Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Greece Runestones

Several of the Norse Runestones are part of a subset called Greece Runestones. These refer to Grikkland (Greece) or Grikkjar (Greeks), and two refer to grikkfari (traveler to Greece). To Scandinavians, Grikkland was any part of the Byzantine Empire. Some stones were raised to commemorate Scandinavians who died in Greece as part of the Varangian Guards, some to recognize men who returned with wealth from their time down south.

There is variety in size of runestones, and the Greece examples are no different. One is a carved whetstone (3.3 x 1.8 x 1.3), mentioning two men who traveled to Greece, Jerusalem, Iceland, and Serkland (the name referring to land of Muslims). (This was originally thought to be a forgery; the claim was that a worker found it while digging a shaft for a telephone wire. It was considered authentic partially because of a few misspellings of place names: mistakes a forger would not make when every available document one might use as reference spelled those locations accurately.)

One is a boulder 59 feet in circumference, known as U 112, side A of which is shown here. It reads:

Ragnvaldr had the runes carved in memory of Fastvé, his mother, Ónæmr's daughter, (who) died in Eið. May God help her spirit.

Side B reads:

Ragnvaldr had the runes carved; (he) was in Greece, was commander of the retinue.

 U 112 is an example of how the runestones are valuable to modern scholars and historians as far more than an example of art. The name Ragnvaldr indicates that was likely a member of a noble family. The reference to his mother and her father are useful in connecting Ragnvaldr to his family. Ónæmr is mentioned on two other runestones, through which we know that Ragnvaldr had two aunts and a cousin who received Danegeld three times. Ragnvaldr was part of a wealthy family. Also, "commander of the retinue" makes him captain of the Varangian Guard, and well-paid in his own right.

The link between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire lasted a long time, especially because of the Varangian Guard, and even motivated Norway and Sweden to create laws specifically about those who went south, especially regarding inheritance. I'll talk about this north-south connection, the Varangian Guard, and keeping family wealth in the country next time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Jarlabanke Runestones

Of the thousands of runestones created up until the 12th century, 20 fall into a special category because they were all raised by or on behalf of the same man. These are the Jarlabankestenarna (Swedish "Jarlabanke stones") in Upland, Sweden.

Jarlabanke Ingefastsson was likely a hersir, a chieftain or military commander, of a hundred, which was an administrative division of a hundred men (and their families). He would have been responsible for organizing military support in times of war. (Hundreds were used extensively in Europe, and even in the United States: Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania used hundreds in the 17th century.)

Jarlabanke likely was very well-off financially thanks to the Danegeld, the practice of being paid off by England to stop attacking it. Another source of revenue would have been from men of his hundred being paid as mercenaries in the Varangian Guard and fighting in Kievan Rus.

He used them to commemorate fallen family members and comrades, and public works. The inscription for the one pictured reads:

Jarlabanki had these stones raised in memory of himself while alive, and made this bridge for his spirit, and (he) alone owned all of Tábýr. May God help his spirit.

Tábýr is modern Täby. There is a bit of controversy based on an Old Norse verb over whether he actually "owned" or was simply a chieftain appointed by the King of Sweden.

The bridge mentioned is actually a causeway. There are three other stones raised to give him credit for constructing roads and bridges. 

There are two Jarlabanke Runestones that mention men who traveled abroad. One of them is broken and now shows only the fragment Hann ændaðis I Grikkium, "He ended [died] in Greece." This is considered part of a subset of stones referred to as Greece Runestones, which will be our next (and final) look into the practice of raising runestones.

Monday, November 28, 2022


When King Harald Bluetooth chose to be baptized in the 960s, he decided to commemorate the radical change he was instigating for the Danes turning Christian by having a runestone erected. This kicked off a trend for Scandinavian nobles to have their own runestones created to memorialize themselves or others. There are about 3000 in existence now.

Harald's was not the first, however: runestones as old as the 4th century exist, and they are scattered wherever the Norse traveled and settled. The Isle of Man has several, and there is even one as far away as the Black Sea. (Curiously, this never caught on in Iceland.)

The majority of total stones (percentages differ in different locales) are Christian, and crosses appear on many, as well as one of the oldest depictions in Scandinavia of Jesus on Harald's. The conversion to Christianity altered some practices: instead of burials taking place in the family plot, folk would be buried in the church graveyard and a runestone commemorating them erected with the deceased ancestors.

Runestones carried a lot of text to get their message across. The one pictured here is called Rök, which in Old Norse means "monolith." You cannot tell from this picture, but it is a five-ton stone, eight feet tall and with five sides covered in more runes than any other. It dates from around 800.

The usual formula was to mention the person for whom it was raised, their chief accomplishments, how they died, a prayer for them, and sometimes the connection between them and the person who raised the stone. Because the Varangian Guard were mercenaries all over, especially in the Mediterranean, many runestones were raised in memory of someone who never returned home, and "he died in Greece" (generic term for anywhere in or near the Byzantine Empire) is found on many stones.

One of the largest collections of runestones devoted to a single man is found in Runriket, Rune Kingdom, in Vallentuna, Sweden. Tomorrow I will tell you about the Jarlabanke Runestones.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Kingdom of the Isles

North and west and south of Scotland are numerous islands, the Shetlands and Orkneys, the Hebrides, and the Isle of Man, respectively. From the 9th to 13th centuries, they were collectively known as the Kingdom of the Isles.

Their widely spread locations made them vulnerable to invasion and take-overs. Ireland looked at the Hebrides and Man with desire, and Norway was interested in the Orkneys. Magnus Barefoot of Norway managed to conquer the Kingdom for a time in the 11th century, until the previously ruling family reclaimed the rulership.

We might know very little about this part of the world, but the Isle of Iona had a prominent monastery, whence came many prominent religious figures like Adomnán and others whose activities are recorded starting in the 6th century, although Viking invasions starting in the mid 9th century disrupted life and record-keeping.

The Norse referred to the islands as Suðreyjar ("Southern Isles"). The Laxdaela Saga (one of the Icelandic sagas) refers to people coming to Iceland from Sodor, meaning the southern isles. "Sodor" remains in the name of the Church of England diocese for some of the isles.

The natives of the Isles were Gaels, and Gaelic remained the spoken language even under Norse occupation, although Gaelic place-names all but disappeared in favor of Norse names. Norse occupation on the Isle of Man left 26 runestones, when all of Norway has only 33!

Possession of the Hebrides and the Isle of Man came to a head in the war between Magnus VI of Norway and Alexander III of Scotland. Their conflict ended with the Treaty of Perth in 1263, which recognized Scotland's ownership of the Isles.

Next, let's go into a little more detail on runestones.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Bishop Pirate

William of Newburgh tells the story of a bishop whose actions were contrary to what was expected by a man of God. More recent research offers hypotheses for why a bishop might turn into a pirate and the scourge of Scotland.

"born in the most obscure spot in England," Wimund was educated at Furness Abbey. He was tall and fair, and had a good speaking voice, but had a proud heart and expected to accomplish great things. He claimed to be the son of the Earl of Moray, which seemed unlikely, but more recent theories are that he was possibly the illegitimate son of Óengus of Moray, who became Earl after Wimund was born, or possibly the illegitimate grandson of King Duncan II.

At some point Furness is asked to create a sister abbey at Rushen on the Isle of Man, part of the Kingdom of the Isles. The well-spoken Wimund was made Bishop of the Isles by Thurstan, Archbishop of York. While bishop, according to Newburgh, at some point he started claiming that he wa deprived of his proper inheritance by the King of Scotland. He gathered supporters, promised them to share in his successes and riches, and embarked on a career of descending on

...the provinces of Scotland, wasting all before him with rapine and slaughter; but whenever the royal army was dispatched against him, he eluded the whole warlike preparation, either by retreating to distant forests, or taking to the sea; and when the troops had retired, he again issued from his hiding-places to ravage the provinces.

Unable to stop Wimund's reign of terror, bought him off by giving him Furness and the territory around, giving him some feudal opportunity to collect taxes, etc. Those who suffered under him, however, did not appreciate this. They waited until they could find him separated from his men, captured him, castrated him, and blinded him.

He was forcibly retired to Byland Abbey, where William of Newburgh resided. He had no regret for his actions, however. In Newburgh's words:

Afterwards he came to us at Byland, and quietly continued there many years till his death. But he is reported even there to have said, that had he only the eye of a sparrow his enemies should have little occasion to rejoice at what they had done to him.

If you want to read his story according to Newburgh, you can find it here.

His success in piracy was probably because his attacks were in the Kingdom of the Isles, a series of locations far enough apart that it wasn't easy for the king to send troops to deal with him, as opposed to on the Scottish mainland. We will look at the geography and history of the Kingdom of the Isles tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2022

William of Newburgh

William of Newburgh (c.1136 - c.1198) criticized Geoffrey of Monmouth for his inaccurate History of the Kings of Britain, but Newburgh's Historia rerum Anglicarum (“History of English Things/Events”) included a lot of unverified and unverifiable anecdotes. To be fair, he had to rely on other writers for events that took place prior to his lifetime; his chronicle starts in 1066.

He was quite useful at discussing The Anarchy in detail, and his chronicle gives a lot of insight to regular life in the 12th century. He is the only source for an event that happened in his lifetime: a bishop that became a pirate.

The 12th century in England had an interest—by no means unique to that time or place—in "revenants": animated corpses that haunted the living. I previously shared one of Newburgh's anecdotes in A Vampire at Melrose. Newburgh, who was a priest (an Augustinian canon), considered revenants a "warning to posterity" about living a spiritual life. To him, examples of revenants were so common that "were I to write down all the instances of this kind which I have ascertained to have befallen in our times, the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome."

He acknowledges that these stories seem unlikely, but cannot bring himself to dismiss them:

It would not be easy to believe that the corpses of the dead should sally (I know not by what agency) from their graves, and should wander about to the terror or destruction of the living, and again return to the tomb, which of its own accord spontaneously opened to receive them, did not frequent examples, occurring in our own times, suffice to establish this fact, to the truth of which there is abundant testimony. [find the entire translated Historia here]

Another example offered by Newburgh is a criminal who flees York and marries a woman whose faithfulness he doubts. Hiding in the rafters of their house, he sees her with another man in their bed, but falls from the rafters, resulting in a fatal wound:

A Christian burial, indeed, he received, though unworthy of it; but it did not much benefit him: for issuing, by the handiwork of Satan, from his grave at night-time, and pursued by a pack of dogs with horrible barkings, he wandered through the courts and around the houses while all men made fast their doors, and did not dare to go abroad on any errand whatever from the beginning of the night until the sunrise, for fear of meeting and being beaten black and blue by this vagrant monster.

In fact, the revenant killed several people, whereupon the village decided to take action:

Thereupon snatching up a spade of but indifferent sharpness of edge, and hastening to the cemetery, they began to dig; and whilst they were thinking that they would have to dig to a greater depth, they suddenly, before much of the earth had been removed, laid bare the corpse, swollen to an enormous corpulence, with its countenance beyond measure turgid and suffused with blood; while the napkin in which it had been wrapped appeared nearly torn to pieces. The young men, however, spurred on by wrath, feared not, and inflicted a wound upon the senseless carcass, out of which incontinently flowed such a stream of blood, that it might have been taken for a leech filled with the blood of many persons. Then, dragging it beyond the village, they speedily constructed a funeral pile; and upon one of them saying that the pestilential body would not burn unless its heart were torn out, the other laid open its side by repeated blows of the blunted spade, and, thrusting in his hand, dragged out the accursed heart. This being torn piecemeal, and the body now consigned to the flames.

Newburgh doesn't seem to have tried to verify any of these stories, with any statement like "... and I heard this myself from one of the villagers who did the digging."

He was not the only person who recorded stories of revenants. Walter Map (mentioned in The Demonization of Cats post) relates more incidents.

I am hoping, though, that Newburgh 's account of a bishop who became a pirate—not referred to in any other known historical account—is true. I will check that out and report to you tomorrow. Until then...

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth may have been born in Monmouth, Wales, since he refers to himself that way (in Latin, he writes it "Galfridus Monemutensis"). He is called by some contemporaries "Galfridus Arturus" (Geoffrey Arthur), which may allude to his father's name or be a nickname based on his interests, since he writes about King Arthur. We assume he was born between 1090 and 1100. We don't really know his country of origin, and some assume his parents came over with William the Conqueror, but Galfridus and Arthur were common names among the Bretons.

A half-dozen charters in Oxford between 1129 and 1151 were witnessed by him, so he was definitely in the Oxford area during that time. He was ordained Bishop of St. Asaph by Archbishop Theobald of Bec in 1152, although he doesn't seem to have ever actually spent time at St. Asaph's because of the wars of Owain Gwynedd. He likely died by Christmas 1154, when he was succeeded by Bishop Richard.

His importance to the modern world was the time he spent writing, especially the Historia Regum Britanniae ("The History of the Kings of Britain"). Although he claimed it was a translation of an ancient book—a common boast of medical writers to give authenticity to their work, which was more important than claiming originality—it is a combination of the works of Bede, Gildas, the Historia Britonum, anecdotes from oral tradition, and his own powers of invention. Future writers like Henry of Huntingdon drew on it without question, and from Geoffrey's time until the 16th century it was accepted as accurate history. (To be fair to medieval historians, William of Newburgh (1136 - 1198) did declare that everything Geoffrey said about Vortigern and Arthur was made up.)

He starts his history with Brutus the Trojan, the great-grandson Æneas, founding (and giving his name to) Britain, and Corineus the Trojan founding (and giving his name to) Cornwall. One of his descendants, Leir, divides his kingdom between his three daughters (General, Regan, and Cordelia), giving a later Shakespeare fodder for one of his tragedies. Books Five and Six deal with Vortigern and Merlin, then Book Seven breaks up the history with a series of prophecies by Merlin, setting up not only the later chapters, but also events in Geoffrey's own time. Books Eight, Nine, and Ten tell the Arthurian story, ending with the return of the Saxons after Arthur's death.

Geoffrey's Historia was enormously popular, with about 200 extant manuscripts known as of the 20th century. His section on Arthur—and the Prophetiae Merlini ("Prophecies of Merlin") and the (attributed to him) poem Vita Merlini ("Life of Merlin")—have provided modern retellings of the Arthurian myth in story and cinema with plenty of dramatic details.

As mentioned above, there were historians like William of Newburgh who were more critical when it came to selecting their material and relating it to an audience. William, however, was not immune to relating stories whose interest for the audience was more important than his ability to confirm them. Medieval clickbait? Let's find out tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Saxons versus Britons

A major victory of Saxons in England over the native Britons took place just south of Chester in the early 7th century. Æthelfrith, the king of Northumbria, is recorded to have attacked and defeated the kings of the Welsh kingdoms Powys and Rhôs. Anecdotal evidence of the death of King Iago of Gwynedd suggest that he, too, was a victim at Chester.

Other circumstantial evidence suggests that the Saxon King Cearl of Mercia was involved (not sure on which side), simply because Mercia's influence and activities disappears from records until King Penda in 633.

Why Æthelfrith attacked is unknown. Geoffrey of Monmouth and Reginald of Durham, writing hundreds of years later, say that Æthelfrith wanted to find a rival hiding in Gwynedd, but there's no real evidence for this.

Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle give motivation for the attack to St. Augustine of Canterbury's calling down of divine vengeance on the local bishops a few years earlier, who did not support him in his mission to convert England to Christianity. (He was bringing Roman practices, trying to replace the local practices.)

Coincidentally (?), Bede may have been right, and here's why: there was a monastery nearby, at Bangor-on-Dee. Knowing that the battle was brewing (it took time for armies to arrive and assemble before the fighting actually started), several monks fasted for three days, then climbed a hill to observe the battle and pray for the defeat of Northumbria. Æthelfrith had them slaughtered. Bede says only 50 of 1200 escaped. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle offers a more reasonable tally of 200 priests slain. Whatever the number, some saw this as the result of Augustine's rejection by the Briton bishops. (Odd that a pagan king would strike so far outside of his realm to be the tool of Christian judgment.)

Lots of questions about the Battle of Chester remain. We really don't know why it was fought, or all the significant figures who died. Various writers view it through their own Roman Christian bias. One of them, Geoffrey of Monmouth, deserves a closer look, which he will get tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Battle of Chester

Much is made of Augustine's 597 arrival in Britain to christianize the island, but the Synod of Chester, where he expected to assert authority over local bishops, was a disaster. Native bishops rejected Augustine's attempts to change their ways, whereupon Augustine (according to Bede) promised divine vengeance on them. Bede, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, claim the Battle of Chester was where that divine vengeance was enacted.

The map is here to help explain the two sides in the battle: Augustine landed in Kent to start his mission with the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelbert, whose wife Bertha was already Christian. The local bishops were Britons, whose version of religion is now referred to as Celtic Christianity, with some different practices from Roman Christianity. The conflict had a religious and ethnic facet.

That interpretation aligns with the two sources mentioned above. They are writing long after the battle, however. If Augustine landed in 597, the Synod of Chester would have taken place fairly soon. Welsh Annals, displaying the usual brevity of such records, lists the Synod in the same year that Gregory died—presumable Pope Gregory I, who sent Augustine). Gregory died in 604. Also, David died. That would be St. David, the estimates of whose death range from 589 to 601.

Archaeological evidence and literary records for the Battle of Chester place it anywhere between 605 and 613. If the battle was a result of Augustine's curse, it certainly took some time to get it started. Also, I would have expected it to be started by a known Christian aligned with Augustine—maybe a converted Æthelbert?—which was not the case: Æthelfrith of Northumbria was the aggressor, who was not known for being a Christian. Also, I am not aware of Augustine making any efforts in Northumbria.

The Battle of Chester, therefore, seems unlikely to have been a direct result of Augustine's promise of divine vengeance. Later chroniclers linked the two events for narrative purposes. That doesn't mean that the Battle of Chester was insignificant or a minor conflict. We'll look at the details and results of the battle next time.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Augustine of Canterbury

The Venerable Bede tells a story of Pope Gregory I in the Roman slave market, seeing some fair-haired and light-skinned slaves from Britain who stood out for their beauty among the dark-haired, olive-complexioned Mediterraneans. Upon being told that they were Angles, he makes a pun on them being called "angels" and decides that he must send someone to preach Christianity to their "Angel-Land." He sends the prior of a Roman monastery, Augustine.

In 597, Augustine reached Canterbury in Kent to preach to its king, Æthelbert, likely because his queen, Bertha, was already a Christian and would give a start on converting her husband. (Bertha was the daughter of the King of the Franks, Charibert I; the arranged marriage, tying two kingdoms together, had the provision that she be allowed to continue to practice Christianity. Gregory likely was aware of her.)

Most history book entries of this event are brief: Æthelbert did convert, Augustine gained the epithet "of Canterbury," he is considered the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and the conversion of England to Christianity was well begun. What is always left is the fact that there was already Christianity in England, and its clerics were wary of Augustine.

Part of Augustine's purpose was to bring Christianity in England in line with that of Rome, especially their calculation of the date of Easter. (This would not approach a resolution until the Synod of Whitby in 664.) The priests and preachers in England were not that keen to be told they were "doing it wrong." A preliminary meeting between the local bishops and Augustine took place at a location referred to as Augustine's Oak. Bede tells us of two meetings, in the first of which Augustine has them bring to him someone who is disabled, and they would see whose prayers were more effective at healing him. Even though Augustine's prayers restored sight to a blind man, he was told they would have to confer with their peers and hold a more inclusive gathering. This would be the Synod of Chester.

Prior to this second meeting, Bede tells us that the Britons sought the advice of a holy hermit as to how they should handle Augustine. He tells them that, when they approach, if Augustine rises to greet them, then they will know him for a humble man who considers them equals.

Augustine did not rise from his seat to greet them; they did not take it well, and the synod fell apart. Augustine called down divine vengeance on them for not agreeing to work with him. Fortunately, such Old Testament curses did not apply in "modern" 6th century England.

...or did they? You'll want to find out tomorrow what happened next.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Quest to Spread Christianity

Christianity came to Britain early. Tertullian and Origen, writing in the early 3rd century, mention Christian figures there. What is now Christian doctrine was not fully formed, however, and so some practices differed from what was happening around the Mediterranean. Pelagius, for example, was born there, whose heretical ideas prompted St. Jerome to call him "stuffed with Scottish porridge." The Synod of Whitby pitted the practices of Irish/Celtic/British Christianity against Roman Christianity.

The Christianity developing in the British Isles may have developed differently, but the fervor with which missionaries felt it should be spread was the equal of any 1st century apostle. Missionaries such as Patrick and Finnian of Clonard christianized Ireland, the Irish then christianized the Picts, then St. Columba focused on Scotland. (In all this, the Anglo-Saxons seem to have been left alone. The counties stories of the spread of Christianity in the first several centuries don't include anyone going on missions to southern England, until Pope Gregory I sends Augustine of Canterbury in 597 to preach to them.)

With all the islands converted, Irish missionaries looked for farther goals...and there was a whole continent waiting. One of the most successful Irish missionaries was Columbanus (543 - 615). He first went to Burgundy, establishing schools until he was exiled from there by Theuderic II. He went to Austria and established an abbey there. When Theuderic took over that part of the continent, Columbanus fled to Italy and established a scholar Bobbio.

His schools raised hundreds of Christians with the same philosophy of mission work, establishing monasteries in Belgium, France, Germany, and Switzerland. The legacies of St. Gall and the Scots Monastery can be traced back to Columbanus and his schools.

The Íslendingabók ("Book of the Icelanders") written between 1122 and 1133 mentions Irish priests already in Iceland when the Norse arrived.

The 14th and 15th centuries saw a decline in the number of Irish monks traveling to Europe and joining the monasteries. Monasteries in Nuremberg and Vienna were given over to German groups. The Scots Monastery was handed to a Scottish congregation in 1577 by papal decree.

Enough about missions from Great Britain. What happened when a mission came to Great Britain? Did Augustine have an easy time of it, with the Christians nearby? We'll find out tomorrow.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Scots Monastery

The earliest reference of the Vision of Tnugdalus comes from the Scots Monastery in Regensburg, Germany. Why was it called "Scots" Monastery?

The Schottenkirche ("Scots Church"), or Schottenkloster ("Scots Cloister/Monastery") was founded about 1070. Schotten is actually the German word for Scotti, which at the time simply meant Gaels, including people from both Ireland and Scotland. In fact, the Irish founded it, and later it was used by Scottish monks. The specific founder was Marianus Scotus of Regensburg, who was born Muiredach Mac Robartaig. An Irish monk and scribe, he wound up in Regensburg on a pilgrimage to Rome, after becoming a Benedictine and deciding to found the monastery.

Regensburg was a central location for the Hiberno-Scottish mission to Europe, and within a hundred years or so daughter monasteries from Regensburg had been established in Würzburg, Nuremberg, Konstanz, Eichstatt, and Kyiv. The site was so popular that it could not handle all the Irish monks traveling to join, and a new abbey was started on a site outside the city walls within 30 years of the founding of the original. The completed Irish Benedictine Abbey Church of St. James and St. Gertrude was included within the city walls when the city was expanded in 1300. This church in the Romanesque style was expanded in the later 1180s, and can be seen today. 

Scottish monks came to dominate the place when the pope in 1577 transferred the rights from Irish monks to Scottish. Currently, it is a Roman Catholic seminary. The illustration is a 1640 drawing of the monastery complex.

The Hiberno-Scotish mission mentioned in paragraph three was a serious trend in the 6th through 11th centuries, and I'll tell you more about the next time.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Vision of Tnugdalus

The 12th century saw a burgeoning of literature by figures whose names we actually know, like Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes (mentioned here), Thomas of Britain and Hue de Rotelande. Then there were less clearly known names like Marcus, supposedly an itinerant Irish monk in the Regensburg, Germany, monastery called the Scots Monastery. The only item written by Marcus is the Visio Tnugdali, the "Vision of Tnugdalus," found in five 15th century copies, one of which is Cotton Caligula A.ii, found in the famous Cotton Library, that includes several other romances.

Written shortly after 1149, it is an account told to Marcus by a knight, Tnugdalus, called Tundale in English manuscripts. Marcus claims also to have translated the story from an Irish version. We are told that the story took place in Cork in 1148.

The story is of the wealthy Tnugdalus, who loved stealing, sex, and food and drink. He fought and gossiped and never did any good works. One day he goes to collect a debt owed to him. The borrower is unable to pay, and Tnugdalus flies into a rage. The borrower remains calm and talks Tnugdalus down, and invites him to a meal. While eating and drinking, however, Tnugdalus starts to feel ill, starting with his arm becoming paralyzed. When he tries to rise from the table, he collapses; he becomes cold as the proverbial stone, except for some slight warmth on his left side (where the heart is)?

This was on a Wednesday. The slight warmth leads those around him to keep him above ground. He regains consciousness on Saturday afternoon, upon which he has a story to tell.

He says his soul awakened in a dark place, and he wept, sure that his sins had caught up with him in the afterlife. A horde of foul and noisy creatures come rushing toward him, claiming that his sins confirmed his status as one of them! While he cowers before them, a point of light appears and grows closer, ultimately arriving and turning out to be his guardian angel, who asks him "What are you doing here?"

The angel tells him that he still has a chance to be saved. The horde freaks out about this, but the angel turns to Tnugdalus and says "Quick! Follow me!" The angel leads him through a dark tunnel, where the angel's light reveals the souls being tormented for different sins. This Dante-esque journey reveals more and more types of torment for different sins, some of which Tnugdalus experiences for a time, until the angel takes him on to the next experience. Ultimately, nearing the gates of hell, he sees Satan himself, a 150-foot tall human-shaped and thousand-armed creature chewing souls in his sharp teeth a thousand at a time.

Purgatory is also on the itinerary's. great relief to Tnugdalus, who wants to stay there, but the angel assures him that even better awaits, and takes him to Heaven. They stand on a wall in Heaven—seen in the illustration above—and Tnugdalus now grasps knowledge of everything, and can see anything, no matter how far away. Suddenly,

... Saint Ruadan approached them. He welcomed Tundale happily, took him into his arms and hugged him.

‘My son, your arrival here is blessed indeed,’ he said, and they stood together. ‘From now onwards, while you live in the world you can look forward to a good end to your life. I was once your patron saint and in your worldly life you should be willing to show me some generosity and to kneel, as you well know, in my presence.’

St. Patrick is also seen, as well, as several historical deceased Irish bishops. Tnugdalus asks to stay, but is told that is not possible unless someone has led a good life. Tnugdalus must return to his body and change his ways if he wants to see this place again. Tnugdalus re-awakens in his body, astonishes all the people surrounding him by that and by the promise to amend his life.

The story is reminiscent of the Irish immram (Irish "voyage"), a hero's journey, usually by sea, through fantastical and legendary places. Marcus wrote in Latin, although he says he translated an Irish-language account. The story was translated into several languages, at least into French, German, and Norse. The Cotton version is Middle English. You can read a Modern English version here.

I'm curious about the place where Marcus wrote. What was a Scots Monastery doing in Germany? Tomorrow I'll tell you about the Schottenkirche.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

St. Ruadán

St. Ruadán was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Born in Tara and educated at Clonard by Finnian, he later founded his own monastery of about 150 at Lorrha, the remains of which are pictured here.

Ruadán was known for his prophecies. His prophecy that Diarmait mac Cerbaill would die from the roof beam of his house came true, even though Diarmait had it removed and cast into the sea: it was found and innocently used as a roof beam in another house, in which Diarmait was trapped when it was burned down. The roof beam—his own—fell on him.

Ruadán was not just objectively prophesying Diarmait's death: he actively disapproved of Diarmait. Diarmait had imprisoned a kinsman of Ruadán who had violated the king's law. Ruadán came to Tara to curse Diarmait for violating he sanctity of the church; he cursed the hearth, proclaiming that never again would smoke rise from a building on the Hill of Tara. Diarmait then glanced up at the ceiling, at which Ruadán made his famous prediction about the roof beam.

The Curse of Tara and the "decommissioning" of the royal hill site would therefore have started as of Ruadán's visit in 556. Diarmait survived until 565, however, and Adomnán of Iona held a synod at Tara in 697.

Ruadán died in 584; his feast day is 15 April. There is not a lot of detail about his life, but his reputation lived on: he "appeared" in the 12th century to an Irish knight named Tnugdalus (alternately, Tundalus or Tundale). The popular Visio Tnugdali ("Vision of Tnugdalus") was recorded about 1149 by a Brother Marcus who claimed to have heard it from the knight himself. 

But that's a story for tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Prophetic Death

Prophetic death is a staple of mythology and legend. One classic trope is the "threefold death" in which a prophecy claims three different manners of a person's death, all of which somehow come true.

One example is a Welsh legend of Merlin, who is asked to prophesy a boy's death; he says the boy will fall from a rock. The boy is then dressed in different clothing and brought before Merlin and asked about the manner of his death; Merlin says he will hang. The boy is then disguised as a girl and brought again; Merlin prophesies drowning. Later, while on a hunt, the boy slips from a rock, is caught on a tree and suspended upside-down, with his head in a lake, where he drowns.

Diarmait Mac Cerbaill was a real historical figure, and yet we are told he suffered the threefold death of legends. According to the Life of Columba by Adomnán of Iona, he is told by an Irish seer that his foster-son, Áed Dub ("Black Áed"), will kill him; Diarmait banishes Áed Dub. Then, St. Ruadán prophesies that he would be killed by the roof beam of his hall at Tara; Diarmait has the roof beam removed and thrown into the sea.

With those dangers removed, Diarmait continues his quest to avoid death by asking druids how he will die. They predict a threefold death, "by iron, water, and fire." This would mean slain with a weapon, drowning, and burning. Further, they are him that there will be signs of his impending death: a shirt grown from a flax seed, a woolen mantle made from a single sheep, ale brewed from a single grain of corn, bacon from a sow that has never farrowed.

Diarmait, satisfied that his death by anything other than old age is unlikely, visits the hall of Banbán, where he is shown a shirt, a mantle, and bacon that satisfy the conditions of his imminent death. He decides to immediately leave the hall, but Áed Dub is waiting at the door, stabs him and sets fire to the hall. Prevented from leaving the burning hall, Diarmait climbs into a vat of ale to survive the heat. The burning hall collapses, and the roof beam, which Banbán had found in the sea and used to build his hall, falls and crushes Diarmait.

It is curious to have a prophetic and threefold death attributed to an actual person. The Annals of Tigernach, in the entry for 563, merely states "Diarmaid son of Cearbhall was killed in Ráth Bec in Magh Line by Aodh Dubh son of Suibne Araidhe, king of Ulster, and his head was taken to Cluain and his body was buried in Connere."

Adomnán, for his own reasons, was clearly embellishing. Perhaps his knowledge that Diarmait was dabbling in Christianity was the emphasis, since legend says that Áed Dub suffered a similar threefold death, which Adomnán attributes to divine justice after killing Diarmait. Adomnán would have been drawing from several sources for his Life of St. Columba, including the saga Aided Diarmata ("Death of Diarmait").

One more look at Diarmait, the king who bridged the pagan and Christian eras in Irish kingship, before we move on to something else. This next look will be from the angle of St. Ruadán.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Diarmait mac Cerbaill

There were two significant designations for kings in Ireland. Of the several different kingdoms on the Emerald Isle, only one of them had possession of the sacred site the Hilo Tara, on which stood the Lia Fáil, the "Stone of Destiny," brought to Ireland by the Tuatha dé Danann, that would cry out when the true king stepped on it. Whether the Stone ever was heard to cry out is moot: possessing the Hill let you declare yourself King of Tara after engaging in a sacred pagan initiation rite.

The other designation was High King of Ireland, or King of All Ireland. This designation was not rooted in Irish mythology: it denoted someone powerful enough that other kingdoms recognized his political and military superiority. There was no spiritual or religious aspect to this title.

Diarmait Mac Cerbaill was the last known king in Ireland to go through the pagan ritual of marriage to the goddess of the land, and so was King of Tara. Annals declare him a great-grandson of the semi-historical Niall of the Nine Hostages. His father's name was Fergus, but rather than be named "Ferguson," his surname is given as Cerbaill from his father's nickname Cerrbél, "crooked mouth."

During his lifetime, he was also declared High King of Ireland, from 544 to 565. His reign was not stellar. In a dispute between St. Columba and Finnian of Movilla, he took the wrong side and was defeated at the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne, the famous "Battle of the Books" over the copyright of the Cathach. It was not the only battle he lost.

Despite his initiation as King of Tara, and references to "druid fences" being used during the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne, he was the first High King in Ireland to embrace (or at least dabble in) Christianity. Adomnán of Iona wrote that Diarmait was "ordained by God's will as king of all Ireland." Adomnán was writing 150 years later, but it is not the only evidence that Diarmait might have begun forging a healthy relationship with Christianity. He supported St. Finnian of Movilla. The stone pictured above is believed to be Diarmait and St. Ciaran, carved into the Cross of the Scriptures at Clonmacnoise, planting a stake together. There is a quotation attributed to him that suggests respect for the power of Christianity: "Woe to him that contends with the clergy of the churches." Also, curiously, two of his sons are called Colmán, a specifically Christian name based on the 6th century Irish missionary, St. Columbanus. (Irish royals were known to give the same name to more than one son—relying on nicknames later to distinguish them?—until the 16th century.)

The end of his life, however, was decidedly non-Christian; rather, it involves a mythical "threefold death" based in prophecy that seems impossible at first but comes true in a logical manner. It's complicated enough that I think I'll save it until tomorrow. See you then.

Monday, November 14, 2022

High King of Ireland

There are two titles given to kings of Ireland: King of Tara, and High King of Ireland. These are not the same thing. "High King" was first used in the 9th century, although it was sometimes applied retroactively and anachronistically to figures of legend; "King of Tara" was first used in the 6th century, although retroactively applied to previous kings as well as legendary figures.

The Kingship of Tara is by far the older of the two, and does not necessarily denote ruling all of Ireland. It is associated with the Hill of Tara, a site that has been important since Neolithic times, with several Neolithic features including a passage tomb dated to 3200BCE, and a standing stone called the "Stone of Destiny" (brought to Ireland by the Tuatha dé Danann).

Possessing the Hill of Tara by conquering whichever tribe held it was a necessary step to claim this special kingship. In the 3rd century, the Laigin seized it from the Érainn; Niall of the Nine Hostages took it from the Laigin in the 5th century, after which it was possessed by the Ui Néill clan. 

The Hill of Tara is also associated with the title "High King." It is considered the place from which the High King rules, thanks to its legendary status. The High King of Ireland was also known as the "King of all Ireland," because unlike the King of Tara, the High King was one who united all the various kingdoms under one rule. Actually, "united" is probably too strong a word. The High King received tribute from the smaller kings, but did not directly rule their kingdoms. (With the rise of political and financial power in cities such as Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford, possessing those became more important after the 11th century.)

The King of Tara was a sacred title, and he "married the land" by having a marriage or a sexual relationship with a "sovereignty goddess" (a term found only in Celtic studies), Maeve. Gerald of Wales wrote that the would-be king sexually embraced a white mare, which was then slaughtered for a feast. Which brings us to Diarmait mac Cerbaill.

Diarmait mac Cerbaill is considered the last King of Tara to be part of the pagan ritual. Diarmait, however, also turned towards Christianity during his reign. I'll go into this dichotomy next time.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Adomnán of Iona

Adomnán of Iona (also known as Eunan) was born about 627 CE in what is now County Donegal. We do not know a lot of details of his life before he became the ninth abbot of Iona in 679. At some point he tried to get the monks of Northern Ireland to adopt the Roman dating of Easter, decided at the Synod of Whitby in 664. Irish monasteries were still opposed to this, and modern scholars think his authority was probably weakened by his attempts to get Iona to change, and by his absences from Iona as he traveled to other monasteries to try to persuade them to follow the Roman method of calculation.

His greatest legacy may be the Vita Columbae, the "Life of Columba." He was related on his father's side to St. Columba, and used an earlier source to write the definitive biography. The Life of Columba is a valuable resource for information about groups like the Picts, the practices of monasteries, and the politics of the time.

He also wrote De Locis Sanctis, "On Holy Places." He got the information second-hand by a Bishop named Arculf who visited Iona after being to the Holy Land, Egypt, Constantinople, and Rome.

He is also known for the Cáin Adomnán (Gaelic: "Canons of Adomnán"). Presented and agreed to in 697 at the Synod of Birr—a meeting of Irish nobles and churchmen believed to have been convened by Adomnán himself—it established the safety and immunity of non-combatants during war. It is also referred to in Latin as the Lex Innocentium, the "Law of Innocents."

As mentioned in the previous post, he makes one of the earliest references to the divine right of kings. Diarmait Mac Cerbaill was High King of Ireland; he died about 565. Adomnán said he was "ordained by God's will as king of all Ireland," and that his assassin was visited by divine punishment. 

Adomnán died in 704, possibly on 23 September, which is celebrated as his feast day. Although the name Adomnán and its variants are rarely found today, his alternate name of Eunan is found on the Cathedral of Eunan and St. Columba in Letterkenny, County Donegal, as well as on other churches and schools.

I came to talk about Adomnán because of the link to the divine right of kings I wrote about yesterday, but the more I read, the more puzzling his example became. A monk declaring Diarmait Mac Cerbaill "ordained by God's will" looks more and more odd when you look at the king's actions: was he a Christian High King of Ireland, or was he a King of Tara, or both? We'll go into this tomorrow.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Divine Right of Kings

The Protestant Reformation in the 1500s undermined the authority of and people's faith in the pope and the Catholic Church. This was a boon to temporal authorities, as people increasingly looked to kings for guidance. The king was considered to be answerable for his decisions and behavior to no one but God. (Eventually, of course, the lack of limits in a ruler came under question, since it removes any power from the people, and the revolutions of the late 1700s dealt with this.)

While it lasted, however, the notion of the divine right of kings was beneficial to the tiny percentage of the human population that could take advantage of it.

For Christians and Jews, a passage in Deuteronomy was crucial:

When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, 'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,' 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother." (Deuteronomy, 17:14-15)

Debates took place over whether this meant the people choose a king, or whether their choice is an example of God's will being made manifest. In fact, Jewish law requires a blessing upon seeing a monarch: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has given from His glory to flesh and blood." This suggests that the monarch has God's support.

Medieval Europe was willing to accept that God gave the ruler complete temporal authority, just as the Pope had complete spiritual authority. Richard I of England declared in 1193 "I am born in a rank which recognizes no superior but God, to whom alone I am responsible for my actions," and first used the phrase (still the motto of the monarch of the United Kingdom) Dieu et mon droit (French: "God and my right"). This is the origin of the pluralis majestatis, the "royal we" used by potentates, to indicate that they and God are speaking. Richard's Chancellor, William Longchamp, introduced the use of the plural into documents he produced during Richard's reign.

Henry VIII took this one step further (too far?) when he declared himself head of the Church in England. James VI /I of Scotland/England heavily promoted the divine right theory—although Scotland had always seen the king as simply "first among equals"—as did Louis XIV of France. James used a passage from Romans 13 about "God's ministers" to support his idea of divine right.

The earliest reference to divine rulership takes place long before James, or even Richard. Tomorrow we'll talk about Adomnán of Iona.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Reviving the Justinian Code

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I had many accomplishments, but establishing the Corpus Juris Civilis ("Body of Civil Law"), often referred to as the Code of Justinian, was one of the most lasting. The first main codification of Roman law, it influenced many modern legal systems. It was given the force of law as the sole source of legal interpretation, which made the application of law across the Empire consistent.

Although established in the 6th century, copies were extensive for the centuries that followed (no originals from the 6th century remain). City-states in northern Italy adopted the Justinian Code as they grew and needed more formal systems of law to guide them internally and in their relationships with each other. By the time Frederick I Barbarossa came to the throne it was also being used in his territories north of the Alps.

Frederick began to use the Justinian Code which not only made application of the law consistent over a large area, it also bolstered Frederick's grander claims. Based on a Roman Imperial foundation, the Code embraced the idea of the "divine right of rulership." Frederick, like many worldly rulers in the Middle Ages, was in conflict with the Church over ultimate authority. The Justinian Code gave him a reason to push forward the idea that he had divine authority to do as he liked, such as taking over northern Italy as well as Germany, and clashing with Archbishops.

The Justinian Code was also adopted as the foundation of the Napoleonic Code, which abolished feudalism.

The "divine right of kings" was a common concept in the Middle Ages. One of the earliest examples was offered in the 7th century by Adomnán of Iona; I'll tell you about him next time.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The End of Barbarossa

You are Frederick I, offspring of two of Germany's most powerful families. As a young man, you went on Crusade and distinguished yourself in battle. You become King of Germany and King of Italy. As Holy Roman Emperor, you attempt to re-establish the extent of the Roman Empire. Your help is requested for a Third Crusade, "the most meticulously planned and organized" of any Crusade up until then. The approach of your army so unnerves Saladin that he divides his forces, currently trying to lift the Siege of Acre imposed by Richard Lionheart of England.

Meanwhile, your forces proceed through the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, reaching the Saleph River (now called the Göksu in Turkey on a plateau in the Taurus Mountains). The army is sent along a mountain path, while you decide on a shortcut advised by the locals: simply cross the river on your horse.

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, called Barbarossa, drowned in the Saleph on 10 June 1190.

Accounts vary. A biography written within a few years of Frederick's death says he chose to swim the river—possible, but he was 68 years old at the time—and was swept away. A churchman who was with the Crusade says it was a simple swim to refresh himself, but the old man encountered an unexpected current (illustrated in a manuscript of the Saxon Chronicle above). Another says he was thrown from his horse and weighed down by his armor. A contemporary chronicler claims God saved them from an evil man by drowning him in shallow water while the emperor was washing himself.

Whatever the case, the body was subjected to mos Teutonicus, thousands of German soldiers abandoned the Crusade and went home, and Philip of France took the rest to the Holy land where he shared command of the Crusade with Richard I of England, with whom he was not on friendly terms.

Frederick's reputation was such that he is one of those characters who passed into legend, specifically that he is not dead but lies sleeping (like Arthur, with attendants) until such time as his country needs him, either in the Kyffhäuser Mountains in Thuringia or Untersberg. The signal for his revival will be the disappearance of ravens flying around the mountain. His red beard continues to grow, his eyes are only half-shut, and occasionally his hand raises, signaling a boy to go outside and see if the ravens are still flying.

Germany never lost its interest in Barbarossa. The Kyffhäuser Monument (also called Barbarossa Monument) was erected on the anniversary of Frederick's coronation in 1896 to commemorate him and Kaiser Wilhelm I, who was declared the reincarnation of Barbarossa. Hitler named his invasion of the Soviet Union "Operation Barbarossa," although originally called "Operation Otto" after Otto the Great.

These recent posts have, of course, told barely one percent of the extensive accomplishments of Barbarossa. Tomorrow I want to dip into one of his other actions: the revival of the Roman Justinian Code.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Starting the Third Crusade

Personalities and politics prevent progress. When Barbarossa received letters from the Holy Land asking for help in fighting Muslims, he refused because of a dispute he was having with the Archbishop Philip of Cologne.

The conflict was not unique to them. We saw it when Charlemagne was first crowned on Christmas Day 800, during the Investiture Controversy, and with Becket, to name just a few turbulent times in European history. Who had ultimate authority, pope or emperor? Philip of Cologne had plenty of authority as archbishop, with money flowing to him through the feudal system.

He wanted more, however, and started buying up the lands of his vassals and selling them to others for profit. His fiefdom was held from the emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa; in fact, his was the largest feudal territory under Frederick. Philip never openly challenged Frederick, but his growing economic power and control over land was a cause for concern. Frederick also annoyed Philip by giving market privileges to the cities of Aachen and Duisburg that would have cut into the economic power of Cologne. This "Cold War" made Frederick reluctant to leave for the Middle East for the length of time a Crusade would take.

Fortunately, the two made peace with each other on 27 March 1188 after a council in Mainz. Philip pledged his support of Frederick, and Frederick "took up the Cross." But that led to another issue for Frederick: in 1175, Frederick had made an alliance with Saladin. Now Frederick had to send a message to Saladin, informing him that their alliance was over.

There was another problem, faced by all Crusades: how to finance it? As have many European rulers over centuries, Frederick turned to the Jews. "Crusade fever" more often than not led to persecution of any non-Christian, and the Jews had suffered massacres connected to the First and Second Crusades. On the eve of Frederick's reconciliation with Philip, the Jews of Mainz were being threatened by a mob. Frederick sent Marshal Henry of Malden to disperse the mob, after which the chief rabbi met with Frederick. An imperial edict followed, threatening equal punishment for anyone who maimed or killed a Jew. Frederick also partially financed the Crusade by a tax on the Jews of Germany.

Sadly for Frederick, he would not survive the Crusade. We will see his end tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022


Born about 1122-23, Frederick (Friedrich) was born in France to the Duke of Swabia. He grew up learning the noble arts of hunting and riding and martial activity, but not the less-necessary arts of reading and writing.

In 1147, as his father lay dying, Frederick decided to accompany his uncle, Conrad III (who was King of Germany) on the Second Crusade. Frederick's father was angry at his brother for taking Frederick away when soon the Duke's widow would need support. The Duke died in the first week of April, and (now Duke) Frederick departed on Crusade at the end of May.

A few months later, Frederick was "tested" by his uncle. A Crusader was robbed and killed in a monastery outside Adrianople in Turkey, and Conrad ordered Frederick to avenge the death. Frederick destroyed the monastery and killed the perpetrators. His military training served him well on Crusade, and he was noted for being victorious "before all others," even though the Crusade itself failed.

In 1152, Conrad died, and the only two people at his deathbed—Frederick and the bishop of Bamberg—agreed that he wished Frederick to be named king, rather than Conrad's own son (who was only six years old at the time). A few days after being crowned King of the Germans, Frederick was crowned "King of the Romans," a title used to by kings of Germany from 1002CE onward to denote they considered themselves Holy Roman Emperor. 

He made it his goal to truly restore the wide-reaching boundaries enjoyed by Charlemagne, and the first step was to unite all the various princes of territories in German lands, and then to extend his authority to Italy. After making concessions in Germany to get everyone on his side, he began a total of six expeditions to Italy, beginning with Sicily, under Norman control by King William I of Sicily. From 1154 until the 1170s, he managed to conquer parts of Italy, but stirred up a great deal of anti-German sentiment and rebellion. An alliance with Constantinople helped the Italian city-states in northern Italy to defeat Frederick, a shock to Europe. It was his time in Italy that gave him the nickname Barbarossa, which means "red beard" in Italian. This nickname became so entwined with his career that it was carried back to Germany, where he was referred to some times as Kaiser Rotbart, "Emperor Red Beard."

In 1187, the aging emperor received letters from the European rulers in some Crusader states in the East to come to their aid. Frederick declined to join this Third Crusade, and urged Philip II of France to go, but later changed his mind and chose to "take up the cross."

This change of heart regarding the Third Crusade involved the Archbishop of Cologne and the Jews of Strasbourg, which I will explain next time.

Monday, November 7, 2022

To Cook a King

Yesterday we discussed the problem of decay when a corpse had to be transported over a long distance. A medieval historian named Boncompagno coined the term mos Teutonicus ("German custom") to describe how Germans dealt with death of an aristocrat on Crusade.

The ultimate goal was to have a complete skeleton to take home and bury. The first step was to remove the entrails. Internal organs were not going to be preserved, and not considered an important part of the ultimate result, so they would be buried. Often, however, the heart would be carefully saved.

Then the body hd to be "de-fleshed." The most efficient way to do this (with minimal handling of the corpse) was to boil it. As Boncompagno wrote:

The Germans remove the intestines from the corpses of high-ranking men when they die in foreign countries, and let the rest boil in cauldrons until all the meat, tendons and cartilage are separated from the bones. These bones, washed in fragrant wine and sprinkled with spices, are then taken back to their homeland.

The boiling process would take hours. Now, the likelihood of having a cauldron large enough for the body seems dubious. On the other hand, an enormous retinue of nobles and their households making a long journey would have equipment for feeding a lot of people. It is possible that there were copper tubs for heating water/cooking that could accommodate an adult corpse. In the case of Frederick I Barbarossa who drowned during the Third Crusade in 1190, however, the report is that he was cut up and cooked. In 1167, he had ordered the same for several bishops and princes who were with him during his conquest of Rome and died from dysentery, delivering their bones to their respective homes.

Modern science has taken an interest in this practice: the bones of Emperor Lothar III were said to be the end result of mos Teutonicus after he died crossing the Alps in 1137. Scientific analysis of the breakdown of amino acids suggests that they were boiled for six hours. Modern forensic analysis has likewise taken advantage of remains that were preserved by methods other than putting them in the ground where they could thoroughly decompose. Richard I Lionheart's heart was preserved and sent to Notre Dame. It has been confirmed to 1) be a heart, and 2) have been embalmed with myrtle, daisy, mint, and frankincense, giving clues to medieval embalming preservation techniques.

The Church looked down on mos Teutonicus, as did other nations. The French much preferred taking the time and effort to embalm the body. The English were fine with dividing body parts, such as sending the heart to a separate place for sentimental reasons. The Church wanted the entire body intact for resurrection at the final trump. Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull in 1299 (re-issued in 1300, in case they weren't listening the first time) condemning the practice of separating the body.

(Later years have ignored this bull. Keeping a memento—sometimes grisly—of a loved one is not uncommon. Napolean's heart was given to Josephine, Chopin's heart was put in a crystal jar, Thomas Hardy's heart—what was left after being cut out and partially eaten by a cat—was to be buried in Stanford, Dorset. Mary Shelley supposedly had Percy Shelley's heart in a box; I say "supposedly" because the lump saved from his cremation could have been anything; the eyewitness who grabbed it, burning his hand in the process, said it was the heart. It's more poetic that way.)

As often happens, I have discovered in relating all the above that I have mentioned Frederick I Barbarossa more than once in the history of this blog without every going into detail about who he was. Tomorrow I will correct that oversight. Until then...

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Mos Teutonicus

Yesterday I raised the question of how a body was treated, such as that of  Louis IX of France dying on Crusade, when immediate burial was not an option. The answer is rather grisly.

Consider the situation: a person has died far from home and the family burial plot, what are the attendants to do? Raw flesh decays, and by the time the corpse is brought home it will be a mass of putrefaction, attracting swarms of flies and feeding masses of maggots. How is it possible to fulfill an obligation to deliver the deceased person's remains for proper burial?

One clue to the solution is the word "raw." Cooked meat does not decay immediately. What if we "cooked" the body? Well, not exactly. They did not deliver "roast king" to his final resting place. There was a strong belief, however, that for the Christian "resurrection of the body" in the end times the skeleton was the most crucial element, because it denoted an intact body. I posted ten years ago about "de-fleshing" a corpse, and a little later about other attitudes to treating corpses.

The practice was referred to as mos Teutonicus, Latin for "German custom." It was considered a proper way of handling the corpse of a high-ranking person under difficult circumstances. The Viking custom of a funeral pyre or any form of cremation was outlawed by Charlemagne, who thought the soul was destroyed along with the complete destruction of the bones.

When the Crusades started, it was deemed inappropriate for Christian nobles to be buried in Muslim territory. It was a Florentine professor and historian named Boncompagno da Signa (c.1165 - 1240) who coined the term mos Teutonicus, linking the practice to the German nobles on Crusade.

mos Teutonicus was more hygienic and cost effective than embalming, which still required a certain amount of "violation" of the body, since the entrails were removed and disposed of, and the heart removed. The heart, of course, was considered special, and often delivered for burial a a location important to the deceased or the family—the heart of Richard I, for instance.

Exactly how mos Teutonicus was carried out, the later backlash against it, and its usefulness in the present day are topics I'd like to save until next time. See you soon.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Louis the Saint

Louis IX of France (1214 - 1270) was crowned at the age of 12 after his father Louis VIII "The Lion" died of dysentery coming back from fighting the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars. His mother, Blanche of Castile, acted as his regent and made sure he was educated, having him taught Latin, rhetoric, writing, and the arts of war and government. Part of his reading instruction was through the Psalter of St. Louis. Through her influence he became very devout. His mother's influence was strong, but when he reached the age of 20 she seems to have become more a counselor than a regent.

Louis' devotion led him to go on two Crusades. He could not convince any of the rulers of Europe to go on Crusade, so he organized and funded the 7th Crusade himself; it did not go very well. The 8th Crusade went even more poorly, and he died while on it.

His failure at Crusading enhanced rather than tarnished his reputation, however, since it showed his religious devotion to one and all. He also built the Sainte-Chapelle ("Holy Chapel") solely to house the Crown of Thorns, which he had received from Baldwin II by paying off a debt of Baldwin for 135,000 livres.

Louis also presided over the Disputations of Paris (parts one and two) in which Jewish leaders were forced to respond to charges of anti-Christian passages in the Talmud, copies of which he would have collected and destroyed. Along with this, he expanded the Inquisition.

Part of his devotion was because he considered French to be foremost in protecting the Church, since the first Christian named "Holy Roman Emperor" was Charlemagne of the Franks. He though France had an obligation as the "eldest daughter of the Church" to lead in Christian behavior, proselytizing, and freeing the Holy Land.

He died in 1270 at Tunis, and the body to be transported from the north coast of Africa to Sicily, thence through Italy, across the Alps, and most of France until they reached St.-Denis. He was declared a saint in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII.

Here's a question: if someone dies while traveling, what s done with the body? A person of no status might be buried right there. Maybe they'd be wrapped in canvas, or a coffin would be procured. What about a royal personage, though, one for whom you have great respect? How do you prepare a body? Let's talk about that tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Psalter of St. Louis

Although Geoffrey, the eldest and illegitimate son of Henry II, was problematic in his ecclesiastical appointment of Archbishop of York—plagued with conflicts with other church officials, with financial troubles due to Henry's sons frequently confiscating his lands, and simply his apathy toward acting priestly—he did provide a legacy worth noting in other areas. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, he was a patron of the arts.

He appointed a scholar, Honorius of Kent, as Archdeacon of Richmond. Honorius later wrote a book on canon law that was popular enough that it still exists in seven manuscripts.

He seems to have been a patron of the creator of the Leiden St. Louis Psalter. A psalter is a book of psalms, usually lavishly illustrated and made for a wealthy patron. This psalter was made in Northern England in the 1190s, it is 185 pages about 9.5x7 inches. (The picture of it above is from this site where you can purchase facsimiles of medieval works.) It includes 78 illustrations from the Old Testament, psalms, and a calendar of feast days.

There are two versions. The original made for Geoffrey seems to have became the property of Blanche of Castile after his death. This is the Leiden St. Louis Psalter because it ultimately wound up in the Leiden University Library. A new version was made after the death of Blanche for the benefit of her son, Louis IX of France. It is called the Psalter of St. Louis, and resides in the Bibliotheque national de France. You can view the manuscript yourself page-by-page here.

Geoffrey's psalter was used by Blanche to teach the young Louis to read, according to a note in French added to it. We cannot gauge its influence on the young prince, but Louis IX of France is the only French king who became a saint, and maybe we should look at why tomorrow.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Sibling Strife

Although Geoffrey of York may have seemed like his father's favorite (despite his illegitimacy), Henry II's other sons were generous in their contempt, offering him choice offices but denying him some of the accompanying privileges. Were they pushing him to rebel so they could imprison him for treason? Or just practicing cruelty because of their father's preference for their half-brother?

After Richard's death, John became king, and restored Geoffrey to the position of Archbishop of York, but continued collecting the revenue of the properties associated with that position until Geoffrey returned from Rome. Richard had prevented him from returning to England after Geoffrey's visit to the pope to try to restore his position. Once he returned, Geoffrey and John spent the rest of 1199 in each other's company. As the two of Henry's sons who had not ever rebelled against their father, they had some things in common.

Geoffrey strained the relationship when, in 1200, he refused the carucage, a tax due the king. To be fair to Geoffrey, Richard as well as John had at times prevented him from collecting the revenue due his position in York, and Richard had "fined" him more than once. Geoffrey was probably financially more disadvantaged than any Archbishop of oak before or since. So Geoffrey and John fell out, but were reconciled at the funeral of Hugh of Lincoln in November 1200. Since Geoffrey afterward continued to prevent the collection of the king's tax, excommunicating the sheriff whose duty it was to collect it, their truce failed, upon which John demanded the payment for the office of Sheriff of Yorkshire (which Geoffrey had purchased during Richard's reign on a "promissory note" of 3000 marks. Geoffrey of course could not afford that, so in May 1201 he lifted the excommunication and made a payment to calm John down. Then they started clashing over ecclesiastical appointments in York. Geoffrey also clashed with some of the monasteries in his diocese over appointments. 

This back-and-forth continued. Geoffrey tried to reconcile permanently with John in 1206, and even had his properties (and associated revenue) returned to him. But in the following year the clergy of England objected to royal taxation. Can you guess which prelate led the charge? He also started excommunicating anyone in the diocese who tried to collect the tax. John re-confiscated his properties. Pope Innocent told John to return them, but Geoffrey had fled to France.

Geoffrey could have had a much more comfortable life than anyone could have expected, given his lack of legitimacy. His early life suggested a lazy and self-indulgent approach to life in the church, but he could have kept quiet and just quietly supported whichever member of his royal family was on the throne at the time. Instead, he seemed to "pull a Becket" and tried to throw his weight around as an archbishop. (To be fair, Becket seemed to change his attitude once he became archbishop because he felt obligated to champion the Church over Henry's whims, whereas Geoffrey's behavior seemed to be motivated by gathering as much money as he could.) Geoffrey even fought with the Archbishop of Canterbury over who was more important.

He died in Normandy on 12 December 1212 and was buried at the monastery where he had taken refuge, near Rouen.

It is not fair, however, to assume Geoffrey had no redeeming qualities (outside of loyalty to his father). The picture above is an illustration of Cain and Abel—appropriate for this post, I think. It is from the Psalter of St. Louis, which was used to teach the future Louis IX of France how to read. It is thought to have been created thanks to Geoffrey, and I'll talk more on it tomorrow.