Category Archive 'Middle Ages'
14 Dec 2018

Reconstructing the Recipe for the Soul Cake

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Atlas Obscura:

Last month, a challenge from Durham University spurred bakers to whip up a soul cake, a bygone bun once integral to a medieval tradition of feeding the poor and honoring the dead. But, in the spirit of competitive baking reality shows, there was a catch: Nobody really knows how, traditionally, it was supposed to be baked.

We know generally what soul cakes looked like, and what was inside of them. We know that bakers crafted them into small, round, square, or oval buns—garnishing the top with currants in the shape of a cross. And we know its purpose: Giving a soul cake to someone in poverty allegedly freed a departed soul from Purgatory. But we’re still in the dark about its intended taste and texture, and exactly how to go about concocting a soul cake in true medieval fashion.

“We have a recipe from a household book from 1604 compiled by a certain Lady Elinor Fettiplace that includes a recipe for a soul cake,” says Dr. Barbara Ravelhofer, a professor of English literature at Durham University and facilitator of the soul cake challenge. “However, it doesn’t give us the quantities—nor does it tell us how long to bake it. So you have to work out for yourself what to do with the ingredients.” Spearheaded by Dr. Ravelhofer and the Records of Early English Drama North East team, the Great Northern Soul Cake Bake doubles as a competition and crowdsourcing project. By challenging the public to decode the bare-bones recipe, the research team hopes to understand and resurrect the original soul cake—as well as the tradition that surrounds it.

Soul cakes are connected to Britain’s early Christian celebrations known as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Halloween-like festivities commemorating the recently departed. On November 2nd, beggars would weave their way through the chilly darkness, rapping on wealthy homeowners’ doors in exchange for a soul cake. But obtaining it was no cake walk. To successfully soul, one had to sing for sweets.

Whether it be musical or theatrical, souling required performance in exchange for a cake—a tradition that looks a lot like modern-day trick-or-treating. And, though it’s impossible to definitively claim souling as the progenitor of tricking and treating, Dr. Ravelhofer says they’re certainly connected. However, she points out, there are key differences. “A soul-caker was somebody who did something to obtain something,” she says. “Whereas trick-or-treating strikes me as, ‘Give me something or else I’ll do something.’”

Demanding candy door-to-door, she posits, is a “slightly degenerated, commercialized form” of the All Souls’ Day transactions of medieval Europe. Souling, Dr. Ravelhofer adds, also had a strong connection to charity and memoriam. The act of doling out freshly baked goods, while thinking of a “poor, departed soul,” filled two needs with one deed, giving to the hungry and freeing a soul in question from Purgatory in one fell swoop.

While vestigial remnants of this practice can still be found in some parts of England, the tradition of souling, and the cakes that came with it, have since disappeared—until now.

To more fully understand the history and tradition of All Souls Day, Dr. Ravelhofer and her team devised the bake off. The technical challenge (the first of a series of three) called for readers to recreate a successful iteration of the festive bun using only Elinor Fettiplace’s 17th-century recipe, which reads:

    “Take flower & sugar & nutmeg & cloves & mace & sweet butter & sack & a little ale barm, beat your spice & put in your butter & your sack, cold, then work it well all together & make it in little cakes & so bake them, if you will you may put in some saffron into them or fruit.”

Folks from across the globe responded, submitting recipes, photographs, and anecdotes via email, Facebook, and Twitter, with results ranging from wild successes to valiant flops.
“We had proper food archaeologists who really got into the spirit of things, and then we had candidates who tried to microwave it,” says Dr. Ravelhofer.

David Petts, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University, posted about his soul cakes on his personal blog, likening them to “slightly dense hot-cross buns.” Another participant found that using a ruby or dark ale gave the cakes a soft, chewy texture. Yet another made a successful stoneground cake by adding rye, theorizing that medieval bakers may have used additional grains.

But cataloguing the failed cakes, Dr. Ravelhofer says, has been just as informative as admiring the more edible ones.

Understanding what doesn’t work, and why, allows historians to do detective work when it comes to understanding what the recipe may or may not have looked like.

RTWT

29 Jul 2018

Medieval Man vs. Millennial Man

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24 May 2018

Evidence of Planet Nine Sewn into Medieval Tapestries

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Principia Scientific International:

The far reaches of the outer solar system may be home to an icy giant — a hypothetical planet scientists have dubbed “Planet Nine.”

Meanwhile, archives back on Earth are home to dozens of medieval records documenting the passage of comets through the heavens. Now, two researchers from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland are hoping to use these old scrolls and tapestries to solve the modern astronomical mystery of Planet Nine.

“We have a wealth of historical records of comets in Old English, Old Irish, Latin and Russian which have been overlooked for a long time,” said university medievalist Marilina Cesario, one of the leaders of the project. “Early medieval people were fascinated by the heavens, as much as we are today.”

The records include dates and times, Cesario said, which makes them useful to modern-day astronomers.

Planet Nine, if it exists, would have about 10 times the mass of Earth and orbit 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune does. (Planet Nine is not Pluto, which was once considered the ninth planet but was demoted to mere “dwarf planet” in 2006. Nor is it Nibiru, the completely fictional “rogue planet” that conspiracy theorists sometimes claim is about to destroy the Earth.)
Scientists suspect the existence of Planet Nine because it would explain some of the gravitational forces at play in the Kuiper Belt, a stretch of icy bodies beyond Neptune. But no one has been able to detect the planet yet, though astronomers are scanning the skies for it with tools such as the Subaru Telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano.

Medieval records could provide another tool, said Pedro Lacerda, a Queen’s University astronomer and the other leader of the project.

“We can take the orbits of comets currently known and use a computer to calculate the times when those comets would be visible in the skies during the Middle Ages,” Lacerda told Live Science. “The precise times depend on whether our computer simulations include Planet Nine. So, in simple terms, we can use the medieval comet sightings to check which computer simulations work best: the ones that include Planet Nine or the ones that do not.”

RTWT

HT: Vanderleun.

30 Nov 2017

“Most Beautiful Woman of the Middle Ages”

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Uta von Ballenstedt (c. 1000 — 23 October before 1046), a member of the House of Ascania, was Margravine of Meissen from 1038 until 1046, the wife of Margrave Eckard II. She is also called Uta of Naumburg.

When Umberto Eco was asked with which women from European art he would most like to spend the evening, he replied: “In first place, ahead of all others, with Uta von Naumburg.

21 Dec 2015

Medieval Poleaxe with Chemical Weapon

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From Fiore Furlano de’i Liberi’s (c. 1340s-1420s) The Flower of Battle, Axe in Armor, 16:

Poleaxe1
MS Ludwig XV 13 (Getty)

Questa mia azza era piena de polvere e si è la ditta azza busada intorno intorno et è questa polvere sì forte corrosiva che subito come ella tocha l’ochio, l’omo per nissun modo nol pò avrire e fuorse may non vederà più.

E azza son ponderosa crudele e mortale, mazori colpi fazo che altra arma manuale. E se io falisco lo primo colpo che vegno a fare la azza m’è di danno e niente più non vale. E se io fiero lo primo colpo ch’io fazzo tutte le altre arme manuale io cavo d’impazo. E se son cum bone arme ben acompagnada per mia deffesa piglio le guardie pulsative de spada. Signore nobilissimo Signor mio Marchese assay chose sono in questo libro che voy tale malicie non le fareste. Ma per più savere, piazavi di vederle.

This poleaxe of mine is full of powder and the said poleaxe has holes around. And this powder is so strong and corrosive that immediately as it touches the eye, the man cannot open it in any way, and maybe will not be able to see anymore.

And it is a heavy, cruel and mortal poleaxe, better blows it makes than other manual weapons. And if it fails the first strike that it comes to do, the poleaxe will still do damage and the opponent will be no more of any use. And if you fiercely make the first blow, you will avoid trouble from all the other manual weapons. And if accompanied with good armor for defense it will stand up to the hammer blows of swords. Very noble Lord, my Lord Marchese, there are many things in this book, featuring such malicious things as you would not do yourself. But to understand them better, please read of them.

Poleaxe2
MS Ludwig XV 13 (Getty)

Questa è la polvere che va in l’azza penta qui sopra. Piglia lo latte delo titimallo, e seccalo al sole overo in forno caldo e fane polvere, e piglia di questa polvere uno V e una onza de polvere d’fior d’preda, e mescola insembre, e questa polvere si de’ metter in la azza qui de sopra, ben che se pò far cum ogni rutorio che sia fino, che ben ne troverà di fini in questo libro.

This is the powder that goes into the poleaxe drawn above. Take the milk of the titimallo [some member of the spurge family of plants (genus Euphorbia)], and dry it over a warm oven and make it powdery, and take two ounces of this powder and one ounce of powder of the fior di preda, and mix them together. And put this powder in the axe which is above, as you can do it well with any ?rutorio? that is sharp, because you can find sharp things well in this book.

06 Oct 2015

Scientists Identified Skeletons of English Archers on Henry VIII’s Mary Rose

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EnglishArchers

I missed the article at the time, but back in 2012, the Telegraph was reporting that forensic breakthroughs had even succeeded in identifying which of the skeletons of men drowned on Henry VIII’s sunken flagship were elite English archers.

Researchers have identified the elite archers who died alongside sailors on Henry VIII’s flagship, due to evidence of repetitive strain in their shoulders and spines.

The ship sank off Spithead in The Solent in 1545, while leading an attack on a French invasion fleet. It stayed on the seabed until it was raised in 1982 and put on public display.

Over the past two years, scientists from the University of Swansea have been working to identify almost 100 skeletons kept at the Mary Rose Museum, in Portsmouth. …

[N]ew DNA extraction technology has been developed to identify a skeleton’s origin and other personal features such as eye and hair colour.

Scientists have also tested how the bows were used by archers at that time, by using real-life archers.

They have uncovered evidence of repetitive stress injuries among the bowmen, the elite soldiers of their day, which they believe came from hours of longbow practice.

Nick Owen, a sport and exercise biochemist who is leading the work, said yesterday that the developments would help uncover more about the individuals who died with their ship.

The DNA breakthrough had enabled his team to embark on more detailed profiling.

“We know plenty about the Mary Rose but much less about the people on board,” said Mr Owen, from the university’s college of engineering.

“The archers were the elite but the longbows they used took a toll of their bodies and you can see signs of repetitive stress in the shoulders and lower spine.”

A Swedish expert is also working on facial reconstructions for the new Mary Rose Trust museum, which is due to open next year.

At the time, many archers were thought to have travelled from Wales and other areas in the south west of England and were considered the elite warriors of their day.

Previous studies have shown that they lived off a diet of salt beef and biscuits. Their diet also included flour, oatmeal, suet, cheese, dried pork, beer and salted cod.

“They were 6ft 2in or 6ft 3in, and strapping individuals,” Mr Owen said.

“A longbow was 6ft 6in and made from a particular part of a yew tree to generate incredibly efficient ‘spring’.

“It was mega hi-tech, and it gave England and Wales military superiority. These archers were the elite athletes of their day.”

He added to the BBC: “It took years for these Archers to train to get to a level where they could use these very heavy bows.”

Alexzandra Hildred, the curator of ordnance at the Mary Rose Trust, has said the injuries could be the result of “shooting heavy longbows regularly”.

“Many of the skeletons recovered show evidence of repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder and lower spine,” she said.

“Being able to quantify the stresses and their effect on the skeleton may enable us at last to isolate an elite group of professional archers from the ship.”

17 Dec 2014

Medieval Scribal Marginalia

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Marginalia

Hat tip to Ratak Monodosico.

11 Oct 2014

Bruegel’s Hunting Dogs

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BruegelDoggies
Deatai from Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow, 1565, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Karen forwarded this, commenting: “Notice all the curly tails. But are the ears greyhound-like or pendant, like tazis?”

Her reference to curly tails, pertains to the policy of organized hunting packs to cull hounds with curly tails because, when they are bred from, the curvature of the tail tends to migrate forward, producing spinal problems in their offspring.

Tazis are the more northerly form of the Persian, or Oriental, Greyhound, known elsewhere as the saluki.

Bruegel’s hunters’ dogs, I think, consist of three types: I see three long-bodied, short-haired sighthounds (visible on the upper right): greyhounds. The only one whose head is visible has short, pointed ears. The upper left dog, with coarse coat, is a lurcher type (a cross between a sighthound and another kind of breed, either a pastoral guard dog or a terrier). So, too, might be the taller, heavier-built dark brown dog whose loins are concealed behind a tree. The shorter, flop-eared dogs would be scent hounds.

I like the way Image Diver produced this detail image.

10 Oct 2014

The Little Curious Guy

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PetiteCurieux

“Le petite curieux”
Detail of the tympanum of the Last Judgment, Abbey of Sainte-Foy de Conques, France

Via Ratak Monodosico.

20 Aug 2014

English Medieval Architectural Gaffes

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durham-nine-altars-vault
Durham Cathedral, eastern transept of the Nine Altars, begun 1242, probably vaulted in late 1250s, possibly into 1280s.

James Alexander Cameron pokes fun at mistakes in English Medieval architecture.

I’ll come clean, Prior, when we measured up that copy of the eastern transept at Fountains Abbey for you, we didn’t take into account that your church is kind of a completely different width.

Is this going to be a problem?

Well when we put the vault on there might be a teensy teensy mistake.

Is anyone going to notice?

We’ll carve a ring of really nice angels to cover it up.

Ah, distracting surface ornament, good job.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

07 Apr 2014

New “Game of Thrones” Season

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unknown


Leaf from the Morgan Bible, French, northern France, about 1250, MS. LUDWIG I 6.

The Getty:

Drama. Politics. Romance. Bloodshed. Dragons. Medieval Times.

These are not just descriptors of our illuminated manuscripts, but also celebratory words to commemorate the return of Game of Thrones!

Stay tuned each week as we unpack Sunday’s episodes through medieval masterpieces.

All Men Must Die.

Hat tip to Madame Scherzo.

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Ed West, at Breitbart, argues that “Game of Thrones” provides a better education in Medieval History than you’ll get at one of our PC universities these days.

Most historical fiction basically features a protagonist with 21st century values wearing a codpiece; I gave up on the Tudors when Cardinal Wolsey started giving a lecture on why we needed a ‘European community’. Most people in Britain think the EU is a pretty stupid idea today; in the 16th century it would have been inconceivable, even if Wolsey’s Treaty of London talked about ‘perpetual peace’ in Europe (a peace that was broken almost immediately, because that’s how things were).

Even the most sympathetic characters in Thrones, and I won’t give any spoilers for season four, end up doing some appalling things in the later books, not because they’re villains but because that’s the way the world was then, and how it is for much of humanity today. Bloody awful.

But there is a deeper implication for the success of Thrones; most people in England would be pretty ignorant about these historical parallels, because of the revolution in history teaching that took place in the dark, sexually weird decade that was the 1970s, part of a wider cultural revolution aimed at transforming western societies (and which has its parallel in the US).

Whereas my father’s generation would have learned about the kings of England at school, the bloody battles and usurpations, the poisonings, the tortures and the love affairs, and King Harold getting shot in the eye, by the time I was taught the subject the sort of questions we were asked went along the lines of ‘How would the social changes experienced during the 15th century have impacted on a female weaver living in Norfolk?’ Or ‘Look at Source A and Source B; what differences can you spot and why might that have been? Anyway, children, next term we’ll be reading about the Nazis. Again.’

21 Aug 2013

The Maid of Ghent

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Attributed to Agnes van den Bossche, The Maid of Ghent painted battle standard, circa 1481-1482.

The standard’s symbol of a maiden comes a 1388 poem by Bouden or Baudouin van der Loore, De maghet of Ghend (The Maiden of Ghent), a poem of 240-odd verses, which allegorically describes a war between the city of Ghent and Lodewijk van Maele, Count of Flanders fought between 1379 and 1385.

In a dream, the poet sees a beautiful arbor, located in the middle of a wilderness where two rivers come together: an allusion to the city of Ghent. In the arbor is seated a graceful lady, resplendent in black fur and wearing on her right arm fine gems spelling out the letters: G, H, E, N and D. The maiden is accompanied by a silver lion with golden crown and necklace — the defender of the city. In a clear voice, the maiden sings a heavenly song. But the maiden is soon threatened by a gang of soldiers who covet her purity and her freedom. Across the river appears the leader of the army who turns out to be none other than the father of the beleaguered virgin, i.e., the Count of Flanders. On his banner, he bears a black lion rampant on gold. The poet now warns the lady that they are surprised and surrounded by many enemies. She replies that she has ​​much good company which can come to the rescue if necessary. And when the poet looks around he sees emerging out of the mists from the North East, Christ, St. Jacob, St. Bavo, St. Macharius, and from the East came Saint George and Saint John, and from all directions, all the saints to whom were dedicated in Ghent churches from their exact geographical directions. With the protection of this heavenly host, the maiden has nothing to fear. Still, she hopes for a peaceful end to the conflict with her ​​father. The poet, now awakened, closes with a short prayer to God and the Virgin and all the saints to save the maiden and reconcile her with her ​​father.

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