The Minnesinger Jakob von Warte, 1274-1331 (Codex Manesse, fol. 46v) is depicted grey-haired and balding, bathing in water filled with flowers, attended by a maidservant who is keeping his bathwater warm and by three virgins, one of whom is massaging his arm, while another is fetching him a goblet of wine, and a third is crowning him with roses.
Richard Moritz Meyer, in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, tells us that the image can be accorded “documentary weight,” but dismisses the poet as a “dilletante,” who “liked to use the most common forms.”
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 bunsâ€”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 weâ€™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.
â€œWe have a recipe from a household book from 1604 compiled by a certain Lady Elinor Fettiplace that includes a recipe for a soul cake,â€ says Dr. Barbara Ravelhofer, a professor of English literature at Durham University and facilitator of the soul cake challenge. â€œHowever, it doesnâ€™t give us the quantitiesâ€”nor does it tell us how long to bake it. So you have to work out for yourself what to do with the ingredients.â€ 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 cakeâ€”as well as the tradition that surrounds it.
Soul cakes are connected to Britainâ€™s early Christian celebrations known as All Saintsâ€™ Day and All Soulsâ€™ Day, Halloween-like festivities commemorating the recently departed. On November 2nd, beggars would weave their way through the chilly darkness, rapping on wealthy homeownersâ€™ 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 cakeâ€”a tradition that looks a lot like modern-day trick-or-treating. And, though itâ€™s impossible to definitively claim souling as the progenitor of tricking and treating, Dr. Ravelhofer says theyâ€™re certainly connected. However, she points out, there are key differences. â€œA soul-caker was somebody who did something to obtain something,â€ she says. â€œWhereas trick-or-treating strikes me as, â€˜Give me something or else Iâ€™ll do something.â€™â€
Demanding candy door-to-door, she posits, is a â€œslightly degenerated, commercialized formâ€ of the All Soulsâ€™ 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 â€œpoor, departed soul,â€ 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 disappearedâ€”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 Fettiplaceâ€™s 17th-century recipe, which reads:
â€œTake 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.â€
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.
â€œWe had proper food archaeologists who really got into the spirit of things, and then we had candidates who tried to microwave it,â€ says Dr. Ravelhofer.
David Petts, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University, posted about his soul cakes on his personal blog, likening them to â€œslightly dense hot-cross buns.â€ 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 doesnâ€™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.
The far reaches of the outer solar system may be home to an icy giant â€” a hypothetical planet scientists have dubbed â€œPlanet Nine.â€
Meanwhile, archives back on Earth are home to dozens of medieval records documenting the passage of comets through the heavens. Now, two researchers from Queenâ€™s University Belfast in Northern Ireland are hoping to use these old scrolls and tapestries to solve the modern astronomical mystery of Planet Nine.
â€œWe have a wealth of historical records of comets in Old English, Old Irish, Latin and Russian which have been overlooked for a long time,â€ said university medievalist Marilina Cesario, one of the leaders of the project. â€œEarly medieval people were fascinated by the heavens, as much as we are today.â€
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 â€œdwarf planetâ€ in 2006. Nor is it Nibiru, the completely fictional â€œrogue planetâ€ 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 Hawaiiâ€™s Mauna Kea volcano.
Medieval records could provide another tool, said Pedro Lacerda, a Queenâ€™s University astronomer and the other leader of the project.
â€œWe 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,â€ Lacerda told Live Science. â€œThe 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.â€
Uta von Ballenstedt (c.â€‰1000 â€” 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: â€œIn first place, ahead of all others, with Uta von Naumburg.â€
Questa mia azza era piena de polvere e si Ã¨ la ditta azza busada intorno intorno et Ã¨ questa polvere sÃ¬ forte corrosiva che subito come ella tocha l’ochio, l’omo per nissun modo nol pÃ² avrire e fuorse may non vederÃ piÃ¹.
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’Ã¨ di danno e niente piÃ¹ 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 piÃ¹ 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.
MS Ludwig XV 13 (Getty)
Questa Ã¨ 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 pÃ² far cum ogni rutorio che sia fino, che ben ne troverÃ 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.
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 skeletonâ€™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,â€ said Mr Owen, from the universityâ€™s college of engineering.
â€œThe 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.
â€œThey were 6ft 2in or 6ft 3in, and strapping individuals,â€ Mr Owen said.
â€œA longbow was 6ft 6in and made from a particular part of a yew tree to generate incredibly efficient â€˜springâ€™.
â€œIt was mega hi-tech, and it gave England and Wales military superiority. These archers were the elite athletes of their day.â€
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 â€œshooting heavy longbows regularlyâ€.
“Many of the skeletons recovered show evidence of repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder and lower spine,â€ 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.”
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.