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The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged Middle Ages:

Camelopard
"Camelopard was the word for a giraffe in the Middle Ages, inspired by its vaguely camel-like shape and its leopard-like markings."
[Sources: Image: A 15th century depiction of a camelopard | Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, p.222)

Camelopard

"Camelopard was the word for a giraffe in the Middle Ages, inspired by its vaguely camel-like shape and its leopard-like markings."

[Sources: Image: A 15th century depiction of a camelopard | Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, p.222)

The Nun of Watton
The Nun of Watton (born in the 1140s) was the central protagonist of a drama at a Gilbertine abbey in Yorkshire, recorded by St. Ailred of Rievaulx in De Sanctimoniali de Wattun. According to the story, the nun in question was admitted to the holy life as a toddler. Unfortunately, as a young woman she proved unsuited to the enforced celibacy of the life of a nun.
According to Ailred the rebellious teenager made the acquaintance of a lay brother in the attached male community common to monasteries of that order, had sex, and became pregnant. After her sisters at the abbey discovered that their wayward fellow member was less than celibate, they proceeded to strip, whip and imprison her, but not before testing the guilt of the lay brother through sending out a monk dressed in her habit, whereupon the offending lay brother tried to consummate their prior relationship with him as well. After hatching a plan, the nuns debated what to do with their errant member.
Some of the younger nuns wanted her burnt, roasted, branded or skinned alive, but the older sisters decided differently. One version of the tale is that the imprisoned pregnant sister lured the miscreant lay brother into a trap, the other is that he was tracked down by other monks of the community. Either way, upon return to the abbey, he was castrated at the hands of his former lover. Repentant, the Nun of Watton was ‘miraculously’ deprived of her pregnancy and apparently resumed the life of a celibate nun in her monastery. The fate of the monk was left unstated.
[Image Source | Thanks to Vintage-Royalty]

The Nun of Watton

The Nun of Watton (born in the 1140s) was the central protagonist of a drama at a Gilbertine abbey in Yorkshire, recorded by St. Ailred of Rievaulx in De Sanctimoniali de Wattun. According to the story, the nun in question was admitted to the holy life as a toddler. Unfortunately, as a young woman she proved unsuited to the enforced celibacy of the life of a nun.

According to Ailred the rebellious teenager made the acquaintance of a lay brother in the attached male community common to monasteries of that order, had sex, and became pregnant. After her sisters at the abbey discovered that their wayward fellow member was less than celibate, they proceeded to strip, whip and imprison her, but not before testing the guilt of the lay brother through sending out a monk dressed in her habit, whereupon the offending lay brother tried to consummate their prior relationship with him as well. After hatching a plan, the nuns debated what to do with their errant member.

Some of the younger nuns wanted her burnt, roasted, branded or skinned alive, but the older sisters decided differently. One version of the tale is that the imprisoned pregnant sister lured the miscreant lay brother into a trap, the other is that he was tracked down by other monks of the community. Either way, upon return to the abbey, he was castrated at the hands of his former lover. Repentant, the Nun of Watton was ‘miraculously’ deprived of her pregnancy and apparently resumed the life of a celibate nun in her monastery. The fate of the monk was left unstated.

[Image Source | Thanks to Vintage-Royalty]

(Source: Wikipedia)

Danse Macabre
Dance of Death is an artistic genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer. They were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts; the earliest recorded visual scheme was a now lost mural in the Saints Innocents Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424–25.
[Image: The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut]

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before, but Danse Macabre is one of my favourite allegorical concepts! You can see another here.

Danse Macabre

Dance of Death is an artistic genre of late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or personified Death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child, and labourer. They were produced to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts; the earliest recorded visual scheme was a now lost mural in the Saints Innocents Cemetery in Paris dating from 1424–25.

[Image: The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut]

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before, but Danse Macabre is one of my favourite allegorical concepts! You can see another here.

The Lord of Misrule and the Feast of Fools
In medieval England, the Lord of Misrule was an officer appointed by lot at Christmas to preside over the Feast of Fools - a riotous banquet where the central idea seems always to have been a brief social revolution in which power, dignity and impunity is briefly conferred on those in a subordinate position. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant appointed to oversee these Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness, wild partying and general licentiousness.
The appointment of a Lord of Misrule comes from antiquity. In ancient Rome a Lord of Misrule was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, in the guise of the god Saturn. During this time the ordinary rules of life were subverted as masters served their slaves, and the offices of state were held by slaves. The Lord of Misrule presided over all of this, and had the power to command anyone to do anything during the holiday period. 
In the medieval version young people chose from among their own number a mock pope, archbishop, bishop, abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule. Participants would then “consecrate” him with many ridiculous ceremonies in the chief church of the place, and give themselves such names as Archbishop of Dolts, Abbot of Unreason, Boy Bishop, or Pope of Fools.
The parody often tipped dangerously towards the profane, the ceremonies mocking the performance of the highest offices of the church, while other persons, dressed in different kinds of masks and disguises, engaged in songs and dances and practised all manner of revelry within the church building. As a result, the Feast and the almost blasphemous extravagances were constantly the object of condemnations of the medieval Church, until it was finally forbidden under the very severest penalties by the Council of Basel in 1431.
[Image Source: Pieter Bruegel, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (1559)]

Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 22nd

The Lord of Misrule and the Feast of Fools

In medieval England, the Lord of Misrule was an officer appointed by lot at Christmas to preside over the Feast of Fools - a riotous banquet where the central idea seems always to have been a brief social revolution in which power, dignity and impunity is briefly conferred on those in a subordinate position. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant appointed to oversee these Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness, wild partying and general licentiousness.

The appointment of a Lord of Misrule comes from antiquity. In ancient Rome a Lord of Misrule was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, in the guise of the god Saturn. During this time the ordinary rules of life were subverted as masters served their slaves, and the offices of state were held by slaves. The Lord of Misrule presided over all of this, and had the power to command anyone to do anything during the holiday period. 

In the medieval version young people chose from among their own number a mock pope, archbishop, bishop, abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule. Participants would then “consecrate” him with many ridiculous ceremonies in the chief church of the place, and give themselves such names as Archbishop of Dolts, Abbot of Unreason, Boy Bishop, or Pope of Fools.

The parody often tipped dangerously towards the profane, the ceremonies mocking the performance of the highest offices of the church, while other persons, dressed in different kinds of masks and disguises, engaged in songs and dances and practised all manner of revelry within the church building. As a result, the Feast and the almost blasphemous extravagances were constantly the object of condemnations of the medieval Church, until it was finally forbidden under the very severest penalties by the Council of Basel in 1431.

[Image Source: Pieter Bruegel, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (1559)]

Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 22nd

The Art of Panto
Pantomime is one of those rare theatrical events that doesn’t translate into any other time or place – it is … a bizarre [and exclusively] Christmas genre. It is a surprising amalgam of a variety of rich artistic traditions [with] its origins in the Bacchanalia of ancient Rome, the medieval Italian Commedia dell’arte, medieval morality plays and riotous routines of Victorian Music hall[s]. While present day panto seems utterly out of control, it actually has a very structured framework, based on a strong story line, where good battles against evil and is victorious.
Tradition says, for example, that the pantomime villain should be the first to enter, from the ’dark side’, stage left, followed by his adversary, the good fairy, from stage right, echoing the Middle Ages, when the entrances to heaven and hell were placed in these positions.
Italian Night Scenes, first seen in Britain at Drury Lane in 1700 [are] Perhaps the most obvious ancestors of the modern panto. Th[ey] were rowdy plays in which the plot was communicated by slapstick and dance, rather than dialogue. The basic theme generally consisted of a misunderstanding leading to a comedy brawl, and, although many people regarded them as vulgar, they became extremely popular.
Slapstick, a crucial aspect of panto, takes its name from a device used in these early entertainments. Harlequin (a panto stock character) used to carry with him a wooden sword [that] had a hinged flap that created a loud ‘slapping’ noise when used, giving emphasis to comic actions.
The 1800s introduced the pantomime Dame, played by a man; the Ugly Sisters, also played by men; and the Principal Boy, played by a woman. The reasons for the cross-dressing were simple: it was only just becoming even remotely respectable for women to enter the theatrical profession, and those who had made the break certainly didn’t wish to portray elderly, ugly or villainous women. Equally (in a society where women were required to be modestly dressed) theatrical entrepreneurs well understood that a young woman showing a shapely leg in tight fabric while playing the part of a man would be acceptable on the grounds of artistic license – and would, of course, bring in the audiences.
[Edited from the article “He’s Behind You…” by Jill Glenn for Optima Magazine]

Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 20th

The Art of Panto

Pantomime is one of those rare theatrical events that doesn’t translate into any other time or place – it is … a bizarre [and exclusively] Christmas genre. It is a surprising amalgam of a variety of rich artistic traditions [with] its origins in the Bacchanalia of ancient Rome, the medieval Italian Commedia dell’arte, medieval morality plays and riotous routines of Victorian Music hall[s]. While present day panto seems utterly out of control, it actually has a very structured framework, based on a strong story line, where good battles against evil and is victorious.

Tradition says, for example, that the pantomime villain should be the first to enter, from the ’dark side’, stage left, followed by his adversary, the good fairy, from stage right, echoing the Middle Ages, when the entrances to heaven and hell were placed in these positions.

Italian Night Scenes, first seen in Britain at Drury Lane in 1700 [are] Perhaps the most obvious ancestors of the modern panto. Th[ey] were rowdy plays in which the plot was communicated by slapstick and dance, rather than dialogue. The basic theme generally consisted of a misunderstanding leading to a comedy brawl, and, although many people regarded them as vulgar, they became extremely popular.

Slapstick, a crucial aspect of panto, takes its name from a device used in these early entertainments. Harlequin (a panto stock character) used to carry with him a wooden sword [that] had a hinged flap that created a loud ‘slapping’ noise when used, giving emphasis to comic actions.

The 1800s introduced the pantomime Dame, played by a man; the Ugly Sisters, also played by men; and the Principal Boy, played by a woman. The reasons for the cross-dressing were simple: it was only just becoming even remotely respectable for women to enter the theatrical profession, and those who had made the break certainly didn’t wish to portray elderly, ugly or villainous women. Equally (in a society where women were required to be modestly dressed) theatrical entrepreneurs well understood that a young woman showing a shapely leg in tight fabric while playing the part of a man would be acceptable on the grounds of artistic license – and would, of course, bring in the audiences.

[Edited from the article “He’s Behind You…” by Jill Glenn for Optima Magazine]

Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 20th

mediumaevum:

Behold - The Bonnacon

The Bonnacon is a beast with a head like a bull, but with horns that curl in towards each other. Because these horns are useless for defense, the Bonnacon has another weapon. When pursued, the beast expels its “dung” which travels a great distance (as much as two acres), and burns anything it touches.

(via odditiesoflife)

Cadaver Tomb

A cadaver tomb, or “memento mori tomb”, is a type of recumbent effigy tomb featuring an effigy in the macabre form of a decomposing corpse. The topos was particularly characteristic of the later Middle Ages. [Source]

[Image Sources: 1 : 2 : 3 : 4]

Animal Trials
One of the most bizarre human-animal trends of all recorded history took place in Europe during the Middle Ages. This was the formal prosecution of animals accused of committing crimes against people. Animals charged with such crimes (usually murder) were brought to court, appointed a lawyer, and tried, just as a person would be. Records show that hundreds of animals were found guilty and then executed by hanging.
Most of the trials took place in France, Italy, and Germany. There are also a few historical records of trials in other European countries and in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. Animals were tried for a variety of offenses besides murder, mostly fraud and theft. Records show that many were tortured for confessions (just as humans were) prior to the trial. It is not clear how animal confessions were interpreted, considering that animals cannot speak human languages. Criminal proceedings against animals were handled with the utmost seriousness by medieval legal authorities. Animals that harmed humans were considered servants of the devil because they had violated God’s directive in the Bible that humans should have dominion over animals. 
The vast majority of criminal defendants were pigs, probably because farmers allowed them to roam free much of the time. In 1386 a pig accused of murdering an infant was tried and convicted by a court in Falaise, France. The pig was hanged at the gallows by the village hangman. Her six piglets were charged with being accessories to the crime but were acquitted “on account of their youth and their mother’s bad example.” [MORE and EVEN MORE]
[Image: Illustration from Chambers Book of Days depicting a sow and her piglets being tried for the murder of a child. The trial allegedly took place in 1457, the mother being found guilty and the piglets acquitted.] 

Animal Trials

One of the most bizarre human-animal trends of all recorded history took place in Europe during the Middle Ages. This was the formal prosecution of animals accused of committing crimes against people. Animals charged with such crimes (usually murder) were brought to court, appointed a lawyer, and tried, just as a person would be. Records show that hundreds of animals were found guilty and then executed by hanging.

Most of the trials took place in France, Italy, and Germany. There are also a few historical records of trials in other European countries and in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. Animals were tried for a variety of offenses besides murder, mostly fraud and theft. Records show that many were tortured for confessions (just as humans were) prior to the trial. It is not clear how animal confessions were interpreted, considering that animals cannot speak human languages. 

Criminal proceedings against animals were handled with the utmost seriousness by medieval legal authorities. Animals that harmed humans were considered servants of the devil because they had violated God’s directive in the Bible that humans should have dominion over animals. 

The vast majority of criminal defendants were pigs, probably because farmers allowed them to roam free much of the time. In 1386 a pig accused of murdering an infant was tried and convicted by a court in Falaise, France. The pig was hanged at the gallows by the village hangman. Her six piglets were charged with being accessories to the crime but were acquitted “on account of their youth and their mother’s bad example.” [MORE and EVEN MORE]

[Image: Illustration from Chambers Book of Days depicting a sow and her piglets being tried for the murder of a child. The trial allegedly took place in 1457, the mother being found guilty and the piglets acquitted.] 

The Unicorn in Captivity, ca. 1495–1505.

The Unicorn in Captivity, ca. 1495–1505.

Pope Joan (also called La Papessa) is the name of a legendary female pope who supposedly reigned for less than three years in the 850s, between the papacies of Leo IV and Benedict III (though there were only two months between the two reigns). She is known primarily from a legend that circulated in the Middle Ages. Pope Joan is regarded by most modern historians and religious scholars as fictitious, possibly originating as an anti-papal satire. The story of Pope Joan is known mainly from the 13th century chronicler Martin of Opava – writing 500 years after the alleged Popess. Most scholars dismiss Pope Joan as a medieval legend. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes acknowledges that this legend was widely believed for centuries, even among Catholic circles, but declares that there is “no contemporary evidence for a female pope at any of the dates suggested for her reign,” and goes on to say that “the known facts of the respective periods make it impossible to fit [a female pope] in”. For those who are wondering what would happen if this were true (or were to ever be true): nothing; a female is not able to be a priest and a Pope cannot be crowned unless he is a priest first. [Source]

Pope Joan (also called La Papessa) is the name of a legendary female pope who supposedly reigned for less than three years in the 850s, between the papacies of Leo IV and Benedict III (though there were only two months between the two reigns). She is known primarily from a legend that circulated in the Middle Ages. Pope Joan is regarded by most modern historians and religious scholars as fictitious, possibly originating as an anti-papal satire. The story of Pope Joan is known mainly from the 13th century chronicler Martin of Opava – writing 500 years after the alleged Popess. Most scholars dismiss Pope Joan as a medieval legend. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes acknowledges that this legend was widely believed for centuries, even among Catholic circles, but declares that there is “no contemporary evidence for a female pope at any of the dates suggested for her reign,” and goes on to say that “the known facts of the respective periods make it impossible to fit [a female pope] in”. For those who are wondering what would happen if this were true (or were to ever be true): nothing; a female is not able to be a priest and a Pope cannot be crowned unless he is a priest first. [Source]

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