j sac d’esturmens e d’escripturas
Early in the year 1376, a resident of Avignon named Catarina Cabesse, contemplating her impending death, decided to donate her estate to the Almonry of the Carpenters' quarter. It was a momentous year in the history of Avignon, and indeed all Latin Christendom, since it was only a few months later, in September of 1376, that Pope Gregory XI chose to abandon Avignon as the seat of the popes and return to Rome. His death in 1378 launched the Papal Schism that roiled Christendom for decades to come. But alongside the turmoil of the great, life went on for ordinary folks like Catarina, as they lived, died, and made provisions for their estates.
The inventory of her estate was discovered by the philologist Pierre Pansier, who edited it along with other documents in his 1924 Histoire de la langue provençale à Avignon. Although the record provides little context for the legacy, we can guess that Catarina had no children and no relatives whom she might have preferred over the Almonry. She was described in the Provençal dialect of the records as a dona, or a "lady," suggesting that her peers recognized in her some degree of social distinction. The estate itself was not wealthy, consisting only of a single four-room house and its contents, with no mention of rural estates or vineyards. It is possible, of course, that the legacy to the Almonry did not include items left to her relatives.
A sign of her status, however, is provided by several references to written documents. Among these references is this month's featured object: "a sack of legal instruments and written documents." The material culture of document storage is a curious and interesting subject. Sacks were normally used for storing grain, flour, and beans, as suggested by the illustration above, but in the county of Provence, at least, Christians were also inclined to use sacks for storing their legal papers. Dozens of such references can be found in the records from Marseille, for example, and Catarina's inventory demonstrates that the practice extended to Avignon as well. Did people expect to carry the documents around town from to time? We have no way of knowing. Immediately after this, the compiler of Catarina's inventory found several other documents in addition to those found in the sack. Near the end of the inventory, in the lower hall, the compiler came across sixty-six more instruments in a chest. Catarina, it seems, stored stashes of documents all over her house.