About the Actas Capitulares – The Chapter Acts

The Cathedral of Plasencia’s Actas Capitulares (The Chapter Acts)

The Actas Capitulares are the day-to-day business transactional records of the Cabildo de la Catedral de Plasencia, or the local cathedral chapter. The Actas Capitulares commence in the early 1390s and detail church statutes, properties, and organizational affairs.  On first inspection, the Actas Capitulares (referred to as “Actas”) appear to be pre-bound, chronologically ordered, vellum-covered volumes of local church affairs.  Once the scribe recording these church affairs completed a volume, he recorded inclusive dates on its cover, and a subsequent volume was prepared for the next series of dates.

For the time period (1399 – 1527) that we are investigating, the Actas are composed of six volumes that report overlapping time periods. (See Table: Characteristics of the Actas Capitulares Volumes 1-6.)  For instance, records from 1502 are located in three volumes:  Volume IV (1498-1508), Volume V (1499-1513), and Volume VI (1502-1527.)  Because the records for 1502 are include in three separate volumes, we can most likely deduce that the chapter collected and bound individual paper manuscript sheets into volumes at some point after the documents were completed.  At irregular time intervals, it appears that the Cabildo instructed the church scribe to collect and arrange all those loose documents for the most recent period and then to have those documents bound into a chronological volume.  Since we know the Actas report overlapping time periods, it is reasonable to speculate that the scribe did not locate all of the loose documents for specific years on his first search or some documents were either initially misplaced or lost.  If the scribe located additional documents, it appears old volumes of the Actas were not unbound, but rather the church staff simply inserted those loose pages in the front of the next volume. Because the volumes were prepared in this manner we cannot be certain that additional documents were not lost, destroyed, or never included during the binding process, and as such, the volumes could have been subjected to selective inclusions.  In fact, there are pages in the first volume which are presented out of chronological sequence.

Two-decades of Actas, for the years 1477 to 1497, are entirely unaccounted for and were never included in the first numbering scheme used for this collection of volumes.  This reveals that at the time the volumes were numbered, the church council was aware that the documents for these years were removed, missing, or permanent lost and would not be included in the final numbering system for the Actas volumes.  This also indicates that the volume numbering system was devised after 1498, the year in which the manuscripts continue in Volume IV.  Whether these documents were purposefully removed after 1498, we do not know.  However, given the intensity of the difficulties imposed by the growing anti-Jewish fervor of the period, the institution of the Inquisition in 1480, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, there certainly were many rationales for removing these records that might illuminate problematic Catholic-Jewish interactions.

Likewise, it is important to note that Actas Volume II is missing and may have included records as early as the 1420s and as late as the 1460s.  Since the volume numbering system was created before this volume was lost, we can safely assume that the Volume II was removed at some point after 1498.  Interestingly, this period overlaps considerably with the bishoprics of Bishop Gonzalo Garcia de Santa Maria and Bishop Juan de Carvajal, and the intensive interaction of the Carvajal and Santa Maria clans.

Volume Time Period Overlap Internal Biding External Biding
I 1399-1453 None Individually stitched pages.
Five minutes (5) glued vellum tabs indicative of repair.
Five (5) reinforcing cords.
Hevy vellum.
Five (5) reinforcing cords sewn to internal biding.
II Missing Missing Missing Missing
III 1459-1476 None Individually stitched pages.
Three (3) reinforcing cords.
Hevy vellum.
Three (3) reinforcing cords sewn to internal biding.
IV 1498-1508 1499-1502 Individually stitched pages. Hevy vellum.
Two (2) reinforcing leather tabs sewn to external and internal biding.
V 1459-1476 1499-1513 Individually stitched pages. Hevy vellum.
Two (2) reinforcing leather tabs sewn to external and internal biding.
VI 1502-1527 1502-1513 Individually stitched pages. Hevy vellum.
Two (2) reinforcing leather tabs sewn to external and internal biding.
Detail of Bindings

Additionally, a closer inspection of the bindings of the five of the six surviving volumes of the Actas indicates that differing binding methods were utilized and some appear to have been repaired.  For instance, Volume I (1399-1453), the oldest of the collection, utilized four methods to hold the internal and external bindings together:  (1) the individual pages were stitched together, (2) five heavier cords were horizontally sewn into the strings to reinforce the binding, (3) five vellum tabs were adhered across the spine and on to the front and back pages of the volume, and (4) a heavier vellum cover placed over the bound pages. Volume I shows signs of repair as the original strings holding the pages together is broken and weakened in certain areas and the tabs holding the front and back cover pages to the binding are made from recycled illuminated vellum.  As Volume I appears to be repaired, we cannot be certain that it retains all of its original content.

Volumes I and III share common internal and external binding methods, except for the additionally adhered vellum tabs on Volume I and fewer reinforcing cords used on Volume III.  As these two volumes span over seventy-seven years it seems likely that two different individuals prepared these bindings. However, because both volumes use similar binding methods, it seems likely that the second was crafted by someone that had learned his skills from the person that prepared Volume I.

Volumes IV through VI (1498 – 1527) utilize different binding methods than their predecessors.  These more recent volumes employ a common binding method that is reliant on fewer reinforcing cords (two instead of four or five cords) but add external reinforcing leather tabs along the reinforcing cords.  Volumes IV (1498-1508) and V (1499-1513) appear to be almost identical and were likely assembled by the same hands.  Volume VI employs more and heavier cords on the leather tabs than Volumes IV and V, but other than this element, all three of these bindings are very similar and appear to have been bound in quick succession and by individuals trained in common binding methods.

In sum, what can be ascertained from the six bound volumes is that Cabildo de la Catedral had the Actas Capitulares assembled in succession to each other.  That is, the volumes were prepared one-by-one over thirteen decades.  The church council accumulated the individual pages of the Actas Capitulares and then chose to bind them at irregular time intervals.  These intervals, while variable, do expose two differing binding traditions for the periods 1399-1476 and 1498-1527.  The repair to Volume I indicates that the binding failed at one point and its contents may have been modified.