Romanesque Cloister at Saint Martin du Canigou. Source: Wikipedia
Romanesque Cloister at Saint Martin du Canigou. Source: Wikipedia

520.000 Medieval Charters and 8.600 Romanesque Churches

Mapping the distribution of medieval charters and Romanesque churches shows that literacy and written administration were preconditions for the economic and artistic resources and revenues needed to carry through with these building projects.

Comparing medieval charters and romanesque buildings by Nicolas Perreaux
Comparing medieval charters and romanesque buildings. Source: Bucema. By kind permission by Nicolas Perreaux under a Licence Creative Commons Attribution.

Des structures inconciliables? Cartographie comparée des chartes et des édifices « romans » (Xe –XIIIe siècles)
Nicolas Perreaux
In: Bucema. Hors-série (2016) no 9 2016: Géolocalisation et sources anciennes? Ed by Marie-José Gasse-Grandjean et Laure Saligny
BUCEMA is Open Source

Collections of medieval charters and Romanesque buildings are entities, which have undegone all sorts of destruction ranging from complete anihilation to complex reconstructions. Nevertheless, the two corpora consists of large-scale and overwhelming numbers. By exploiting two digitized collections of these corpora, Nicolas Perreaux recently published an article demonstrating the structural connection between medieval literacy and the spread of the Romanesque art.

In his studies, Nicolas Perreaux, uses digital mapping, geolocation and datamining to compare these two structures at a European level. On one hand, he utilises a database of 520.00 medieval charters from the 7th to the 14th centuries published in more than 2000 editions. [1]

On the other hand, he utilises the collection of 8600 Romanesque buildings published in a very homogenous way inside the project of the Éditions Zodiaque [2]

Comparing the evidence from these two types of sources, he is able to construct a series of maps, which demonstrate the linkage between the early medieval production of charters, the uses of literacy and the building of Romanesque edifices – churches and monasteries. The comparison shows a close correlation between the two structures: the existence of a large number of charters for the tenth and eleventh centuries (sometimes XII century) and a corresponding presence of a large number of Romanesque buildings.

Exploring these maps, he is also able to show the important distribution of Cluniac versus Cistercian Romanesque edifices and also how the circuit of Urban II AD 1095 -1096 primarily took place among the Cluniacs.

Important conclusions are numerous. First of all, the work demonstrates that the generally accepted conviction that a general destruction of earlier charters took place in the 10th and 11th centuries as part of the moonasteries effort to reconstruct their “memory” through “oblivion”. Secondly, it demonstrates a neat correspondance between on one hand the uses of literacy for the purpose of controlling dominon and income and on the other hand the werewithall of funds to create the evocative and beatiful Romanesque edifices, still standing. Finally, the article also demonstrates how such mapping can shed light on the distribution of different religious landscapes and the movement through them.


[1] The core of this endeavour is the CBMA – Chartae Burgundiae Medii Aevi. Site du projet des chartes de la Bourgogne au Moyen Âge. The footnotes in the article presents in details the different collections, which have been utilised in connction with the productions of the maps

[2] Between 1952 and 2001, Éditions Zodiaque founded by la Pierre-qui-Vivre monastery in Burgundy published an illustrated journal appearing three times a year as well as multiple series of lavishly illustrated books of which the most popular – La Nuit des Temps – ran to 82 volumes. In the end 8,600 Romanesque buildings were published in this widely popular series, which helped to position this sacred art as an extremely important part of the the national heritage of France. One part of this collection consists in maps, which have made the present structural comparison possible.


L’écriture du monde (I). Les chartes et les édifices comme vecteurs de la dynamique sociale dans l’Europe médiévale (viie-milieu du xive siècle)
By Nicolas Perreaux
Bucema (2015), Vol 19 No 2


Cloister at Saint-Martin de Canigiou at the heart of the French part of Catalonia (the Pyrénées-Orientales département). Source: Wikipedia





Get our Medieval News with links to our premium content

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.