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The domain of a monastery constituted a major connection between the religious community and the secular world outside its enclosure walls. Mostly acquired through substantial gifts, the domain of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes evolved rapidly during the first seventy-five years of the abbeys existence. After the middle of the twelfth century, gifts became more numerous, but tended to become smaller. Together with purchases and exchanges, they seem, especially in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to be used to expand or consolidate properties already held by the abbey.
Saint-Jean’s domain eventually consisted of more than forty priories and parishes, a dozen farms as well as numerous mills, ovens, and other land holdings, rights and privileges. Our sources for knowledge of what the abbey owned and when the brothers acquired it depends primarily on study of the abbey’s two cartularies (Paris, BnF nal 10044 and Soissons Bibl. mun. ms 5) that contain records of gifts, purchases and exchanges. An early sixteenth-century terrier (property register) contains a complete list of the abbey’s holdings at that time (Soissons, Bibl. mun. ms 6). This manuscript is enormously rich in information, but is exceptionally difficult to read. It remains largely unstudied and is unpublished.
In our study of Saint-Jean’s domain, we have preferred to work from the abbey’s cartularies, moving forward from the foundation to be able produce maps that reflect the phases in the growth and development of the abbey’s holdings. Doing so has allowed us be able to assert that the shape and extent of the domain were suggested from the time of foundation in 1076 and to suggest that the domain was largely defined by about 1140. The abbey was, in its holdings, a large dioscesan community, with nearly all of its property falling within the limits of the diocese of Soissons. That the distribution of Saint-Jean’s holdings was eccentrically distributed to the south relative to the location of the abbey itself became evident early on and it became a research question to explain how such a domain might have been administered. Applying central place theory and spatial analysis to the distribution allowed us to suggest that the abbey related to its holding through a set of sub-centers located in regional castles and that these subcenters related directly to the properties themselves. Subsequent textual study confirmed this interpretation by identifying Joannine priories or parishes in all but one of the castles in question.