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

Angelic Visions

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BOOK OF HOURS, use of Rouen, in Latin and French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM by Master of the Geneva Latini

Video: Carmina Burana c.1230: “O Fortuna, velut luna” by Boston Camerata

Angelic Visions

The sharp sound of a bagpipe cut trough the silence of nature that early morning. Peter was playing a merry tune, while he was marshing with Anthony and Philip over the hills. The nearly cloudless sky predicted a good day to herd their sheeps, far away from the city. Peter loved being outside, for multiple reasons. The first being that he could play without being interrupted by the townsfolk, who seemed to dislike his music. The second reason was the beautiful hillside, wih a nice view on the city walls and the surrounding landscape. Everything looked less menacing rom far away. And the tirth reason was Philip. Philip the mad, Philip the loony, Philip the half-a-header, … There were more nicknames for Philip than they had sheep. Ever since Philip fell down a well, he had been weird, claiming to see dragons and faeries. The people first laughed at it, then started shunning him, and finally turned their ridicule at Philip’s family.
Peter was interrupted from his playing by a sudden shriek of excitement from Philip. “Anthony, Philip, an ANGEL!” he shouted, while pointing to a cloud. Peter let out a sigh of sadness. “That’s just a cloud, my brother”. But halas, there was no turning back. Phiip would be pointing at clouds and proclaiming them angels fort he rest of the day, increasingly annoying Anthony and Peter. How would they ever find a wife with Philip at their side?
Suddenly, a woman appeared from the forest, greeting them warmly. Peter and Anthony blushed, and didn’t know what to say. They tried to distract the girl, and showed her the sheep, told stories about their days, … Their heart froze when Philip suddenly exlaimed “Look, an angel!” Ashamed, they tried to hide him away and silence him, when they noticed he was not pointing tot he clouds, but at the lady. As they turned around to explain Philip’s behaviour, they noticed she was smiling. She stood up, walked over tot he crazy boy, and grabbed his hand. “Have you ever walked with an angel, my friend?” she asked. Philip didn’t reply, he just grinned.

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.

Barley Bread

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Illustration: Baker or miller with bread and pretzels, 1585. Die Hausbücher der Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftungen.

Video: John Barleycorn, traditional English & Irish folk song

Barley Bread

This type of bread was popular amongst monks as they knew that barley was a good source of sustanance and because many monks brewed ale, a key ingredient in good bread making.

Instructions: Mix the flour and salt together, blend the yeast with a little of the ale to create a creamy paste, then mix into this the rest of the ale, honey and 1.5 cups of the warm water. Add this liquid mixture into the flour and salt until you have a firm dough. You may need to add a little extra water to get the right consistency. Shape the dough into a ball, leave in the bowl and cover with clingfilm. Place the bowl of dough in a warm area of the kitchen and wait until the dough has risen to about twice its original size. Remove the clingfilm, press the dough down firmly and split into 2 halves. Place each half of the dough in a bread or cake tin (depending upon the shape of loaf you want to bake). Cover each tin with a cloth and set to one side to allow the dough to rise further. Bake in a preheated oven (230 degrees Celcius) for about 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and turn out the loaves onto a wire rack. Leave until cold before cutting and serving.
Ingredients: 8 ounces barley flour, 1 lb strong wholemeal flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 ounce fresh yeast, 2 teaspoons clear honey, 1/3 cup brown Ale, 2 cups warm water.

Preserved by: Medieval-recipes.com

Books of Art and of Prayer

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Illustration: Parisian Book of Hours by Maître des Heures de Charles le Noble, c.1410.

Video: Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

Books of Art and of Prayer

Abook can be a window to one’s soul. This is one of the reasons for the popularity of prayer books during the Middle Ages. Prayer brought one closer to God, especially for the layman in Medieval Christianity.
These prayer books of the Middle Ages known as Book of Hours, due to how time was measured with prayer throughout their composition. Their use as a devotional item is one of the main reasons for their prevalence and preservation today. Many famous prayer books that have survived for example: Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, the Visconti Hours, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, and even the personal prayer book of King Richard III, which has a story of its’ own. To understand the importance of these books of prayer, an understanding of the impact of religion on society at this time is imperative. Daily life revolved for both the nobility and common folk around the Church. Prayer was said daily, and many frequented church at least once a day, especially more during Lent. Even before a battle during war, mass was said before engaging the enemies, on the battlefield to secure passage for the soldier’s soul to Heaven and to be alleviated of any sin.
These books also known as ‘primers’, and were composed primarily in Latin and French. They provided the readers or owners a range of various prayers to recite as apart of their own daily meditation. Important prayers included passages from psalms, and collections of the Old Testament. These texts were grouped together in the books, which we know as the ‘Hours’. Examples of some of these included ‘Office of the Virgin’ and ‘Office of the Dead’. Because of the period when they were produced many have elaborate paintings inside them, which can be very useful in understanding 15th and 16th century life. It is this reason why they are very popular with scholars when studying the period. The books were tailored to their owners such as a man, or lady, and at times their names incorporated into some of the text and prayers to make them more personal. Furthermore, heralds or coat of arms were incorporated into the book to identify its original owner.
Today, hundreds survive just in England alone. Being that they were the personal possessions of many, this aided their survival during the Reformation. Yet still a fraction were subject to being discarded and destroyed during the destruction of the monasteries under Henry VIII. Nonetheless, the meaning and value behind these books are very important in understanding medieval Christianity and society.

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?

Whereby A Flame May Be Kindled

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Illustration: Walters Ms. W.269, Book of Hours

Video: Achaidh Cheide by Kevin MacLeod

Whereby A Flame May Be Kindled

Katharina sighed. When her husband, count Leofric burst into her room, he seemed very excited. “Wife,” he smiled. “I had a wonderful idea: I invited all your maids-in-waiting to bring their offspring, so you can all hang out together”.
Katharina rolled her eyes. This was another ploy of her husband to convince her to start a family. She deeply disliked the constant squealing and crying of little kids. A good thing old father Apothecarius had secretly given her some herbs to keep her from being with child. But the wish of the count was law, so now she was to sit around all day, being engulfed with the endless talks about children from her maids. Katharina rose from her chair, and walked to the room where her entourage was waiting. She could not believe her eyes.
At least ten or twenty children were crawling over each other, running around and laughing hysterically. The maids-in-waiting were cackling to each other about their little monsters. Katharina felt a strong urge to turn around and send the message that she was ill. Halas, one of “her” guests noticed her, and welcomed her in the group. With a forced smile, Katharina took her place amongst them. What a day this would be…
That evening, Katharina went to bed early. She was so tired: from the listening to the boring stories, the disciplining of the small kids, the telling of fairytales, the singing of songs, the cradling of babies in her arms, accepting the gifts the young creatures had made, hearing how beautiful she was from the small children, … She sighed. Somewhere during that long day, her heart had melted after an assault of little laughs, little starry eyes and proud mothers that lasted for hours. Weary, she looked at the herbal tea that was waiting at her nightstand, left there by father Apothecarius. Well, who knows what the future brings.