Most people associate spring break with a trip to the beach, time to relax at home, or perhaps a service trip to those in need. This year, however, I spent William and Mary’s spring break doing something quite unique and extraordinary. Thanks to the guidance and efforts of Professor Homza, a research grant from the Mellon Foundation, and the generous assistance of local scholars in Spain, I had an unprecedented opportunity to work in two archives in Pamplona to conduct historical research on early modern Spain. Professor Homza designed this project so that undergraduate history majors could gain a greater appreciation for how the historical investigation process works, participate in this process, and expand their knowledge of particular topics of interest. As it will become clear, she more than succeeded in doing this for me. The experience was extremely instructive and equally unforgettable.
From the start, the trip went well. Since I am studying abroad this semester in Toledo, Spain, I caught a Saturday afternoon AVE train to Madrid on March 7th. After the smooth thirty minute ride, I met a smiling and energetic Professor Homza, Kim Bassett and Amanda Scott at the Hotel El Prado (quite impressive since they had just landed from an overnight flight). We spent the afternoon exploring Madrid, catching up, discussing our experiences this semester both home and abroad, and savoring excellent cuisine.
Rising early on Sunday, we took the morning AVE to Pamplona. I loved gazing out the window to catch glimpses of the north-east countryside of Spain. As I have found for many other regions of Spain, there is less lush grassland than in the eastern parts of the United States, but with the mountains in the background, mechanical windmills spinning in the distance, and many farms of sheep, cattle and goat, the views were breathtaking.
Arriving in Pamplona, Professor Homza oriented us. Immediately, I thought of Ernest Hemingway, the American ex-patriot who appears to be the prized gem of the town (with many signs and references to the author as a friend of the city). Though I could definitely picture Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the city was a little different than I expected. The Casco Histórico (historic, central part of town) reminds me of Toledo, while the outskirts are a little more modern and industrial. Hardly anyone spoke Basque that I encountered, but there were still signs and graffiti calling for the liberation of Navarra or trumpeting nationalism in the region.
On Monday, we began our work. We conducted our investigation through two archives of Pamplona, both within easy walking distance of our hotel and containing rich source material for academics interested in Spain during the early modern period. The first archive, the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona, is the archive of the Archbishopric of Pamplona, located in the Archbishop’s Palace right across from the cathedral itself. This archive contains the legal proceedings from the bishop’s own court and is a rich fountain of information for those interested in religious history at the local level. The archivist in charge, Don José Luis Sales Tirapu, is an extremely amicable priest who has worked for over thirty years cataloging the archive’s holdings, which are extensive. The second archive, the Archivo Real y General de Navarra, contains proceedings from the viceroy’s secular court of the Kingdom of Navarra, which was not part of an emerging Spanish state until 1512, when it was conquered by Castile. The archivist who assisted us, Peio Monteano, was equally welcoming and helpful. We worked in the Diocesan Archive in the mornings and the Royal Archive in the afternoon.
My initial reaction was one of awe. I could not believe that I had the chance to see and hold documents many centuries old. Peio Monteano gave us a grand tour of the new and incredibly impressive Royal Archive Monday morning, and showed us some of the source material he used for a new book on the Black Death in Navarra. We met the staff of the Royal Archive, and went to the various rooms where the different documents are stored. We learned how to use the online catalogue and make manuscript requests. At the diocesan archive, Don José Luis took us into the manuscript room, which contained several long rows of countless stacks of procesos (trials) and showed us some of the oldest manuscripts in the archbishopric’s possession in this archive. Both archivists also explained the history of their respective archives, as well as the local history of Navarra to contextualize what we were researching. When I actually got to hold my first documents for myself, I nearly got goosebumbs. I knew I had an opportunity that few other people in my situation have, and am forever grateful for everyone who made the experience possible.
As for the research itself, the first two days were a little challenging for me. Reading documents in early modern Spanish handwriting presents several significant hurdles, as Amanda, Kim and I have discussed earlier in this blog. First, it is always hard to get used to a new manuscript text when peering over it for the first time, as each scribe has a unique writing style, with different quarks of spelling, conventions and handwriting. Additionally, many words were abbreviated as to be expected, especially titles, such as alcalde for mayor, vecinos for residents, and Santa Inquisición or Holy Office for the Inquisition. Once I cracked some of these codes, the documents were easier to transcribe and I found myself understanding a lot more of these texts at the tail end of the week.
Other problems were exceedingly practical. First off, the archives are only open certain hours of the day. While the Royal Archive is open the majority of the day each week for researchers, the diocesan archive was officially open from 10:30am-2pm. In order to get the most out of our time, we decided to work at the Diocesan Archive in the morning and the Royal Archive in the afternoon, which was not too much of a challenge, apart from working on multiple cases simultaneously. My experience indicates that historians have to be flexible, conforming to the schedule of the archives rather than the other way around, and to be creative in planning, such as we did by working in two archives to make sure we could put in full days, rather than just a few hours a day, as would be the case if we only worked at the Diocesan Archive.
The manuscripts themselves also posed interesting roadblocks. For some of the documents I planned to research, such as a case at the Diocesan Archive concerning an abbot who did not reside in his abbey or a case at the Royal Archive concerning a women of Sangüesa against the cura de almas (parish priest) over payment for a funeral Mass, the documents themselves were in too poor of a condition to work with. For instance, pages were folded over and could not be uncovered without ripping them, some pages were torn at the corner, or in other cases holes and tears made it impossible to read essential aspects of the trial. In other instances, the manuscripts themselves were in good condition, but the handwriting was very difficult to read, such as with an intriguing 1611 case I investigated involving the convent of Santa Eulalia of Pamplona and a Francisco de Yanguas against the village over providing a preacher for Lent.
These difficulties allowed me to appreciate how historians need to craft their work around such problems. For instance, while a certain case may appear perfect for investigation in terms of content, it makes more sense to focus on documents that can be read easily and that are intact, especially when time is so limited. Additionally, it is not possible to always know what each text contains before skimming through it. Some documents I thought would be relevant and revealing were actually quite uninformative in answering my intended questions, while others surprised me with the amount of detail I found contained within them. Finally, it is essential to focus on the important folios in each document, as most of the ones I studied contained countless petitions to the courts and summaries which were useful, but not where I needed to spend the majority of my time researching in order to get the most out of the document.
While Amanda, Kim and I only worked at the archives for a week, within that span of time I found that such work is stimulating, yet tiring. I never lost interest in the material I studied, and often found it most helpful to discuss my findings with my colleagues at lunch and dinner, not only to ask questions, but to better understand my work as I tried to explain it to others. Such interaction with fellow colleagues in the field seems to me to be an essential component in this research process as well, and was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the experience.
As for my specific findings, I discovered many fascinating things. While I spent the majority of my time on a single case which I will discuss in a moment, as a whole, I investigated a number of lawsuits from the later sixteenth and seventeenth century. All of these cases involved a particular problem between a local parish community and clerics with the community. I wanted to study the dynamic of this relationship and find out what aspects of the clerical role in the community were most important for the village and why. In doing my Monroe project last summer on clerical residence in sixteenth century Spain, I found many documents from clerics stressing the need for parish priests and bishops to reside on the ground in the parish or bishopric under their control to watch over the flock. My goal here was to compare what I found in primary and secondary source material from last summer with my own archival research in Pamplona, to see whether the research would corroborate or contradict my other findings.
First, it appears from the sampling of cases that I investigated that many of the problems associated with parish priests and the parishes I investigated last summer existed in Pamplona as well. A number of my trials involved clerics who were nonresident, or involved issues following a vacancy of a benefice due to the death of its possessor. For instance, a 1591 case from Carcastillo tells of a situation where the death of a vicar led to a jurisdictional conflict between an abad (in this case, abad is translated as priest) and another priest over the successor. When that particular lawsuit went to trial, the village was left without a priest. The only substitute was an old priest who stuttered and did not preach the Gospel in a comprehensible manner (because no one could understand him). Interestingly, the village demanded that an able vicar be appointed to the community to rectify the problem, indicating that such functions as preaching were extremely important to people at the time. In another case, a priest went to Rome and never returned (possibly because he had died), posing problems for the church community at home that he had left behind.
In other cases, the priest was present, but did not necessarily fulfill the charge given to him. A 1574 case recounts that the vicar Don Miguel Ochoa of the parish church of Navascues failed to say daily Mass. That the village even pressed charges for the fulfillment of this duty indicates that access to such sacramental grace was equally important to parishioners at the time.
The case I spent the majority of my time working on involved a 1585 proceso from the village community of Legasa. Their parish priest, Don Juan de Rapáraz, had been suspended from hearing women’s confession in Legasa by the Holy Inquisition for the last four years. The parish community petitioned that the ban be lifted in order for Don Juan de Rapáraz to be able to hear all confessions again.
Since Don Juan de Rapáraz was banned from hearing women’s confessions only, it can be assumed that he had solicited women in the confessional. In this respect, I find it interesting that the village would still desire this particular cleric as its confessor, but as witness testimony and petition from the village makes clear, the village did not have many options. Nearly all of the residents mentioned in the case cite the fact that Juan de Repáraz was the only cleric in the vicinity, and that the village was too poor to afford a replacement, especially for someone just to hear the confession of women. Further, the testimony of the inhabitants of Legasa carries a tone of urgency and desperation that accounts for why parishioners would accept their own parish priest even if he had certain moral failings.
For instance, the parishioners argued that those remaining without confession in the village set a bad example for others by their sinful state, and hampered the ability of others to serve Christ. Only with this grace can the parishioners maintain a sense of decoro (decorum) and decencia (decency) that is necessary to bring the Kingdom of Heaven. Additionally, without access to the sacrament of penance, the faithful could not receive many of the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which they particularly cite as necessary around Christmas and Easter time. Such evidence is instructive, since often times most Christians at the time were thought to only take communion once a year during the Easter season. Third, and perhaps most intriguingly, the villages claimed that their parish of Legasa was in poor and dangerous land, very close to the border with France where there “there are enemies of the Catholic faith”, including Protestants and Basques that were not Catholic. The land was sterile and dry. Access to reconciliation was necessary to persevere against all threats to a good Christian life and to grant people the best chance to survive both physically and spiritually. Without the ability to receive this essential grace, many of the parishioners (women) were dying in a state of mortal sin or travelling great distances to other parishes to rectify the problem, but this was often difficult for the elderly and sick. The sum goal was, as has always been emphasized by reform minded clerics at the time in their literature, the “salvation of the souls”, a concept specifically addressed in this document as well.
The case began in 1571 and was still not resolved in 1585 (there is no final verdict). Such a slow trial conforms with the norm that cases brought fourth before the bishop’s court were often drawn out , while in contrasts those at the secular courts where often resolved quickly. Other interesting details can be gauged from such a document, details which are not apparent just from scanning the description of the case in a catalogue. For instance, studying the witness testimony towards the end of the case provides helpful information for determining the characteristics of clergy at the time, since most of the witnesses were other clerics in the general region surrounding Legasa. The clerics I read of in this case where usually in their late thirties to forties. These priest mentioned in their testimony that the benefice at Legasa valued at about 30 or 40 ducats, a useful detail for my research on clerical residence and benefices. Moreover, the parish community numbered about 50 natural residents, another important statistical fact in trying to understand the background of small parishes in different parts of Spain. Finally, that these clerics affirmed that Don Juan de Repáraz was the only cleric in his parish and that the parish was too poor to afford another strengthens my evidence that often times practical social and economic problems existed surrounding clerical ability to fulfill the charge of the cura animarum (care of souls).
If we can accept the testimony of the parishioners and local priests as true, this case is extremely valuable in what it shows. First, as my research last summer suggested and other cases here indicate, parishioners in community settings cared deeply about their faith. The Church was an essential component of their lives and people felt a great need to have access to the sacraments, contrarily to the claims of a few historians. In particular, the region of Navarra was considered a hostile frontier land where challenges to the faith existed everywhere. Christians in this region of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spain understand the importance of God’s grace in maintaining a healthy and holy spiritual community, while they were unafraid to challenge the clergy when such harmony was threatened. That they did not always succeed in their efforts shows that reform was still needed, but such a short study of these documents cannot show to what extent the reform efforts taking place during the sixteenth century, such as with the Council of Trent and by reform minded clerics, impacted Navarra at this time.
While it would be careless to extrapolate from such historical evidence that we can know everything about religion at the ground level, or can apply the conditions of a few parishes in the region of Navarra to Spain as a whole, I believe the research I did at least hints that the above assumptions are reasonable. Further, these findings, as in many other fields, open a host of additional questions and calls for more research. Such, I imagine, is the case for many historians.
With all of that in mind, I can say I had a very positive experience in Pamplona. I think the best aspect of the journey was the opportunity to work for a week in the manner researching historians do, a sort of “trial period” experience where I could place myself in the role of a professor and see how I liked it. Such a rare opportunity allows me to think about whether I would be happiest doing this work for the majority of my life. While there are some drawbacks, such as the intensity of the work and the solidarity of much of the investigation, it is also extremely stimulating and exciting work. Knowing what I do now, it would be much easier to plan further archival research how best to tackle it. This experience will help me along the graduate school path if I choose to pursue it. I am extremely grateful for Professor Homza, the archivists Don José Luis Sales Tirapu and Peio Monteano, the other staff at these archives, and my colleagues Amanda Scott and Kim Bassett for their assistance and for helping make this opportunity possible.