Brotherly squabbles? Hugo and Gerald of Pomario

Image: The church at Pomiès. Image copyright:

‘I have to negotiate this problem, and, believe me, it’s going to take a lot of quid for the pro quo’ – Lord Vetinari (from Snuff, by Terry Pratchett)

Many surviving records of medieval agreements of sales, exchanges, and gifts of land obscure the negotiations, haggling over price, and, in the case of donations made by families, the cajoling of less enthusiastic participants that preceded them. This blog entry is about one such donation, where some of these wrinkles are (perhaps) visible in the written record.

It was made by the priest Hugo and his brother Gerald to the abbey Conques. The brothers were from Pomario (today Pomiès, a small hamlet in the commune of Sénergues in southern France). The grant can is dated to the time of Abbot Odalric (1031-1065) and is preserved in the twelfth-century cartulary produced at Conques.[1] It is just 165 words long, but the grant’s brevity belies the wheeling and dealing that had happened before its production.

Map showing Pomiès (

First, the brothers announce they are giving to Abbot Odalric two manses in the villa of Beciaria (now La Bessière) which they received as allodial land from their parents:

"Ego Hugo sacerdos et Geraldus frater meus donamus sancto Salvatori et sanctæ Fidei et abbati Odolrico duos mansos in illa Beciaria ad alodum qui nobis per originem parentorum venerant."

Abbot Odalric then immediately gave the two manses back to Gerald to hold in fief, in exchange for the parragines de Pomario, a local term that is thought to refer to the most fertile land of Pomiès by virtue of its location closest to the home(s) there:

"Post hæc concordavimus concambium cum ipso abbate inter nos, et dedimus ego et ipse abba istos duos mansos Geraldo fratri meo ad feuvum in concambio per parragines de Pomario."

This being done, Hugo, acting on the the advice of his brother Gerald, then gave all his part of the land to the abbot and the monks, including the church at Pomario. He also gave the abbot some vineyards that his uncle Saluster and his nephew (also named Saluster) had given him when they became monks at Conques:

"Propterea ego Hugo sacerdos, cum consilio fratris mei Geraldi, omnem meam partem de illo honore quem habeo dimitto et dono sancto Salvatori et sanctæ Fidei de Conchas et abbati Odalrico et monachis, hoc est ecclesia de Pomario cum ipso fevo et vinea de Blos Monte et vinea de Roca Cava per quam Saluster avunculus meus et alter Saluster nepus meus monachi missi fuerunt in Conchas."

The abbey of Conques (Wikipedia Commons)

Finally, Hugo says that he gives everything which he possesses in life, and everything he will acquire, to the abbey after his death. The agreement and placitum were made in the presence of Abbot Odalric, and witnessed by Ademar the monk, (H)umbert, Hugo of Conques and his brother, and finally by Hugo’s brother Gerald:

"Dono etiam in vita et in morte mea omnem substanciam quam habeo et in antea adquisiero. Haec concordia et placitum facta sunt coram abbate Odalrico, presentibus Ademaro monacho et Hugone de Conchas et fratrem ejus et Umberto et ipse fratre meo Geraldo."

For a relatively short charter, then, there is quite a lot going on here, and the grant reveals there were multiple stages leading to the final donation. First, the brothers gave land together. Then, the abbot immediately handed over this land—previously shared between the brothers—to Gerald in fief. Presumably the donation to Gerald softened the blow of losing access to, or possession of, other parts of the estates.

Secondly, Hugo granted the land that was his to give alone, including the church of Pomario and its revenues, directly to the abbot. The church must have been an impressive holding, and we are fortunate that a church survives to the present day in Pomario that may retain traces of that given by Hugo. Although its construction cannot be precisely dated, its oratory and chapel dedicated to St Peter make it the oldest in Sénergues. Pre-Romanesque elements suggest these oldest parts were likely standing when Hugo made his grant. At the time of its construction, relics were encased in the altar of the old chapel (these were allegedly uncovered in 1868 during the church’s restoration). Looking more broadly at the corpus of similar charters in which a church was granted by members of a family, it is quite unusual to read that an ecclesia was possessed by one sibling and not another.

Although it is a question of interpretation, it seems that Hugo also gave land he had received from the uncle and nephew, both of whom were named Saluster, who (if my reading is correct) had on a prior occasion joined the monastic community and settled there, as well as his own possessions. Gerald therefore had either been previously bought out by his brother of his part of the church or had no stake in the estates being given by his brother. The mention of Hugo’s resolve to donate any future acquisitions may suggest that he had purchased the church or lands around it, and that therefore Gerald only had a stake in what happened to the property the pair inherited from their parents.

So, what are we to make of the text overall? There is much in this short text that resists the modern reader, in particular the intended meaning of some of the terminology. Nor is the rationale behind transferring the land to the abbot and then straight back to Gerald immediately apparent. Some of these difficulties might be explained by compression, alteration and standardisation to a Conques ‘style’ when the text was entered into the cartulary. But there are also signs within the text that Hugo himself may have had a hand in its drafting.

Worshippers leaving Mass at Pomiès

These are not conclusive, and so any attribution to Hugo must be speculative, but in combination, little details like the fact that Hugo does not witness at the bottom, the reference to Gerald as ‘my brother’, and the order in which the various grants are presented hint at his involvement. Most significantly, the notice that Hugo explicitly gave away all his possessions on the advice of Gerald unifies the two brothers, presenting what may have been a fractious series of negotiations into a harmonious and fraternal, and most importantly pious grant to the abbey. Whoever wrote the text wished to convey that the pair had come to a cordial and mutual agreement over what was to be done with the estates within their family.


[1] Charter text: Cartulaire de l'abbaye de Conques en Rouergue, ed. Gustave Dejardin, 2 vols. Paris 1879 (no. 31). Digitised edition here. The text is also online here.