Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Six Invasions of Ireland

The Lebor Gabála Érenn or the Book of the Taking of Ireland, also known as The Book of Invasions, is a compilation of Christian and Irish myths in poetry and prose, telling the history of Ireland. Starting with the Biblical Flood and ending in the Middle Ages, it describes six invasions or colonizations of Ireland.

The first wave is led by Cessair, a daughter of Noah, who sails westward on a journey that ends in Ireland with 50 women and only three men. Each of the men takes 16 wives, but when two of the men perish leaving only Fintan Mac Bóchra, he flees from the "responsibility" and is turned into a hawk. This hawk lives 5,500 years, advising the kings of Ireland until the 5th century and the time of Finn Mac Cumhaill.

Three centuries after Cessair, another descendant of Noah named Partholón arrives in Ireland with followers. Ireland is wild, with only one open plain and three lakes. They clear more plains, and more lakes appear from the ground. They go about introducing cattle, farming, brewing, etc. They encounter the Fomorians (pictured above in a 1912 painting by John Duncan), monstrous and hostile supernatural beings, and defeat them. Partholón's people, however, numbering 5000 men and 4000 women, all die from a plague within a week. Ireland is left uninhabited, until...

A Scythian named Nemed leads a group of settlers to Ireland. They suffer from plague as well, and also encounter the Fomorians. Losing to the Fomorians, Nemed's people must give two-thirds of their children and wheat and milk to their enemies each Samhain. The Nemedians eventually rise up against the Fomorians, but only 30 survive and are scattered, some going east to become the ancestors of all Britons, some going to Greece, some going north.

The fourth "invasion" is 200 years later, when the descendants of the Nemedians who went to Greece return. This is around the time of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt. They are called the Fir Bolg, the "men of bags," because while in Greece they were enslaved and made to haul bags of soil and clay. They divide Ireland into five areas ruled by five chieftains.

(An oddly-specific) 37 years later, the fifth wave arrives on dark clouds of fog. They are the Tuatha Dé Danann, bringing the Four Treasures of Ireland (one of which is the Stone of Destiny). They may be descended from the Nemedians who went north. They possess powerful magic, and they demand half of Ireland from the Fir Bolg, who refuse and are slaughtered.

Finally, the Milesians arrive. Their battle with the Tuatha results in an agreement to share the island 50-50: the Milesians get the part above ground, and Tuatha live below the surface. The Milesians are the ancestors of the Gaels. The Tuatha become the Otherworld inhabitants who occasionally encounter humans and exhibit magical powers.

Although humans become the chief peoples of Ireland, the Tuatha part of the story explains the presence of supernatural elements, such as the Four Treasures. What exactly were the Four Treasures and their significance? For that you'll have to come back tomorrow.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

The Book of Leinster

Between 1151 and 1224 CE a manuscript was compiled, probably in what is now Terryglass in County Tipperary, by the abbot of a Terryglass monastery and his followers. The abbot, Áed Ua Crimthainn, actually signed one of the pages, stating that he "wrote this book and collected it from many books." Originally called Lebar na Núachongbhála, the "Book of Oughaval," it is now referred to as the Book of Leinster. Oughaval, now called "Oak Vale," was a 6th century monastery founded by a student of St. Columba. The Book of Leinster was there for many years.

Its second name is because it is believed that it was commissioned by a king of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada (d. 1171), and then passed from him to a few others, getting "lost" until it surfaced at Oughaval in the 14th century. An Irish language scholar in the 19th century gave it its present name because of the associations of its contents with Leinster.

It contains 187 13" by 9" leaves. Internal evidence suggests that 45 leaves are missing. It is one of our most important sources of genealogy, mythology, and Irish literature. It contains the most complete version of of Táin Bó Cuailnge, "The Cattle Raid of Cooley."

The manuscript contains many different types of document. The illustration above is from one part called Dindshenchas, "place-name lore," and begins with the words Temuir, unde nominatur, "Tara, whence is it named." Speaking of Latin: Latin was moving into Ireland because of ecclesiastical involvement, and replacing Irish as a scholarly language. That may be the reason why the Book includes Lebor Gabála Érenn, literally the "Book of Invasions" (considered the Irish "Book of Genesis" and a history of the world),  in which we are told that Irish was created after the confusion of languages caused by the incident of the Tower of Babel. Because it was created later, it avoids the "shortcomings and confusion" of other languages and is therefore special.

The Lebor Gabála Érenn tells of six times that Ireland was invaded, which is a great topic for tomorrow.

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Culdees

The Culdees were Christian ascetics in Ireland (later spreading to Scotland, Wales, and England). The name comes from Irish Céilí Dé, "Spouses of God." Some lived in monastic communities, some lived as hermits.

Máel Ruain was an abbot-bishop in Dublin. His real name is unknown; Máel Ruain was his monastic name, from Old Irish máel meaning "one who is tonsured" and Ruain meaning "of Rúadán," so he likely started at the monastery of St. Rúadán. Some credit him with bringing to the Culdees the same kind of organization that Chrodegang of Metz brought to the continent with his Rule.

Máel Ruain founded the monastery of Tallaght, a few miles south-west of Dublin. The Book of Leinster (compiled about 1160) includes a reference to the land at Tallaght being given to Ruain from the king in 774. It had round towers designed as bell towers that doubled as sites for relics he brought from the continent of Saints Peter and Paul, along with hair from the Virgin Mary. It became an important center of learning and produced two early martyrologies, one about Máel Ruain himself.

The rule at Tallaght was similar to the Rule of Chrodegang. A 1911 book, The Monastery of Tallaght, published by the Royal Irish Academy, presents information from historical documents about Tallaght and describes their shared asceticism thusly:

Not a drop of beer was drunk in Tallaght in Maelruain’s [sic] lifetime. When his monks used to go anywhere else, they used not to drink a drop of beer in Tir Cualann, whomsoever they might happen to meet. However, when they went a long distance, in that case they were allowed to drink. Nor a morsel of meat was eaten in Tallaght in his lifetime [unless] it were a deer or a wild swine. What meat there was [at Tallaght was served to] the guests.

Máel Ruain died in 792. The monastery survived viking attacks, but not the Norman Invasion. In the 12th century it was attached to the Archdiocese of Dublin. It went through a few changes of hands, but only one tower remains of the original structure. Today it is the site of St. Máelruain’s Church of Ireland, built in 1829.

While we're in Ireland, we should look at other records, such as the Book of time.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Chrodegang of Metz

First, some background.

In what is now eastern Belgium there was a territory called Hasbania. In French it is now referred to as Hesbaye. The Romans established a town here in the 1st century, which centuries later was settled into by Salian Franks. By the 8th century there was a Count of Hesbaye named Robert. (Robert's wife, Williswinda, founded Lorsch Abbey.) Robert had two sisters, Landrada, who married Sigramnus (who became the next count after Robert's death thanks to his marriage). The other sister, Rotrude, married Charles Martel. Sigramnus and Landrada had a son in the early 8th century, named Chrodegang (died 6 March 766), who was therefore a nephew of Charles Martel who was effectively king of the Franks.

After being educated at the cathedral school of Metz, he joined his uncle's court as referendary, then as chancellor, and finally prime minister. After 742 he is recorded as the Bishop of Metz and prime minister.

When Pope Stephen II came to France for help with the Lombards, Chrodegang was his escort. When Saint Boniface died, Stephen conferred on Chrodegang the pallium that made him an archbishop (although  he did not turn Metz into an archbishopric, so the title was honorary without increased administrative controls).

In 762 he fell ill, and at the first Council of Attigny he established listed the "League of Attigny" signed by the bishops and abbots present pro causa religionis et salute animarum ("for the sake of religion and the salvation of souls"). The intent was to support each other spiritually in case of death. Each signee pledged to sing 100 psalms and (if a priest) say 100 masses for the should of the departed.A bishop was only required to celebrate 30 masses, or to designate another to do so if the bishop were ill. Abbots (if they were not a bishop themselves) were to ask a bishop to say the 30 masses. Monks were to sing 100 psalms, but if they were also priests would say 100 masses.

Chrodegang was central to a spiritual revival in Carolingian culture that carried through Charlemagne's reign. He founded Gorze Abbey near Metz and St. Peter's Abbey on the Moselle River. He encouraged the Roman rite and musical chant in Metz, and introduced the "Rule of Chrodegang" to regulate the practices of canons and canonesses. Although canon life involved ministering to those in need rather than being cloistered, Chrodegang's rule urged them to embrace communal living with a communal dining hall.

Similar development among those following a religious life in Ireland can be seen taking place a generation later, and some think it is likely that Irish monks brought Chrodegang's ideas westward, altering the lifestyle of anchorites. Máel Ruain's rules for Culdees is evidence for this, which means I suppose that we should turn to Ireland next and explain. See you next time.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Synods of Aachen

We are accustomed to a world of laws and regulations. Most social institutions have existed long enough that there are well-known expectations for the members of those institutions. History contains the origins of many new institutions—political, religious, social—that experienced great variety in their functions, leading to attempts to codify their actions.

For religion, this meant calling Synods. "Synod" is from Greek syn ("together"; think "synthesis") and odos (pronounced with an initial "h" sound; "road" or "journey"). A synod meant traveling along together, and was intended to make sure everyone was, let's say, synchronized.

The Synods of Aachen, held at the Carolingian palace complex of Aachen (pictured above), were an attempt to standardize certain practices for those following a religious life, of which there were two kinds: monastic and canonical. For the monastic, Emperor Louis the Pious (who called the synod in 816) gave to Benedict of Aniane the task of applying Benedictine rule (named for St. Benedict, not Benedict of Aniane) uniformly throughout the empire. Aniane had been mentioned here as a mentor of Theodulf.

There were difficulties in this task: the Benedictines had their own liturgical practices, but monasteries were under the rule of the local bishop, and many bishops preferred that everyone in their diocese adhere strictly to the Roman rite instead of the Benedictine variations. Aniane was flexible in allowing some deviations for the sake of good will.

Canons and canonesses lived a lifestyle that was monastic, but they were allowed to keep personal possessions. Chrodegang of Metz (died 766) had, in 755, established rules for the life of canons, known as the Rule of Chrodegang. It was founded on the Rule of St. Benedict, but recognized the different needs of those who lived a communal life but were working in the world to administer to spiritual needs of the faithful, instead of withdrawing from the world.

The Synod of Aachen incorporated much of Chrodegang's work. Canons were to celebrate the liturgy of the hours and general services and maintain a common dormitory and dining hall. Canons were overseen by a provost; canonesses were overseen by an abbess.

Another synod was held at Aachen in 817, building on the decisions of the year before. A further synod in 819 detailed the services owed by monasteries to the crown.

I was thinking a second reference to Benedict of Aniane meant he might need some more details, but Chrodegang had a more interesting life (not being a monk like Aniane, he "got out" more), so I'll tell you more about him tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Council of Attigny

Attigny is a commune (an incorporated municipality) in northeast France. Clovis II built a palace there in 647 that was a Carolingian residence for several generations. Charlemagne spent many Christmas and Easter holidays there. Attigny is where Charlemagne baptized his enemy, Widukind.

Charlemagne's father, Pepin the Short, held a council there that brought together the Frankish leaders and religious figures for some political management followed by religious matters. Among other things, this first Council of Attigny made a decree pro causa religionis et salute animarum" ("for the sake of religion and the salvation of souls") that all who signed (several bishops and abbots) would pledge to sing a certain number of psalms (usually 100) and/or celebrate a certain number of masses for the soul of any of the signees who died.

In 822, Pope Paschal I convened the Second Council of Attigny, partially for the purpose of dealing with Louis the Pious. (Paschal also wanted to confirm some rules from 816 about the conduct of canons and monks.) Louis was Charlemagne's son and successor, and had done his best to eliminate any potential opposition to his rule by dealing with his relatives, sometimes very harshly. Some he simply tonsured and sent to monasteries, such as his younger brothers Hugh, Drogo, and Theodoric. His nephew, Bernard of Italy, however, had a worse fate.

Bernard feared that Louis would take Italy from him. Fearing rebellion, Louis captured Bernard and intended to blind him, but the process went too far and Bernard died. This was not acceptable behavior from the man who was Holy Roman Emperor. Louis was made to apologize in public for the treatment of his brothers, and perform public penance for the death of Bernard. (You see an illustration of the penance above.)

Louis also reconciled with his brothers. Hugh was made abbot of St-Quentin, and Drogo was named Bishop of Metz. Some of the co-conspirators of Bernard were released from monastic confinement and allowed to take positions at court. Louis also confessed to offenses that would not ordinarily have been significant offenses by a ruler, but he was, in fact, a pious man who cared about the church and his soul as well as his secular power.

Louis ruled for almost another two decades, with a couple civil wars and several other notable events, but tomorrow I will go back to the Council of Aachen of 816 and the attempt to regulate monasteries and the relationship of church property to the king in whose territories they lay.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Blinding the King

When Louis the Pious inherited the empire after the death of his father, Charlemagne, he took steps to organize his kingdom and ensure the succession. In 817 he chose how the kingdom would be divided among his sons. His nephew, King Bernard of Italy, was left in his current position, but was to become a vassal of Louis' son Lothair.

Bernard, a grandson of Charlemagne through Pepin of Italy, saw this as a potential threat to ultimately take over Italy. Some of his counselors advised him to act, even though he had always had a decent relationship with his uncle Louis. Louis started hearing rumors that Bernard was planning to make Italy independent, so he marched an army south.

Bernard met him at Chalon to talk, but was captured and taken to the palace at Aachen where he and others were tried for conspiracy and treason. Although an appropriate sentence was execution, Louis decided to simply remove Bernard's ability to rule by blinding him and his co-conspirators. This was done by pushing a red-hit stiletto to the eyeballs. Unfortunately, the procedure went too far, and Bernard died in agony within two days. Above you see his tomb, along with his consort, Cunigunda of Laon. As mentioned here, Louis also forced other relatives who might have become the focus of rebellion into monasteries.

One of the supposed co-conspirators was Theodulf of Orléans, but proof was lacking. Still, Theodulf was removed from his bishopric and imprisoned in a monastery in Angers in 818. Released in 820, he tried to go to Orléans, but died along the way, on 18 January 821. His body was taken back to Angers for burial.

The Kingdom of Italy was given to Lothair. Italy's feared fate had become fact, perhaps because Bernard tried to prevent it.

Not long after, in 822, the affair of the blinding had an epilogue, which would require a trip to Attigny in northeast France. I will take you there tomorrow and explain.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Theodulf of Orléans

When speaking of the Carolingian Renaissance, the most common name mentioned is Alcuin, but there were many other scholars involved. One of them was Theodulf of Orléans, mentioned here years ago as a maker of acrostics.

Born in the mid 8th century in Visigothic Spain, the Moorish occupation drove him to Aquitaine, eventually joining a monastery in Gaul under Benedict of Aniane. Traveling to Rome in 786, he was impressed by the numerous schools he saw, and wrote letters to abbots and bishops in Gaul, encouraging them to create public schools.

Back in Gaul, Charlemagne was impressed by Theodulf's appreciation of learning and made him Bishop of Orléans and put him in charge of many monasteries. Charles relied on him for theological advice and to establish many schools. Theodulf knew Greek and Hebrew, and was tasked by Charlemagne to make new translations of many works into Latin. He produced many original works as well, including one reminding priests of the importance of manual labor and chastity, poems and hymns, and a codification of what penance was necessary for different sins.

It is also very likely that Theodulf was the author of the Opus Caroli regis contra synodum ("The work of King Charles against the Synod"), known usually as Libri Carolini ("Charles' Books"),  commissioned by Charlemagne to counter the work of the Second Council of Nicaea regarding the use of sacred images. (You can purchase an English translation here.)

In 806 he built an oratory at Germigny-des-Prés (the remaining part is pictured above), patterned after Charlemagne's palace at Aachen. It was mostly destroyed by the Normans after 1066, which deprived the modern world of all its art except the only surviving Carolingian mosaic (badly restored in the 1860s) depicting the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was probably an important image because it represents God's approval of religious images. 

Theodulf was a witness to Charlemagne's will, and after the emperor's death in 814, served his son, Louis the Pious. An incident involving Louis' nephew, King Bernard of Italy, led to Louis accusing Theodulf of conspiring against him, and the bishop was imprisoned.

But that's a story for tomorrow. See you then.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Charles' Books

The Opus Caroli regis contra synodum ("The work of King Charles against the Synod"), also known as Libri Carolini ("Charles' Books"), was a series commissioned by Charlemagne to counter the work of the Second Council of Nicaea. It was specifically written to argue against the Council's decrees about icons.

Held in 787, this Council reversed Emperor Leo III's decree decades earlier that religious images were forbidden. The Council decided that religious images were not only allowed, but the reverence and prayers aimed at them actually transferred to the saint or member of the Trinity which they represented. In fact, every altar should have in it a saint's relic.

Charlemagne, a devout Christian, had a different approach to the subject of religious icons, and decided it should be made known. In the 790s (prior to him being named Holy Roman Emperor in 800), he ordered an elaborate statement on the subject. 

The opening statement is rather strong:

In the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ beginneth the work of the most illustrious and glorious man Charles, by the will of God, king of the Franks, Gauls, Germany, Italy, neighboring provinces, with the assistance of the king, against the Synod which in Greek parts firmly and proudly decreed in favour of adoring images recklessly and arrogantly, ...

The argument was a compromise between Leo III's strict iconoclasm and the Council's "reckless and arrogant" acceptance of honoring images. Charlemagne believed in religious images, but not treating them as anything more than images: do not burn incense before them, or votive candles. Do not pray to them, but to the figure they represent.

Was this document necessary? What was Charles' reason for arguing against the Council? The iconoclasm debate was considered a Byzantine issue; Nicaea was deep into the "Greek parts," as far from Gaul as one could get. It is possible that Charlemagne was partially motivated by the desire to oppose what he considered decisions coming out of the Eastern Empire, since it had offended him over the rejection of his daughter's marriage to its emperor and its decision to support his rival in Lombardy.

Charles did not have this statement sent to the pope after all; it is assumed that he decided not to antagonize the Church by arguing that Nicaea was wrong in its conclusions. The document did not disappear, however, and was found and published centuries later, in 1549. Calvin and the Protestant reformation found in it support for their beliefs. Christian churches these days almost all contain some images.

So who was the author? To whom did Charlemagne turn for this important work? Some assume Alcuin had a hand in it, but there is a better candidate. Some of the Latin language matches the style of Bishop Theodulf of Orleans, one of Charlemagne's "puzzle masters." Clearly, he was good at more than acrostics, and we'll talk about him next time.

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Vatican Acquisitions

Thanks to Pope Nicholas V's desire to create a magnificent public library in 1451, many ancient manuscripts were saved that might otherwise have been lost to obscurity.

Some popes had personal collections that they donated to the library. Some acquisitions were the result of favors, such as when the Duke of Bavaria in 1623 gave the Palatine Library of Heidelberg (about 3500 manuscripts) to Pope Gregory XV because of Gregory's political support (they weren't the Duke's anyway: he looted them during the Thirty Year's War).

The Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648) saw a lot of looting of libraries from Prague and Germany, much of which added to the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden. Upon her death in 1689, Pope Alexander VIII purchased her collection, which was essentially the entire Swedish Royal Library. This purchase and re-location turned out to be fortuitous: the Royal Palace where the library had been housed was destroyed in a fire in 1697.

In the Vatican Library, qualified researchers have access to some of the oldest manuscripts in the world, many of them unique.

One of them is the Codex Vaticanus, one of the oldest and most complete copies of the Greek Old and New Testaments. It has been dated to the 4th century. The Gelasian Sacramentary is one of the oldest books on Christian liturgy, with prayers for special masses. The Books of Luke and John from the Lorsch Gospels (Carolingian era) with carved ivory covers reside here (other parts are in the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Batthyaneum Library).

There are also many non-religious texts, such as one of the earliest copies of Vergil, the 5th century Vergilius Romanus, with the Aeneid, the Georgics, and some Eclogues. They also have a 9th century copy of Terence's Comedies, parts of Euclid's Elements, and the poems of Catullus.

The collection also includes interesting selections from outside Europe, such as the sole copy in existence of a 13th century Arabic love story, Hadith Bayāḍ wa Riyāḍ ("The Story of Bayad and Riyad"). The library also contains the pre-Columbian Codex Borgia, one of only a handful of mesoamerican codices not destroyed by Europeans. It is 39 sheets of animal skins portraying information about the Central American gods, rituals, and calendar.

You can also find fragments of a 9th century Old Saxon Genesis, the Libri Carolini ("Charles' books"; four volumes ordered by Charlemagne to refute the Second Council of Nicaea), a 1240s treatise on falconry, a pre-1400 Croatian prayer book, medieval music manuscripts, and over 100 Qurans.

Even if you are not a qualified researcher, you can see some of the collection on their website. In 2012 they collaborated with the Bodleian Library of Oxford to start digitizing a million pages. Since 2012 there have been other projects to digitize more of the collection.

Regarding the Libri Carolini mentioned above: Charlemagne commissioned this in the 790s, had it completed, and then never sent it. What its purpose was and why he decided not to go through with it are worth a look, which we'll do tomorrow.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Vatican Library

In 1451, Pope Nicholas V wanted to establish a library at the Vatican. A "library" existed already—since popes had gathered important texts and manuscripts—but not in any formal way. The Avignon Papacy (1309 - 1376) had seen an increase in book collection over the course of seven popes, but Nicholas was hoping to promote Rome as a destination for scholarship, so he wanted to make a public library that would attract scholars.

He brought together his personal library, about 350 Greek, Latin, and Hebrew texts from his predecessors, and items from the Library of Constantinople. He hired scholars to translate Greek classics into Latin. He also wanted non-religious texts. In a few years, the collection held 1200 books, one-third of them in Greek.

In 1475, Pope Sixtus IV added the Palatine Library, aiming at collecting theology, philosophy, and artistic literature. In 1481, the Palatine listed 2,527 books, at that time the largest library in the world.

In 1587, Pope Sixtus V had a new building constructed to hold the growing collection. This building is still used today, and from this point was referred to as the Vatican Library. In modern times the first semi-basement houses a papyrus room. The first floor houses a restoration laboratory. The second floor holds a photographic archive.

It was intended to be a public library. During the Renaissance, books were not stored on shelves, but chained to benches with tables nearby where visitors could study the texts. These days, some of the collection is open to the public, but for most access you need to have appropriate credentials and be a professional researcher, a university professor, or a PhD student. The rules of the library allow access by 200 people at a time.

Besides one of the largest collections of books in the world (if not the largest), the Vatican Library contains 20,000 works of art and over 300,000 historical coins and medals.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about some of the acquisitions and how they came to the library.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Poggio vs. Lorenzo

Lorenzo Valla (c.1407 - 1457) was a scholar and Catholic priest. Like Poggio Bracciolini, he was interested in old manuscripts. His father worked as a lawyer for the pope, and his uncle was a papal secretary. Valla wanted to be an apostolic secretary himself, even entering the priesthood thinking that would help, but never was able to achieve that career.

With his knowledge of Latin and Greek, he analyzed classical texts and wrote treatises on them. One of his bars to working for the papacy may have been his work that established the Donation of Constantine as a forgery. I previously wrote about him and the Donation here.

He likewise showed the inauthenticity of a supposed letter from Christ to Abgar (1st century ruler of Edessa). His questioning of other religious documents and his questioning of the usefulness of monastic life roused the ire of faithful churchmen. One of his fiercest enemies was Bracciolini, who pointed out errors of style in Valla's works and made ad hominem attacks on Valla, accusing him of degrading vices.

Bracciolini attacked Valla's major work on Latin language and style, in which Valla argued that biblical texts could be subjected to the same analysis and critiques on the basis of style the way non-biblical classical texts could. Bracciolini argued that the new humanism was to be considered separate from theology, and profane and sacred writings were to be treated differently. He penned five Orationes in Laurentium Vallam ("Orations to Lorenzo Valla") criticizing him, which was countered by Valla writing Antidota in Pogium ("Antidote to Poggio").

Surprisingly, the two men were reconciled, prompted by other scholars and humanists. They acknowledged each other's talents, and became friends. Erasmus considered Valla superior to Bracciolini, saying Poggio was "a petty clerk so uneducated that even if he were not indecent he would still not be worth reading, and so indecent that he would deserve to be rejected by good men however learned he was." (Erasmus had probably seen and disapproved of Bracciolini's joke book.)

Although never became an apostolic secretary, he was invited to Rome by Pope Nicholas V to work on a special project: the new Vatican Library. Let's talk about that place tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Poggio Bracciolini

The creator of the world's first joke book was connected to many serious books as well. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini, later just Poggio Bracciolini (1380 - 1459), Italian scholar and humanist, fell into a career because of his excellent skill with Latin and good penmanship.

His title at the peak of his career was scriptor apostolicus, "apostolic writer," a top secretary of diplomatic documents for the pope. Over 50 years he served seven popes. Working for the pope was a career, not a calling, and he never took Holy Orders, remaining a layman all his life.

His position did not pay well, but he was a smart investor and had a keen eye for valuable books and manuscripts. The sale in 1434 of a manuscript of Livy that he owned allowed him to buy a villa, which he filled with sculptures of men of antiquity.

His position gave him leisure time, especially when the Council of Constance deposed Antipope John XXIII in 1415, after which the papal seat was empty for two years. This gave Poggio time for his hobby: finding interesting antique manuscripts. It was while at the Council of Constance that he was able to explore the libraries of Swiss and Swabian abbeys. At St. Gall he discovered Cicero's defense of his friend Roscio, some Quintilian, lost Latin poetry by Statius, an epic poem on the Punic War, a long Latin poem on celestial phenomena, and Vitruvius' De Architectura, the earliest known work on architecture. At Cluny Abbey he found a collection of Cicero's Orations, and at Langres (northeastern France) he found nine unknown orations of Cicero.

He discovered copies of works by Livy and Ammianus in Hersfeld Abbey in Hesse, Germany. The abbey would not give them up, but Poggio bribed a monk to procure the manuscripts.

This blog has mentioned Lucretius' De Rerum Natura ("On the Nature of Things") before, when Poggio found the only surviving manuscript. Poggio recognized the significance of the name because he had read of it in Cicero; otherwise, he might have passed over it as inconsequential. As it turns out, that original has disappeared, but Poggio sent it to a friend to get copied (and complained that the friend never returned the original to him).

The discovery of De Rerum Natura was the subject of a 2011 book that claims it was the start of the modern world. This was a time of transition, and Poggio was part of that transition, one example of which was his rivalry with a scholar and priest called Lorenzo Valla. One more post about Poggio and this rivalry, and then I'll move on. See you next time.

Monday, April 17, 2023

The First Joke Book

At the time when Pope Eugenius was in Florence, a very clever ten-year-old boy came to visit Cardinal Angelotto and in a few words made him a brilliant speech. Angelotto wondered at the maturity and polish of the boy's diction and asked him some questions, which he answered cleverly. Turning to the bystanders Angelotto said: "Those who display such intelligence and learning in their childhood decrease in wit as they increase in age, and finally turn out to be stupid." Then the boy retorted: "Then you must indeed have been extraordinarily learned and wise when you were young." The Cardinal was staggered at this impromptu witty reply, for he had been rebuked for his foolishness by what he thought was a mere child.
This is from a popular book from the late Middle Ages, Liber Facetiarum or Facetiae, "Book of Jokes." The first of its kind, it stayed popular and in print for centuries in Europe. One might think the creator of the book was an irreverent man, but he was an important secretary to several popes.

Poggio Bracciolini (1380 - 1459) was born in Tuscany and sent to Florence by his father to study, where he distinguished himself as an excellent copyist of manuscripts. His skill brought him attention from some of the chief scholars of the time, whose endorsements helped place him as secretary to the bishop of Bari. That position brought him advancement to the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs (the office that performs all the Vatican diplomatic functions) as a writer of official documents. His excellent Latin and penmanship kept him in the employ of seven popes over 50 years.

He used his pure and scholarly Latin to compose/gather a collection of humorous anecdotes that did not receive a formal printing until 1470, but then was re-printed and translated all over Europe. These often portray the friction between husbands and wives:
Another man, looking for his wife who had drowned in the river, was walking upstream. A bystander, wondering at this, advised him to look for her in the other direction. "I'll never find her that way," replied the husband, "for while she lived she was excessively difficult and bad-tempered and always did the opposite of everyone else, so that even after her death she could only go against the current."
He was also fond of jokes regarding flatulence, of which I will share one:
A young woman, while visiting her parents in the country with her husband, went walking with him through the woods, and saw how certain sheep in a flock were exceptionally courted by the rams. “Why are these preferred above the rest?” she asked. To which her husband replied that nature had so fashioned these matters that the rams hastened first to those sheep which let out a strong odor from the rear. And this is also true of humans, he added. 
The woman was silent. But on the following day, as they walked through the woods again, she became desirous of her husband’s embraces and, recalling his words, permitted herself to break wind. 
Whereat the young man, recognizing the sign, did not fail to satisfy her desires.
Bracciolini also included several defecation jokes, but that is where I draw the line.

He gave arguably a greater gift to the modern world in his discovery of several older manuscripts otherwise lost to antiquity, and I'll delve into that next time.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Book of Kells

The BBC once suggested it was "Medieval Europe's greatest treasure." The Book of Kells is a Latin Gospel (with added material) created c.800 CE whose precise place of origin is unknown. For centuries it resided at the Abbey of Kells in County Meath, Ireland, which is how it got its current name.

It has 340 vellum leaves, 13 by 9.8 inches, both sides of which are used, totaling 680 pages which were bound into four separate volumes in 1953. Ten of the pages are illustrations, like the "Chi ro" page seen here. Chi ro are the first letters of Christ's name. It stands out because of the ornate illustrations, combining traditional Christian iconography with the complex and intertwined images of animals and humans found in the art of the British Isles. Even the text pages are filled with elaborate decoration. The text, written with iron gall ink, gives evidence of handwriting by at least three different scribes.

For a long time the book was thought to be created in the time of St. Columba, possibly even by him, but the style of the lettering system suggests it was long after. Proponents of the Columba theory suggest that maybe it was created to mark the 200th anniversary of his death. Various theories place its origin at Iona, or Kells, or started at the former and finished at the latter.

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of its history is that it survived Viking invasions and other events. The Annals of Ulster record (the first reference to the book) that in 1007 "the great Gospel of Columkille,  the chief relic of the Western World, was wickedly stolen during the night from the western sacristy of the great stone church at Cenannas on account of its wrought shrine" (a wrought shrine is the elaborately and richly decorated box for holding a book). The Annals' reference to Columcille (St. Columba's real name) is why scholars link it to him.

The Book of Kells now resides in the Trinity College Library in Dublin. If you'd like your own copy, you can find a facsimile edition here.

For a more lighthearted look at medieval books, how about if tomorrow we look at the first medieval book of jokes?

Saturday, April 15, 2023

The Lindisfarne Gospels

Among the many ancient books we have now thanks to Robert Cotton's hobby of collecting and cataloging medieval manuscripts, the British Library contains Cotton Nero D.iv, better known as the Lindisfarne Gospels. The 516 vellum pages would have required about 150 calf skins. The ink is dark brown and contains soot. They illustrations use scores of different shades of color—some imported from the Mediterranean—made from animal and vegetable and mineral sources and bound with egg white. A few small spots are gold.

Best estimate is that the book was produced c.715-720 CE at the monastery at Lindisfarne by a monk (later bishop) named Eadfrith, who never quite finished the work. Written in Latin, the book is lavishly illustrated (the illustration is of a facsimile edition available here).

In the late 900s, in a monastery at Chester-le-Street—where the monks of Lindisfarne settled after fleeing the Vikings—a priest named Aldred decided the book needed an Old English translation, which he added between the lines of Latin. He also added a colophon to the book that tells us more about the production of it:

Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne church, originally wrote this book for God and for St Cuthbert and—jointly—for all saints whose relics are in the island. And Æthelwald, bishop of the Lindisfarne islanders, impressed it on the outside and covered it ... And Billfrið the anchorite forged the ornaments which are on it on the outside and adorned it with gold and gems and with gilded-on silver-pure metal ...

The Gospels disappeared from view after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, turning up later in the Cotton Library. The binding described above is no more, presumably lost during the time of Viking raids. A new binding wasn't added until 1852, arranged by the bishop of Durham.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the most impressive books of its era—or perhaps of any other, except, of course, for the Gospel we're going to look at tomorrow. See you then.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The Holy Island

When King Oswald of Northumbria invited St. Aidan to come from Iona in 634-5 CE and start a monastery, Aidan chose an island off the northeast coast of England. As a tidal island—meaning it was only accessible during low tide by a narrow causeway—Aidan considered it safer for the monks.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for the year 793 refers to the island as Lindisfarena, although around the same time Nennius' Historia Brittonum ("History of the Britons") calls it by a Welsh name, Medcaut, thought by later scholars to derive from Latin Medicata (Healing), due to medicinal herbs that grew there.

It became known as the Holy Island (Latin Insula sacra) in the 11th century because of Saints Aidan and Cuthbert. It was instrumental in the Christianization of Northumbria, and also sent a mission down to Mercia. Cuthbert was enormously popular and influential. An anonymous life of Cuthbert written between 685 and 704 is the oldest piece of English historical writing in existence.

The entry for the year 793 mentioned above is about the Viking raid on Lindisfarne. The entry reads:

In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen men destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne.

(January was not an ideal time for sea-born Viking raids; it is assumed that there was a "typo" and that 8 June was the date of the devastation.)

Alcuin later describes the destruction:

Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race ... The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.

Cuthbert's body and other relics were removed by the monks to save them from destruction.

With the arrival of the Normans after 1066, a Benedictine monastery was established by the first Norman bishop of Durham, William of St. Calais.

Back to the early years, however: something that came out of Lindisfarne in its pre-Viking heyday was the Lindisfarne Gospels, which I want to talk about next.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Cuthbert's Travels

Saints' relics are significant for a couple reasons. They provide a reminder of a saintly life and inspire others to emulate saints. They also attract pilgrims who make donations. Keeping and maintaining relics and saints' bodies is important, and sometimes that meant moving them around.

Cuthbert (c.635 - 687) was a very important saint in Northumbria, but his reputation was enhanced and expanded when Alfred the Great had a vision of Cuthbert that inspired him in his battles against the Danes. Alfred's house of Wessex became particularly devoted to the northern saint, making Cuthbert a saint for all of England. Preserving his remains was a necessity.

Initially buried at Lindisfarne, Danish invasions caused the monks to flee the island in 875, taking Cuthbert's bones along. Bede wrote that Cuthbert was put in a stone sarcophagus, but fortunately for the people in charge of moving him that was abandoned for a wooden coffin. After seven years of relocating to different sites, including Melrose, he was taken to Chester-le-Street, a market town in County Durham, where the body was interred and remained for 112 years at the parish church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert.

In 995, the coffin was moved to Ripon, again because of the Danes. Upon its return to Chester-le-Street, the wagon carrying the coffin became stuck on the road at Durham. This was seen as a sign that the saint wished his remains to be in Durham, and he was taken to Durham Cathedral.

When William the Conqueror began the Harrying of the North to put down northern rebels, Bishop Ælfwine in 1069 tried to take Cuthbert's body back to Lindisfarne, but he was caught (and imprisoned, where he died).

In 1104, the coffin was opened and his relics taken to a new shrine built for him in Durham Cathedral. At this time a book was found, a Gospel of John called the Cuthbert Gospel; it is the oldest surviving book with its original binding.

During the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, Cuthbert's shrine was destroyed, but the relics survived interred at the site. A dig at the site in 1827 uncovered the relics and the remains of a wooden coffin (illustrated above), reconstructed from what pieces were salvageable.

All things considered, I am sure Cuthbert would have preferred to remain at Lindisfarne. What made the "Holy Island" so special is worth a closer time.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

St. Cuthbert

After the conversion to Christianity of King Edwin of Northumbria in 627 CE, his people followed suit. About 634, Cuthbert was born to a well-to-do family. His life as a Christian would have experienced the conflicts between Roman Christianity and Celtic Christianity. Whereas Edwin was baptized by Paulinus of York, part of the Gregorian mission from Rome, Edwin's successor, Oswald, invited Irish monks from Iona. The Irish monks, whose leader was Aidan, founded the monastery at Lindisfarne. Cuthbert grew up near Melrose Abbey, a daughter house of Lindisfarne.

The night of Aidan's death (651), Cuthbert had a vision that inspired him to become a monk. He advanced quickly, starting at a new monastery at Ripon, then becoming prior at Melrose Abbey in 662, followed in 665 by becoming prior at Lindisfarne. He was made a bishop in 684, but when nearing the end of his life he resigned that position.

Despite his exposure to Celtic Christianity for much of his youth, after the Synod of Whitby he had no trouble following the Roman system, bringing it to Lindisfarne when he was prior.

His reputation for piety and asceticism drew much attention, and he had many visitors despite his preference for a quiet life. He performed missionary work all over northern Britain. He was known for generosity to the poor and for performing miracles of healing, earning him the title "Wonder Worker of Britain." Bede wrote that he was buried in a stone sarcophagus to the right of the altar at the church in Lindisfarne; when the sarcophagus was moved behind the altar 11 years later (a more prestigious position), it was opened; his body was  found perfectly preserved, "uncorrupted," a sign of his sainthood. This brought more pilgrims to Lindisfarne, and prompted many in need to pray for his intercession.

Lindisfarne, however, was not going to be Cuthbert's final resting place. He was going to be moved a few times due to Viking invasions, which I'll talk about next time. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Oldest Book

The "oldest book" is a flexible term. It depends on what you mean by "book." In this case, I am referring to the oldest book we have that was assembled with what we think of as modern bookbinding: that is, flat pages (not a scroll) bound along one edge and with a solid cover for the front and back. This would be the so-called "Cuthbert Gospel."

It is a "pocket-sized" Gospel of John from the 8th century, only 5.4' x 3.6" with 94 vellum folios (pages) and a leather binding/cover over wooden boards (pictured here). It was kept with other relics of St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral. When King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries after 1536, it traveled probably through many hands until it finally landed at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. It was on long-term loan to the British Library due to its value as an early example of book binding and its association with the Anglo-Saxon saint, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Eventually the British Library purchased it, so it is now part of their permanent collection. It is intended to be displayed alternately between the British Library and at Durham.

The reason we have such a well-preserved book is because it was not known to exist for several centuries. Cuthbert died in 687 CE; his coffin was moved more than once to protect it from Viking invasions. In 1104, the coffin was moved to Durham Cathedral for re-burying, and was opened for a glimpse of the venerable saint. That was when, four centuries after the death of Cuthbert, the gospel was found inside the coffin!

Initially thought to be Cuthbert's personal Gospel, it is now thought that it was placed in the coffin to be with him a few years after he died. Based on the form of writing, it is presumed to have been written between c.700 and c.730 and slipped into his coffin at a later date.

Who was Cuthbert? Why was he so important that someone wanted to give him a "gift" of a Gospel even after he died? And important enough that his coffin was moved several times to keep it safe? We'll take a look at him and his accomplishments next time.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Parchment Production

Parchment is animal skin. The word appears around 1300 CE, derived from Old French parchemin, in turn from Latin pergamentum, meaning "parchment" because it is first mentioned coming from the town of Pergamon in Asia Minor, where it replaced papyrus in the 2nd century BCE.

The person who made parchment was a parchmenter. He would first have to acquire the raw material, which probably meant a trip to an abattoir to choose the best skins for use. Assuming they were completely unprepared, he had to gauge how the color of the fur indicated the final color of the parchment. White fur meant you would have lighter pages when all is said and done, but darker colors were probably more common. The skins might have holes in them from damage the animal did to itself or from tick bites.

The first step in preparation was to wash the skins in cold water. Skins were then commonly soaked in vats of water with lime for three to ten days, stirring regularly, after which they were laid out so they could be scraped to get the fur off. They were soaked in water for a couple more days after the scraping. The now waterlogged skin was stretched on a frame to dry flat. Strings attached the skin to pegs on a wooden frame; the pegs would be tightened to stretch the skin. You would not want to put holes in the skin for the strings, however, so the edge of the skin was rolled around pebbles and the end of the string tied around them.

Once dried, the skin was now scraped thin and smooth with a lunellum, a blade shaped like the crescent-moon so there was no sharp point that would accidentally pierce the skin. Rubbing with chalk would help to further smooth the result. Pre-13th century examples of parchment were thicker than later sheets, as the process was used to make thinner and thinner pages. These pages could then be written on and cut to be bound.

The development of parchment allowed books to last in good condition far longer than paper. So what's the oldest (medieval) book in good condition, and why was it in the coffin of a 7th century saint? For that story, you'll have to stay tuned.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Books on Demand

We talked (finally) about the source of books for the general populace, but medieval bookshops were not like modern ones: you didn't walk in and see rows of titles with multiple copies so you could just grab one and walk up to a counter to pay. Often, you went to the bookshop to order the book you wanted. Again, unlike the modern bookshop, your order could take weeks or months, because the copy you wanted likely didn't exist: it had to be made and copied from the original.

Unlike the modern book store, however, you had choices that are not available today. Once you had determined that he did have access to a copy of the book you wanted, you had to decide on certain features.

Did you want parchment or paper? What quality of parchment (were holes okay)? What script did you want it produced with? Did you want illustrations? Since it was being made from scratch for you, you had options we cannot (and, fortunately, do not have to) imagine today. I've made the illustration a little larger than usual (I hope it shows clearly in your browser), so that you can see not only the samples of script being advertised by a 15th century bookseller, but also the names of the different scripts written above each sample in gold lettering. This is an advertising sheet produced by professional scribe Herman Strepel of Münster in 1447.

And if you were producing the book and looking for more business, why not include ads for your services? A Paris manuscript includes, on the last page, “If someone else would like such a handsome book, come and look me up in Paris, across from the Notre Dame cathedral.”

Not every "addition" to a book was an ad. A Middle Dutch chronicle includes the line “For so little money I never want to produce a book ever again!” 

Book production employed different skilled tradesmen: the scribe himself, the illustrator, and the person who did the binding of the completed pages. Inks and paper or parchment had to be readily available, so those manufacturers were kept busy by demand, especially in university towns. In Paris, the Rue St. Jacques was where you'd find the producers of Latin textbooks, making it easy for students to know where to go to order needed materials for study. A lot more about medieval books is available on this blog.

Of course Gutenberg changed a lot of that, which is why I consider his innovation to be one of the markers that the Medieval period had truly ended. Gutenberg's press did not end the need for something on which to put the printed word, however. Next I'll talk about the production of parchment.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Medieval Bookshops

The keyword "books" has been applied 100 101 times in the almost 1200 posts of this blog, but if the term is connected with a location, it has either been a private library or in the scriptorium of a monastery. At some point, however, copies of books became available to the general public. As with previous situations, they were managed from a religious organization. Unlike monastic scriptoria, however, they were made available on a for-profit basis.

Universities were the source of bookshops, and the rector would administer an oath to the person managing the business, such as:
“You swear that the books received by you shall be safely kept, exhibited and sold in good faith. You swear that you will not deny them nor conceal them, but that you will expose them at proper time and place. You swear that if you are consulted on the selling price of one or more books, you will give in good faith, reserving your proper commission, an estimation, i. e. , such a sum as you would voluntarily give on occasion. You swear that the price of the copy, and the name of the vendor (the person sworn), if required, shall be placed in some part of the book exposed for sale.”[link]
When a book was sold, the rector received the money after the bookshop manager took his fee. Besides selling, books could be borrowed from the shop for the purpose of copying—for a fee, of course.

The 14th century saw an increase in such shops, but it also saw an increase in rules and regulations about bookshops and booksellers, suggesting that the sellers were less than reputable. The temptation to create and sell cheap and flawed copies on the side was strong, as was the temptation to overcharge and increase one's own fee before passing the money to the rector. Hence the oath above that required making the proper price visible on each book.

Despite the picture above (of a current bookstore in France), the bookshop was not just a place with books on shelves waiting to be sold. There was also a lot of what we call these days "books on demand." I'll explain that tomorrow.

Friday, April 7, 2023

John de Garlandia

There were two "Johns of Garland" whose careers get conflated in the 13th century. One was the philologist and grammarian, discussed here, and the other was a musicologist. Both were living in France at one time, but the second seems to have been born around the time of the first's death. They are sometimes distinguished by calling the latter Garlandia.

From Parisian records, this John seems to have been a keeper of a bookshop, and referred to as Jehan de Garlandia. His name is attached to two treatises, one of which, De Mensurabili Musica ("On measured music"), is considered the most important treatise on the early history of notation. Here is a summary of what makes it so significant:
Specifically, it describes a practice already in use, known as modal rhythm, which used the rhythmic modes. In this system, notes on the page are assigned to groups of long and short values based on their context. De mensurabili musica describes six rhythmic modes, corresponding to poetic feet: long-short (trochee), short-long (iamb), long-short-short (dactyl), short-short-long (anapest), long-long (spondee), and short-short (pyrrhic). Notation had not yet evolved to the point where the appearance of each note gave its duration; that had still to be understood from the position of a note in a phrase, which of the six rhythmic modes was being employed, and a number of other factors.

Modal rhythm is the defining rhythmic characteristic of the music of the Notre Dame school, giving it an utterly distinct sound, one which was to prevail throughout the thirteenth century.[New World Encyclopedia]

Did a bookshop opener write this work? Evidence suggests that it was written in 1240, before John was born (he lived until 1320, so writing in 1240 was not possible), but his name is attached to it, leading to the assumption that he edited the work, or at least wrote later chapters of it. Some of the records of the time refer to John as magister, however, suggesting that he was a teacher at the University of Paris and not just a seller of books. How much he had to do with this work is unknown, but the connection made to it historically is accepted in the absence of other evidence.

For more on the history of musical notation, see here and here.

For information on bookshops in the Middle Ages, well, you'll just have to come back tomorrow.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

John of Garland

John of Garland (c.1180 - c.[at least] 1252) was an English grammarian and poet. (He wrote a poem about a recording demon.) Despite his English origin, he spent most of his life in France, first in Paris in 1202 to study, then at the University of Toulouse.

He left Toulouse around 1232 when the Cathars re-asserted themselves and university professors stopped being paid. He fled to the University of Paris, where Roger Bacon heard him lecture. It was this time in Paris that gave him his surname: he explains it is from the Rue Garlande in the neighborhood of the University.

There are over two dozen of his writings known (there are a few titles we know of, but have no extant copies). One was his Dictionarius (shown here), which was not a dictionary as we know it, but a textbook that attempted to teach Latin to French students at the University of Paris. Some credit Garland for the origin of the modern word "dictionary."

Besides works of instruction, he wrote poetry such as the Epithalamium beatae Mariae Virginis (“Bridal Song of the Blessed Virgin Mary”) and his account of the crusade against the Cathars, De triumphis ecclesiae (“On the Triumphs of the Church”). His hostility toward heresy was extended to Jews. To quote an author who wrote about this topic:

Although he never denied the possibility that conversion to Christianity could redeem the Jews, he thought it unlikely they would come over to the Catholic faith or remain steadfast in the religion. His invective was extreme by the standards of the time but was influential in that it appeared in many of his pedagogical works for adolescents and young men at the universities. [Journal of Medieval History, Vol.48, Issue 4]

Despite his time in France, his numerous writings were very popular in England, and were printed and re-printed in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Curiously, there was a second John of Garland who lived and wrote about the same time; this one was a music theorist, and will be our next topic. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Recording Demon

Here's a story: during a church service, a deacon burst out laughing. Afterward, the priest admonishes the deacon. The deacon explains the outburst: during the service, he saw a demon writing down snatches of conversation between parishioners in the pews. The parchment was quickly filled with these idle comments, and the demon tried to stretch the parchment by biting on the top end and pulling. The parchment tore, and the demon fell over backwards. This made the deacon laugh. The priest used this information in a later sermon, warning the congregation that their idle chatter is recorded by a demon to be used against them when they die and are judged.

The notion of a "recording demon" was popular in the Middle Ages, and went from sermons to physical representations quickly. Here we see two men gossiping (from St. James' Church, Cristow, Devon), and no matter how close and secretive they are trying to be, right above their heads you can see the recording demon taking notes on what they are saying, to be used against them on Judgment Day.

The idea of a recording demon was known in Egyptian monasteries of the 4th century, and was said to visit churches and monasteries and write down the sins that he observed.  This demon was ultimately given a name, Titivillus, and he became responsible to some for causing scribal errors. He was used in sermons about acedia, "spiritual sloth": churchgoers who engaged in idle chatter during the service, and priests who mumbled swiftly through the words of the service in order to get done faster.

Another representation of a demon collecting people's words is the "sack-filling demon" or simply "sack demon." Caesarius of Heisterbach mentions this one: a devil in a high place catching the words of people and putting them in a sack. Jacques de Vitry in his sermons mentions the sack demon with an over-filled sack, difficult to handle with the enormous number of inappropriate things said by folk.

The story of the deacon laughing in church was repeated and embellished over time. One version has the deacon criticized by the priest, who does not believe his story. Later, while asleep, he is exonerated when the Virgin Mary places the scroll of the demon's writings on his chest. The scroll proves to the priest that the deacon was telling the truth.

This is told in a poem by John of Garland, of whom I will say more tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

The Demon Titivillus

This post mentioned Titivillus, a demon blamed for causing errors in the writings of Caesarius of Heisterbach. (Here he is in a Book of Hours from 1510, taunting St. Bernard.) More has been written about Titivillus—and he appears in more artist renditions—than some saints!

At a time when fear of demons was common, they were "seen" everywhere: causing children to be ill, folk to go mad, cows to dry up, crops to fail, wells to go bad, etc.—they were constantly interfering with human life. One of them was considered the "patron demon of scribes" because he was blamed for errors in manuscripts. His name was Titivillus, sometimes Tutivillus, but in some of the earliest manuscript mentions, their middle letter is unclear and could be n or u/v, so it is written sometimes as Titinillus.

Despite the connection to Caesarius, and a reference in the writings of John of Wales, who died c.1285, as a demon who existed to introduce errors into scribal work, the Oxford English Dictionary's entry attributes the first reference to Peter Paludanus (c.1275 - 1342), who became Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The OED suggests the name of the demon might come from Latin titivillitium, a "mere trifle." Titivillus must have been looking over James Murray's shoulder, because Titivillus is clearly found in John of Wales' work long before Peter Paludanus would have been writing. In the Tractatus de Penitentia ("Tract on Sin"), we find

Fragmina verborum titivillus colligit horum
Quibus die mille vicibus se sarcinat ille.

Titivillus gathers up the fragments of these words
with which he fills his sack a thousand times a day.

He gets mentioned in a lot of medieval sermons as a reminder to be ever on guard against error and sloth. Titivillus became a character in medieval Mystery Plays. In the 15th century morality play Mankind, Titivillus is summoned by Mischief and other distractions to make Mankind's life difficult, but only after the audience is asked to pay extra money to make him appear (presumably his costume was suitably fabulous to charge extra). Titivillus' standing as a literary figure fades after that, and Shakespeare uses "Tilly-vally" a couple times when a character brushes off a complaint worthy of Titivillus' sack.

Concerning the phrase "fills his sack." This is not about inducing errors into manuscripts, but something else. Titivillus' career gets conflated with that of other popular medieval figures to watch out for: a "recording demon" and a "sack demon." That's an entirely different post.

Titivillus' presence can still be detected, such as in the fact that the OED (and I cannot believe I have never mentioned it and its mentor James Murray before) misses the earliest reference (but then, I am reading from the first edition; it has been updated). He influences my own work: although I proofread my post hours after writing it and being away, I still miss errors, which are found and shared by a very good friend; I know he is a good friend because he reads daily! (Come to think of it, that friend's name is Nick, and isn't "Old Nick" a name for the devil? Maybe he's trying to undo Titivillus' history of work?)

Well, more demons tomorrow.

Monday, April 3, 2023

The Prolific Caesarius

A popular source of stories of miracles and of subjects for sermons was the body of work produced by Caesarius of Heisterbach (c.1180 - c.1240), commemorated here in a statue erected in 1897.

Caesarius was the prior (an administrator of an abbey, but not the abbot) of the Cistercian Heisterbach Abbey in western Germany. He wrote Dialogus miraculorum ("dialogue of miracles"), in which a monk tells tales of 746 miracles by saints to a young novice. About 60 versions still exist that were made by hand, suggesting that it was almost as popular as Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend.

He also produced sermons, which he claimed he had to make public because monks asked for more detail on his statements. One of his books deals specifically with his interpretation of the phrase Ave praeclara maris stella ("Hail bright star of the sea"), a nickname for the Virgin Mary and a 9th century hymn found in old manuscripts in the Abbey of St. Gall and elsewhere.

In one of his works he wrote about the fairly recent sack of the town of Béziers during the Albigensian Crusade led by fellow Cistercian Arnaud Amalric. Supposedly, when Arnaud was asked how to distinguish between Cathars and Catholics in the town, he said Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius ("Slay them all, the Lord will know his own"). This is apocryphal, but is considered the origin of the oft-used phrase "Kill them all and let God sort them out." He also is known for a paradoxical maxim about monasteries: that discipline causes prosperity and then prosperity undermines discipline.

Caesarius complained that his writings were taken and distributed before they were finished and proofread. Perhaps it was in this context that he blamed a demon for errors in his works. That demon was Titivillus, and he will be the subject of my next post.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

The First Mass Murderer

I have mentioned the 12th century heresy called Catharism. The attempts to stamp it out are called the Albigensian Crusade (and sometimes the Cathar Crusade). One prominent Crusader was Arnaud Amalric.

Arnaud was a Cistercian (a branch of Benedictines), who became abbot of Cîteaux from 1202 to 1212. In 1204 he was sent by Pope Innocent III to attempt the conversion of the Albigensians who followed Catharism. His attempts to convert them to mainstream Catholicism did not work, and so his preaching turned to speaking out against them to those who would listen. This was followed by leading a Crusade against Catharism, the first major military operation of which was a 22 July 1209 attack on the town of Béziers in southern France.

In a letter to Innocent in August 1209, he describes the attack:

...while discussions were still going on with the barons about the release of those in the city who were deemed to be Catholics, the servants and other persons of low rank and unarmed attacked the city without waiting for orders from their leaders. To our amazement, crying "to arms, to arms!", within the space of two or three hours they crossed the ditches and the walls and Béziers was taken. Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt...

The number 20,000 is clearly an exaggeration, but his description of the wholesale slaughter "irrespective of rank, sex or age" is likely to be more or less accurate. Because the sack of Bèziers apparently did not distinguish between Cathars and Catholics, Arnaud is reported to have said at the time "Kill them. For the Lord knows who are His."

This is considered the origin of an oft-repeated line: "Kill them all and let God sort them out." Arnaud's line was recorded 13 years later by Caesarius of Heisterbach, prior of a Cistercian abbey. Caesarius was not an eyewitness, never met Arnaud, and we have no proof that Arnaud actually said this, but some use the incident to refer to Arnaud Amalric as the first proponent of mass murder.

Arnaud was named archbishop of Narbonne in 1212, after which we hear little about him. He died on 29 September 1225.

As for his imaginative chronicler, Caesarius of Heisterbach, I'll tell you a little more tomorrow, as well as his identification of a particularly unhelpful demon.