Medieval Histories News about the Middle Ages Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:22:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Battle of Clontarff 1014 Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:22:39 +0000 The Irish used to know that the great Irish king, Brian Boru, saved Ireland on Good Friday 1014, defeating the heathen vikings. The truth is more complicated.

…ignorant, barbarous, thoughtless, irreclaimable and unsociable foreigners” (Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh, 12th century)

On Good Friday 1014 the battle of Clontarf on the East Coast of Ireland took place between the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru of Munster and Máel Mórda mac Murchada, king of Leinster, whose party was swollen by Norsemen led by Sigtrygg Silkbeard from Dublin and contingents of Vikings from Orkney (led by Sigurðr) and the Isle of Mann

The background of the battle was the on-going strife between the Irish warlords, Brian Boru from Munster and Máel Mórda mac Murchada from Leinster, but also the interest amongst the Norsemen to consolidate and expand their holding of Dublin and South Eastern Ireland.

The battle is said to have lasted a whole day from sunrise to sunset. It is estimated between 7 – 10.000 men were killed, amongst whom were the chief protagonists. The battle of Clontarf is often commemorated as a ground-breaking event, which in the end (post 1052) secured the independence of the Irish from the Norsemen, who had carved out an existence in Dublin and elsewhere during the preceding two centuries.

In fact, it was probably more complicated. It seems to have been a very bloody affair, which weakened both the Irish and the Norsemen (who anyway at this point were heavily interrelated). Another distinguishing factor was that so many of the leaders of the two factions and their sons and family members seem to have perished in the battle.

Commemorating the battle this year is a temporary exhibition at The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, which aims to “explode” the myths and present the evidence. Viking and Irish weapons, typical of those used in the battle, features alongside hoards of precious silver objects and religious treasures. Much more recent artefacts will bring the story of Brian Boru and Clontarf right into modern times.

In April this exhibition was accompanied by a Battle of Clontarf Conference designed to – once and for all –

“establish the truth of what really happened at Clontarf for a twenty-first century audience, to re-evaluate the role of Brian Boru in the light of the latest cutting-edge research, and to bring recent investigations of the subject of the high-kingship of Ireland and of the role of the Vikings in medieval Ireland into the realm of public discourse, dispelling (or perhaps reconfirming) myths, shedding new light, raising public awareness, and promoting new synergetic fields of research by adopting a methodology that is explicitly interdisciplinary.”

We eagerly await the publication of the proceedings. Until then students at The University have very kindly provided a website with short introductions and links to the relevant sources.


Battle of Clontarf

National Museum of Ireland


…ignorant, barbarous, thoughtless, irreclaimable, unsociable foreigners of the Orc Islands.”

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The Tassilo Chalice Thu, 19 Jun 2014 18:27:26 +0000 The Tassilo Chalice is one of the absolute highlights of the exhibition in Aachen 2014.

Normally it is kept in Kremsmünster, in upper Austria half between Munich and Vienna. Thus it is a very good example of the hassle, which serious medievalists have to endure in order to sample such treasures.

At present (summer 2014), though, it is one of the highlights in Aachen.

The chalice is made of bronze chalice gilded with silver and gold and decorated with niello and chip-carving. It stands 25.5 cm high and weighs 3 kg.

Around the cup five oval medallions show Christ and the four evangelists. Round the base are icons of Mary, John the Baptist and perhaps – the Lombard Queen Theodelinda. The portraits are interlaced with plants and animals. Around the foot is an inscription: Tassilo Dux Fortis + LiVTPIRG VIRGA REGALIS.

The chalice might have been made in Northumbria, but it might also be the work of a craftsman working in missionary contexts on the continent. The decoration is in the Hiberno-Saxon style, but it is also inspired by Italian (Lombard ) style

The chalice is nowadays used when mass is celebrated in the abbey of Kremsmünster on the memorial day for the death of the founder, Duke Tassilo, the 11th of December, 777 and on Maundy Thursday. The wine used at the Abbey has been continuously grown in the same fields since the 8th century.

The celebration takes the form of a mass for the dead. Apart from the use of the chalice, two other treasures are brought forth from the museum: the Tassilo-chandeliers and the Codex Millenarius Maior, also from the 8th century. This is not on show in Aachen, but a manuscript from the same scriptorium, the Mondsee or Tassilo Psalter is.


The Treasury in Kremsmünster

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The Saddle and the Boat Thu, 19 Jun 2014 16:40:48 +0000 Charlemagne and his entourage were constantly moving about. And needed boats and horses.

It has been estimated that Charlemagne and his entourage travelled at least 4884 km in 162 days between 800 and 801. An impressive feat! No wonder, his capitularies show signs of his constant preoccupation with getting the old Roman roads cleaned and repaired and new bridges erected. Nor is it a wonder that he tried to dig a channel between the Rhine and the Donau.


River Barge from AD 800 from Kalkar-Niedermörmter
River Barge from AD 800 from Kalkar-Niedermörmter

We don’t possess any fragments of the larger river-boats, which must have paraded up and down the large rivers, but from the Vita of St. Ansgar (AD 824) by Rimbert we possess a description of how the Archbishop in Cologne presented the saint with a river-boat on which there was two cosy cabins on board in order to help him and his companions on their way to Scandinavia. (The story also tells that the Viking, Harold, in whose entourage they were traveling, annexed one of the cabins!) We do however possess precious relics in the form of humble barges. One was found at Kalkar-Niedermörhmter in 1993. It has since been dated to +/- 805. The boat was found to have been carrying chalkstones (building material). It might carry at least 4.5 tons.

The saddle

Soldier in the army of CharlemagneAnother precious find from 2000 is the unique saddle from ‘Gräberfeld Rullstorf, which archaeologists were able to rescue, study and later reconstruct. This was found in a grave from the 8th century. After careful conservation archaeologists succeeded in reconstructing it demonstrating its use. The frame had been constructed out of maple wood, while the seat itself was made of oxen leather. The seat had been covered with deerskin. The barges and the saddle are exhibited in Aachen 2014. The reconstruction of the saddle has been made by the company Rieser, while the barges have been reconstructed here 


Auf dem Weg nach Walhall : die Pferde der Altsachsen, Begleiter in Leben und Tod Wilhelm Gebers and I. Becker; Industrie-Museum Lohne ; Hannover: Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, 2004. About the Saxon Horses found at Rulsstors

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The Battle of Clontarf Thu, 19 Jun 2014 14:46:33 +0000 The Battle of Clontarf 1014  - a vibrant Irish Myth

On Good Friday 1014 the battle of Clontarf on the East Coast of Ireland took place between the Irish King, Brian Boru of Munster and Máel Mórda mac Murchada, king of Leinster, whose party was swollen by Norsemen led by Sigtrygg Silkbeard from Dublin and contingents of Vikings from Orkney (led by Sigurðr and Mann (these were the “…ignorant, barbarous, thoughtless, irreclaimable and unsociable foreigners” (Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh, 12th century)

The background of the battle was the on-going strife between the Irish warlords, Brian Boru from Munster and Máel Mórda mac Murchada from Leinster, but also the interest amongst the Norsemen to consolidate their holding of Dublin and North Eastern Ireland.

The battle lasted a whole day from sunrise to sunset and it is estimated between 7 – 10.000 men were killed, amongst whom were the chief protagonists. The battle of Clontarf is often commemorated as a ground-breaking event, which in the end (post 1052) secured the independence of the Irish from the Norsemen, who had carved out an existence in Dublin and elsewhere during the preceding two centuries.

In fact, it was probably more than anything generally. The battle, which seems to have been a very bloody affair, weakened both the Irish and the Norsemen (who anyway at this point were heavily interrelated). One distinguishing factor was that so many of the leaders of the two factions and their sons and family members perished in the battle. It might be characterised as a family feud, which was later framed as a national ground-breaking event.

Commemorating the battle this year is a temporary exhibition at The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, which aims to “explode” the myths and present the evidence. Viking and Irish weapons, typical of those used in the battle, features alongside hoards of precious silver objects and religious treasures. Much more recent artefacts will bring the story of Brian Boru and Clontarf right into modern times.

In April this exhibition was accompanied by a Battle of Clontarf Conference designed to – once and for all – “establish the truth of what really happened at Clontarf for a twenty-first century audience, to re-evaluate the role of Brian Boru in the light of the latest cutting-edge research, and to bring recent investigations of the subject of the high-kingship of Ireland and of the role of the Vikings in medieval Ireland into the realm of public discourse, dispelling (or perhaps reconfirming) myths, shedding new light, raising public awareness, and promoting new synergetic fields of research by adopting a methodology that is explicitly interdisciplinary.” We eagerly await the publication of the proceedings.


Clontarf 1014 – the exhibition

Clontarf 1014 – a website

Clontarf 1014 – 2014

Clontarf 1014 is kindly supported by the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht


Early Medieval Ireland AD 400 – 1100. The Evidence from Archaeological Excavations.
By Aidan O’Sullican, Finbar McCormick, Thomas R. Keer and Lorgan Harney
Royal Irish Academic Monographs
Dublin, Royal Irish Academy 2013

Ireland in the Medieval World, AD400–1000. Landscape, Kingship and Religion
By Edel Bhreathnach
Dublin Four Courts Press 2014

Archaeology and Celtic Myth: An Exploration
By John Waddell
Dublin, Four Courts Press 2014
ISBN: 9781846824944



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Charlemagne in Aachen 2014 Thu, 19 Jun 2014 13:44:04 +0000 Charlemagne – Power, Art and Treasures - are three exhibitions mounted in Aachen this summer, commemorating Charlemagne.

It is 1200 years since Charlemagne died. Celebrations have been underway for some time, but the major exhibitions in Aachen this summer are definitely a-must-see.

Located at three avenues, the exhibitions focus on three different aspects of the world of Charlemagne - The Powerful Places of Charlemagne, The Art of Charlemagne and The Treasures of Charlemagne.

The most recent reconstruction of Aachen features at the exhibition 2014 © Ristow 2013
The most recent reconstruction of Aachen features at the exhibition 2014 © Ristow 2013


These three aspects have obviously been chosen in order to reflect the interests of the scientific community of “Carolingian Scholars” today. But they have also been chosen in order to reflect present-day anxieties amongst the European Elite.

The overall question has obviously been: How did Charlemagne fuse his empire together? What practicalities were involved? What symbolic capital had to be invested? But the overall question has also been: What are the modern-day inspiration, we can draw from this? What does it take to mould Europe into more than an economic and political reality? How do we create a common European Identity? Should we?

Places of Power

The largest of the three exhibition is located in the Coronation Hall in the Aachen Town Hall, built on top of the ancient palace, where Charlemagne lived, and wh bits and pieces of the original building may still be seen (The Tower of Granus or Granusturm).

This part of the exhibition invites visitors to explore the daily life at the time of Charlemagne and the symbolic capital, which he and his court (and other dependents) invested in signalling their powers.

Turning left at the entrance it begins by raising the questions of the practicalities. How do you establish and maintain your power in a vast empire reaching from Northern Spain, via France through Western Germany into the Balkans and further south to Rome?

Carolingian Soldier © Karl der Grosse 2014
Carolingian Soldier © Karl der Grosse 2014

One answer is of course you ride, sail or walk through it, constantly touching base with the more or less powerful magnates spread through your territory – and at the same time working diligently to be seen by as many ordinary people as possible, while networking with locals, wherever you go.

According to some estimates [1] Charlemagne and his entourage for instance travelled at least 4884 km in 162 days in AD 800 – 801. Of course that year he went to Rome and was crowned, but his movements through the Carolingian world were to say the least astounding. That much was already told in the first Charlemagne- exhibition in Aachen in 1965. New, however, are the impressive results of the archaeological excavations during the last 50 years, which have resulted in so much new knowledge about numerous tiny details. This is witnessed by the exhibition, where highlights are for instance reproductions of river-boats and riding-gear from the 8th century.

But what did they look like, roaming about Europe through the 8th and 9th centuries? One answer is provided by  a reconstruction of an armed Carolingian warrior, which will later be transferred to the Centre Charlemagne round the corner from the Town Hall. Complete with spear, sword, shield, spurs and coat of mail he must have frightened all and everyone, who were getting glimpses of armies mustering thousands of soldiers and cavalry men on the march from one place to another on the old Roman roads, which Charlemagne was busy trying to get renovated and cleared up.

Stuttgarter Psalter © Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart
Stuttgarter Psalter © Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart

What followed was of course throngs of pilgrims, merchants, diplomats and just peasants pushing to market. All in all a lively and busy scene…

All this demanded a well-organised economy with abundant resources. Again archaeologists have brought us much closer to a better understanding of the actual deployment of rural technologies and possibilities around AD 800. In themselves the artefacts exhibited may not be impressive. But together with the illuminations from some manuscripts it becomes possible to flesh out the story. Next follows the story of the craftsmen and their tools and finally, what they were building: the grand Carolingian palaces, of which we now know so much more than 50 years ago.

This is of course the main story and is witnessed not least by reconstructions, models etc. of Aachen, Paderborn and Ingelheim. However, as stated in the accompanying catalogue: we may perhaps know much more about the actual palaces now than in 1965. But we still know too little about the layout of the surrounding countryside, the buildings of economy, the houses for the dependants and slaves etc. Although the exhibition tries to tell the story, it would actually be nice to get a better feeling for how people moved through these palaces.

Finally, of course there is the church. And naturally the curators have zoomed in on the former palatine chapel of Charlemagne’s: The present Cathedral.

Pieces of Power – The Art of Charlemagne

The second installation of the exhibition is mounted in the newly built Centre Charlemagne in Katschhof and shows a vast collection of the fabulous treasures, which still exist in hidden repositories or climate-secure bank-boxes throughout Europe.

Godescalc Gospels- the fountain commemorating the baptism of Pepin
Godescalc Gospels- the fountain commemorating the baptism of Pepin. Source: Wikipedia

Here the visitor may experience unbelievable beauty produced in the so-called “Palatine School of Aachen” where (perhaps) artists like Godescalc, Dagulf and Demetrius had their daily work cut out. Ivory, gold, textiles and illuminated manuscripts dominate.

Here is the real reason to travel to Aachen this summer. Hopefully this is not the last chance in my lifetime to see the Godescalc-Evangelistar next to the Dagulf-Psalter or the covers of the Lorscher Evangeliars. But it is definitely not very often we are treated to such compressed pleasures.

And yet, not everything is shown. At first more than 400 pieces were on the list; soon reduced to 60, then 30. Obviously some notable pieces were either not invited or the owners declined to lend them. One such manuscript lacking is the ostentatious Gospels of Saint-Riquier, which are on show this summer in a small local exhibition at Saint-Riquier near Abbeville. This manuscript was probably a personal gift from Charlemagne to his confidante and son-in-law, Angilbert in 800. It might have been nice to know what was the story behind “the missing pieces”.

In a sense this is the real reason to go to Aachen this summer: there is really so much to see and enjoy.

Lost Art

Virgin Dexiokratousa © Cleveland Museum
Virgin Dexiokratousa © Cleveland Museum

Finally there is a third installation down at the Treasury of the Cathedral focusing on pieces of art, which were looted, pinched or just carried away from the treasury in the last 1200 years. Early on his grave was opened and treasures looted by medieval German Emperors. Later Napoleon acted like a thief, when he accepted an Ottonian ivory casket as a gift from Bishop Berdolet to present to his wife, Josephine. Amongst these were real iconic pieces, for instance the Talisman (now in Reims) and the Pendant icon with the Virgin Dexiokratousa (now in the Cleveland Museum); both were claimed to have been worn around the neck of Charlemagne. The first one was recently copied by a group of jewellers.

It is obviously still painful for the city of Aachen to have lost all this, whether through neglect, greed or just plain thievery.


This is a well-rounded story curated from a historical and archaeological point of view (in the Town Hall) and from an art-historical point of view (in the Centre Charlemagne). To this should be added the story about the continuing importance of the legacy of Charlemagne as told through the “lost treasures” presented in the Treasury of the Cathedral.

But it is obviously also meant to bolster the city of Aachen as the centre of Europe, squeezed as it obviously is between Cologne and Brussels. Accordingly it is also a fragmented story. Yes, Aachen was the main residence of Charlemagne in the last 14 years of his life. And yet his empire and the mark, which he left on it was so much more.

A pity is for instance that the curators have chosen not to focus on the great monasteries as corresponding “Places of Power”. What for instance about Saint Riquier by Abbeville near the coast of Picardy, built by the son-in-law of Angilbert? Or Corvey, which is currently (June 2014) vying for World Heritage Status? Or for that matter San Vincenzo al Volturno South of Rome? Places of Power, which were all important in the social and art-historical landscape of Charlemagne?

It has obviously not been an easy exhibition to mount. One sign of this is the curious fact that the three exhibitions are being marketed together; yet the catalogues have been published by different publishing houses. Another cold shut has obviously been the prolonged problems of getting the future Centre Charlemagne finished in time. Originally the centre was scheduled to have opened in January 2014. The final date ended up coinciding with the opening of the special exhibitions, thus mixing the general presentation of the life and times of Charlemagne in Aachen with the new permanent exhibition of the history of the city. One curios consequence is that the brand new model of the Palace in Aachen, which was recently finished, is located in the Centre and not in the Townhall, where it – perhaps – was more pertinent to have been exhibited next to the series of reconstructions from 1925 an onwards presented there.

If you go for the wow-factor, this is alright. Lots and lots of multi-media will keep you entertained. If you really want to know, though, about the explanation of the phenomenon, Charlemagne, which the exhibition offers, you have to consult the catalogue. Alas, this is – as is usual in a German context – only published in German and emphatically not available for Kindle, Ipads or other readers. (Instead it weighs a tonne). Moreover it seems that the German professors (‘die wissenschaftlicher Beirat’) responsible for the exhibition (intentionally or not) forgot to involve the English medievalists [2], who for years have worked to rethink than man and the myths surrounding him.


Karen Schousboe


[1] Rosamund McKitterick: Charlemagne. The Formation of a European identity. Cambridge University Press 2008, pp. 181 – 82

[2] For Instance the article by Matthew Innes: People, Places and Power in Carolingian Society. In: Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages. Ed. by Mayke de Jong et al. Brill 2001 (The Transformation of the Roman World vol 6), pp. 397 – 437, is not mentioned in the list of literature. The article in the same volume by Janet Nelson on Aachen as a Place of Power (216 – 241) is mentioned. However, one point she mentions – the importance of Aachen as a Carolingian Spa – is not mentioned at all.


Karl der Große / charlemagne
Drei Bände im Schubert
By Frank Pohle, Peter van den Brink, Sarvenaz Ayooghi (eds)
Sandstein Kommunikation 2014
ISBN 978-3-95498-094-9

Verlorene Schätze. Ehemalige Schatzstücke aus dem Aachener Domschatz.
Ed. Georg Minkenberg and Sisi ben Kayed. Verlag Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2014.

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Archaeology and the Celtic Myth – An exploration Thu, 19 Jun 2014 07:34:21 +0000 Pre-Christian Celtic Myth preserved in Medieval Irish Literature does shed light on older traditions, says new book

Archaeology and Celtic Myth: An Exploration
By John Waddell
Dublin, Four Courts Press 2014
ISBN: 9781846824944

Once upon a time scholars and historians believed they read the gospel truth in the ancient Irish – or for that matter – Norse – mythical literature. Later, in the 20th century a suspicious culture spread amongst the learned resulting in a sweeping disregard for the historical value of these texts. Minor results were the claim that Beowulf had been written very late in the first millennium, while the Icelandic Sagas and the Norse myths were considered late courtly inventions. Of course the same happened to the great Irish literature and myths.Waddell Archaeology and Celtic Myth cover

However, during the same period archaeologists started their scientific quest to uncover the materiality of life in the so-called Dark Ages. Today we are thus blessed with enormous amounts of knowledge about landscapes, settlements, rural lives, proto-urban central sites as well as technologies and crafts of remarkable sophistication.

At the same time archaeologists have also moved into the “post-processual times of transdisciplinary studies” meaning they have in earnest begun to consider the cosmologies and the worldviews of these people; and not least their relationship to the myths preserved in the old literature of ancient times.

And lo and behold: discovered that the oral myths preserved in this literature sometimes fits the archaeology like a glove a hand.

This correspondence is at the centre of a brand-new book written by John Waddell, the grand old man of Celtic Archaeology in Ireland. In the book he focus on aspects of the mythology as it is associated with four- well-known Irish archaeological landscapes: Newgrange and the Boyne Valley, the Royal sites of Rathcroghan in County Roscommon, Navan in County Armagh and Tara in County Meath.

The mythological associations of these celebrated complexes allows John Waddell to pursue the archaeological implications of a series of mythic themes in early Irish Literature, namely sacral kingship, a sovereignty goddess, solar cosmology and the perception of the Otherworld. The book aims to demonstrate that these concepts do shed some light on features of Irish and European prehistory, while at the same time archaeology illuminate some aspects of the same myths.

Today we are no longer in doubt that myths do provide us with perspectives on archaeological issues. Archaeologists from both Norway and Sweden have recently published magisterial studies. To this is now added a seminal overview by Waddell.

Read together these – and other publications – will surely open up for a less “suspicious” attitude amongst historians and literary scholars.

Time to sweep the floor and let in the fresh air!


John Waddell is Emeritus Professor of Archaeology in NUI Galway. His recent research has focused on the royal site of Rathcroghan, a complex of archaeological monuments that figures prominently in early Irish literature.


Iron Age Myth by Lotte Hedeager coverIron Age Myth and Materiality. An archaeology of Scandinavia AD 400-1000.
By Lotte Hedeager
Routledge 2011
ISBN 978-0-415-60602-8






Tracing Old Norse CosmologyTracing Old Norse Cosmology. The World tree, middle earth and the sun from archaeological perspective
By Anders Andrén.
In: Series: Vägar till Midgård vol 16. Nordic Academic Press 2014





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Viator 2014, Volume 45, No.2 Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:31:13 +0000 Viator is the scholarly journal, published by Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, UCLA.

Viator publishes articles of distinction in any field of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, viewed broadly as the period between late antiquity and the mid-seventeenth century. In keeping with its title, the journal gives special consideration to articles that cross frontiers: articles that focus on meetings between cultures, that pursue an idea through the centuries, that employ the methods of different disciplines simultaneously. It is published by Brepols Publishers

Viator 2014, Volume 45, No.2 contains:

The Roman Liber Pontificalis, Papal Primacy, and the Acacian Schism
Deborah Deliyannis
In the 510s, a new type of historical text was created, eventually known as the Liber pontificalis, which provided biographical and administrative information about each pope from the founding of the see by St. Peter. This paper proposes instead that the stimulus for writing a continuous history of the popes was the Acacian Schism, a controversy between the popes and the patriarchs of Constantinople over primacy in the church (pp. 1 – 16)

The Non-Coherence of the Franks Casket: Reading Text, Image, and Design on an Early Anglo-Saxon Viator CoverArtifact
Thomas Klein
This article argues for a rereading of the eighth-century Northumbrian Franks Casket. Rather than examining it to discover a directed thematic or symbolic program, the article considers the network of effects that arise from its complex and continually varied combination of text and images (pp.17 – 54)

The “Sunset Years”: John of Salisbury as Bishop of Chartres and the Emergent Cult of St. Thomas Becket in France
Karen Bollermann and Cary J. Nederman
On 8 August 1176, John of Salisbury – the twelfth-century English author and churchman noted in part for his close association with the martyred archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket – was consecrated bishop of Chartres, a position he held until his death on 25 October 1180. The authors evaluate the enduring legacy of John’s contributions to Chartres (pp. 55-76).

Pisa, Catalonia, and Muslim Pirates: Intercultural Exchanges in the Balearic Crusade of 1113–1115
Matthew E. Parker
Beyond being the earliest clear interaction between Pisa and Barcelona, the Balearic Crusade was also one of the earliest Iberian extensions of the crusading movement (pp. 77-100)

Body and Identity in Le Chevalier de la Charette
Karen Lurkhur
This article applies Paul Schilder’s model of body image to the figure of Lancelot, the hero of Le Chevalier de la Charette. The author attributes the manner in which the Charette constructs Lancelot’s body to the cultural milieu in which the text was produced, specifically to the differing definitions of masculinity held by clerics and nobles of twelfth-century Troyes (pp101 -116)

Courtly Romance, the Vernacular Psalms, and Generic Contrafaction
Geoff Rector
This article examines the relationship between courtly romance and the Psalms, particularly in their francophone translation and adaptation, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (pp.117 – 147)

The Wonder of the Heart: Albert the Great on the Origin of Philosophy
Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle
This article relates Albert’s cardiac wonder to the context of medieval philosophy on the physiological function of the heart in the passions of the soul (pp. 149-172).

Wisdom and Justice in the Court of Jeanne of Navarre and Philip IV: Durand of Champagne, the Speculum dominarum, and the De informatione principum
Constant J. Mews and Rina Lahav
This article examines the Speculum dominarum of Durand of Champagne, Franciscan confessor to Jeanne of Navarre, queen of France from 1285 to her untimely death in 1305 (pp. 173-200).

Howling like Wolves, Bleating like Lambs: Singers and the Discourse of Animality in the Late Middle Ages
Jason Stoessel
In 1247 Simon of Saint-Quentin compared Mongol song to the howling of wolves. Like Simon, authors writing about music from the late thirteenth to mid-sixteenth century often associate the singing of certain socio-linguistic groups with the vocalizations of animals. This article argues that these statements betray what Cary Wolfe has termed the discourse of animality (pp. 201 – 235).

Defining Roles in the Clerical Household in Trecento Venice
Roisin Cossar
This article investigates the neglected topic of clerical culture in premodern Venice by examining representations of the clerical household in notarial documents, in particular priests’ testaments (pp. 237 253).

Episcopal Power and the Late Medieval State: Siena’s Bishops and the Government of the Nine
Bradley R. Franco
This article seeks to understand the cooperative nature of episcopal-communal relations and the role of bishops in late medieval Siena through an examination of the career of Donosdeo di Bartolomeo Malavolti (r. 1317-1350), whose thirty-three year tenure as Siena’s bishop corresponded with the reign of the government of the Nine (1287-1355) (pp. 255 – 269).

Pagans, Saints, and War Criminals: Direct Speech as a Sign of Liminal Interchanges in Latin Chronicles of the Baltic Crusades
Rasa Mažeika
In the later Middle Ages, the crusades where most European knights fought were initiated first by the Sword Brothers and then the Teutonic Knights in the lands east and south of the Baltic Sea – Livonia, Prussia, and Lithuania (modern day Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, western Russia, Kaliningrad Oblast, and Poland). This article deals with a hitherto unexplored way in which three Latin chronicles produced for the Sword Brethern and the Teutonic Order use direct speech mostly for communication by or to three groups: pagans or recent converts, supernatural beings, and those who commit crimes (pp.271 – 288)

Last Tribute to the King: The Funeral Ceremony of the Polish King Kazimierz the Jagiellon (1492) in the Light of an Unknown Description (pp. 289 – 302)
Marcin Starzyński
The article characterizes the funeral ceremony of the sovereign of the Kingdom of Poland – the largest country in east-central Europe in the late Middle Ages – on the basis of an untapped written source of 1492 (pp. 289 – 302)

Bring on the Monsters and Marvels: Non-Ptolemaic Legends on Manuscript Maps of Ptolemy’s Geography Chet Van Duzer
The article examines an unstudied manuscript of the maps of Ptolemy’s Geography (without the text) in the A. E. Nordenskiöld Collection in the National Library of Finland (pp. 303 – 334).

A Translation of Body and Form: Setting the Short Charter of Christ to Music in BL Additional MS 5465
Sarah Noonan
In British Library, Additional MS 5465 (ca. 1500), also known as the Fayrfax Manuscript, a copy of the Short Charter of Christ is put to music in a song-book that was possibly written by or under the direction of Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521) (pp. 335 – 355).

¿Taciti manes? Fantasmas “Parlantes” y sus Raíces Clásicas en los Tratados Demonológicos de Época Moderna
Alejandra Guzmán Almagro
This article (in Spanish) examines the typology of ghostly apparitions according to their ability of communication and the verbal and non-verbal interaction with humans (pp. 357-372).

Philip Perry’s Schools Manuscript and the Invention of the Recusant Middle Ages
Ana Sáez-Hidalgo and R. F. Yeager
The interest in medieval English literature and its history dates back to the eighteenth century, when antiquarians and literary critics started to recover, edit and comment – and sometimes forge – texts that either revived or documented the past (pp. 373 -397)

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Thor’s Hammer Wed, 18 Jun 2014 08:26:17 +0000 ‘This is a hammer’ says the Runic inscription on an amulet, which an unknown Viking lost on one of the small islands in Southern Denmark.

Thor’s hammers are not rare. Approximately a 1000 are known from Scandinavia, Russia, Great Britain and the Baltics, with a certain concentration in present- day Denmark and Southern Sweden. Found in graves, hoards or just as chance finds, they tend to crop up in many contexts in the 10th century. The pendants are made of iron, lead, bronze, silver and even gold.

However the latest is unique, in so far as it contains an inscription – ‘Hmar x is’ = hammer is, explains Lisbet Imer from the National Museum in Copenhagen (the ‘x’ is a sign, intended to mark a division between the two words).

This is a Thor's Hammer - National Museum of Copenhagen 2014
This is a Thor’s Hammer Source: National Museum of Copenhagen 2014

The runologist explains that the runes are normal Viking runes, but that the S-rune is laterally reversed. She believes that the rune carver was not very skilled, since he (or she) also forgot to carve the vocal ‘a’.

The archaeologist Peter Pentz, is very pleased with the new find, which measure no more than 2.5 cm: “It vindicates the small hammers for what they are: hammers”, he says.

For some time it has been fashionable amongst certain medievalists to believe that the amulets were not witnesses to the pagan worship of the god Thor. Some have claimed that the shafts were too short, others that hammers from the 10th century were not double-edged. The is important because if the amulets were not hammers they could not be understood as part of or symbol of a pagan reaction in the 10th century, as was for a long time the consensus amongst Viking historians.

According to the exited curators at the National Museum in Copenhagen the hammers have now been vindicated as exactly what they were always believed to be: Thor’s Hammers.

This also fits with the chronological overview presented by the archaeologist, Jörn Stäcker. According to him, these pagan symbols were substituted by crosses around AD 1000 in Denmark, between AD 950 – 1000 in Sweden and around AD 1100 on the Island of Gotland in the Baltic. Another interesting feature about the hammers are that they have predominantly been found in female graves.


The Cross Goes North: Christian Symbols and Scandinavian Women.
By Jörn Stäcker
In: The Cross goes North. Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe AD 300 – 1300. Ed. By Martin Carver, The Boydell Press 2003, pp. 463 – 483.

Thor-kult i vikingetiden- historiske studier i vikingetidens religion
By Lasse Sonne
Copenhagen, Museum Tusculanums Forlag 2013

A review in Danish of the recent scholarly debates caused by the work of Lasse Sonne


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The Haskins Society Journal Vol. 23 Tue, 17 Jun 2014 16:35:52 +0000 The Haskins Society Journal  is an annual journal focused on the history of the early and central Middle Ages, with a special emphasis on Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Viking, and Anglo-Norman history

We welcome contributions utilizing diverse methods and evidence and regularly publish essays that draw extensively on archeology, art history, Latin and vernacular philology, law, and literature.

The Haskins Society Journal is published by Boydell & Brewer, Ltd, Woodbridge, Suffolk-

The Haskins Society Journal. Studies in Medieval History. Vol. 23
Ed by William North
The Boydell Press, Woodbridge 2014
ISBN: 9781843838890

Haskins Vol 23 coverLIST OF CONTENTS:

Francia and the History of Medieval Europe
By Paul Fouracre
- A historiographical essay, which “explores the question of why Francia, and in particularly a French Francia, came to take centre stage as a model for continental development in the early Middle Ages

Royal Control and the Disposition of Estates in Tenth-Century England: Reflections on the Charters of King Eadwig (955 – 959)
By Ryan Lavelle
- This article examines the politics behind the disposition of Lands in the tenth-century English kingdom

Frutolf of Michelsberg’s Chronicle, the Schools of Bamberg, and the Transmission of Imperial Polemic
By T. J. H. McCarthy
- The purpose of this article is to examine the form of Frutolf’s portrayal of the upheavals of his lifetime and their broader implications

Manipulating Historical Memory: Cosmas on the Sees of Prague and Olomouc
By Lisa Wolverton
- This article considers the history of the bishopric of Prague as described in the Chronicle of the Czechs, written ca. 1120 by Cosmas

Poetry and History: Baudry of Bourgueil, the Architecture of Chivalry, and the First Crusade
By Jay Rubenstein
This article explores the writings about and the reality behind Baudry of Bourgeueil’s concept of chivalry

Men and Masculinities at the Courts of the Anglo-Norman kings in the Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis
Kirsten A. Fenton and Simon Yarrow

Men and masculinities in William of Malmesbury’s presentation of the Anglo-Norman court
Kirsten A. Fenton

- These associated articles offer explanatory investigations into constructions of Mascyulinity at the courts of Anglo-Norman kings as contributions to the larger study of gender in the Anglo-Norman realm”

The Personnel of Comital Administration in Greater Anjou, 1129 -1151
by Kathryn Dutton

- This paper examines Geoffrey’s closest followers: who they were, why these particular men feature so prominently as actors in geoffreys’ acta and elsewhere, and what these men meant for the consequent natur of the Angevin comital administration

The Murder of Gilbert the Forester
By H. F. Doherty
The focus of this paper is the murder of Gilbert, a minor royal forest official in Staffordshire, and his companions, and the punishment of their murderer, who were hanged in late July 1175 at King Henry’s command in Lichfield as he made his way from Woodstock towards Nottingham

The Object as Subject in Medieval Art
Herbert L. Kessler
- The article explores the field between understanding medieval art as “art” and as material artefacts of a bygone age.

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Early Medieval Ireland AD 400 – 1100. The Evidence from Archaeological Excavations Tue, 17 Jun 2014 08:38:50 +0000 How did the Irish create and live in their own worlds in Early Medieval Ireland? This is the overriding question of a book, which brings an overview of the results of a century of archaeological excavations.

Early Medieval Ireland AD 400 – 1100. The Evidence from Archaeological Excavations.
By Aidan O’Sullican, Finbar McCormick, Thomas R. Keer and Lorgan Harney
Royal Irish Academic Monographs
Dublin, Royal Irish Academy 2013

The practicalities of daily life in an early medieval setting are something, which can only be approached archaeologically. One of the challenges getting at this information is nonetheless that most archaeologists prefer to freeze their butts off in moist and damp earthen pits, rather than sit at a desk collating the information and think about the grand patterns behind what they have found. Publishing the results is something archaeologists often try to avoid.Early medieval Ireland 400 - 1100 archaeoloy cover

One consequence are the enormous amounts of unpublished archaeological reports lying around all over Europe (and sometimes even in the attics of the archaeologists, who are jealously guarding their trophies of knowledge until “better times”). Another consequence is that this state of affairs has progressed exponentially in the last 20 years, where “rescue-archaeology” gathered such a prominent position in the planning procedures of the modern landscapes of the 21st century.

In this Ireland was never not a special case, although it did make an impact that “Celtic Tiger Ireland” crated a maelstrom of feverous building and development. What was more unusual was, that the Irish Heritage Mangers began to address this crisis in 2006 by establishing (from 2008) INSTAR: Irish National Strategic Archaeological Research.

The present – highly recommendable – book, which represents an overview of the evidence from the archaeological excavations in Ireland during the 20th century and especially the last decades, is a lasting result of this.

Covering everything from landscape and subsistence infrastructure to craftworking and trade, it tells us in details about early medieval dwellings and settlements, the churches, the crafts and technologies and the rituals surrounding death and burials. This book investigates and reconstructs from archaeological evidence how early medieval Irish people lived together as social groups, worked the land as farmers, worshipped God, made and used objects and buried their dead around them. It focuses on the evidence from excavations conducted between 1930 and 2012 and uses that evidence to explore how people used their landscapes, dwellings and material culture to effect and negotiate social, ideological and economic continuities and changes during the period AD 400–1100.

Read together with the very recent book on the History of Early Medieval Ireland 400 – 1100 AD, the serious medieval traveller will be well equipped to get an understanding of what Early Medieval Ireland was all about.

The book is available in print as well as a pdf (half price) 

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Ireland in the Medieval World, AD 400–1000 Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:07:16 +0000 Ireland is a beautiful island with a history woven into the landscape at every corner. New book tells us the story about this medieval world.

Ireland in the medieval world, AD 400–1000. Landscape, kingship and religion
By Edel Bhreathnach
Four Courts Press 2014
ISBN: 978-1-84682-342-8

Ireland in the Medieval World - coverHistory, anthropology, archaeology, law, literature and genealogy – it seems as if literally no stone has been left unturned in this new book on Ireland in the Medieval world! As written by Edel Bhreathnach no less should be expected. But we still have to be greatful. This is where to start if you wish to get a sense of place.

Subjects covered include the landscapes, the kingdom, kings and their royal households; religion, rituals, customs and the ritualists in charge; the unfolding of the new religion: Christianity; exiles and foreigners. But she also touches upon women and children, free and unfree.

However these people are not just faceless social segments or categories. As real people they are allowed to weave their way in and out of the rural, urban, ecclesiastical, ceremonial and mythological landscapes of early Medieval Ireland. Thus we meet them in person, while they traverse the landscapes – the fords, the hills, the waterways; moving about, trading, cheating, stealing, ruling, marrying or just praying.

This is a grand book about the cultural history of a “lived-in-landscape”: As a reader you get a perfect “sense of place” while being thoroughly entertained. At the same time you are well informed about more mundane matters, which are often forgotten in historical overviews written from a political perspective.

Highly recommended not only for students and general readers, but simply for Medieval Travelers bent on discovering the fascinating history of Ireland before walking the ridges, crossing the brooks, discovering the churches and hill-forts or traversing the fertile plains.

Have fun!

Edel Bhreathnach is Chief Executive Officer of the Discovery Programme, and has published extensively on a wide range of topics relating to medieval Irish history and culture.

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Richard III – short but not visibly disabled Mon, 16 Jun 2014 11:12:48 +0000 The Scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance

According to a research paper published in The Lancet, Richard III’s severe scoliosis would not have been obvious during his lifetime, and ‘a good tailor and custom-made armour could have minimised the visual impact of his condition’. The verdict on Richard III’s appearance is that he was a short man, but not visibly disabled

This conclusion follows an analysis of the remains of Richard’s spine by a research team made up of osteologists from Leicester, Cambridge and Loughborough universities and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. Using CT scans to make 3D polymer replicas of each vertebra, they re-created the shape of Richard’s spine during his life, leading to the conclusion that the king’s disfigurement was probably slight because a ‘well-balanced’ sideways curvature in the spine would have meant his head and neck were straight, not tilted to one side.

The researchers established that Richard would have been about 5ft 8in (1.7m) tall without his scoliosis; the condition meant he appeared several inches shorter. His torso was short relative to the length of his arms and legs, and his right shoulder was a little higher than his left, but there was no evidence that Richard walked with an obvious limp — his leg bones were symmetrical and well formed — and the condition would not have reduced his ability to exercise or to fight on the battlefield.

The researchers were also able to establish that the condition developed after his 10th birthday.

Phil Stone, Chairman of the Richard III Society, which helped fund the Leicester excavation, said that: ‘the Shakespearean description of a “bunch-backed toad” is a complete fabrication. History tells us Richard III was a great warrior. Clearly, he was little inconvenienced by his spinal problem and accounts of his appearance, written when he was alive, tell that he was “of person and bodily shape comely enough” and “the most handsome man in the room after his brother, Edward IV”.’

The Scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance
By Jo Appleby, Piers d. Mitchell, Calire Robinson, Alison Brough, Guy Rutty, Russell A. Harris, Davis Thompson, Bruno Morgan.
In: The Lancet 2014, Vol 383: p1944

Richard Crookback
Sarah Knight and Mary Ann Lund
TLS: 6 February 2013

Read more about the studies of the mortal remains of Richard III

Richard III – Meet the Man

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The Rise of Learned Law in Medieval Europe Mon, 16 Jun 2014 08:56:46 +0000 The Rise of Learned Law in Medieval Europe had significant Impact on Economic Growth

Groundbreaking research demonstrates the importance of the medieval universities and their legal departments for the economic development and growth in Europe 1200 – 1600

Jurists, Clerics, and Merchants: The Rise of Learned Law in Medieval Europe and its Impact on Economic Growth

By Hans-Bernd Schäfer, (Bucerius Law School Hamburg, Germany) and Alexander J. Wulf
In: Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Volume 11, Issue 2, pages 266–300, June 2014


Between the years 1200 and 1600, economic development in Catholic Europe gained momentum. By the end of this period, per-capita income levels were well above the income levels in all other regions of the world.

In a piece of new groundbreaking research, Hans-Bernd Schäferand Alexander J. Wulf relate this unique development to the resurrection of Roman law, the rise of canon law, and the establishment of law as a scholarly and scientific discipline taught in universities.

Two competing hypotheses on the impact of these processes on economic growth in medieval Europe were tested:

- The first conjecture was that the spread of substantive Roman law was conducive to the rise of commerce and economic growth.

Evidence of medieval boredom: an image from a fourteenth century manuscript of Justinian’s Institutes from the rare book collection of the Law Library of Congress (LCCN: 2004596530). The student dra a charicature of the teacher.
Evidence of medieval boredom: an image from a fourteenth century manuscript of Justinian’s Institutes from the rare book collection of the Law Library of Congress (LCCN: 2004596530). The student dra a charicature of the teacher.

- The second and competing conjecture was that growth occurred not as a result of the reception of substantive Roman law but because of the rational, scientific, and systemic features of Roman and canon law and the training of jurists in the newly established universities (Verwissenschaftlichung), which took place from 1080 AD, when Bologna began teaching the Corpus Juris Civilis (“Body of Civil Law”) and develop a legal culture. One consequence of this was the development of highly trained legal elite.

This gave the law throughout Europe an innovative flexibility, which also influenced merchant law (lex mercatoria), and customary law. However, the question is: Was it the “law” itself, which was conducive to growth? Or was it the development of a widespread legal culture?

Using data on the population of more than 200 European cities as a proxy for per-capita income, the authors found that an important impact for economic development was not primarily the content of Roman law per se, but the rise of law faculties in universities and the emergence of a legal method developed by glossators and commentators in their interpretation and systematization of the sources of Roman law (Corpus Juris Civilis, Digests) and canon law.

The endeavor to extract general normative conclusions from these sources led to abstraction, methodology, and the rise of law as a scholarly discipline.

Wherever law faculties were founded anywhere in Europe, jurists learned new legal concepts and skills that were unknown before and conducive for doing business. Perhaps it is time to lawyer up, Europe!

Literacy and Law

Apart form the precise discussion of what came first – growth or lawyering – the article presents a splendid overview of the development of legal culture as e.g. witnessed by the growth in Roman and Canon law manuscripts after 1150 AD. (p 297). What it does not discuss, though, is why this “legal” explosion took off at that time. Here one tentative prerequisite should perhaps be mentioned; the general growth of literacy fostered by the adoption of a technological innovation, the introduction of paper-mills in the aftermath of the crusades.

It might be thoroughly interesting to know how many of those legal manuscripts, which are listed in the relevant databases, which were in fact written on vellum and which on paper. And whether there is a statistical correlation?

A very inspiring article!

Link to article at ResearchGate


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Saint-Maurice d’Agaune Sun, 15 Jun 2014 08:35:11 +0000 Medieval Travels to Saint-Maurice d’Agaune
The Abbey of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune
1 avenue des Terreaux
Saint Maurice d'Agaune
Saint Maurice d’Agaune

Église Abbatiale The present church dates from the 17th century, but was heavily restored in 1945, after stones crashed part of the roof and belfry (from the 11th century). At the same time the neo-romanesque cloister was built, which houses the present-day canons. Near the belfry at the foot of the rock overlooking the abbey, earlier excavations of the churches, Foulles de Martelot, from the 4th century may be visited. These were recently (2013) covered by a new roof, designed by Thematis, a company which is also responsible for the renovation of the treasury and the presentation of the archaeological site(2014).

As of now (spring 2014) it is not entirely sure how to understand the complex, which was renovated and reconsecrated in 515. It is currently (2014) suggested to either take a guided tour or to read the presentation here. In connection with a visit to the archaeological site it is possible to descend into the catacombs as well as the crypt, where the tomb of Saint-Maurice can be found.

Tresory at Saint-Maurice d'agune
Tresory at Saint-Maurice d’agune

Treasury This is one of the richest ecclesiastical treasuries in the Christian world, especially renowned for its very early vases, reliquaries and textiles from the 5th century. Special attention should be paid to the sardonyx vase, the merovingian casket of Theoderic and the reliquary chest of St. Sigismund and his sons. Read more about the Treasury of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune

The Chapel of the Martyrs at Vérolliez
The Chapel of the Martyrs at Vérolliez

The Chapel of the Martyrs at Vérolliez The present chapel dates from 1746. However it appears from recent excavations that it was aligned with the architectural complex erected in the beginning of the 6th century. Probably veneration of the martyrs of Theban Legion has taken place there since the 5th century. However, archaeological excavations have so far only uncovered parts of the Carolingian and later Romanesque structures. The Catholic Church considers this the actual site of the execution of the Theban Legion. It claims that to upheld a chapel constantly in danger of being flooded is a sign, that the place was venerated from early on. (Many scholars, though, believe that the story of the Theban Legion was invented in 380s and is a legend)

Bridge over the River Rhone with the castle at Saint-Maurice to the left
Bridge over the River Rhone with the castle at Saint-Maurice to the left



St. Maurice
Information about lodging and other activities can be found here:

Other sights in the village are the bridge over the Rhône and the castle from the early 16th century, perched high above the river and sheltered by the Eastern slopes of the Dents du Midi. The castle holds a military museum, primarily showing artifacts from the 20th century.


- The plans for the jubilee of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune 2014 – 15
The history of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune 
- The recent archaeological excavations at Saint-Maurice
- The fabulous Early Medieval treasure of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune
- The textiles from Late Antiquity, found wrapping relics at Saint-Maurice d’Agaune

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History of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune Sat, 14 Jun 2014 12:04:49 +0000 The Abbey of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune is one of the oldest monasteries in Western Europe. It was founded around 380 AD

Around 300 a rebellion broken out in what is currently the Western part of Switzerland. As the story goes, a legion of Roman soldiers from Egypt was transferred to the region in order to crush the revolt. On the night before battle the emperor Maximian issued the usual order that the whole army should offer to the Roman Gods. The challenge was that the soldiers in the so-called Theban legion were Christians. After repeatedly having refused to comply with the command, the emperor ordered a decimation. Following this every 10th man was put to death; at the same time an additional decimation was declared to take place if the soldiers, who were still alive, did not give in. In the end it is claimed that 6600 soldiers in the Theban legion refused to take part in the sacrificial rites and were martyred. This is primarily said to have taken place at Aquanum at an old toll-station on the upper Rhone, where the river meanders through a narrow gorge. Whether a legend or not, the story very early on caught the imagination of the men of the Late Antiquity. One of these was Eucherius, who visited the site in the first part of the 5th century and wrote about it a letter. Here he told the story in detail of how a bishop, Theodore of Octodurum, had a vision of where to find the remains of the martyred soldiers.

Saint-Maurice in Magdeburg
Saint-Maurice in Magdeburg. The Theban legions was venerated all over Europe

There are many reasons to believe that the legend about the Theban legion and its martyrdom was invented by this Theodore around 380’s, when there was a frenzy to discover saints and martyrs galore, while at the same time a pagan resurgence in the Roman army was taking place (around 390 AD). Nonetheless, whatever the facts and fiction, the story quickly caught the imagination of locals as well as bishops, and very soon a thriving centre for pilgrimage was erected on top of an earlier Roman sanctuary dedicated to Celtic water nymphs. When Eucherius visited the site, he noted that the earliest basilica, where the martyrs were buried, was already endowed with silver, gold and precious art and famous for its miracles. Probably the first sanctuary was cared for by a double institution, both male and female. In the earliest writing s we get an impression of a somewhat boisterous place: at the same time both local sanctuary, post-station for travellers and pilgrims and toll-station for merchants moving between Gaul, Germany and Italy. In the beginning of the 6th century – Saint-Maurice d’Agaune came to play a slightly different role as it was reformed by the Burgundian king, Sigismund († 524). His father was an Arian; however as a student of Avitus of Vienne he converted to Catholicism. Together the two men, king and bishop, turned the place into a highly evocative and symbolic site. Architecturally they rebuilt the basilica and reorganised the site by adding a series of other buildings to it. Further a new liturgy – Laus Perennis – was introduced to fill the place with eternal song. Later, after Sigismund and his family had been murdered, his remains were translated to the church, where he became venerated as the first royal saint in Western Europe. This contributed to cement the site as a both a royal and religious centre. In due course it came to present a format for other large monasteries, e.g. St. Denis in Paris. Later in the 9th century, after a group of Augustinian Canons had taken over from the monks, the place was once more imbued with a certain aura, when the second Burgundian Kingdom was established. Since then it has continuously functioned as both a local religious centre and a powerful political place, caring for the myth of soldiers, who did not desert, but instead believed it possible to be at the same time “in and out of this world”; as famously memorialised by Saint-Maurice in the speech, rendered by Eucherius:

“Emperor, we are your soldiers but also the soldiers of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience, but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours even though you reject Him. In all things, which are not against His law, we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto. We readily oppose your enemies whoever they are, but we cannot stain our hands with the blood of innocent people (Christians). We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you, you cannot place any confidence in our second oath if we violate the other (the first). You commanded us to execute Christians, behold we are such. We confess God the Father the creator of all things and His Son Jesus Christ, God. We have seen our comrades slain with the sword, we do not weep for them but rather rejoice at their honour. Neither this, nor any other provocation has tempted us to revolt. Behold, we have arms in our hands, but we do not resist, because we would rather die innocent than live by any sin.”

Today the abbey is home to 53 regulated canons, who work amongst the local people as well as in the local college. Apart from this, the canons cater for the many pilgrims, which still visit the evocative place. The abbey has also been declared World Heritage. Another function is thus to cater for the many cultural tourists, who come to see the famous treasury and the archaeological site.


The 1500-year anniversary 2014-15
Archaeology at Saint-Maurice d’Agaune
The Treasury at Saint-Maurice d’Agaune

The textiles at Saint-Maurice d’Agaune

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Textiles from Saint-Maurice d’Agaune Fri, 13 Jun 2014 19:48:47 +0000 During the 20th century a number of small bits and pieces of ancient textiles were found wrapping the precious relics at Saint-Maurice d’Agaune
The original colored photo of the nereid textile
The original colored photo of the nereid textile

Already in the beginning of the 20th century a German professor by the name of Stückelberg took the opportunity to register and photograph a series a relic-wrappings from the churches and abbeys in the Valais. Many of these tiny pieces belong to the early middle ages and stem from China, via Persia and Egypt to Western Europe. Many of these tiny pieces appeared to belong to the same textiles. Fragments seemed to have been cut off and used in different locations.

One such famous piece is of course the “Nereid Textile” from Sion (Sitten), one of the few fabrics from classical antiquity. It was probably found during an opening of the reliquary of St. Maurice in 1225 and after that dispersed through the valley. Studying all the fragments, Stückelberg found that the sudarium had been bordered on top by a pattern of eagles, while the bottom paraded falcons. He dated the piece to the 4th century and concluded that it might in fact have been the earliest wrapping for Saint Maurice (or what was believed to be his earthly remains, found by Theodulus).

Textile from Late Antiquity with dancing people and lions
Textile from Late Antiquity with dancing people and lions

Another silk-piece found at St. Maurice in 1923 seems to be a bit later – from the 6th century. It sports a rapport of lions, vine and chalices.

Too other fragments from Egypt from the 7th to 8th centuries show rapports of dancing figures in medallions alternating with dancing lions or cows. Colours white on blue or red on yellow. These were all found in the Ewer in 1923.

More, however, were to come. As late as in 1961, a whole new cache of fragments were found when the head of St. Candidus was opened. This costly head-shaped reliquary was made in the 12th century. During restoration work the head was found to contain not only parts of the presumed skull but also a blue silk cap and dozens of small tied-up packages of relics wrapped in fabrics with little parchment notes attached.

Some of these textiles belong to the period, when Saint-Maurice d’Augune was founded (515).

Currently this cache of textiles is exhibited at the Abegg-Stiftung at The Villa Abegg in Switzerland together with other rich collections from Hildesheim and the Guelph Treasure. It may be viewed by contacting the Institution.

Unfortunately the full collection of textiles has never been published.


Veil and Adornment
Medieval Textiles and the Cult of Relics.
Villa Abegg
27.04.2014 – 09.11.2014


Unveröffentlichte Walliser Gewebefunde
By E. A. Stückelberg
In: Anzeiger für schweizerische Altertumskunde: Neue Folge, 1926, Vol. 26, no. 2 – 3, pp. 95 ff. (with 20 coloured photos)

Early Textiles in the Canton Valais
A. F. Kendrick
The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 1924, Vol. 45, No. 258, pp. 125-127+130-131

Textilien des Mittelmeerraumes aus spätantiker bis frühislamischer Zeit
By Sabine Schrenk and Regina Knaller (Textile Analysis)
In: Textilsammlung der Abegg-Stiftung Volume 4
With English Translation of the Introducing Texts
ISBN 3-905014-24-6

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