Animals stargazing, because why not?
Burney 275 © The British Library
The Vipers of Milan
Bernabò Visconti (1323–1385) and his brother, Galeazzo (1320–1378), jointly ruled Lombardy (in what is now Italy). They succeeded when their uncle, Lucchino, was murdered by his wife, a plan that came to her in the midst of a riverboat orgy in which one of her multiple male partners was Galeazzo himself. That gives a pretty good sense of the family milieu. Bernabò, the more ferocious of the two, was in a state of perpetual war with the Pope, and when the supreme pontiff issued a Bull of Excommunication against the lord, Bernabò forced the legate who delivered the document to eat it, including the silk cord and seals of lead that bound it.
Bernabò’s lusts, by contrast, were unbounded. His illegitimate offspring by his various mistresses outnumbered even the 17 children he fathered by his long-suffering wife. One observer said Bernabò’s palace was “more the seraglio of a sultan than the habitation of a Christian prince.” Galeazzo was less extravagant, but the two did collaborate in designing the Quaresima, an elaborate 40-day program of gruesome tortures to be used in the execution of traitors and enemies.
image: Bonino da Campione (14th century), Monument to Bernabò Visconti. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto
Remember that paw-adorned manuscript that circulated the internet last month?
Well, scribes having problems with cats (and mice) is nothing new. Check this out:
- A Deventer scribe, writing around 1420, found his manuscript ruined by a urine stain left there by a cat the night before. He was forced to leave the rest of the page empty, drew a picture of a cat and cursed the creature with the following words: Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.
- A medieval manuscript offered a tasty treat for the little vermin, as this eleventh-century copy of Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae illustrates. The manuscript has been all but devoured by rats and mice and every page shows the marks of their teeth.
- Aside from their book-endangering eating habits, mice could be an annoying distraction, as illustrated by the twelfth-century scribe Hildebert. The illustration shows how a mouse has climbed up Hildebert’s table and is eating his cheese. Hildebert lifts a stone in an apparent attempt to kill the mouse. In the book that he was writing, we find a curse directed at the cheese-nibbling beast: Most wretched mouse, often you provoke me to anger. May God destroy you!
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote
Canterbury Tales, opening lines
(When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root)
Usually associated with Christmas, mincemeat can be a great addition to your Easter feast. Read this great text about it, and it’s medieval roots, and get down to business.
- 1 quantity of homemade mincemeat
- 4 large quince (or good baking apples)
- 2oz melted unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons coarse brown sugar (optional)
- powdered sugar for dusting
- Prepare mincemeat according to directions and store in a cool, dark place. Bring to room temperature.
- Pre-heat oven to 350F/175C
- Cut quince or apple in two pieces. The bottom should be about two-thirds of the fruit, with the top being the other third, where the stork is.
- With a paring knife core and empty most of quince or apple flesh, leaving half an inch (1cm) wall around the outside on both top and bottom pieces. Leave skin on.
- Fill cavity in bottom with mincemeat and pile high.
- Top with lid and brush fruit lightly all over with melted butter, and sprinkle with brown sugar (latter is optional).
- Place in oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until quince/apple is nicely browned and wilting but not collapsed.
- Allow to cool for 5 or 10 minutes before serving dusted with powdered sugar, and with your choice of seasonal sauce/whipped cream/ice cream.
Q:It's hug a medievalist day. Are you a medievalist? No. You're someone that can read Wikipedia articles.
Never said I was. But you can hug people that invest a lot of time into sharing their passion about something, can you?
Resurrection from a 13th century missal
Christ steps from the tomb on to the sleeping body of one of the soldiers guarding the tomb. One of the soldiers clutches, in his sleep, both a curved sword and an axe; another holds an upright sword. The faces of the two soldiers are blackened, to suggest infamy.
The figure of Christ, outsize in proportion to the rest of the composition, adds to the drama of the moment depicted, as do the two angels who accompany the event by playing music energetically on their instruments.
The elongated, thin figure of Christ is characteristic of the Sarum Master’s style. Note how parts of some figures overlap the edges of the decorative frame, suggesting that the subject is bursting from its confines.
For medieval Christians, Easter was particularly enjoyable because it came after six weeks of hard fasting and abstinence. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, when churchgoers were marked with ashes, Lent was a time when everyone, rich and poor, was expected to forgo many everyday pleasures.
The emphasis was on sacrifice and even commonplace foods such as eggs and meat had to be saved until the Easter celebrations. Eggs laid during the Lenten period were hardboiled to preserve them, a tradition which continues today in the painting of hardboiled eggs.
Do you know what day it is today?
HUG A MEDIEVALIST DAY!
So grab your nearest Middle Ages lover and give them a good, hearty hug.