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Habere rem: Concubinage and references to sexual life in Catalan pastoral visitations from the 14th century

Habere rem: Concubinage and references to sexual life in Catalan pastoral visitations from the 14th century


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Habere rem: Concubinage and references to sexual life in Catalan pastoral visitations from the 14th century

By Josep M. Palau i Baduell

Paper given at the Medieval Sexualities Conference, held at University College London in 2016

Abstract: The paper I will be presenting is a small selection of the results of my doctoral thesis, in which I studied a 14th-century pastoral visitation to the Urgell diocese in the northwest of Catalonia. Pastoral visitations, as you may well know, are one of the obligations of the diocese’s bishops, and consist of observing the physical and moral state of the parish in situ, all the while ensuring the church’s stipulations. For this reason amongst others, there was an attempt to root out anything that deviates from canonical rules as well as indoctrinating and reforming the habits of both clergy and laymen in addition to punishing those who deviated from ecclesiastical rules.

Introduction: Although their origin dates from the initial period of the Church’s administrative organisation, the oldest documentary evidence of a pastoral visitation in Catalonia is from 1295, from when on we start to find visitations noted around the Catalan dioceses. Let us now move onto how a pastoral visitation was conducted. In general, the bishop notified his intention to visit the parishes by letter before starting the visitation process so that, on the day in question, the parishioners and clergy could duly receive him and would be able to bear witness during the questioning.

When the bishop arrived, he was received by the rector and various liturgical ceremonies were carried out before moving onto the real reason for the visitation: the inspection of the church’s estates and furniture, the visitatio rerum, and then onto the investigation into the people’s life and customs, the visitatio hominum. The latter was divided into two highly-differentiated, one into the laypeople and another into the clergy known respectively as capitula contra laicos and capitula contra clericos. Once witnesses were heard, if there were certain practices to amend they were corrected by the visitor and sinners were duly punished with moral or pecuniary tributes. Moreover, the visitors had the right to receive a small sum of money from the priest of the church being visited, which was a payment either in cash or in kind called a procuratio.

Once the visit was over, the bishop moved onto the next parish. With the aim of carrying the visitation out correctly, the bishops used the so-called ‘questionnaires’; indications of how to execute the visitations, things to take into account, the questions to ask, things to amend, and so on. These can be used to glean the bishops’ pastoral policy as the relative importance of each point can be worked out.


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