The abbot Oliba (Besalú 971 – Sant Miquel de Cuixà, Conflent 1046), Benedictine abbot, bishop and count of Berga and Ripoll (998-1003). Third child of the Count Oliba Cabreta of Cerdanya and Besalú, born of his wife Ermengarda, and great grand child of the Count of Barcelona, Guifré el Pilós.

On the death of his father in 988 Oliba began to exercise together with his siblings and mother the functions of the count over all the family’s estate. Therefore, while his brother Bernat inherited Besalú, and Guifré inherited Cerdanya, Oliba received the estates of Berga and Ripoll.

In 1002 he renounced the rights as count and entered in to the monastery of Santa Maria in Ripoll. In 1008, between 29 July and 8 August, he was elected as the monastery’s abbot, and thus he became the seventh abbot of the monastery.

The same year, 1008, a few days before elected in Ripoll, he was chosen as abbot of the Monastery of Sant Miquel de Cuixà, an abbey under the patronage of his family, like that of Ripoll. Thus Oliba became the abbot of the two most important  monasteries in Catalonia at that time.

Almost certainly on the wishes of the Countess Ermessenda de Carcassona, countess of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, in the year 1018 Oliba was appointed Bishop of Vic.

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In order to understand the works of Abbot Oliba it is necessary to have an adequate understanding of the historical context, briefly going over the relevant history. Abbot Oliba was the great grandson of the Count Guifré el Pilós, and it was precisely because of this figure that the land began to change and the reality as experienced by the abbot began to emerge, with the three pillars, or powers, of the medieval society: the political organization, the church and the monasteries.

When Guifré received his title he was faced with the fact that the territories of Catalonia were such that his domains were set in the middle of an area known as “no man’s land”; they were the counties of Osona and Bages.

Previously these lands were not very important but by then it had become vital to establish a direct communications route between Barcelona and Cerdanya, and to ensure a solid frontier to defend it from the Muslims. This line would be formed by the rivers Llobregat, Cardener and the Segre. It remained valid during centuries.

The zone was then repopulated as up to the Arab frontier there was a vast unpopulated extension. All of this was related to the uprising of Aissó on the Plain of Vic, in 826 and 827. Once the uprising was under control, the zone was devastated and left unpopulated. When Guifré became Count of Barcelona and Girona he took responsibility for the repopulating of Ripollès, Plana de Vic, Guilleries and Lluçanès from 879 onwards. In a short time the ecclesiastical and civil hierarchical structures had been established (the law courts, parishes, and castles). These structures were working both in Ripollès and on the Plana de Vic.

The second pillar of the organization of society was the church. While the repopulation was carried out different churches and monasteries were consecrated, and a new bishop’s diocese was installed in Vic, depending on the archbishop of Narbonne until it was sufficiently prosperous and autonomous for Vic to be a bishop’s diocese in its own right, from about 887 onwards.

Finally, the third pillar were the monasteries. Due to the strengthening of the counts’ powers, several monasteries were founded: Eixalada-Cuixà, Ripoll and Sant Joan de les Abadesses. Two of these monasteries, Cuixà and Ripoll were under the control of the abbot Oliba.

Today the figure of the abbot Oliba is seen as very important for the Catalan culture. This is due to the fact that he was one of the most influential and relevant personalities of his times. Taking advantage of the position he occupied he travelled widely, not only around Catalonia, but also in Europe to places like Narbonne, Rome and Lombardy. This contact with different areas of Europe made it possible that through the abbot Oliba new movements and ideas could reach Catalonia, represented above all by the Romanesque style of architecture. He provided a great impulse for it across Catalonia. Very often when he returned from these journeys he was accompanied by artists, technicians and master builders from Lombardy who worked on the constructions.

These are the reasons why the abbot Oliba is considered as the person who introduced Romanesque architecture to Catalunya. Under his control the master builders who came back with him on his journeys contributed important elements such as the vaulted ceilings, the domes, the Lombard arches and the belfries, which were introduced as architectural novelties at the time. Some of the most note-worthy highlights which he promoted were:

• In the ten years from 1025 to1035, the abbot Oliba founded the monastery of Montserrat. He made it an annex of the Ripoll monastery and sent monks from Ripoll to Montserrat.
• He directed the work on the Basilica of Santa Maria in Ripoll, considered one of the jewels of Romanesque architecture and consecrated in the year 1032.
• In addition he participated in the re-organization of the Priory of Manresa in 1020; Casserres in 1039 and Cardona in 1040.
• He also ensured the introduction of different Romanesque elements such as the aforementioned vaulted ceilings, domes, Lombard arches and the belfries present in Vic, Ripoll, Cuixà, Sant Miquel de Fluvià, Casserres, and the crypts at Cuixà and Cardona, etc.

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The importance of the abbot Oliba to the monastery of Ripoll is really remarkable. He converted the monastery of Santa Maria of Ripoll into a first line intellectual centre.

His great contribution to culture meant that on his death in 1046 the total number of book manuscripts in the monastery’s scriptorium had increased to 982. There the monks copied a diversity of books, on music, mathematics, homilies, etc, and the star elements were the three great bibles.

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The relationship of the abbot Oliba with the Monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses was not direct as this monastery belonged to an order of nuns. However, the relationship was important for the events that arose out it: the disappearance of the community of nuns at Sant Joan and the creation of the ephemeral bishop’s diocese of Besalú.

In 1017 the community of nuns at Sant Joan de les Abadesses came to an end. The abbot Oliba was one of the figures who presented a complaint before Pope Benet VIII alleging that that the abbess and the nuns were guilty of immoral and scandalous behaviour.

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Once Osona had been conquered again and the diocese of the bishop re-established, the appointment of the bishop Oliba meant that he was number one, and according to the records he became the fifteenth bishop of Vic. The post of the bishop was such that he could exercise his religious authority beyond the monastery’s field of influence.

One point to be remarked on about his period as bishop of Vic are the numerous religious buildings he promoted in the territory as bishop and abbot. That is why the Romanesque architecture of Ripollès is closely tied up with that of Osona.

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From the ninth through to the twelfth century both the town of Manresa and all the county of Bages suffered the devastating intermittent attacks from the Arabs.

It was necessary to rebuild the city, as was done with the mediation of the Countess Ermesenda, widow of Count Borrell and mother of Berenguer Ramón I. Once she had arrived in Manresa in the company of her son and the abbot Oliba, together with her entourage she declared the restoration of the church of Santa Maria in Manresa, the restoration of the city and the re-population of the town and the area around it.

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