Sunday, March 30, 2008

Muslims more numerous than Catholics

Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism as the world's largest religion, the Vatican newspaper said Sunday.

"For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us," Monsignor Vittorio Formenti said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. Formenti compiles the Vatican's yearbook.

He said that Catholics accounted for 17.4 percent of the world population — a stable percentage — while Muslims were at 19.2 percent.

"It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer," the monsignor said.

Formenti said that the data refer to 2006. The figures on Muslims were put together by Muslim countries and then provided to the United Nations, he said, adding that the Vatican could only vouch for its own data.

When considering all Christians and not just Catholics, Christians make up 33 percent of the world population, Formenti said.

Spokesmen for the Vatican and the United Nations did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Sunday.

LadyHawke Movie (1985)

This movie wins my award for "Best Use of Synth in a Medieval Movie."

Mazes and Monsters (1982)

Word of the Week

This week's word: Gilding

"The application of gold or silver to a surface. Gold could be applied as an ink, in an expensive powdered form, for use in detailed work and in chrysography, but it was more frequently applied in medieval illumination in the form of gold leaf. The gold leaf could simply be laid down on an area to which a binding medium such as glair or gum (perhaps mixed with honey to prevent from cracking) had been applied, as was the case during the early Middle Ages; it could be also laid on a raised ground of gesso.

"In order to enrich the tonality of the gold and to make areas to which the ground had been applied more visible, a colourant such as bole (a pink earth colour) was often added to the base. Gesso grounds enabled the gilded surface to be tooled. However it was applied, the gold could be burnished or left in its slightly duller state.

"Gilding formed the first stage in the painting processes of illumination, since it was a messy activity, the gilded area often requiring trimming with a knife. The gilding of a manuscript illustration was carried out by the artist or by a specialist."

From: Michelle P. Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts - A Guide to Technical Terms, pp. 58-59.

It's good to known that rhetoric is not lost in modern society...

It also has some medieval content

Priory re-opens after two year facelift

ST NICHOLAS Priory, one of Exeter's magnificent ancient buildings, re-opens to the public on Saturday, April 5, after a two-year programme of repair and redisplay.

Originally part of a medieval priory, the building was later home to the Hurst family.
It is now presented as their furnished Elizabethan town house with replica furniture, sumptuous fabrics and rich colours.

The display of Elizabethan items from the city's collection and the addition of modern amenities and new interpretation allows greater access to the Priory and gives a wonderful insight into Tudor life.

During the Easter school holiday (April 5 to 19) families will be able to step back in time and enjoy authentic Tudor music, meet the Hurst household, play Tudor games, try on Tudor clothes and learn about dances, food and tales from the time.

Entry to the Priory is free throughout the holiday and it is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm with a special opening on Sunday, April 13 for a living history weekend. Most activities are free.

Renovations reveal hidden secrets and new acquisitions

When curators at the Currier Museum of Art came upon a 15th-century rendition of the Madonna and the Christ child that had been stored away for decades, an investigation ensued.

The piece, which depicts a seated Virgin Mary holding a slightly plump Christ child, was thought to be the work of a skilled 19th-century artist whose forgeries had ended up in famous museums. "A prominent art historian declared it a fake," said Kurt Sundstrum, associate curator for the Currier. "He was 100 percent certain that it was a fake."

But that same art historian was in for a surprise. Upon further study and an analysis of the paint, the piece was dated to the 1400s and declared an authentic work by the artist Antonio Rossellino. "It's of huge importance for us," Sundstrum said. "It's not often for a museum like us that you literally rediscover a masterpiece in the basement."

Rossellino's "Madonna and Child," a relief in an elaborate frame that has somehow remained intact over centuries, is one of many artworks that have been brought out from the "basement" and into the expanded exhibition space of the museum.

The $21.4 million expansion has added 33,000 square feet to the museum, including five new galleries. The museum can now show 50 percent more of its collections – that also means more room for a diverse selection of newly acquired art.

The Rossellino piece had not been exhibited in many decades. During the 21 months the museum has been closed, it was cleaned up and restored. In addition to wormholes in the wooden frame, there were burn marks left by candles that had probably been used for religious purposes. The piece had perhaps served as a devotional object in someone's private home, Sundstrum said."It looks better than I would at 500 years old," he added.

Also rediscovered were two medieval wooden sculptures by anonymous artists from France and Northern Italy – both depicting the Madonna and Christ child in a style typical of the medieval period, according to Sundstrum, with a fully clothed child whose adult features imply Christ's divine nature.

"In the Renaissance, we see him as a baby and we see him nude, showing that he was actually human," Sundstrum said.

Diane Ellis, a docent who has been volunteering as a tour guide in the museum for about six years, hadn't seen one of these sculptures in years. "It's kind of an old friend," said Ellis, who lives in Nashua. "The smaller one I had never seen, and it is so remarkable that they are in wood and have been preserved so well."

The medieval sculptures and the Rossellino piece are in the newly designed European gallery on the first floor, along with a remarkable 500-year-old Franco-Flemish tapestry called "The Visit of the Gypsies," which depicts a band of gypsies descending on a gathering of aristocrats and surreptitiously picking pockets and committing other forms of trickery, such as palm reading.

"This piece is so large, we hadn't been able to exhibit it in the context of work in the same period," said Susan Strickler, the museum's director.

"It straddles the gothic and Renaissance periods."

The tapestry, which had served as both an entertainment piece with its many dramatic scenes (the equivalent of going to the movies, according to Strickler) and as insulation on the frigid castle walls of the 16th century, was taken down several years ago in order to be cleaned in a textile conservation lab. It will be on display for limited periods of time in order to help preserve it. The dim lighting in the room also helps to protect the dyes – which were derived from insects or plants and are still vibrant in some cases – from fading.

Also on the first floor is an unprecedented look at the museum's extensive glass collection, which includes Tiffany glass and a wide selection of Victorian art glass, all in specially designed shelves. Bill Marcoux, of Nashua, is on the Currier's advisory council and had a chance to browse through the glass pieces that had been in storage.

"When I saw what they had, I was shocked," Marcoux said.

"They have some very important pieces of Tiffany glass, which you would not normally see in a small museum."

In addition, the museum has one of the top five collections of paperweights in the country, Marcoux said. About 100 of the museum's 350 paperweights are now on view. "Some are major items in their own right," he said. "They make each little piece and put them together with heat and encase it in glass. It's a real art form."

Among the new acquisitions is "Helen of Troy," by Hendrick Goltzius, an important Dutch painter who worked about a generation or two before Rembrandt. The painting appeared only briefly in the museum before it closed for expansion work, and the museum has since acquired it.

The idealized portrait depicts a woman dressed in the role of Helen of Troy with her hair impeccably bejeweled and arranged around a horn-like accessory. The painting has earned a spot on the Ultimate Hair tour, one of several tours promoted in various brochures – a part of the museum's effort to enliven its approach to visitors.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Today in the Middle Ages

28 March, 845 - According to a Norse saga, Viking raiders under Ragner Lodbrok captured Paris and held the city for ransom...

...thus beginning a long and glorious tradition of French surrender.

Russian parliament approves return of medieval stained glass windows to Germany

Russia's Lower House voted on Wednesday to return six 14th century stained glass panels from a church in Germany that were seized after World War II.

Lawmakers in the State Duma voted 345-57 in favor of a bill that would see the return of the panels to the Marienkirche in the city of Frankfurt an der Oder in northern Germany at the Polish border.

In 2002, Russia returned 111 stained-glass panels from the same church. They had been held in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.

Authorities later discovered that Moscow's Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts held six more panels from the 20-meter-high (65-foot-high) altar, which were among the items Germany most wanted returned as the church marked its 750th anniversary in 2003.

The bill must be approved by the upper house before it goes to the president for his signature. The Duma is dominated by President Vladimir Putin's party and would not approve a measure opposed by the Kremlin.

Russia and Germany have long sparred over thousands of valuable objects taken from Germany in the waning days of World War II.

Germany and other countries have pressed for the return of the collections, which they argue were taken illegally. But Russia has proclaimed the art seized as rightful retribution for the 27 million Soviet lives lost, 100 museums destroyed and ruin of entire cities during the conflict it calls the Great Patriotic War.

Russia has urged Germany to search for and return Russian art seized by the Nazis, and the two nations have accelerated exchanges of looted art in recent years.

The Communist Party, which holds 57 Duma seats and has long objected the return of German art, voted against the bill.

'Chemists' for medieval Scots is discovered

A 700-YEAR-OLD "chemists" which supplied a medieval hospital has been discovered just outside Edinburgh.

Archaeologists in the Lammermuir Hills have found evidence of a herb garden containing 200 plants for various remedies, which would have supplied the Soutra hospital, run by monks and situated just off the old highway between Scotland and England.

Medieval Scots could find cures from the garden, which experts have always suspected existed but until now were unable to pin down.

Dr Brian Moffat, director of investigations at the Soutra project, said: "This tiny piece of land has more than 200 species of plant in it – a staggering number which could be a record in Scotland."

Barbary lions were part of medieval Tower of London zoo

Two medieval skulls found in the Tower of London belonged to a kind of lion that boasted a giant dark mane, according to a genetic study that sheds new light on one of the world's oldest zoos.

Infamous as a place of torture and executions, and home to the Crown Jewels, the Tower was also home to lions, which were charismatic symbols of monarchy.

Now researchers have used DNA evidence to analyse two members of the royal menagerie, the oldest being late 13th to late 14th century (1280-1385) and 'youngest' 15th century (1420-1480), the only medieval big cat remains found in England.

They conclude that they were male Barbary lions, a species that hails from north Africa, where no natural lion population remains today.

Lion manes can vary from light blond to black and can be up to a foot long. But the Barbary, a subspecies extinct in the wild, had a magnificently regal mane, their equivalent of the Peacock's tail that they used to turn on lionesses.

They were members of the royal "zoo", which survived for more than 600 years after being founded by King John (1199 to 1216) and the lions are a sign that the UK enjoyed good relations with foreign monarchs, who presented exotic animals as gifts.

The new study in the journal Contributions in Zoology provides important information on some of the earliest lions seen in northern Europe since European lions became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, some 14,000 to 11,000 years ago.

Remains from the moat, excavated in the 1930s, were analysed by the Natural History Museum and the University of Oxford, focusing on a type of genetic material that is passed from lioness to cub, called mitochondrial DNA.

The DNA in the skulls revealed the lions shared unique genes with the north African Barbary lion. Richard Sabin, Curator of Mammals at the museum says, "Our results are the first genetic evidence to clearly confirm that lions found during excavations at the Tower of London originated in north Africa.

"Although we have one of the best mammal collections in the world here at the Natural History Museum, few physical remains survive of the Royal Menagerie.

"Direct animal trade between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa was not developed until the eighteenth century, so our results provide new insights into the patterns of historic animal trafficking.'

Oxford researcher Nobuyuki Yamaguchi adds, 'Western north Africa was the nearest region to Europe to sustain lion populations until the early twentieth century, making it an obvious and practical source for mediaeval merchants. Apart from a tiny population in northwest India, lions had been practically exterminated outside sub-Saharan Africa by the turn of the twentieth century.'

Both the lions were males, as they have longer skulls and larger canine teeth than females, and three to four years old. The skulls are now part of the Natural History Museum's vast collections.
The Royal Menagerie was established in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by King John, in Woodstock near Oxford and later relocated to the Tower of London.

Among the first residents were three leopards sent to Henry III by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1235. The earliest written record of an English lion occurs in 1240. It refers to the upkeep of "the King's lion." Radiocarbon dating of the skulls of the two lions and a leopard in earlier work supported historic documents.

Though few physical traces of the menagerie remain, experts have previously pointed to written records of a semi-circular structure built by King Edward I in 1277 in an area that later became known as the Lion Tower. Excavations in 1999 revealed that one lion cage measured just 6.5 feet by 10 feet.

"The last known Barbary Lion in the wild was shot in 1942 on the northern side of the Tizi-n-Tichka pass in the Atlas Mountains, near the road between Marrakech and Ouarzazat, two of major tourists destinations in Morocco today," says Dr Yamaguchi.

"The Barbary lion was believed to be extinct in captivity as well. However, possible Barbary lion descendants that can be traced back to the Royal Lion Collection of the King of Morocco, have been located in zoos and circus populations within the last three decades. "

Although a recent study carried out at Oxford suggests that those "Moroccan King's lions" are unlikely to be pure Barbary lions on the maternal side, a firm conclusion needs to wait for further advances in DNA techniques for revealing their paternal lines.

"Someday, once again, we may see a big dark maned lion in the snow-capped Atlas backdrop, and listen to their roars filling the valleys with echoes, as was once described by 19th Century travellers," adds Dr Yamaguchi.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The shape of things to come?

A faithful rendering of the ‘Holy Quran’ … in English

Syed Mohammed Salim is a man on a mission. He has taken on the mammoth task of spreading the message of the Holy Quran ... in English.

In fact, Salim, executive director of Manas Foundation (an India-based Islamic research organisation), from Kerala, which is spearheading the project, is elated that the Al Qur’an Encyclopaedia (project) is ready to be published.

“Right now, the scrutiny of the encyclopaedia’s text is being done by the religious authority of Saudi Arabia. After their approval, it will be published in India. Soon after it will be distributed in India and all over the Gulf,” says Salim.

Al Qur’an Encyclopaedia, authored by Riyadh-based Sheikh Abu Anas Sidheeque M. A. Veliankode, is a faithful rendering of the holy book, supplemented by useful notes on historical, geographical and eschatological issues, particularly with illuminating discussions on comparative religion and modern scientific facts revealed in the Holy Quran and Hadith.

Sheikh Abu Anas Sidheeque is also the director and chairman of the board of editors and research of the project. A multi-lingual Islamic scholar, preacher and religious scholar, he is also an author and translator of many Islamic reference books in Arabic and English published worldwide.

The massive encyclopaedia will have the quintessence of 33 Arabic tafsirs (exegesis) of ancient, medieval and contemporary Arabic classics. Apart from 313 major reference books in English, Arabic and Urdu that have been researched, 33 scholars of Islam have shared their inputs to put together the encyclopaedia.

“Over a dozen muftis (interpreters of Islamic law) have been consulted. Thirty-three world class Islamic libraries and universities have been visited and referred to for this project,” says Salim, the man behind the project, who is in Oman to spread awareness about the book. The encyclopaedia has also been compared to 33 Quran translations and commentaries of both old and contemporary versions in English. “It consists of facts and figures of each Surah, including the occasion and cause behind the revelation, its virtues and significance, transliteration of the verse, meaning of the verse, meaning of the verse in simple and lucid language and a word by word lexicography of the verse,” says Salim.

There will also be explanatory notes and commentary of each verse with reference to the Quran and Hadith (traditions and sayings of the Prophet, pbuh) in addition to commentaries of various Quranic scholars, rules of Islamic jurisprudence and Quranic stories of nations, prophets and civilisations, among other things.

Salim also said that the encyclopaedia will be available in two editions: abridged version and full text edition.

Explaining why he saw the need for a Quran encyclopaedia in English, Salim says: “We are keen to disseminate the message of the Holy Quran to as many communities as possible and help Muslims and non-Muslims to understand it. It has also been felt that the image of Islam as portrayed and projected in the West is tainted with prejudices. Furthermore, the available writings, mainly by orientalists and Islamophobic authors reflect a colonial outlook. Our Al Qur’an Encyclopaedia is a humble attempt to project Quran and Islam free from all historical, religious and political bias.”

“Our project also aims to tap the teenage Muslims of all ethnic, social, economic and cultural backgrounds, who are almost completely oblivious to the importance and usefulness of the Holy Quran as well as for born Muslims living in a stable society who gave no thought to the book of guidance revealed from Allah,” Salim adds. Salim is confident that those who subscribe to this project and go through the series will have a much better understanding of the ideals and aspirations of Islam.

Salim holds the distinction of being the chief translator of Egyptian scholar activist Sayyid Qutub’s masterpiece Fee Dhilalil Qur’an (In the Shade of Quran) in Malayalam.

About this project, Salim says: “The effort is not commercial. We intend free marketing with the help of kind sponsors. We will be distributing it worldwide through embassies, consulates, foreign ministries and individual booksellers, particularly in the AGCC region.”

Salim wants all those who love Quran to be involved in the project. “We seek support from Arabs and non-Arabs who love Quran in spreading the message of Quran. We look for financial, moral and material support to print as it is being printed in bulk quantities and will be distributed free of cost,” he says.

“Islam aims at creating and supporting a society whose material and spiritual aspects are balanced. This is a society of God-fearing men and women based on social justice and service to humanity. Our aim is to provide high quality information to all those who wish to study Quran,” says Salim.

“Publishing an accurate, sensitive, well-annotated English translation of Quran is a timely move and our aim,” he stresses. Salim can be reached on 96509046 (Oman), 9446488832 (India) and email:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Today in the Midd... GLORIOUS ROMAN PAST

21st March, 238 - Gordian I and his son Gordian II are proclaimed Roman emperors.

I guess they were having good Fridays (Get it? "Good Friday." Man I crack myself up...).

UCV will be going medieval this summer; Funding announced by provincial ministry

Upper Canada village is going medieval this summer, thanks to funding announced Monday by local MPP Jim Brownell.

The money was provided for the village's new Medieval Festival through Celebrate Ontario, a Ministry of Tourism initiative meant to develop new festivals and increase tourism revenue in the province.

"This support, and these festivals, will go a long way in strengthening our local brand as an ideal tourism destination spot," said Brownell, who spent time at the historic village Monday morning before heading back to Toronto for the resumption of the Ontario Legislature.

Upper Canada Village, part of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, received $75,000 to develop the festival, which is currently slated for June 13 to 15, 2008.

"There's going to be falconry, a jousting tournament, sword swallowers and other medieval buskers, belly dancers, things like that," said Jancis Sommerville, marketing officer for Upper Canada Village, who was dressed in a medieval gown and headdress for the occasion.

"We're hoping to have a king's banquet, which is like a huge feast, on the Saturday night."
Sommerville added that the village would also be including forms of medieval technology, like a catapult, period dress, and games to make the event educational, as well as entertaining.

"We've been told that the study of this period fits into the Grade 4 curriculum, and we're hoping that schools will take advantage of that," said Susan LeClair, corporate marketing officer for the St. Lawrence Parks Commission.

On top of the money for the festival, the provincial government will also be providing more than $70,000 for a new tented performance pavilion as part of the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The new pavilion will be located near the S.t Lawrence Parks Commission marina, not far from Upper Canada Village, and will be built in time for a theatrical performance this summer, the
details of which are yet to be determined.
"We're very excited to be able to have a new venue to host even more events," said St. Lawrence Parks Commission CEO Pat Macdonald.

Medieval church damaged by fire

A medieval church in Warwickshire has been severely damaged by fire.

The blaze began in the early hours at St Nicholas' Church, in Radford Semele, near Leamington Spa, and at its height about 50 firefighters were tackling it.

Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service said the building had been left structurally unsafe.

An investigation has begun into what caused the fire. Parishioners held their Palm Sunday service in the village community hall.

Firefighters said the bell tower appeared to have been saved but were worried the gable end might blow over in a strong wind because of the structural damage.

Parts of the church date back to the time of the 11th Century Domesday Book.

The fire service said because parts of the wooden floor were still smouldering it might be two days until firefighters are able to access the building.

From: BBC News

Friday, March 14, 2008

Borough to celebrate freedom

This weekend sees Yarmouth get in the party mood as the resort begins to celebrate one of the most important events in its history.

Hundreds of people are expected to line the streets of the town on Sunday for the 800th anniversary of King John granting the town a market charter - making it a free borough.

The charter enabled the small medieval community to spread its wings and become one of the most vital trading centres in England.

As part of a year-long series of charter celebrations, a colourful procession, made up of voluntary groups and organisations, will set off from the town hall on Sunday at 2.45pm to St Nicholas' Church.

The procession will be led by the Winterton marine cadets band.Just before the parade, a messenger on horseback will deliver a copy of the 800-year-old document.

During a service at St Nicholas' Church from 3pm, the managing director of Yarmouth Borough Council, Richard Packham, will read out the charter.

Local historian Michael Boon will then give a talk on the importance of King John's decision to grant the charter, which is believed to have been given in recognition of the settlement providing soldiers for the monarch's wars. The borough council's youngest member, 34-year-old Mark Thompson, and the borough's oldest freeman, 101-year-old Jack Chase, will then give their perspectives on what makes Yarmouth so special.

After the service there will be chance to toast King John's gift to the town with a special real ale brewed by the award-winning Blackfriars Brewery in Yarmouth.

To coincide with the launch of the charter party festival, a commem-orative tapestry banner detailing the history of Yarmouth will be unveiled at the Time and Tide Museum by Norfolk County Council chairman Michael Cartiss on Sunday.

From Tuesday, the actual charter will feature in a free historical exhibition of Yarmouth's heritage at the Norfolk Record Office at county hall until June.

The other main charter event this year will be a themed market from June 9 to 14 in the town centre.

The market coincides with a royal visit on June 9 to unveil commemorative charter plaques at St Nicholas' Church, the town hall and the Tolhouse museum.

Other events include a tie-in with Yarmouth's annual Easter fair from March 27 to 30. During the fair, borough mayor Paul Garrod will be presented with a medieval-style key made by Ernie Childs of Yarmouth Potteries and which will then go on permanent display at the town hall.

On March 28 and 29, St Nicholas' Church will host a charter flower show and model fair.Bert Collins, Yarmouth borough councillor organising the celebrations, said: "This anniversary is massively important for Yarmouth and will give the whole town a lift."

Archeology raises medieval mystery

Lack of medieval development in Cheap Street raises questions about Newbury's past

Town historians are in for a re-think after archaeological works at the site of the new cinema failed to uncover Newbury’s medieval roots. Experts from Wessex Archeology expected to find extensive medieval remains fronting onto Cheap Street – just yards from the town’s medieval Market Place.

But excavations, which have now been completed despite the ongoing roadworks, were inconclusive. West Berkshire Council archaeologist Duncan Coe said: “The main bulk of what we’ve found is from 18th and 19th century period – a lot of houses with courtyards, wells, pumps and that sort of thing. There’s certainly evidence of craft activity – shoes, leather, and pottery.

“What’s up in the air at the moment is whether we’ve got any medieval activity on the sit. We’re currently doing some investigations to see whether the remains are medieval or slightly later.”

While medieval foundations have been found in Bartholomew Street, historians are set to ponder why economic activity did not extend along Cheap Street until later.

The Newbury Society visited the site of the cinema works on Monday (March 10) for a tour of the excavations.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ancient grave markers found at the cathedral

EIGHT Anglo-Saxon grave markers belonging to ordinary folk have been uncovered in Peterborough Cathedral's grounds during restoration work.

Workers at the site, who are repairing ancient stone walls in the precincts, alerted the cathedral's archaeologist to the find, which was discovered in the same wall as a medieval fireplace.

Archaeologist Dr Jackie Hall analysed the pieces, and discovered they were 11th century grave markings which are believed to have come from a monks' cemetery.

Dr Hall said: "It was an incredible find, and very exciting to see such a large collection of grave markers in one small area."

They are particularly important because we don't have anything else like this in Peterborough.

"There are other grave markers of a similar date in the cathedral, but they are ornate and not visible to the public."

Although these pieces are not as high class or as special, they are still an extraordinary find."The markings could have belonged to monks, but are more likely to have belonged townsfolk who wanted to be commemorated at the abbey.

Although some were not immediately recognised as they have been damaged, some can be seen with crosses on them and others are slightly more ornate with gridded markers.

The work, part of a major 10-year maintenance project to restore the cathedral, was taking place between the Prior Gate and the cathedral office when the small markers were found.

Peterborough City Council archaeologist Ben Robinson said there is a lot of spectacular heritage and history and extremely interesting and important remains in the precincts.

He said: "The cathedral precincts are a treasure house of history. And as you continue beyond the cathedral and into the town there is a seamless area of heritage."

The grave markers are incredibly rare. All of our parish churches in Peterborough date back to medieval times, but you won't find anything like this, as they have been reused over and over again.

"Occasionally you may find tombs of the rich and the wealthy inside the church with nice monuments, but to find the grave markers of the ordinary folk is remarkable."

It gives us a glimpse of how these early cemeteries looked."Once the markers have been cleaned up, they will be put in a temporary display in the cathedral.

ET Comment:

THE history of Peterborough Cathedral is always fascinating, and the incredible finds that are still being made within its hallowed walls are a reminder of the city's great historic links, which are symbolised by this truly awe-inspiring building.

The latest discovery is of eight rare grave markers, which were unearthed by workmen repairing old stone walls.They are believed to be of 11th century origin, and if only they could speak, what a fascinating story they would have to tell of ancient Peterborough.

Medieval belt buckle discovered

Archaeologists unearthed a medieval belt buckle in Perth following work to repair a collapsed sewer.

The group were allowed to examine the area in the Kirkgate as Scottish Water repaired the network.

The copper alloy buckle is believed to date back to the 12th Century and was found along with animal bones, shells and pottery.

A panel of experts will decide where the buckle should be housed, but it is hoped it will end up in Perth Museum.

Catherine Smith from SUAT archaeological consultants told the BBC Scotland news website how they discovered the treasure.

"We found this encrusted buckle which had been folded over, but was obviously something nice," she said.

"So we brought it back here and carefully unfolded the copper and discovered this most beautifully designed medieval buckle, which we think probably dates back to the 12th Century.

"It's such a piece of work that it probably belonged to somebody with a bit of money.

"We suggested maybe a merchant in the medieval burgh because of course Perth was quite an important trading post."

The buckle is similar to work found in Scandinavia, but it is believed it was made in Perth or elsewhere in Scotland.

A padlock, also dating from about 1150 onwards, was also found at the site, but it is not in such good condition.

Historical objects are often well preserved under the streets of Perth because the area is very water-logged.

'Treasure house'

The water stops oxygen getting in and decomposing items like leather and wood.
Also, Perth has not been subject to as much modern development as other towns, so the archaeology has lain almost undisturbed.

Ms Smith said: "Perth is actually a treasure house for this kind of material.

"The only comparable place in Britain is probably York, where they have the same problems with floods. We see it as a modern problem but in a way it magically preserves all the archaeology.

"In fact, any time you dig a hole in the High Street you're liable to hit archaeology.

"People walk along these streets every day and just don't realise what a wealth of information about the past is under their feet."

Medieval cemetery site will be protected

A POWER supplier has backed down on plans to lay an underground electricity cable through conservation land in Winterbourne.

Western Power Distribution is planning to set up a new 2.2 kilometre electricity line from Trench Lane, Bradley Stoke, to Winterbourne's sub station.

Part of the proposal had been to lay almost a kilometre of the line through conservation land next to Church Lane in Winterbourne.

But Western Power has now opted to have the line go around the land after fears were raised by an archaeologist that the line could spoil the land's historical interest.

Archaeologist David Evans had told the power supplier the conservation land was formerly the site of an early medieval cemetery of national importance.

He said: "The exact extent and location of the cemetery are uncertain but it is highly likely that this cemetery will be affected by the undergrounding works."

Irene Evans, spokeswoman for Western Power, told the Gazette that plans for the underground cable had since been changed.

She said: "We have been made aware of the possible archaeological value of the site at Church Lane and our intended route for the new underground cable will now be diverted around this area of land.

"This underground work is not subject to planning permission. We have, however, out of courtesy informed the council that we will deviate the underground section away from the site of archaeological interest."

The company claims a new line is needed to supply an increase in electricity demand from Winterbourne and the surrounding area.

By Alex Ross (no, not that Alex Ross)

Vatican lists "new sins," including pollution

Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of "new" sins such as causing environmental blight.

The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.

Asked what he believed were today's "new sins," he told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the greatest danger zone for the modern soul was the largely uncharted world of bioethics.

"(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control," he said.

The Vatican opposes stem cell research that involves destruction of embryos and has warned against the prospect of human cloning.

Girotti, in an interview headlined "New Forms of Social Sin," also listed "ecological" offences as modern evils.

In recent months, Pope Benedict has made several strong appeals for the protection of the environment, saying issues such as climate change had become gravely important for the entire human race.

Under Benedict and his predecessor John Paul, the Vatican has become progressively "green."
It has installed photovoltaic cells on buildings to produce electricity and hosted a scientific conference to discuss the ramifications of global warming and climate change, widely blamed on human use of fossil fuels.

Girotti, who is number two in the Vatican "Apostolic Penitentiary," which deals with matter of conscience, also listed drug trafficking and social and economic injustices as modern sins.
But Girotti also bemoaned that fewer and fewer Catholics go to confession at all.

He pointed to a study by Milan's Catholic University that showed that up to 60 percent of Catholic faithful in Italy stopped going to confession.

In the sacrament of Penance, Catholics confess their sins to a priest who absolves them in God's name.

But the same study by the Catholic University showed that 30 percent of Italian Catholics believed that there was no need for a priest to be God's intermediary and 20 percent felt uncomfortable talking about their sins to another person.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Oh, Johann...

From: Married to the

Mediaeval Studies Student Conference: “Approaching the Middle Ages”

Proudly sponsored by the Mediaeval Studies Programme, Department of History, and the Mediaeval Studies Course Union.

Programme of Events:

9:30 - 10:00: Bryan Solly (UVic): “King Arthur’s Shame: An Analysis of King Arthur’s Behaviour in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”

10:00 - 10:30: Sheryl McDonald (UVic): “The Conversion of Myth and Truth in Dante’s Divine Comedy”

10:30 - 10:45: Break

10:45 - 11:15: Matt McHaffie (UVic): “The Crusade as the Imitatio Christi: towards a spirituality of warfare”

11:15 - 11:45: Erin Travers (UVic): “Continuity and the Plague: Beliefs and Practices Associated with Death in the Middle Ages”

11:45 - 1:00: Lunch Break (and perhaps video presentation)

1:00 - 1:30: Meg Leja (UBC): “The Man in the Mirror: Dhouda’s Reflections on the Male Body”

1:30 - 2:00: Sierra Gemma (UBC): “Recipes for Health: Magical, Religious, and Herbal Remedies for Female Ailments in Medieval England”

2:00 - 2:20: Coffee Break

2:20 - 2:50: Ryan Hunt (UVic): “I arrived here unintentionally: a student's view of the
Medieval Studies Program”

2:50 - 4:00(ish): Discussion: “Approaching the Middle Ages”

Medieval Studies Student Conference

As promised, here is the long anticipated information regarding the Medieval Studies Student Conference, on Saturday 8 March.

We will hold the event on campus, in Clearihue A206. For those of you who drive and are unaware of parking regulations over the weekend, there is a $2 fee to park all-day on Saturday. Beware of both ticket dispensers and Campus Security.

The event will run from 9:30 in the morning until approximately 4:00, with a few breaks sprinkled throughout the presentations. There will be a lunch break, with lunch provided, and there will also be snacks and light refreshments throughout the day. There will also be a
programme at the event with the schedule of presentations throughout the day. If you would like to attend this even, please register on a sign-up sheet outside of the Medieval Studies Office by Thursday.

Thank you for your interest in this conference, and hopefully the day will prove informative and entertaining.Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have further questions.

Matt McHaffie

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Wikipedia's "Medieval" Knowledge

As scholars, we all know that Wikipedia is neither omniscient nor infallible, yet there are few of us who do not give it a cursory glance, even when doing serious research.

Happily, being scholars, we can laugh at the occasional medieval error, if I may use that term in a derogatory manner for the sake of fun. Be wary you do not consider how many minds such brilliant observations as these are affecting, lest your laughter turn to tears.

A couple of entertaining passages caught my attention today:

"[Roger] Bacon studied and later became a Master at Oxford, lecturing on Aristotle. There is no evidence he was ever awarded a doctorate — the title Doctor Mirabilis was posthumous and figurative. Sometime between 1237 and 1245, he began to lecture at the university of Paris, then the center of intellectual life in Europe."

Explain to me how anyone could become a permanent lecturer at Paris, of all places, without first having received his licence to teach. It would appear that the author of the article is confusing the position of "Master" (magister) with the modern acquisition of a Master in Arts. A magister had to have received his licentia ubique legendi, disputandi, praedicandi et quoslibet actus exercendi theological facultate, his licence to read, dispute and teach at the university level, what we might refer to as a doctorate.

However, not all Wikipedic humour is unintentional—at least, I am very much hoping the author of the following passage intended its amusement:

"According to legend, Albertus Magnus is said to have discovered the philosopher's stone and passed it to his pupil Thomas Aquinas, shortly before his death. Magnus does not confirm he discovered the stone in his writings, but he did record that he witnessed the creation of gold by "transmutation."[4] Given that Thomas Aquinas died six years before Albertus Magnus' death, this legend as stated is unlikely."