Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Medieval Plague: The Black Death

At the core of all medieval life was the general state of health of the local and national population. Effective medicine was of course not readily available and many illnesses that are easily curable today were responsible for many deaths in medieval times.

The Black Death is probably the most well-known killer from that era and we'd like to share with you a story about a small English market town in the Lake District called Penrith.

In 1597 Andrew Hodgson crossed over the Pennines, probably from Richmond in Yorkshire and brought with him the Black Death. (It had already been terrorising Europe for 250 years when this happened!). This was a cruel blow for the people of Penrith as the previous year a famine had killed 153 people and the population had been weakended considerably. The cold winter did not wipe out the disease and during 1598 over half the population died. There is still talk of plague stones and the horrors which were brought to Cumbria and the Eden Valley.

So what exactly was the Black Death? For many years everyone thought it was the bubonic plague brought by fleas and their rat hosts. However, Scott & Duncan in their book "The Return of the Black Death" argue that it was a haemorrhaging virus, not dissimilar to Ebola, which brought so much death to the land.

We will talk more about their findings and the impact of the Black Death on medieval life at a later date but for now most people simply do not recognise how prosperous 21st century life and the horrors of the past could share some frightening similarities.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Monks In Medieval Times

The popular view of medieval monks is one of happy jolly people (witness the Robin Hood stories) but according to historical records the reality was entirely different!

Enclosed in their communities and often not undertaking any pastoral work they were often perceived as idle and even promiscuous. To quote Giraldus Cambrensis ....

"From the malice of monks, O Lord deliver us"

However, by the end of the 12th century religious rule was being undermined by easier living conditions and the decline of monasticism began.

If you would like to read more about medieval monasteries, priories and churches go to our medieval worship section. We also have a fascinating page on one of England's oldest churches - St. Etheldreda's in London - built during the reign of the infamous medieval King Edward I.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Medieval Education

We have written on both and in our Medieval Castle Blog about the importance of medieval worship and the role of the Church, particularly in medieval England. Howeverm, there is another sector of medieval life that was dominated by the Church - education.

At that time it was basically a means of training future priests and holy men. All the schools had to be licenced by a Bishop and the schools were often attached to a cathedral or a monastery. The schools were notably for boys only where pupils would study the trivium (dialectic, rhetoric and grammar) and sometimes the quadrivium. Lessons would have been in Latin and discipline was known to be severe.

One interesting point about education in medieval England was that there was absolutely no class distinction and poor children could rise through society benefited by a good education. Ironically, often the nobility were too proud or sometimes too lazy to educate their children. Upper class boys were in fact more likely to be trained in warfare, usually in another noble household where they would start out as pages.

Despite this, open access to education reading remained largely a preserve of the Holy orders.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Medieval Church Windows

Medieval worship was an important part of medieval life not only in England but throughout Europe. In the early 12th century church windows were generally small and made of clear glass. The next development was glass satined in greys and blacks - known as grisaille. However the development of the Gothic arch allowed larger windows to be built which led to the French introducing stained glass as we know it today.

Towards the end of the 12th century stained glass windows began to appear in churches and priories in England and other countries. Perhaps the best example of medieval stained glass in England today can be seen in Canterbury Cathedral dating from around 1180.

For a wonderful list of countries and their churches where medieval stained glass can be seen click here.

The countries incude:


At Lanercost Priory in Cumbria, it is a little different and indeed unusual ... the priory is of course medieval having played host to King Edward I in the winter of 1306. However, its stained glass windows are famous not for being medieval but for being designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, one of the great English Pre-Raphaelite artists who became involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in England during his lifetime.

A friend of the aristocrat and artist George Howard at Naworth Castle near Lanercost Priory, Burne-Jones also create some wonderful stained glass windows for St Martin's Church in nearby Brampton as well as for Birmingham Cathedral.

Labels: ,