The following is a guest post by Anna Weese-Grubb, who served as a fall 2021 remote intern transcribing and researching documents in the Herencia: Centuries of Spanish Legal Documents crowdsourcing campaign at the Law Library of Congress. Special thanks to Francisco Macías for translation and analysis assistance.
During my time on the Herencia campaign, I’ve seen several documents outlining the relationship of the Catholic Church and the law. There are documents ranging from monastery foundations to Church privileges in Spanish society. However, few were so striking as the debates over jurisdiction. In particular, the July 17, 1862, document concerning the village of Ripoll and who exerts jurisdiction over it stands out among the rest. This document focuses on the Monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll and the “Fiscal Procurator of the Public Office of the Princedom of Catalonia” to determine whether or not Ripoll owes fealty to the king of Spain or the abbot.
Sitting in Catalonia, bordering the south of France, Ripoll sits remotely from the Crown, without the constant attention from Crown authorities enjoyed by the closer monasteries and their associated villages. Built in 879, the monastery functioned as a place of protection and a population center for the village. Under the Benedictine monastery, the village had access to the Church’s authority and, by extension, the protection of the stone walls of the monastery itself. However, the village ran into a particular degree of conflict in 1862. Spain’s monarch was Queen Isabella II, who took over after the Carlist War and reigned throughout extreme political turmoil.
The Carlists ruled towards the French border, controlling provinces such as Navarre. Navarre has a history of independence, traditionally laying outside of the Castilian royal family’s grasp; it was integrated into the kingdom late in 1512. Ripoll bears a similar history, complete with the Carlist emphasis on the traditional Catholic order and ecclesiastical authority. Under this context, the document becomes the battleground between Carlist principles and the authority of Isabella’s reign. It is also worth noting that Isabella’s control over the country waned shortly after; she was forced to abdicate the throne and thus admit defeat in the wake of her Carlist foes.
Following this conflict, it becomes easy to see why this case received its immortality in the collection; the very first page of the record asserts how the monastery ought to enjoy its full sovereignty over the village:
se procurarà manifestar, y establecer, la solidèz de justicia, que contra su Villa asiste al muy Ilustre Abad, y Monasterio de Ripoll en el infalible dominio, y total jurisdicción alta, baxa, mero, y mixto imperio de dicha Villa de Ripoll
measures will be taken to manifest and establish the soundness of justice that enables the very illustrious abbot and the Monastery of Ripoll in the absolute power, and total jurisdiction, high, low, mere, and mixed rule over said Villa de Ripoll.
Note the careful wording of the initial statement. The abbot and the monastery enjoy this jurisdiction because the village assists the monks in their domain. That claim to the village is “infallible” because the Church is incapable of erring on the subject; historical control trumps the attempts to bring the village and abbey into the monarchy’s grasp. The monastery enjoys certain privileges such as neutrality in interregional conflict and the surrounding lands for self-sufficiency. It is a piece of the monastery to that extent, where they farm and sell their goods in the marketplace, therefore requiring the abbot’s attention in the same way the novices of his order do. This echoes the Carlist sentiment of traditional Catholic authority, as the author enumerates how the monastery therefore enjoys the jurisdiction from the low, petty instances to the higher-stakes cases, from the purest levels to the most mixed ones. The crown argues that the monastery must forfeit these historic claims in a direct attack on the traditionalist, Carlist principles in favor of Isabella’s moderate reforms. The symbiotic relationship between the village and the monks asserts that it is common sense for the abbot to thus assume the authority, for that protection is how the Church gives back.