Saturday, June 30, 2007

Happy Canada Day!

We at the MSCU wish everyone a happy and safe Canada Day.

Knowing that Canada Day was coming up I've been searching for something to post which combines both our beloved nation and the Middle Ages. I haven't really found anything worth posting. Strangely enough Canada isn't mentioned in Medieval literature.

Instead of something of historical interest, I have found the following web-comic: Medieval Canada. Now it doesn't have much to do with the Middle Ages (or Canada for that matter), but at least its name is relevant. While this comic is not my particular cup of tea, it does show how people continue reinterpret the Middle Ages.

Happy Canada Day!


Today in the Middle Ages

June 30th 1073: Gregory VII consecrated
A mere 911 years later, Harold Berman rejoiced

Medieval Ghosts: Denbigh Castle's Ghosts

Paranormal investigator Mike McManus recounts a vigil at the haunted ruins.

The results of the vigil were very good and sightings of dark featureless figures were seen by a number of members of our group, Supernatural Encounters Association. As we entered the ruins, we felt in awe of the place and imagined what life would have been like in those days.

The site where the dark featureless shape was spotted was in the area of the battlements, which runs along the top of the area, which once housed the kitchens and king's bed chambers.

I had just walked over to the wooden framed steps to retrieve my tape recorder and was on my way back along the battlements when members who were on the grassed area below noted a dark shape moving quickly behind me.

It was also in the area housing the kitchens that a cold spot was discovered. The night was still and warm with no trace of wind or chill; myself and another member of the group (K) walked into the kitchen area via the entranceway and a very cold wind could be very clearly felt. Yet upon entering the vast room, all was still.

On leaving we again felt the cold wind, and as we left the area, we found the night air to be still. All other members of the group were asked to walk through the entranceway to corroborate what we had felt. Everyone was in agreement that it was indeed a strange phenomenon.

We had the keys for the gates on the night of the vigil, and what was experienced in the Goblin Tower by Mark O'Driscoll and myself proved to the pair of us that something bad had once happened down at the bottom of the Tower.

During the first 45 minute session I was in the Goblin Tower with my team of four members, the other two teams of five being located around various parts of the castle. I sat myself on a window ledge in the tower looking down into the darkness with a torch to help me see.

After about 10 minutes, I began to feel very nervous as if something was coming up the stone steps from the bottom of the tower. I lasted for about five minutes more and had to move to another area.

At this time one of the female members of the group (M) was feeling very nervous and said she had seen a small red ball of light floating around the tower.

I then decided to venture down to the bottom of the tower with a male member of the team (S) and as I got half way down, my legs became very weak and my head began to spin. I had to hold onto the wall for support. The feeling I was getting of unease was also noted by (S).

It wasn't until the early hours of the morning that I spoke to Mark O'Driscoll, who had also gone to the Tower with his team about two hours after my team had been there. I asked him how he felt during the session, and he recounted the exact same feelings of dread that I had experienced much earlier.

He had sat in the same place as I had and felt the same things as I had, and we hadn't even discussed it previous to that. Later when most of the group had gone off to sleep, four of us stayed up and walked around the whole of the castle picking up various phenomena along the way. I found that on the left side of the building, I always felt light-headed (this was on ground level as well), but on the right I was fine.

The left side of the building is where the remaining battlements are located and the kitchen area. This is also the location of the castle well. It is believed that John DeLacey's eldest son fell off the battlement and plunged to his death into the well.

It was recorded on the night of the vigil that there was a scream heard coming from that area. Could this have been the ghostly cries of the poor victim? We will never know...


Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Second Coming...

Law and Revolution, II, The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition by Harold J. Berman

Anyone up to the task of reading this? Shudder....

Medieval Creations: Quasi-crystalline Designs

Those wondrously intricate tile mosaics that adorn medieval Islamic architecture may cloak a mastery of geometry not matched in the West for hundreds of years.

Historians have long assumed that sheer hard work with the equivalent of a ruler and compass allowed medieval craftsmen to create the ornate star-and-polygon tile patterns that cover mosques, shrines and other buildings that stretch from Turkey through Iran and on to India.

Now a Harvard University researcher argues that more than 500 years ago, math whizzes met up with the artists and began creating far more complex tile patterns that culminated in what mathematicians today call "quasi-crystalline designs."

Quasi-crystal patterns weren't demonstrated in the West until the 1970s.

"It shows us a culture that we often don't credit enough was far more advanced than we ever thought," contends Harvard graduate student Peter J. Lu, who studied the question after a vacation in Uzbekistan left him marvelling at the tilework.

This isn't run-of-the-mill geometry. Quasi-crystals are made by fitting together a set of shapes, including five- and 10-sided shapes, into patterns that, unlike typical tile floors, don't repeat.

In Friday's edition of the journal Science, Lu and Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt report finding a set of polygon-shaped tiles — a decagon, pentagon, diamond, bowtie and hexagon — that were arranged into distinctive patterns found on major Islamic buildings from the 12th through 15th centuries.

Examining architectural scrolls that were essentially training manuals for the time period, he found hand-drawn outlines of the five shapes. And when he combed through thousands of photos of medieval Islamic buildings, he found that same set of shapes increasingly used over the years to make ever-more complex patterns, including a seemingly true quasi-crystal by 1453.

It's not the first time such a link has been suggested.

But if it's right, "this would be a hitherto undiscovered episode in the spectacular developments of geometry in central Islamic lands ... achieved by artisans probably inspired by theoretical mathematicians," said Islamic art specialist Oleg Grabar.


MSCU Review: "Into Great Silence"

"Silence, Repetition, Rhythm "

Is it possible to find a movie both engrossing and boring at the same time? Or to thoroughly enjoy a movie, but never want to see it again?

For me (Ryan), Into Great Silence brought about a conflicting rage of emotions. I’m glad to have seen it, but I wouldn’t want to see it again. While the movie is captivating in its own way, it moves at glacial speed. It is certainly not for everyone. Those looking for sex, violence and explosions would best look elsewhere.

For those unfamiliar with the premise of this movie it is an examination of life inside the Grande Chartreuse, the head monastery of the reclusive Carthusian Order in France. Those well versed in monastic orders will recognize the Carthusians as a strict and studious order.

While this movie isn’t strictly medieval, it does give the best look inside a Carthusian monastery that most are likely to ever see. It’s hard to imagine that life at Grande Chartreuse has changed too much since the days of yore.

Now, what were my feelings? Good question. Let me say that the tag line for this movie (Silence, Repetition, Rhythm) is the most apt I’ve ever seen. There is very little dialogue in this movie. English? No. The only words spoken are in either French, German or Latin.

Additionally there is very little sound. The only sounds we hear are the natural rhythms of life in Grande Chartreuse: the footsteps of monks, chanting, dripping water, rain, wind, creaks, nature. These sounds come together to form an enchanting hushed soundtrack for the film. I’ve never sat in a quieter theater. The entire audience eventually becomes engulfed in the silence of the film. Even after it had ended, individuals were reluctant to utter a sound. The rhythm of the film lulls the audience into a near meditative state.

Moreover the film focuses on various brothers in the order. I was struck not by their otherworldliness, but rather by their humanity. I had pictured such men are paradigms of their faith, saints among men. But they are not saints, they are men. Periodically the camera focuses tightly on the faces of these men. We witness a range of emotions ranging from boredom to humility to embarrassment. We witness snippets of their daily lives. Like any other life, a range of experience occurs. They play, they laugh, they pray, they work, they toil, they suffer. They are human.

At the same time as I was awestruck by the movie, I was bored by it. At a run time of 169 minutes it felt long. There were times when I was watching my watch more than the film itself.

So how should I grade this movie? On one hand it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. A film of shocking beauty and simplicity. A film which made me feel actual emotion. On the other hand, it was slow, even boring in places. I’ve never felt more conflicted about a movie. It has my fullest recommendation. But if you wish to see it, it will likely be without me. Once is enough.

MSCU Rating: ?

Medieval Creations: Lasagna?

British researchers say the original recipe for an Italian specialty, lasagna, can be traced to England.

David Crompton and several others found a 14th century recipe in The Forme of Cury at the British Museum. The recipe book was commissioned by King Richard II in 1390.
Crompton works for The Grail Presents, a company that puts on medieval events.
"This is the first recorded recipe for a lasagna-based dish," said Crompton. "The Italian dish has tomatoes, which were only discovered two centuries later in the New World."
The ingredients include cinnamon and saffron, not common in the Italian version.
"We prepared the medieval was delicious, although strangely sweet and spicy," said Crompton.
The Forme of Cury calls it loseyns (pronounced lasan) and advises the cook to make a paste from flour, to roll it thin and cook it with grated cheese and other condiments.

An Italian Embassy spokesman says "whatever this old dish was called, it was not lasagna as we make it."


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Medieval ruin damaged by thieves

Thieves have stolen stainless steel panels that were used to prop up an historic site in Leicestershire.

The theft of the steel supports from the 13th Century Grace Dieu Priory near Shepshed resulted in approximately £100,000 damage.

The steel panels were used to support the remains of the ruin.

Leicestershire Police said "a lot of damage has been done" by the thieves who took the specially-formed plates from the site earlier this week.

English Heritage, which supported the restoration of the priory, is still inspecting the damage.
The priory dates back to 1235 when Rohese de Verdon founded the building for Augustinian canonesses.

It remained a place of worship until Henry VIII dissolved the nunnery in 1538, stripping the building of its pews, church windows and steeple.
From: BBC News

Monday, June 18, 2007

Word of the Week

This week's word: probatio pennae

A phrase, a name, a jingle, or any other form of doodling that results when a scribe tests a new or a recalcitrant quill, stylus or calamus. The Latin phrase translates literally as "a testing" or "proving of the quill," but, palaeographically, denotes the writing which results from this testing, not the action itself. Probationes pennae can occasionally be of some value in heuristic investigations, as scribes have a natural propensity for using their own names or that of the place where they were working as suitable test phrases.

From: Some Notes on Palaeography, Codicology, and Diplomatics (T.S. Haskett 2001)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Upcoming Beck Lectures in June

Dr. Matthew Driscoll
Tuesday, June 19th, 7:30 p.m.Harry Hickman Building, Room 116

“The Value of Books: Magnús í Tjaldanesi and the End of Manuscript Culturein Iceland”

Magnús Jónsson (1835-1922), from the farm Tjaldanes in western Iceland,was among the last in a long line of book-loving Icelanders, ordinarypeople with little or no formal education, who spent the long wintermonths copying out the texts of sagas. In his hand are preserved copies,in many case two, three or even four, of nearly two hundred sagas, about adozen of which are not found elsewhere. This paper will look at Magnús andhis scribal production.

Dr. Matthew Driscoll
Wednesday, June 20th, 8:30 a.m.Harry Hickman Building, Room 105

"Everything But the Smell: Toward a More Artefactual Digital Philology"

The paper will present some of the issues, both practical and theoretical,involved in describing and transcribing Icelandic primary sources usingTEI-conformant XML, looking in particular at how the ideas of theso-called ‘new’ or ‘material’ philology impact upon scholarly editorialpractice, and how various aspects of the text’s ‘artefactuality’, aspectswhich have generally (and often but not always by necessity) beenoverlooked in traditional printed editions, can be presented in thecontext of an electronic edition, without compromising the edition’susability.

Ragnheiður Mósesdóttir
Wednesday June 20th, 7:30 p.m. Harry Hickman Building, Room 116

"The Publications of the Arnamagnæan Commission 1772-1936.”

The Arnamagnæan Collection takes it name from Professor Árni Magnússon (1663-1730), whose collection of Icelandic and other early Scandinavianmanuscripts is among the largest and most important in the world. In hiswill he left the collection and a small bequest to the University ofCopenhagen, stipulating that students should be set to work editing thetexts. In 1772 a Royal Commission was established to oversee this work. This lecture will concentrate on the early work of the Commission, thechoice of texts to be edited, the editorial principles employed andproblems encountered, as well as the reception of the works published inthe period 1772 to 1936.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I sing of a city and of a website...

Wow, here's a neat website:

It's about a project by the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. They strive to digitally remodel the city of Rome on the date of June 21st, A.D. 320. To say that it's impressive is a monumental understatement (no pun intended).

And you thought that founding the race of Rome was difficult?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Blame Petrarch

Teacher makes sure his class won't make students 'vomiturus'

By IAN GILLESPIE The task, as Neil Tenney explains to his students, is straightforward. Match the English expression in the left-hand column to the Latin phrase onthe right.

Let's take No. 3, for instance.

"Are you dissing me?"

After scanning the list of phrases, one student volunteers an answer. "Insultasne tu mihi?"


Tenney moves on to No. 4. "I'm going to hurl."

After a few murmurs of delight from the Grade 12 students, somebody offers the Latin translation. "Vomiturus sum."


It's just another Tuesday morning class of Latin studies at London's Southsecondary school. If you think the content is unusual (vomiturus?), you'd be wrong: Like mostteachers, Tenney tries to make the topic fun and interesting to a generationweaned on video games, i-Pods and a galaxy of other entertainment options.

But if you think the class itself is unusual -- well, you'd be right. Because Tenney is the last remaining Latin teacher in London's secondarysystem -- including both the Thames Valley District school board and theLondon District Catholic school board. (According to spokesperson John Boles, the Catholic board last offered Latincourses in 1998.)

And with Tenney retiring at the end of June after 30 years of teaching, doesthat mean Latin is on its London deathbed?

Well, not quite. Tenney will be replaced by another teacher at South whenthe school year begins anew in September.

But there's no doubt the study of Latin is slowly going the way of the dodo. And by that I mean, extinct. (Which is derived from the Latin exstinguo,exstingui, exstinctum, meaning to extinguish or put out.) There was a time, of course, when almost any student worth their academicsalt could give you the meaning of "carpe diem" without the benefit of the1989 film The Dead Poet's Society. In fact, there was a time when manystudents might've told you the entire quotation is from Horace, and readslike this: "Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero." ("Seize the day,trust as little as possible in tomorrow.")

When it comes to pinpointing the cause of the decline in Latin studies, somehistorians cite Ontario's Hall-Dennis Report which, when it was released in1968, recommended most secondary school courses -- including Latin -- beremoved from the compulsory list. Add to that a high school stint shortened from five years to four years, adwindling list of optional opportunities and the declining popularity ofliberal arts courses (and an accompanying emphasis on courses connecteddirectly to finding a job), and you've got a recipe for decline (which isfrom the Latin, "detrecto.").

But today, about 55 South students are the only local high-schoolers stillplugging away at declensions, conjugations and Virgil. "It's really a constant, ongoing battle," says Tenney. "And I would justhate to see it go by the wayside."

It's not just Tenney's necktie (it depicts Rome's venerable Coliseum) thatbetrays his passion for a language spoken by Romans from about 1000 BC to500 AD. On the door of his classroom hangs a sign that states: "LinguaLatina Vivat." ("May the Latin Language Live," or more simply, "Long LiveLatin.")

If prodded, Tenney will explain that between 60 and 70 per cent of all English words come from Latin, and 80 per cent of words in the so-calledRomance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian and Portuguese) arederived from Latin and that its study has been linked to greaterpost-secondary academic success.

But according to Tenney, one of the main reasons to study Latin is toimprove one's communication skills -- something Tenney says "many people dont seem to have anymore." "I think basic language skills are life skills," he says. "The way you speak the way you write, even the way you think . . . makes an impression onpeople. And Latin plays a huge role in that." But it's more than just language.

During this 80-minute class, Tenney andhis students repeatedly refer to the poetry of Horace. And those references highlight some of the poet's philosophical views, including his belief that material possessions "cannot calm the soul." Instead, Horace wrote that we should pursue the simple pleasures.

That doesn't sound like a dead language to me. That sounds more like, "Advitam paramus." ("We are preparing for life.")


Saturday, June 9, 2007

We don't ask for much, merely your blood...

The MSCU believes strongly in giving back to the community. One of the easiest, yet often overlooked, ways of helping others is to donate the gift of life - blood.

With one simple and relatively pain-free donation as many as three lives can be saved. In British Columbia blood banks run a deficit each year. At one point every Canadian will need blood, the life you save could be your own.

Within the next month the MSCU would like to organize a blood drive. If you are at all interested please leave a comment or send us an email. Once a list of interested people is generated, we'll find a time which works for us all.

There is no need to feel nervous. As someone who has given blood several times, it is quick and painless. The advantage of going in a group is that we can provide moral support for each other.

If you are at all interested, please contact us. For more information on blood donation, please visit: Canadian Blood Services. Besides, what's more Medieval than the thought of community bleeding?

Word of the Week

This week's word: Hagiography

The Oxford English Dictionary defines this word as: The writing of the lives of saints; saints' lives as a branch of literature or legend.

It is derived from Greek, literally meaning "sacred writings." Hagiography was a popular Medieval genre and numerous examples survive from the period.

If you'd like to learn more about hagiography, you could take MEDI 210 Voices From the Middle Ages this coming Fall with Dr F. Kwakkel.

Mickus the Mouse?

KLAGENFURT, Austria -- Restoration work on an Austrian church has uncovered a 700-year-old fresco that some say bears a striking resemblance to Mickey Mouse.

The "medieval Mickey" is one of a group of animals and mythical creatures surrounding St Christopher on the exterior of a church in the village of Malta in the province of Carinthia.

Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, is shown standing in a river.

Art historian Eduard Mahlknecht said the mouse-like creature could be beaver or a weasel.
The fresco dates from around 1300, Mahlknecht said.

Malta's mayor, Hans Peter Schaar, joked that "perhaps Hollywood could become our partner city."

-- contributed to this report
Article from:

The more things change...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Getting to the the MSCU... Part 2

Getting to know... Madeleine

My name is Madeleine Gubbels and I will be entering my fifth and final year at UVic this September. I am the Vice President for the Medieval Studies Course Union.

My interest in Medieval Studies began somewhat in eighth grade Socials, but remained latent until I took Hist 236 in my first year of university. I liked the intellectual challenge the field offered me, as well as its comprehensiveness, so after three years of academic wandering I finally settled on my major.

I love the history found in the Middle Ages. It is fascinating and rich in material. Taking Medieval Studies has not been simply an education in history, but an education in culture. I have learned about art, architecture, philosophy, law, classical antiquity, music, literature, languages, manuscripts and calligraphy, agriculture, war and conquests, religion and theology, society, and daily medieval life during my studies of the Middle Ages. Meeting the great (and lesser) minds and hearts of the medieval centuries, albeit at times anonymous, is thrilling.

My main areas of interest in Medieval Studies are the history of the preservation and transmission of knowledge, monastic and mendicant history, hagiography, and the development of Christianity. I am interested in doing further research in both the history of the Sacraments and the role of women in medieval society.

My favourite course at UVic has been Hist 380D: Individual, Family, and Community in Medieval Society. It is being offered this year again, and I highly recommend it. It is an excellent course in social history that examines especially marriage, the family, and the role of women and children.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Check out our Links

I don`t know how many people actually pay attention to our links, but we`ve added quite a few new ones over the past week. These links range from the fun (Estimating the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow) to the academic (the Medieval Studies Library Resource).

These are links that you can`t find in just any old place. I`d particularly recommend the Medieval Studies Library Resource; it`s a treasure trove of links and images and would be the perfect way to start researching an essay.

Whether you`re looking for an fun and education way to spend a few hours or looking to start an essay, the MSCU blog has the link for you.

More Expensive than a Textbook

Annonce de Peter Kidd : The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has bought the Northumberland Bestiary, a 13th-century English Gothic illuminated manuscript.Considered an outstanding example of medieval art, the encyclopedia of animals, both real and imaginary, is richly illustrated in 112 colored ink drawings that includes a full-page miniature depicting Adam naming the beasts, from hawks and monkeys to griffins and dragons.Sotheby's had auctioned the manuscript in London in 1990. The seller then was the 11th Duke of Northumberland, whose family had owned it since the 18th century. Bernard Quaritch bought the manuscript at Sotheby's for $5.8 million. Manuscript experts said they believed his client was Ladislas von Hoffman, a Washington collector.The manuscript will go on view at the Getty today (through July 29) as part of Medieval Beasts, an exhibition of animal images.

This article was found on If you have time you should give this blog a look. It's devoted to Medieval manuscripts and book culture and is rather fascinating. The only problem is that it's most in French, the anglophones among us may have trouble with it.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

MSCU Word of the Week

Welcome to a new weekly feature where various MSCU Executive members will introduce a new word which relates to the Middle Ages. These words can relate to any aspect of the Middle Ages, general or specific. If you'd like to submit a new word to this feature please post it in the comment field.

This week's word: hylemorphism

This word is derived from the Greek hylo- meaning "substance or matter" and morphous meaning "form." The word means, "that which has both matter and substance."

This word relates to the philosophy of St Augustine. He believed in the doctrine of universal hylemorphism. Literally, the phrase means that everything is composed/constituted of both form and matter. This belief forms the basis of the Augustinian/Franciscan school of thought in the Middle Ages.

This belief has profound philosophical implications. If you care to know more I'd suggest picking up Frederick's Copleston's A History of Philosophy, Vol. 2, Part 2: Medieval Philosophy. Or you could also take Phil. 305 with Dr E.W. Kluge offered next year as a year-long course (plus it counts for Medi credits).

The 'J' Word

Here's an interesting application for your knowledge of the Middle Ages: fashion designer.

When you look for it, there's actually quite a bit of Medievally inspired fashion out there. This Book of Hours handbag is one such example of the Middle Ages influencing modern fashion.

And if you'd rather work on more authentic projects there is always a market for replica Medieval costumes and clothing. A simple Internet search turns up dozens of websites which sell such replicas, here's one for example:

So if you have an interest in fashion, the Middle Ages can prove a fruitful muse indeed.