Thursday, January 31, 2008

Medieval British map retains mysteries

Hanging in Oxford's Bodleian Library, the Gough Map - named after its 19th century owner Richard Gough - is about half a metre high and just over a metre wide.

It was drawn around the year 1360 and there are no other known medieval maps as big or as accurate.

It's made of vellum - now-fragile, very thin animal hide - and the top of the page points east, not north, with the country lying down on its side.

The red and green map marks out more than 600 villages and towns, like London and Oxford, 200 rivers including the Thames and the Humber, and forests, like Sherwood Forest, as well as a very basic if incomplete road network of over 4,700 kilometres.

Nick Millea is the Map Librarian at the Bodleian Library and the publisher of the new book of the map. He says it is completely unique.

"It really is the first map of its kind to show the geography of Britain - there's nothing before it," he said.

"And you can recognise the outline of the British coastline, which from previous maps you can't really - it's very difficult to work out what's going on."

Mr Millea says there are still a lot of mysteries about the Gough Map.

"We know absolutely nothing about who drew it up and why," he said.

"When this map first became available was around about 1360. Perhaps a tiny minority of the population would have known what it was - they could have looked at it - but to think about the concept of a map would have been totally alien."

He says scholars are not even entirely sure what it was used for.

"It could have had an administrative purpose, it could have been used for people to work out their way around the country - it's going to have to be very high-ranking officials working on this," he said.

"It could simply be a statement of empire - a map made for royalty, if you like - saying, 'look, here's what we've got, here's England, here's Wales, and Scotland's next on our hit list'."

It's thought the map was made when Edward III was king. It shows the coast close to France at a time when the King had great success invading French towns.

In fact the depiction of much of the English coast is remarkably accurate, as are areas near Oxford where there had been some technical advances in geography, all done with access to nothing higher than the hills.

But the mystery is why some major roads - clearly well known at the time - were left out of the map.

"I suspect that most of the information about placement of the settlements was done simply by word of mouth," Mr Millea said.

"Someone would have said, 'well the next town from Oxford if you go to the west is Whitney', so I can't imagine that one person or one team of people would have gone out into the landscape."

He says it is likely the map is a compilation of geographic knowledge from many different people.

"I think one of the key things is the great enigma of the Gough Map; these thin red lines," he said.

"In the past it's been assumed that this was a road map, [but] I think in the last four or five years of looking at this, we can say that it's not a road map - I don't think these red lines are roads, because the main roads that were well-known in the 1360s, they're not included.

"The red lines seem to be a cartographic construct, a way of saying that the distance between two places is so many miles, and that you'll see a figure in Roman numerals next to each of these little red lines, so I think it's more an example of sophisticated map-making."

Mr Millea says it is possible the map was drawn up as a means or asserting control over the area.

"One phrase we like to use in cartography is 'the power of maps'," he said.

"[We look at] why was this made made, and what it shows and doesn't show - so many of the real principle roads just aren't there."

You can see an interactive version of the Gough Map at Mapping the Realm.

Experts unearth medieval Berlin under car park

A team of experts has unearthed an 800-year-old cellar under a central Berlin car park which they say dates the city back to the 12th century, earlier than previously thought.

The cellar, which dates from 1192, was found alongside the remains of a graveyard, church and school on a site which the archaeologists say formed the heart of medieval Berlin.

Museum experts had previously been able to date the medieval town where Berlin now stands back to 1237 using church records.

"We are unearthing a medieval town in the centre of a modern city. Usually modern cities are so built up which makes excavation difficult -- so this is a very rare find," said lead archaeologist Claudia Melisch, running her hand along striped layers of medieval soil.

The 1,100 square meter dig site, overshadowed by grey concrete tower blocks and enclosed by busy roads, was first unearthed in March last year, when the team found skeletons and the remains of a school from later in the Middle Ages.

But the cellar, which was discovered just a few weeks ago, became the site's prize find this week, when its oak beams were dated for the first time.

Melisch said the site, which straddled medieval Berlin and the town of Coelln, was especially lucky to survive Berlin's bombardment during World War Two when large parts of the city were completely destroyed.

Ironically, it was thanks to a thick layer of concrete that the site survived intensive East German building programs during post-war years which drove foundations through the soil.

From: Reuters

Tomorrow in the Middle Ages

1st Febuary, 1327 - Teenage Edward III is crowned King of England, but country is ruled by his mother Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer.


UBC Imus

UBC Itinerary Bible
Tuesday Feburary 19th 2008

Three cars and eleven people – one destiny

7:30 am – Meet at Uvic (in front of steps of bookstore)
7:45 – Leave UVic
8:30 – Arrive at ferry terminal ($11.80 per person, $36.85 per car)
9:00 – Board Ferry

Ride on Ferry (use time to your own peril)

10:45 – Arrive in Vancouver

Drive to UBC (enjoy the scenery)

11:45 – Arrive to UBC

Find Special Collections (in library) and possibly eat lunch

1:00 pm – Dr Kwakkel’s presentation starts

Watch Dr Kwakkel and/or MSS

3:00 – Presentation finishes

Say tearful goodbye/thank-you to Dr Kwakkel

3:15 – Leave for mystery secondary activity at UBC
4:30 – Leave for the Ferries
6:30 – Arrive at Ferries
7:00 – Board Ferry
8:45- Arrive in Victoria

Escort people home/possibly have dinner (optional)

10:00/11:00 pm – Arrive to your individual homes, tired but content

The Greatest Action Story Ever Told

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A glimpse into our futures...

"American Thinker?" There's an oxymoron for you...

Is A New Dark Age At Hand?

The Internet has brought a sudden and tremendous change in the history of man's search for information. We like to think that the Internet, the I-Pod, the I-phone, and all the other "Eyes of the Future" will bring about a new Age of Enlightenment, with all the wisdom and artistry of mankind instantly available to everyone's fingertips.

But suppose we're wrong. As Herbert E. Meyer recently put it:

"...information is like water. It's vital to our lives; we cannot survive without it. But if too much pours over us - we drown."

I dare to suggest that we are drowning, that the dam has burst and we are bring swept by the deluge into a new Dark Age of ignorance and superstition.

The Google glut

In the Dark Ages - which began with barbarians driving Roman civilization from Europe and ended with the Medieval awakening, the Italian Renaissance and the Gutenberg revolution - long nights were filled with gossip, rumor, storytelling, and idle fancies flowing into a fact-impoverished world....

Today, easy access to the Internet is flooding us with gossip, rumor, celebrity tales, and slant that drown out the trickle of actual truth. The Internet can tell you anything you want to know with a googly glance at its googol of inputs. We no longer need seek out and read a book to learn; we need only power a search engine with a few words, even when they're spelt inkorekly.

Internet's Wikipedia, which is as objective as a list on a barroom menu, and often as fully fact-checked as a diatribe, has all but replaced studiously researched encyclopedias.

"Information" is not the same thing as "fact". But eventually, we forget the distinction and uncritically accept all information as truth. When a briefly popular author invented a mythical society, the Priory of Sion, Google was rapidly filled with thousands of references to its history, organization, famous leaders, and its lost, hidden or church-burned documents - none of which were true. Need one add that 70% of us believe in UFOs and 70% believe that JFK was the victim of a political assassination plot.

And thus, if it's "hot" on the Internet, we uncritically accept the fad of the moment. A growing multitude drink water from bottles that Pepsi and Coke fill from New York water faucets rather than drink the water coming out of those faucets because we've been warned that non-toilet trained Catskill fish swam in it.

The stifling of skills

In the Dark Ages, the upheavals from wars and barbarian invasions eroded education and the common knowledge of skills and arts, which were preserved only in a few places such as monasteries....

We accept this flood uncritically because we are no longer trained to use our minds. In ancient days, one was expected to listen to and retain a million words for instant recitation. Then, the Greeks and Romans, and their latter-day Renaissance counterparts, couched their minions to read the written word, rather than listen to some minstrel song, like those from the likes of Homer. But at least education in readin', ritin' and 'rithmetic were still considered a necessity as ways of training the mind to think.

Now, when hand calculators instantly answer the most complicated A/S/M/D mélange conceivable and times-tables are no longer necessary, memory can be used for better things like celebrity gossip and e-mail addresses. Why bother anyway? Sex ed and 'personal development" are the real needs!

The passivation of leisure

We are also losing our leisure skills. Western society brags of the prosperity brought to it by technological breakthroughs while disregarding their social side-effects. These inventions with unintended consequences began with Scotland inventing the Industrial Revolution, thereby causing labor to move from farms to mines and mills. Then the phonograph brought music into every house-bound ear, thereby inducing parents and children, who once learned and played instruments at home and amuse themselves in neighborly song fests, amateur combos, quartets and pickup bands to just sit and listen to the parlor Victrola. Listening replaced performing.

Radio brought entertainment and the world into the living room, so that neighbors and relatives who had once gathered to chat and tell stories sat quietly in front of talking boxes. And why bother to read so much, if just listening is easier and cheaper. In passing, it ought be stated that free radio brought along radio ads that provoked family purchases of a superabundance of Wheaties, Ovaltine, Pepsi, Ivory-soap, Tide and Lux.

Then came television, showing scenes and details that could only be imagined while listening to the radio, so imagination was left to Castles-in-Spain daydream-time. There were also movies, but why drive to theaters when you can watch a move on TV or download it from the Internet.
And what little reading we now do is confined to TV schedules, movie timetables, and magazines and books about the doings of politicians and celebrities whom TeeVee made infamous. Or we try to dig up the real dirt about those celebrities on - yes - the Internet.

We used to go to concerts. Now, enabled by Dialup to download any music onto a CD, music is more easily heard using good earphones than by motoring through downtown traffic to Symphony Hall to look three tiers down at a hundred seated people chugging away! Symphonies are declining everywhere while motion-dominant Opera thrives: another victory for look over listen.

We used to participate in sports. Then, TV began gobbling up the remaining free time, once devoted to stickball, stoopball, roller-skating and burying treasure in empty lots, to watching professional sports on TV or simulating them in computer games. Even the most basic physical activities of our ancestors, such as walking or horseback riding, were obliterated by the automobile - which at least provided some arm and right-foot exercise.. But even that will soon be eliminated by telecommuting and Internet shopping. We are becoming a nation of couch- and console-potatoes.

The triumph of triviality

The upheavals of the Dark Ages so restricted travel that most people lived in isolated villages, unknowing and unconcerned with great issues and preoccupied with the trivia of daily life...

E-mail instantly and cheaply sends our just-thought-ofs' to your computer list. No longer need you spend time writing down and thinking about what you're going to say. And you don't have to worry about spelling [nor own a dictionary anymore]: an email maven corrects spelling [never information or syntax] errors. Messages need not be composed with pith, wit, personality or any particular intent. They need only be laboriously typed without a syntactical glance and sent out quickstep. On hearing "You've got mail", most such free-from-thinking machinations are scanned with deserved dispatch and deleted. Inadvertently have we also deleted from our lives the joys and treasures of personal correspondence - treasured emails lie in the category of seashore sand-castles; they get tidied up in the next tide. Autographed signatures at the bottom of cherished letters have been replaced with scrawls of accidental heroes on baseballs and movie albums.

Cell phones provide instantaneous communiqués to wherever a whomever happens to be. One often talks the instant a name pops into her head so that chatting takes the place of time-wasting speculation about work, family, church or country.

In being preoccupied with trivia, we're only imitating our masters in the entertainment world. With the triumph of FX and morphing, movies and TV shows have lost what little literacy they ever had. Dialogue movies have started to disappear with flash, slash, and bash becoming Hollywood's latest sacred cash-cow. On TV, CSI's multiple second-long quick cuts, and "unscripted" Que Sera, Sera reality shows are replacing slow-moving situation comedies, mysteries, musicals and adventure tales. Modern talkies - and now TV - contain fewer words than silent films showed in their title cards.

And needless to say, the Internet encourages, and amplifies this trend toward triviality: digits ranging through digitized agendas instead of eyes scanning a better known analog world; ear-splitting sounds rather than script-advancing dialogue; dramatic eye-confounding screen switches instead of stage play continuity. Game buttons, Cable remotes, and Internet clicking have trained us to hop, skip, and jump - rather than slowly turn pages in an easy chair.


And so, the Internet has induced society to scorch its path from see-read-listen-remember-digest into scan and flip, thereby replacing judgment with opinion, objective reasoning with subjective impression, and common sense with consensus. We are thus becoming perfect little lemmings, easily stampeded by marketers, fad creators, propagandists, and politicians with hidden agendas.

Is our culture navigating the circle back to where darkness lies waiting for us? Is our modern path freeing us from thought - while letting in a new horde of barbarians, the Superficials, to open our gates to a New Dark Age?

With easy-access now on cell phone and soon, perhaps, via a chip implanted into our cortexes or spines, this next fifty years is going to get very interesting (in the Chinese sense) unless the world ends first - or until something or Someone more meaningful comes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Ruling Class

MSCU Movie Night Choice #5

The Lion in the Winter

MSCU Movie Night Choice #4

Beowulf (1999)

MSCU Movie Night Choice #3


MSCU Movie Night Choice #2

A Knight's Tale

MSCU Movie Night Choice #1

Stars in our eyes and ice under our feet

Proving that the Medieval Studies Course Union is more fun than a barrel of monkeys, we have two exciting events planed for the near future.

1. Medievalists on Ice - Tonight (Jan. 26) we are going skating at Oak Bay Rec. Centre between 7:15 - 8:45 pm. If you would like a ride, we are gathering near the computer lab in Clearihue at 6:50 pm. We have plenty of seats so don't worry if you want to tag along.

2. Faux-Medievalists on Film - We are having a movie night on Febuary 5th 2008 between 6:30 - 9:30 pm in Clearihue A201. We have yet to choose a movie, so we are putting the choice to vote. Your choices are: A Knight's Tale, Camelot, Beowulf (1999 version), The Lion in Winter, The Ruling Class. As always pizza will be provided. Pizza and a movie? What a deal!

And don't forget our weekly Latin Study and Student Research Collective. LaSt runs every Monday between 3:30 - 5:00 in Clearihue C115. SReCo runs every Wednesday night between 7:00 - 8:30 in Clearihue A201. The discussion topic for this week is Just War Theory in the Middle Ages.

Lastly, but not leastly, if you are interested in presenting a paper at the student-run Medieval Studies conference, please submit your proposals (max. 200 words) to Sheryl. If you are interested in attending the conference, it will be on March 8th. More information will be announced shortly.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Two MSCU Events

Two quick announcements for everyone:

1. Our first Latin Study group was a resounding success. If you are interested in attending this group, we will be meeting weekly on Mondays between 3:30 - 4:50 pm in Clearihue C115. If you own a copy of Wheelock's Latin we encourage you to bring it with you. This group is open to anyone regardless of one's Latin experience.

2. We will be having an informal skating night on Saturday the 26th of January between 7:15 - 8:45 pm at Oak Bay Rec. Centre. This event is open to any students or staff who are interested in hitting the ice with the Medieval Studies Course Union. Rides can be arranged, simply email us with your intentions. If you are interested in coming please try to let us know before hand. The cost for skate rental and ice is around $7.

All the best,
Medieval Studies Course Union

P.S. Don't forget that we're having our weekly discussion group in Clearihue A201 between 7:00 - 8:20 pm on Wednesday night.

Friday, January 18, 2008

UBC Trip Information

In this entry you will find the most definitive information about the planned trip to the University of British Columbia.

As some of you may know, before planting his flag at our beloved university, Dr Erik Kwakkel was an instructor at UBC. Dr Kwakkel has generously offered to lend us his time and connections at his former place of work to grant the MSCU a showing of their special collections.

For those interested in joining us, here is all the relevant information:

WHEN: Tuesday 19th Feburary, 2008

WHERE: Vancouver, more specially, the University of British Columbia

HOW: As of right now we have two drivers capable of carrying ten people. If more than ten people are interested in going, we may be able to organize for a larger convoy.

HOW MUCH: At this point in time, the trip shouldn't cost you any money. The MSCU has submitted their budget and travel fund requests, but they have yet to be approved. If everything works as it should, there should be no cost involved.

If you are interested in knowing more, or signing up for the trip, we'll be having a meeting to finalize our plans on:

Monday 28th January 08 - 7:30pm- 8:20pm Clearihue A206

If you cannot make this meeting and would still like to go, please let us know.

Any questions can be directed to Ryan Hunt.

Medieval Studies Course Union

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Today in the Middle Ages

17 January, 1377 - Pope Gregory XI moves Papacy back to Rome from Avignon.

Mon Dieu!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Manuscript Blog

For those of you with an interest in manuscripts and blogs, I'm posting a link to a site that combines these two things. Check it out! Just a word, it's in French. However, the useful links in the right column are in various languages.

PECIA: Le manuscrit médiéval:


Reviving Latin Study

Salvete amici,

I will be reviving the Latin Study group this semester.

We'll be meeting Mondays at 3:30 pm, unless many and serious objections are raised. Bring Wheelock. We'll dive into some translations and work on/pick up the grammar as we go.

As for room, I didn't book one in time for this upcoming Monday, so meet me at "The Bench"—that bench in the corner of Clearihue before you enter the Medieval Studies/Computer Store hallway. With strength in numbers, we'll commandeer a room.

Questions? Objections?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Matt's Medieval Machinations

Making a triumphant return next week on Wednesday night will be the first MSCU Research Collective meeting of 2008.

The indomitable spirit of intellectual endeavour will not be beaten into submission and will reign strong again. Just as the army of the First Crusade remained true to its task, so too shall we, the MSCU, remain true to ours: to spread a passion and understanding of all things medieval.

So do please attend these fun events - replete with laughter, joy, tears, and mean-spirited criticism of humanists and other naysayers who like to disparage the middle ages - where you can partake in intellectually stimulating discussion with like-minded individuals.

The topic for next week is yet to be determined, as is the room and exact time. More details to follow.

Also, have you ever stopped to look in on class during your peregrinations of Clearihue and witnessed a student presenting in front of his or her class? Have you ever thought, "wow, presenting my ideas looks like a lot of fun?"

Well look no further than your trusty MSCU to provide for you an opportunity to present your very own ideas in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. We are pleased to announce that later this year (March) we will be hosting the first annual University of Victoria Medieval Studies Joint Faculty/Student Conference.

For this event, students are invited to submit an abstract or proposal of a paper related to the middle ages. This can be drawn from a paper you have already written, or from a paper you plan on writing. If your paper is selected, you will have the opportunity to present your topic to fellow students and faculty during the conference, and receive feedback from both students and faculty. This is an excellent chance to gain some valuable experience in presenting papers, and to participate in an intellectually stimulating and friendly event.

There will be more details to follow, but please inform us early if you intend on submitting a

Matt 'the Conqueror' Mchaffie

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Unearthing city's vibrant past one tiny piece at a time

The air was thick with the stench of animals, the din of horses braying and traders raising the volume as they yelled to attract custom.

It was market day and everyone would be vying to get the best prices for their goods in the square surrounded by ale houses.

The rowdy scene would have been typical of market day in the Grassmarket in 18th-century Edinburgh. As far back as the late 15th century, it is known that the Grassmarket was a thriving place, where corn and livestock were bought and sold several days a week. Yet little was known about what happened in the area before that time – until now.

A city firm of archaeologists has been working on the site alongside contractors excavating the Grassmarket as part of a £5.1 million revamp. Experts from Headland Archaeology, based in Jane Street, have been overseeing excavations since September, and it seems their patience has finally paid off.

Before Christmas, they discovered a horseshoe and a buckle in good condition, thought to be from the late medieval period. But what has excited experts even more is the discovery, deeper down beneath the cobbles, of four pits containing a handful of burnt animal bones and cereal grains, which point to the existence of a pre-medieval and possibly prehistoric settlement in the area. The High Street has long been known to have had residents in early times, but there was not thought to have been settlement in the vicinity of the Grassmarket until the 15th century.

Project manager Simon Stronach explains: "The horseshoe and buckle are interesting. It's quite rare to get a buckle in such good condition. However, we have also found evidence of settlement before that – charred wheat and barley, and bones. "In most pits we'd expect to find medieval pottery. The fact that we are only finding bone and grain suggests it dates from earlier times.

Potentially that's very exciting to see early settlement away from the High Street." The discovery will not be confirmed until the burnt material undergoes radiocarbon dating, to tell its exact age. The items are just the latest discovery by the firm, which has been operating from its Edinburgh base for more than a decade. Other notable discoveries it has been involved in include a cannonball thought to have been used in the siege of Leith; an Iron Age chariot – later found to be the oldest in Britain – dug up in 2001 near the Newbridge roundabout; and a variety of artifacts from the Scottish Parliament site, including a 14th-century Spanish olive jar.

James McMeekin, project supervisor at the Grassmarket site, admits he had almost given up hope of finding anything there when he came upon the horseshoe in November. The little arc, which reflects the smaller size of horses' feet in medieval times, is badly corroded and will need to be x-rayed to enable further study. But when this happens the team hope to be able to make out details which could indicate more precisely the period it is from.

"We were opening up narrow trenches while they put in new drains," says Mr McMeekin. "I was cleaning off the cobbles to get a better view, in the hope of finding something, when I saw a lump sticking out of the soil – it was the horseshoe." The plain buckle, made of copper alloy, was discovered about a month earlier. Mr Stronach explains: "We got it with a metal detector. It has no decoration so it's highly unlikely it belonged to a high status person. But it was owned by someone who could afford decent clothing, maybe a tradesman or a burgher."

Headland Archaeology made the news at the end of last year when the firm successfully identified the remains of six medieval bishops buried more than 600 years ago. The bishops, who died between 1200 and 1360, were found at Whithorn Priory in Galloway, between 1957 and 1967. Yet it took a study by Headland, funded by Historic Scotland, to uncover who they were, where they came from and even what they ate.

The director of Headland, Dr Chris Lowe, an archaeologist of 27 years' experience, was involved in the process, which took more than a year. He worked from documentary records and examined the skeletons – both complete and incomplete – matching skulls in boxes with original photos taken of the remains.

Radiocarbon dating, combined with research into historical records, helped to pinpoint the exact years when the bishops had died. Back in 1999, the Headland experts were tasked with piecing together life in the Canongate, digging up the site of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. Experts were able to gain a snapshot of what life was like from the 13th and 14th centuries after finding artifacts dumped by Canongate residents in rubbish tips.

Merchants settled in the Canongate from the time of David I in long houses, which ran through to Holyrood Road. These wealthy residents dined off the finest tableware, imported from Belgium, France and Holland. The discovery of bone gaming dice led to the revelation that well-off people in those times were not averse to having a flutter.

Another important discovery came in 2004, when the archaeologists discovered an anchor, a ring, a bone toothbrush and a 16th-century cannonball, pictured below, while excavating a construction site in Giles Street. It could have been fired as the English forces, under the orders of Queen Elizabeth I, joined the Scots who refused to leave the fortress during the siege of Leith.

Just last year, excavations at St Patrick's Church on the Cowgate turned up a large ditch of pots, which was not unexpected. However, the ditch was unusual because it was waterlogged. Being permanently wet meant that it preserved rarer treasures, such as leather harnesses and some leather clothing, as well as a bone comb.

Of all the firm's many discoveries, which have been the most satisfying? "The parliament was our biggest excavation, which saw a big expanse of the medieval town exposed," says Mr Stronach, "and the Grassmarket is good because it is surprising." So is Edinburgh a gem of a place for archaeologists to work? "In medieval towns you can put a spade in the ground and find a pot," says Mr Stronach. "Wherever you dig in Edinburgh you get a variety of remains, and Leith is different again because of its maritime history." He adds: "For me, yes, Edinburgh is the best possible place in which to be an archaeologist."

For the rest click here.

Giovanni Boccaccio’s house reopens to the public in Certaldo

Certaldo (Florence) – After being closed to the public for two years, the house of one of the fathers of the Italian language, Giovanni Boccaccio, is about to reopen in the historical centre of Certaldo in the Province of Florence.

This medieval building had been closed following the need for renovation work which imposed urgent intervention in 2005. Giovanni Boccaccio died in this house on December 21st 1375 and today it is the site of the National Boccaccio Study Centre, a museum and a library.

Boccaccio’s House is reopening regularly to the public this year from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm non-stop daily except Mondays. Entrance to the House will be free of cost for two months, until February 28th, to celebrate the reopening and the 50th anniversary of the “Giovanni Boccaccio” National Association.

Beginning in March, there will again be an entrance fee with the possibility of purchasing a special ticket giving access to the Boccaccio House, Palazzo Pretorio and the Sacred Art Museum.

Visitors can admire this renovated house, go up and visit the tower which had been closed for the last 10 years and see all the various phases of the home, from the 1300s to the 1800s, when Marchesa Carlotta Lenzoni de’ Medici bought the house to make it into a museum and the final reconstruction of the home in 1957 following its destruction due to bombings during World War II.

Church's destiny is a watery grave

A CHURCH on the north Suffolk coast will be lost to the ravages of nature.

For Environment Agency (EA) officials have identified St Andrew's Church, at Covehithe, as the fastest eroding in the country and predicted the church will be consumed by the deep within 60 years.

Church leaders and heritage enthusiasts have mourned the inevitable loss of the precious piece of East Anglian history.

The Rev Leonard Payne, team vicar with the Sole Bay Ministry with responsibility for Covehithe, runs regular services in the smaller “church within a church” - dwarfed by the medieval ruins of its predecessor.

“It is a magnificent building in terms of its historic significance,” he said. “We have had major historians from Oxford and Cambridge visiting to look at the quality of the work.

“It also still fulfils a need. It is very traditional so it seems to gather people whose spiritual needs are not met elsewhere.

“It is more than just a place. Christian theology says the church is the people, not the place, but in many ways the building becomes the font of local history and that is very important. Where will it go now? It will be lost forever.

“When you look at that history and all the people who are buried there, it is very sad.”

The church was most likely built in the 15th century, but was dismantled in 1672 to build a new building within the old one - seemingly because the cost of maintaining the giant building was too high for the small parish, then known as North Hales.

Much of the material from the original church was used in the construction of the new one, with several lumps of masonry in its east wall containing decorative carvings from the shrines of the earlier structure.

EA figures show a loss of 75m of cliff at Cove Point between 1992 and 2006 at an average rate of 5.3m per year. The church now stands just 330m from the receding cliffs.

Waveney District Council adopted a policy of “no active intervention” for this section of shoreline in 1996.

Coastal planners said their limited budget must be directed to protecting homes and valuable infrastructure elsewhere, leaving the village of Covehithe to be sacrificed along with much of the picturesque Benacre estate and the Benacre National Nature Reserve which surround it.

Julian Walker, principal service manager for coast protection, said: “Covehithe has little in terms of man-made assets in comparison with Lowestoft and Southwold.

“All we can do is provide defences where it is appropriate. The area around Covehithe is an area of outstanding natural beauty and the wider community wants to see an open coastline without the eyesore of coastal defences.

“When we do these studies we consult English Heritage with regard to ancient monuments at specific sites. We evaluate these sites as best we can with the tools available and within government guidance.”

Course Union Social

While Medievalists always have plans for Saturday nights, there an course union event tonight if you need something to do. Randy Neville of the History Undergraduate Society has organized a course union social tonight.

Important Details:

Saturday January 12th 7pm
$5 at the door
Free appies!

Any money made will go towards the course unions who have helped out (mainly Poli Sci and History).

Big thanks should go to Randy Neville for getting this going.
Hope to see you there.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

After watching "The Last Legion..."

... I had an urge to see a good show about Roman history. HBO's "Rome" is well worth checking out if you haven't already.

We are reborn...

Like a mighty Kodiak bear awakening from a long winter slumber, the Medieval Studies Course Union has returned.

Here are a brief summary of our plans for Spring 2008:

1. Clubs and Course Union Days - the MSCU will once again be attending the UVSS Clubs and Course Union Days. Come on by and visit our booth, talk to the executives of the MSCU and hear about our exciting new plans. Clubs and Course Union Days are on January 9th and 10th from 9am until 4pm in the SUB. If you are interested in representing the MSCU at our display, please let us know via email.

2. Student Research Collective - As soon as our virtuous social chair Matt "the Conqueror" McHaffie returns from his many conquests our weekly historical discussions will return with new and exciting topic. The collective will likely return on Wednesday evenings.

3. Movie Nights - Films! Fun! Feasting! Stay tuned...

4. UBC Trip - If you are interested in going on a field trip to the University of British Columbia we will be going with Dr Kwakkel during the Spring Reading Break. Stay tuned...

5. Skating with the Profs - Stay tuned...

6. And much, much more!

For all the latest news and information from the Medieval Studies Course Union, stay tuned to our blog . As always, feel free to email us with your thoughts, requests and opinions.

All the best from the MSCU

Saturday, January 5, 2008

MSCU Review: "The Last Legion"

"What we do here will echo across eternity"

- Aurelius

An ironic line coming from an utterly forgettable movie doomed to ignominy. In all honesty, The Last Legion isn't a bad movie, it simply lacks any sense of originality. Chances are that if you like the 'historical epic' genre, you will have already seen everything this movie has to offer.

The plot takes place in the late Roman empire at its alleged 'fall.' Simply put, The Last Legion has an extremely tenuous grasp upon historical accuracy. Any historical content the movie has to offer is at best half-true and at worst an outright lie. In true stereotypical fashion Romans are presented as the last bastion of civilization while Germanic peoples are shown as a flood of barbaric simpletons. The film ventures into falsehood by creating a mythical, and entirely anachronistic, sword of Gaius Julius Caesar which is pivotal to the plot.

I am not, however, a stickler for historical accuracy in film (see my review of A Knight's Tale). But if one is going to play fast and loose with history, one should be doing so to serve a greater purpose. The anachronism of A Knight's Tale gave the film a sense of whimsy and charm which set it apart from the legion of dower historical epics which inundate theaters each year.

In contrast, the poor history of The Last Legion comes across as mere laziness on behalf of the production team. It seemed as if they couldn't be bother to do their homework. The film does not aspire to greatness; as a result it feels like 'just another historical epic.'

While The Last Legion doesn't aspire to greatness it has a potentially great cast. Like the film itself, the cast fails to exert any energy and falls prey to mediocrity. The film stars the 'smoldering' Colin Firth as the blandly heroic Roman general Aurelius, Ben Kingsley as the mystical Ambrosinus, and Kevin McKidd (of Rome fame) as the barbarian Wulfila.

If any three actors should excel in an historical epic, it should be these three men. Sadly, these men are not used to the best of their ability. Firth is given such a generic character that his Aurelius comes across as wooden. Kingsley appears to be more interested in his pay-cheque than his role, investing little to no spirit into his role.

As a huge fan of HBO's epic drama Rome, I find the handling of McKidd's character a great disappointment. The actor is dressed to look like the prototypical barbarian. This costume, however, obscures the actor's face with unkempt hair. The script calls for McKidd to express menace and anger, two emotions which the actor is more than capable of expressing. His costume, however, reduces the visibility of his face, therefore, diminishing the range of emotion he can convey. This problem is further compounded by poor direction which rarely provides McKidd with close-ups during his scenes. The director has an odd habit of focusing on the faces of other actors while McKidd is speaking. These problems combine to make McKidd a less than effective villain. Once again, opportunity is squandered.

Poor direction is not limited only to the film's villain, The Last Legion also suffers from poor editing. One scene in particular sticks in my mind. In this scene Firth's character engages in a flirtatious duel with his eastern love-interest Mira (played by Aishwarya Rai). The duel begins in a town centre and then immediately shifts to a forest. With one cut the scene shifts locations. I suppose that the two characters moved into a more secluded location to finish their sparing, but the change of location is jarring. For a few moments I was confused. This confusion could have been avoided by better editing. While this one scene stands out in my mind, there were other examples of needlessly confusing editing.

In conclusion, there are few redeeming qualities of this film. The Last Legion does not aspire to greatness. It aspire to mediocrity and achieves this goal. Every aspect of the film whether it be historical accuracy, story or editing is passable but lacks any sense of energy, originality or quality. If you like the genre, you will have already seen every this movie has to offer and likely in a superior form. With that said, if you simply must watch a movie set in the Middle Ages there are considerably worse options available.

MSCU Rating:


Friday, January 4, 2008

Archaeologists find thousands of items after Prague flat fire

Archaeologists have found thousands of mainly metal historical items in a burnt down flat in Prague, Miroslav Dobes from the Academy of Sciences' Archaeological Institute, who is exploring the finds, has told CTK.

The extensive collection includes prehistoric stone axes, Germanic bronze buckles, arrow tips, fragments of weapons, parts of armour as well as medieval spurs.

Nevertheless, their scientific value is negligible since concrete localities where the finds come from are unknown.

Dobes said the collection resulted from illegal activities of amateur "metal hunters" not only in the Czech Republic, but maybe in other central European countries.

The items were collected by a man who died in fire in the flat in Prague 10 in 2005. Since he had no relatives, the collection ended up in state hands. The Culture Ministry then transferred it to archaeologists.

Dobes said the private collection comprised more metal items than a number of Czech museums had gathered during their entire existence. Unfortunately the items are not described as unlike archaeologists, metal hunters usually do not register valuable data about their finds, he added.

Though Czech law bans such amateur activities that cause immense cultural damage, metal hunters usually escape punishment.

Dobes pointed out that his foreign colleagues also face problems with amateur "treasure hunters" who work with more and more advanced metal detectors that are able to uncover items deep under the ground.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Church erects labyrinth for New Year's event

Bozeman resident Julee Chaikin isn't big on the bar scene, so she decided to spend her New Year's Eve in the middle of a labyrinth.

Chaikin, along with her son and grandson, visited Christ the King Lutheran Church, where volunteers from the Gallatin Valley Interfaith Association laid out a replica medieval labyrinth.

"I've heard they use them in hospice and that some people use them to find out ‘why’' and to find their place in life," Chaikin said.

The flat, 36-foot diameter labyrinth was composed of sheets of canvas laid on the church floor. It is a nearly life-sized replica of the stone labyrinth carved into the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.

Such labyrinths have been used since the Middle Ages as a symbolic pilgrimage for people who could not afford to make the actual journey, said the Rev. Philip Zemke, who helped organize the event.

A single, narrow path winds through the labyrinth, forming a pattern with 11 levels or "courses." It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to walk the path, Zemke said.

Unlike a maze, there are no blind alleys. The point is to progress to the center and back out again while meditating or praying, Zemke said.

"There's no right or wrong way," he said. "You're not supposed to come away glowing as a sign you've walked it, but it's really individualized. No one comes out of the labyrinth without an experience."

The labyrinth belongs to the Bozeman Deaconess Spiritual Care Department, which has also installed a smaller, permanent labyrinth in a park outside the hospital in Bozeman.

"Labyrinths have been shown to be therapeutic for people with chronic illness or people going through grief," said the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Mottram, manager of the spiritual care department.

Mottram said many people who are ill or who are facing the end of their lives will walk labyrinths to find peace of mind. Organizations like the Wellness Community have used the labyrinth for therapy.

Chaikin, who was the first person to arrive to the event, said she had walked a labyrinth before and has seen some of its therapeutic effects firsthand.

"Everybody has a different reason for doing it, but they all have an experience by the end," she said.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Today in the Middle Ages

1st January, AD 533 - Mercurius becomes Pope John II, thereby becoming the first pope to adopt a regnal name.

Hey, if my name was Mercurius I'd want to change it too.