Medieval Histories News about the Middle Ages Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:26:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Joan of Arc Museum opens in Rouen in March Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:06:56 +0000 Next month a Joan of Arc Installation opens in Rouen. It appears she is set up to surpass Madame Tusseauds and turn into a digitized saint.

Historial jeanne d arc rouenJoan of Arc was tried and burned at the stake in Rouen. Afterwards her ashes were spread in the river to avoid pilgrimages and secret veneration. As is well known this did not hinder her afterlife as the French Saint par excellence. However, today she is also the tourist-beacon for the city of Rouen. No wonder the city together with the Archdiocese some years ago decided to build a new museum, commemorating her life, death and afterlife.But, as should be expected, the new museum seems to be filled with a typical French mixture of Son-et-Lumière, garish video-shows and 3D-mapping; in short, turning the new museum into a digital triumph and in itself a piece of installation art.

According to the press-release more than 25 people have worked to develop audio-guides in 25 languages. These will accompany visitors on the 1 h 15 m long tour around the palace. The story is narrated in the “voice of Jeanne” (Jean Juvenal) and guides the person on virtual pilgrimage from Domremy through Chinon, Orléans and Poitiers for finally turn up in Rouen. The tour ends with a presentation of the many myths, which were created afterwards by shifting political factions in France.

jeanne d'arc - Joan of Arc - parfumjoan of arch brieApart from that, the museum will of course also exhibit a large collection of the typical bric-a-brac, which the saint has given the impetus to over very many years, where she has been used to market anything from brie to perfume, complete with a slight wife of smoke. (A selection may be viewed at Pinterest)

However the new exhibition is housed in parts of the former palace of the Archbishop, in itself a marvelous piece of Medieval cum Baroque architecture. Bombed in the war it stands partially naked against the sky. This was the site, where she was tried, condemned and in front of which, she was burned. For the first time, the 18th century chapel and the beautiful gigantic state hall has been opened to the public in general. This is, ofcourse, a boon in itself.



Historial Jeanne d’Arc
7, rue Saint-Romain
76000 Rouen
The museum – or perhaps rather the installation – opens on the 21.03.2015


Joan of Arc – A History
By Helen Castor
Faber & Faber 2014
ISBN-10: 0571284620
ISBN-13: 978-0571284627


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Marks-Thomée Collection of Renaissance and Medieval Art on Show Fri, 27 Feb 2015 10:45:49 +0000 For the first time in a hundred years the priceless art collected by a German politician and financier in the first part of the 20th century is on show in Aachen.

Now is the time to sample such masterpieces as the painting of Rogier van der Weyden: The Birth of Christ with Female Donor and a priceless sculpture by Tilman Riemenschneider.

Both pieces of art belong to one of the best collection of renaissance art in Germany, originally founded by Fritz Thomée (1862 – 1944), a prominent German politician from Altena. It is one of the last of the many bourgeois collections amassed in Germany around that time, which is still in private hands.

Fritz Thomée came from a family of industrialists, but studied law. In 1902 he was appointed “Landrat” (local magistrate) in Altena, where he began the rebuilding of the Altena Castle in 1906. The medieval collection there, still on show, was a result of his work. Part of this collection was in fact bought from the Suermondt-Ludwig Museum in Aachen, which had acquired a huge collection of late-medieval art, which had belonged to a Richard Moost. Part of this had to be sold on in order to finance the future Suermondt-Ludwig Museum. Thus 40 pieces of renaissance wall-panels and two doors ended up at the castle of Altena, which also functioned as the first ever “Youth Hostel” in the world.

At the same time Fritz Thomée began to privately collect the art, which resulted in his magnificent collection. He bought his art at auctions as well as directly from art sellers. From the 1920s pieces of his collection were regularly lent to exhibitions in Germany.

During the war, his daughter Margaret walled up the collection in their villa in Altena. Later in the 50s it was divided between the heirs. A siginificant share went to her and later her son, the present owner, Werner Marks. Since the end of the 90s he has worked to recreate the collection through hard work and the generosity of his relatives. The collection now goes under the name, the Marks-Thomée Collection. In 1997 he wrote a dissertation of the collection.

The collection has not been exhibited since the 1950’s. However, now the time has come to show 100 pieces of the priceless art in the Suermondt-Ludwig Museum in Aachen.

The show presents paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and pieces of decorative art from Antiquity to the 19th century, reaching from the Orient and into Spain. Focus, though, is on Late Medieval Sculpture from Westphalia. The Suermondt-Ludwig Museum in Aachen holds one of the most important collections of Medieval sculpture. It is housed in a villa, which belonged to another of the large industrialists of that time, the Haus Cassette and the exhibition complements the museum very nicely.

Highlights are:

  • Birth of Christ with female commissioner by Rogier van Der Weyden (1399/1400 – 1464) This painting is “sister” to the same scene in the Bladelin Altar from app. 1450, exhibited in Berlin at the Gemäldegallerie. Here the commissioner, though, is a man, Peter Bladelin, who was treasurer at the court of Philip the Good of Burgundy. © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt
  • The Death of Mary by Tilman Riemenschneider (1460 – 1531). © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt (featured photo)
  • The Holy Sebastian, Unknown ca.1480-90. © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt
  • A moment of Tranquility during the flight to Egypt. By Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502 – 1550) © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt
  • Portrait of a young man with a bolt. By Wolfgang Beuer ca. 1500. © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt
  • The Birth of Christ. Workshop of Lucas Cranch the Elder , ca. 1515. © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt


Rogier vand der Weyden Sammlung Marks-Thomée © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt Birth of Christ Sammlung Marks-Thomée © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt Portrait of a young man with a bolt Sammlung Marks-Thomée © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt The Holy Sebastian Sammlung Marks-Thomée © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt Pieter Coecke van Aelst Sammlung Marks-Thomée © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / Thomas Scheidt








Sammlerglück! 100 Meisterwercke der Sammlaung Marks-Thomée
Suermondt-Ludwig Museum in Aachen
12.03.2015 – 21.06.2015


Samlerglück - 100 Meisterwerke der Sammlung Marks-Thomée coverSammlerglück: 100 Meisterwerke der Sammlung Marks-Thomée
by Michael Rief (Author), Thomas Fusenig
Belser Verlag 2015
ISBN-10: 3763026991
ISBN-13: 978-3763026999





Die Sammlung Thomée: Geschichte und Kunstwerke 1- 2 (Diss)
By Werner Marks
Technische Universität 2007







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Ribadavia Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:18:23 +0000 The town of Ribadavia – Burgo de Rippa Avia – is located in the southwest of the province of Ourense in Galicia. The town lies on the right bank of the river Miño, where the river Avia flows into it.

Although early settlements have been found, Ribadavia was first founded as an important town between 1065 and 1071 by Garcia of Galicia, who turned it into the capital of his short-lived Kingdom of Portugal. Garcia was the youngest son and heir of Ferdinand I, who was king of Castile and Leon and Sancha of Léon. He inherited her portion of the leonese inheritance. He was the first to use the title “King of Portugal”, but was forced into exile in Seville, while his brothers portioned his kingdom between them.

Parts of the medieval walls of the city are still standing as are the 16th century town hall and the remains of a large Jewish quarter including the synagogue. It is a very charming small town. Especially it is well worth a visit after having enjoyed the small Visigothic Church, San Ginés, in the nearby village of Francelos

The Wine

Winegrowing along the Miño. Soruce Wikipedia - Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez CC
Winegrowing along the Miño. Soruce Wikipedia – Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez CC

The main income in Ribadavia was undoubtedly the production of and trade with a particular sweet, white vine, the Ribeiro. Renowned already in the Middle Ages and exported from the 12th century and onwards throughout Europe, it continued to be sought after until the English discovered Madeira and Port. It has a fresh, slightly acidic and fruity character. Already in the 16th century a series of ordinances were agreed upon, making the Ribeiro into the oldest designated wine in Spain. The history of winegrowing is told at the Ethnological Museum of Ribadavia, founded in 1936. Winegrowing seems to have taken place there since the Romans, However, the specific grape and the practice involved in producing the Ribeiro  was perhaps originally introduced into the region by Cluniacencians or Cistercians, following in the footsteps of the Dukes from Burgundy, which married into the royal family in Castille-Leon .

Currently the area set aside for the production of the Ribeiro Denomination of Origin covers 3000 hectares.

The Castle

Castle in Ribadavia. Source: Wikipedia
Castle in Ribadavia. Source: Wikipedia

Near the Campo da Feira, the ruins of a castle from the 15th century can be found. This used to belong to the counts of Ribadavia. It was built at the location of a church, San Ginés, and a cemetery dated between the 800-1100. It occupies a space inside the castle walls covering 6790 M2.

In the 12th century a tower was built, the san Ginés tower, This tower was built as a defensive tower. It was dismantled in the 15th century to build the present castle. Together with the Mota tower on the other side of town, it comprised the defences. In the 13th century the walls around the city were built; this happened prior to the building of the castle, which was carried out in the 15th century at the instigation of Perez Zarmiento in 1471. It was probably not finished before the beginning of the 16th century. At this point the church of San Ginés, situated on the highest point was demolished. Somewhat later (1553) a special door was erected leading from the castle and to the town-hall, which was built at that time. In the end the castle was never inhabited; the counts preferred to stay in the modern renaissance palace lying at the main square

The castle is in ruins although significant vestiges remain of the water tank, the wineries and the gardens as well as the projected hall and living quarters. It belongs to the City, which bought it in 1939 in order to built low-priced houses there. This never came to fruiton and the castle was declared a Work of Monumental and Artistic importance. However, the surrounding gardens were not protected in the same way and in 1960 the council began to turn it into a sports-ground with a swimming pool. In 1981 a new transformation was carried out, when the city built an auditorium. At that time the pool was filled up and turned into a new garden. The level of this garden is unfortunately 4.3 meters higher than the remaining walls, which means that the general impression is rather strange.

Palace of the Counts of Ribadavia and the Town Hall

Ribadavia central square. Source Wikipedia
Ribadavia central square. Source Wikipedia

After the counts stopped rebuilding the castle, the counts build a sumptuous palace on the main square. This is organised around two courtyards and sports the coat-of-arms of the ruling family of Sarmiento. Opposite the palace lies the Town Hall, built between 1545 and 1555 as a corn-exchange and as a place for the meeting of the council.


Church of San Xoan and Church of St. James

Church of San Xoan in Ribadavia. Source Wikipedia
Church of San Xoan in Ribadavia. Source Wikipedia

The church of san Xoan was erected by the order of St. John of Jerusalem in the Romanesque style. The Knights also set up a hospital to look after the numerous pilgrims, walking from Braga in Portugal to Santiago. Part of the building – the rectory – can still be seen at the back of the church.

The church of St. James is a late Romanesque church from the 12th century. This was the oldest parish church in Ribadavia. Known for its Romanesque carvings and its beautiful rose window, the church sports at the inside the usual Baroque trappings. Note, however, the sculpture from the 14th century of a seated St. James.


The Jewish Quarter

Jewish Quarter in Ribadavia
Jewish Quarter in Ribadavia

Probably due to the royal connection, the Jewish population established a community here in the 11th century, which continued to grow in the Middle Ages.

In 1386, when Ribadavia was besieged by the Englishman Sir Thomas Percy, the Duke of Lancaster, both Christians and Jews took part in the defence of the town as well as – not least – the payment of the ransom. At that time Froissart claimed in his chronicle that Ribadavia was home to nearly 1500 Jews or the equivalent of half the population at that time. Cohabitation seems to have been amicable. For instance a Jewish doctor was mentioned in the will of Diego Pérez Sarmiento, the Lord of Ribadavia, the count of Santa María de Ortigueira and Military Governor of Galicia in 1363. Later in 1453 a certain Abraham of Léon is known to have worked as rent-collector and master of the household (mayordomo) for the count. Later, however, the number of families was reduced and in 1482 numbered only four. In 1492 the Jewish population was given four months to either convert or disappear. During these months the Jews were not allowed to hold gold, silver or other valuables. The outcome was the well-known more or less crypto-conversion, but also the continued harassment by the church. The former Jewish quarter is located around the Xudería street. It is believed, that the former Synagogue was located here at the corner of the street of San Martiño.

The first visit of the inquisition to Ribadavia occurred in 1595. However, it was in 1606 a converted Christian, Xerónimo Bautista de Mena, presented the Inquisition with a list of 200 persons accused of continuing to secretly worship as Jews. On the list figured his mother and brothers. Those denounced included prominent people in the magistrate, students, doctors, lawyers and traders. Many of those denounced succeeded in escaping, but in 1608 a large auto de fe was held in Santiago, where 28 of the accused were burned at the stake. This was followed up by another auto da fe in 1609. In the end suspicions fell on the accuser also. He had been murdered in 1606, but was dug up and his remains were burned in 1610. The terrible happenings are generally known as the “Malshin”.

Today there is no-longer a Jewish congregation in Ribadavia. However, there is a Jewish Information Centre located next to the main Tourist office in the Palace of the Counts of Ribadavia.

The Jewish Bakery

Tafonia de Hermina in Ribadavia
Tafonia de Hermina in Ribadavia

Medieval travelers should remember to sample the many types of Jewish sweets on sale – macaroons, iced buns and doughnuts on sale at the Tafonia dea Herminia. Herminia bakes typical Jewish pastas according to traditional recipes: Bocadiños de améndoas (made from almond and cinnamon), kamisch-broit (made from walnuts or almonds), mamul (with dried fruits, poppy petals and orange blossom water), ma’amul (dates cream and rose water), ghorayebah (whole hazelnut flour), mostachudos (walnuts and clove), bocadiños de dates (dates and nuts), kupferlin (almond wholemeal flour), kijelej de mon (poppy seeds), masiñas de poppies (poppy sedes and vanilla flavouring) and cardamom (almonds and cardamom) are the main specialities, along with tasty doughnuts in the form of the Star of David.


House of Inquisition

Portal of the house of inquisition in Ribadavia
Portal of the house of inquisition in Ribadavia

At the corner of the streets of Martiño and Jerusalén lies a palace from the 16th century, the so-called “House of the Inquisition”. The portal boasts a series of coats-of-arms of the Spanish nobles as well as the official coat-of arms of the Spanish Inquisition, with its cross converted into a sword. Inside is a beautiful Renaissance courtyard.


Festa da Istoria

Each Year a medieval festival is organised in the last weekend of August, complete with a Jewish wedding and wine tasting. It is one of the more well-visited events of that type in Spain. Tired of all the people? There is a special medieval tavern well worth a visit, the Taberna Papuxa, situated just inside the Porta Nova. Tired of walking around? The local Parador is located in the old Cistercian Monastery – Monestir de San Clodio – eleven km to the North of Ribadavia.


Network of Jewish Quarters in Spain – Routes of the Sefared

Enjoy Ribadavia


El viñedo y el vino de Ribadavia: concideraciones jurídicas bajmedievales y de los primeros tiempos modernos.
By Ana María Rivera Medina
In: Hispania, 213, vol. 73, no. 243, pp. 51 – 78

Ribadavia Castle Remains Intervention: Conserve and Transform. Observation, Research, Traces, Intuition.
In: EAAE Transactions on Architectural Education / Conservation / Transformation.
Italy 2011, pp. 103 – 123

Historia de Ribadavia y Sus Alrededores
By P. Samuel Eiján
Madrid 1920/2005


San Ginés de Francelos


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San Ginés de Francelos Thu, 26 Feb 2015 14:16:42 +0000 San Ginés de Francelos is a charming Visigothic church from the 9th century located near Ribadavia in Galicia
San Gines de francelos - Wikipedia - Jose Antonio Gil Martínez cc-2
San Gines de Francelos. Source: Wikipedia © Jose Antonio Gil Martínez cc

South of Ribadavia near Ourense in Galicia lies a small village, where the local wine, the famous Ribeiro, is grown. Here was a small monastery located and although is buildings are long gone, a small precious chapel may still be visited.

The church has only one nave and measures 8.60 x 5.75 m, built of granite blocks and with a wooden roof. The small tower is from a later period as is the small portico, built in front of the entrance. Of main interest is the façade, which probably sported a carved tympanum, no longer extinct.

The entrance forms a the horseshoe arch, on each side of which are two half-columns decorated with stylised wine-stocks. They end in palm-leaves. On each side are panels, on the left showing the flight to Egypt and on the right Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On each side of these are two windows. The left is square, while the right has a delicately traced transenna, with two rosettes on top of each other. These are framed by a carefully carved band of rope, surrounded by a branch of vine.

San Gines de Francelos. Source: Wikipedia © Jose Antonio Gil Martínez cc
San Gines de Francelos. Source: Wikipedia © Jose Antonio Gil Martínez cc

The church is believed to have been built during the reign of the Asturian king, Alfonso III (866 -910). Originally it was dedicated to Maria Magdelen; later it was rededicated to San Ginés (or in Galician: San Xenxo).

Archaeologists have excavated the church, where they found nine tombs cut in granite, which contained the remains of children, but very few grave goods.


Guía del Prerrománico en España
By Jaime Cobreros
Madrid 2006
ISBN 84-9776-215-0

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Jewish Heirs to Guelph Treasure Sue Germany in USA Wed, 25 Feb 2015 11:52:24 +0000 The heirs of Nazi-era Jewish art dealers say they have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. suing Germany and a German museum for the return of a medieval treasure trove worth an estimated $226 – 250m.

The suit, which attorneys said was filed late Monday in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is part of a long-running effort by the heirs for return of the so-called Welfenschatz, or Guelph Treasure. They allege that the Nazis forced the sale of medieval relics at an extremely low price.

The Welfenschatz

Kuppelreliquiar aus dem Welfenschatz
Cupola reliquary from the Guelph Treasure , 1175-1180 © SMB cc

The treasure was originally amassed by the Cathedral of St. Blasius in Braunschweig in Germany. After the reformation, the cathedral became Lutheran and in the 17th century its treasure passed into the hands of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1671. It remained in the court chapel at Hanover until 1803. In 1929 – on the eve of the great depression – 82 items were sold to a consortium of Frankfurt dealers. Items from the treasure were exhibited in USA in 1930-31 and Cleveland Museum of Art purchased nine pieces, while other items were sold to private collectors. At that time the treasure was described as the greatest single group of medieval objects ever offered for sale in America. In general, European art historians, curators and politicians were critical of the massive collections of medieval art, which were amassed in US and the dispersion of the treasure was considered a huge loss at that time. However, because of the economic depression the consortium had trouble selling the remaining 42 pieces. In 1934 they were sold to the state of Prussia, which at the time was governed by top Nazi Hermann Goering. The price was 4.25 million Reichsmarks.

Originally collected over centuries by the Braunschweig Cathedral, the Welfenschatz includes some of the most outstanding goldsmith works of the Middle Ages, among them ornate reliquaries, processional crosses, prescious manuscripts etc. It recently went on show again in Berlin, after the Museum of Decorative Arts had undergone a complete restoration.

The Suit

The suit asks the Washington court to declare an American and a British descendant of a consortium that owned the collection in 1935 — when it was sold to the German state of Prussia — as the rightful owners today. The plaintiffs are identified in the suit as Alan Philipp from London and Gerald Stiebel from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Any transaction in 1935, where the sellers on the one side were Jews and the buyer on the other side was the Nazi state itself is by definition a void transaction,” O’Donnell claims to AP.

However, the organization that oversees Berlin’s museums, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, says that the collectors were not forced to sell the pieces, arguing among other things that the collection was not even in Germany at the time of its sale, which took place well before the war. This opinion is based on a careful review, which was carried out last year by a German government commission especially created to help resolve such restitution claims. After having evaluated both arguments the so-called Limback-commission recommended that the collection stay in Germany. The commission wrote that after thoroughly investigating the sale process, it came to the conclusion that it was not a “forced sale due to persecution.” The commission’s recommendations aren’t binding, but they are often accepted by parties in such disputes.

The foundation’s president, Herrmann Parzinger, said Tuesday that he was “astonished” by the claimants’ decision to sue for the collection: “The applicants’ legal representative had told me that the applicants would also accept and abide by the recommendation of the Commission,” Parzinger said in a statement. “I am not aware of any new facts that might lead to a different evaluation of the case.”

German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said in another statement, that she noted the development with regret, calling the heirs’ claim “difficult to understand.” –

However, the heirs’ attorney O’Donnell called last year’s recommendation by the commission “flawed,” and said his clients decided to file suit in Washington because they feel “U.S. federal courts are the best suited to sort out these ownership rights” based on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. There have been other cases in which heirs of looted art have sued Germany or German government museums in U.S. courts. However, two recent cases involving looted art were dismissed by the courts on sovereign immunity grounds.

Complicating matters is thus that the state of Berlin a few days ago declared the collection a national cultural treasure, meaning the art pieces can no longer leave the country without the explicit permission of the country’s culture minister. It is unclear if Parzinger and German Culture Minister Monika Grütters were aware of the US lawsuit at the time of the announcement.


U.S. Court asked to act against Germany in Nazi Art acquisition now valued at $250

The U.S. District Court filing against the Federal Republic of Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation 

Claimants to $276 Million Guelph Treasure Once Gifted to Hitler Sue German State

Welfenschatz in das Verzeichnis national wertvollen Kulturguts eingetragen

The Welfenschatz – in English the so-called Guelph or Welf Treasure – should not be returned, says commission


Highlights from The Guelph Treasure

‘The greatest group of medieval objects ever offered for sale’. The Guelph Treasure and America, 1930–1931
By Christina Nielsen
Journal of the History of Collections 2015: Advance Access 03.02.2015


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Landscapes in Early Medieval Galicia Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:31:14 +0000 Galicia in the Early Middle Ages experienced a remarkable series of economic and cultural transformations. In spite of being overrun by barbarians in the beginning of the fifth century, the region quickly bounced back. This evidence is carefully being pieced together by the archaeologist, José Carlos Sánchez Pardo

Iberia 409-429Since Edward Gibbon published his “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” at the end of the 18th century, historians have debated what actually happened after the barbarians swept across Europe in the 5th century. However, as specialists are well aware these scholarly debates were fuelled by a series of political interests from the veneration of what was believed to be the roots of the nations states of Europe to the Pan-Germanic myths embellished by the Nazis in the 20th century. Post WW2 this caused a major trend where historians began to sift the sources once more and discovering that Roman and Barbarian were not in any way distinct categories. In fact, these diverse identities fed upon one another in Late Antiquity and continued to do so up and beyond the Carolingians.

Although this pendulum does seem to have swung back in the 21st century, the main new inspiration fuelling the debate is currently being produced by archaeologists working their way through the masses of unpublished records of excavations carried out in the wake of the large investments in infrastructure, which have been funded by the EU since 1990.

One hotspot of all this seems to be Galicia in the North-Western Part of Spain, where José Carlos Sánchez Pardo – inspired by the work of J. A. Quiros Castillo [2] – have worked to uncover what really took place on the ground.

Despite its many limitations the archaeology has simply revealed a surprising vitality in the economic and social fabric until around AD 650. After this a socio-political fragmentation set in, which dominated the region until the progressive incorporation of Galicia into the Asturian kingdom began to take place.

Galicia – a vibrant periphery

suevic coin
Suevic Coin. Source: SMB, Berlin

Anyone following the old Camino on their way to Santiago de Compostela will have experienced a change in scenery from the flat plains and into a hilly and often mountainous landscape interspersed with forests, lakes and streams, which finally peters out into the ragged coastal landscape characterised by fertile valleys and inlets. As such Galicia enjoys a variety and wealth of natural resources, which was not only used for a diversified agricultural and pastoral economy in the early Middle Ages, but also mining.

This region was vigorous part of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity complete with vibrant cities, smaller towns and many Roman Villas. However, in 468 a Roman, Hydatius [1], who was bishop in Aqua Flavia, present day Chaves in Northern Portugal, wrote a chronicle about the events in the early 5th century after the Sueves, Vandals and Alans had crossed the Pyrenees in Ad 409 and settled in Iberia. As a young man Hydatius had been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he had met Jerome. At some point he succeeded in laying his hand on his continuation of the chronicle of Eusebius, and Hydatius obviously decided to follow it up until its near-approaching zenith, the long-expected second coming of Christ. To end up there, though, it was of course necessary to experience the Apocalypse. Accordingly his chronicle is interspersed with records of all sorts of ominous portents as well as a depressing catalogue of the barbarians slaughtering and sacking Galician cities as if they were in fact the incarnated Jerusalem in the last days.

Now, there may have been serious warring going on in the first half of the 5th century in Galicia and people may have experienced hefty and violent upheavals in their daily lives, while trying to accommodate to their new barbarian lords and masters. However, it does not seem to have had any long-term effects. Pardo writes how late Roman Galician sites obviously survived the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Small vici (towns or semi-urban settlements) continued to be liveable, as did a number of Roman villas, especially those located on the coast, which benefitted from maritime trade and the production of salt. Although the level of luxury – mosaics, baths, stucco – seems to have been comparatively modest in Galicia, they were not abandoned. To this should be added a network of minor agrarian sites: farms, factories and hamlets, which were spread across the region. Re-occupation of hill-forts seem to have taken place, but cannot univocally be understood as part of a local defence strategy (few traces of hidden treasures).

AD 550 – 650 – a period of consolidation

Santa Comba de Bande near Ourense
Santa Comba de Bande near Ourense. A Visigothic church from the 7th century

Until approximately AD 550 pollen-analysis has shown a sequence of continuous reforestation. But from AD 550 – 650 deforestation and reclamation of land was on the agenda. One particular feature was the intensive reclamation of hilly slopes through terracing (dated through radio-carbon analyses). This is also the time, when Chestnuts were introduced into the landscape.

Linked to this intensification of rural exploitation were also the intensified mining/metallurgical activities, which took place at the same time. This has been documented through analysis of atmospheric lead dispositions. It can be no coincidence that the increase in these mining activities coincided with the end of the Byzantine trade with South-West Britain, writes Pardy. At the same time a peculiar number of local mints have been detected in the region. Suevic and late Visigothic coins were obviously minted “on location”. Perhaps, speculates Pardy, were mining and minting activities run by local elites, given the privilege by the king.

At the same time the inhabitants began to bury their dead in new and fashionable sarcophagi. However, they did not appear to have changed the exact location of the burial ground.

The earliest Christian Chapels and churches in the Galician countryside were of course a number of small buildings located near late Roman villas and can be dated to the fifth and sixth centuries. However from around AD 550 it seems as if proper rural churches does appear in the countryside. In the beginning they were mainly linked to major roads, coasts of major cities (Episcopal sees). These churches were often rich in architectural details. But from around AD 650 a growing number of smaller churches can be detected. This development seems not to have stopped post 714 – 740, when the region was partially occupied by Muslims.

Added to this should be the evidence from Vigo on the West Coast of Galicia, where a vibrant and continuos export-import business have been excavated. It appears that from around AD 550 – 650, Galicians exported gold and tin and imported high-status ceramic ware as ell as wine and other luxuries.

“All the evidence indicates that this was a very specific commercial productive system, controlled by a small but very rich elite”, writes Pardy.

A continuos process

Although it is obvious that transformation was a continuous process and not something, which might be neatly periodised, the changed might be summed up like this:

  • AD 400 – 550 was a complex, but dynamic period characterised by a transformation less than a revolution in the socio-political economy, characterised by a local territorial adaption to the decline of the large cities and villas. The result was a vibrant local territorial form of organisation characterised by scattered hamlets and farms laying the foundations for the new physical reorganization of the landscape and settlement structures, which unfolded during the next period and which is still in existence today.
  • AD 550 – 650 was a vibrant period, in which a rich elite succeeded in controlling an important export/import trade of metallurgical products, the result of decentralised and local mining operations pared with local agricultural intensification – terracing, new crops etc. Part of the visual remains of this system was the development of a new fashion for rich burials as well as the erections of new fortified places, located high up and supervising the roads transporting the metallurgical products from the mining communities to the coasts. Central to this flourishing was the activities of a royally privileged supra-regional elite.
  • AD 650 – 800 It is conceivable that the period after 650 was characterised by a retreat to the local level and the slow unfolding of a village structure. Long-distance trade from Vigo petered out while community elites seem to have taken over, witnessed by the increased foundations of private churches and the bishops’ progressive loss of control. Finally it was during this period that reoccupation of local hill-forts increased, witnessing to the growth of more local elites. A certain rural though not necessarily poor isolation can thus be detected.
  • Post AD 800 witnessed a new period of growth spurred on by the immigration of people from Southern Spain and the construction of a new supra-regional elite connected with the Asturian kingdom, plus the reconstruction of a more organised religious landscape dominated by reinvented episcopal structures, the building of new monasteries and the formation of the cult of St. James post 813 linking Galicia with the rest of Northern Spain.

The work of Pardo is extremely interesting. More than anything it documents the need to incorporate the results of last 50 years of medieval archeology into our present rewriting of the history of the middle ages. If old myths and tales are sifted carefully once more we may in fact know much more than which biblical texts the ancient chroniclers reformulated in their need to comprehend what happened during the formative years of the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Karen Schousboe


Power and rural landscapes in early medieval Galicia (400–900 ad): towards a re-incorporation of the archaeology into the historical narrative
By:  José Carlos Sánchez Pardo
In: Early Medieval Europe, Volume 21, Issue 2, pages 140–168, May 2013 (Open Access)


[1] Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana. Two contemporary accounts of the final years of the Roman Empire. Ed. and translated by R. W. Burgess
Clarendon press
Oxford 1993

[2] The Archaeology of Early medieval Villages in Europe.
Ed by J. A. Quiros Castillo
Bilbao 2009


Santa Mariña de Augas Santas


Turismo prerrómanico


José Carlos Sánchez Pardo is Honorary Research Assistant at University College London, Institute of Archaeology and affiliated to the University of Santiago de Compostela, Historia I, Marie Curie CIG Postdoctoral Researcher / Plan I2C Xunta de Galicia

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Santa Mariña de Augas Santas Tue, 24 Feb 2015 14:57:50 +0000 Santa Mariña de Augas Santas is a small parish near Ourense in Galicia in North-Western Spain. It has a history reaching back before Christianity
Santa Mariña de Augas Santas - church crypt
Santa Mariña de Augas Santas – former Sweat Lodge. Source: Wikipedia

Saint Margaret of Antioch, who was a native of Antioch, lived a secluded life as a sheep-herdess. However, Olybrius, the Roman Govenor, caught sight of her and asked to marry her, but with the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal she was cruelly tortured. Her escape from these terrors resulted in a series of fables, which became popular all over Europe in spite of the fact that they were considered fairy-tales by the establishment.

In Santa Mariña de Augas Santas in Galicia a local version of her miracles were told. According to this she was condemned to die in an oven. But she was rescued from this fate by St. Peter, who brought her out of the oven and water to cool her off. Later she was beheaded, but her head bounced around three times causing three fountains to spring from the ground.

A series of key sites are identified as locations for the legend:

  • Armea Iron Age Hillfort: the prison of St. Mariña
  • The church of Ascension: The oven of torture
  • ‘Piocas’: the pond, where she was refreshed by St. Peter
  • The sacred Fountains of Santa Mariña: The places where her head bounced
  • Santa Mariña Oaks: places with miraculous properties
  • Vacariza carving stones: another legend associated with the saint

An interdisciplinary forum has analyzed how this sacred “reading” of the landscape reflects a pre-Christian structured topography transformed through the story of Santa Mariña, as it was retold by a powerful and accomplished elite busy reformulating – reingeneering – the ethos of the local community.

According to Spanish folklorists the story can be documented as far back as the 16th century. But it appears that the legend is in fact much older, deeply rooted in the archaeological and natural landscape of the parish. It dates back to at least the beginning of the 6th century.

Santa Mariña de Augas Santas -sacred springs
Santa Mariña de Augas Santas -sacred springs. Source: Wikipediea

A parallel archaeological excavation and study of the local church has shown that the earliest layer of the present Church was built in the 6th century (AD 502 – 593 according to optically stimulated luminescence). Beneath this building was an Iron Age Sweat-Lodge, linked to the nearby Armea Hillfort. Thus there is a complex of meanings read into the landscape: The Sweat Lodge turned metaphorically into the oven – and thus a sacred oratory – where thirst was quenched through the sprinkling with water (Mariña meaning water).

The story of Santa Mariña de Augas Santas is fascinating. It appears it is possible to not only uncover the ancient landscape, but also the myth told in order to transform the old pagan topography into a new Christian sacred topography.

An interdisciplinary group is currently studying the location of such very early churches in Galicia and their context in terms landscape, elite fortifications and settlement structure. Background is a continued effort to identify the location of the 132 churches listed in a very precious source: the Parochiale Suevum, written between AD 570 – 580. As these churches are mentioned as belonging to specific episcopacies, they were not private foundations. As such they reflect the on-going socio-political reorganisation of Galicia in a period characterised by vibrant economic expansion. Especially interesting is that they might be viewed in connection with the preserved proceedings of church councils from the same area and period.


Two glimpses to the religious landscapes of 6th century Galicia (NW Spain)
By José Carlos Sánchez-Pardo, rebeca Blanco-Rotea, Marco Garcia-Quintela from the University of Santiago de Compostela
(The story of Santa Mariña de Augas Santas as it was recently presented at a poster session at TRAC – theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference in Leicester 2014)


Organización eclesiástica y social en la Galicia tardoantigua. Una perspectiva geográfico-arqueológica del Parroquial Suevo.
By By José Carlos Sánchez-Pardo
In: Hispania Sacra 134, pp. 439-480.

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Art in the Middle Ages in Hildesheim Mon, 23 Feb 2015 10:21:17 +0000 The Forum, “Kunst des Mitttelalters” organises its third conference in Hildesheim in September 2015

Forum Kunst des Mittelalter poster 2015Intended as an open colloquium occurring biannually at rotating sites, the Forum seeks to bring together research and researchers on different fields, regions and periods and to serve—as its name suggests—as a forum for ideas pertaining to the study of medieval art. Each individual meeting of the Forum Medieval Art will have a specific focus. The conference is planned by the Forum for Medieval art, a part of the German Art Historical Society (Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft)

The programme has not yet been published, but a series of interesting symposiums are being planned:

  •  New insights into Bishops’ Palaces and Abbeys in Eastern Central Europe AD 900 -1300
  • Bishops in the high Middle Ages
  • European and Mediterranean trade. mobility and cultural horizons AD 600 -1200
  • HAS VALVAS FVSILES – A 1000 years of the Bernward-door in Hildesheim
  • The elite landscape around the Merseburger Cathedral and the architecture in Sachsen AD 1000 -1100
  • Carolingian Art and the quest for authenticity
  • Jewellery between Early and Late Middle Ages
  • Mobility and exchange in the Art of the Early Middle Ages
  • New research into Bamberg Cathedral from AD 1000 – 1300
  • New research into Italian art in the Early and High Middle Ages
  • New research into liturgical vestments in the Middle Ages until AD 1200
  • Ornaments between aesthetics and function in Early Medieval Manuscripts
  • Sacred Topographies
  • Epigraphy and it contribution to dating of art
  • Founder and memorials from the Brunones to the Welfs
  • The role of Hildesheim in wider Europe in the Middle Ages
  • Stories of origin of pieces of art, techniques. Materials etc. in the Early and High Middle Ages
  • Wall-paintings in the High Middle Ages

III Forum Kunst des Mittelalters
Hildesheim in Germany
16.09.2015 – 19.09.2015



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Louvre to move its storage out of Paris Mon, 23 Feb 2015 09:28:43 +0000 Louvre plans to move its storage to location 200 km North of Paris

For some time plans have been underway to move some of the art, stored in the basement of the Louvre to a location, which is not threatened by a centennial flooding of the Seine. Now the plans are to move 250.000 pieces of art to a location 200 km north of Paris

An international group of art historians have united with 42 conservators at the Louvre to prevent this move for the following reasons:

  • Moving such large amounts of art will necessarily have a cost; some pieces will be ruined, others will be lost even if all care is taken.
  • It will seriously hamper the constant shifts of which pieces are exhibited and which stored.
  • The cost of transportation will be a serious impediment.
  • It will be costly for curators to move back and forth between Liévin in Nord-Pas-Des Calais and Paris, while researching the collections.
Parking Space at Louve at Lens January - afternoon ©
Parking Space at Louve at Lens in January 2015 in the afternoon © verdin.j-michel. CC

These arguments seem pertinent, although one wonders to what extent this is also a matter of the conservators being obliged to move themselves and their families to a part of France, which is culturally and economically the least privileged? Liévin is a desolate small town in the middle of what used to be a thriving coal-mining district. However, in 1974 42 miners died in the pits and the mines were finally closed. Since then more than 10% have moved from Liévin. In the last few years this process has accelerated. However, the location of the new conservation centre will be next to the Louvre Satellite in Lens, next door to Liévin, which was especially conceived to boost the cultural life of North-eastern France plus make more of the art hidden in basements and elsewhere available for the public.

Anyone interested in the matter are invited to sign a petition at the internet


Une pétition mise en ligne contre le déménagement des réserves du Louvre

Centre de réserves du Louvre

Louvre at Lens


Annuler le projet des réserves du Louvre à Liévin


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Body and Soul – AD 400-1700 Sun, 22 Feb 2015 11:47:51 +0000 This years EMREM Postgraduate Forum Symposium at the University of Birmingham will focus on Body and Soul in the Middle Ages

emrem birmingham 2015The EMREM Postgraduate Forum Annual Symposium:
Body and Soul: circa 400-1700
Thursday 07.05.2015 – 08.05.2015

Papers are invited for the 2015 EMREM two-day interdisciplinary Symposium, to be held at the University of Birmingham. The theme for this year’s event is ‘Body and Soul’.

Postgraduate speakers from all fields of EMREM are welcome to share their research and build networks at this friendly and well-established symposium.

Possible topics might include, but are not limited to;

  • Memorials
  • Body alteration
  • The female body and mysticism
  • Masochism
  • Cosmological reflections of the body
  • Penance
  • Preparation for death
  • Monasticism
  • Representations of the afterlife
  • Embodiment Theory
  • Ghosts
  • Cannibalism
  • The saintly body vs. the sexual body
  • Relics
  • Feast and fast
  • Burial goods
  • The translated body
  • The wounded body

Papers should be 20 minutes in length. Please send proposals of approximately 300 words to by 1st March 2015.

EMREM will be offering limited travel bursaries for external speakers.


CfP for the EMREM Symposium 2015


Twitter: @EMREM_Forum

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The Afterlife of the Roman city Thu, 19 Feb 2015 13:15:59 +0000 In ‘The Afterlife of the Roman City’ the story is told of how the ‘Adventus’ was transformed in the Early Medieval City to become one of the most important ritualized ceremonies

The afterlife of the Roman city: architecture and ceremony in late antiquity and the early middle ages
By Hendrick W. Dey
Cambridge University Press 2015
ISBN-13: 9781107069183
ISBN-13: 9781107686335
ISBN-13: 9781316215241


This book offers a new and surprising perspective on the evolution of cities across the Roman Empire in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages (third to ninth centuries AD). It suggests that the tenacious persistence of leading cities across most of the Roman world is due, far more than previously thought, to the persistent inclination of kings, emperors, caliphs, bishops, and their leading subordinates to manifest the glory of their offices on an urban stage, before crowds of city dwellers. Long after the dissolution of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, these communal leaders continued to maintain and embellish monumental architectural corridors established in late antiquity, the narrow but grandiose urban itineraries, essentially processional ways, in which their parades and solemn public appearances consistently unfolded. Hendrik W. Dey’s approach selectively integrates urban topography with the actors who unceasingly strove to animate it for many centuries.

  • Proposes a new way of understanding the evolution of the late Roman and post-Roman city, from Western Europe to Byzantium to the Islamic world
  • Synthesizes a wide range of both textual and archaeological evidence, and includes eight color plates
  • Provides an up-to-date historiographical overview and summary


the afterlife of the roman city coverMonumental architecture was a dominating characteristic of the Roman City in Late Antiquity as well as in the Early Middle Ages in so-far as it set the stage for the panoply of collective rituals and ceremonial events, which actively underpinned the claims to authority of the powers that were. Beneath this surface was a distinct structural pattern of an urban paradigm, which permeated life in the city from the mid-third century into the ninth.

In a recent book Hendrik Dey has taken upon himself to untangle this web and in this way contribute to age-old questions to which extent the Middle Ages constituted a break with, a continuity of or a transformation of Antiquity.

In the author’s – and many other scholars’ – opinion the idea of the city was central to what distinguished life in Late Antiquity. In short: Monumental architecture and urban lifestyle epitomized what it meant to be civilized in Antiquity. ‘Romanization’ and urbanization went hand in hand. Thus the Roman city was an entity with well-defined administrative and sacral boundaries and a pronounced concentration of population with access to a productive surplus sufficient for distinct segments of people to engage in activities unrelated to subsistence. This was fundamentally made visible through specific models of topography and architecture – in short a specific form of stage for what was termed a “civilized life”. This basically unfolded in the forum, in the temples and at the many venues for entertainment.

However, what happened from Late Antiquity and onwards, was a dissolution of this generalized pattern: in some parts of the empire, cities and with them city-life was basically obliterated, while other parts experienced a contraction and perhaps transformation.

Different parts of the Roman Empire simply went down very different paths. Some parts experienced whole-sale destruction of the old ways, while others apparently struggled along to preserve some continuity in a more or less confident manner. Or – which is the tentative hypothesis of this book – a gradual transformation took place, which in spite of its definite roots in Antiquity, came to set the stage for a messy rethinking of the city less as a stage (pace the abstract on the blurb) and more as a topographical frame. At the centre of this transformation was the development of the distinct late Antique/early Medieval form of the Adventus.

The question, though, is how these changes unfolded in a concrete manner from place to place and how and by whom they were instigated? Fundamentally this is the set of questions, which Henrik Dey has undertaken to find answers to.

Through a wide-ranging and fascinating exploration of a number of ancient cities like Rome, Milan and Constantinople, but also newly founded cities like Recopolis in Visigothic Spain as well as Mérida, Toledo, Lombard Pavia, Merovingian Tours, Paris, Orléans, Soissons, Reims and Metz etc. we hear not only how streets and fora grew gradually more crowded, while temples, civic basilicas and the many entertainment venues fell into disrepair, but also how churches, monasteries, convents, the residences of bishops and not least the new grandiose city walls came to dominate the topographies of Early Medieval cities. Primarily, though, Dey outlines how these new and changed topographies expressed a distinct plan to reinforce and propagate a new (old) world-view focused on the ritual celebration of the king entering and passing through his city.

Sant Appolinare in Ravenna - palace
Sant’Apollinare in Ravenna – The Palace

At the centre of this worldview was the ‘Adventus’, the urban spectacle of the triumphal entrance of the ruler into the city, complete with the throng of people – the occursus – outside the gate, the banners, the standards, the boisterous chanting and the regal movement across the city along the cardo, the main street, while passing both civic and ecclesiastical centres of power. An important element was in this connection the rejuvenation or perhaps reinvention of the architectural décor of the colonnade, which continued to embellish the grand cities of the Visigoths, the Merovingians and the Lombards. It was along these carefully outlined linear itineraries, the unfolding of the “new” totalitarian states and their handmaiden: the church, took place by way of demonstrating to the people, the ‘adventus’ of the ruler and his mighty entourage. It stands to reason that these forms of ceremonial movement became a major inspiration for the architectural formation of the religious buildings of the Early Middle Ages.

In short: there developed in the Early Medieval city a distinct spatial syntax, which in a way continued to witness to the perpetuity of the Roman City, even after its traditional markers – the grand temples and civic buildings – had deteriorated and had turned into recycled ruins. Thus the history of the afterlife of the Roman cities does not just witness to the “Fall and Decline” nor does it univocally demonstrate continuity. Rather it demonstrates the messy and yet distinct way in which the cities continued to support monumental corridors through which the crowds could behold the regal demonstrations of power, prestige and patronage.

Anyone in doubt of the perpetuity of this tradition should only look to the highly ritualised presidential inauguration of the American presidents, which take place every four years in this most Roman of all modern capitals, Washington.

This is a joyous read: well-written and highly illuminating, it demonstrates how vigorous the historians of Late Antiquity has approached the need to rethink their theoretical stance and to climb out of the trenches of the historiographical impasse, which have governed our understanding of the ‘Dark Ages’ since WW2. Medievalists might learn something…

Karen Schousboe


  1. Introduction: Urban Living and the ‘Fall of the Roman Empire
  2. New Urban Forms for a New Empire: The Third Century and the Genesis of the Late Antique City
    Cities and the Reorganization of the Late Roman State
    Urban Architecture under Diocletian and the Tetrarchy: Palaces and Capitals
    Praesens Deus : Imperial Ceremonial and Urban Architecture
  3. Ceremonial Armatures: Porticated Streets and their Architectural Appendages
    Prolegomena to Porticated Streets
    Imperial Capitals in Italy: Rome and Milan
    Porticated Streets and the Literary Image of Late Antique Cityscapes
    Commerce, Commemoration and Ceremony in the Colonnades of the Eastern Mediterranean
    The Long Shadow of Constantinople, I: New Cities and Old Traditions in the Sixth-Century East
    The Long Shadow of Constantinople, II: Ravenna
    The Intersection of ‘Real’ and ‘Ideal’: Cities Depicted
  4. Dark Ages’ and the afterlife of the classical city
    Cities, the Seventh Century and the Beginning of the Middle Ages
    The Visigothic Kingdom
    Merovingian Gaul
    Lombard Italy
    The Umayyad Levant
  5. Postscript: Architecture, Ceremony and Monastic cities in Carolingian Francia
  6. Conclusions


Hendrik W. Dey is associate professor in the Department of Art History at Hunter College, City University of New York.


Recopolis in Visigothic Spain



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Around 5200 Anglo-Saxon Coins found at Lenborough Wed, 18 Feb 2015 08:35:50 +0000 A hoard of Anglo-Saxon silver pennies of kings Æthelred II (r. 978-1016) and Cnut (r. 1016-35) have been found wrapped within a lead parcel at Lenborough. This important find is expected to reveal a great deal about monetary circulation in late Anglo-Saxon England
Silver penny of Cnut, Short Cross type, moneyer: Godman of London. Around  80% of the coins in the hoard are of this type, but from a wide variety of moneyers and mints.  © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Silver penny of Cnut, Short Cross type, moneyer: Godman of London. Around 80% of the coins in the hoard are of this type, but from a wide variety of moneyers and mints.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Just before Christmas 2014 a group of modern treasure-hunters brandishing metal-detectors found an amazing hoard of 5252 Anglo-Saxon silver pennies buried in a field near Lenborough in Buckinghamshire. The hoard was discovered on a field at the manor farm there, which is the site of a deserted medieval village with a Norman manor house and a medieval windmill. At present the exact location of the find has not been disclosed, which means that it is not known whether the hoard had been hidden inside a ditch, near the roadside or beneath the floor of a deserted Anglo-Saxon farm.

The coins were found wrapped in a lead sheet and buried in the ground for safekeeping. The coins are of Æthelred II (978-1016) and Cnut (1016-35), and were buried towards the end of Cnut’s reign. The lead wrapping provided protection against the elements while the hoard was in the ground, with the result that the coins are very well preserved.

“They are like mirrors, no scratching, and buried really carefully in a lead container”, says Paul Coleman to a local newspaper. It was a lucky find in more ways. Coleman barely had money to fill his car in order to take part in the days outing. Now he will probably split a couple of million pounds within the owner of the land.

In terms of “hoards” this is huge. In the contemporary system of account it would have amounted to £21 17s 8d, more than most estates recorded in the Domesday Book would be expected to produce in a year, writes Phil Dunshea. But it would not have been an exceptional sum.

Coinage of Æthelred and Cnut

Between 990 and 1042 a huge number of coins were produced. This was determined by the needs of the government to collect taxes and pay tributes, primarily to Scandinavian raiders and mercenaries. But the size of the mintage was limited by the the amount of silver available from hoarded or circulated coins, foreign coins and bullion imported by merchants. A special source were the treasures held by churches and other religious institutions. A major boost was silver imported from German mines, a major drain was the Danegeld extracted by Sweyn Forkbeard and his son Cnut during and after they conquered England. By the end of Æthelred’s reign payments of this tribute led to a distinct shortage of coins. However,  this wealth was soon re-circulated by the invaders and it is obvious that abundant coinage obviously stimulated the economy in many ways.

The Treasure Act 1996

Under the Treasure Act 1996 there is a legal obligation for finders to report Treasure. Since the advent of the Act the number of finds reported has increased fivefold from 201 cases in 1998 (the first full year of the Act) to 993 in 2013, and 1008 in 2014.

The hoard contains coins from over forty different mints around England, and provides a rare source of information on the circulation of coinage at the time the hoard was buried. It is believed that knowledge about minting in the reigns of Aethelred and Cnut will be greatly advanced through this find. This knowledge would probably never have surfaced without the laws, which allows for private metal-detecting, but obliges the hunters to inform the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Unfortunately the treasure Act does not oblige the detectors to inform the authorities when such a significant find surfaces. Nor does it expect the treasure-hunters to await the arrival of proper archaeologists. In this instance the coins were dug up and placed in unlabeled polygrip bags. This means that any internal structuring of the deposit was lost. This is a pity as the coins were obviously hoarded during a longer period, as they stem from a series of regents.

As of now trained archaeologists are deeply regretting the fact that the context has been irrevocably lost. See the video below, which documents the greed and lack of care of the excavating treasure-hunters.

Silver penny of Cnut, Short Cross type, moneyer Godman of London. © The Trustees of the British Museum.   Silver penny of Æthelred II, Helmet type, moneyer Æthelmer of London © The Trustees of the British Museum   Silver penny of Æthelred II, Last Small Cross type , moneyer Edwi of London.© The Trustees of the British Museum.   Silver penny of Æthelred II, Long Cross type, moneyer Æthelwine of Oxford © The Trustees of the British Museum.   Silver penny of Æthelred II, Agnus Dei/Last Small Cross mule, Moneyer Æthelwineof Stamford


Largest Anglo-Saxon coin hoard tops list of latest nationwide treasure finds

Metal detector fan unearths 5,000 Anglo-Saxon coins in Buckinghamshire field

Lenborough Hoard: c’est foutaise!

The Lenborough Hoard


the wealth of anglo saxon coverThe Wealth of Anglo-Saxon England
By Peter Sawyer
Oxford University Press 2013
ISBN-10: 0199253935
ISBN-13: 978-0199253937



Money and power in Anglo-Saxon - coverMoney and Power in Anglo-Saxon England: The Southern English Kingdoms, 757-865 
By Rory Naismith
Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series
Cambridge University Press 2014 (2011)
ISBN-10: 1107006627
ISBN-13: 978-1107006621


‪Saxon Pennies Hoard, Lenborough, Bucks Dec 2014

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Medieval Episcopal Thrones Mon, 16 Feb 2015 11:46:02 +0000 Six Medieval Episcopal Thrones in Britain has survived. New book describes and analyses five of these

britains episcopal thrones coverThis newly published book by Charles Tracy with Andrew Budge describes and analyses five out of the six surviving medieval episcopal thrones in English and Welsh cathedrals: the magnificent timber example that is shown on the cover at Exeter, plus those (also of timber) at St Davids and Hereford, along with the stone chairs at Lincoln, Wells and Durham. The stone chair at Canterbury has been so much studied by others that it features here mainly as one of several comparanda. These also include a number of surviving thrones on the Continent, analysed and illustrated in the first chapter, though the authors make clear that reliquaries also had a strong influence on the design of English and Welsh examples, and that the throne itself could be considered a relic — not just a piece of ecclesiastical furniture but something venerable in its own right and a symbol of continuity and authority, even when, as is the case with these thrones, they were made for and by known individuals.

No throne better illustrates this fact than that at Exeter, about which the authors have gathered together a huge amount of information, including accounts of the selection, cutting and seasoning of the timber, the costs involved, the names of some of the people involved in its design and carving, and the major change of plan that resulted from Bishop Walter de Stapeldon’s growing ambitions for his cathedral and throne, leading to the original design, of no great height, soaring to fifty-three feet by the addition of the crowning filigree spire. The Exeter throne is the largest and most impressive in Europe. It is a distinguished innovatory example of the English Decorated style, with antecedents passing back to the court of Edward I. It exemplifies most of the historical and formal strands that suffuse the entire book – visual appearance, distinctiveness within the building, prestige, construction, stylistic context, finance, and the patronage and personal role of the bishop himself; as well as the subtler issues of the personal and collective politics of bishop and chapter, the monument’s liturgical applications, its relationship with the cathedral’s relics, its symbolism and what it tells us about the aspirations of the institution within the existing ecclesiastical hierarchy.

The text is by the art historian, Dr Charles Tracy, a seasoned expert on church furniture both in Britain and on the continent of Europe. The chapter on the stone thrones was prepared by Andrew Budge who is currently preparing a Ph.D thesis on ‘English Chantry Churches’ at Birkbeck College. The polychromy authority, Eddie Sinclair, spent many hours on the scaffold to bring forward her remarkable report on the Exeter throne. Her full report is to be published online.The Exeter throne is also interpreted by the established timber conservation practitioner, Hugh Harrison, and the St Davids throne by the experienced draughtsman, Peter Ferguson. In an age of the CAD, his meticulous measured drawings of the Exeter and St Davids monuments are one of the most remarkable features of book. The architect, Paul Woodfield prepared the drawings for the Lincoln chair.

This book is the first major investigation of a subject of seminal importance in the study of church history and archaeology. The two stone thrones, at Wells and Durham, the three timber monuments, at Exeter, St Davids and Hereford, and the mid-14th-century bishop’s chair at Lincoln, all come under a searching empirical enquiry.

Table of Contents


1. Episcopal thrones in the early-medieval church

2. The timber episcopal thrones of medieval britain
I. Exeter Cathedral
ii. St Davids Cathedral
iii. Hereford Cathedral

3. The Lincoln Cathedral bishop’s chair

4. The medieval stone episcopal thrones at Wells and Durham Cathedrals, by Andrew Budge

Appendix 1. Significant items connected with the manufacture of the Exeter Cathedral bishop’s throne (extracted from the fabric accounts of the Exeter Cathedral)
Appendix 2. Significant items connected with the manufacture of the Exeter Cathedral choir furnishings by Thomas of Witneys’s ‘high altar team’ et al., 1316–1326. (Representative extracts from the general and high altar accounts of the fabric rolls of the Cathedral)
Appendix 3. The construction and assembly of the bishops’ thrones at Exeter, St Davids and Hereford Cathedrals, by Hugh Harrison
Appendix 4. The medieval polychromy scheme of the Exeter Cathedral bishop’s throne: a summary, by Eddie Sinclair
Appendix 5. Chudleigh, Norton and the carriage of timber for Exeter’s bishop’s throne, by John Allan



All of this is illustrated through the superb drawings of Peter Ferguson, along with photographs of diagnostic details,

Britain’s Medieval Episcopal Thrones: history, archaeology and conservation

By Charles Tracy, with a chapter by Andrew Budge
Oxbow Books 2015
ISBN 9781782977827

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Aliens, Foreigners and Strangers in Medieval England Mon, 16 Feb 2015 11:00:33 +0000 Aliens, foreigners and strangers are not just a modern phenomena. Meeting “the others” was also a frequent medieval occurrence

This conference aims to address the issue of how, and how profoundly, the movement of people into and within England helped to shape English society and culture over the ‘medieval millennium’. The conference will explore issues concerning how we study the nature and extent of migration, the continuing diasporic relationship with migrants’ homelands, and frameworks that were set up to structure newcomers’ presence. It will examine the way we study the impact that this mobility has left on the identities of people living in England, on the development of local economies and official regulation, and on its cultural and biological DNA.

Immigration, its causes and its consequences, is a contentious topic with profound political, social, economic and cultural effects both for individual migrants and for the host and donor communities. It is not a new phenomenon. This conference will take a multidisciplinary approach to the presence and treatment of foreigners in England across the medieval millennium. It will provide deep historical and cultural context to discussions among policy-makers and the general public about ethnicity, multiculturalism and the evolution of national identity in modern Britain.

The conference will profile three major current projects at York, Leicester and Odense:

Speakers include:

  • Dr John Baker, University of Nottingham
  • Professor Michael Bennett, University of Tasmania (respondent)
  • Dr Jayne Carroll, University of Nottingham
  • Professor Julia Crick, King’s College London
  • Professor Matthew Davies, University of London
  • Professor Christopher Dyer FBA, University of Leicester (respondent)
  • Dr Martin Findell, University of Leicester
  • Professor Dawn Hadley, University of Sheffield
  • Professor Mark Jobling, University of Leicester
  • Professor Maryanne Kowaleski, Fordham University
  • Dr Bart Lambert, Durham University
  • Dr Andrew Millard, Durham University
  • Dr Simon Myers, University of Oxford
  • Professor Mark Ormrod, University of York
  • Professor Walter Prevenier, Ghent University
  • Dr Philip Shaw, University of Leicester
  • Professor Joanna Story, University of Leicester
  • Professor Elizabeth Tyler, University of York
  • Professor Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Fordham University

Aliens, Foreigners and Strangers in Medieval England AD 500-1500

The British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH
Thursday 26 & Friday 27 March 2015, 9.30am – 5.00pm
Convenors: Professor Mark Ormrod, University of York; Professor Joanna Story, University of Leicester; Professor Elizabeth Tyler, University of York

Registration required


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The Syon Abbey Herbal Mon, 16 Feb 2015 10:20:11 +0000

The Syon Abbey Herbal was the last monastic herbal collected before printing took over

syon abbey herbal coverIn the 124 years between its founding and its dissolution, the Bridgettine double monastery of Syon Abbey near London gained a reputation for preaching, teaching and publishing in English. Thomas Betson, Abbey Librarian from 1481 until his death in 1516, was a major figure in that process, best known as the author–compiler of A Ryght Profytable Treatyse … to Dyspose Men to be Vertuously Occupyed in Theys Myndes and Prayers, a devotional miscellany printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1500. However, Betson was also the author of the last monastic herbal to be compiled in England, with entries for some 700 plant and 425 remedies, many for female ailments.The Syon Abbey Herbal was written by Thomas Betson in his notebook, sometime between his profession as a priest-brother at  and his death there in 1517. He is the last recorded Librarian at Syon, and also wrote the still extant Syon Library catalogue.

As well as the herbal, the notebook contains religious texts, handwritten notes on legal matters, secret writing, receipts for conjuring tricks and illusions, an alphabet of runes and two diagrams of the night sky

The Syon Abbey Herbal is divided into two main parts – a list of healing plants from Greek, Latin, French and Middle English sources; and a list of remedies from Latin and English sources. One chapter, wholly in latin, is on the use of urine for diagnosis, particularly of women’s conditions; another is on herbal essences in distilled alcohol. The appendices include a tentative list of Linnean names for Betson’s plants; A list of diseases in the manuscript; and plants at Syon House in 1548, listed by William Turner. This book is a useful contribution to the study of the transition from medieval to early modern medicine.

Syon had one of the best equipped late medieval medical libraries in both Britain and Europe. It contained several hundred medical and medical-astrology titles, many unique in Britain to Syon. Almost all of the 1747 volumes in Betson’s library are now lost. Only two medical books have ever been found, a Gilbertus Anglicus Compendium Medicinae in English, and an astrological guide.


  • Betson’s English and Latin list of Plants and Remedies. Bibliography and Index.
  • An Introduction to health and illness at Syon (1415-1539), and its medical books.
  • A contemporary copper engraving (c. AD 1500) of Thomas Betson.
  • Plants listed at Syon House in 1549 by William Turner, Herbalist.
The Syon Herbal has been prepared for edition in connection with the upcoming celebrations of the 600-year anniversary of the foundation of the Syon Abbey 2015. Special note should be taken of the conference on Continuity and Change in the Birgittine Order at Dartington Hall in Devon, which is organized in connection with the anniversary
Printing has been limited to 500 copies.

The Syon Abbey Herbal: The Last Monastic Herbal in England c. AD 1517

by Thomas Betson (Author), John Adams (Editor), Forbes Stuart (Editor)
AMCD 2014
ISBN-10: 1897762704
ISBN-13: 978-1897762707


About Thomas Bentson

Notebook of Thomas Bentson
Cambridge, St John’s College, MS 109

The Syon Abbey Society

Saint Birgitta, Syon and Vadstena
By Claes Gejrot, Sara Risberg and Mia Akestam
Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien 2010

The library of the Bridgettine nuns and their peregrinations after the Reformation
By C. De Hamel
Roxburghe Club, 1991

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Medieval Music Performance 2015 Mon, 16 Feb 2015 08:59:39 +0000 4th International Course on Medieval Music Performance (12-14th century) takes place in Besalú in July

Medieval music performance in Besalu 2015  posterThe International Course on Medieval Music Performance offers singers and instrumentalists the possibility to study monophonic and polyphonic repertoires composed from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The course is organized in the medieval surroundings of Besalú, a small town in Norther Catalonia in Spain. Besalú is one of the most important and better-preserved medieval towns of Catalonia (Spain). It was already important during the 10th century as the capital of an independent county. In 1966, it was declared a “National Historic-Artistic Ensemble” due to its high medieval architectural significance. Strolling through the medieval streets and squares, we find the monumental Romanesque churches of Sant Pere and Sant Vicenç, the Romanesque hospital of Sant Pau, a majestic bridge with two defensive towers that was built over the river Fluvià during the same period, the Jewish quarter and its miqveh or jewish ritual bath, the Gothic Palace of the Royal Curia with is wide hall, and a series of medieval secular buildings spread out through the different neighborhoods. All these different patrimonial elements make the village a truly ideal place to conduct the International Course on Medieval Music Performance.

The course masterfully combines rigorous musicological research with a vibrant reconstruction of performance practice.

The main objectives are:

  • The study of different repertoires composed between 1100 and 1350.
  • The interpretation of the different music notational systems that record the repertoires.
  • The study of a historically-informed ways of singing and playing musical instruments that are appropriate for the different repertoires of the course. This includes vocal production, articulation, diction, tuning, and ornamentation.
  • The development of ensemble techniques appropriate to the performance of each repertoire.
  • The production of a concert for the closing of the course (Chant program and Vocal & Instrumental Program).

Special sessions are:

  • Vocal & Instrumental Program: Monophonic and polyphonic repertoires of the 12th and 13th centuries.
  • Chant Program: For directors and performers interested in the context and performance of Plainchant.
  • Ars Nova Program: French secular music from the first half of the 14th century.
  • Pythagorean Tuning Workshop: For singers and instrumentalists to work on Pythagorean tuning in the context of monophonic and polyphonic music.
  • Chamber Music Sessions in conjunction with the Vocal & Instrumental Program: Work in detail with small groups of mixed voices and instruments. Taken as part of the Voice & Instrument Program.

Luthiers: Medieval musical instruments by our specialized makers.

4th International Course on Medieval Music Performance
Besalù, Catalonia
04.07.2015 – 12.07.2015

FEATURED PHOTO: Intense Moment in Besalú 2014

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