The film below is silent and I intend to leave it like that, comments free, in honour of the many who lost their lives on that fateful night of April 15th, 1912
( TITANIC DISASTER )
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A poem of living stones. In their form, the Romanesque symbols are akin to clay pots. They contain, however, living water, the mystery of the Holy Grail. Carriers of ancient wisdom, they reveal the true Knowledge that prevents human death and radiate everlasting youth.
In the 12th century, raw, virgin stone is deemed androgynous, which refers to the perfection of the original state. Cut and carved, it marks the separation of the principles. The stone may be conical or cubical. The conical symbolizes the male element and the cubical the female, respectively.
The stones are not however inert masses: like the betyls, they are living bodies fallen down from heaven. They stay animate after the Fall. By virtue of its immobility, the stone is the epitome of wisdom. Often associated with water, the stone is central to the Old Testament episode where Moses strikes a stone and water streams down. (Exodus, XVII, 6).
Another biblical symbolism draws attention to the stone’s nutritious character: the Devil challenges Christ to turn the stones into loaves of bread (Matthew, 4, 3). For the 12th century man, the stone gives life but also sustains it.
The famous female mystic Hildegard of Bingen described the three virtues of the stone: humidity, palpability and the igneous solidity. Humidity arrests dissolution; owing to its palpable nature, man can tackle and subject it to his will; the fire that lies within its core makes it ever more adamant.
A stone builder is an alchemist. He explores the hidden passages of turning nothing into something. He examines all the possible crossings from virtuality to actualization. The builder, the artist, the architect, they all bear the same name and gather all artistic and professional functions. Multiplicity is imperfection, therefore one man presides over the edification of a sanctuary. Once completed, the stones can relay the effort and hold arches, keep walls upright and, as at the abbey of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy (below), thwart the unremitting oppression of the sea, in periculo maris.
The apse of Fontevraud Abbey. According to 12th century thought, the microcosm and the macrocosm forms the being, that is everything that can have an existence. The church is a microcosm built to resemble a macrocosm whose attributes it takes upon consecration. The chancel is the upper part of a church and thus the head of the microcosm, where the plenary power resides and where the connection with the macrocosm becomes achievable. The half circular shape of the apse points to the East where the Sun (sol invictus) rises and where grace abounds. From this perspective, the configuration of the church follows the mystical plan of Hildegard of Bingen, mentioned above: an ascensional staircase releasing its lower energy under the portal (see photo below) then running through the nave, step after step, past the crossing of the transept, into the choir where the blazing vitality reaches the apex. Under the stone arches that soon made way for an ambulatory, the mystery of all mysteries is revealed to the pious eyewitness. Here, the mysticism of light and stone, verticality and potency, permanence and singularity in manifested in its entirety.
The abbey church of Paray-le-Monial in Burgundy
The church of Saint George of Boscherville in Normandy
In his essay “L’art religieux du XIIe siècle”, the French art historian Emile Mâle drew attention to the relationship between the 12th century scholars and the artists: “When iconography changes, when art espouses new themes, it means that a scholar has collaborated with an artist”. Here, this capital from the abbey of Saint George of Boscherville in Normandy (Seine-Maritime) shows how figurative sculptural art draws its vigour from 12th c. scholasticism. An artist is therefore never alone in his artistic endeavors, no matter how creative and original his work is. Philosophical and theological thought, illuminated illustrations, all form the ancestry of an original artistic mind in the Romanesque 12th century.
The church St Pierre at Lion sur Mer in Normandy
Decorated capital at Fontevraud Abbey
Castle Acre priory church in Norfolk, England
Mythical creature swallowing a column at Lincoln Cathedral
The nave of Fontevraud Abbey
It is therefore not surprising that the city of Minas Tirith from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was conceived in a mimicking Romanesque style. The city had been there for thousands of years and the way of conveying the idea of permanence is to relate its buildings, fortifications and the top-level palace architecture (more of a basilica, actually) to the 12th century churches and castles.
For more photos click here and you’ll be taken to my Flickr photostream. To find out where the photo was taken (before I rename and add caption to all photos), please refer to the photo tags inside Flickr
The Mont Saint Michel has almost become a commonplace landmark in France. However, just as Marie-Madeleine Davy was writing in her book “Initiation to the Romanesque symbolism”, the spiritual man approaches (medieval) art in a soaring campaign that conquers symbols and allegories. The Mount reveals its numinous edge and once it has been seen, it doesn’t wash away.
In the three hours that I spent inside the Mount, I caught glimpses of these fleeting displays of sacred presence. The monastic solitude, bereft of apparent tranquility, keeps tireless tourists and their camera flashes at bay. Despite the bustling and hustling, I could still hear the millennium-old chant that still echos in the granite walls.
Early 12th c. Madonna with child
Ex monasterio Sancti Michaelis in periculo maris
Do the French speak English? I was talking Romanian with my family at this restaurant in Amboise when the waiter comes and proposes us a menu for Anglo-Saxons. “We are not English”, I answer. “Oh, I thought you spoke English there”, he retorted. Good evidence of how well the French are acquainted with English.
Chinon, 1181, King Henry II holds the Christmas court here at Chinon. The castle had been one of his favourite residences when he was in Anjou taking care (=extending and conquering) of his continental estates. It his also at the castle of Chinon that dear old Henry II died in 1189.
In 1152, Henry, duke of Anjou, Maine, etc, future king of England, married out of love, a woman out of legend. Not in Alexandria, or Rome, or Camelot has there been such a queen. Only one of her sons, John, outlived her.
In the abbey of Fontevraud she is setting the trend for “the reader” effigy, one of the many artistic transformations of the 12th century Renaissance. May she rest in peace for she hardly had any in her lifetime. Except perhaps those fifteen years when her beloved husband kept her locked up in Salisbury tower. Résidence surveillée, actually.
The arrogant castle of Saumur
The river Loire at Amboise heedlessly rushing past the stone bridge
The Romanesque church of Saint-Martin in Amboise, deformed by the late-Gothic portal.
The wealth of the city of Troyes. These might have belonged to the local Jews
The Château of Chambord as King Francis I must have seen it when coming on a royal tour (with no tourists)
Château de Chambord, soaring tower
Equestrian display at Château de Chambord
Château de Chaumont on the Loire at sunset
Some thoughts and things I jotted down while driving from Boston (the one in England) to Bury St. Edmunds last week, where the famous priory lay centuries ago.
Early in the morning I drove to Peterborough cathedral and attended Holy Communion there. There were so many people there, I felt uplifted. The Norman interior of the church was conveying this sense of security, with the thick pillars, small window openings and scarce decoration. I wasn't expecting the West front to be so different from all the churches I had seen elsewhere.
Next, to Castle Acre where I saw the priory ruins and the motte-and-bailey castle. It's impressive how most of the priory church fell down but the West front is still in almost one piece and most of the decorations, including the blind arcading is still visible in the middle of a seemingly pasture field.
Hedgerows in Suffolk
Since the place is run by the English Heritage trust, I had to pay an entrance fee to see the priory site. What I found particularly interesting was the latrine house which had been built over a small river so that the waste would wash away (towards the nearest village downriver). I thought how much Henry VIII lacked in economic foresight: A lot of money would have been made out of entrance fee to all the abbeys that were dissolved in the late 1530s. 4 pounds 50p to see some ruins, maybe double to see the actual place.
After leaving the place, I tried to reach Thetford Priory but all that I managed to do was circle the priory close and get back to the car empty-handed. However, I did get to see a nice residential neighbourhood with some stunning front gardens.
Originally, I wanted to drive directly to Bury St. Edmunds from Thetford but I had a sudden urge to see the sea in Norfolk. Therefore, I turned left on the motorway (I'm still in the UK) and drove through some beautiful woodland (might have been Thetford Forest Park, but it needs checking); I even saw thatched houses.
There are indeed magnificent houses everywhere and similar stone tower churches in every village. One trademark is the cornerstones that give a nice impression overall. There's also great traffic management with lots of smart markings and good road conditions.
On the other hand, there are not as many sheeps here in the East as in the Midlands or the South.
I learned about the Fens but scarcely saw any marshes on the way to the sea. I crossed a major river but forgot to write down its name or to look it up thereafter, so now it's lost unless I rewind my route and check for major river crossings which I don't actually have time for.
I listened to good radio and liked one song more than the others: Brad Paisley's "Catch all the fish"
One intriguing thing: there were many references to Poland in one day: Polish shop in Peterborough "Polski Sklep", Polish-speaking chaps drinking Wiwieck beer on the green in Thetford; fellow saying something about Krakow on the radio.
Otherwise, good weather with sporadic showers and overcast clouds.
Orford Castle, a strangely unfamiliar addition to the 12th c. collection of Norman keeps
Before it started to get dark I arrived in Orford and parked the car near the Norman keep. After spending half an hour there writing all this down on a picnic bench I went to see the sea in Felixstowe. I had hardly got the coast when I felt hungry. I turned right near Melton in Suffolk and had dinner at Willford Bridge inn: fish pie, cherry tart and a pint of Regata ale to wash it all with.
One last thing I wrote before the end of the day"
People are so nice everywhere. England is such a natural country for such unnatural eating habits people here have. Am desperately looking for non-fried, non-battered, fresh fish. The closest I've got so far is roasted salmon. That's a start, I hope it gets better.
It all gets down to food, one way or another, I guess.
Below there are some photos from the day before, from York to Boston, marking off parts of Yorkshire, Scarborough, Lincoln..
The flying buttresses of York Minster, while I was catching my breath from climbing the billion stairs to the tower.
The waterfront in Scarborough, an originally small fishermen village, now a bustling town with 10 fish&chips venues on a square meter.
The ferris wheel in Scarborough right in the surf splash.
The Humber bridge in all its glory. You have to be there to appreciate all its majesty.
Lincoln, very close to what it must have looked like in the good old days. Behind me, Lincoln Castle.
All photos featuring on this blog can be found on my Flickr page
Now this is fantastic news for me and everyone else with an interest (or more) in Norman history. BBC has announced that it is going to broadcast a TV series documentary focusing on the Normans under the guidance of Professor Robert Bartlett, one of the most eminent scholars specialising in the Norman and Angevin period, whose most recent book "England under the Norman and Angevin kings" sheds light on the latest research in late 11th to early 13th century England. This season, we are told, will not be concerned with the Anglo-Norman exploits only but will look everywhere where the Normans left their mark, in Normandy, Italy and the Holy Land. As with all BBC programmes, I am sure this one will be a hit and I'm dying to watch it. "Later this year" could mean, however, anything from September to December so this piece of information will add to my impatience.
[update] Now there are reports the series will be aired later this month. I don't know what to believe, really.
Website now available here
Below is BBC's official announcement:
The BBC is to provide viewers with a definitive look at a seminal period of history, the resonances of which can still be felt today, in a season focusing on the Normans across BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC Learning.
Leading the season will be The Normans, a three-part series on BBC Two that will examine the extraordinary expansion and unchecked ambition of this warrior race between the 10th and 13th centuries.
Presented by Professor Robert Bartlett, the series will bring the history of the Normans to life by uncovering the personal stories of shadowy figures like Tancred of Hauteville, best remembered as a poor 11th-century Norman lord who fathered no less than 12 sons, two of whom left their homeland and risked their lives to become great rulers in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
Sweeping across borders and centuries, Bartlett will journey from the st ormy shores of Great Britain via Jerusalem to the Kingdom of Sicily, explaining how and why a dynasty of dukes and warriors became conquerors and kings. Bursting with colourful manuscripts, documents and artefacts, this series will give voice to an unfamiliar world of princess historians and mixed-race monks.
Martin Davidson, Commissioning Editor, History and Business, says: "The Battle of Hastings in 1066 is such an iconic landmark in our history, but what do we really know of the dynasty of dukes and warriors that staged this Norman invasion? And what do we know of the frenetic energy of the centuries that followed? I'm extremely pleased that a world authority like Robert Bartlett will be at the helm of our Norman season, providing BBC Two viewers with a definitive look at the warrior-race whose ambition and power transformed Europe and irrevocably changed the course of British history."
Alongside The Normans, Dr Stephen Baxter will present a one-off BBC Two documentary on The Domesday Book. Locked in a special case deep within the British National Archives, this Norman treasure holds many secrets of the past. This special programme will shake the dust off Domesday and reveal that this ancient public record unleashed enough red tape to help create the modern nation state.
BBC Four will be turning the spotlight on the art and culture of the Normans. In The Stones Of Rosslyn, art historian Lady Helen Rosslyn will delve into the art and architecture of one of the most famous medieval chapels in the world, exploring what it is about Rosslyn Chapel that has enchanted visitors as diverse as JMW Turner, Robert Burns and Tom Hanks.
In Norman Walks, Dan Snow will uncover the forgotten Norman Empire – one that has been largely overlooked but which laid the foundation for modern Britain. Each episode will take in prominent Norman landmarks and feature a mixture of aerial archive and bespoke filming via helicopter.
In The Art Of The Anglo-Saxons, Dr Janina Ramirez will tell the story of how England in the Dark Ages became one of the art capitals of Christendom. She will examine highlights of Anglo-Saxon art, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, decoding the imagery within them and examining the sophisticated techniques required to create them.
Poet Simon Armitage will show how the legend of King Arthur matured in the years after the Norman invasion in Armitage On Arthur. Revealing the greatest masterworks of Arthurian literature, Simon will tell Arthur's tragic story and ask what role the mythical king still serves in our national consciousness.
The Norman Season will also launch Hands On History, a two-year BBC Learning campaign offering audiences inspiring opportunities to take the next step from watching programmes to discovering history around them. Working in partnership with more than 20 heritage and history organisations, Hands On History will offer a range of events and activities as part of the Norman Season, including Norman walks.
The Norman Season will take place on the BBC later this year.
Late last week I enrolled in this palaeography and medieval latin programme with Keele University and for the last four days I've been sweating like a scrivener in his dusty scriptorium. Only the classroom at Keele is not at all dusty and with all the rain pouring down every day, sweating only comes from working hours on end trying to figure out what some 700 year-old clerk wanted to express using words and scripts long fallen into disuse. What's even more puzzling, it's that ten people are sitting at a table doing script lines in turns when nobody really cares what the text says. I am one of them and I love doing it. Why? Don't ask me. It's a daunting undertaking: unless you make progress right from the first words on the first line of the text, you are doomed to stagnation. It's reassuring that Professor Jim Sutton is there to guide us through a whole world of question marks.
Every morning at 9:30 we sit around the L-shaped table jubilating about our fresh findings, either an "eidem" or a "sciant presentes". And when the whole sentence makes sense, either by having understood that this adjective goes dative and that noun ballistically ablative, we feel like in a septimus heaven, in the reign of King Edward, son of King Edward, in die Dominica. But most of the time it's freakishly difficult and the only way to make progress is to gape at the document fanatically without blinking. Eventually, either by imagination or sound reasoning (and I know whom I'm talking about when I say that), we get there, when Professor Sutton says, Game over, here's the transcription! We cling to that handout as though it were a trophy, which in many ways it is.
With all the coffee breaks at 10:45 and lunch breaks at 12:45, the text never breaks away from us. At the restaurant, which resembles a monastic refectory, the chat around the tables reverts to charters, deeds, wills, conjugations and the ablative unless Nigel, our prior, has some announcement to make.
I have translated below (and I mean translation in the latin sense of the word , which means "moved from one place to another", namely from my notebook to this post) a deed that we worked on earlier today in the "predicto modo".
You'll get a sense, whoever you are and whatever your interests, of what I'm forced to do from dawn to dusk. I'm joking. I've placed myself willfully under this yoke and I simply can't wait to do it tomorrow and the day after that.
Omnibus Christi fidelibus hoc presens scriptum visuris vel audituris Johannes Bagot dominus de Bromleye salutem in domino. Noveritis me dedisse et concessisse Willelmo filio Ade de Chapmon de Bromley totum boscum existentem in decem acris terre de bosco meo de Fenneshay videlicet stantem et Jacentem sicut mensuratis sunt et divise exceptis liberis arboribus ibidem cressentibus videlicet quercis frenis pomeriis mapeles cum liberis introitu et exitu et una porta versus Alberleye. Et etiam concessi eidem Willelmo quod possit capere turbas pro domo sua cooperiendo et terram pro furno suo faciendo in venella de Alberleye. Et etiam concessi eidem Willelmo spacium trium annorum ad predictam terram de predicto bosco de liberandam a die festi annunciationis beate Marie Anno Regni Regis Edwardi filii regis Edwardi nono. Et etiam concessi eidem Willelmo per tres annos predictos herbagium pro duobus equis in toto bosco meo de Fenneshay. Et etiam concessi eidem Willelmo quod in fine dicti termini possit capere domum quam ibidem fecerit et a dicto bosco cariare pro voluntate sua sine contradictione alicuius. In cuius rei testimonium huic scripto indentate sigillum meum apposuit. Datum die et anno supradicto.
Now here's the English translation:
To all faithful in Christ who shall see or hear this present writing John Bagot, lord of Bromley Bagotes, sends greeting in God. You will have known me to have given and to have granted to William, the son of Adam le Chapmon of Bromley all the wood (firewood) existing within ten acres of land of my wood of Fenneshay, namely standing and lying just as they are measured and defined, excepting free growing trees in the same place, namely of oak, ash, apple and maple, with free right of entry and exit and one gateway towards Alberleye, And also I have granted to the same William that he is able to take turves for thatching his house and earth for making his hearth in the lane of Alberleye, And also I have granted to the said William a span of three years to the aforesaid land with the freedom of the aforesaid wood from the feast-day of the annunciation of the blessed Mary in the ninth year of the Reign of King Edwardm son of King Edward. And also I have granted to the same William for the aforesaid three years grazing for two horses in the whole of my wood of Fenneshay, And also I have granted to the said William that at the end of the term he is able to take the house which he has built in the same place and to carry if from the said wood at his will without the objection of anyone. In witness of which thing I have placed my seal on this indented writing. Given the day and year above stated (Thursday, the 25th of March 1316)