Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Name of the Rose

When Gerard Segarelli was rejected by the Franciscans, he took matters into his own hands and formed the Apostolic Brethren in 1260. The Brethren, active in northern Italy, gained many followers with their life of extreme poverty and their message of repentance.

[Source]
In 1274, at the Second Council of Lyon, Pope Honorius IV prohibited all mendicant orders if they were not sanctioned by the papacy. In 1280, the Bishop of Parma imprisoned Segarelli, and in 1286 banished him from the diocese.

The prohibition against unapproved mendicant orders was renewed in 1290 by Pope Nicholas IV, who also began going after those "orders"; the Brethren were a particular target.

In 1294, four members of the sect were burned at the stake. Segarelli himself was sentenced to life in prison, but on 18 July, 1300, he was burned at the stake in Parma after being made to confess that he had relapsed into heresy. The Apostolic Brethren gained a new leader in the charismatic Fra Dolcino, who is worth his own post someday.

The motto of the Brethren under Segarelli, and later under Fra Dolcino, was Poenitentiam agite [Latin: Make penitence]. This was abbreviated to Penitenziagite! and made known to millions of readers 680 years after Segarelli's execution in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Apostolic Brethren

Mendicants
In the later part of the 13th century, a new order was founded in northern Italy.

Sort of.

The founder, Gerard Segarelli, was a resident of a town in the territory of Parma. Poor and uneducated, he wished to follow a strict Christian life. He applied to be a Franciscan, thinking that their life of simplicity and poverty was suitable to his spiritual goals.

They turned him down.

So about 1260, inspired by a picture he had seen of the apostles, he made himself an outfit patterned after that design, sold his house, distributed the money in the marketplace, and became a mendicant, eschewing property, money, a place to live, and anything that might be considered a luxury. He preached repentance, urged the simple life that he embraced, and found many followers. The Apostolic Brethren, or Apostoli, were scoffed at by the Franciscans—they were a little "over the top" in their pursuit of poverty and simplicity.

But their lifestyle was tempting to many: surviving only on alms, living in the moment without plans for tomorrow, with no fixed dwelling, trusting on God's (and other humans') charity. They took no vows; they considered the vows of other orders hypocritical, because the vow of poverty did not mean living as poorly as the Apostolic Brethren were living. They followed one principle only, based on the Acts of the Apostles:
All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them ..., according as anyone had need. [2:44-45]
But this was not to last. Tomorrow I'll tell you how Segarelli's dream ended, only to be remembered over 700 years later in a literary bestseller.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Damnation of Memory

The Roman Severan family, with
Geta "erased" from lower
left by orders of Caracalla
[link]
Memory is a tricky thing: it cannot easily be controlled, but steps can be taken.

The Roman Senate had a practice reserved for traitors to the state: Damnatio memoriae [Latin: "Damnation/Condemnation of memory"]. It was intended to remove any mention of that person from official records. On 21 April 395, the Senate condemned Eugenius (blamed for a recent civil war) to Damnatio memoriae, claiming "Let that time be reckoned as if it never was." Another famous example is when the Emperor Caracalla erased the memory of his brother, Geta, which involved physically removing his likeness from artworks. (See the image to the left.)

Damnation of memory was not strictly Roman. Queen Hatshepsut was almost wiped from Egyptian history by her ungrateful stepson, Thutmose III, in the 15th century BCE. Akhenaton promoted his brand of monotheism by removing images of the god Amon. Modern Egypt isn't immune to this practice: witness the recent removal of the name of President Hosni Mubarak and his wife from monuments and public spaces after his downfall.

Snorri Sturluson, mentioned here, tells us that the 10th century earl Hákon Sigurdarson was referred to solely as "the evil earl" long after his death.

The 55th Doge of Venice, Marino Faliero, was executed in 1355 after a failed coup, after which his portrait was removed from the Doge's palace in Venice and the space painted black. The blackened space still exists.

And Magnus Maximus was condemned with Damnatio memoriae, for all the good it did (see the previous two days' posts). Stories have a way of surviving; memory is like that.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Magnus Maximus, Part Two

rom a 14th century Welsh Book of Hours,
this is thought to depict Maximus
[link]
Yesterday we introduced Magnus Maximus, a general who briefly became ruler of much of the Western Roman Empire. Leaving the young Emperor Valentinian II in Rome, Maximus ruled over Britain, Gaul, Spain, and Africa.

He did things that did not sit well with his constituents, however. He is believed to be the first person to order execution for heresy when he executed Priscillian and six followers.* We are so used to thinking of the Middle Ages killing heretics that we would be surprised to know that this wasn't always common. In this case, St. Martin of Tours (mentioned here) tried to prevent it. On the other hand, when Maximus tried to censure Christians for burning down a synagogue, Bishop Ambrose of Milan condemned Maximus' decision.

Maximus also pushed his luck by driving out Valentinian II, who later, with the help of Eastern Emperor Theodosius I, returned and attacked Maximus, defeating him in 388 at the Battle of the Save (near modern Croatia). Maximus surrendered to his enemies at Aquileia; despite pleading for mercy, he was executed.

Maximus had family, and although we are not certain what became of all of them, we have some ideas, and legend offers another. His son, Flavius Victor, was strangled. His wife sought counsel from St. Martin, but we know nothing of her after that; we don't even know her name, although a popular Welsh legend calls her Elen. Maximus had a mother and daughters who were spared. One of his daughters, Sevira, is named on the Pillar of Eliseg as a wife of Vortigern. (The pillar was erected centuries after Vortigern, so we cannot be certain of the accuracy of the data.)

Later historians did not forget the story of a warrior starting in Britain and conquering Rome. They embraced him, and wove him into England's greatest legend. Accordingly, one of his grandsons was Flavius Ambrosius Aurelius, who had a son, Ambrosius Aurelianus. Depending on which ancient historian or modern author you pick, Ambrosius is either the uncle of King Arthur or is the figure on whom King Arthur is based.



*"Priscillianism" will be covered in the near future.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Magnus Maximus, Part 1

Yesterday's post on St. Illide mentioned that he cured the daughter of Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus. Although Maximus was Emperor of Western Roman Empire for only five years (383-85 CE), he has a bearing on medieval legend, and you ought to be introduced.

[link]
Magnus Maximus (c.335-28 August, 388) was a Roman general who served in Africa, then in southwest Germany on the Danube. He went to Britain in 380 and held it against invasions by the Picts and Scots.

In 383, when the current Western Roman emperor, Gratian, became unpopular, Maximus' troops declared him emperor. Maximus took his troops and set out for Rome to take Gratian's place. Gratian and his army met Maximus near Paris, where Gratian's troops were defeated and Gratian was pursued to Lyons and killed.

But Maximus did not become emperor automatically. Gratian had a half-brother, Valentinian II, who was declared Western Emperor. Maximus continued toward Italy to overthrow Valentinian, who was only 12 years old. Valentinian had help, however, from the Eastern Emperor, Theodosius I (once mentioned here regarding the date of an eclipse). Negotiations followed, aided by Bishop Ambrose of Milan (later St. Ambrose, mentioned here disagreeing with Plato). Maximus was given the title Augustus and allowed to rule Britain, Gaul, Spain, and Africa, while Valentinian II remained on the throne of Italy. Maximus was allowed to mint coins and make laws. He is credited with the first executions for heresy (I'll get to that some day).

He did not, however, remain popular for very long. I'll talk about that tomorrow, as well as tell you about his great-great-grandson, who probably did not exist and whom you all know.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Saint Illide

Yesterday's post featured a picture of the chapel of Saint Illide, belonging to the Château d'Alleuze. The chapel was built in the 12th century and named for a 4th century bishop of Clermont, France. Given that the picture yesterday showed a no-longer-used stone building, you can assume that the stained glass window to the left is not from there. It is found in the Church of Saint-Eutrope in Clermont-Ferrand.

The bishop, alternately known as Illidius or Allyre, is credited with helping Clermont-Ferrand become an important center of monastic culture and religious teaching—probably one of the reasons it was chosen by Pope Urban II for announcing the First Crusade.

Illide supposedly cured the daughter of Emperor Magnus Maximus of Rome. His reputation earned him praise from Gregory of Tours.

Illide died in 385. His feast day is 7 July (except in Clermont, where they celebrate him on 5 June.)

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Castle above Saint-Flour

The picture below was posted on Facebook a few days ago by a long-time friend. (That's his daughter seen to the right of it. Hi, Kyrie!) It is the chapel of St. Illide. As interesting as the chapel is, however, I want to talk about the castle on the hill behind it.


The Château d'Alleuze was built in the 13th century in south central France, looking down on the commune of Saint-Flour. Saint-Flour is named for Florus of Lodève, reputedly the first bishop of Lodève who came to Christianize the area in the 5th century. One of his acts was to strike a rock with his staff, bringing forth water from a spring.

The Château d'Alleuze was built in the 13th century and owned by the bishops of Clermont. Typical for the time, it was built square with round towers at each corner. During the Hundred Years War, it was seized by the Breton Bernard de Garlan, who spent seven years terrorizing the area.

[link]
The locals burned down the castle in 1405 to prevent it from being used as a base for future terrorism. This understandably annoyed the actual owner, a Monseigneur De la Tour, who made the locals restore it to its original state. It survived for centuries afterward, being used for, among other things, a jail by the bishops of Clermont.

A ruin now, it was declared in 1927 as an historic monument, and a recommended tourist spot.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The King of All Birds

The wren, O the wren, is the King of All Birds.
On St. Stephen's Day he got caught in the furze.


So goes a medieval carol. But why would the diminutive—though disproportionately loud—wren be the king of all birds? The Christians of the Middle Ages had a story for that.

God, wanting to know which bird was the king, challenged them all to a contest. Whichever could fly the highest and farthest would be declared king. They all set off, flying until they dropped from weariness. When the eagle was left, and started to fail, the tiny wren popped out from where it was hiding under the eagle's wing, and won the competition.

Cute, but it looks a little contrived after the fact. Why would the wren be considered king, and therefore need a fable to justify it? And why is it important that it got caught in the furze (gorse) on 26 December? A traditional St. Stephen's Day pursuit is to hunt the wren, kill it, and bury it. The is sometimes still done in England, although these days it is pantomimed with an artificial bird.

The Norse story is that the wren betrayed St. Stephen, leading to his martyrdom; hence the hunting and killing of the wren on his feast day.

There's an older Celtic connection of the wren with the past year; in the Netherlands its name means "winter king" because the European wren sings through mid-winter. The hunting and killing, then, is probably symbolic of getting rid of the old year to make way for the new. Its "kingship" in European/Celtic tradition likely stems from this tendency to keep singing its surprisingly loud song when most other birds have disappeared to warmer climes.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Protecting the Jews

The Plague, also called the Black Death, spread across Sicily shortly after the arrival of a fleet of a dozen Genoese galleys bringing goods from the far eastern end of the Mediterranean. This was in October of 1346. A few months later, in January 1348, galleys from Kaffa (in Crimea) reached Genoa and Venice, where outbreaks also began.

The rest of Europe might have been spared—crossing the Alps would be difficult for the Plague carriers—but one of the galleys was driven away from Italy and found shelter in the port of Marseilles on the southern coast of France. That was the real introduction to continental Europe, after which there was no stopping it.

There is plenty of information about the Black Death to be found online—including in the blog—so there is no need to go into details here. There is, however, a specific event related to the Plague that took place on today's date.

Many populations throughout history, unhappy with their lot, either due to general difficulties or tragedy, have looked for a scapegoat. That scapegoat often takes the form of other people who can be labeled as "outsiders" who are not us and whose presence or actions are hurting us. In the case of the Plague, that scapegoat in many locations was the Jews, who were persecuted and killed, accused of poisoning wells (despite the fact that they drank from the very same sources of water), or of general wickedness that had brought down the wrath of God.

Pope Clement VI was moved to produce a papal bull, Quamvis perfidiam, defending the Jews against the accusations, and urging his fellow Christian prelates to defend them in their territories. It was released on 6 July, 1348. Unfortunately, persecution persisted, and so he re-issued it on 26 September.

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