Monthly Archives: March 2015

Dating Medieval Irish Literature

The European Research Council has granted Professor David Stifter of Maynooth University a 1.8 million Euro grant for his project Chronologicon Hibernicum. The goal of the project is to more accurately date Irish texts varying from the 7th to 10th centuries. There are long-term goals as well, in that Professor Stifter, along with his team of five researchers, hopes to identify language trends so that future dating projects will be easier.


With these methods, identifying and dating other texts will be easier, as well. This project is focused only on Irish texts from the Medieval period, but the techniques developed will be applicable to texts outside this range of dates, as well as from other cultures. The texts in question are written in Old Irish, the complexity of which has made previous attempts at dating them difficult. Professor Stifter and his team hope to use modern methods and technologies to determine more accurate dates.


The full article is here, at the Irish Times website:

Down Syndrome in the Medieval Period

On July 4, 2014, there was an article posted about the oldest case of Down syndrome discovered when a skeleton of a child who died 1500 years ago was found in early medieval France.  The skeleton was recognized as having Down syndrome because the skull was short and broad with a flattened skull base and thin cranial bones, which are all features of people born with Down syndrome.  The way in which the child was buried was analyzed, and the analysis hinted that the child was not stigmatized in society because he was not treated differently in death.  The child was laid on its back in the tomb, in an east-west orientation with the head at the westward end, which was common in ancient burials.  Although the remains from the child do not prove any cultural beliefs from the time period, they indicate the possibility that the child was integrated into society.  By looking at other articles, I found that there is much speculation as to how people with disabilities were treated in medieval times.  However, despite the possibility that people with disabilities were treated poorly, they did live in their local communities rather than being institutionalized.  The actual conceptions of people with disabilities varied by their actual disability, their social class, and religion.

Medieval Coffin Found

Earlier this month, a lead coffin was found containing the body of a woman. The body is estimated to be from between the years of 1270-1400. The coffin was found in an area of Leicester in close proximity of the previous discovery of King Richard II a few years ago. While the body has not been officially identified, the excavation team went through historical records and found an entry from the Bishop of Lincoln stating, “A Pater and a Ave for the soul of Emma, wife of John of Holt, whose body is buried in the Franciscan church in Leicester.” This entry followed the discovery of a record stating that the Bishop granted an indulgence for 20 years off time in purgatory for a woman named Emma. 10 graves in total were found.

The Cloisters: Exploring Medieval Art

The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City that focuses on European Medieval art. Last year, I visited the museum during spring break and was amazed by the extensive collection of different paintings, artifacts, architecture, and other art from the Medieval period. Even the architecture of the museum itself is reminiscent of a medieval castle, as it is constructed of five European abbeys and surrounded with medieval-style herb gardens.

As I walked through the Cloisters, I noticed that most of the artwork carried major characteristics of Medieval art: vivid colors, stiff figures, heavy outlines, and mosaics. Most, if not all, of the art had religious elements, such as stained glass, statues of religious figures and saints, and halos. The emphasis on religion during the Medieval period is shown in its art, since art’s primary purpose was to glorify God. One of the most striking parts of the museum is a statue of Jesus hanging from the cross in a domed room. I also noticed that war scenes and animals were another common theme of Medieval art. The Cloisters museum is an educational and relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. I definitely recommend that you pay it a visit!

A Monk’s Chronicle: 25 March MMXIII — Good Friday: Jesus Embraces us from the Cross

ISIS and the ‘Medieval’ Label

Over the last few months I’ve noticed how often news articles, politicians, and other public figures have referred to The Islamic State as ‘medieval.’ Often this word choice comes in reference to ISIS’ use of specific, brutal methods of violence against prisoners. Somewhat in response to this concept, in an article for Slate Magazine, journalist John Terry talks about the problems with this representation of ISIS as  ‘medieval.’ Terry argues “[ISIS is] nostalgic for a make-believe past, and those among them who know plenty about Islam’s first decades have conveniently revised medieval history to fit modern ideological needs.” Terry argues that other scholars of medieval history have responded to this use of the ‘medieval’ and how it provides a skewed understanding not only of early Arab conquests, but also of the ‘medieval’ period more generally. Conversely we might think about how the terms application skews our own 21st-century understanding of what the term ‘medieval’ is, or was. Though this idea doesn’t directly tie in to what we have explicitly been working on in class, it does tie in to ideas about how language is used to shape and reshape both historical narrative and identity.

“Chivalry” Then and Now

In the Middle Ages, Richard Abels explains in his NY Times article, chivalry was a code of conduct followed by the military nobility which called for them to have “skill in combat, courage and loyalty to one’s lord… [as well as] courtliness and medieval Christian values.” In modern times, “chivalry” has come to mean “‘gentlemanly’ behavior, manifested through courtesy toward the ‘fair sex’, honor, courage, loyalty, athletic prowess and fighting ‘fair'”; a definition Abels says stems from 18th century Romantics’ ideas of the Middle Ages. There is debate today over the concept’s appropriateness in a society that is striving to eliminate the idea of the “fairer sex” in order for women to achieve social, economic, and political equality. Some argue that chivalry only perpetuates the attitude that women are weak and inferior; while others say chivalry is synonymous with common courtesy, and that we need more of it in our increasingly self-centered world. The NY Times’ “Room For Debate” section online includes an introduction to this debate and a short post from each of the 6 debaters, including Abels. The main page can be found here:

Medieval Cuisine

When I was in 8th grade, I attended a place called Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. It was an amazing experience! Upon my recollection of this, it got me thinking about the type of food that was prevalent during the Middle Ages. Since food is a huge part of culture, I did some research on this in order to get more of a understanding of Medieval life as a whole. On the British Library website, I discovered that the food people ate during the Middle Ages was largely influenced by their class. For example,  Aristocrats ate river fish, freshly killed meat, and of course fruits and vegetables. Their food had a lot of flavor due to their use of spices (ginger, pepper, cinnamon, etc). People in a lower class ate food that was preserved (bacon, pickled herring) and they typically kept pigs to eat because they were able to take care of themselves.

However, the rich and poor both ate pottage. This dish is a thick soup that contained either bran, vegetables, or meat. Morthew was described as a fancy pottage, and frumenty contained cereal. Every class ate bread and many people during the Middle Ages used it as a plate.


200 Skeletons Found in Medieval Mass Grave Beneath Paris Supermarket

The site had once been a medieval hospital and cemetery. Underneath a supermarket in the middle of Paris, 200 skeletons are buried head to toe, six corpses deep. The supermarket allowed in researchers to examine during construction. It seems that The plague and smallpox are the probably causes of death, as it was the plague and smallpox that dispatched tens of thousands of Parisians throughout the Dark Ages.

The French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research plans to perform tests to determine what exactly killed the people. Whatever it was, it killed with speed. And researchers were surprised to observe the meticulousness with which the bodies were placed in the graves.


Archaeologists Team Up With Moles

In Denmark, a team of archaeologists have been using the help of moles in the area to help dig up a medieval fort. The team had previously been legally unable to dig there because the land is protected by the government. However, the moles dig as they normally would, and archaeologists then sift through mole hills. They find that they moles have brought up pieces of brick and pottery; the archaeologists know when they are closer to where buildings once stood where the mole hills contain increasing amounts of brick. The big advantage here (besides getting around legal troubles) is that the artifacts being dug up by the moles remain unharmed and undestroyed.

Medieval Literature Scholar Discusses Game of Thrones

I recently came across a video of a medieval literature professor from Sonoma State University discussing his thoughts on the popular series Game of Thrones, and the connections this show has to medieval literature. In the short video, he primarily focuses on justice and politics in the show, and compares these to those found in medieval literature. He then moves to compare several of the characters to different figures seen in medieval poetry, such as the “truthteller” and various knights, as well as finds comparisons with the ideas and plot with Beowulf. Also, he does find some similarities in the ways the female lead characters are portrayed.

I found the video to be very interesting, and a way to connect what we’ve been studying in class to modern pop culture.