The polyglot and poly-alphabetical Middle Ages

An exceptional collection of seven alphabets (two Hebrew, one Greek, one ‘Chaldaean’, one ‘Egyptian’, one runic, and one of obscure origin entitled ‘Norma’) is preserved in a manuscript in the Vatican library ( composed in Northern France or perhaps Germany and dating, probably, from the first half of the 9th century AD.  Written in CarolineContinue reading “The polyglot and poly-alphabetical Middle Ages”

Moral relativism in the medieval church: St Nicholas

Today’s the feast of St. Nicholas, the 4th-century bishop of Myra (that’s in present-day Turkey). I thought it suitable to share with you a story from the life of the saint whose name I bear (as my middle name).  There were many lives of St. Nicholas written in the Middle Ages, but Jacobus de Voragine’sContinue reading “Moral relativism in the medieval church: St Nicholas”

England vs. Italy in medieval records. Do we need a winner?

This evening’s joint session of late Medieval and early Modern Italian seminars at the IHR was one of those rare occasions where historians leave behind their scholarly shell and show what historical debate is all about. This meeting’s agonistic element lay in the provocative title ‘England and Italy: Which holds the Record for Records?’, which hadContinue reading “England vs. Italy in medieval records. Do we need a winner?”

The mediaeval reindeer

The reindeer is among my favourite creatures. Its antlers bespeak strength, yet there is an air of delicate loneliness about it that make it fit quite well in the desolate northern landscapes. With all my affection for the beast, I had no idea that there was a description of it dating back to the MiddleContinue reading “The mediaeval reindeer”

Notker Balbulus, a brief introduction

These are the notes for a brief presentation I recently did for the medieval Latin course. The topic was medieval poetry and we looked at Notker’s sequence ‘Laus tibi, Christe’. Notker Balbulus (the Stammerer) – born 840 of distinguished parents, died 912 – monk of St Gall, monastery in present-day Switzerland, founded in 613 byContinue reading “Notker Balbulus, a brief introduction”

Medieval robots? Well, close

And it’s here: the first soothsaying robotic head in human history. The year is, well, uncertain but somewhere between 990-1003. For convenience, let’s make it 991, when it features neatly in the manuscript I am currently working on for my doctoral thesis. The story goes like this. There was a famous pope who, before becomingContinue reading “Medieval robots? Well, close”

Journeying Abraham Cresques’ mappa mundi: the medieval map at its best (and highest detail)

While preparing a seminar on late-medieval West-East cultural exchange, I came across the Catalan mappa mundi, this astonishing cartographic achievement of the 14th century attributed to Abraham Cresques, a Jewish cartographer from Palma de Majorca. Below are some extracts from this incredibly high detail composition – extracts which are relevant to me, first of all,Continue reading “Journeying Abraham Cresques’ mappa mundi: the medieval map at its best (and highest detail)”

A wedding ring for three fingers

Now we all know everything about wedding rings but here’s something that may not be that well-known. In the Norman pontifical from Lyre (in Evreux, France) there is something quite fascinating about the way a wedding was being conducted in the middle of the twelfth century. A pontifical is a sort of users manual forContinue reading “A wedding ring for three fingers”

The city besieged with flowers

I love those siege stories which end in the capture of the fortification without neither battle nor bloodshed. The capture of the poitevin city of Niort (between La Rochelle and Poitiers) is one of these histoires de ruse that I delight in recounting, not only for the story itself, but also for the reason thatContinue reading “The city besieged with flowers”

What in nomine regis is going on with this palaeography business?

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 workingContinue reading “What in nomine regis is going on with this palaeography business?”