Santa Coloma de Queralt – A Rural Market Town in Catalonia
Santa Coloma de Queralt in the middle of present day Catalonia is even today a small rural market town. Complete with a with a pretty much intact medieval centre, it was established in the early11th century on the border between old Catalonia and the Muslim territory, where it grew from a small village in the shadow of a fortification, a church and a nearby hermitage into a rural market town with approximately 1500 inhabitants. Today the population is around 3000, but it still exude the same atmosphere of a busy little town as it must have done 7 – 800 years ago.
At least that is the feeling you get from reading the work of Gregory B. Milton who has made the small city an object for his extensive studies. So far this has resulted in a series of papers and articles plus a recent monograph, published last year on Palgrave Macmillan.
One reason is undoubtedly the fortuitous preservation of a large notarial collection. All in all 4300 records have been preserved concerning transfer of land in connection with marriages and inheritances, exchanges of real property plus more generally debts /commerce. This material – which the author interestingly enough claims is in no way unique in a Catalonian context – show how the 13th century witnessed a marked development of the role of trade and markets plus exchange of capital; plus not least the professionalization of the use of written, notarial records and contracts. Such instruments were part of the daily life and used by the majority. The book (which is a rewritten thesis) tells the general story of this transformation. The article focuses more specifically on the development of the ecclesiastical scribania into a professional notarial institution and shows how this was a
reflection of the effort of the Crown of Aragon through the implementation of new legislation.
“These professional notarial scribes of the period – he writes – provided administrative services in many different arenas, but more significantly provided a reliable means – accurate, flexible and legal – of monitoring the commercial transactions they recorded for their customers. The value of professional notarial writing helped create and further the increased commercial activity of the period within the Crown of Aragon. While scholars have long considered this process in major urban centres, it was also a significant factor for rural communities in Catalonia, which utilised and benefited from regular access to professional writing for the necessities of daily life”.
Both are well worth reading: The book for its detailed documentation of the development of a rural market town in the 13th century and the article for its detailed analysis of the changes and professionalization of the notarial system. Currently Milton is working on a new book: Cultures of Debt: Christian, Muslim and Jewish Society in Iberia (1000-1500).
Travelling to Santa Coloma de Queralt and trying to get a sense of the place, it may seem a bit bone dry to bring Miltons work along as a travelling companion (and, alas, even if available as an E-book, it costs a horrendous $92.50). But apart from the long and fastidious (and commendable) story about the transformation from village to market-town, the book also contains some fascinating biographies in the end of some of the medieval bailiffs, who basically ran the business of the town plus examples of the notarial instruments, which can be found in the registers. Not really worth a fortune, but…
And then we might wish for much more in order to get to know the place so much better. Accordingly this should be read as an invitation to Miller to write yet another book with a bit more historical anthropological twist to Coloma de Queralt and its fascinating personages from the 13th century.
Santa Maria de Bell-Lloc and Pere de Queralt
One of the sights in Colomoa de Queralt is a church on the outskirts of the city, Santa Maria de Bell-Lloc, with a late Romanesque portal form the 13th century.
Pere de Queralt II was lord of Santa Coloma de Queralt in the later half of the 13th century. As such he participated in the conquest of Valencia and Murcia. In 1240 he married Berengeria and acquired castell d’Aguiló, located a couple of kilometres outside Coloma de Queralt. Later, after having been widowed, he became Templar after having divided his possessions amongst his children. He is mentioned, although peripherally, in the Book of Deeds of James I of Aragon as amongst other things, a royally appointed arbiter in one of the many clashes between the king and the lords of his retinue. Later he played an important role in the reign of Peter III as admiral and ambassador to the Pope.
About him a legend is told, according to which the Saracens took Pere de Queralt as prisoner during a raid. As they knew him as a very brave knight, he was promised his freedom if he could fight and overcome a lion without a weapon. Which he of course accomplished, compelling the Saracens to release him. Afterwards he hired some of the best sculptors of his time and had them build a portal to the church, Santa Maria de Bell-Lloc, belonging to the former hermitage. Nowadays it is located on the outskirts of Coloma de Queralt, but in the 13th century it was found outside the city.
Originally it consisted of just a single nave, but later early Gothic additions from the 14th century added some side-chapels and a cloister (now gone). However, the portal in the west is pure Romanesque and must have been paid for by the Templar. The Tympanum holds a beautiful scene with the crowned Virgin in the middle flanked on the right side by Joseph and further on scene with the annunciation. To the left the three magi are seen adoring the child. The rest of the portal shows a series of compact scenes with amongst others the magi before king Herod and the flight into Egypt. One scene is remarkable: It shows a knight fighting a lion with his bare hands. The church was used as a family vault and subjected to a series of generous donations.
Market Power. Lordship, Society and Economy in Medieval Catalonia (1276 -1313)
By Gregory B. Milton.
Palgrave Macmillan 2012
The Transition from Ecclesiastical Scribania to Professional Notariate in Santa Coloma de Queralt
By Gregory B. Milton, Tampa, Florida, United States of America
In: Journal of Medieval History Volume 39, Issue 1, 2013, p. 1 – 19