Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

One year closer to the end.

Today in the Midd... GLORIOUS ROMAN PAST

31st December, AD 192 - the Roman Emperor Commodus dies...

... sometimes the golden apple falls really far from the tree.

Word of the Week

This week's word: Line Filler

"A decorative device (abstract, foliate, zoomorphic, or anthropomorphic) that fills the remainder of a line not fully occupied by script. Line fillers were initially popularized in Insular and Pre-Carolingian art."

From: Michellle Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts - a Guide to Technical Terms, (J. Paul Getty Museum: Los Angeles, 1994), 80.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

History buffs' treasure hunt

Archaeology-loving students are preparing for the next step on their quest to discover ancient secrets hidden in an East Yorkshire field.

And they are inviting you to play a part in uncovering the centuries-old treasures which may be waiting to be brought to the surface in a quiet village.

The group struck lucky earlier this year when one of their members, 24-year-old University of York archaeology undergraduate Chris Bevan started digging in the back garden of his new home in Holme-on-Spalding Moor and found Roman remains.

More pottery artefacts were also discovered in the garden and a nearby field, and Chris - along with fellow history-hunters Ellie Cox, Preston Boles, Mark Bell and Chris Brown - now plan to focus their efforts on a second field in the village where they believe more links to the area's past are hidden in the new year. They are looking for volunteers to help them in their search.

Chris said: "We've done a preliminary scan of this second field and we are pretty sure there's Roman and medieval pottery there, and possibly some prehistoric pottery as well.

"It's difficult to say how much might be there, but we had around 2,000 finds in the first field we studied, so once we search the second one we could be looking at 4,000 to 5,000 finds in total.

We are hoping to do a field walk' - where the field is split into a grid and each person picks up everything they find in their particular section - in March and we are looking for around 15 or 20 volunteers to help us.

"If we get that many people offering to take part, we could complete the search in a couple of days. People don't need to have any archaeology experience - they just need to be interested in it, and it's always a good day out."

While delving into the past, Chris and his time-team have been helped by the University of York, where they all study, and members of the York and District Metal-Detecting Club.

Chris said: "There aren't many areas of the UK where you cannot find some sort of archaeology, but to discover something of this potential scale on my doorstep is definitely not something I was expecting when I moved here.

"It's difficult to say yet how significant a find this might be, but we could be about to come across some very important things because there are clearly an awful lot of artefacts here.

"There's no evidence yet that there was a settlement in the Holme-on-Spalding Moor area, but this search might be able to produce that evidence."

If you want to find out more about helping Chris and his team, email

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Today in the Middle Ages

29th December, 1170 - Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket slain by four knights of Henry II of England.

The same day knights of king Henry killed a baker and his family after the king stated that he'd kill for a good meat pie.

Friday, December 28, 2007

New homes plan will 'damage' St Andrews

Council's approval of 1000 new houses for St Andrews over the next 20 years, as part of more than 30,000 seen as needed across Fife, will damage the town beyond recognition.

That's the view of one of St Andrews' four councillors, Conservative Dorothea Morrison, in the wake of the local authority's approval of the finalised Fife Structure Plan — a blueprint for development over the next two decades.

Councillor Morrison said the ancient town, described by Historic Scotland as "the most important small historic burgh in Scotland and a medieval university town unique in Britain and rare in Europe," could not possibly retain its identity if it had to sustain 1000 new houses.
Her group on the council believe that 700 houses could be more easily absorbed.

However, even that would need to be handled "with extreme care," and use all the land available to the west of the town and brownfield (already in use) sites which could become available during the next 20 years.

Dispersing the new-build through all the settlements in the area would also lessen the impact of so many new houses, Councillor Morrision suggested, adding that "if and when" the Madras College Kilrymont Road site became available (pressure is on the council to build a long-awaited new single site secondary school in St Andrews) it could absorb some of the new houses.

The three Lib-Dem councillors for St Andrews — Frances Melville, Bill Sangster and Robin Waterston — are taking a cautiously optimistic view of the decision to approve the Structure Plan which is now in the hands of the Scottish Parliament.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Word of the Week - Bizzaro Version

This week's word: Monk

"Monks were assigned to monkeries, where they were supposed to live as nuns. Many, however, simply preyed by the day and played by the night. Fryers were required to take a vow of pottery."

From: Andrew Henriksson, Non Campus Mentis - World History According to College Students, (Workman Publishing Company: New York, 2001), 34.

Nativity scene confirmed as medieval gem

Books on medieval art will have to be rewritten after an ivory carving long dismissed as a forgery was confirmed as a masterpiece of the 12th or 13th century.

For more than a century, scholars could not believe that the exquisite Nativity and Last Judgment diptych was genuine. They assumed it to have been carved in the 18th or 19th centuries, when Gothic-style ivories were made. Carbon14 dating tests done in Britain and France have now placed it firmly in the 12th or 13th century.

John Lowden, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London – where it will have its first public display next month – said: “There was nothing else like it, therefore it wasn’t medieval.”
Throughout the 20th century it was in a private collection. Its previous provenance is unknown.

In 1924 it was published by the great scholar Raymond Koechlin, who thought it too architectural to be medieval.

Professor Lowden said: “If you accept as genuine something that’s a fake, you distort the historical record. If you reject something that is genuine, that does more damage to historical records. What you’re saying, in this case, is that because it’s so beautifully carved, it can’t be medieval. If it is medieval, we have to change our view of ivory carving. It is really beautiful, extraordinarily detailed and lively. It draws you in to construct a narrative.”

He pointed to details such as angels announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds, one of whom has been playing bagpipes: “He has taken the pipe out of his mouth and turned to express astonishment.” There are remarkable carvings of figures rising from tombs.

Two years after it was sold in Paris for €3,000 to the former owner of The Times, the late Lord Thomson of Fleet, it is now worth millions. Its first public show will be as part of an exhibition drawing on Lord Thomson’s magnificent collection formed over more than half a century. The display will feature about 45 of the finest medieval ivories.

There include statuettes of the Virgin and Child intended to stand on altars in chapels, small versions for the home and folding tablets or diptychs with scenes from the life of Christ, and a richly narrative 15th-century ivory comb, decorated with a carriage drawn by horse and mule, taking two couples to the fountain of youth.

A folding ivory tabernacle would have been used for personal devotion while travelling. Working with a block of ivory taken from the centre of the tusk, the sculptor cut away the material to form a standing Virgin and Child under a canopy supported on columns.

He then sliced thin panels off the sides and front of the block and carved them with scenes from Christ’s life in low relief. The hinged panels serve as small to protect the carved surfaces when closed and act as wings of a miniature altarpiece when open.

These works will form part of the new displays of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, which is in the final phase of a rebuilding programme led by the architect Frank Gehry. The Canadian-born Lord Thomson donated $50 million towards the building and $20 million as an endowment fund. His collection will go on display in its entirety next autumn.

Professor Lowden said “Kenneth Thomson was no mere trophy-gatherer. It is not too much to say that he made sense of the world through art.”

The ivories will be at the Courtauld, at Somerset House, from January 10 until March 9.

Today in the Middle Ages

28th December, 1065 - Westminster Abbey is consecrated.

Looks like December is a popular month for consecrations, personally I'd consecrate my monument to God at a warmer time of year. But I'm not the king then.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Partridge, a Pear Tree, a Price Tag That Grows

Maids a-milking finally received a raise this year and gold prices jumped, a combination that made it more costly than ever to bestow the elaborate set of gifts from the classic holiday carol “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

This year, the song’s true love would spend $19,507 to give every whimsy on the 12th day — from the partridge in a pear tree to the 12 drummers drumming — according to the holiday index tabulated by PNC Wealth Management in Pittsburgh.

That is up 3.1 percent over the cost of last year’s gift package, said James P. Dunigan, the company’s managing executive for investments.

“The first minimum-wage increase in a decade along with higher gold prices being passed to consumers were major reasons why the Christmas Price Index rose,” he said.

The company started tracking the cost of giving the medieval carol’s bevy of gifts — 364 items, if the partridge and its pear tree are counted together in each verse — 23 years ago as a catchy way of tracking economic trends. Goods used to be the burden on the true love’s pocketbook, but the cost of services has risen steadily since PNC began the index in 1984. Entertainment from the ladies dancing and lords a-leaping has increased 300 percent over the last two decades.

“What’s interesting is how closely the index tracks the Consumer Price Index,” Mr. Dunigan said. That index, the inflation measure produced by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, was up 4.3 percent in November from a year earlier.

Unskilled labor had remained consistently cheap for years, but the eight maids a-milking received their first raise in a decade after Congress lifted the minimum wage to $5.85 an hour. The maids can expect to receive more increases next year and in 2009.

Even so, their cost — $46.80 this year — is modest, and dwarfed by the 21.5 percent rise in the price of the five gold rings specified in the carol. That price tag came to $395, compared with $325 last year.

Among the tokens of affection, the six geese and four calling birds went up the most, 20 percent and 25 percent. Geese prices reflect higher prices for food, Mr. Dunigan said, and the price of calling birds — canaries, in today’s parlance — is driven up by demand and shipping costs.

Unlike last year, when the lords a-leaping, pipers piping, drummers drumming and ladies dancing ran up the bill, pay for skilled labor increased modestly in 2007. Nine ladies dancing commanded only a 3 percent increase, to $4,759, based on figures from Philadanco, a modern dance company based in Philadelphia.

The 10 lords a-leaping — based on prices provided by the Pennsylvania Ballet — also rose 3 percent, to $4,285. The 11 pipers were up 4.2 percent, to $2,213, and the dozen drummers also cost 4.2 percent more, at $2,397, based on information from a Pennsylvania musicians’ union.

This year, the partridge’s cost, according to information from the Cincinnati Zoo, remained the same — $15. But the pear tree went up to $149, a 15.4 percent increase, according to figures from a Philadelphia nursery, which attributed the price increase to commercial landscaping demand.

After all the verses — when the singer has 12 partridges in 12 pear trees — the song’s gifts would cost $78,100, up 4 percent over 2006. This contrasts with $128,886, a 2.5 percent increase from last year, to assemble the same gifts on the Internet. Giving only the gifts from the 12th day, an online shopper would be set back $31,249, 3 percent more than last year and significantly more than the old-fashioned way of gathering the gifts because shipping costs drive the tab higher.

The only time that the PNC index has not closely paralleled the Consumer Price Index was in 1995, when swan prices tumbled because of increased availability. The cost for seven swans a-swimming is $4,200 today, nearly half the price two decades ago.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas

From the Medieval Studies Course Union.

Today in the Middle Ages

25th December, AD 800 - Charlemagne crowned Roman emperor by Pope, in Rome.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure someone was born about 800 years earlier.

Monday, December 24, 2007

On the twelfth day of Christmas the MSCU gave to me...

Merry Christmas from the Medieval Studies Course Union!

MSCU Recipe: Peach Tart

Today's Recipe: Peach Tart

5 peaches (4 cups)
1/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. salt

1.) Peel peaches, remove pits, and slice.

2.) Parboil in water until just tender.

3.) Drain peaches well and place in pie crust.

4.) Make syrup of sugar, spices, and wine.

5.)Pour over peaches and cover with top crust, making a few slits in the top.

6.) Bake at 425°F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°F and bake until done, about 30-40 minutes more.

Today in the Middle Ages

24th December, AD 563 - The Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is inaugurated for the second time after being destroyed by earthquakes.

When at first you don't succeed...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the eleventh day of Christmas the MSCU gave to me...

MSCU Recipe: Strawberry

Today's Recipe: Strawberry

2 cups strawberries
1 cup red wine
1 cup almond milk
2 Tbsp. amidon
1/4 cup currants
pinch saffron
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1.) Clean and quarter strawberries.

2.) Simmer them in red wine until soft.

3.) Force berries and wine through a strainer to remove seeds and pulp.

4.) Add almond milk, currants, and spices, and return to low boil.

5.) Add in amidon (corn starch can be used as a substitute) and stir until thick.

6.) Remove from heat, garnish with pomegranite seeds, and serve warm.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the tenth day of Christmas the MSCU gave to me...

... ten commandments commanding,

MSCU Recipe: Spinach Tart

Today's Recipe: Spinach Tart

½ pound spinach, washed and chopped
½ cup parsley
1 tsp. chervil
1 tsp. fennel
½ cup parmesan, grated
1 ½ cups mozzarella, grated
6 eggs
1 tsp. powder fine

1.) Beat eggs, add all the other ingredients, and pour into a 9" pie shell.

2.) Bake at 350°F until firm - about an hour.

Thieves Target Historic Church Roofs

It was bad enough that thieves had stolen a roof, but outrageous that what they took topped the pride of this town, the soaring 12th-century Tewkesbury Abbey.

"It's awful. It's disastrous. It's incredibly sad," said Antonia Black, a local artist sitting in a cozy delicatessen on the town's quiet main street.

In addition to the abbey, she said, two other local churches have experienced their roofs being stripped, including one she had just visited: "On Sunday, we were sitting in service and the vicar said, 'Look up,' and we could see the sky."

The rooftop thefts, which have reached epidemic proportions, with more than 1,000 churches hit this year, are a function of the cost of lead. It has jumped from $450 a ton five years ago to $3,200 this year, according to police and insurance industry officials.

From one end of Britain to the other, there are centuries-old Anglican churches with the lead roofs that were popular in medieval times. Historic preservation laws require these landmarks to be repaired with original building materials, and so sometimes after repairs are finished, burglars strike again.

"Churches have always been a target for thieves, but this is particularly shocking because they are ripping the very fabric off the building," said Chris Pitt, spokesman for Ecclesiastic Insurance Group, a company that insures 16,500 Anglican churches in the United Kingdom.

More than 2,000 claims have been filed for metal thefts at churches in 2007, compared with 80 claims just two years ago, Pitt said.


Stone spires have been yanked away to get at the stuff. Holes in roofs have gone unnoticed until downpours inflict further damage, including the destruction of a $40,000 organ in one church.

The Rev. Canon Paul Williams, vicar of Tewkesbury Abbey, said parishioners see the centuries-old church as "an icon of hope," but thieves see it as an open cash drawer.

"We basically have pound notes stuck to the roof and professional criminals are risking their lives to get them down," he said. "Parishioners are really quite upset. This abbey is the heart and soul of this town."

Mike Jones, a carpenter who was working on the timber facade of the town's YMCA, said the church thieves might be working in daylight, pulling tons of lead off roofs and tossing it into their trucks.

"Nobody takes any notice when they see men on a roof," he said. "There are so many old buildings around here and they are always needing repair."

Theft of all kinds of metals is rising. Copper, for example, has also skyrocketed in value, now fetching around $7,000 a ton, up from $1,600 five years ago, according to the London Metal Exchange. This has led to thefts of copper cables from railways and power stations, British transport police say.

But many criminals favor lead, police say, because a ton can be ripped out of just a small patch of roof relatively quickly, and because so many old uninhabited buildings have it.


"It has a high street value and it's relatively easy to steal," said Tewkesbury detective Karen Janneh.

Janneh said police are going undercover and alerting scrap yards to cooperate in stopping the thefts. Tony Bennett, a partner at Bennett Brothers, which does metal recycling in northwest England, said police asked him to be "on the lookout for anything suspicious."

But recyclers, who use old lead for new products, particularly batteries, often have no idea whether the metal has come from a historic church or someone's underground plumbing, Bennett said. One batch of lead, he said, "looks the same as the last batch."

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's Christmas in Heaven!

Wow, it's just like reading Dante.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Christmas


On the ninth day of Christmas the MSCU gave to me...

MSCU Recipe: Apple Muse

Today's Recipe: Apple Muse

2 apples

1 cup almond milk

4 Tbsp. honey

1 cup (2 slices) bread crumbs

1 tsp. sandalwood

pinch saffron

dash salt

1.) Peel, core, and slice apples.

Boil them until soft and then press them through a sieve.

2.) Add almond milk, honey, bread crumbs, saffron, sandalwood, and salt and simmer.

Serves 4.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

On the eighth day of Christmas the MSCU gave to me...

Medieval Mappa honoured by Unesco

A famous medieval map of the world has been included in a list of the world's most important historical documents.

The Mappa Mundi, kept at Hereford Cathedral, has been added to the Unesco Memory of the World International Register, the Diocese of Hereford said.

Unesco said the 13th Century map was "pivotal" in understanding the medieval view of the world.

It shows Jerusalem at the centre and includes Biblical and historical events as well as geographical locations.

Unesco said: "The map is pivotal in our understanding of medieval cartography and sense of place and still has relevance to all peoples in helping them to understand their sense of humanity and self."

'Great honour'

The Diocese of Hereford said it was a "great honour" and hoped it would draw more tourists to the city.

Dominic Harbour, a spokesman for the diocese, said: "It means really that it is recognised as an object of international significance and importance to be preserved for the future of our civilisation."

The map measures 64in x 52in (1.62m x 1.32m) and was drawn on a single piece of vellum.
It bears the name of its author Richard of Haldingham or Lafford, which historians have identified as modern Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire.

The diocese hit the headlines in 1988 when it decided to sell the map in order to solve a financial crisis, but the plans were later dropped after the government and benefactors offered funding.

Other documents on the Unesco list include the Bayeux Tapestry, The Endeavour Journal of James Cook and the correspondence of Hans Christian Andersen.

MSCU Recipe: Pynade

Today's Recipe: Pynade

2 cups honey
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. galengale
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (canelle)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. grains of paradise
1 cup pine nuts

1.) Put honey, spices, and pine nuts into a saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.) Keep boiling the mixture until it reaches 300°F (what's called "hard crack stage" in candy making).

3.) Pour onto a baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil. Allow to cool and then break it into pieces and serve.