Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Whether it's 1066 or 2009, all the best for the New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Jokus Maximus

The Latin professor's class was conjugating verbs and it got to be Julius's turn. He had not been paying close attention. He turned to the student beside him and asked, "What's the verb?"

She replied, "Damn if I know."

So our hero sat up and conjugated:

Damifino, damifinas, damifinat.

Damifinamus, damifinatis, damifinant.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Today in the Middle Ages

22nd December, 1216: Dominican order formally sanctioned...

... and for the next 792 years they fought vampires, demons and the forces of darkness.

MSCU Best Medieval Movies of 2008 -- In Bruges

Ken: Coming up?

Ray: What's up there?

Ken: The view.

Ray: The view of what? The view of down here? I can see that down here.

Ken: Ray, you are about the worst tourist in the whole world.

Ray: Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't.

-- In Bruges

Dante's Inferno -- the Game

Wye Valley Brewery launches new beers for 2009

Herefordshire’s Wye Valley Brewery has designed a range of new beers for every month of 2009.

Some of the beers are brewed with local ingredients such as Herefordshire honey and Herefordshire nettles.

Others are named after local icons. These include a beer to celebrate the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the largest surviving medieval map in the world and a beer to celebrate the centenary year of the local Morgan Motor company.

Lizzie Thomas, marketing executive at Wye Valley, said: “Pubs are always looking for new beers. It’s exciting for customers to see something different behind the pump every month. They enjoy trying beers with different ABV’s and different tastes.”

She added: “Many of the Wye Valley beers this year will have a local theme. Herefordshire is a great county for hops and we wanted to celebrate that."

From: The

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Treasure hunter finds ancient coins

A hoard of medieval silver coins has been found buried in ground at Wellow, it was revealed this week.

The 16 silver pennies were found by an amateur treasure- hunter, using a metal detector, and are being examined by experts at the British Museum.

They have been pronounced treasure-trove, and are in the process of being acquired by the Roman Baths Museum.

They could later be mounted in a display at Radstock Museum.

Roman Baths and Pump Room manager Stephen Clews said that they dated from the 13th century.

They are Short Cross English coins with the exception of one Scottish coin.

Mr Clews said: "They were found with a metal detector used with the authority of the landowner, and were buried in the ground.

"They have been through the treasure-trove process, with expert opinion from the British Museum: the process is that the British Museum takes it if it wishes to, or offers it to an appropriate local museum.

"It will go to the Roman Baths Museum with a display mounted there.

"We are also talking to Radstock Museum about the prospect of putting on a display."

The coins' face falue was 12-and-a-half old pennies each, and the modern equivalent would be between £10 and £20 each.

"But they are an interesting find," said Mr Clews.

The exact location of the find is not being revealed.

V&A to begin work on £30m medieval and Renaissance galleries project

The Victoria and Albert Museum is to put its entire collection of medieval and Renaissance art into one continuous display for the first time, thanks to a £30 million project to improve its galleries.

One of the 10 new galleries will feature translucent onyx window screens, so the light falling on the religious artefacts shown will be just like that in medieval churches.

The galleries project is the biggest at the museum since 2001, when it launched a £31 million initiative to transform the British Galleries.

Over the next 12 months builders will get to work putting the plans by architects MUMA into practice.

The idea has been to utilise dead space on the South Kensington site and illuminate the vast collection with natural light where possible.

More than 1,800 objects, covering the period from 300 to 1,600, will be re-displayed.

Highlights from across the ages will include the Symmachi Panel, described by the V&A as "one of the finest surviving ivories from the Late Antique Period in Rome" dating from around 400AD; to "the largest and most splendid of the enamel caskets dedicated to St Thomas Becket", dating from about 1180; to the Boar and Bear Hunt tapestry, one of the only "great hunting tapestries to have survived from the 15th century."

There will also be an entire gallery dedicated to the work of the 15th century Italian sculptor, Donatello.

The Heritage Lottery Fund provided £9.75 million funding, while private donors funded much of the remainder.

Mark Jones, director of the V&A, said: "We hope that the new displays, featuring some of the most beautiful and historic objects from our collections, will inspire all our visitors."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Life and Death of a Pumpkin

In honour of today's MSCU event.

Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey in York turned into a digital canvas

The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey are to be lit up with giant medieval faces and echo with music and sound effects as the highlight of York digital arts festival.

Ross Ashton, whose light installation Accendo will also be projected on to the Yorkshire Museum, said that he was exploring “the relationship between science and religion, both of which try to make sense of the world. I took my inspiration from the parallels between York’s iconic buildings and the historic principles of science and religion.”

Ashton has previously projected his light installations on to Buckingham Palace.
The festival, which begins today, showcases several artists and hopes to encourage people to look at the city at night in a different way.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Today in the Middle Ages

14 October, 1066 - Norman Conquest: Battle of Hastings

Pumpkin Carving Event

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlemagne!

The Medieval Studies Corpse Union is holding a very spooky events this October.

Since many of us live away from home we miss many of the holiday rituals. To celebrate the scariest time of year, the MSCU will be holding a third annual Pumpkin Carving Day!

Come along and bring your fiends ... er friends (living or dead) and carve a pumpkin for your favourite professor. We'll provide everything you need to make a fearsome jack-o-lantern - pumpkins, cutting tools, clean-up supplies, candy, bags to dispose of the remains.

We're holding this event on Thursday, October 23th starting at 4:00 pm in the courtyard of Clearihue. Dress warmly - you wouldn't want to catch your death of cold. If the weather does not cooperate, we'll move to Clearihue D130.

To make this event even more exciting, we're teaming up with the Greek and Roman Studies Course Union. This group of boys and gouls also enjoy carving the cold flesh of pumpkins.

You know what they say: the more, the scarier...

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) Trailer

Movie Night! Come join us Friday October 17, 2008 in Cle A 206. We'll be watching "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" starting at 7:30, but feel free to come late! There will be munchies!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

MSCU Event Update

Here are some things to keep in mind for this October!

1. The reading room (Clearihue D265) is open Mondays until 6pm. Come visit your friendly MSCU execs!

2. Movie Night! Come join us Friday October 17, 2008 in Cle A 206. We'll be watching "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" starting at 7:30, but feel free to come late! There will be munchies!

3. Pumpkin Carving. TBA, but as it sits right now, we'll be having this annual event on Thursday October 23 @ 4pm. Come make a pumpkin for your favorite prof!

4. Novermber Event! Just to jump a head a little here. Tentatively, on Monday Nov. 10 we'll be doing our annual "Commune with Nature." We go up to Goldstream park and watch the salmon "hump" and then try to climb the moutain! 'Tis good fun! Picnic lunch at the top!!

If you want to be completely up to date, please join our Facebook group "UVic Medieval Studies Course Union."

Hope to see you all out at these fun events!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rule: All Webcomics will Eventually Feature the Middle Ages

From: Creased

MSCU General Meeting

On Thursday October 2nd starting at 4:00 pm in Clearihue A304 the MSCU will be holding its first general meeting of the year.

Q. What is a general meeting?

A. General meetings are open to all students who are interested in the MSCU. At this meeting the MSCU Executive will present their activity plans for the year. But the best part of this meeting is your participation.

The MSCU Executive is here to serve the students of UVic. While we like hearing the sounds of our own voices, we really want to hear from you. What kinds of activities do you want to see? Do you want academic activities, social activities or a mixture of both? We encourage students to bring their ideas and suggestions to this meeting. You can shape the direction of the MSCU.

If you are interested in making your voice heard or meeting the members of the MSCU, we encourage you to come to the General Meeting. If you have ideas but cannot come to the meeting, please send us and email.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reminds me of a certain professor

From: Married to the

Historic, Medieval Castle's Date With Auctioneer Approaches

The last act in a family’s long-running ownership dispute over a magnificent, 800-year-old Belgian castle will play out in an auctioneer’s house in Brussels on September 22, 2008. On that date, the third and final session for the public sale of the historic castle, Corroy-le-Château, will occur.

The castle, situated just south of Brussels, is surrounded by a moat and borders a 12-hectare, protected park. With walls and seven massive original towers dating to the 13th century, the property’s pristine condition makes it one of Europe’s only remaining perfectly-preserved castles.

Inhabited today by the same family descended from the original owners, the castle has undergone continuous transformation over the centuries and has been maintained in immaculate condition, preserving both its mythical quality and modern comfort throughout its 5,000 square meters of habitable space.

The castle’s status as a historic landmark provides the additional benefit of eligibility for government subsidies for any major work. Its majestically decorated parlors, beautiful corridors, bright interiors and sweeping staircases continue to attract touring groups and cultural performers, offering the possibility of dual use as both a residence and commercial endeavor.

A family dispute between the existing owners over the use of the castle culminated in a court decision which led eventually to the castle’s sale by public auction. The first two rounds of bidding yielded a current offer of €2.1 million ($3.1 million), an astonishingly low price in view of current European real estate values (see August 28 International Herald Tribune article, “In Brussels, French elite find favorable real estate values”

Today in the Mid...GLORIOUS ROMAN PAST

21st September 19 BC - The Roman poet Virgil dies

21st September AD 1947 - The American author Stephen King is born

Is Stephen King the reincarnation of Virgil? Spoooooooooky...

Obscure Latin Word of the Week

This week's word: vagio, -ire

to whimper as a child.

How to use this word in daily life:

1. After a test - "Man, that test made me vagio - I should have studied more."

2. At the end of Moulin Rouge - "I can't finish that movie without vagio-ing. The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to lo... *sob* *sob*."

3. During karaoke - "It's hard to un-derstand/ how the tooouch of your hand/ has got me vagio-ing, vagio-ing, vagio-ing/ ooover you."

Friday, September 12, 2008

MSCU Movie Night

On Friday September 12th starting at 7:00 pm in Clearihue A206 we will be hosting our first movie night of the year.

We will be showing the classic 1987 film The Princess Bride. Come and eat, drink and be merry with us! Food and refreshment will be provided free of change.

As an added bonus, students who are in their first, second or third year who come to our first two movie nights of the year will be entered in a draw to win a prize! What is this mysterious prize?

Well it's a... wait, let's not spoil the surprise.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Welcome to the Medieval Studies Course Union

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the MSCU:

1. What is it? The Medieval Studies Course Union serves to connect students with an interest in the middle ages. UVic can be a big and often intimidating place, finding peers with similar interests can be difficult. Students involved in the MSCU have a wide variety of interests. We hold both academic meetings (i.e. Latin study groups, discussion nights, undergraduate conferences, etc.) and social activities (i.e. skating nights, parties, movie nights, etc.).

2. Why should I be involved? Simply put - the more you put into your experience at UVic, the more you get out of it. Students in the MSCU have made lasting friendships and have shared experiences which have enriched their time here immeasurably. As an added bonus, involvement in academic course unions can be used when applying for graduate studies. MSCU members have received scholarships based, in part, on their involvement with the course union.

3. Can I be involved? Any student with an interest in the Middle Ages can be involved with the MSCU. There is no need for you to be a Medieval Studies Major, Minor or even to be registered in a Medieval Studies course.

Coming Out Soon

"Satan's Alley"

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Obscure Latin Word of the Week

This week's word: palmifer - fera, -ferum

abounding in palm trees.

How to use this word in daily life:

1. As a compliment - "My what a palmifer garden you have! I've never seen so many palms in one place."

2. As a pick-up line - "Baby, if your love is a palm tree and my heart is a garden, then I would have one palmifer garden."

3. In a noir detective novel - "And then she walked in. That dame had more trouble in her than palms in an oasis: a palmifer oasis..."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Medieval manuscript stays in UK

An 13th Century manuscript, thought to be the earliest surviving English roll of arms, is to stay in the UK.

The British Library paid £194,184 for the Dering Roll, which depicts the coats of arms of medieval knights from Kent and Sussex.

It was auctioned in December 2007 but culture Minister Margaret Hodge placed an export bar on the item.

The British Library said the document was a vital record for the study of knighthood in medieval England.

The painted roll of arms, which is about 2.6m (8.7ft) long, is thought to have been produced in Dover in the last quarter of the 13th Century. '

It contains 324 coats-of-arms beginning with two of King John's illegitimate children, Richard Fitz Roy and William de Say.

Above each shield is written the knight's name.

The 17th Century politician and Lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir Edward Dering, erased a coat-of-arms on the roll and replaced it with one that bore the name of a fictional ancestor, Richard fitz Dering, in an attempt to forge his family history.

Claire Breay, of British Library, said: "The Dering Roll was identified as a priority acquisition for the British Library, and we are very pleased that we were able to secure the funding required to purchase the Roll and keep it in the UK.

"The acquisition of the Dering Roll provides an extremely rare chance to add a manuscript of enormous local and national significance which will greatly strengthen and complement its existing collection."

'Appealing work'

The British Library received a £100,000 National Heritage Memorial Fund grant, £40,000 from The Art Fund and £10,000 each from the Friends of the National Libraries and Friends of the British Library to help buy the item.

David Barrie, director of The Art Fund, said: "This is the oldest English heraldic manuscript known, and offers a fascinating insight into courtly life in the reign of Edward I.

"It is also a very appealing work of art which probably arose from one man's attempt to prove the noble ancestry of his own family."

The manuscript is currently on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Welcome back

Back to school. Are you excited?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Knights Templar heirs in legal battle with the Pope

The heirs of the Knights Templar have launched a legal battle in Spain to force the Pope to restore the reputation of the disgraced order which was accused of heresy and dissolved seven centuries ago.

The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ, whose members claim to be descended from the legendary crusaders, have filed a lawsuit against Benedict XVI calling for him to recognise the seizure of assets worth 100 billion euros (£79 billion).

They claim that when the order was dissolved by his predecessor Pope Clement V in 1307, more than 9,000 properties as well as countless pastures, mills and other commercial ventures belonging to the knights were appropriated by the church.

But their motive is not to reclaim damages only to restore the "good name" of the Knights Templar.

"We are not trying to cause the economic collapse of the Roman Catholic Church, but to illustrate to the court the magnitude of the plot against our Order," said a statement issued by the self-proclaimed modern day knights.

The Templars was a powerful secretive group of warrior monks founded by French knight Hugues de Payens after the First Crusade of 1099 to protect pilgrims en route to Jerusalem.

They amassed enormous wealth and helped to finance wars waged by European monarchs, but spectacularly fell from grace after the Muslims reconquered the Holy Land in 1244 and rumours surfaced of their heretic practices.

The Knights were accused of denying Jesus, worshipping icons of the devil in secret initiation ceremonies, and practising sodomy.

Many Templars confessed to their crimes under torture and some, including the Grand Master Jacques de Molay, were burned at the stake.

The legal move by the Spanish group comes follows the unprecedented step by the Vatican towards the rehabilitation of the group when last October it released copies of parchments recording the trials of the Knights between 1307 and 1312.

The papers lay hidden for more than three centuries having been "misfiled" within papal archives until they were discovered by an academic in 2001.

The Chinon parchment revealed that, contrary to historic belief, Clement V had declared the Templars were not heretics but disbanded the order anyway to maintain peace with their accuser, King Philip IV of France.

Over the centuries, various groups have claimed to be descended from the Templars and legend abounds over hidden treasures, secret rituals, and their rumoured guardianship of the Holy Grail.

Most recently the knights have fascinated the modern generation after being featured in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code.


Obscure Latin Word of the Week

This week's word: hebdomas f. -adis

seventh day of a disease (supposedly critical)

How to use this word in daily life:

1. At work - "*cough**cough* I can't come into work day, my cold has progressed to the hebdomas, a critical day in my recovery."

2. At a drug store - "If the pus hasn't stopped by the hebdomas, take some penicillin."

3. As a pick-up line: "No way baby, I'm clean. It's been seven days and I haven't had a hebdomas yet."

Today in the Midd...GLORIOUS ROMAN PAST



31st August A.D. 12 - Gaius Cailgula is born

31st August A.D. 161 - Commodus is born

Wow, don't trust anyone born today (I'm looking at you Richard Gere)

Saturday, August 30, 2008


aka "Space Jesus and the Vikings versus the alien space dragon."

Solar-Powered Nanotech-Purified Air In Medieval Churches

Tiny gold particles found in medieval gold paint reacted with sunlight to destroy air-borne pollutants, one researcher found

The glaziers who created gold-painted stained glass windows for medieval churches in Europe inadvertently developed a solar-powered nanotech air-purification system.

According to Zhu Huai Yong, an associate professor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, the gold paint used in medieval-era stained glass windows purified the air when heated by sunlight.

"For centuries people appreciated only the beautiful works of art, and long life of the colors, but little did they realize that these works of art are also, in modern language, photocatalytic air purifier with nanostructured gold catalyst," said Zhu in a statement.

Zhu said that tiny gold particles found in medieval gold paint react with sunlight to destroy air-borne pollutants like volatile organic chemicals/compounds (VOCs), which are emitted from paints, lacquers, and glues, among other things.

"These VOCs create that 'new' smell as they are slowly released from walls and furniture, but they, along with methanol and carbon monoxide, are not good for your health, even in small amounts," Zhu said.

When interacting with gold particles, sunlight creates an electromagnetic field that reacts with the oscillating electrons in the gold. This field resonates and breaks apart pollutants in the air, according to Zhu. The byproduct is small amounts of carbon dioxide, which is better than carbon monoxide in terms of human health.

Zhou expects his research will help make the production of chemicals at room temperature more cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Obscure Latin Word of the Week

This week's word: essedarius m -i
a fighter in a British or Gallic war-chariot.

How to use this word in daily life:

1. As a pick-up line - "Baby are you an essedarius? Because you just slayed my heart like a British or Gallic warrior."

2. At a sporting event - "Ah come on! A blind-folded essedarius could have made that play!"

3. At a job interview - "I'm a team player. It takes more than one essedarius to drive back a Roman legion."

We're still alive!

Both the MSCU and this very blog have fallen dormant this summer. Now that September is nearly upon us, the mighty MSCU rises from it's slumber and begins to shake the dust from itself.

This is a quick announcement to let you know that the MSCU is back this September, and dare I say it, better than ever.

We have a slew of activities which we will begin unveiling in the first weeks of the coming month. Great things are also in store for this blog. I don't want to go into too great of detail yet, but let me say that changes are in the works.

In addition to the alluded changes, look for more original content, more news and more new features.

Today in the Middle Ages

30th August, A.D. 526 - Theodoric the Great dies...

... and is buried in a sweet bathtub.

Ye Olde Webecomicse

For more entertaining and tangentially medieval comics, visit The Perry Bible Fellowship

Medieval hall that spent 400 years as a barn brought back to life

A medieval great hall that was used as a barn for more than 400 years has won a new restoration award after being converted into a family library.

Playwright Ian Curteis and his wife Lady Deirdre Curteis spent more than £100,000 turning the 13th century hall back into the heart of their moated Yorkshire home, Markenfield Hall. Their efforts have won them the £5,000 award, jointly run by the Historic Houses Association (HHA) and auction house Sotheby's.

Mr Curteis admitted part of the motivation was to house his collection. But he said the over-riding reason was to "breath life" back into the room for the first time since 1570.

That year Markenfield Hall was confiscated from Sir Thomas Markenfield, a Catholic, by Elizabeth I after he backed a revolt against the queen. Mr Curteis said: "He was forced into exile and died in poverty."

Elizabeth I handed the house to Sir Thomas Edgerton who turned it into a farm. Only now has it been returned to its former glory, thanks to Mr Curteis and his wife, who is descended from the Markenfield line.

Markenfield Hall beat some 40 contenders to win the competition. Three runners-up –Harewood House in Yorkshire, Paxton House in Scotland and Wilton House in Wiltshire – were also highly commended.

Nine medieval ships found in Oslo mud

The largest collection of antique shipwrecks ever found in Norway has been discovered under mud at the building site for a new highway tunnel in Oslo, the project's lead archaeologist said Friday.

The archaeologist, Jostein Gundersen, said at least nine wooden boats, the largest of them 17 meters, or 56 feet, long, were found well preserved nearly 400 years after they sank at Bjoervika, an Oslo inlet near the new national opera house.

"For us, this is a sensation," he said. "There has never been a find of so many boats and in such good condition at one site in Norway."

The wrecks were remarkably well preserved because they had been covered in mud and fresh water, where river waters reach the sea, he said.

"We have a fantastic opportunity to learn more about old shipbuilding techniques and the old harbors," said Gundersen of the Norwegian Maritime Museum in Oslo.

He said the wrecks were believed to have sunk sometime after a fire swept the wooden buildings of old Oslo in 1624. After that disaster, the Danish-Norwegian king, Kristian IV, ordered the city center moved before reconstruction started.

The discovered boats were moored at the old port, which became a remote area after the city was moved. He said the boats might have been 30 or 40 years old when they sank.

"There is nothing to indicate that the ships were deliberately scuttled," Gundersen said. "They could have sunk one by one, because of sloppy mooring or poor maintenance, or maybe sank in a storm."

He said the wreckage would be charted and removed as quickly as possible, so construction of the undersea tunnel could continue. It will then take years, he said, to examine all the ship's remnants back at the museum.

Gundersen said the find will help fill gaps in knowledge of vessels between Norwegian Viking ships of about 1,000 years ago and more modern vessels.

Monks' network of medieval canals discovered in aerial photos

An extensive network of medieval canals which were used by monks in punts have been discovered in the Lincolnshire fens, researchers revealed.

Around 56 miles of waterways, which are now blocked by silt and hidden in the fen landscape, were found using aerial photographs, the Royal Geographical Society's annual conference was told.

It is thought the canals, which would have been 20ft to 40ft wide, were built by the monasteries in the area after 9th century raids by Vikings who destroyed many monastic sites.

Civil engineer and archaeologist Martin Redding said the schemes were unlikely to have been created for drainage alone because of the huge costs involved.

Instead they would have been used first to ferry locally-quarried stone to rebuild the monastic sites, which belonged to orders including the Benedictines and Cistercians.

They would then have been used to carry the rich resources of the fens to market in "fen lighters", which are shallow, flat-bottomed boats.

The cargo could have included cranberries, as research on a now extinct acidic peat bog in the Lincolnshire Fens has confirmed it would have been an ideal area for growing the fruit.

Mr Redding, a member of the Witham Valley Archaeology Research Committee, said it is likely each monastery had its own network of canals connecting parts of its estate including its farms.

Mr Redding said the canals showed "breathtaking engineering projects" were being undertaken in the fens 800 to 1,000 years ago.

He added the canals would have lasted until around the 14th century when rising sea levels would have made their operation increasingly difficult, while the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century probably finally ended the system.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Lifting the lid on Roman secrets

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have lifted the lid on a second coffin discovered at a dig site in Newcastle.

Two Roman stone sarcophagi were uncovered on land earmarked for development.

The 1,800-year-old sandstone coffins are the first such find – and arguably the most impressive – in the area for more than 100 years.

They are thought to have been used to bury members of a rich and powerful family from the nearby fort of Pons Aelius.

One tomb contained the poorly-preserved skeleton of a child and the second sarcophagus held the remains of a female.

They have been removed from the site by experts from Durham University.

Other discoveries in Forth Street include cremation urns, a cobbled Roman road and a medieval well, the remains of the foundations of Roman shops and workers' homes, and the remains of flint tools from Stone Age hunter-gatherers.

All the finds from the site will eventually go to the new Great North Museum in Newcastle, where the sarcophagi will be preserved for the public to see.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Church unveils icon

A Herefordshire church has installed an icon of its namesake who became a saint.

The Rev Michael Cluett, of St Lawrence Church in Canon Pyon, commissioned the painting of St Lawrence, who was martyred in Rome in AD 258.

Mr Cluett said: “The church is dedicated to St Lawrence but we had nothing in the church of him.

“We thought it would be good to make an icon of him and after seeing the new icons of Ethelbert in Hereford Cathedral, we got in touch with the artist.”

Artist Peter Murphy used traditional medieval techniques and materials such as gold leaf to create the authentic icon.

The cost has been met through fundraising and, this weekend, the church is holding its annual flower festival, from 10am until 6pm.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Dark Age for Medievalists

From the Weekly Standard:

A Dark Age for Medievalists
At their annual congress in Kalamazoo, it's no longer your grandfather's Middle Ages.
by Charlotte Allen
06/02/2008, Volume 013, Issue 36

Standing before an audience of about 25 academics, all professors and graduate students specializing in the Middle Ages, in a chilly classroom on the vast campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Jeff Persels, a lanky associate professor of French and director of European studies at the University of South Carolina, was reading aloud a scholarly paper at the 43rd International Congress on Medieval Studies. The paper's title was "The Wine in the Urine: Managing Human Waste in French Farce." The paper was about, well, the wine in the urine, or perhaps the urine in the wine. Its topic is a 15th-century farce, or lowlife comic drama, about an adulterous wife who uses a wine bottle as an impromptu chamber pot, with predictably gross results involving her husband and her lover.

Persels's paper didn't discuss the play simply as an example of Rabelaisian-style scatology, however. The perspective he used was the postmodernist discipline of "cultural studies," which means pushing works of literature (or movies or television shows or ad campaigns or whatever) through a Marxist cheesegrater as examples of the way society conditions its members to accept the views of a dominant class. In Persels's view, the wine-bottle farce marked a stage in the development of what he called the "bourgeois fecal habitus." Translated out of postmodern-ese into plain English, that means the tendency of uptight middle-class people not to want to talk in public about matters pertaining to the bathroom and to assume that those who do are kind of crude. "The excretory experience became associated with the proletariat," Persels explained. Although he seemed eager to demonstrate that he personally didn't share those uptight middle-class views, at least one of the academics in his audience remained unconvinced that a secret bourgeois habitus didn't lurk underneath his antinomian veneer. "Excretory?" she whispered to a fellow medievalist sitting next to her. "Why doesn't he just say shit?"

And you thought that the Middle Ages was all about jousting knights and damsels in distress. That's because you have never attended the medievalists' congress, the annual first-weekend-in-May ritual at Western Michigan where Persels read his wine-bottle theorizing and where it is definitely not your grandfather's Middle Ages. Persels's paper was part of a Thursday morning panel titled "Waste Studies: Excrement in the Middle Ages" and devoting a full hour and a half to human effluvia. The other two scholars that morning read papers dealing with excrement in Icelandic sagas and the theology of latrines.

Waste studies is a brand new academic discipline invented by Susan Signe Morrison, a dark-haired, extroverted 49-year-old professor of English at Texas State University's San Marcos campus and mother of two (her husband is also an English professor) who organized the session and admitted with good-humored candor in an email that her new field's disgust-provoking subject matter might be a "challenge" to scholars thinking about specializing in it. Morrison's own specialty as a medievalist used to be women on pilgrimages, but then she got the idea for her latest book, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer's Fecopoetics, forthcoming this September. In her email she explained that the idea for the fecal book came to her partly because she noticed that dung and privies played a role in the works of Chaucer, Dante, and other medieval authors, and partly because her "son was potty-training." And so a new scholarly industry was born.

The guru of waste studies seems to be David Inglis, a sociologist at the University of Aberdeen who coined the phrase "fecal habitus" and whose 2001 book, A Sociological History of Excretory Experience, argued that avoiding scatological topics in polite conversation is a repressive Western bourgeois hang-up. Inglis's theories fit right in with other concepts dear to the postmodernist heart of academia--"discourse," the "Other," matters "transgressive," "bodies" (in the world of postmodernism there are hardly any people, just "bodies"), etc.--so professors of literature, religious studies, and other branches of the humanities eagerly expropriated Inglis's ideas and applied them in their own endeavors. As one of the panelists, University of Oregon English professor Martha Bayless, put it with the opacity that is de rigueur in postmodernist theory, "The body is not a neutral site."

The one thing in which waste-studies scholars seem not to be interested is medieval history. The idea isn't so much how people disposed of waste as what they thought about it--or if you're a cultural-studies type, what "society" thought about it. When an audience member at the session pointed out that fertilizer, whether its source was human or bovine, couldn't have been too despised by the medieval middle classes because it was a valuable commodity that generated lucrative bourgeois fortunes for the merchants who traded in the stuff, Morrison countered, "It was still considered lowly."

When the session was over, Morrison invited the attendees to a second hour and a half of waste studies. "We'll be dealing with sewage," she announced cheerfully. Alas, my own bourgeois habitus (I'm lace-curtain Irish) started to kick in, and I decided I needed a breath of fresh air, so to speak, so I opted for a different session among the 602 featured at this year's congress. Not that the postmodernist modus operandi was likely to be any different elsewhere. Down the hall from waste studies that morning was Session 5: "(Ab)normal Societies: Disability as a Socio-cultural Concept in Medieval Society." The parentheses bracketing the "Ab" are examples of a favorite postmodernist punctuation strategy, signaling to readers in the know that putatively neutral words such as "abnormal" actually convey oppressive, often sexist, hidden agendas. My own take-the-cake award for the po-mo parenthetical among the 1,500 papers presented this year went to this double-parentheses doozy, attached to a paper read in Session 251, a panel about animal symbolism in Old French literature: "Becoming (m)Others, Becoming (hu)Men: Engendering Hybrids and Monsters in Two Medieval Romances."

"Disability studies" is another hot new field in the humanities these days, and as with waste studies, it has little to do with historical or economic facts on the ground, such as, say, the manufacture of medieval crutches or how blind people eked out an existence in 13th-century Perugia. Instead, like waste studies, disability studies is all about presumed attitudes toward the disabled: how medieval folks, perhaps like folks of today, supposedly classified those who were different from them as disabled. One of the Session 5 papers was "Two Sides of the Same Coin: Defining the Mentally Ill in Plantagenet England," read by Gregory Carrier, a graduate student in history at the University of Alberta. Carrier's conclusion, after a great deal of postmodernist rambling: "The mentally ill were inherently indefinable."

The next three days featured more of the same: scholarly papers that alternated between the incomprehensible and the vaguely revolting. On Thursday afternoon I heard a paper delivered on "Menstruating Male Mystics and the Sin of Pride." Then I took myself to "Googling the Grail," at which Elizabeth Sklar, an English professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, announced that she had typed "Holy Grail" into Google and gotten nine million hits. From there it was off to "Saint Margaret: General Practitioner, not only an OB-GYN." Who knew that there were medical specialties in the Middle Ages?

A Friday morning session featured a paper titled "Alisoun's Aging Body: Gazing at the Wife of Bath in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales." Hmm, Chaucer, something solid and recognizable. The paper, however, read by Mikee Delony, an English professor at Abilene Christian University, turned out not to be about Chaucer at all but about a BBC television production a few years ago that turned the Wife of Bath into a modern-day plastic-surgery junkie. There turned out to be more papers at the congress about the forgettable 2001 movie A Knight's Tale (three) than about Chaucer's Knight's Tale (one). In one of those papers, delivered with much help from PowerPoint and titled "Knights, Dykes, Damsels and Fags: Gender Roles and Normative Pressures in Neomedieval Films," Wayne Elliott , a graduate student at Kent State University, argued that the film Knight's Tale had a homoerotic subtext because it starred Heath Ledger. Poor Ledger. He made the double career mistake of (a) playing a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain and (b) dying before he had a chance to live it down.

There were numerous other papers with either "normative" ("heteronormativity" is bad because it implies that heterosexuals are more normal than homosexuals) or "masculinity" (like femininity, a social construct, not an inherent characteristic) in their titles, and sometimes both, as in this bilingual tonguetwister: "Nach der Mannesnamen Site? Amazons and Their Challenge to Normative Masculinity in Medieval German Literature." Other buzzwords among the medievalists at Kalamazoo were "hybridity" (borrowed from "postcolonial" studies), "heterosyncrasies" (I never could figure out what that meant), and that hardy perennial "patriarchy."

Speaking of patriarchy, six female professors gathered on the first full day of the congress for a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. The topic was a book titled History Matters by Judith Bennett, a professor of medieval history at USC, whose theme, judging from the discussion, is that feminists ought to redouble their efforts to fight patriarchy. The discussion, however, soon turned into a lament by some of the feminist professors that they had trouble persuading students of either sex to sign up for their courses. "One young woman told me that she wasn't taking my course on gender and experience because, she said, 'I don't want to take another feminist class,' " explained Wendy Marie Hoofnagle, a professor of medieval studies at the University of Connecticut. This complaint was echoed the next day by Audrey DeLong, a literature professor at Long Island's Suffolk County Community College, at a session devoted to strategies for sneaking postmodernist theory into the heads of reluctant undergraduates who might rather be elsewhere. "In my students' demographic, they hear the word 'feminist' and they shut down," said DeLong.

The International Congress on Medieval Studies bills itself as the largest gathering of medieval specialists in the country--and it probably is. Because it is timed to coincide with the end of the school year on most college campuses, including Western Michigan's, some 3,000 professors, graduate students, and amateur and professional experts on any subject that can be loosely defined as medieval ("loosely" can and does include J.R.R. Tolkien, Harry Potter, Xena the warrior princess, and even The Da Vinci Code) fly or drive to Kalamazoo, often taking along sheaves of their students' papers to grade during spare moments.

There they spend up to four days delivering or listening to some of the 1,500 scholarly papers presented at the congress, roughly one paper for every two attendees, but mostly (because the 600-odd sessions featuring those papers are crammed into only 12 hour-and-a-half time slots, which means no single person can hear more than a handful of them) socializing, in relationships that range from the strictly professional to--or at least I am told--the uninhibitedly erotic. The high point of the congress is the Saturday night dance, a not-to-be-missed spectacle of more than a thousand medievalists cramming themselves into a ballroom in the Western Michigan student center, fueling themselves with rail booze, and dancing the way you might expect scholars of the Middle Ages to dance. It doesn't help that most of the Kalamazoo medievalists look and dress the way you might expect scholars of the Middle Ages to look and dress. Some, of course, present themselves as the professionals they are--suits and ties on men, pulled-together ensembles on women--but they are likely as not to belong to a contingent of visiting Romanians. The best way to describe the attire of many attendees, which runs heavily to ethnic textiles, unusual body ornaments, sweaters of indeterminate age, shoes resembling those favored by medieval peasants, and unintentionally amusing hats, is the reply I overheard one medievalist give to a query by a nonmedievalist sharing our airport limo as to whether congress attendees wore costumes: "A lot of them wear costumes, but they don't know it."

The overblown size of the event--who knew that there were even 3,000 medievalists in the entire world?--illustrates the law of diminishing returns. When 1,500 scholarly papers appear on a single agenda, it is reasonable to expect that a large number of them will not represent lasting contributions to the store of human knowledge. Persels's wine-bottle paper, although dealing with subject-matter you wouldn't want brought up at the dinner table, was actually one of the better, in terms of overall learning, of the two dozen or so papers I heard (and his French accent was excellent). But besides the law of diminishing returns, the congress also illustrates all too faithfully various aspects of the law of supply and demand, one of which is that the total number of medievalists probably exceeds the total number of college undergraduates these days who have the slightest interest in learning the smallest thing about the Middle Ages. That dismal fact lies at the core of all other observations to be made about the congress.

The International Congress on Medieval Studies is the affordable medieval conference, centrally located in the Midwest (despite its "international" moniker, most attendees hail from the United States and Canada), and because of its low cost appealing to even the most underpaid and underemployed of academics in the field. The congress seems to have been designed that way from the beginning. Western Michigan, occupying 1,200 hilly acres on the far western outskirts of Kalamazoo, is one of those state normal schools that during the mid-1950s decided to switch identities overnight from poky teachers' college to populous state research university via a massive building campaign entailing awe-inspiring quantities of cinderblock. Today the student population totals 26,000, and its enormous campus is dotted with midcentury structures of an architectural style that can be described as "non-descript but sturdy."

Engineering, science, and business are Western Michigan's strong suits, along with Division 1A football--not exactly promising soil for nurturing study of the Middle Ages. Still, the campus houses a Medieval Institute that sponsored the first congress in 1962 and continues to do so to this day, as well as an Institute of Cistercian Studies (complete with an impressive rare-books library) that started sponsoring theological sessions at the congress during the early 1970s. The congress, with its lingering overtones of 1960s hippie culture, was designed as a gathering of the tribes in all things medieval: history, literature, theology, philosophy, drama, art, and music. The idea was that Western Michigan's student dormitories, vacated for the summer, would house the participants, and the sessions would take place in the now-vacant classrooms. For its first two decades, the congress remained relatively small and collegial, featuring perhaps a hundred sessions. Then it began to balloon to its present size of more than 600.

And why not? After all, the law of supply and demand says that low prices mean more customers. The Western Michigan dorms still cost only $35 a night ($28 if you double up with a roommate), there's a free airport shuttle, you can eat cheap at the cafeteria (or for nothing if you crash the receptions that serve hors d'oeuvres), and anybody with a credential and entrepreneurial energy can organize a session or read a paper. If you don't mind sleeping on a thin mattress in a cinderblock-walled, linoleum-floored, underlit, and virtually unfurnished 1960s-era dorm room that looks like Cellblock No. 9 and features an erratic heating system that alternately broils and chills, sharing a bathroom with up to three strangers (fecopoetics alert: cinderblock transmits sound with startling efficiency), and eating Midwestern student-cafeteria versions of your favorite dishes (such as the "Mediterranean" salad consisting of skewers of coconut shrimp atop a plateau of limp lettuce) while sharing your board with still more strangers whose immersion in medieval arcana is likely to have impaired their table manners, the International Congress on Medieval Studies is the academic conference for you. Oh, and you must also enjoy trudging up and down hills to and from sessions widely scattered across the campus.

Should you wish to trek into downtown Kalamazoo for a change of scene or cuisine--forget it, unless you've got a lot of time on your hands for a lot of walking along traffic-clogged highways. Besides, there's not much to see or do in this onetime Midwestern industrial hub on the railroad line between Detroit and Chicago now noticeably deindustrialized and depopulated. Kalamazoo doesn't quite look like the famously rundown Flint, Michigan, of Michael Moore movies, but gentrification still has a way to go. A warning to juicers: The vast Western Michigan campus, where you will be more or less confined as if on the county honor farm if you are too poor to rent wheels, is entirely dry, unless you bring your own bottle (which many do) or frequent the cash bars briefly open at the receptions and the dance.

Not surprisingly, then, the congress is generally shunned by the superstars of medieval academia: the senior professors and well-known scholars who occupy endowed chairs or draw generous compensation packages from Ivy League and top state universities. Those fortunate scholars, whose trips to academic get-togethers are typically fueled by hefty travel allowances from their affluent home universities, tend to prefer the classy get-togethers of the Medieval Academy of America, founded in 1925 by the famous Harvard historian Charles Homer Haskins and usually holding its annual meetings each March at big-city hotels or on the campuses of prestigious colleges with plenty of nearby cultural and entertainment amenities. The Medieval Academy does sponsor sessions at Kalamazoo, and some big medieval names do show up--this year's congress featured a stellar plenary address on medieval bestiaries by Christopher de Hamel, manuscript librarian at Cambridge University's Corpus Christi College, as well as appearances by the veteran Chaucerian scholar Derek Pearsall of the University of York, well-known medieval historians Brenda Bolton and Barbara Hanawalt, and Seth Lerer, dean of postmodernist medievalism at Stanford.

But most of the worthies who come to Kalamazoo do so as "presiders" whose sole job is to lend the gravitas of their names to sessions and introduce the worker-bee scholars who will actually read papers, thus being spared the drudgery of either writing a paper or doing the organizing. (You won't find them sleeping in the dorms, either; most book accommodations well off campus, preferably at the Radisson Plaza, Kalamazoo's best hotel.) The pecking-order realities of academic life, even among otherworldly medievalists, leave a vast army of poorly paid, overworked lower-echelon professors at not-so-big-name universities and, of course, legions of strapped graduate students for whom a trip to Western Michigan and the dorms of "the Zoo," as they call it, may well be the high point of the academic year.

Many state schools and smaller colleges on tight budgets pay for at most one or two trips to academic conferences per professor per year, and often at the rate of just $500 or even $300 per conference--hardly enough to cover air fare--and usually only if the recipient delivers a paper. You scarcely need to put two and two together to figure out why this year's congress featured 1,500 papers and why so many of them, delivered by graduate students afraid to venture outside the postmodernist box in which their theory-laden seminars have confined them, or professors who seemed to have hastily thrown their notes together in order to qualify for a free plane trip, were, to put it kindly, not so hot.

There are oases of excellence in the po-mo desert at Kalamazoo. Many sessions, especially those dealing with medieval theology and philosophy, which are typically sponsored by specialty organizations such as the Cistercian Institute or the Aquinas Society, offered papers that were rigorously researched and argued. The congress also features first-rate performances of medieval drama and music as well as a giant book fair. Still, many scholars, especially historians, feeling choked by the miasma of mediocrity, have stopped coming to Kalamazoo. Thus the overwhelming majority of the sessions nowadays are in the field of literature, especially English literature, which is notorious for its vulnerability to theoretical hoo-hah and for the large numbers of bottom-feeding assistant professors and at-sea graduate students needed to staff the required freshman composition classes that are run out of many universities' English departments.

Another reality of academic life draws bodies to Kalamazoo: professional loneliness in remote settings where hardly anyone else on campus cares about the Middle Ages. Over lunch in the cafeteria, Ellen Friedrich, an associate professor of Romance languages at Valdosta State University in Georgia, explained the facts of life for her: teaching four different courses per semester (in the Ivy League the norm is two) mostly way outside of her specialty, which is medieval French romances (not high on the list of academic interests for Valdosta undergrads), leaving almost no time for scholarly research. For her as for many in her position, the congress and other academic conferences offer their only chance to visit with professional confreres. "We're Kalamazoo junkies," Friedrich explained.

The difficulties of being a medievalist in an era in which few universities require their undergraduates to learn anything about the Middle Ages (mandatory courses in the history of Western civilization being a thing of the past), and in which undergrads increasingly shun the humanities because they can't take all the theory, accounts for another odd aspect of the Kalamazoo congress: the ever-growing number of sessions that don't deal at all with matters medieval but rather with modern books, movies, television shows, magazine ads, and even video games featuring either medieval or pseudo-medieval themes. Tolkien, Harry Potter, and "Googling the Holy Grail" were only the tip of the iceberg. There were countless papers purporting to highlight medieval themes in D.C. comics, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the 1990s Xena: Warrior Princess television series. One session was entirely devoted to medieval blogs, including a paper comparing the works of Geoffrey Chaucer to the blog "Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog." The blowout, or perhaps the reductio ad absurdum, of these scholarly endeavors was Session 531 on Sunday morning, "Medieval Masculinities on Film." That session featured four separate papers: yet another examination of A Knight's Tale, an effort to prove that the 1961 movie El Cid, starring Charlton Heston, was a piece of Franco-engineered propaganda, a cinematic look at the story of Tristan and Isolde, and "Medieval Masculinity as Modern Monstrosity," a postmodernist analysis of Hannibal Lecter.

Such presentations proved to be among the better attended, and at least some of the individual papers (although maybe not those read in Session 531) displayed more literary depth and passion than many of the papers dealing with "real" medieval literature run through the postmodernist meat-grinder. "Teaching Tolkien" drew more than 70 attendees. One of the Da Vinci Code panels featured a paper that got my personal vote for best in the entire weekend: "Queering the Code: Jesus and Mary or Jesus and John?" a deadpan spoof by Madeline Caviness, an art history professor at Tufts University, arguing that Dan Brown's potboiler about Jesus' supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene was actually part of a Vatican cover-up of the savior's gay relationship with one of his apostles. Caviness managed to drag out and send up every cliché in the postmodernist dictionary that had been invoked with deadly earnestness elsewhere at the congress: "essentializing discourse," "destabilize the heterosexual imperative," "the heteronormativity of Jesus."

It's pretty clear that in an era in which undergraduates at many colleges can as readily fulfill their humanities core requirements by selecting a course on The Lord of the Rings from the academic smorgasbord as, say, selecting a course on The Canterbury Tales, medievalists make themselves useful on campus (and fill their classrooms and make their department heads happy) by teaching the former. But there may be something else at work, too, in the obvious enthusiasm with which highly trained experts in arcane specialties devoured sessions devoted to Tolkien and J.K. Rowling: There they could drop their postmodernist cynicism about "society" and simply drink in the elaborate cosmology, spiritual depth, literary beauty, and shared meaning that used to be what scholars looked for in real medieval literature, before the cultural-studies people got hold of it. Larry Caldwell, an English professor at the University of Evansville whose specialty is Anglo-Saxon literature but who read a thoughtful paper titled "Stern Vision, Earnest Evasion: Neomedieval Catholicism, Peter Jackson, and the Limitations of Popular Cinema," wrote to me in an email about Jackson's blockbuster movies of the Tolkien trilogy: "[W]e are looking at .  .  . a sort of universally shared text that non-specialists embrace with as much enjoyment as do members of the emerging specialist community of formal Tolkien scholars." Quite a difference from the "bourgeois habitus."

But on to the dance! In medieval times every story had a moral. The moral of the Saturday night dance at the 43rd International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo is that no scholar of the Middle Ages is too old, too graceless, too bulging of derrière, too gray of beard or ponytail, or too tattooed to get up on that parquet floor and gyrate spasmodically to vintage Bon Jovi amplified to jet-engine decibels. I'm told that the dances of today are no match in noise and lasciviousness for those of the mid-1990s, when flocks of leather-clad gays took to the floor to celebrate their academic coming-out in a congress session on "Queer Iberia." Still, I spent two hours there nursing a beer and mesmerized by the bobbing fauxhawks, the shaking bare flesh (and plenty of it), the hip-hopper in the Blondie T-shirt, the fellow in the full kilt and sporran who had been wandering through the congress as though in search of the set for Brigadoon, the nose-rings, the Birkenstocks, the Pashtun caps, the bare feet of the learned professors of the Middle Ages and their grad-student acolytes. Maybe it's not a pretty sight, but as the swaying sardine-packed academics on the dance floor sang along in unison: "We've got to hold on to what we've got."

Charlotte Allen, a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute's Minding the Campus website, is writing her doctoral dissertation in medieval and Byzantine studies.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

£10,000 lead theft at church

A churchwarden has hit out after lead was stripped from a roof.

Thieves stole lead worth between £5,000 and £10,000 from St John the Baptist Church in North Luffenham last Monday night. Lead was taken from 10 of the church's 26 bays along the north transept of the building. Church warden Janet Whittaker discovered the theft last Tuesday.

She said: "We are all frustrated and disappointed but it's a sign of the times we live in. It's just sad that someone feels they can do this to a medieval building with so much history."

Volunteers patched up the roof with tarpaulin last week to stop the rain getting into the church and workmen were called out to make it more secure, but the proper repairs might not be done until Christmas.

The church committee expect it to take that long to sort out the insurance and will be reviewing its security over the next few months.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Today in the Middle Ages

19 July, 1374 - Francis Petrarch dies...

... and the world rejoiced.

Archaeologists find 600-year-old chess piece in northwest Russia

Archaeologists in northwest Russia have discovered a chess piece dating back to the late 14th century, a spokesman for local archaeologists said on Friday.

"The king, around several centimeters tall, is made of solid wood, possibly of juniper," the spokesman said.

The excavations are being carried out at the site of the Palace of Facets, in the Novgorod Kremlin in Veliky Novgorod. The palace is believed to be the oldest in Russia.

According to the city chronicles, chess as a competitive game emerged in Veliky Novgorod, the foremost historic city in northwest Russia, in the 13th century, but was banned in 1286 by the church.

However, besides the king, archeologists in the region have found a total of 82 chess pieces dating back to at least the 14th century, showing that the game remained popular among the local population despite the church ban.

In late May, archaeologists in the ancient city uncovered a number of medieval baby bottles. Medieval Slavs made feeding bottles by attaching leather bags to the wider part of a cow's horn. The babies drank milk from holes made in the tip of the horns.

The first historical mention of Veliky Novgorod was in 859 AD. City chronicles say that by 862 AD it was already a stop on the trading route between the Baltics and Byzantium.
The city will celebrate its 1150th anniversary in 2009.

Medieval churches face threat of closure

Several medieval churches in one of the most beautiful corners of Britain are under threat of closure due to a lack of funding for repairs.

Tucked in and around Snowdonia, in north-west Wales, the churches all commemorate significant points in Welsh history and culture, but need hundreds of thousands of pounds for restoration work.

The Venerable Wyn Rowlands, the archdeacon of Meirionnydd, said: "We just don't know what the future holds. It is very important to keep them open."

Around 8,000 people, including Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, have pledged support for The Sunday Telegraph's campaign aimed at keeping churches at the heart of community life.

Among the buildings under threat are: St Cadfarch, in Penegoes, home to a monument to the landscape artist Richard Wilson, one of the founders of the Royal Academy; St Tydecho, in Mallwyd, which dates back to the 14th century and houses a memorial to the renaissance scholar Dr John Davies, who was responsible for a 1620 revised translation of the Bible into Welsh; and St Ust & Dyfrig in Llanwrin, which has some of the best medieval stained glass from the late 15th ­century.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Diverting Image

So diverting, it's distracting me from what I should be doing.

A castle in Ayr - with a house thrown in

£2.5m gets you a medieval castle with a 'free' Regency house

This Scottish castle is set in a lush landscape of gently rolling hills with belts of sheltering trees. Yet despite the extensive views in every direction, Cassillis (pronounced “Cassles”) is virtually invisible, lost amid 235 acres of woods even though it is only seven miles from Ayr.

For £2.5 million you are effectively buying two castles. The first is a medieval tower house, five storeys high, with immensely thick walls and the Scottish corner turrets known as bartisans. The second adjoins the original fortress and is a comfortable Regency house in the castle style, built of warm brown stone. The architects are thought to have been William Burn and David Bryce, the most celebrated exponents of Scottish baronial style.

Splendid balustraded steps lead up to the front door; a further short flight links upper and lower halls, allowing you to stand grandly at the top as your guests arrive. This is the place for stout walking sticks and impressive rows of Wellington boots.

For two centuries Cassillis has served as a fishing lodge attached to the seat of the Marquesses of Ailsa at Culzean Castle. The main floor of Cassillis consists of three big rooms, beginning with an inner hall. On the right is a handsome 14ft-high drawing room, with two immense bay windows that are almost as tall as doorways.

The dining room on the other side of the hall is of equally grand proportions. Designed for large house parties, it calls for a stately sideboard and silver dishes of scrambled eggs, kidneys and sausages at breakfast time.

Behind is a butler's pantry with steps down to a large, but still feudal, kitchen realm with Victorian cooking range, servants' hall and housekeeper's room. The guest bedrooms at the top are cosy. The main bedrooms, with lofty four-posters, are in the medieval tower. This is approached by the castle's showpiece: a broad, 17th-century spiral staircase that ascends around a central hollow core, looking like a lighthouse, complete with windows.

Above the two main bedrooms stood the grand hall of the tower house. It is now divided into a ballroom decorated with Highland cutlasses, and a library where bookshelves have little leather pelmets to stop dust collecting on the books.

The River Doon flows through the grounds, providing two miles of salmon and sea-trout fishing. The stable block provides garaging; the adjoining coachhouse has four bedrooms, and the stable cottage two bedrooms.

Cassillis has been the property of the turbulent Kennedy family since the 13th century. Their history, wrote the castle historian Nigel Tranter, “was one long catalogue of violence, savagery and sudden death”.

Today Cassillis is a peaceful place where, the family land agent says, “all you hear is the sound of sand- pipers and chaffinches”. After the death of her husband in 1994, the Marchioness of Ailsa lived on at the castle until her own death at the age of 91 last year. By this time her siblings were well established in homes near by and none choose to live in the castle. Hence the rare opportunity to buy a true stately home from the family that has lived in it for seven centuries.

Fast facts

What you get: Category A listed castle, five reception rooms, 12 bedrooms, 295 acres of woods and parkland.

Where is it: Seven miles from Ayr, 42 from Glasgow and 93 from Edinburgh. Price: £2.5 million

Iconic she-wolf nurtures a Roman archaeological mystery

Experts consider theory that statue long thought to be as ancient as city is centuries younger

She suckled Rome's legendary twin founders and fed Benito Mussolini's ambitious dreams of renewed imperial glory.

For centuries, Lupa – "She-wolf" in Latin and Italian – has been a powerful Roman symbol. But some now contend that Lupa, a supposedly Etruscan bronze, the star of a city museum on Capitoline Hill, might be centuries younger.

"It's decisively medieval," says Anna Maria Carruba, a researcher who first studied Lupa when she worked on its restoration a decade ago.

"As I went ahead with my research, I was ever more sure."

The Etruscan period ran from the 11th to 1st century BC; medieval times ran from AD 500 to 1500.

If Carruba is correct, the statue could be more than 1,000 years younger than previously thought. The Capitoline Museums' website says Lupa is from the 5th century BC and was Pope Sixtus IV's gift to the museum in 1471.

Added separately, in the early 1500s, were the bronze figures of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome who legend says were abandoned on the bank of the Tiber River and survived only because a she-wolf nursed them.

The almost metre-tall bronze is the centerpiece of a museum room named for it. Postcards and T-shirts of Lupa are popular Roman souvenirs. Mussolini used the image in Fascist propaganda to push for a return to ancient Roman glory.

In a front-page La Repubblica article this week, Adriano La Regina, who for decades led the national archaeological office for Rome, suggested Capitoline Museums is reluctant to release test results indicating the bronze is medieval.

"The new information about the epoch of the Capitoline bronze has been held back for about a year now from the public and experts," La Regina wrote.

Claudio Parisi Presicce, director of the city-run museums, insisted his institution is not trying to hide data that could subtract centuries from the she-wolf's provenance.

Data "aren't definitive yet, and we hope we can succeed in giving a definitive date" to the statue through carbon dating later this year, Parisi Presicce told news agency ANSA.

Carruba said carbon dating of bits of dirt and clay indicate Lupa was cast in 7th or 8th century AD using techniques for casting bronze developed in medieval times.

But some experts are skeptical.

Alessandro Naso, an Etruscan expert at the University of Molise, said Carruba's conclusion "that it isn't ancient is based on indirect proof ... arguments for the medieval are weak."

Archaeologist Nicoletta Pagliardi said Lupa's origins "are really uncertain."

With the statue "manhandled'' over many centuries, she said, carbon dating might be testing substances that contaminated the bronze long after its creation.

Parisi Presicce, the Capitoline Museums ' director, said that in medieval times, Rome's symbol was considered to be a lion, weakening arguments that Lupa was made during that period.

Carruba said her theory that Lupa isn't Etruscan does not diminish its mystique.

"It's an amazing, fascinating, majestic sculpture."

Monday, July 7, 2008


CIA... after me... Opus Dei... help... they going to kill m...............

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Today in the Middle Ages

6 June, 1348 - Papal bull of Pope Clement VI which protected Jews during the Black Death.

See, the Middle Ages weren't a backwards time of religious persecution...

Also on 6 June, 1415 - Jan Hus is burned at the stake.

Oh, well maybe there was a little religious persecution. Well one out of two ain't bad.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Thieves prise relics out of cathedral altar in Germany

Thieves ignoring an age-old ban on sacrilege have stolen saintly relics in an ivory case from the altar of a German cathedral, police and Catholic officials said Monday.

Ulrich Lota, a spokesman for the diocese of Essen, said the theft must have happened between 8 pm, when the last Sunday mass finished, and 9 pm, when the caretaker locked the cathedral so he could watch Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the European football final.

By Catholic tradition, fragments of the bones of ancient holy people are cemented into the surface of altars to consecrate them.

Essen's relics came from the skeletons of Maternus, Liborius and Liudger, three early medieval bishops of the German dioceses of Cologne, Paderborn and Muenster.

The ivory box, set into a pit in the altar, had gold inlays and was studded with 50 jewels including topaz and amethysts.

Lota voiced outrage at the loss of a bond to the past, saying the box had been made 50 years ago, when the diocese of Essen was founded. The cathedral is its chief church. He estimated the cash value of the case at more than 10,000 euros (15,500 dollars).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Happy Canada Day!

It's kinda like a maple tree, right?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Today in the Middle Ages

29 June, A.D. 512 - A solar eclipse is recorded by a monastic chronicler in Ireland.

Between the abstinence and the isolation, the monks didn't have a lot to do.

Poisonous ink likely cause of Biblical text-writing monks deaths

Monks who wrote Biblical texts and other religious materials might have died out of exposure to toxic mercury, with which the red colour ink they used for scripting was made, according to a study.

Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a University of Southern Denmark scientist at the Institute of Physics and Chemistry, believes that the ink might have been the culprit.

He came to this conclusion after studying medieval bones from six different Danish cemeteries.
The researcher says that his study also describes a previously undocumented disease called FOS, which was like leprosy and caused skull lesions.

Besides that, about 79 per cent of the interred individuals with leprosy, and 35 per cent with syphilis, had received medicines containing mercury.

Lund Rasmussen has discovered that the monks buried in the cloister walk of the Cistercian Abbey, though not having any of such diseases, had mercury in their bones.

It suggests that the monks might have been contaminated either while preparing and administering medicines or while writing the artistic letter of incunabula (pre-1500 A.D. books), says the researcher.

During the study, Lund Rasmussen and his team drilled bone samples from the buried individuals, some of which were also friars buried in the cloister walk of the Franciscan Friary in Svendborg.

The researchers found that the friars did not show any signs of mercury poisoning, unlike the monks.

The study also took into account the fact that some of the medieval individuals ate a mostly marine, fish-filled diet.

The researchers, however, say that modern seafood may contain high levels of mercury out of environmental pollution, but exposure from food would have been unlikely during the medieval period.

Lund Rasmussen says that mercury “was used (in the ink) in the first place because cinnabar (a type of mercury) has this bright red, beautiful colour.”

A separate study by Israeli scientists recently found cinnabar on four fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include passages from the Hebrew Bible.

(Even today) one should really not touch, or much less rub, the parchment pages of an incunabulum,” Discovery News quoted Lund Rasmussen as warning.

He also said that his co-author Jesper Lier Boldsen discovered the previously undocumented disease FOS while examining the skeletons.

“We do not know if FOS was fatal, but it certainly looks painful and just as severe as leprosy,” he Lund Rasmussen said.

The study will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. (ANI)