Pierre Pansier (1864-1934) , the original editor of this month's featured inventory, was a member of a cadre of French scholars known as érudits or savants who made significant contributions to medieval history and philology despite not holding formal academic appointments in these fields. Pansier himself was an ophthalmologist and surgeon who practiced in Avignon and was the author of several treatises on ophthalmology. But alongside his professional interests, Pansier researched and wrote extensively about the history of Avignon and the surrounding region, an interest spurred by the Occitan revival movement known as Lou Felibrige. His Histoire de la langue provençale à Avignon du XIIe au XIXe siècle (1924) includes transcriptions of a number of archival documents written in Provençal, the eastern dialect of Occitan. Several inventories edited by Pansier have been republished in DALME, including the inventory of Catarina Cabesse.
Na Cabesse, as she may have been known to her friends and neighbors, died in Avignon on the 9th of June, 1372. In her last will and testament, she deeded all her worldly goods to the almshouse of the Carpentry (l'almorna de la fustarie), suggesting the possibility that she was a singlewoman or a widow without surviving children or close family members. The testament included a provision allowing the officials of the almshouse to auction off goods of indifferent quality, with the proceeds dedicated to satisfying the legacies that she had made. In February of 1375, for reasons that are left unclear, someone decided to make a record of the inventory of her estate. Since it is likely that an inventory had been drafted in Latin shortly after Na Cabesse's death in 1372, the unnamed author probably took the original inventory, translated it into Provençal, and copied the text out into the registers of the almshouse--in a slovenly handwriting, as Pansier notes rather tartly. The author took pains to note "I took care of everything requested by her," suggesting that the entry was triggered once all the conditions and legacies listed in the testament had been fulfilled. The delay is not unusual: anyone with experience winding up the estate of a departed relative knows how time-consuming the process can be. In this case, it is also possible that the 1374 outbreak of plague contributed to the delay.
At the outset of the document, Catarina Cabesse was accorded the respectful title "dona," or lady. Though usage could vary, the title was not automatically accorded to women who appear in Provençal records, suggesting that Na Cabesse was a respected member of the community. The inventory itself, however, gives few signs that she was living a life of wealth or privilege at the time of her death. Unless Pansier chose not to transcribe the real estate pertaining to the estate, Na Cabesse possessed but a single property, the five-room house in which she lived. The house's contents give few signs of a trade or a source of income, apart from faint hints that she may have lent money on pledges.
The individual who made the original inventory entered the house by way of an unnamed room containing a miscellaneous set of storage vessels and furniture, suggesting a storeroom or pantry. The first items inventoried were three benches of little value (de pauc de valor), a phrase that sets the tone for an extensive array of items to follow, a number of which were also described as cheap as well as broken (rot, rotz), decayed (porrit, pouridas), old (vieilli, vieilh), moth-eaten (arhat), holed (traucada), and, at times, a combination of any of these adjectives (vieilli e poirit, rot porit, vieilh de pauc de valor, vielha rota). The great jar found in the pantry used for making vin cuit (a Provençal dessert wine), for example, was considered "old and decayed." Nearby was an armoire, also old and decayed and, not far away, a moth-eaten coverlet. The impression of decayed gentility persists in bedroom, though the gloom was somewhat lightened by the presence of a quilt described as a "fairly good." At the head of the bed hung a decayed bed-curtain, and the pillow on which Na Cabesse rested her head in her final days was torn and decayed. Unusually for a region in which wardrobes often featured clothing in a range of colors, much of her clothing was black: a black cotte lined with lambskin; two old black gowns; a black cloak lined with blue; and three additional black cloaks, two of which were cheap and a third good. A phrase notes that all her daily clothing - las raubas de son dos, literally "the clothes on her back" - were given to the poor with the consent of her relatives, the only reference to her kin in the document. The kitchen wares included a great basin, which was holed, and other items characteristic of a Provençal kitchen, some of which were described as shabby. A particularly interesting entry refers to a walnut chest which was said to have belonged to the maid.
Although a sense of decay is omnipresent in the inventory, a few clues point to a condition of penury arising from fading gentility rather than low social status. In the bedroom, the compiler of the inventory found a small gold ring with a sapphire. The age and condition of the furniture and clothing suggest items that had formerly been good but had decayed with the passage of time. The most startling feature of the inventory, however, are the documents, for the compiler of the inventory found records and legal instruments of various types in three of the rooms. The sequence of finds begins in the bedroom, where the compiler found "a sack containing instruments and written documents." This perhaps reminded him that, earlier in his perambulation, he had found but had forgotten to list a wad of charters or papers (cartas) found in a great chest located in the entryway. A further six instruments were found in the chest at the foot of the bed. Finally, in the upstairs room, he found another chest containing sixty-six instruments, one of the largest stashes of documents mentioned in the DALME corpus. Since Na Cabesse's relative poverty suggests the absence of significant income, it seems unlikely that the legal instruments recorded extensive landholdings or rent revenues - living documents, as it were. The collection perhaps consisted instead of old family papers, such as the testaments, dowry acts, procurations, canceled debt contracts, and other acts that were routinely stored by the people of Provence. Like her shabby furniture, broken implements, and moth-eaten clothing and fabrics, these documents may have reminded her of times past. This is pure conjecture, but as we contemplate Catarina's instinct to preserve the remnants of the past, we perhaps catch a glimpse of Pansier's own fascination for recording the vestiges of a culture that, in his own day, was rapidly disappearing.