The highlight (yes, the highlight … probably) of my time in Avignon was a visit I made to the Archives Départementales. I was super fortunate because my host mother has a friend who works there. She was incredibly generous and gave us a guided tour one afternoon. We went into the grand old stacks, inside what used to be an ecclesiastical and later papal chapel. We also went up the tower of the papal palace where they keep 11 levels (!!) of archives. She told us the story of how the Archives came to be housed in a part of the building, while the other part is where public visits are held. It’s bizarre, because I had already done a guided tour of the Palais and hadn’t even really noticed that we didn’t visit half of the building. I guess tours are kind of like that – it’s hard to keep your bearings. Or is it just me?
One of the coolest parts among many cool parts was this incredible manuscript. It’s the law here that upon notaries’ deaths, their records become part of the departmental archives. Blandine (our lovely host) explained that sometimes, families disobey this law and hang on to things they shouldn’t technically still have. In this case, a record from the end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth century from this department was found to be for sale, when it should not have been. Who would want a musty old record, you might be asking?
Well, this one is particularly interesting because for reasons unknown, inserted before the notarial record, in a fine bookhand, is a translation in Provençal of two key passages of the Chanson de Roland!
We were suffocating on the eleventh floor of the (not air-conditioned) archives, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from this incredible object. It would have probably helped if I could read Provençal, but still!
We also saw a number of seals, from noblemen and churchmen, including one that was made of gold. It was truly a thrill for this dweeb to visit the “behind-the-scenes” of a major archive.