Adulfus, Priest and Murderer
In 897, the Council of Tribur warned that ‘a priest should wear distinctive dress whilst travelling because, if he was robbed, wounded or killed when not wearing the stole which marked him out as a priest, then his attacker should make emendation at only one third of the rate he would have to pay if his victim’s sacerdotal status had been clear.’ To be a churchman in the tenth and eleventh centuries was a dangerous business, and narratives from scandalized writers described every manner of crime, from violence wrought against clerics by Scandinavian raiders to the assassination of popes, and from the poisoning of abbots to the deaths of bishops orchestrated by their political enemies.
The murder of a local priest serving at Auhausen, Bavaria, in the middle of the ninth century made far less of a splash than these high-profile cases. We learn of Otolt’s murder only because his books entered Fulda’s library, where they were recorded as having come from the named priest, ‘who has been killed’. But Otold does appear to be the exception, and though charters recording violence against priests and other churchmen are rare, such events impacted upon local churches and beyond.
If brought to account, perpetrators were often expected to make restitution through money and/or religious penance. Additions to the Lex Salica in 803 included amounts to be paid by those who had killed a churchman: the murder of a subdeacon required 300 solidi in compensation; a deacon or a monk 400; a priest 600, and a bishop 900 (online edition here). The Council of Mainz of 847 ordered trial by red hot ploughshares if a servus was accused of murdering a priest. A pastoral manual (Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, 506) stipulates that ‘Who murders a bishop or a priest or a deacon should be sent to the king for judgement. […] Who kills a cleric of a lower grade should be sentenced by the bishop to lay down his weapons and serve God in a monastery or do penance for seven years with lamentations’.
Charters that describe harm to priests often contain little information on the crime itself or its causes (though inebriation and the devil feature prominently), instead focusing on the aftermath and restitution after the fact. In mid-ninth century Brittany Anau had tried to kill the priest Anauhoiarn, whipping him and binding his hands. Anau had been spared having his right hand cut off, and as recompense handed over his vineyard to Abbot Conuuoiono and the monks at Saint-Saveur. In 963 a gang of men surrounded the house of a local priest near León and set fire to it, while around the same time one Rapinato drunkenly broke into a church and killed a monk of Sahagún, after which the king ordered the seizure of all his property. Just over a century later Count Gilelmus Arnaldi gave the whole villa of Tremlada and its environments to Sainte-Marie, Auch, having killed a priest with his own hands.
But what of murders committed by churchmen? Again, there is a divide in the character of the evidence between the many narratives of scheming bishops eliminating their rivals in the corridors of power, and glimpses of crimes committed by priests at the local level.
What ought to be done with priests caught up in violent crimes became an (unwelcome) preoccupation of archbishop Hincmar of Rheims. The bishop of Cambrai had deposed one such individual after he participated in a brawl in which a man died; the priest claimed self-defence and, in any case, insisted he had not been directly involved in the death. Hincmar also considered a case from Amiens, when a priest complained that even though he had defended himself against a drunkard, his bishop Hilmerad had suspended him. In an infamous case, the priest Trising admitted to attempted murder after he struck a relative by marriage with the victim’s own sword and fled, assuming he had died.
None of these cases are clear-cut, though, since the first two priests insisted on their innocence, and Trising had not actually killed his victim. It is only in the tenth and eleventh centuries that a number of murderous priests and their crimes appear in charter evidence, particularly in documents from the kingdoms of modern-day Spain and Portugal.
One such case concerns the priest Adulfus, who admitted that he had murdered a man named Leo. In 943 Adulfus produced a charter in which he gave all his property, including the church he owned at Luzim and its accoutrements, to his lord Ansur Godesteiz and his wife Eileuva. The knotty Latin of this text (preserved in a single sheet and a late medieval cartulary, the latter available here) means the translation of the preamble below is intended for readability rather than strict accuracy, informed by Wendy Davies’ discussion of the text:
I, Adulfus the priest, because of my sin and the snares of the devil who deceived me, committed murder of a man named Leo. And I paid compensation for that murder to his people, and of that [compensation] there remained upon me [a sum] that I could not satisfy, and they brought me for death, and I came before my lord Ansur Godesteoz and his wife Eileuva, and I asked the boni homines to intercede with him for me, to furnish some stock (i.e. funds) so that he would free me of this murder because I had no way to satisfy them, and I would give to this lord Ansur all my inheritance so I might be free from this murder for all the days of my life. This he did.
Adulfus, unable to pay the required compensation, would have been put to death despite his clerical status, because of his inability to compensate Leo’s kin, who were presumably influential. But Adulfus evidently had some connections of his own, since he interceded with his lord through boni homines (‘good men’) to seek financial assistance, perhaps those listed as having witnessed the grant.