THEOSOPHY, Vol. 53, No. 9, July, 1965
(Pages 262-266; Size: 14K)

HERETICS AND THE RENAISSANCE

VI--THE ALBIGENSIAN PAPERMAKERS AND WATERMARKS

[Part 6 of a 10-part series]

THE Cathari or Albigenses, we are told, were gradually rooted out by the Inquisition and after the first half of the Fourteenth century they "disappear from history." [However, facts presented by Harold Bayley in his book A New Light on the Renaissance] seem to prove that although persecution had the effect of scattering the sufferers, they tenaciously clung to their cherished tenets and traditions, conforming outwardly to the religions of the countries in which they took refuge. It is obvious that papermaking being an art in which they were proficient, they would employ it as a means of livelihood, in the same way as their unfortunate Huguenot successors carried their crafts with them after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. I think that the obscure course of papermaking in Europe marks the track of Albigensian exiles, small bands of whom penetrated to England (where history knew them under the name of Lollards) and to the remotest parts of the Continent. (Bayley, pp. 39, 40, 85.)

[The South of France, as we have seen, had been for several centuries the scene of a brilliant civilization, while over most of Europe the darkness of the Middle Ages had not yet begun to give way to the dawn of the Renaissance.] Among the arts and industries that flourished in Provence and the surrounding districts, papermaking was one of the foremost. Bayley calls this region the cradle of European papermaking and for many centuries the center of the industry. [He points out that] the heretical sects which, to use an ecclesiastical expression, infected Europe like leprosy, flourished almost solely among the artisan classes. It is not surprising, therefore, that papermaking and printing alike have fallen largely into heretical hands. (Ibid., pp. 2, 5-6.)

It is a fact, the significance of which has hitherto been unnoted, that the early papermaking districts were precisely those that were strongholds of the heretical sects known as the Albigenses, a term applied loosely to the various pre-Reformation reformers whose strongholds stretched from Northern Spain across the southern provinces of France to Lombardy and Tuscany. In Spain and France they were known as Albigenses from Albi the name of one of their prominent towns. In the Alpine provinces they were called Waldenses, from Peter Waldo, one of their most conspicuous members. (Ibid., p. 11.)

The keynote of the Albigensian character was industry, and it is said that the axiom "Work is Prayer" had its origin among them. In Italy they were known not only as Cathari, the pure ones, but as "Patarini." This is said to have been derived from pates a word meaning old linen. There was a street in Milan called Pataria or the rag market where the Cathari congregated so conspicuously that they were dubbed "Patarini." It is difficult to understand why the rag markets were proverbially so popular with them, unless they met there for the purpose of buying their raw material for papermaking, i.e., rags. But the evidence from the watermarks lifts conjecture into certainty, and demonstrates that it was unquestionably among "the pure ones" and "the good people" that papermaking first flourished in Europe. (Ibid., p. 13.) [Information obtained in 1963 from the Italian Information Center in New York City confirms the fact that "there is indeed in Milan a street called Via Patari. The origins of the name are unclear, but it could very well allude to the 'ragsellers' who were so called in Milanese dialect."] In The Empire and the Papacy, T. F. Tout, M.A. says: "The Paterini were known as the ragpickers and the 'ragbags'" (page 115). (Ibid., p. 235.)

Watermarks, still commonly used at the present time, originated with the Albigensian papermakers of Southern France and Northern Italy. A study of the various watermarks has yielded some results in tracing the different channels in which the paper trade of different countries flowed. Experience also of the different kinds of paper and a knowledge of the watermarks, aid the student in fixing nearly exact periods of undated documents. (Britannica, 9th ed.)

[In the light of our study of medieval heretics the subject of papermaking and watermarks becomes particularly significant.] The origin and early history of papermaking as a writing material are involved in much obscurity. The art of making it from fibrous matter, such as the wool of the cotton plant, appears to have been practised by the Chinese at a very distant period. However remote its age in Eastern Asia, cotton paper first became available for the rest of the world in the 8th century, when the Arabs captured Samarkand and there learnt its use, from where it rapidly spread through all parts of their empire. With regard to the introduction of paper into Europe, it naturally first made its appearance in those countries more immediately in contact with the Oriental world. In Italy the art of papermaking was no doubt established through the Arab occupation of Sicily, while in Spain it was introduced by the Moors in the 12th century. [Harold Bayley remarks that] among early watermarks is a human head, which Sotheby characterizes as "a Moor's head." If it really be a Moor's head, this would be presumptive evidence that the art was derived from the Moors and that a tradition of the fact has survived. (Bayley, p. 240.)

France owed the establishment of her first paper-mills to Spain whence we are told the art of papermaking was introduced, as early as the year 1189, into the district of Hérault. At a later period, in 1406, among the accounts of the church of Troyes, paper-mills appear as molins à toile. The development of the trade in France must have been very rapid. In Italy the first place which appears to have become a great center of papermaking industry was Fabiano in the marquisate of Ancona, where mills were first set up in 1276, and which rose into importance on the decline of the manufacture in Spain. In Germany the earliest factories are said to have been set up around 1320. The Netherlands and England obtained paper at first from France and Burgundy through the markets of Bruges, Antwerp and Cologne. (Britannica, 9th ed.)

The paper which was made both in Spain and Italy was in the first instance cotton paper, of the Oriental quality. Paper of Oriental manufacture in the middle ages was usually distinguished by its stout substance and glossy surface, and was devoid of watermarks, the employment of which became in time universal in the European factories. (Ibid., 11th ed.) The first mention of rag paper occurs in the tract of Peter, Abbot of Cluny (A.D. 1122-1150), adversus Judaeus, cap. 5, where, among the various kinds of books, he refers to such as are written on material made "ex rasuris veterum pannorum." (Ibid., 9th ed.)

In the second half of the 14th century the use of paper for all literary puposes had become well established in all western Europe, and in the course of the 15th century, it gradually superseded vellum. (Ibid.)

Watermarks or papermarks, as they are sometimes called, first appeared toward the end of the 13th century, either in France or Italy, and soon spread throughout Europe. (Ibid.) The early ones were usually simple in design, in time becoming more elaborate. The variety of subjects is most extensive. In the fourteenth century they were numbered by the hundreds, while in the 15th and 16th there were thousands. (Quackenbush.)

Watermarks are designs made of wire fastened at the bottom of a mold or screen used for the making of paper, in such a manner that the pulp takes the impression of the projecting wire; this impression remaining visible on the finished paper. (Ibid.) The craft of forming the wire watermarks that were applied to the molds has undergone few changes since the origin of papermarks in the thirteenth century. In Europe, before the eighteenth century, all paper was made on laid molds, and the sheets so molded retained the impressions of the laid and chain wires used in the construction of the molds. Any wire work, in the form of designs or objects, added to the top surface of this laid and chain wire covering also left clear impressions in the paper. The wire forms used in producing the watermarks were for centuries held in place on the mold's surface by means of threadlike wires stitched back and forth binding the twisted wire emblem to the laid and chain wires. (Dard Hunter, pp. 27-8.)

When we consider the enormous variety of designs and symbols that the medieval craftsmen used as watermarks, it is difficult to understand why they have not been the object of more extensive study. While it is possible to determine the approximate date of the introduction of watermarks in paper, the motive for the use of these mystic symbols has never been definitely or clearly established. In modern times watermarks are trademarks of the papermakers, pure and simple, but their ancient significance remains obscure. (p. 25.)

The first papermarks or watermarks appeared in Italy about the year 1270, and while these originals were artless in design, the emblems were so mystic in character that it is reasonable to believe that they were meant to convey a meaning or signal among the workers who fashioned them. It has been suggested that these old devices may have been used solely as marks of identification for sizes of moulds and the paper formed thereon, or, as they are used today, simply as trademarks of the papermakers. Other writers have advanced the theory that they may have been employed in a purely symbolic sense, as Mr. Harold Bayley sets forth in his books dealing with the semeiotic significance of the old papermakers' and printers' marks and emblems. According to Mr. Bayley, the watermarks of the Middle Ages were employed by the heretical papermakers as symbols of religious propaganda. Mr. Bayley attaches symbolic importance to each of the old watermarks and believes that these fantastic emblems embodied a hidden meaning understood only by the people of medieval times. This explanation of their use seems more probable than to try to account for the myriad watermark designs as symbols for the identification of paper sizes, or as trademarks of the makers of paper. (p. 26.)

It might be suggested that the old watermarks were little more than a capricious notion of the papermakers who may have created the designs to satisfy their own artistic feeling. Another supposition regarding the design and use of the early papermakers was that since the workmen could not read or write it was essential to appeal to them by means of pictures. Simply to have marked a mould with letters or numerals would have conveyed but slight meaning to the illiterate artisans of the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries; it was necessary to convey the meaning to them through the use of illustrations. For the same reason the signboards of inns and shops were of a pictorial nature inasmuch as the untutored populace could not have deciphered the lettered name had it been painted upon the swinging signs. (p. 27.)

The watermarks multiplied in number as the centuries passed, until there were literally thousands of different ciphers and symbols typifying almost every animal and vegetable form, as well as every part of the human body. In 1907 a dictionary of watermarks was published in Geneva, containing 16,112 facsimiles of watermarks from 1282 to 1600. (Les Filigranes: Dictionarie Historique des Marques du Papier dès leur Apparition vers 1282 jusqu'en 1600. C. M. Briquet.)

[In the next installment we shall consider more in particular the significance of the Albigensian watermarks as set forth by Harold Bayley in his remarkable book A New Light on the Renaissance, from which we have already so freely quoted.]

* * *

Sources used in this installment: Harold Bayley, A New Light on the Renaissance; Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ninth and Eleventh editions under "Paper"; W. Quackenbush, article "Watermarks," magazine The Bellman, February 10, 1917 (Minneapolis, Minn.); Dard Hunter, Romance of Watermarks (The Stratford Press, Cincinnati, Ohio).

(To be continued)


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