The Anatomy of a Monastery – The Obedientiaries Part Two

Nave, Rievaulx Abbey

Nave, Rievaulx Abbey

We’re continuing this series about monasteries by looking at some of the obedientiaries. Last week we looked at the cellarer’s department. This week we have two more departments.

First, the chamberlain, or camerarius. He was the housekeeper with wide, though fairly mundane, responsibilities. Sometimes the chamberlain and the cellarer were the same person, which would seem to be a sensible arrangement. The chamberlain’s main duty was to make sure that the monks had clothing and that it was clean. This meant that he had to employ laundresses to wash all the linen used in the monastery. One of the things that surprised me as I prepared for this series is just how much contact the monks might have with women. Whether the linen was sent out to the laundresses or they came into the monastery, I haven’t been able to find out. The washing itself was probably done in a nearby river.

Another of the chamberlain’s jobs was making sure that the hay in the monks’ mattresses was replaced frequently. He was also responsible for horses and carts, including those at the granges, which is one of the reasons why it would have made sense for the cellarer and the chamberlain to be the same person, since the cellarer was responsible for the granges. The chamberlain had to make sure that there was always enough fodder for the horses and that the harness was in good order. He was responsible for keeping the monastery’s lamps in good repair and for maintaining a fire in the warming room, where the monks worked on cold days.

I haven’t come across any subordinates that he might have had, but I doubt he stuffed the mattresses himself, nor would he have put the horses’ fodder into the stables.

warming room, Rievaulx Abbey

Warming Room, Rievaulx Abbey

The third senior obedientiary was the sacrist, who did have identifiable staff beneath him. His responsibility was the very heart of the monastery: the abbey church.

The sacrist looked after the fabric of the church, including the altars, vessels and any shrines. His duties included keeping them secure. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, churchmen weren’t above stealing bits of saints’ relics and the odd pilgrim might try to take a bit of a shrine home with them, but there would also be many extremely valuable objects within the church, which would tempt a thief. The plate would often be of silver or gold, as would the ornaments. If the shrine housed a popular saint, it might be covered with gold and jewels. The vestments were often made of expensive fabric and covered in fine embroidery.

The sacrist didn’t just look after valuable objects, he was also responsible for the cleaning of the church and for making sure that everything within it was in good condition. This included the furniture. He also helped design the fittings, windows, altars, decorations and wall paintings if they were being replaced. The wall paintings would have been replaced frequently. In addition to everything else, he looked after the clocks, bells, vestments, plate, reliquaries, lights and vestments. If it was within the church, he had to make sure it worked, was clean and could be used. He kept an inventory of everything, which I think must have been onerous if the abbey church held a popular shrine. Pilgrims tended to leave gifts of large and small value at shrines, so there would have been frequent additions to his lists.  His assistants included the treasurer, the sub-sacrist, the revestiarius and the master of works. He usually slept at the end of the dorter nearest the treasury.

painted-wall

Wall Painting, Romsey Abbey

The sub-sacrist, or matricularius, was the sacrist’s deputy and the monastery’s timekeeper. In addition to being the deputy, he also had some duties of his own. He had to ensure that the monastery’s bells rang at the right time. He ate and slept in the church so that there was always someone there.

The treasurer was responsible for the monastery’s valuables. These included the church plate, vestments, rare books, documents and money.

The revestiarius looked after the vestments and other fabrics used in the church. Different coloured vestments and fabrics were (and still are) used in different liturgical seasons and at certain festivals. He had to make sure that the correct colours were put out.

Next week we’ll wrap up the obedientiaries with some roles that don’t appear to have come under any of the three departments that we’ve looked at so far.

Sources:

The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
Life in a Monastery by Stephen Hebron
Medieval Monasticism by C.H. Lawrence

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Monastery – The Obedientiaries Part One

Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn exterior

Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn Exterior

Last week I mentioned that the responsibility for running a monastery was shared between the abbot, the prior and the obedientiaries. These last were like heads of departments in a business. They each had a very precise area of responsibility, often with a large staff, and they had to co-ordinate their efforts with the other obedientiaries. As I said before, all of this applies to convents as well as to monasteries.

In this post, we’ll look at the cellarer.

The cellarer had a wide range of responsibilities and a correspondingly large number of monks and lay servants beneath him. His main responsibility was the supply of food, wine/beer and fuel both to the monastery and to any guests staying there. You would be excused for thinking that this meant that he simply bought food, wine and wood, but he was also responsible for their production. He oversaw the transport of provisions from the monastery’s estates and their storage once they had arrived at the monastery. St. Benedict said that he should be ‘sober and no great eater’, since the temptations for a man in his position were very great.

Monasteries could be large landowners encompassing many manors whose tenants paid rents to them. The cellarer had the right to appoint bailiffs to these manors. Monasteries also had granges. These were farms some distance away from the monastery to which they belonged and they were managed directly by the monastery. This wasn’t easy and granges were usually managed by a granger under the cellarer, although it was the cellarer’s responsibility to make sure there were enough men to work the granges. He also had to ensure that the workers on the granges weren’t stealing, but were working as they should. The tithe barn at Bradford-on-Avon in the photograph at the top of the post, was on one of the granges belonging to the nuns of Shaftesbury Abbey, thirty miles away. All of the produce from the granges went to the monastery, although some of it was sold, especially the wool. Some monasteries owned thousands of sheep and they were great exporters of wool.

Given that he knew more about land than any of the other monks, it was also the cellarer’s job to lease and sell land on behalf of the abbot.

Undercroft and refectory, Rievaulx Abbey

Undercroft and Refectory, Rievaulx Abbey

Not only was the cellarer responsible for growing the food, but he was also responsible for storing it and processing it. Like most medieval buildings of any size, monasteries had undercrofts, like those in the photograph above, where things could be stored. He also managed the monastery’s mills, the brew-house, the malthouse, and the bakehouse.

Some of the monastery’s manors might have the right to have markets and fairs within their boundaries. People who sold goods at the markets and fairs had to pay a toll to the lord of the manor, and the cellarer was responsible for collecting these.

He looked after monastery’s guests, usually through his subordinate, the guest-master. We’ll come to his duties in a bit. As you might guess, given that most of his work was based outside the monastery, the cellarer was the person charged with communication between the monastery and the world beyond its walls.

The cellarer’s responsibilities were wide-ranging, so he managed a large staff. Head of these was his deputy, the sub-cellarer, whose specific duties concerned food and drink. In some monasteries, these included responsibility for the guest-house, although larger monasteries had a separate guest-master. The sub-cellarer was assisted by the granatrorius, who looked after the granary. All wheat and malt corn from the monastery’s estates passed through it. The granatorius had to keep accounts of what came in and went out, and where it came from and went to.

The guest-master was a senior member of the cellarer’s staff. Monasteries received two kinds of visitors. The first were poor pilgrims who might ask for free accommodation and food from monasteries on the way to the shrine that was their goal. The second were royalty, cardinals, bishops and nobility. Both groups could include women. The pilgrims were the province of the almoner, while the guest-master looked after the high-status guests. He provided accommodation and meals for them and stabling for their horses. With his assistant, the hosteller, he worked closely with the kitchener.

The kitchener, or coquinarius, looked after the cooking of food and made sure that portion sizes were as prescribed by St. Benedict. No one else, other than his assistants, was allowed into the kitchen. He planned the meals, supervised the kitchen, made sure that cooking pots were cleaned and employed an emptor to buy any provisions that couldn’t be obtained from the monastery’s manors.

The caterer supervised the serving of food at mealtimes.

Easby Abbey refectory 2

Refectory, Easby Abbey

The fraterer, or refecteror, was responsible for the refectory and its cleanliness. This was where the monks ate their meals. The crockery, table linen and lavatorium, where, amongst other things, the monks washed their hands before meals, were his responsibility. He kept an inventory of cups and spoons; made sure that the table linen was clean and in good repair; and he kept the lavatorium clean and supplied with towels. He also made sure that the refectory floor was covered with fresh rushes.

The gardener was another of the cellarer’s staff. He provided fruit, vegetables and herbs to the kitchen and herbs to the pharmacy. Monastic gardens were often places of experience and experimentation, and monks were, generally, ahead of the rest of the population in the cultivation of plants.

As part of their estates, many monasteries owned woods under the care of a woodward. The woods provided fuel and building material to the monastery.

As you can see, feeding a large monastery was not a straightforward business.

Sources:

The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
Life in a Monastery by Stephen Hebron
Medieval Monasticism by C.H. Lawrence

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Monastery – Monks Again

Pedestrian access, gatehouse, Roche Abbey

Gates, Roche Abbey

Last week I said that we would move on to the spaces within a monastery, but I thought it might be useful to look more closely at the monks themselves. We saw the timetable of their days last week, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of their lives. They were members of a community which was also a commercial enterprise, and each man had his part to play.

Hierarchy was as important in the monastery as it was everywhere else in the medieval world. The abbot was at the top of the Benedictine monastery. Abbot means ‘father’, coming from the Hebrew ‘abba’. This was a term used by Jesus when referring to God in the Gospels. St. Benedict wrote in his Rule that the abbot was to represent Christ in the monastery. His commands were, therefore, to be obeyed as if they were from God.

The abbot was elected to the position for life by the monks of the monastery, but the appointment had to be approved by the king. Sometimes the pope also interfered in the election. The abbot had absolute authority over the monks, subject only to the Rule and to his own conscience. The abbot was supposed to teach and advise the monks, and St. Benedict advised him to consider himself their servant rather than the other way round. He was responsible for everything to do with the monastery including its estates.

An abbess was the abbot’s equivalent in a convent, and all the positions that I’ll refer to later also applied to convents.

Abbots tended to come from noble families and could be involved in affairs of state in their own right, often attending parliaments. This meant that the day to day running of the monastery was usually left to the prior.

The prior (prioress in a convent) acted as the abbot’s deputy in Benedictine monasteries. In Cluniac and mendicant houses, however, the prior was the superior and his deputy was the sub-prior.

The role of the prior was not something that St. Benedict recommended. He thought there could be discord between the abbot and the prior, who might, through pride, ‘consider himself a second abbot’. What St. Benedict wanted was a system of deans where each dean would have charge of ten monks. This was tried in some monasteries in northern Africa, but it didn’t have much success.

Window with tracery, Roche Abbey

Window with tracery, Roche Abbey

There was too much work involved in running a monastery for the abbot and the prior to be able to do it all between them. Since the method proposed by St. Benedict for managing a monastery had been rejected, another way had to be found. In the end, it was done through a small group of monks referred to as obedientiaries, that is those who owe obedience. They included the cellarer, the precentor and the sacrist amongst others. They had to provide accounts for their particular area of responsibility each year at Michaelmas (29th September).

When a new abbot was appointed, the obedientiaries’ terms ended. Some of them had such demanding duties that they didn’t have to attend all of the offices and were permitted to leave the monastery on occasion.

As time went on and the tasks became too many or too complex for one man (or woman), the obedientiaries took on subordinates. The cellarer’s staff, for example, could include a kitchener, a refecteror, a gardener and a woodward (a man in charge of a wood). Each of these might have their own staff beneath them, sometimes including lay servants.

It’s probably easiest to look at the obedientiaries in terms of heads of departments, with staff beneath them. By the time I got to the end of all the obedientiaries and their staffs, though, I had enough information for four posts, so I’ll return to them over the next few weeks.

If you think that all this organisation seems a bit excessive, it’s worth remembering that there could be hundreds of monks in a monastery. Rievaulx at its peak had 600. Providing even their clothes, food and drink would have required the labour of many people, whose efforts would have had to be organised and co-ordinated.

Sources:

The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
Life in a Monastery by Stephen Hebron
Medieval Monasticism by C.H. Lawrence

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Monastery – The Monks

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey

Thanks to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII in the mid-sixteenth century, we have a (mostly) false idea of their number and importance to people in the Middle Ages. If they weren’t broken up and their stones and lead taken away to be used elsewhere, monastic buildings were turned into private dwellings and we have few physical reminders of them.

In my own town, for example, the friary that was within the medieval town’s walls has disappeared completely. A priory just outside those walls has left behind a gateway in someone’s garden and is recalled in a street name. Within 5 or 6 miles of my house there were at least five monasteries plus hospitals and other institutions founded and managed by them. I can’t over-emphasise how important monasteries were and how much of an impact they had on the lives of everyone in England, monks or otherwise.

Not all monasteries were as large as Rievaulx in the photograph above, but they all had similar spaces within them to meet the requirements of the monastic life. In order to understand the spaces, we need to look at the purpose of a monastery. The monastic movement began in northern Africa in the third century with men and women going to secluded places to live alone and pray without distractions. Gradually the hermits joined together for support and protection, and a number of different sets of rules were created to govern their communities. Those produced by St. Benedict early in the sixth century gained widespread acceptance.

Roch Abbey Church

Roche Abbey Church

The rules set out what the monks could eat and wear, and how they would spend their time. Monks weren’t to spend all their time in prayer, but also take on physical work. The rules also set out how a monastery was to be run. The life of a monk wasn’t supposed to be easy.

Cistercian timetable – the offices are in bold type
Summer
1.30 a.m. Rise
2.00 a.m. Nocturns (later called Matins)
3.30 a.m. Matins (Lauds)
Rest
Reading
6.00 a.m. Prime
Chapter meeting
Work
8.00 a.m. Terce
Mass
Reading
11.30 a.m. Sext
Dinner
Rest
Work
2.30 p.m. None
Work
Supper
6.00 p.m. Vespers
Collation reading
8.00 p.m. Compline
8.15 p.m. Retire to bed

Winter
2.30 a.m. Rise
3.30 a.m. Nocturns (later called Matins)
Reading
6.00 a.m. Matins (Lauds)
Prime
Reading
8.00 a.m. Terce
Mass
Chapter meeting
Work
Noon       Sext
Mass
1.30 p.m.  None
Dinner
Rest
Work
4.15 p.m. Vespers
Collation reading
6.15 p.m. Compline
6.30 p.m. Retire to bed

St. Benedict divided the monks’ day into three parts – opus dei (work of God or church offices); lectio divina (spiritual reading); and opus manuum (manual labour). As you can see above, their timetable varied from season to season, depending on the hours of daylight available, although some of the offices took place during the night.

The number of offices comes from the Psalms, in which the Psalmist praised God seven times a day and got up at midnight to give thanks. There were eight offices a day and they were made up of psalms, readings from the Bible and prayer. In addition, Mass was celebrated once a day.

Spiritual reading took up about two hours of the day, bearing in mind that the length of an hour was longer in the summer than in the winter.

There was also a meeting of the entire community in the chapter-house each day. This was when the business of the monastery was discussed and rule-breaking punished. At the end of the meeting, a chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict was read aloud.

Easby Abbey west range

Easby Abbey

The manual labour part of the day lasted from two to four hours. This could take the form of gardening, agricultural work, carpentry or copying manuscripts. The monks were supposed to do all the labour need to support the community themselves, but many monasteries had servants to assist, St. Benedict having conceded that not all monks would be up to manual labour. The Cistercians decided that their whole day should be devoted to the opus dei and the lectio divina, and instituted the concept of lay brothers, who had dedicated spaces within a monstery. They slept in a separate dormitory, ate in a separate refectory and were cared for when in ill a separate infirmary. They spent most of their time in manual labour and only attended two offices a day.

Having established what monks did, we can move on next week to look at the spaces in which they carried out those activities.

Sources:
The Medieval Monastery by Roger Rosewell
Rievaulx Abbey by Peter Fergusson, Glyn Coppack, Stuart Harrison and Michael Carter

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Anatomy of a Monastery

anatomy-of-a-monastery.jpg

Having looked at castles in detail, I thought it might be useful to look at monasteries in a similar way. Although castles feature in most of my novels, my characters rarely have anything to do with monasteries. In reality, though, medieval people were far more likely to be familiar with a monastery than they were to know about castles. There were monasteries and monastic institutions everywhere, while castles tended to be placed only at strategic locations. Monasteries were great landowners and many agricultural labourers had an abbot or abbess as their lord of the manor, which meant dealing with the monks and occasionally visiting the monastery. Monasteries provided hospitals for the sick and alms for the poor.

The layout of a monastery depended on the type of monk or nun who inhabited it and the amount of space available. The Cistercians tended to follow the same pattern in all their monasteries, but that wasn’t necessarily true of the Benedictines.

There were certain buildings and rooms that were essential for all monasteries and the most important of them were situated around the cloisters. The monastery had to have a church where the monks could worship; cloisters (and other places) where they could work; a refectory where they could eat; a dormitory where they could sleep and a chapter house where they could meet together. Typically there would be other buildings such as the abbot’s house and kitchen, an infirmary, latrines, a guest house, a treasury and, in Cistercian monasteries in particular, accommodation for lay brothers.

Over the next few weeks we’ll have a look at the various spaces within a monastery and what happened in them.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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More Medieval Tiles

It was suggested to me that I might write another post on medieval tiles, since I have so many photographs of them, so here it is. I’ve limited myself to tiles from Byland and Rievaulx Abbeys in Yorkshire, which I visited in April.

Tiles, Rievaulx Abbey 6

Tiles at Rievaulx Abbey

When I visited the abbeys, I expected that any tiles I saw would be behind glass, as these are, but that’s not the case. Fortunately, there are still tiles where they were originally laid in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Some of them are in the forms of mosaics, as you can see below, but there are also a few, very damaged, inlaid tiles.

The tiles above, under glass, are inlaid. They become very fragile when their glaze wears off, which is why there aren’t many of them in what is now the open air.

Tiles, day room, Rievaulx Abbey

Tiles in the day room at Rievaulx Abbey

These tiles look rather good for having been exposed to the elements for several hundred years. They’re in the monks’ day room at Rievaulx. It had two fireplaces and the monks worked there during the winter rather than in the cloisters, which would have offered little protection against wind, rain and snow.

The colours have faded, but they still give a good idea of what the floor would have looked like when the monks were sitting in the room copying books.

Tiles, nave, Rievaulx Abbey

Tiles in the nave of Rievaulx Abbey

The remaining tiles are in the nave of the abbey church. They’re relatively sheltered by bits of walls and pillars.

Tiles, Rievaulx Abbey, nave

Tiles in the nave of Rievaulx Abbey

Tiles, Rievaulx Abbey, nave 2

Tiles in the nave of Rievaulx Abbey

It’s a wonder to me that so many tiles have survived, but Rievaulx has almost nothing compared to Byland Abbey, which is about 15 minutes away by car.

Byland’s tiles are also mostly used to form mosaics.

IMG_20190412_100033

Tiles, Byland Abbey

These tiles on the risers of these steps are still colourful, since no one has trodden on them. Their designs are much clearer than those on surfaces that have been walked on for hundreds of years.

IMG_20190412_100102

Tiles, Byland Abbey

This pretty pattern of interlocking circles must have been very colourful when it was first laid.

IMG_20190412_100239

Tiles, Byland Castle

As you can see, the tiles are exposed both to the elements and to the feet of visitors. Sadly, many of the tiles have suffered as a result.

IMG_20190412_101236

Tiles, Byland Abbey

These tiles have almost completely lost their patterns and the tiles themselves are disintegrating. It’s a shame, because the patterns were obviously fairly complex.

Sources:
Rievaulx Abbey by Peter Fergusson, Glyn Coppack, Stuart Harrison and Michael Carter
Medieval Tiles  by Hans Van Lemmen

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Wanderings of Medieval Saints

503px-St-Cuthbert-Incorrupt

A short discussion with C J Hyslop (Fraggle) on her post about a visit to a church which claims to have been been one of the resting places of the body of St Cuthbert during his post-mortem peregrination around the north of England and the south of Scotland has made me think again about the importance of relics in the Middle Ages.

St Cuthbert’s body was moved to keep it out of the hands of the Vikings, who were not known for their respect for religious artefacts. The coffin containing his body was taken to various places before it came to rest in Durham.

To our minds, it seems odd that people would put their own lives at risk to carry the body of a man long dead to safety. St Cuthbert died in about 687 and set off on his long journey after the destruction of Lindisfarne by the Vikings in 875. It’s a little under 80 miles from Lindisfarne to Durham, but St Cuthbert’s journey there took more than 100 years. That’s a lot of people over several generations who were willing to risk everything for what should have been a heap of bones, but was said to have been an uncorrupted body.

Being close to a saint’s body was considered the same as being close to the saint himself (or herself). This was the reason why pilgrims travelled long distances. It wasn’t to visit churches or cathedrals because they were important in themselves, but because of the relics of the saints they contained and the miracles they expected to see performed because of the saint’s presence.

Saints’ bodies were often moved from one place to another and rarely with the altruism shown by the people who carried St Cuthbert from place to place.

A church was nothing if it didn’t have some kind of relic. Even a piece of bone could be placed in a shrine for pilgrims to visit. Some churches went to extraordinary lengths to obtain even a sliver of bone. There are stories of respected churchmen surreptitiously tearing off a finger when allowed access to a saint’s remains or, in more than one case, biting one off whilst giving the appearance of kissing the saint’s hand. It’s no wonder that saints’ relics were kept safely hidden in reliquaries and shrines. When a relic was displayed publicly, it was a big occasion.

I live in the diocese of Winchester and the cathedral’s patron is St Swithun. His body did not fare as well as that of St Cuthbert. He was the bishop of Winchester when Wessex became the most important of the Saxon kingdoms. He died in 862 and was buried, at his request, in the cemetery of the cathedral.  In 971 his relics were moved inside the cathedral. There was heavy rainfall on the day and this was interpreted as showing his displeasure at being moved. It’s still said that if it rains on St Swithun’s day (15th July) it will rain for the following 40 days. If it doesn’t rain, the weather will be fine for the next 40 days.

This resting place lasted only three years before St Swithun’s body was broken up and placed in two separate shrines within the cathedral. In the early eleventh century his head was taken to Canterbury by Alphege when he left Winchester to become Archbishop of Canterbury. As I said above, even respectable churchmen were not above stealing a relic.

After the Conquest, the Normans built a new cathedral in Winchester and what was left of St Swithun was taken there in 1093, where his shrine continued to be visited by pilgrims until it was destroyed in the Reformation.

Sources:

The Oxford Dictionary of Saints – David Hugh Farmer

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Textile Tools

This week we’re back at City Museum in Winchester, but looking at things from a slightly different angle. Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts about how some textiles were produced in the Middle Ages. You can find the first one here. While I was researching the series, I read about the processes and looked at pictures of the tools used, but there’s a world of difference between looking at a picture and seeing the real thing. City Museum houses some textile tools from the Middle Ages.

IMG_20190913_142559

In numerical order they are:
17 A whorl for a spindle
19 A tenterhook
20 A harbick
21 Shears
22 A thimble
23 A needle
24 A couching needle

The uses of some of the objects are fairly obvious.  The whorl sat on a spindle to balance it when yarn was spun. Spindles were made of wood, so tend not to survive. Whorls were usually made of stone or clay, but this one is lead.

The sewing needle (slightly bent as the description card points out helpfully) was used in the same way that a needle would be used today. It’s thicker than I would like to use, but I suspect it wasn’t meant for fine needlework. Someone using it would have need of the beautiful little thimble.

The shears (21) were probably used for cutting fabric or thread. They look too small to have been used for removing the nap on cloth, although they look too large to snip sewing thread. I don’t suppose the needlewomen of the Middle Ages had a large collection of scissors of different sizes as I do.

According to its card, the harbick (20) was used to secure cloth to a board when the nap was shorn. It’s not an object I’ve come across before in my reading and I can’t find out any more than the museum card told me.

It was the tenterhook (19) that first caught my eye in the display. Tenterhooks were used to stretch fabric on a tenterframe after it had been fulled. I had no idea the hooks were so tiny, but I suppose they would have damaged the fabric had they been much larger. It’s not every day you get to see something that is only remembered through an idiomatic saying, which is why I was quite excited to see it.

I have to confess to being more than a little worried about the couching needle (24). Everything I’ve read or seen about couching indicates that an ordinary needle is used. Couching is an embroidery technique in which a thread is placed on the fabric and held in place by small stitches along its length. In the Middle Ages couching was mostly used to secure gold thread, which was considered too valuable to be wasted on the back of an embroidered piece.  Gold thread was made with gold leaf, so was very expensive. I suppose this needle could be a laying tool, used for keeping threads flat and controlled while the needle is pulling them through the fabric, but I don’t know. If anyone recognises it and understands its purpose in couching, I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment below.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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A Visit to City Museum, Winchester

The last time I was in Winchester, someone recommended the City Museum to me. There wasn’t quite enough time to go in on that day, so I was pleased when the necessity of going to Winchester arose this week and I had the opportunity to see what delights it holds.

It’s a small museum, but I found a great deal there to enjoy. This post is really a random collection of things there that caught my eye, and I hope they’ll appeal to you as much as they appeal to me. I’m sorry about the quality of some of the photographs. It was a sunny day and all the things that interested me are under glass.

Winchester was an important town under the Romans, and the whole of the top floor of the museum is dedicated to some amazing finds both from the town and nearby villas. There are coins there that are 2,000 years old and a mosaic that’s about five foot square and complete, save where a tree root grew into part of it. What I loved, though, were these fragments of a wall from a house where there’s now a shopping centre. IMG_20190913_135708

I was attracted to them by the bright colours. It’s easy for us to believe that people in the past lived in a monochrome world. The artefacts we have from those times have mostly lost their paint, but these bits of wall are a reminder that the Romans, just like the people of the Middle Ages,  lived with and liked vibrant colours.

The museum was recommended to me on the strength of its medieval exhibits, but in Winchester medieval means Anglo-Saxon. It was Alfred the Great’s capital and there are many interesting things in the museum from his time.

My favourite Saxon object is this tiny piece of a house-shaped shrine. It’s a gable of the roof, so not desperately important, but it’s exquisite. To give you an idea of the craftsman’s skill, it’s about 2 1/2 inches tall.

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It’s from the end of the tenth century and is made of walrus ivory. At the top, there’s an acanthus spray, which is, according to its card, typical of the Winchester style.

Another religious object is this shell. If you look closely, you can see the holes drilled into it so that it could be sewn onto a pilgrim’s hat. It would have been worn to show that the person wearing it had been to Santiago de Compostela, the third most important destination for medieval pilgrims.

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There were also tiles. I love tiles, but I’ll spare you all the pictures I took of them and show you just two that I thought were particularly interesting.

I’ve written about how tiles were made here.

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I’ve saved the best till last. This is a fourteenth-century toilet seat. It’s not quite as big as it seems. Those are combs on the left and the fipple flutes on the right are tiny. The toilet seat came from a house belonging to John de Tytynge. Fortunately, other items were found on the site. I’m not sure I’d want my name to be remembered only because the excavation of my latrine pit gave up a toilet seat.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Medieval Conservation

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Image by RitaE from Pixabay

After last week’s post about otter hunting, there was some discussion in the comments about hunting animals to extinction during the Middle Ages. For the most part, however, this is a fairly recent phenomenon.

The exception in medieval England was the wolf.  They were apparently very numerous during the times of the Romans and the Saxons and very dangerous. People were rewarded for killing them, partly because of the threat they posed to livestock, but also because of the value of their skins. They became increasingly rare and, depending on whom you ask, the last wolf in England was killed in the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth or eighteenth century.

Other beasts perceived to be dangerous to animals kept to feed people, such as foxes, however, are still plentiful. English Otters, though, didn’t fare so well. During the last century they were hunted almost to extinction and the population is only starting to recover now.

Animals that medieval aristocrats liked to hunt were protected to some extent. All animals that were hunted, even foxes and otters, had a close season, although it might not have been observed meticulously. There were a variety of reasons for close seasons.

The most obvious was that a close season around the time the young were being born preserved the stock for future hunting. This was applied rigorously to deer, the most noble of the beasts hunted in England. Even during the open season, hunters were not indiscriminate. Harts and bucks had to be a certain age before they were worth hunting, thus allowing them time to breed. Medieval aristocrats saw the dangers of over-hunting and avoided them.

Another reason for a close season for ‘lesser’ animals, was that they would be hunted only during the part of the year when they were most worth catching. For some animals this would be when they were judged to be at their peak for eating; for others it would be when the skin or the fat for which they were hunted were at their best.

Aristocratic hunters also restrained themselves out of respect for the animals they hunted, although this was, again, mainly limited to deer.

Whilst aristocratic hunters could afford to think about preserving stock for the future, peasants could not. It’s extremely unlikely that they observed close seasons on anything. If you were going to break the law by poaching a deer, it wouldn’t matter whether you did it in August or January. They also didn’t possess the means to hunt on horseback, but tended to trap animals, which was an indiscriminate method of hunting.

Sources:

Medieval Hunting by Richard Almond

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

 

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