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To Serve A Better Master

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Feast of Agricola and Vitalis

Walters Ms. W.425, Prayer Book (fragment)

Si Abra en este Baldres by Juan del Encina. Performed by Ensemble la Romanesca.

To Serve A Better Master

I would hope that a time will come when the idea of one human being owning another as property will be no more than a distant, and repugnant memory. But as late as the nineteenth century, slave ownership was common in countries that we might otherwise consider civilized.
In the old testament, the law given by god to Moses limited the time that a slave could be kept as property. But if a slave had a wife and children whom he loved, or if he had a good master who provided well for his slave, he could choose to remain the property of his master for life (Exodus 21:6)
In the early days of the church, when Roman law still permitted slave ownership, the epistles recommended to slaves that they accept the rule of their masters as their god-given destiny (Ephesians 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18).
Perhaps Saint Agricola was one of the better masters. It seems that having converted to christianity himself, he won over his slave Vitalis only for both of them to face martyrdom under the persecution of Diocletian, Caesar.
Today, November 4th, is the feast of Agricola and Vitalis. If we are in the position of directing workers, let us remember that they are as human as we are, and treat them with the same respect we would wish to receive were our roles reversed. And if we are in the position of providing service, let us do it as if we work for the person we value most highly in our own lives without regard to how they treat us.

Meet The Instrument: The Organetto

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organetto tapestry

Royal Ladies playing music for a nobleman. Tapestry. 15 cent. Flanders.

Roger Helou: Lavandose Le Mane / Francesco Landini – Che cosa è questa amor.

Meet The Instrument: The Organetto

Also known as the portative organ, the organetto is a pipe organ in miniature, small enough to be supported on one knee or slung from a shoulder strap, the keyboard is played with one hand while the other hand pumps the bellows. Because the instrument does not have an air reservoir, each phrase has to be planned so that the bellows will provide enough air for its completion.
Because the performer has complete control not only over the keyboard, but also the wind supply, it is possible to play with more dynamic expression (the contrast between loud and soft) than is possible with other types of organ not equipped with a swell pedal.
Thank you young man, for assisting so ably in demonstrating this instrument for our audience. Might I ask you to introduce yourself?
“Grazie! Il mio nome è … uh, my name is Francesco da Fiorenza, though some people prefer to call me Blind Francesco – I was robbed of my sight in childhood, but as you can hear, the colors of my world are your sounds. Merciful God has given me many opportunities to serve my fellows in the art of music, may it please you. And may my songs both please your ear and give food to your thoughts. Should any of you be sojourning in Venezia over the next few days, I have been engaged by his grace, the Doge, to perform for the entertainment of his majesty the King of Cyprus.”

Season Of The Witch

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Des Cas des nobles hommes et femmes

The Book of hours: Des Cas des nobles hommes et femmes by Giovanni Boccaccio c. 1480.

Video: ““Floret Silva” by Estampie.

Season Of The Witch

It’s a chilly October morning and still dark when I creep from my warm bed. But that is a small price to pay for being the student of Mother Chandler. In the four months that she has taken me into her home to learn the uses of herbs, stones and enchantments I have earned the right to call her Alice. But only at home. In the fields or in the village, she is still Mother Chandler, the old lady who knows how to coax a baby from a wearying mother who has been in the pains of labor nearly two full days, and how to gently usher a soul dying in pain to a longed-for rest.
Once the fire is kindled up from last night’s glowing embers and the kettle is filled from the bucket, Alice surprises me by rising without my knock. She may have seen fully seventy summers and outlived five children and two husbands but still she treads as quietly as Coal and Cream, her two cats.
“Bring the basket, and bank down the fire to wait an hour or two for us. We go to gather the makings for Arnold Plow’s tea.”
And without another word, she is out of the door leaving me to scamper after her with the basket and a small knife as she strides purposefully up the lane. Stooping down beside the track she cradles a leaf in her hand:
“See how like it is to the shape of a horse’s foot? This is the coltsfoot, good for easing that troubling cough. Now gather two good handfuls and let me see what you pick.”
Alice is very particular about the quality of the materials selected; the leaves should have the right color above, slightly paler below, and be without blemishes or wormeaten. While I have been picking, already she is working her way deeper into the wood and calls me to her:
“Now this is the lungwort, to loosen sticky phlegm. Take a small handful of these.”
After a few minutes, I seek her out for advice.
“I cannot find an unblemished leaf!”
“Fret you not for the spots, they are in the nature of this plant.”
Sometimes I wonder if I will ever learn all the intricacies of healing herbs!

Conundrum

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Royal MS 2 A XVI, f 98v. Detail of a miniature of musicians with a tabor, three-hole pipe, trumpet, harp and dulcimer, at the beginning of Psalm 80. England, S. E. (London), c. 1540-1541.

Video: Mary O’Hara – “I Gave My Love a Cherry”

Conundrum

The day has been short. The night is cold and the wind is howling outside, but here in the torchlight, the dogs are asleep, bellies are full and sleep is not far off. Let us entertain one another with puzzle games! Let me begin:
“I’m born from dripping drops in soggy sky and grow
in swelling froth where rivers flow,
but no hand stays me while I’m swimming by,
or else my guts are spilled out everywhere
and fragile breath disperses in thin air.
I lead my team downstream with throngs in tow,
since many friends have birthdays that we share.
Now, who am I?

“Well-played Aelfgifu! Me next –
Who is not stunned by my amazing fate
when with great strength I prop up countless trees?
Soon though, a slender spike relieves great weight.
Birds in the sky and fish that swim in seas
began their life from me in yesteryear;
my hold on one third of the world is clear.
And my riddle is?

Tossing another log on the fire in a shower of sparks, Manton yawns. The lad is sleepy already. After fourteen years he will soon be a man; already his face is developing a downy beard and his father’s advances notwithstanding, he declines to learn the use of a razor yet.
“I learned a riddle of Kenric, I have been waiting for a chance to baffle you with it!
I am a wonderful help to women,
The hope of something to come. I harm
No citizen except my slayer.
Rooted I stand on a high bed.
I am shaggy below. Sometimes the beautiful
Peasant’s daughter, an eager-armed,
Proud woman grabs my body,
Rushes my red skin, holds me hard,
Claims my head. The curly-haired
Woman who catches me fast will feel
Our meeting. Her eye will be wet.
“Manton!” his mother exclaims while Pearce, his father guffaws with laughter at his wife’s embarrassment.
“I fancy, wife, our son’s wit has outmatched you! Tell us son, is the answer not an onion?”
“Aye, father, it is” grins Manton while his mother clucks about whoever has been teaching their son such ribald puzzles.

Answers:
1. 
Water
2. A bubble

Benethe Thys Elm

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Video: La Agrupacion Cultural Excalibur de Villa Alemana

Benethe Thys Elm

Benethe thys elm gret erddyr slepes
In yondr chapyl ginevere wepes
And launselot his vigil kepes
“You know the stories of Arthur?”
“Aye, I know the stories of Arthur, learned at my grandfather’s knee, and he from his grandfather, back to the days of Arthur hisself.”
“Well, thank you, your majesty, for the shade of this elm.”
In the heat of midsummer’s midday every man who has a strip of corn in this field is resting until the ferocity of the sun is tamed a little, though the heat is not such to deter the widow women of the village from coming to glean the field while we rest. There cannot be many straws that have not been picked up, bundled and stooked to dry, but even just a handful will make the bag a little heavier when it is time to make pottage.
So how far is it to Caer Melot, where Arthur reigned?
‘Tis about a day’s ride south of Framlingham. Though the castle is long since ruins and the town changed its name before the Roman claimed the land for mighty Caesar.
“You think perhaps if Arthur had risen on that day he would have driven the Roman back?”
“Aye lad! Into the sea, and across it, and all the way back to heathen Rome itself before he stopped to eat!”
“Well, if he rose not to halt the Roman, what manner of threat must he still be awaiting as he sleeps beneath us?”
“The word of promise says ‘when Albion faces her greatest threat, Arthur will rise again to defeat our foes’. No sense worryin’ our heads about it. When threat comes against our homes we defend the best we can, and if Arthur rises from the dust we shall add our strength to his.”

What’s For Dinner?

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What’s For Dinner?

You know how sometimes, you’re just spinning with your distaff and a thought suddenly occurs to you, and you see the world in a way you’ve never seen it before? That happened to me a few days ago. I’d come home from the market but instead of going along the Butter Market as I usually do, I chose to make my way down Skinner Street. I hadn’t got very far before I remembered why I usually avoided it; the smell is terrible! There are three furriers in that street, and they all tan skins on the premises. Of course, the town has tried to persuade them to use a tannery outside town, but there’s always the argument of the extra expense of taking the skins to-and-fro, not to mention the risks associated with moving a valuable commodity around.
Well it was while I was hustling down toward the Angel Hill when this adorable little black cat came trotting out between two shops, and very pointedly dropped a dead mouse at my feet. I stopped for a few moments to pet her but when I started again, she picked up her gift and meowed around her mouthful.
I was still standing on the cobblestones trying to decide how best to proceed when I heard the cry of “Gardyloo!” from overhead and despite sheltering under the overjut I still managed to get splashed with cold piss!
By that time, Puss had made herself scarce, leaving her gift in the gutter, but with my splashed chicken I wasn’t sure which would make a better dinner? A half-eaten mouse? Or a piss-reeking fowl?

Let Take A Cat

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Illustration: King Rene’s Book of Love (Cats Medieval) by Susan Herbert (1945-2014)

Let Take A Cat

Wherever you go, they’ll be there: curled up in a shady corner beside the hearth, strolling across the roof-beams without a care in the world, or stealing the cream from the milk pail when they think nobody’s looking!
Since the reign of the late King Edward, if you take a sea voyage you’ll find one on the ship, clawing at a coil of rope until someone notices (and if the ship should be wrecked and all the crew lost, but the ship’s cat survive, the cargo may not be plundered by “wreckers”). The inn where you stay on your way home might have two or three, collecting scraps from the kitchen whenever they present the remains of another mouse, and perhaps one or two more living happily in the stables, beside the horses, taking advantage of a soft-hearted stable-lad to sleep sharing their warmth until the urge to hunt rouses them.
As the saying has it, dogs have their owners. But cats employ staff. They can take you or leave you. If you want to sit beside the window and read, or even just page through a book of emblems they’ll come and settle in your lap, spend five minutes grooming, perhaps turn around three times before deciding they’re comfortable and laying down.
Or they might sit on the fence post in the sun under the hazel tree by the back door, pointy ears turning first one way, then the other as they watch the robin that dares to come down and explore the yard by the kitchen door. But robins are hardly worth the effort of catching, that one can go.
They might be gone for three days at a time when spring comes, but as soon as the weather turns colder and damp and the trees shed their green coats, they know exactly where to find the warmest places in the house!

Whoever Is The Least Among All Of You, He Is The Greatest

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Video: Maddy Prior – Dives and Lazarus

Whoever Is The Least Among All Of You, He Is The Greatest

October 14th is the feast day of Saint Angadrisma. Born in 615 she was betrothed to Ansbert of Chausey but her heart’s desire was to be wedded to Christ. Her fervent prayers were answered when she contracted leprosy and was released from her commitment to Ansbert.
Now, less than a mile beyond the town walls of Auvers there is a modest holding. Not big enough to be called a farm, but more than a villein’s cot. The Hall of Saint Lazarus is large enough to accommodate eight suffering souls, and there is a small chapel standing against it. The unhappy inmates share the care of two cows, three pigs and a modest flock of chickens. For it is here that they are obliged to seek care that have been found leprous!
None of the inmates is confined, but few choose to leave the comfort and companionship of not only their fellow-sufferers but the sisters of the convent of Saints Martha and Mary. Whoever leaves must beg for sustenance on the road, will likely be barred from entering any town and must alert anyone nearby to their disease.
But of the sisters who care for the patients at the Hall, none are compelled. It is a vocation, supported and encouraged by mother abbess, and the sisters welcome the assistance of those well enough to work the fields where the convent grows its crops.
When I first set foot in the Hall I was appalled and disgusted by the lumpen faces, the discolored cheeks, collapsed noses and the rasping breath of those worst affected. I remember particularly an old woman, her scalp almost completely bare and scaly with silver flakes, one eye shrunken and collapsed in its socket. But I was in the same day inspired by the compassionate gentleness of sister Ruth as she bathed the repulsive sores and even managed to coax a smile when she unwrapped a tiny piece of honeycomb that she had smuggled in as a treat for a well-behaved patient.

The Man in the Tower

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Illustration: Building of the Tower of Babel, The Bedford Hours, early XIVc.

Video: Gaita Medieval Music Ensemble – Arthur’s Court

The Man In The Tower

Near the village where I grew up there was a yew grove. There aren’t many groves like that any more, but the older folk always said it was a magical place. And to me it certainly was, a quiet place, a place to spend time alone, thinking. Nothing will grow beneath a yew, and nothing will eat its leaves. For the most part, even birds avoid it.

So when I wandered into the grove one evening intending to spend a little time pondering life and watching the stars appear I was surprised to see the old man. I didn’t see him at first, but he climbed down from one of the trees across the grove from the place where I entered. I didn’t recognize him from the village and assumed he must be a vagrant; tattered hose, a well-worn leather jerkin and cap, and a yellowing linen shirt, patched in various colours.
I nodded to him, and he nodded back, then turned as if to leave the grove but stopped and turned again to face me:
“Donnae trus’ the Mon i’ the Toor!” he called in his thick Scottish accent before turning again and melting into the deepening shadows beneath the trees. I was puzzled and a little intrigued. Did he know somehow that I had just this day been called to run errands for the recluse who lived in the great granite tower that dominated the hill above the village? What reason should I look for that I should not trust Michael Scot?

A Trivial Pursuit

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A Trivial Pursuit

For the young Geoffrey, studying under the tutelage of Brother Luke has always been a pleasure: unlike the friar who tutored him when he began his studies, Brother Luke seldom strikes him and has never threatened him with diabolical tortures when he has given a mistaken answer to a question. Instead, Brother Luke can often be diverted from the proposed lesson to some entertaining anecdote. And yet, at the end of the day, Geoffrey finds he has still gained a better understanding of whichever subject he was supposed to have been studying, whether numbers, Greek, or Latin. In his thirteenth year, his parents are already talking about arranging a profitable marriage for the boy, an idea which is not as distasteful to him as it was a few years ago. And when he greets Brother Luke in the courtyard of Castle Walden he is already looking forward to challenging his tutor with questions about the movement of the stars – since the last visit he has been burning to ask why should it be that some stars reverse their course periodically? Brother Stephen who predated Brother Luke would usually reply to a seemingly difficult question with the glib “It is the will of God who directs all things according to his pleasure.”
But as soon as Brother Stephen has greeted him making the sign of the cross he begins “Perhaps you have heard your father making arrangements for you to further your studies at the school at Oxford?”
Mildly surprised, Geoffrey nods.
“It is important that you should receive the education that befits the man who will one day be duke, today I will begin teaching you about the trivium.”
“The threefold foundation of knowledge?”
“Indeed.” And before even leaving the courtyard, Brother Luke retrieves the slate and piece of chalk from his satchel making a hasty drawing.
Geoffrey looks at the clover leaf shape as Brother Luke adds annotations to each lobe:
“This is Grammar, this Rhetoric, and this Dialectic – Rhetoric, Veritas non est, et Dialectic, Veritas non est, sed Rhetoric, et Dialectic cum Grammar, Veritas est?”, he looks to Geoffrey to confirm that the lad understands.
“And this shape!” the boy remarks, “It is like the windows in the chapel! Truly Brother Luke, you are a cunning tutor!”