to strengthen their
contents.34 In fact, the record of Girard’s own sealing practice testi-
fies to the closeness of the relationship seals entertained with personal
status. When Girard decided to succeed Arnaud de Chabenac (d. 1131)
in the archiepiscopal see of Bordeaux so as to keep this important
territory on Anaclet’s side, he noted in a charter given after assuming
his new functions that he would seal with his antecedent Angoulême
seal since his seal for the church of Bordeaux was not as yet made.35
While none of these seals have survived,36 extant contemporary seals
indicate that additional archiepiscopal attributes, such as a pallium,
might have been introduced onto Girard’s new seal, along with an

See examples at chapter 7 above, notes 86–92. The remote possibility that Arnulf
was referring to a signet-ring is considered here at note 31 above.
Maratu, Girard evêque d’Angoulême, pp. 327–373, where is appended an edition
of the charters issued in the name of Girard or relating to his administration between
Maratu, Girard évêque d’Angoulême, no. 34, pp. 370–371: . . . Et, ut hoc donum
firmius et certius permaneat, in hac charta propria manu subscripsimus et sigillo
Engolismis ecclesiae, qui nondum in Burdagalensi ecclesia sigillum feceramus, muniri
Girard’s seal is no longer extant but charters issued in his name during his tenure
as bishop of Angoulême were sealed, as evidenced in their final clauses where Girard
repeatedly announced the apposition of his seal, Maratu, Girard évêque d’Angoulême,
pp. 327–363, published as pièces justificatives.
222 chapter eight

updated legend. Seal iconography thus delineated only the contours

of the seal owner’s particular functions, not his physiognomy; indi-
vidualized identity would have been confined to the legend. In view
of these facts, Arnulf’s denunciation of the seal as bearing the image
of Girard’s ugliness might seem gratuitously polemical were it not for
the fact that the themes of forma, difformitas, and imago constitute an
ongoing trope within the Invectiva.
Arnulf repeatedly returned to descriptions of the bishop’s bodily
form, apparently based upon actual encounters with Girard.37 He
particularly mocks Girard’s abnormally large, globular, and squinting
eyes, conflating a strabismus with Girard’s duplicity, his inability to
see things straight figuratively as well as literally.38 Physical appearance
is equated with moral being, corporeal defect with mental deficiency.
Arnulf described Girard as a two-headed monster (monstrum biceps)
after the latter had, in addition to his existing bishopric of Angoulême,
assumed the archepiscopal see of Bordeaux.39 The very form of the
body, treated allegorically or not, is made to signal the soul’s quality
and the person’s rectitude. When Arnulf reproached Girard for his
decrepit body and berates his obesity, portraying him as a fat bull,40 he
took advantage of yet another presumed correspondence, that which
associates fleshly appearance with animality. Animality is a distinctive
part of Arnulf’s repertoire of insult useful in conveying the blindness of
his targets to things divine. Within a few lines of the Invectiva’s open-
ing, Girard was marked out as an animal (homo animalis) who, fleshy
in appearance and sensual, was unable to perceive the divine.41 The
count of Poitou, a supporter of Girard and Anaclet, was also termed by

See above, at notes 17 and 18. On possible and actual encounters between Arnulf
and Girard, see Invectiva, pp. 82, 92.
Arnulf’s ungenerous if astute use of Girard’s squint to explain Girard’s duplicity
appears in Invectiva, chapter 7, p. 104: Non potes negare, quin falsi crimen et incon-
stantiae simul incurreris, levissime transfuga, modo harum, modo illarum partium
malefidus assertor, cujus in singulis operibus duplices vias duplex signat intuitus, et
affectus mentis ancipites ambiguus manifestat aspectus. Sicut enim corporales oculos
tuos innaturalis quedam distorsit enormitas, ut ad idem contuendum mirabili nequeant
discordia convenire, sic et mentis oculi dissident, ration scilicet et affectus.
Invectiva, chapter 7, p. 106.
Invectiva, chapter 1, p. 87: Numquid miseram senestutem tuam et instantem
decrepiti corporis naturali necessitate defectum et hiantis sepulchri claustra non
vides? . . . Totus execrandi corporis tui labor et otium . . .
Insults about Girard’s obesity appear in chapter 2, p. 92: Videre mihi videor, te
quasi taurum pinguem in sublimi synadolem cathedram insedisse . . .
Invectiva, chapter 1, p. 87.
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 223

Arnulf an animal (voluptatum vir, homo animalis), one who remained

in error because incapable of reaching the higher levels of spirituality.42
Still on the theme of animality, beyond the insults to his squint and
his obesity, Girard was called an owl (bubo) and a bull. Thus, with
Girard, difformitas seems clearly to have referred to physical deformi-
ties miming a defective character.
With Anaclet, formerly Petrus Pierleone, the insult of difformitas
took on a specific turn. Still accompanied by accusations of animality,
debauchery, and sensuality, facial features now become racial traits,
which more radically, exponentially, traced the blindness to and dis-
tance from God. Anaclet, a Cluniac monk promoted to the rank of
cardinal, had been born to a wealthy Roman family that had staunchly
supported the reforming papacy throughout the Investiture Contro-
versy. Yet, many found it difficult to forget (or forgive) Annaclet’s
Jewish origins, for his grandfather had been a Jew before converting
to Christianity. Anaclet’s Jewish ancestry became a target for denigra-
tion, and his detractors, Arnulf chief among them, made ample use of
this ancestral material.43 As early as 1119, during the council of Reims,
Anaclet’s brother, Gratianus, was described in unflattering terms by an
audience which thought he looked more like a Jew or a Saracen than
a Christian and commented that his beautiful clothes could not dis-
simulate his being deformed of body (corpore deformen).44 For Arnulf
too, Jewishness left a specific stamp: “Desiring to spare my readers
horrors, I [Arnulf] judged it appropriate to avoid mentioning Petrus’s

Invectiva, chapter 8, p. 107.
On the strength of the anti-Jewish propaganda during the schism, at the hands of
Archbishop Walter of Ravenna, Manfred of Mantua, Peter the Venerable, Bernard of
Clairvaux, and Arnulf, see Stroll, The Jewish Pope, pp. 156–168, and M. Stroll, Symbols
as Power. The Papacy Following the Investiture Contest (Leiden, 1991), pp. 124–126.
As Stroll herself remarks in The Jewish Pope (pp. 1–9), scholars have been divided
about the role of Anaclet’s Jewish ancestry in his rejection as a legitimate pope. Gilbert
Dahan, Les intellectuels chrétiens et les Juifs au Moyen Age (Paris 1990), states (p. 528),
in his only mention of Anaclet in that study, that no one in the twelfth century would
have dared reproach a baptized Jew for his origins, and that only political expediency
made Bernard of Clairvaux denounce Anaclet’s origin in an accusation that did not
in any case seem to have played an important role in the schism. J.-Cl. Schmitt, La
conversion d’Hermann le Juif (Paris, 2003), pp. 229–233, notes that, during the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries, Jews who had converted to Christianity were seen as having
retained the trace of their origins.
Orderic Vitalis, writing 16 years after the council was held, reports the scene
in Book XII of his Historia Ecclesiastica, 6 vols., ed. Marjorie Chibnall (Oxford,
1969–1980), vol. 6, pp. 266–268; Stroll, The Jewish Pope, p. 167.
224 chapter eight

vile familial ancestry and his Jewishness, although it is from such

Jewish origins that Petrus contracted both his flesh (materiam carnis)
and the basis for his congenital error (primitias ingeniti . . . . erroris).”45
Arnulf then reproached Petrus’s ancestors for having used their ill
gotten wealth to marry into the best Roman families, thereby corrupt-
ing the purity of the Roman stock. Arnulf closes his genealogical com-
ments with an invective which betrays his belief that Jewishness had
a distinctive visage: “Such is the genetic mixture, Girard, from which
your Petrus comes, he whose face projects an image of Jewishness,
he whose wishes and feelings connote Jewish perfidy—Ex hac itaque
diversorum generum mistura, Girarde, Petrus iste tuus exortus est, qui
et judaicam facie repraesentat imaginem, et perfidiam voto referat et
As counterpoint to Girard’s ugliness and Anaclet’s Jewish face,
Arnulf held that “Innocent’s visage and eyes display a robust simplicity,
his face is proof of his soul’s chastity. His face indeed shines with such
a dignity that it forces respect from the viewer. Amidst the other gifts
of its munificence, the divine force greatly endowed him with a spe-
cial grace so that . . . he may inspire love solely by his appearance . . .
I judge, [Arnulf continued], that Innocent attracts his audience
powerfully because he seems to have received within his own body
the premises for an incipient eternal happiness.”47 Where Anaclet’s

Invectiva, chapter 3, p. 92–93: Libet igitur preterire antiquam nativitatis ejus
originem et ignobilem similem prosapiam, nec Judaicum nomen arbitror opponen-
dum, de quibus ipse non solum materiam carnis, sed etiam quasdam primitias ingeniti
contraxit erroris.
Invectiva, chapter 3, p. 93.
Invectiva, chapter 4, p. 96: Apparet in oculis ejus et vultu robusta simplicitas, et
quae castitatem animi probet, verecundia faciei. Quae profecto facies tanta dignitate
resplendet, ut et ipsi quandam reverentiam ingerat intuenti . . . . Ei quoque hanc inter
cetera munificentiae suae dona specialem gratiam vis divina largita est, ut omnes se
videntes mansueta sibi benignitate conciliet et dilectionem solo nanciscatur aspectu . . . .
Quod quidem eo magis allicit intuentes, quoniam id in ipso quoddam illius eternae
jocunditatis videtur initium, cujus eum in ipso corpore quasdam existimo primitias
Twelfth-century descriptions of physical aspects do not necessarily associate beauty
with moral rectitude and divine inspiration. To the contrary, a face devoid of attractive
features can still be made to appear beautiful when illuminated by an interior light.
In the vita of St. Etienne of Obazine (d. 1154), abbot of the Cistercian community of
Obazine, the hagiographer wrote: ‘En, cernitis, domini fratres, abbatem hunc corpore
modicum, statura brevem, habitu despicabilem, vultu deformem, sed quicquid in eo
viditis, totum Spiritu Sancto et fide plenum sciatis,’ quoted in Paul Michel, Formosa
Deformitas. Bewältigungsformen des Hässlichen in mittelalterlicher Literatur (Bonn,
1976), p. 89.
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 225

Jewish flesh embodied the substrate of congenital error, Innocent’s

body incorporated a promise of eternal bliss. Anaclet’s innate con-
dition was inherited and limited by the historicity of its particular
circumstances; Innocent’s inherent qualities had a divine origin and
partook of eternity. In Arnulf’s polarized construction, the distinctive
body was held to embody and to signify the character of the earthly
and mortal individual, whereas the regular-featured and normative
body connoted otherworldliness.48 The figurative form of the flesh was
thus seen as heuristic, imparting knowledge of its organizing principle.
Given their particularizing features, the corporeal forms of Girard and
Anaclet appeared to be self-representational as they failed to repre-
sent something other that their own contingent and transient selves.
Being their own individual models, so to speak, they fully affirmed
their alienation from a transcendental archetype. Herein lay, I believe,
the thrust of Arnulf’s insulting strategy.

‘Difformitas’ as Individuality

When early twelfth-century commentators interpreted Genesis 1: 26,

which relates the creation of man in the image and resemblance of
God,49 they characteristically conceived of such a creation as an imprint-
ing process whereby the divine model applied itself onto man.50 Seal
metaphors were recurrently invoked to exemplify this act of creation.
God was the seal-die’s material (the bronze), engraved with the image
of his substance (Christ), which in turn applied itself to the malleable
framework of man (the seal impression).51 This insistence on the image
as imprint had implications both for the understanding of image and

Innocent is described as being of moderate stature, Invectiva, chapter 4, p. 96:
si personae qualitas, ut prius habitudo corporea describabitur, vir staturae mediocris,
quae nec abjectum brevitas nec immanem reddat immensae quantitatis excessus.
Robert Javelet, Image et ressemblance au 12e siècle, de saint Anselme à Alain de
Lille, 2 vols. (Paris, 1967); David N. Bell, The Image and Likeness. The Augustinian
Spirituality of William of Saint-Thierry (Kalamazoo, 1984); Gerhart B. Ladner, Ad
Imaginem Dei: The Image of Man in Medieval Art (Latrobe, 1965); Ladner, Images
and Ideas in the Middle Ages (Rome, 1983); John E. Sullivan, The Image of God. The
Doctrine of St. Augustine and its Influence (Dubuque, Iowa, 1963); Maur Standaert,
“La doctrine de l’image chez S. Bernard,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, 23
(1947), pp. 70–129.
See chapters 6 and 7 above.
See examples and discussion of seal metaphors above in chapter 6, at notes 70–71,
74–77, and chapter 7, at notes 57–68, and 98 where mention is made of the relationship
226 chapter eight

for the ontological conception of man. Impression implies a contact

between archetype and copy; the type not only produces a like image
but also deposits, and remains as, the constitutive mark of its original
presence. The notion of image as imprint therefore promoted a semi-
otic modality whereby the image, in actualizing its constitutive rela-
tionship to an originating model, signified by incorporating its model’s
character. Likeness was extended from the visual world of appear-
ances, and came to be formulated as an active principle, articulating
the gradation of contact and presence in the relationship between sign
and thing. An image, thus, not only represented; it also presented, that
is, rendered present. In the world of social praxis, imprinted images
newly produced by episcopal seal matrices, and affixed to documents,
were appreciated as relics of the presence of their owners with whom
they shared a key identity of definition: both were imprints. For, in
the sphere of anthropology, man was an imprint, and as such carried
an inner presence of its divine model to which he might strive to
conform, thereby attempting to re-form himself in the image of his
creator. Reformation, however, occurred only through human effort to
resemble the model’s imprinted image. If such an image, already dis-
torted by original sin, was further deformed by individual wickedness,
becoming a de-formed mark, then conformity to the divine prototype
would no longer be possible.
For Arnulf, thus, Girard and Anaclet had done more than straying
from a proper model; they had defaced its template beyond recognition.
Arnulf concluded the chapter (3) devoted to Anaclet by attacking his
character thus: “You, Petrus, as you roll from vice to vice, obfuscating
the brightness of the divine face that was sealed upon you (signatum
super te lumen divini vultus [Psalm, 4,7]), de-forming the image of
God (deformata jam divinitatis imagine Dei), obscuring by your turpi-
tude the resemblance to this image (et ipsius similitudine flagitiis offus-
cata), how dare you presume to be the successor of Christ, without
first assuming his resemblance? ‘There has never been an agreement
between Christ and Satan, never a communication between light and
darkness’ [Paul, 2.Cor.6,15].”52 From this scripturally-charged vituper-
ation to the identification of Anaclet as antichrist, the leap was short

between the Latin terms impressio and character, with bibliographical references to
studies of the polyvalent term ‘character.’
Invectiva, chapter 3, p. 96.
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 227

and Arnulf did not hesitate, as we have seen.53 Arnulf, in fact, was
recapitulating through his assault against Anaclet two fundamental
transgressions: the first is the original sin, by which humankind lost its
resemblance to God, and second, the Jewish rejection of Christ as the
Messiah. In Anaclet, Adam’s sin was conflated with the Jewish sin.
Arnulf’s attack on Anaclet emerged directly from contemporary
theological anthropology, making it clear that “difformitas” stood in
contrast to “conformitas.” By not conforming to the divine model, by
eschewing resemblance with it, by rejecting it, Anaclet had erred and
further distorted the model’s image within him. Innocent’s life, by com-
parison, had integrity and nothing in it was deformed by crime (nihil
deformatum crimine); divine providence had uniquely pre-formed
him for this unique [papal] dignity (divina providentia preformatus).
Arnulf promoted Innocent as the most deserving papal candidate by
affirming Innocent’s conformity with the divine plan within and for
Likeness and resemblance were therefore central mechanisms for
the fulfillment of selfhood. To be was to be alike, and identity was
a matter of sameness. Arnulf made it clear that for him, as for his
contemporaries, one is, exists, and becomes by virtue of resemblance.
Imitations of bad models, on the other hand, created bad beings. Thus
Arnulf described Girard’s nephews as being worthy of their uncle
(avunculo dignos esse nepotes): “The nature of consanguinity as well as
education and the example of the life you lead have conformed your
nephews to you by resemblance (similitudine conformavit) so, at the
beginning there was nature, advancement came through education,
and power was acquired through the example of your ambition, ava-
rice, and lust.”55 Arnulf concluded this paragraph by pointing out that
Girard never imparted to anyone the form of a life of integrity.56 Later
in the Invectiva, Arnulf denigrated the alliance between Girard and his
supporters, the count of Poitou and the bishop of Limoges, by once
again invoking the dynamic of similarity: “You [Girard] could not

See above at not 22, and Invectiva, chapter 3, p. 98, where Anaclet is said to
have been universally recognized by the nations as being the antichrist and publicly
denounced as such, on the basis of his descent (ortu), ambition, and life; and Invectiva,
chapter 4, p. 98: “Either Anaclet was the antichrist himself, or he himself prepared the
times for his coming.”
Invectiva, chapter 4, pp. 96–97.
Invectiva, chapter 2, p. 89.
Invectiva, chapter 2, p. 89: Neminem ad vitae innocentiam informasti.
228 chapter eight

have esteemed these individuals if you had not thought them similar
to you, nor could you have formed for your Petrus members different
from yourself and your persona. Artifacts always reveal their particular
maker; their appearance express, like an image (velut imago), their
maker’s purpose and art.”57 This somewhat complicated the valence
of likeness and conformitas since a bad model, a bad craftsman, was a
source of deformity. In a cultural context where the imperative of like-
ness was ontologically absolute and where the formation of personality
was achieved through replication, the social order in effect, some-
what paradoxically, rested upon its malleability, for such malleability
was necessary to be imprinted by the model. This in turn made the
definition and maintenance of normative templates of principal impor-
tance. Deformed personalities, according to the principle of social rep-
lication, were contagious. Arnulf expressed fear of deviant models as
dangerously polluting when, at the very beginning of the Invectiva,
he declared that he would leave unmentioned the horrors of Girard’s
youth so that the ears of his readers might not be polluted (polluantur)
by the filth of Girard’s intemperance and avarice.58 Among the numer-
ous disparagements Arnulf cited in attacking Anaclet’s papacy, one
alleged that Anaclet was personally infected (pollutus) by infamy so
that the very power emanating from his person caused (contrahat)
contempt.59 Arnulf’s vocabulary here is epidemiologic. Anaclet was
contagious, a danger for the health of the Christian community.
Within Arnulf’s biographical sketches of Girard and Anaclet, how-
ever biased, there remained some factual information. Anaclet did
have Jewish ancestry and Girard was old, and possibly fat and cross-
eyed. Still, Girard’s seal could not (in its small module), and would not

Invectiva, chapter 7, p. 105: Sed neque tu nisi tibi consimiles poteras estimare
condignos nec dissimilia tibi capitique tuo Petro membra formare. Semper enim pro-
prium quelibet opera confitentur artificem, et in eis voluntatis eorum vel scientiae
velut imago quedam expressa. See also in chapter 4, p. 99, where the notion that the
head conditions the form of the limbs is used, this time to convince Innocent to accept
the papal office: “Numquid illud precipue nobis onus incumbit, cum velut in humano
corpore, is qui presidet, capitis formam, membrorum reliqui similitudinem gerant, ut
qui preest, nutum adhibeat, difficultates expediat obsequentium labor?
Invectiva, chapter 1, p. 87: Taceo ignobiles pueritiae questus . . . ne aures eorum
ad quos haec scripta ventura sunt, tuae sordibus incontinentiae simul et avaritiae
polluantur. Further accusations of pollution are made against both Girard and Anaclet
in connection with their alleged sexual excess, see Invectiva, chapter 1, p. 90, chapter 3,
p. 95, chapter 7, p. 106.
Invectiva, chapter 4, p. 98.
difformitas: invective, individuality, identity 229

(in its culturally informed template) have registered such physical mal-
formations. The preceding analysis of the tropes of form, image, and
deformity in Arnulf’s Invectiva suggests a way to understand Arnulf’s
treatment of Girard’s seal image. The “difformitas” said by Arnulf to
appear on Girard’s seal alludes to Girard’s deformation of the Godly
image within himself to the point that, no longer capable of conformity
with the divine model, he had come primarily to be shaped by mortal,
natural, animal, genetic, and terrestrial principles. A similar accusa-
tion was hurled, as we have seen, against Anaclet who, though also an
imprint of God, had similarly defaced the divine image within himself.
Accused of disabling the divine template within them, both Girard and
Anaclet were seen to have opened themselves to diverse influences
and rejected the desirable similitude to a unique and eternal exemplar.
Deformity, however, was not simply dissimilitude. Dissimilitude was
the reducible difference between a good model and its aspirant copies,
but deformity implies the deliberate bending of the model’s template.
It was this alleged heinous violation that Arnulf’s attack on Girard’s
seal image conveyed. The seal was capable of expressing difformitas
since, in terms of the then current representational principles, it actu-
alized its referent’s character so that there was congruence between
the properties of the representation and of the represented object. The
imago difformitatis of Anaclet and of Girard, therefore, extended well
beyond physical ugliness reaching ontological levels and bearing social
Arnulf’s particular array of condemnations reveals a keen aware-
ness of the potency of imago once its metaphorical and representa-
tional valence had been extended from the linkage between man and
God to the social relationship between human beings. The divinely
unique and eternal archetype held to modulate all imagery had called
for “conformitas,” that is, a striving toward likeness, sameness, and
identity. This system of “conformitas” tended to reject anything that
had forsaken its original form, which explains why imago, seen as a
material form at once susceptible to external influence and the repro-
ducer of other forms, became a locus of sociological and ethical dis-
course. Arnulf’s concept of form did not rest upon a dualism between
beauty and ugliness. The differences he detailed between Girard and
Innocent did not contrast Girard’s ugliness with Innocent’s beauty but
compared depictions of Girard, and of Anaclet, constructed of indi-
vidualized details, fatness, decrepitude, strabismus, Jewishness, with a
portrait of Innocent as generic, standardized, and stereotyped. It was
230 chapter eight

conformity, not beauty, which was the apposite of difformitas. Diffor-

mitas, no longer anchored by a model, referred to a specific individual
who had the potential of de-forming others. Individuality, conceived
as marker of alterity, signified impropriety and exclusion. The Invec-
tiva proclaimed that Girard’s seal, as an image of his divergent ‘ugli-
ness’ rather than of a shared societal ontology, invalidated the writings
to which it was affixed and by which Girard expressed his support of
Anaclet. Indeed this same seal legitimized Arnulf’s execration of both
Girard and Anaclet.

Arnulf’s semantics, metaphorical axes, and thematic associations

appear to have been governed by contingency and theory. On one
hand, the fact that the Invectiva abused contemporary historical per-
sonages within a defined actuality made it an immediate product of
particular circumstances. Arnulf’s Invectiva was above all a partisan
manifesto designed to legitimate the papacy of Innocent II. On the
other hand, Arnulf’s formulation of insult conformed to metaphorical
concepts then in use within prescholastic schools to express the
bearing of ontological definitions of selfhood on the ethical nature of
man in society.60
Arnulf’s articulation of his insulting rhetoric around breaches of
form and deformations of image reveals a deep anxiety about the
perceived malleability of man and society, their susceptibility to
various impressions, the fluidity of their boundaries. Defacing the image
of God within oneself was equated with deviancy since it opened the
possibility of alternative models and principles. Despite its racism,
Arnulf’s denunciation of Anaclet is not all that different from his
outpouring against Girard in that, for both, Arnulf held individual
features to be negative markers. In a culture where the ideal of proper
being was unique and absolute, individuality, as alterity, could only
mean disorder.

There was also an abstract reflection about the purpose, nature, form, and legiti-
macy of vituperation, which was conducted on a theoretical level. A case in point is
provided by the Aurea Gemma (ca. 1120), see above at note 3.


In Book Two of his De Miraculis, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny

(d. 1156), discusses the relationship between the abbey of Cluny and
one of its priories, the Parisian monastery of Saint-Martin des Champs.
Abbot Peter emphasized the resemblance between the Mother House,
Cluny, and its daughter, Saint-Martin des Champs, by using a seal
metaphor. He wrote: “the abbey of Saint-Martin was so similar (con-
simile) to Cluny, so alike in everything (in totum conforme) that, more
than any other Cluniac priory, Saint-Martin was the image of Cluny, as
an image (simulacrum) imprinted in wax duplicates the image (imago)
of the originating seal, so that those things which are separated by
distance, are in fact not different but are absolutely one.”1
The seal metaphor deployed here by Peter the Venerable is just one
example of the many rhetorical uses of seal imagery so characteristic of
prescholastic writings. Peter’s specific use of the metaphor, however,
is particularly indicative of the two-tiered problematic which forms
the core of this chapter. The first tier involves the referential capacity
of seals and the representational nature of seal images. Abbot Peter
considers that a seal’s main signifying axis hinges on the imprint-
ing process which extends a particular form of likeness between an
originating model and its replicated image, the imprint. The second
issue raised by Peter the Venerable is the dialectic of singularity and
multiplicity. By utilizing the seal metaphor, Peter clearly articulated
his notion that Cluny and its affiliated houses, though collective and
communal, were above all a single entity. While acknowledging the
distance which separates a model, be it the seal matrix or the abbey of
Cluny, from its multiple products, that is, seal impressions or Cluniac

PL CLXXXIX, col. 916B, and Petrus Cluniacensis Abbas, De miraculis libri duo,
ed. Denise Bouthillier (Turnhout, 1988; CCCM 83), p. 107. Peter’s Latin text is par-
ticularly concise, a feature lost in the English translation, but his terminology is reveal-
ing: . . . Est enim idem Sancti Martini monasterium, suo Cluniacensi monasterio in
ordinis, religionis, ac fervoris proposito, pro modo suo ita consimile, et in totum con-
forme, ut velut simulacrum cerae impressum, multis aliis ad Cluniacum pertinentibus
monasteriis originalis sigilli imaginem familiarius repraesentet, et exceptis locorum
distantiis que simul esse non possunt, non diversa, sed prorsus unum sint.
232 chapter nine

priories, Peter denies that such separation between model and copy
entails any difference between the two. By invoking the seal metaphor
to illustrate the intimacy of the likeness which results from replication,
Peter argues that such likeness establishes a continuum between model
and copy which, ultimately, has the power to cancel, not the distance,
but any distinction between the two. Thus, through replication, a dis-
tinctive mark is transformed into a type. In the more general terms
of Peter’s seal metaphor, reality was less represented than rendered
visible as reproduction.
The fusion of representation with reproduction, and the conflation
of distinct communities into a single entity, would seem to challenge
any practice of personal identification. Yet, it was by the evocation
of the very sign of identity then most current, the seal, that Peter
the Venerable and his Northern European scholarly contemporaries
struggled to clarify notions of personhood and personality, thereby
revealing how fundamental seals were in their contemplation and
expression of personal identity. A first focus of this chapter, therefore,
will be a consideration of the concepts of person and identity as they
were dialectically articulated in twelfth-century discursive and sealing
practices. Seals were personal, belonging to a specific individual, but
seal impressions were products of mechanical reproductive techniques
which assured the multiplication of identical images. Furthermore,
seal owners were identified, indeed defined, by their placement within
status-sensitive categories. The formulation of personal identity thus
hinged upon a resemblance to others sharing a similar status or func-
tion, while signs of identity substantiated principles of sameness and
categorization by their very mechanism of production and system of
representation (Fig. 21). I contend that the performance of a personal
seal that de-personalized its owner was not paradoxical, but rather was
informed by semiotic concepts which organized the reference between
seal and subject by means of an ontological participation. This system
of representation, organized through a logic of immanence and ste-
reotypy, was to be challenged as markers of individuation appeared on
personal seals. Individuality, nevertheless, remained distinct from per-
sonal identity and its assertion continued to be infrequent on personal
seals. It was in fact on the seals of urban communities that represen-
tational practices came to exhibit features of differentiation. A second
purpose of this chapter, therefore, is to analyze the ways in which the
formulation of urban identity on city seals challenged preceding tradi-
tions for representing both the person and the city. I propose to show
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 233

that city seals re-routed representational and conceptual practices

away from typification by introducing three novel formulae: pluralism,
distinction, and verisimilitude. Finally, in pondering the implications
of such modifications in representational practices for the medieval
dialectic of identity and individuality, I will build upon the argument
made in the previous chapter to show that the urban sign exploited the
principle whereby, in terms of the then current semiotics of represen-
tation, individuality was akin to otherness.

Identity and Individuality

In Merovingian and Carolingian times, the royal seal had normally

been exclusively used for documentary authorization. By early Capetian
times, however, the royal seal was used only sporadically. The regular-
ization of royal sealing during the late eleventh century was actually part
of a broader extension of sealing practices to religious and aristocratic
elites at that time. Indeed the royal seal was by then much changed,
conforming in form and character to the newly created episcopal and
aristocratic seals. Thus, the seals that were disseminated after the turn
of the first millennium were, in several senses, quite novel.2
From a social viewpoint, post-millennial seals, no longer a royal and
male prerogative, were used within a gendered and broader, albeit still
elite, spectrum of society.
From the viewpoint of referentiality, post-millennial seals were
identified with a specific individual throughout his or her lifespan,
whereas earlier seals had operated as an apparatus of the office of
kingship. More official than personal, Carolingian royal seals obscured
the contingency inherent in any individual ruler by reference to the
continuing symbolic activity of statehood.3 Post-millennial seals, how-
ever, were closely associated with the person of their owners. They
displayed names, titles, and territorial designations.4 They were often
interred with their owners at their deaths.5 Furthermore, it was the

The full argument is made in chapter 4 above.
See chapter 4 above.
See for instance the seals used by high-ranking Flemish families, which include
some of the earliest non-royal western European seals, René Laurent, Sceaux des
princes territoriaux belges (Xe siècle–1482), 2 vols. in 3, (Brussels, 1993).
Brigitte M. Bedos-Rezak, “L’au-delà du soi. Métamorphoses sigillaires en Europe
médiévale,” Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 49 (2006), pp. 337–358, at pp. 346–349.
234 chapter nine

personal seal of the abbot, the abbess, and the bishop which alone was
used to authorize charters given in the name of entire communities
such as abbeys and chapters. Even after communal institutional seals
appeared, soon thereafter, these bore the name and the image of an
individual patron saint, thus remaining rooted in the person, person-
alized (Fig. 24).6
Eleventh-century seals were also novel from the viewpoint of size
and iconographic display. Early royal seals had been produced from
small, typically antique, signet-rings which bore Hellenistic or Roman
portraits (Fig. 15). By the early eleventh century, all seals were being
produced from large independent metallic matrices, their increased
size allowing for the engraving of a full anthropomorphic figure per-
sonalized by contemporary clothing (Fig. 16).7
Finally, as the affixation of seals came increasingly to be noted in
the final clauses of charters, such diplomatic discourse recorded that
the authors had ordered that “their transaction be reinforced with the
imprint of their image (Fig. 22);” impressio, imago were indeed recur-
rent standard terms used to designate the seal affixed to documents.8
This vocabulary epitomizes the most noteworthy aspect of the seals
that spread in the 1100s, namely, their intense and explicit linkage to
the persons of their owners. This connection, as we have seen, is per-

B. Bedos-Rezak, “Du sujet à l’objet. La formulation identitaire et ses enjeux cul-
turels,” in Unverwechselbarkeit. Persönliche Identität und Identifikation in der vormo-
dernen Gesellschaft, ed. Peter von Moos, (Cologne, 2004; Norm und Struktur 23), pp.
63–82, at p. 72, where I part from D. Ursmer Berlière’s conclusions that early monas-
tic seals belonged to the ecclesia, that is, were common to the chapter and the abbey,
“Le sceau conventuel,” Revue Bénédictine 38 (1926), pp. 288–309.
Jean-Luc Chassel, “L’essor du sceau au XIe siècle,” in Pratiques de l’écrit documen-
taire au XIe siècle, ed. Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle and Michel Parisse, Bib-
liothèque de l’Ecole des chartes 155 (1997), pp. 221–234; B. Bedos-Rezak, “Une image
ontologique: Sceau et ressemblance en France préscolastique (1000–1200);” in Etudes
d’histoire de l’art offertes à Jacques Thirion. Des premiers temps chrétien au XXe siècle,
ed. Alain Erlande-Brandenburg and Jean-Michel Leniaud (Paris 2001; Matériaux
pour l’histoire), pp. 39–50, at pp. 39–40; B. Bedos-Rezak, “Signes et insignes du pou-
voir au Moyen Age: le témoignage des sceaux;” in Comité des Travaux historiques et
scientifiques. Section de philologie et d’histoire jusqu’en 1610. Actes du Cent Cinquième
Congrès national des Sociétés Savantes [Caen, 1980], (Paris 1984), pp. 47–62, reprinted
in B. Bedos-Rezak, Form and Order in Medieval France. Studies in Social and Quanti-
tative Sigillography (Aldershot, 1993), I.
For a broad analysis of the function of images on seals, see Michel Pastoureau,
“Les sceaux et la fonction sociale des images;” L’image. Fontions et usages des images
dans l’Occident médiéval, ed. Jérôme Baschet and Jean-Claude Schmitt (Paris 1996),
pp. 275–308.
See chapter 7 above, at notes 86–91.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 235

haps best understood by focusing on the cultural milieu from which

emerged the newly sealed charters of lay and ecclesiastical elites. This
milieu’s engagement with semiotics, theology, and anthropology drew
from and cultivated a specific theorization of the sealing process.
As impressio the seal was a mark, which actualized presence through
an originating contact with its causal agent. The very act of imprint-
ing articulated and dramatized these principles of marking origin and
materializing presence. The conflation of the seal’s mechanical origin
(the matrix) with its human causation (the sealer) naturalized the
process of representation, since the seal produced itself as a physical
extension of its owner. The seal impression, thus participating in a
natural relation with the sealer it represented, embodied the real pres-
ence of the individuals who affixed them. The seals’ mode of significa-
tion was through incarnation.
As imago, the seal was a likeness, comprehending an ontological
resemblance with its owner: both seals and sealers were imprinted
images carrying within their very matter the mark of an original pro-
totype. As such the seal was central to the construction of a reality
conceived as the embodiment of types into particulars. Typification
was projected by the seal’s anthropomorphic image which referred to
the natural species, and by the emblematized body which referred to
the social species. Royal seals, aristocratic seals, episcopal seals, though
belonging to individuals and though displaying a distinct human body,
nevertheless portrayed the status of the person represented, a standing
that was shared by other members of the same social category. Per-
sonal identity on seals was thus expressed in terms of the rapport of
sameness which existed between different individuals belonging to a
common ordo: ego was an instance of ordo (Fig. 21).

Individuality and Personhood

The individual person was represented on seals as a person subsumed

within his group. Significantly, definitions of ‘person’ in contemporary
artes dictaminis devoted to the composition of legal documents9 make
it clear that personhood and individuality were not fully commensu-
rate. In the Aurea Gemma written in Italy ca. 1119–1124 by a master

On this particular genre, see Martin Camargo, Ars Dictaminis Ars Dictandi (Turn-
hout, 1991; Typologie des sources du Moyen Age occidental 60), pp. 18–21.
236 chapter nine

of French origin, Henricus Francigena, the author considers three

different sorts of persons. First, the person is defined “according to
nature: Person is the individual substance of a rational nature.”10 This
definition, which had first appeared in Cicero’s De Legibus (1.3), took
its exact form in Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae (5.18), and received
wide circulation in Gratian’s Decretum (D.3 c.3) and in twelfth-
century theological treatises focused on Trinitarian and incarnational
theology.11 The second definition of ‘person’ in the Aurea Gemma is
said to represent the civic and legal sense of the term: “Person is the
excellence of an office by which someone leads in a city or in a church;”12
that someone (quis), is an official of a corporate person. Thus, the third
definition of person is as a collective. This definition was derived from
the principle of Roman law which held that a group formed a corporate
entity which was, by legal fiction, a kind of person.13 Such a collective
person acted through its agents, the bishop, the abbot, the mayor, who
constituted, as we have seen, the second type of ‘person.’ The author of
the Aurea Gemma in fact distinguishes between two kinds of person,
natural (substance of rational nature) and legal (an official or a commu-
nity), precisely in order to define the exact nature of a specific type of
grant, the individual privilege. According to Aurea Gemma, a privilege
can be granted to a natural or to a legal person but a privilege granted
individually to a natural person is awarded in such a way “that no one
of his family or rank shares the privilege with him.”14 To be a ‘person,’
therefore, involved a shared status and rank (ordo), whereas to be an
‘individual’ involved distinction and singularity.
To what extent did twelfth-century personal seals connote singular-
ity? In the first instance one notes that they bore the names of their
owners. Yet, names remained part and parcel of the aristocratic pat-

Aurea Gemma, 2.21–27, ed. and trans. Steven Wight, http://dobc.unipv.it/scrineum/
See for instance Nico den Bok, “Richard de Saint-Victor et la quête de
l’individualité essentielle,” in L’individu au Moyen Age, ed. B. Bedos-Rezak and Domi-
nique Iogna-Prat (Paris 2005), pp. 123–143; M. Bergeron, “La structure du concept
latin de personne,” in Etudes d’ histoire littéraire et doctrinale du XIIIe siècle 2 (1952),
pp. 121–161; Marie-Dominique Chenu, “Tradition and Progress” in Nature, Man, and
Society, in the Twelfth Century. Essays on New Theological Perspectives in the Latin
West (Chicago, 1968), pp. 310–330, at pp. 325–326; Mary L. O’Hara, The Logic of
Human Personality. An Onto-Logical Account (Atlantic Highlands, 1997), pp. 54–56.
Aurea Gemma, 2.24.
Aurea Gemma, 1.74, 2.43.
Aurea Gemma, 2.21–27.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 237

rimony, less individual than familial. On her seal Matilda, the wife of
King Henry I of England, was called Matilda secunda: this was the
only means of distinguishing her seal from that of her mother-in-law,
Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror.15 The seal of Count Robert of
Flanders (1109–1111) bears the word junior, so as to distinguish his
seal from that of his defunct father, also named Robert.16 Eponymy
also characterized the lineage of the counts of Beaumont-sur-Oise.
The seals of Mathew II in 1173 and of Mathew III in 1177 cannot be
differentiated although they were impressed from different matrices,
but the need to distinguish his seal from that of his father may be the
reason why Mathew III imprinted as a counter-seal the seal of his own
wife, Eleanor of Vermandois. Mathew III was in fact the first count
of Beaumont to display, on his later second seal, a heraldic coat of
arms (Fig. 25).17 Heraldry, of course, is a grammar of lineage and not
an individual sign of identity. So both names and heraldic emblems
participate in the seal’s logic of sameness, ultimately categorizing the
sealer as member of a kin group or of an ordo (Fig. 26).18
The attempts at particularization we have just reviewed therefore
lead to two conclusions. First, such attempts derived less from a strat-
egy of individuation than from ad hoc adaptations to a representa-
tional system which, based upon generic images, was calibrated to
subsume individual references. Second, they reveal the strength of ste-
reotypy as a cultural template which consistently re-directed expres-
sions of individuality toward a crucible of likeness. This suggests that
individuality was equated with marginality and otherness, signifying
the state of being outside the boundaries of convention, whether social
or representational.19

Such is the hypothesis convincingly developed by Timothy A. Heslop, “Seals,”
in English Romanesque Art 1066–1200, ed. George Zarnecki, Janet Holt and Tristam
Holland (London, 1984), pp. 298–319, at no. 336, p. 305.
Robert junior may have used his first seal with the junior legend while his father
Count Robert (d. 1093) was still alive, but the earliest surviving attestation of the
junior seal only dates from 1109: Laurent, Sceaux des princes territoriaux belges,
vol. 1/1, no. 6, p. 151.
Seals of the comital family of Beaumont are described in Louis Douët d’Arcq,
Collection de sceaux [des archives de l’Empire], 3 vols. (Paris, 1863–1868), vol. 1,
no. 1050, p. 433 (seal of Mathieu II); no. 1051 (seal of Mathieu III); no. 1053, seal
of Eleanor of Vermandois, wife of Mathieu III, imprinted as a counter-seal to her
husband’s seal.
This argument is further developed in Bedos-Rezak, “Du sujet à l’objet,”
pp. 74–75.
See chapter 8 above.
238 chapter nine

Urban Identity and the Ideal City

Distinction and individuation, when they did come to govern repre-

sentation on seals, first appeared on seals belonging to an ‘other,’ to a
social newcomer, the town, which was an individual, yet not an indi-
vidual person, since it was a collective one.
Even before it entered the universe of social experience significantly
in the course of the twelfth century, the city had loomed large in the
mental landscape of the Middle Ages. The imperial bullae of the Caro-
lingian rulers bore a topographical image accompanied with the word
Roma.20 In Carolingian miniatures, such as the Psalter of Utrecht, the
Bible of Charles the Bald, or the Codex Egberti, the city was represented
by an ideogram, a turreted wall surrounding cupola-topped buildings,
a design which was retained in later Romanesque and Gothic illustra-
tions.21 This formula, by sublimating the constructed into the symbolic,
projected the city as an ideal space. Such images of the ideal city were
replications of imaginary models from biblical and classical antiquity.
In this system of representation, the city image was a memorial to
the grandeurs of an imperial past, and a topos articulating the essen-
tial goals, values, and meanings of a divinely ordered human history.
The city, therefore, was a sign and a symbol, devised and manipulated
mostly in a clerical milieu where it modulated the dynamics of politics
and religion within both immediate and eschatological settings. There
was, in essence, only one city, and it was the center of the world, the
axis of human destiny: it was the heavenly city, the Jerusalem of the
pilgrims; the eternal city, the Rome of Christianity’s headquarters.
Thus, when in mid-twelfth century towns first began to use seals as
a medium of representation, they could draw upon two independent
iconographic traditions: the ideogram of the city, and the generic icon
of the personal seal. These two formulas operated by means of quite

Martine Dalas, Corpus des sceaux français du Moyen Age. Tome 2: Les sceaux
des rois et de régence (Paris, 1991): Charlemagne’s lead bull, no. 19 bis, p. 97; Helen
Rosenau, “Notes on some Qualities of Architectural Seals,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts,
90 (1977), pp. 78–84, at p. 82; Percy E. Schramm, “Die Metallbullen der Karolinger,”
in Schramm, Die zeitgenössischen Bildnisse Karls des Großen (Leipzig/Berlin, 1928;
Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte des Mittelalters und der Renaissance 29), pp. 60–70.
Chiara Frugoni, A Distant City. Images of Urbain Experience in the Medieval
World (Princeton, 1991), first three chapters; Pierre Lavedan, Représentation des villes
dans l’art du Moyen Âge (Paris, 1954); Ingrid Katz, “Les représentations de villes dans
l’art chrétien avant l’an Mil,” L’information d’histoire d’art 3 (1964), pp. 130–132.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 239

different semiotic processes: the city ideogram posited a radical duality

between an abstract transitory image inessential to its eternal, other-
worldly, referent; the personal seal, on the other hand, was a physical
embodiment of its referent’s actual presence. Both formulas, however,
shared a representational system predicated upon repetitive stereo-
typy. It is not surprising, therefore, to find on the earliest city seals,
an image of the ideal city directly inherited from Carolingian iconog-
raphy (Fig. 27), often housing within its walls the figure of the local
patron saint.22 Furthermore, the legends on some of these early seals
tend to contain no allusions to a municipal organization, emphasizing
rather the status of the city in history or within the twelfth-century
ecclesiastical or imperial hierarchy. Thus the legends on the seals of
Cologne, Mainz, and Trier, all belonging to the first half of the twelfth
century, read: ‘God blesses the people and the city of Trier’ (trevericam
plebem dominus benedicat et urbem); ‘Holy Cologne, by the Grace of
God, faithful daughter of the Roman church’ (sancta colonia, dei gra-
tia romanae ecclesiae fidelis filia); ‘Golden Mainz, special daughter of
the Roman church’ (aurea magontia romane ecclesie specialis filia).23
Even though the legend of the city seal of Beauvais (second half of the
twelfth century) signals that the seal is that of the commune of Beau-
vais (sigillum belvacensis communie), the word civitas appears within
an urban panorama marked by a strong religious character (Fig. 27).

See for instance the city seals of Beauvais and Cambrai, both from twelfth-century
matrices and both displaying an architectural city-scape typical of Carolingian imag-
ery, Brigitte M. Bedos[-Rezak], Corpus des sceaux français de Moyen Age. Vol. 1: Les
sceaux de villes (Paris, 1980), no. 94, p. 102 (Beauvais), no. 166, p. 153 (Cambrai).
A detailed analysis of the earliest urban seals in medieval Europe may be found
in Harald Drös and Hermann Jakobs, “Die Zeichen einer neuen Klasse. Zur typolo-
gie der frühen Stadtsiegel,” Bild und Geschichte Studien zur politischer Ikonographie.
Festschrift für Hansmartin Schwarzmaier zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Konrad Krimm and
Herwig John (Sigmaringen, 1997), pp. 125–178.
The classical study on the city seals of Cologne is that of Toni Diederich, Die
alten Siegel der Stadt Köln (Cologne, 1980). The political significance of the text and
iconography deployed on the twelfth-century seals of Trier, Cologne, and Mainz
is discussed by H. Jakobs, “Eugen III. Und die Anfänge europäischer Stadtsiegel,”
in Anmerkungen zum Bande IV der Germania Pontificia (Cologne/Vienna, 1980),
pp. 1–34; Manfred Grotten, “Studien zur Frühgeschichte deutscher Stadtsiegel: Trier,
Köln, Mainz, Aachen, Soest,” Archiv für Diplomatik 31 (1985), pp. 443–478; H. Jakobs,
“Nochmals Eugen III. Und die Anfänge europäischer Stadtsiegel,” Archiv für Diplo-
matik 39 (1993), pp. 85–148. On the claim that the analysis of urban seal diffusion
and iconography should include a consideration of regional cultures, see B. Bedos-
Rezak, “Le sceau médiéval et son enjeu dans la diplomatique urbaine en France,” in
La diplomatique urbaine en Europe au Moyen Âge, ed. Walter Prevenier and Thérèse
de Hemptinne (Louvain-Apeldoorn, 2000), pp. 23–44, at p. 33–34.
240 chapter nine

This association displays a distinct Augustinian slant whereby the city

was subsumed within a church, in conformity with Augustine’s vision
that “The house of the Lord, the city of God, which is the holy Church,
is built in every land . . . by men who, on believing in God, have become
like ‘living stones’ on which the house is being built.”24 Later commen-
tators echoed this vision. Aimon of Alberstadt (d. 853), for instance,
followed Augustine in declaring that the city of the Apocalypse (the
new Jerusalem) is “the holy church, which is called civitas, because
it has many inhabitants, it extends to the four quarters of the earth,
and because it is the dwelling place of God.”25 Since we know noth-
ing about the circumstances surrounding the manufacture of Beauvais’
seal, we can only speculate about the sources for this iconographic
model and ponder the meaning of civitas, which, incidentally, desig-
nated an episcopal city, as indeed Beauvais was.26
Throughout the thirteenth century, urban seals continued to be
engraved with formulaic city images.27 No longer of Carolingian style,
such images drew upon contemporary models to express their tran-
scendental symbolism. Thus, on the Belgian seal of Tongres as on the
French seal of Marmande, the city walls and gates are flattened, in a
way that may well derive from contemporary representations of Jeru-
salem on world maps (Fig. 28).28 That the generic architectural seal
of the town of Frankenberg in Hesse, engraved ca. 1249, sought to
evoke Rome may be inferred from the striking similarities that emerge
when comparing the city seal’s monumental arrangement to the rep-

Augustine of Hippo, City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (Harmondsworth, 2004),
Book VIII, chap. 24, p. 335.
Haymonis Halberstatensis episcopi expositionis in apocalypsin b. joannis libri sep-
tem, Lib.VII, cap. 21, PL CXVII, col. 1192B: Et civitatem sanctam Hierusalem novam
vidi descendentem de coelo a Deo [Apocalypse, 21:2]. Haec civitas sancta Ecclesia est,
quae idcirco civitas appellatur, quoniam a multis inhabitatur, et in quatuor mundi
partes distenditur, habens habitatorem Deum.
For additional texts and seals inspired by Augustine’s thought, see B. Bedos-
Rezak, “Du modèle à l’image: Les signes de l’identité urbaine au Moyen Age,” Le verbe
et l’image. Les représentations du monde du travail et des élites dans la ville médiévale,
ed. Marc Boone (Louvain-Alperdoorn, 2002), pp. 189–205, at p. 196 and note 24.
See for instance Arles, no. 44bis, p. 59; Belaye, no. 98, p. 105; Belvès, no. 103,
p. 106; Cajarc, no. 160, p. 147; Marseille, no. 711, p. 158; Pamiers, no. 513, p. 386;
Thionville, no. 678, p. 496. All citations are from Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes.
Marmande, Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, nos. 387 (thirteenth century)-388
(fourteenth century), p. 304; Silver seal-matrix of Tongres (thirteenth century), British
Museum, BM MLA 1850, 9–24, 4; see John Cherry, “Imago Castelli: The Depiction of
Castles on Medieval Seals,” in Château Gaillard XV. Etudes de castellologie médiévale
(Caen, 1992), pp. 83–90, at p. 85.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 241

resentation of Rome on the golden bulla (1246) of Henry Raspe, king

of the Romans.29 The legend surrounding the city-scape on the royal
bull reads: roma.caput.mundi.regit orbis frena rotundi (Rome, head of
the world, guides the reins of the earth). The topographical Rome of
Carolingian bullae had reappeared on German imperial bulls, in an
arrangement that progressively centered on the Colosseum.30
City seals bearing the symbolic and generic image of a city remained
devoid of human life, connecting buildings and not human beings,
omitting reference to the town’s social dimension and institutional
organization. This absence of any reference to the citizenry corre-
sponds to the interchangeability of the images, which figure on various
city seals without actually identifying any city in particular.31 Indeed,
the operation of symbolism permitted the icon of Rome or of Jerusa-
lem to appear on any urban seal where it signified the city as a cat-
egory.32 In this respect, the economy of representation is consistent on
contemporaneous aristocratic, ecclesiastic, and urban seals: the image
is an icon which signals membership within a category. Yet defini-
tion of the social category itself was quite another matter. Bishops, for
example, formed a group definable by objective functional and doc-
trinal criteria, whereas no such standard definition came to delineate
the constitutive elements of the medieval town even as the urban phe-
nomenon was revolutionizing the human and territorial geography of

Rainer Kahsnitz, “Siegel und Goldbullen,” in Die Zeit der Staufer: Geschichte,
Kunst, Kultur, ed. Reiner Haussherr (Stuttgart, 1977), vol. 1, pp. 17–107, Catalogue.
no. 27–162; vol. 2: ills. 11–92; vol. 3, ills. 1–30, 83–104, at vol. 1, nos. 56 (seal of King
Henry Raspe) and 146 (seal of Frankenberg); plates in vol. 3, nos. 26 (seal of King
Henry) and 74 (seal of Frankenberg); see also Cherry, “Imago Castelli,” p. 83.
A topographical view of Rome, designed with the words Aurea Roma inscribed
in the field, reappeared on the bull of Emperor Conrad II (1024–1039), Otto Posse,
Die Siegel der Deutschen Kaiser und Könige von 751–1913, 5 parts in 3 vols. (Dresden
1909–1913), vol. I/II, no. 8, plate 13 and vol. V, no. 9, p. 19; the motif remained on
the bulls of Conrad’s successors, reaching realistic designs as far as some buildings
were concerned (in particular the Colosseum and the pyramid of Cestius) on the bull
of Frederic I (1152–1190), Posse, Die Siegel, vol. I/II, no. 4, plate 21, no. 4, plate 22,
and vol. V, nos. 2, 4, p. 25. The image, still consistently present on imperial seals,
received full development on the bull of Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian (1314–1347),
Die Siegel, vol. I/II, no. 8, plate 50 and vol. V, no. 8, pp. 37–38.
On architectural formulae on medieval seals, see Bedos-Rezak, “Du modèle à
l’image,” pp. 194–197; Cherry, “Imago Castelli,” pp. 83–90; Ghislain Brunel, “Sceaux,
art et société au Moyen Âge,” Bulletin de la Société nationale des Antiquaires de
France (1995), pp. 266–272, and M.N. Duval’s response to Brunel’s presentation (at
pp. 270–271).
See above at notes 22, 28, 29.
242 chapter nine

postmillennial Europe. Furthermore, the movement toward commu-

nal organization was, at first, vigorously opposed.33 The ideal city-seal
thematically inscribed the actual medieval town within an unfolding,
divinely ordered, historical process which harked back to biblical times
and pointed to the eternal future of mankind. This ideogram provided
urban communities with a form of legitimacy yet it remained a rela-
tively infrequent motif on city seals. Several reasons may account for
this phenomenon. While potent by virtue of its eschatological conno-
tations, the iconic city also projected the attributes of terrestrial power,
particularly in its embodiment as Rome. The situation of Rome as the
seat of papal auctoritas and imperial potestas tended to situate the city
as a constitutive element of dominance. By the thirteenth century,
emperors were not the only ones to display urban topography on their
seals. This device was also used by ecclesiastical and lay lords who,
through their jurisdictions, claimed a territorial power which had its
base and means of effectiveness in town (Fig. 29).34 The motif of the
ideal city may have been too closely wedded to biblical allusion and
to the idiom of lordly dominance to conform specifically to the medi-
eval urban experience and to its aspirations. It may well be that, in its
very distinct connotation, the image of the ideal city lacked the power
of differentiation, where a vector capable of such discrimination was
crucial to the semiotics of urban personality.

For the continuing difficulties scholars have in defining the medieval city, see
Robert S. Lopez, “The Crossroads within the Wall,” in The Historian and the City, ed.
Oscar Handlin and John E. Burchard (Cambridge, 1963), pp. 27–43; Jacques le Goff
et al., ed., La ville médiévale (Paris, 1980); Susan Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communi-
ties in Western Europe, 900–1300 (Oxford, 1984).
On the fact that there was no systematic concurrence between the existence of
an urban community and the use of a corporate seal by that community, see Pierre
Michaud-Quantin, Universitas. Expressions du mouvement communautaire dans le
Moyen-Age latin (Paris, 1970), pp. 299–300; Bedos-Rezak, “Le sceau médiéval et son
enjeu dans la diplomatique urbaine en France,” pp. 36–40.
On the confrontational nature of the urban movement, see David Nicholas, The
Growth of the Medieval City: From Antiquity to the Early Fourteenth Century (London
1997), pp. 139–168.
B. Bedos-Rezak, “Towns and Seals: Representation and Signification in Medi-
eval France,” in Bulletin of the John Rylands University of Manchester 72/3 (1990),
pp. 35–48, at p. 46, reprinted in Bedos-Rezak, Form and Order, no. XII. Robert Max-
well, The Art of Medieval Urbanism. Parthenay in Romanesque Aquitaine (University
Park, 2007), gives an excellent analysis of the significance of urban motifs on the seals
of the lords of Parthenay, pp. 179–180, 187–191, 205.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 243

The Saint and the City

Religious themes too, which like the iconic city had early on charac-
terized the iconography of early urban seals, later became relatively
infrequent to the point where a recent quantitative study of 740
French city seals between 1175 and 1500 (about 740 seals) shows that
about 80% of French urban seals are utterly devoid of any reference
to the sacred: 2.3% display a religious building and 19.6% some other
religious theme.35 Though infrequent, scenes of martyrdom, symbols
of divinity, reliquaries, and Marian, christological and hagiographic
images, do appear on town seals.
The seals of the Albigensian town of Castres (Tarn) co-opted the
cultic symbols of its local saint, Vincent of Saragosse, whose relics
had provided the nucleus for the town’s development. Saint Vincent,
a Spanish martyr of Diocletian’s persecution whose passion had been
recorded by St Augustine and by the poet Prudentius (d. after 405),
had died in Valence (Aragon) in ca. 304, where he was buried. Three
medieval cities thereafter claimed to house as relic the full body. One
translatio describes how, in 863, Vincent’s corpse was brought to the
Benedictine abbey settled in Castres since 625, and was entombed in
a basilica located immediately outside the abbey’s enclosure so as to
allow the presence of female worshipers.36 The presence of the relic
attracted many pilgrims, including those who stopped there en route to
Compostela, and brought wealth to the burg of Castres. By the twelfth
century (in 1160), the expanding communia of Castres received its
charter of privileges from the lord of Trencavel, and the basilica’s bell
tower came to serve as communal belfry. Two city seals are known for

Christian de Mérindol, “Iconographie du sceau de ville en France à l’époque
médiévale,” in La religion civique à l’époque médiévale et moderne (Chrétienté et
Islam), ed. André Vauchez (Rome 1995 ; Collection de l’Ecole française de Rome 213),
pp. 415–428.
De S. Vincentio martyre archidiacono caesaraugustano, Valentiae in Hispania.
De reliquiis sancti Vincentii. Historia translationis auctore Aimoino monacho, in
Acta Sanctorum Januarii, vol. 2, ed. Ioannes Bollandus and Godefridus Henschenius
(Antwerp, 1643), pp. 400–406.
Modern scholarship has established an institutional continuity between the Bene-
dictine abbey established at Hauterive (dioc. Albi) ca. 625 and the abbey of St-Benoit
of Castres, the existence of which is attested in 819. In 1074, both the abbey of St-
Benoit and the church of St-Vincent became dependencies of the abbey of St-Victor of
Marseille, Jean-Louis Biget, “Une abbaye urbaine qui devient cathédrale: Saint-Benoit
de Castres,” in Les moines noirs (XIIIe–XIVe siècles). Cahiers de Fanjeaux 19 (1984),
pp. 153–192, at pp. 154–160.
244 chapter nine

Castres, dating respectively from the early twelfth and early thirteenth
centuries. The engraving of Castres’ first seal probably preceded the
Albigensian crusade while that of the second seal occurred well after
the end of the crusade. The fate of St Vincent’s basilica and his relics
was turbulent during the Crusade and its aftermath, for the victori-
ous Northern French knights seized both the relics and control of the
basilica. On the seals of Castres, however, the changing allegiances of
the saint’s repository were ignored, underscoring the importance of
the continuing and potent presence of the saint in its urban setting.
Both seals were double-sided, bearing on the obverse an architectural
motif and, on the reverse, the image of St Vincent. In both cases, the
saint is explicitly identified by the legend: ‘Seal of St Vincent of Cas-
tres’ on the first seal; ‘Image of the body of St Vincent’ on the second
seal.37 The iconography of the saint on the later seal shows him wear-
ing a hat and a tight fitting tunic, emerging from a reliquary and hold-
ing a processional cross. This representation is unique in the known
iconographic repertoire of the saint,38 and may well record some actual
aspects of the local cult such as the reliquary itself, or processional
banners (Fig. 30).
In the Languedoc towns of Pamiers (Ariège) and Saint-Antonin-
Noble Val (Tarn-et-Garonne), city seals played a role in substantiating
local hagiographical tenets. These seals are also two-sided, and both
depict on their reverses a ship, guided by two eagles, in which can be
seen the head and arm of a saint (Fig. 30).39 The saint is Antonin, and
the seals display an episode of his life, a fact made eminently clear by
their legends which refer to the ‘passion of St Antonin’ (signum passio
sancti antonini). According to a tradition, the veracity of which has
now been convincingly disproved by modern scholarship but which

Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, nos. 186 and 186 bis, p. 167: first seal (early
thirteenth-century); the legend on the obverse reads: [. . . c]omunie. ville. castre(n)sis;
on the reverse: s. beati. vincencii. d(e) cast(ris); no. 187 and 187 bis, p. 168: second seal
(1303); the legend on the obverse reads: +. Sigillum. un[iversitati]s. burgi. castren(sis).;
on the reverse: +. ymago. corporis. [. . . vi]ncentii.
On the effects of the Albigensian crusade on Castres, see Biget, “Une abbaye
urbaine,” pp. 162–165.
Germain Demay, Le costume au moyen âge d’après les sceaux (Paris, 1880 ; reprint,
1978), pp. 481–482 where the author reviews the depictions of St Vincent on medi-
eval seals; Louis Réau, Iconographie de l’art chrétien, 3 vols. in 6 (Paris, 1955–1959),
vol. III/3, pp. 1324–1329.
Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 513bis (1267), p. 387, and no. 514bis (1303),
p. 388.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 245

had great currency during the Middle Ages, Antonin had converted
the Rouergue region to Christianity from his center of operations,
Noble Val, returning thereafter to his place of birth, Fredelas (now
Pamiers), where he underwent martyrdom. He was beheaded with
such brutality that both his arm and his head were cut off; his dismem-
bered body was then thrown into the river. However, a boat guided by
two white eagles miraculously gathered the bodily pieces and brought
them back to Noble Val where they received proper burial.40 The abbey
of St Antonin at Noble Val was founded in the early ninth century
in honor of its eponymous martyr. A translatio alleges that in 887
the saint’s relics were transported to Fredelas where another abbey
dedicated to St Antonin was built to house them.41 There is substan-
tial evidence that in 960, a count of Carcassonne, Arnaud or his son
Roger I, founded the abbey at Fredelas.42 Yet, a Gallic Antonin never
actually existed: his extant acta were configured to mimic the life of a
Syrian saint, Antonin of Apamea in Syria. In a historical coincidence
that deserves further scholarly attention, Roger II, count of Foix, upon
his return from the crusade in 1118 named the castle he had built at
Fredelas Apamea, after the locus of his Syrian crusading exploits. Thus
it was that the relics Roger had brought of the Syrian Antonin came to
be taken for those of a legendary local saint, and episodes of the Syrian
saint’s martyrdom spiced up the local legend.43 From then on, how-
ever, Fredelas changed its name to Pamiers, a fact duly registered by
the very first city seal (ca. 1250), the legend of which reads: +sigillum.

De S. Antonino Martyre Apameae in Syria, in Acta Santorum Septembris, ed. By
Joannes Pinius, Joannes Stiltingus, Joannes Limpenus, and Joannes Veldius (Antwerp,
1746), pp. 340–356.
Claude de Vic and Jean Vaissete, Histoire générale du Languedoc, 16 vols. (Tou-
louse 1868–1905), vol. 2. 2, pp. 337 and 384.
Vic and Vaissete, Histoire générale, vol. 3, p. 49. At the death of Roger I (1012),
his son Bernard (d. 1034) inherited the territory of Foix, in which was located Fre-
delas. The comital title first appeared in 1034 with Roger, count of Foix and son of
For a recent treatment of the complicated hagiography of St Antonin, see Jean-Luc
Boudartchouk et al., “L’invention de saint Antonin de Frédelas-Pamiers,” Mémoires de
la Société Archéologique du Midi de la France LXIII (2003), pp. 15-58, completed by
J.-L. Boudartchouk, “Note complémentaire au sujet de l’origine et de la translation des
reliques de saint Antonin de Frédelas-Pamiers,” Bulletin de la Société Archéologique
du Midi de la France LXV (2005), http://www.societes-savantes-toulouse.asso.fr/samf/
Réau, Iconographie de l’art chrétien, vol. 3/1, p. 123.
246 chapter nine

consulum. apamie (seal of the consuls of Apamié, Fig., 30).44 Pamiers’

urban governemnt was established by a charter of privileges granted
in 1233 by both the count of Foix and the abbey of Saint Antonin
who, since 1149, had shared the authority over the town.45 This triple
layer of governance fueled many disputes between the parties. Yet, the
city seals of Pamiers resolutely grounded their consular imagery upon
hagiographic lore, so that both the theme of the saint and its artistic
treatment are found alike on the consular seal and on the seal of the
abbot of Saint-Antonin, Bernard Saussaye.46
Religious subjects on city seals testify to urban strategies in which
local sacred patrimony, cult, and liturgical usages were appropriated
and asserted, often within the context of a competition with church
authorities. Sacred history and local history formed a continuum, a
collective memory which connected the multiple communities con-
stitutive of an urban fabric, and town governance relied upon this
memory to assert the collective character of the government it sought
to extend over the entire city. A hagiographic iconographic program
was well suited to advance a strategy which merged the sacred and the
civic in a single icon thus calling for the simultaneous veneration of
the town and of the holy person. Images on urban seals were dialogic,
shuttling between the mundane and the spiritual, even as actual towns
saw themselves as spiritual precincts, holding the promise of both
material defense and divine protection. Thus, with their appropriation
of recognizable religious motifs, city seals went beyond the iconic con-
vention which had earlier characterized seals, namely categorization
and stereotypy. Indeed, civic adoption of hagiographic representa-
tions transformed the very iconography of hagiography. Whereas early
monastic seals had, in their traditional categorizing mode, displayed
generic images of their patron saint, routinely endowed with nimbus
and palm but otherwise not specifically unidentifiable, city seals dis-
play saints with characteristic attributes sufficient to afford immediate
recognition. On the seals of Metz, for instance, the scene of Stephen’s
stoning presents a level of realism wherein the heads of his assailants
are adorned, albeit somewhat anachronistically, with typical medieval

Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 513, p. 386.
Vic and Vaissete, Histoire générale du Languedoc, vol. 4, p. 12 and vol. 5, p. 373.
Abbot’s seal in Douët d’Arcq, Collection de sceaux, vol. 3, no. 8898, p. 108.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 247

Judenhüte (Fig. 31).47 Similarly, as we have seen, the Langedoc towns

of Castres, Pamiers, and Saint-Antonin used seals bearing particular
depictions of famous local saints (Fig. 30).48

Urban Identity and the Historical City

In the region of Languedoc, the most important saint was Foy, whose
reliquary attracted multitudes of pilgrims to Conques (Aveyron)
where it resided. Yet the seal of Conques did not avail itself of the
saint’s image; it shows a conca, a basin, with three feet and two han-
dles.49 Conques’ seal presents yet another aspect of the modulation by
urban seals of older conventions: the display of canting figures. Towns
sought out the opportunity to pun on their seals.50 Thus, to cite one
among many examples, the town of Mantes (mint) displays on its seal
a branch of mint.51 Punning seals offered more than opportunities for
playfulness, for they situate text and image in a reciprocally supportive
dialogue. In such a fashion, representation on city seals was fully deno-
tative since not only their texts but also their images could individuate
a particular city.
Canting figures established an explicit equation between the town
and its image. Other urban seals achieved this equation by using leg-
ends which were directly descriptive of the monument displayed. On
the counter-seal of Soissons (late twelfth century), a belfry is shown
and labeled berfridum suessionis (belfry of Soissons, Fig. 32).52 On the

Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, nos. 408–410, pp. 318–320; Hubert Collin, “Sceaux
de l’histoire de Lorraine,” Lotharingia, 1(1988), pp. 3–300, no. 211, p. 214, pp. 210–211;
a very realistically engraved head of a Jew appears on the counter-seal of the paraige of
Jurue (local sworn municipal association of Metz burghers), no. 207bis, p. 212.
On the seal of Toul (Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 679, p. 497), St Stephen is
identified as a Jew, wearing the Judenhut within a nimbus.
On generic saints depicted on early monastic seals, see Bedos-Rezak, “Du modèle à
l’image,” p. 195 note 20 where, additionally, examples of urban seals depicting identifi-
able saints are given.
Supra, notes 37, 39.
Bedos-Rezak, Sceaux de villes, no. 223, p. 192. The seal is appended to a docu-
ment dated 1303.
Several examples of canting urban seals are given in Bedos-Rezak, “Du modèle
à l’image,” p. 199.
Bedos-Rezak, Sceaux de villes, nos. 380–381, p. 300.
Bedos-Rezak, Sceaux de villes, no. 667bis, p. 489, and Yves Metman, “Le sceau
de la commune de Soissons,” in Bulletin du Club français de la médaille, 18 (1968),
pp. 26–29. It is impossible to compare the belfry on the seal with the medieval
248 chapter nine

seal of the southern French city of Peyrusse (1243), the legend reads
imago castelli de petrucia (image of the castle of Peyrusse), and the
field shows a castle perched atop of a rock which bears a considerable
resemblance to the actual ruins of the castle.53 Such a case raises the
issue of topographical accuracy in sigillographic representation. Some
seals were engraved with an image so realistic it even now allows the
viewer to identify the town thus represented. Even where an overall
panorama is improbable, it nevertheless incorporates specific, genu-
ine, and identifiable elements. Excavations and extant archival sources
have confirmed that the central edifice displayed on the city seal of
Haguenau (late twelfth-early thirteenth-century) depicts the imperial
chapel that was part of the Hohenstaufen palace established in that
city.54 On the thirteenth-century seal of the English town of Roches-
ter, the castle represented is easily identified with the Norman fortress
built in 1127.55 One may also easily recognize the church tower of St-
Sernin on the seal of Toulouse, the characteristic rounded apse of the
church of St Caprais on the seal of Agen, and, on the seal of Moissac,
the abbey’s lantern tower with its three blocked arcades which remain
visible today.56
In such “urban portraits” with their partial realism, stereotypic
and distinctive features coexist, as they also do on city seals featur-
ing descriptive legends, punning images, and religious iconography

monument, which no longer exits. However, the city of Meaux, which adopted Sois-
sons’s charter of privileges and copied its seal as well, had a counter-seal figuring a
distinctly different belfry surrounding by the legend secretum communie (‘secret seal
of the commune, Bedos[-Rezak] Sceaux de villes, no. 405, p. 315), while Compiègne,
which also adopted Soissons’ charter, limited its imitation of the seal to the obverse,
using a fleur-de-lis as counter-seal, Bedos[-Rezak] Sceaux de villes, no. 218 and 218bis,
pp. 187–188; see note 65 below.
Bedos[-Rezak] Sceaux de villes, no. 540bis, p. 407; Martin de Framond, Sceaux
rouergats du Moyen Âge. Etude et corpus (Rodez, 1982), gives at p. 56 the pictures of
Peyrusse’s seal and of the remnants of the medieval castle, thus illuminating the extent
to which the seal engraver sought to captured specific features of Peyrusse’s castle.
Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 310, p. 253; Cherry, “Imago Castelli,” p. 86.
Gale Pedrick, Borough Seals of the Gothic Period (London, 1904), pp. 106–107,
and pl. IX, no. 17; Cherry, “Imago Castelli,” pp. 85–86.
Toulouse (1214–1303): Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, nos. 685–688, pp. 502–504;
Laurent Macé, « Un clocher, un donjon et l’agneau pascal, » in Toulouse, une métro-
pole méridionale : vingt siècles de vie urbaine, 2 vols., ed. Bernadette Suau, Jean-Pierre
Amalric, Jean-Marc Olivier (Toulouse, 2009), vol. 1, pp. 241–255 ; Agen (thirteenth-
century seal): Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 9, pp. 34–35. Yves Metman, “Le
sceau de la république d’Agen,” in Bulletin du Club français de la médaille 29 (1970),
pp. 62–67, at p. 62; Moissac (1243): Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 426, p. 330.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 249

directly derived from local culture. Simultaneously generic and spe-

cific, the representation of a town on its seal is a narrative of a city
inscribed in actuality rather than in eternity. The dimension of time
has been altered, it no longer being oriented toward the infinite, as
it was in city ideograms. The civic seal constructs urban identity by
identifying the town with a chronology which is its own. Both history
and spatiality now entered the seal’s referential economy.

The Individuality of Human Collectives

Yet another marker of radical evolution is the manner in which the

human figure was depicted on city seals. By human representation,
the town laid claim to personality and crossed the line into person-
hood. One of the most significant aspects of urban seal inscriptions is
their emphasis on human groupings. Only very rarely does the word-
ing focus exclusively on the city itself, as in sigillum civitatis hagenowie
(seal of the city of Haguenau).57 Although legends regularly indicate
the perceived nature of the town, whether it is a burgus, an oppidum,
a castrum, a communia, an universitas, or a consilium, such terms are
placed secondarily, after mention of officiating individuals or groups:
mayor (major), consuls (consules), aldermen (scabini), jurors (jurati),
peers (pares).58 Paralleling these legends is the pervasive presence of
human figures on city seals. Burgers, mayors, aldermen clearly consti-
tute the principal motif of urban seal imagery (Fig. 32). The embodied
person squarely joins the city seal to the ambient semiotic principle
of representation as personification. In this instance too, however,
city seals were innovative. Firstly, from the very beginning of their
appearance, city seals presented groups of individual townspeople,59

Supra, note 54.
Systematic studies of urban seal legends are found in Drös and Jakobs, “Die
Zeichen einer neuen Klasse,” pp. 151–157; Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, “Les types des plus
anciens sceaux des communautés urbaines du nord de la France,” in Les chartes et le
mouvement communal : colloque régional (oct. 1980), organisé en commémoration
du 9e centenaire de la Commune de Saint-Quentin (St-Quentin, 1982), pp. 39–50, at
pp. 43–46; Bedos-Rezak, “Towns and Seals,” pp. 43–44.
Collin, “Sceaux de l’histoire de Lorraine,”: Beaumont-en-Argonne (thirteenth
century), no. 196, p. 202–203.
Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes: Amiens (1152), no. 27, p. 48; Avignon (1192), no. 67,
p. 80; Bretenoux (1309), no. 145, p. 139; Chauny (1303), no. 205, p. 178; Compiègne
(1183), no. 218, p. 187; Dijon (1234), no. 244, p. 206; Douai (1207), no. 248, p. 210;
Doullens (1321), nos. 251bis-252bis, pp. 215–216; Embrun (1255), no. 260, p. 222;
250 chapter nine

whereas, on ecclesiastical seals, a community of monks or of canons

was generally represented by, subsumed within, the solitary figure of
an abbot or of a patron saint.60 Secondly, urban figures on city seals
appear clad in a wide variety of costumes, including working clothes,
occupied with mundane activities such as: whale hunting, fishing, sail-
ing, guarding the city, discussing city affairs, blowing trumpets.61 Even
faces came to be depicted with distinctive features (Fig. 32). Particu-
larizing legends, such as we encountered on architectural seals, are
also to be found identifying human figures. Thus, within the field of
the seal of Saint-Flour (Cantal), an inscription stands directly over
three seated figures in conversation, and reads: consilium s’(ancti) flori
(council of Saint-Flour).62 Descriptions of the personages represented
on the seal of Salins-les-Bains (Jura) also appear directly in the field:
above the seated figure is the world p(re)posit(us) (provost), while to
the groups of people standing and flanking him is attached the term

Figeac (twelfth century), no. 280, p. 234; Fismes (1308), no. 282, p. 237; Fontaine-
sur-Somme (thirteenth century), no. 284 p. 239; Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (1227), no. 324bis,
p. 262; Maurs (1308), no. 403, p. 314; Meaux (1308), no. 404, p. 314; Meulan (1195),
no. 413, pp. 322–323; Nimes (1303), nos. 503–504, pp. 379–380; Peyrusse (1243), no.
540, p. 407; Rodez (1386), no. 586, p. 439; Saint-Flour (1308), no. 612, p. 455; Saint-
Omer (1199), nos. 628–629, pp. 463–464; Salins-les-Bains (1259), no. 647, p. 478; Sois-
sons (1228), no. 667, p. 489; Troyes (1232), no. 695, p. 509; Wailly (1260), no. 731,
p. 528.
In deference to the Statute of Carlisle (1307) and its requirement that religious
orders were to have a communal seal rather than a seal kept in the abbot’s custody,
some Cistercian monasteries adopted new seals on which the traditional figure of
the abbot, or of the Virgin, was now accompanied by surrounding groups of monks.
This iconography, in conformity with the Satute, emphasized the newly empowered
communal basis for the seal’s authority, T.S. Heslop, “Cistercian Seals in England and
Wales,” in Cistercian Art and Architecture in the British Isles, ed. Christopher Norton
and David Park (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 266–283, at pp. 273–277, plate 153 sq.
French Cistercian monasteries responded to Pope Benedict XII’s Constitution
(1335), which instituted a conventual seal for all houses of the Order, enjoining that
the new matrices be round and carry an image of the Virgin Mary (Heslop, “Cistercian
Seals,” p. 278). In so doing, they ultimately introduced a new iconographic theme on
their seals, the Virgin protectrix of the Order, whose numerous members kneel under
her outstretched mantle, Pierre Bony, “An Introduction to the Study of Cistercian
Seals. The Virgin as Mediatrix, then Protectrix on the Seals of Cistercian Abbeys,” in
Studies in Cistercian Art and Architecture, vol. 3, ed. Meredith Parsons Lillich (Kala-
mazoo, 1987; Cistercian Studies Series 89), pp. 201–240; Bony’s otherwise excellent
stylistic and thematic analysis of Cistercian seals is somewhat weakened by the fact
that, unlike Heslop, he does not take into account the vagaries of seal legislation.
Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes: Whale hunting on the seal of Biarritz (1351),
no. 126, p. 124; for all aspects of sailing activities on seals, see Herbert Ewe, Schiffe
auf Siegeln (Rostock, 1972).
Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 61, p. 455.
the semiotics of personality in the middle ages 251

ecvini (aldermen).63 On the city seal of Doullens (Somme), the legend

reads: hic sunt scabini bisterni terque bini, and the twelve aldermen are
there.64 As with the architectural motif, a formulaic rendering has now
been particularized by elements of verism.

From this examination of the broad iconographic range of city seals,

it appears that no dominant model, no single representational system,
regulated the composition of urban seal imagery. Representation had
moved from being classifying to being increasingly individualizing.
The city seal thus constitutes a kind of “portrait” to the extent that it
tends not to generalize its referent. This is the first innovation intro-
duced by urban seals.
A second innovation followed from the first one. The city seal par-
ticularized its referent by means of a dual modality: an integrated
correspondence between image and text (of the legend), and an
iconographic motif unique to and appropriate for each town. Having
emerged as images of distinction and differentiation, city seals did not
establish resemblance between separate towns as if they were members
of a single conceptual or social category.65 With city seals, referentiality
targets a particular town identified as such through a singular repre-
sentational formula.
As the iconographic representation itself moved from symbolism
toward verism, it became more descriptive. We have seen how monu-
ments and persons acquired realistic features, which is the third inno-
vation ushered in by city seals.
In a fourth innovation, city seals came to personify the community
in its plurality. Urban personality came to be construed as a collective
of individuals who interrelate but are not subsumed by their member-
ship within the urban web.
What conclusions may be drawn from the observation that city seals
diverged significantly from the representational and referential modes
of contemporary personal seals?

Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 647, p. 478.
Bedos[-Rezak], Sceaux de villes, no. 251–252bis, pp. 214–216.
The charter of liberties, granted to the commune of Soissons in 1136 by King
Louis VII, had provided the model for the charters given to Compiègne and Meaux;
all three cities used a same type of seal image, the mayor standing in arms and sur-
rounded by burghers and aldermen (supra, note 52), as if to underscore their historical
kinship. This behavior seems, however, to have been rather exceptional: Bedos[-Rezak],
Sceaux de villes, pp. 14–16.
252 chapter nine

With a composition that was particular, and often in close relation-

ship to the specific history and the physical appearance of its owner, a
city seal dramatically signaled that each town was a unique, individual,
phenomenon. By means of its seal, the town was identified through
that which distinguished it from others, in striking contrast to per-
sonal seals which functioned as icons of a shared status. In eschewing
the articulation of a normative taxonomy, city seals defined the town
as an entity that could not be reduced to the norms of social conven-
tion. Thus, urban identity was apparently concerned with individuality
in several senses. Whereas personal seals embodied and imaged the
generic essence of their owners, city seals captured the distinction of
their owners, insisting upon a destiny that was particular rather than
ontological. Whereas identity on the personal seals of high-ranking
churchmen and of nobles was founded upon sameness, identity on
city seals became a tool by which to establish the singularity of a sub-
ject, by which to render that subject discernable from others.
Therein resides the import of the city seal, which introduced indi-
viduality by individualizing human collectives, challenging the existing
pattern whereby the individual person was identified through catego-
rization. The city seal displays the extent to which, in a world where to
be was normatively perceived as being alike, individuality was akin to
otherness, to alterity. It was as other that the city introduced a newer
form of personal identity. It was in a later search for an individual-
ity that was not alterity that individual persons increasingly came to
abandon sealing for that other corporal sign, the signature.

Although seals have traditionally occupied only a limited corner of

medieval scholarship, an argument has been advanced in this book
that seals, as imprinted and replicated images, were central to life and
thought in the high Middle Ages.
The present exploration of the dialectic between the diffusion of seal
usage and the deployment of seal metaphors creates an opportunity
to consider sealing practice from the perspective of those who actu-
ally sealed and promoted sealing. The seal served simultaneously as an
object affixed to a charter and as a conceptual tool, connecting points
on the medieval map of human experience. Thus the history of sealing
practice is also the history of a sustained encounter between medieval
western culture and both media and mediate communication. As writ-
ten words, objects, and images invaded social space and claimed their
place in the theater of social exchange, a re-alignment of definition
and of self-perception occurred. This established the nexus linking
persons and the objects that could stand for what they represented,
that indeed mobilized the person represented as a locus of account-
ability. All elements composing this representational module mutually
affected each other, with the result that their definitions varied, testing
or promoting the specific theories of signification that were then mus-
tered within theological, philosophical, and linguistic debates. The seal,
an image operative both in practice and theory, emerged as a device
that could, and did, shuttle up and down the intellectual and material
structures of signification, distributing meaning across the spectrum
of human experience in a manner at once supportive and constitutive.
The twelfth-century seal was the form assumed in the course of criti-
cal dialogues between theory and social process, between the material
world and its perceived structure of intelligibility. Put another way,
seals and the imprinting process trafficked in world disclosure. Use
of and engagement with seals led medieval men and women into an
expanding web of relationships, with their own selves, with each other,
with the material world, and with the divine. The material and pro-
cedural quality of seals as imprints was a crucial mediator of human
understanding and of pragmatic action, bringing into focus new sub-
jects and new possibilities, among these the concept of individuality.
254 conclusion

It perhaps seems counter-intuitive that the newly devised and circu-

lated signs of identity did not foster individual expression. It is, how-
ever, important not to confuse a lack of individual expression with an
absence of individuality. The individual was very much at the heart of a
socio-ethical system which rested upon individual emulation of proper
models, and insisted upon individual accountability with respect to
laws both human and divine.
The central role of modeling in individuation had the effect of
devaluating distinctive traits. For such were interpreted as forms of
resistance to, even rejection of appropriate patterns of being. Far from
being absent, individuality was recognized, but as a negative marker.
It was the importance of presence for personal accountability that
opened a gap between individuality and its expression. Actual presence
mobilizes and exhibits individual characteristics, permitting immedi-
ate recognition and identification. When presence is mediated by signs
of identity, however, the individuals themselves are no longer the sine
qua non of recognition by others, even as their signs are circulated
within contexts with no direct knowledge of their persons. Thus the
locus of identification shifts from the individual to his or her sign, a
sign that needs to assume features capable of engendering recognition
beyond the context of its immediate occurrence. In such a situation,
individuality is a poor signifier precisely because it does not survive
de-contextualization, nor does it permit abstraction. In displaying ste-
reotypical figures seals addressed the necessity that signs be, at some
level, general enough to be employed in multiple contexts.
On twelfth-century seals, however, the diluting effect of representa-
tion was counteracted by the logic of the imprint; individuals effected
representation by inferring the presence of the body. Seals were thus
produced as avatars of their users, an operation predicated upon the
imprinting process and its attendant elements of haptic modeling
from an originator. Contact, an indubitable proof of original presence,
coexisted with visuality and its generalizing template of sameness. By
the early thirteenth century the imprinting process and its cultural
baggage had formed a field of practice and of interpretation, which
supported a phenomenological perception of representation as pres-
ence, and of likeness as both ontological programming and a category
of social organization.
There is evidence, though, that by 1200 seals were establishing new
sorts of links between social domains and the material. Once again, it
was an operative mechanism of the seals themselves that suggested to
conclusion 255

their patrons new modes of usage and conceptualization. The replica-

tion of identical images came to be registered as a paradigm. Attitudes
toward seals changed and became grounded in expectations which
derived from the serial logic of the replica. As replication came into
play in the thirteenth century, seals were also entering the context of
legal concerns about the authority and the authenticity of the writ-
ten word. We have here, it seems, evidence that the twelfth-century
seal had embodied properties in excess of those primarily mobilized
by schoolmen and seal owners. Faced with a change linked to seals’
multiplicity of operative modes, impression and replication, it seemed
risky to this author to insist upon a sequential narrative and pattern
of causality that would locate the forces for change solely within the
cognitive and social conditions surrounding seal usage. It has rather
been most rewarding to re-assess the role of this object, of the seal, as
a promoter itself of change, as a dynamic vector of disclosure within,
and generator of the world it inhabits.

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