Monday, September 8, 2008

The quarrel between Rodelgrimo and the monks

One day, a small army of Saracens (883 A.D.) landed on the coasts of Southern Italy. They pillaged and destroyed everything and everyone on their path, finally heading for the mountains where a group of Benedectine monasteries were rumored to be full of gold and money. Most of the clergy were killed, the monasteries burned to the ground, anything valuable was carried away. What remained was a heap of smoking ruins surrounded by the deepest silence, dead bodies on the smoking ground.

Those who survived to tell the story would never set foot on those lands until the next century. But when the monks returned to rebuild their property they found that many natives had occupied their lands in their absence. Winning back the smaller lots of lands was easily done, but they eventually met with the stubborn opposition of a local squire, Rodelgrimo d'Aquino.

He, not unlike others, had annexed to his estate two lots that aparently belonged to the Catholic Church. In response Don Aligerno, the abbot of Montecassino, sent his lawyer (Pietro) to plead the monks' case in court which would settle the dispute under judge Arechisi from Capua. In his defense, Rodelgrimo produced a detailed map of his lands, insisting that his annexation had been lawful.

On their part, the Benedectines insisted that those lots belonged to them since they had lived there for a long time when the Saracens forced them to leave. The pleading was in Latin as this was still the language of the courts at the time.

When Judge Arechisi finally reached a verdict (the Placito), it stated that the lands held at the time by Rodelgrimo did actually belong to the monks, since they had been in their possession for at least 30 years (usucapione, still in use today) prior to Rodelgrimo's occupation.

After his deliberation, however, judge Arechisi wrote down the Placito in Italian, its form based on similar formulas in use in Latin, their existence documented at least since 882 A.D. (Lucca), in San Vincenzo al Volturno, not far from Capua (936, 954 and then 976 A.D.

As the judge entered the courtroom, he read out the formula in front of the public. Then, he asked three witnesses (Teomondo, Gariberto, two monks, and Mari, a notary) to repeat that same sentence in vernacular to make absolutely sure that everyone had understood it. In sum, the same sentence was recited four times (by judge and witnesses), and Mari the notary duly testified to the fact by writing down emphatically "toti tres quasi ex uno ore; quasi uno ore". (all three [witnesses] did swear as if with one voice).

The witnesses had more than a passing knowledge of Latin and could have used it as easily as their local dialect but much of the listening audience in the courtroom were did not speak Latin, hence the use of Italian. That they had to say the words in the new language was the telling sign that Latin, was no longer used or understood by the general public as a spoken language. This courtroom formula, marks the moment when Italian was officially recognized as a language.

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Mimi said...

Thank you for writing this story. May I use it in my newsletter?


Mauro Baglieri said...

Hello Madelaine, I'm so glad you liked the article - feel free to quote it in your newsletter/websites.
Cool paintings - quite an artist.

Anonymous said...

signore,mi piace un sacco il tuo testo,anche molto utile per mio studio.
puoi aggiugere mio,
sono uno studente straniero(cinese),a Perugia,sono iscritto nel corso di"lingua e cultura italiana"

rarità said...

Nelle mie ricerche su questo argomento avevo trovato solo tanta confusione, adesso invece è tutto chiaro.