Tag Archives: medieval

A pilgrim’s souvenir album

8 Feb

In his brilliant denunciation of late medieval pilgrimage culture, A Pilgrimage for Religion’s Sake, the Dutch humanist Erasmus (1466-1536) mocked the imaginary pilgrim Ogygius.  Ogygius, Erasmus wrote, returned from Santiago and Walsingham ‘choked with tin and leaden images on every side.’ Erasmus was referring here to the widespread custom of buying souvenir pilgrim badges, usually made of cheap tin-lead alloy, alongside other souvenirs like prayer-cards, terracotta tokens, and length of ribbon. Pilgrim badges could be purchased cheaply, and worn on the journey back home, an amuletic sign that one had reached the shrine and garnered its spiritual benefits. Each shrine had different kinds of badges, usually showing the patron saint: St George slaying the dragon, the Virgin enthroned, St Thomas Becket in his bishop’s mitre. Others were secular, including the famous phallus badges found in the Low Countries, possibly used as folk-medicine charms, love tokens, gendered satires, or celebrations of life:

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A two-legged phallus, with female rider and wheelbarrow of smaller penises. Brabant, fifteenth century, via JALC

 

However, the most common kinds of pilgrim badge were simple coin-like tokens; from Santiago these showed the scallop shell, and from Canterbury they showed the head of St Thomas, as in this example from the Metropolitan Museum in New York:

Cloisters Thomas pilgrim badge

New York, Metropolitan Museum, Cloisters Collection 1986.77.4, fifteenth-century pilgrim badge of St Thomas of Canterbury.

 

What did a pilgrim do with their souvenir badges once they got home? An intriguing answer to this question can be found in several late medieval prayer books and books of hours, into which pilgrims have sewn or pasted their pilgrim badges. Examples of such books are rare, but the British Library has recently acquired one in the 2013 sale of The Law Society’s Mendham Collection, formerly housed at the University of Kent.

This book of hours (now London, British Library Egerton MS 3883) was made in the Low Countries, probably Bruges, in the fifteenth century for the English market. In at least three places, the pilgrim – probably an English woman, who had some prayers added later in the fifteenth century – placed pilgrim badges into the book. The badges themselves have been lost, but they have left imprints – known as ‘off-sets’ – on the page, as can be seen below. Here, a prayer to St Thomas of Canterbury has been erased (as required by the royal decree of 1538, which sought to wipe out the cult of St Thomas); beneath the erasure a circular mark is clearly visible where the badge was once placed. This would have been a memento, for the pilgrim, of the precious trip to Canterbury, linking the prayer to St Thomas with the moment at which the pilgrim visited his shrine:

 

Egerton 3883 image
London, British Library Egerton MS 3883, f. 142v, prayers; erased prayer to St Thomas; off-set mark of a pilgrim badge. Photo: British Library.

Similar marks appear elsewhere in the book: on folios 124v, 133r and 159v, all of which feature prayers to the Virgin Mary – perhaps reflecting pilgrim badges bought on visits to Walsingham in Norfolk, the major English shrine to the Virgin. The book is also notable for some Middle English religious poetry by the fifteenth-century Chaucerian and monk John Lydgate, unfairly famous for writing more lines of poetry in English than anyone else, before or since.

These marks left by pilgrim badges offer me an intriguing category of evidence in my study of pilgrims’ books and reading. Might many other books contain similar marks, hitherto unnoticed? Were the pages of a manuscript book a common place in which to stow one’s pilgrim badges? The English pilgrim who owned Egerton 3883 may have picked up the custom on the Continent, as several similar examples from the Low Countries survive. In the Soane Hours (London, Sir John Soane’s Museum MS 4), a Flemish book of hours, pilgrim badges have been added to the image of St Sebastian. A more impressive example is from one page of a fifteenth-century manuscript in the Dutch Royal Library, which features no fewer than 23 pilgrim badges from around France and the Low Countries. Here, the medieval book became a kind of souvenir album for the dedicated pilgrim, carrying the record of past journeys and promising future spiritual rewards:

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The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS 77 L 60, breviary with pilgrim badges. Via www.kb.nl

Further reading:

Ostkamp, Sebastiaan, ‘The world upside down: secular badges and the iconography of the late medieval period‘, Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-2 (2009).

Spencer, Brian, Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges, Medieval Finds in Excavations from London 7 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1998).

Stockhorst, Stefanie, ‘Passionate Pilgrims: Secular Lead Badges as Precursors for Emblemata Amatoria‘, Profane Imagery in the Marginal Arts of the Middle Ages, ed. Elaine C. Block and Malcolm Jones (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), 157-81

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Jerusalem as Occidentalist cityscape in twelfth-century Bologna

8 Apr

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Many medieval copies of Jerusalem function at the level of metonymy: a part suggests the whole, a symbol evokes a distant and holy world. Sometimes a polygonal or round building or some crenelated battlements function as a shorthand reference to Jerusalem. Sometimes it was simply the Easter Sepulchre placed in church which once a year became the Jerusalem of Jesus’s death and resurrection. However, in the Italian city of Bologna, a remarkable landscape was crafted in which the urban fabric was Jerusalem, not only on a symbolic level but as lived, familiar space. The beautiful Nuova Gerusalemme at the church of Santo Stefano in Bologna has been much altered since its twelfth-century heyday, but it can still be visited and its Jerusalem-ish landscape appreciated.

Readers who want to know more about the historical and liturgical background of the Bologna site are referred to Robert Ousterhout’s 1980 article, from which much of my information is taken. I visited the site last week and in this post I share some of the thoughts I had about it.

The complex of churches existed since at least the sixth century and probably somewhat earlier, built over a Roman temple of Isis. At the centre was a round church dedicated to the Holy Sepulchre. In the twelfth century – in fact, within sixty years of the First Crusade of 1099, when the Crusaders successfully took Jerusalem – the chapels in Bologna were redesigned to ‘resemble’ Jerusalem. The San Sepulcro chapel (pictured above), with its distinctive ‘circular’ (polygonal) shape, was built c. 1100-1140 and continues to recall the main rotunda of the Anastasis at the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Twelve columns (suggesting the deep significance of the number twelve: the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the Twelve Apostles, etc.) are arranged around a copy of the medieval ‘aedicule’, the small tabernacle or booth at the site of Christ’s empty grave (pictured below). The exterior brickwork has further polychromatic polygonal designs in it, suggesting other mnemonic devices to recall the patterns and symbolism of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem.

As well as the aedicule, within this round church there remains a medieval copy, in similitudine, of the column on which Jesus was scourged (pictured below), akin to the twenty-first century whipping post at the Holy Land park in Florida. The building reproduces the atmosphere and main sites of the Holy Sepulchre; it shows clearly how, at a period in which thousands of Crusaders were travelling to Palestine, their ideas, knowledge, and religious culture was also travelling back to Europe.

One passes through the round church to Cortile di Pilato, a courtyard associated from the later Middle Ages with Pontius Pilate containing an ancient well (in the first picture, above), recalling Pilate’s washing of his hands (Matthew 27). Off the courtyard once stood various other small chapels recalling biblical and quasi-biblical episodes of the Passion of Jesus: a prison-cell, a Calvary, a now-vanished chapel in similitudine marking the site of Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene.

The distance from the Calvary to the aedicule of the Resurrection is 42 meters; this is based on the specific proportions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in which the distance between these sites is 41.6 meters (Ousterhout, p. 312).

As Ousterhout showed, the chapels and shrines photographed here were just a part of a bigger civic complex: at Easter, a dramatic liturgical procession took place, moving from the nearby church of St John on the Mount (now rebuilt, which played the role of the Church of the Ascension on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives) to the church of St Thekla (now demolished and replaced with a luxury fashion shop in a Baroque palazzo, the location mirrors Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley, the dedication to a saint especially popular in Palestine, Cyprus, and Lebanon). From St Thekla the procession continued to Calvary and the Holy Sepluchre at the Santo Stefano complex.

Based quite precisely on the dimensions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it was found, in a dilapidated state, by the crusaders, before they rebuilt it in the 1150s and ’60s, the complex sought to improve on the Holy Sites in the Holy Land, replaying holy space in a discontinuous but liturgically resonant cityscape. The Bologna complex, which Ousterhout says was ‘intended to be more than just a souvenir copy’, was an ambitious act of Occidentalism. By this I mean that it shows how the Eastern spaces being remodelled by the Crusaders in Palestine were generated in conversation with western European ideas of biblical history and liturgical memory. This was a western space developed by the West through its fantasies of the East; the East was then remade in this image. The Bologna complex continues to be a potent reminder of Jerusalem: or, should we say, Jerusalem continues to be a potent reminder of Bologna?

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Postscript: on the side of the Bologna complex is a recent piece of graffiti (below): the name ‘Salem’, the Latin name for Jerusalem. This is cognate with the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ (peace) but also recalls the earliest biblical name of Jerusalem, Salem (שלם; Genesis 14).

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Jerusalem, geometry, and medieval Germany

21 Nov

The English pilgrim Margery Kempe made her way by foot and wagon, from Danzig, via Wilsnack, to Aachen in the fifteenth century. This is a long journey of over 700 miles and it was, for Kempe, through hostile territory. She was an elderly woman, in poor health, and throughout her journey she was both bullied and subject to considerable misfortune. Nevertheless, she stuck to her route, crossing the Rhine and reaching Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) to see the showing of the famous Aachen relics, which were brought out once every seven years. What kept Margery Kempe moving?
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The Book of Margery Kempe says almost nothing about what Kempe saw at Aachen, other than that she viewed the famous relics: of the Virgin Mary’s smock, Christ’s swaddling clothes, the decapitation cloth of John the Baptist, and the Christ’s loincloth from his Passion. Kempe must have thus visited the cathedral, where the relics were shown and were stored in the remarkable shrine of the Virgin Mary, an oak box decorated with silver gilt, made in Aachen between 1220 and 1239 (pictured below).

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Kempe had already visited Jerusalem, Rome, Canterbury, Walsingham, Wilsnack, and Santiago de Compostela, so she had visited all the most important pilgrimage sites in Western Europe; but the journey to Aachen complemented her journey to Jerusalem. In part, she was emulating St Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73), who had also gone to Jerusalem, Santiago, and Aachen. Whilst it is not made explicit in The Book of Margery Kempe, Aachen itself had long styled itself as a kind of ‘New Jerusalem’: indeed, the city’s founding by the Emperor Charlemagne (742-814) was an attempt to create an imperial city which combined the splendour of a New Rome with the spiritual promise of a New Jerusalem. The mathematical and geometrical dimensions of the cathedral have long been recognised as referring to the apocalyptic Jerusalem: an eight-sided dome, a sixteen-sided ambulatory, and eight arcades of columns, as eight represented perfection and harmony; the circumference of the octagon is 144 feet, the cardinal number of the Heavenly Jerusalem Apocalypse [Revelation]. 7:4, 14:1 etc.). This was mirrored in the remarkable chandelier (the ‘Barbarossa Chandelier’) given to the cathedral by Emperor Frederick I, and made in Aachen about 1165-70.

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The chandelier, which Kempe would most probably have seen, is an image of the Heavenly Jerusalem, according to Apocalypse, chapter 21. Its theme is, like the dome in which it hangs, the number eight. It resembles the city walls of Jerusalem, and has sixteen towers (with bases which speak to the person standing underneath), engraved with scenes from the life of Jesus, from the Annunciation to Christ in Majesty. 48 candles represent the twelve apostles, the twelve martyrs, the twelve confessors, and twelve virgins, recalling the liturgy sung when Roman kings were enthroned in the building.

Kempe’s eye for material luxury would also have been drawn to another Jerusalem scene in the cathedral: the sumptuous ‘Palo d’Oro’, a gold ‘sheet’ across the high altar, made in Germany about 1020, which is one of the earliest strip-art scenes of the Passion and looks forward to the Stations of the Cross/Via Dolorosa tradition.

20131122-080949.jpg It’s perhaps hard to make out the individual scenes from my images, but the scheme starts in the top-left corner (Entry into Jerusalem); the Flagellation can clearly be seen in the far-right panel of the middle row; the scheme ends with the Women at the Tomb. The scenes of the Passion like a montage of devotional ‘stills’, clearly anticipating the vivid tableaux summoned in the ‘mind’s eye’ of medieval mysticism, and a series of loci, like the later schema of the Stations of the Cross

Finally, the Byzantine-style mosaics, at the main entrance, which were renewed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, feature images of the City of God – civitas Dei – surrounded by personifications of the four rivers of Paradise, making manifest the Heavenly Jerusalem built in this German city.
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On the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey

24 May

According to Shakespeare (Henry IV Part 2, IV.iii.361-3), on 20 March 1413, Henry IV, king of England, fulfilled a prophecy that he should die at Jerusalem: this wasn’t, however, Jerusalem in the Holy Land but a more domestic version: the ‘Jerusalem Chamber’ at Westminster Abbey, the seat of English government and monarchy. The Jerusalem Chamber, now rather inelegantly jostling for position with the Abbey’s gift shop, is closed to the public but is a fascinating building which tells us a lot about the mobility of Jerusalem in the fourteenth century.

The Jerusalem chamber was built in the fourteenth century, by Nicholas Litlyngton (d. 1386), the abbot of Westminster, who was responsible for much remodelling of Westminster Abbey (rebuilding the nave, completing the cloister, building a new infirmary, as well as the Jerusalem Chamber). The Jerusalem Chamber has Litlyngton’s device on the ceiling joists, showing how the individual puts his imprimatur onto sacred space. The room possibly once had wall-hangings or frescoes, depicting scenes of Jerusalem, the life of Christ or biblical verses about Jerusalem. Paul Binksi (in Archaeologia 109 (1991)) has written about the tapestries which may have once decorated the room. Photos of the interior as it now looks can be seen here. Next door are later chambers called Jericho and Samaria, so, in Westminster, one could progress through a holy ‘landscape’ (actually, a series of gothic rooms). As the photo above shows, the medieval architect of the Jerusalem Chamber including two of the most basic icons of ‘Jerusalem’ – the crenellation to suggest Jerusalem’s walls, and the tower, polygonal, to recall the Holy Sepulchre (the elements can be seen elsewhere in this blog, in the Bruges Jeruzalemkerk, at Edington, and the Lynn Red Mount).

Did Henry IV really die in this room? The story of royal death in ‘Jerusalem’ was current well before Shakespeare: the legend seems to start with the French chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet (d. 1453), who wrote that Henry planned to conquer Jerusalem after conquering France. Henry’s pride and ambition was corrected, and he was humbled by dying at his English Jerusalem, not the real one. The Cronycles of Robert Fabyan (d. 1513), one of the most widespread historical texts of sixteenth-century England, put a different spin on the story: Henry’s piety meant that, even though he couldn’t die in the real Jerusalem, he did manage to die in the Jerusalem of the heart, in the New Jerusalem, at Westminster.

But Henry wasn’t the only king who ‘died’ at Jerusalem: Robert ‘the Bruce’ of Scotland (d. 1329), on his deathbed, requested his heart to be buried at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Edward I (d. 1307) of England had foretold his own death in the ‘burgh’ of Jerusalem, but died at Burgh-by-Sands near Carlisle. A popular medieval preachers’ tale said that Pope Sylvester II (d. 1003) had his death at Jerusalem foretold by the devil; he was then struck down in Rome’s church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. In lives of St Edmund King Offa is represented dying on his way back from Jerusalem. So to die well is to die at Jerusalem. But not, necessarily, the actual Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem of the heart, and of the mind.

This account of the Jerusalem Chamber is adapted from some ideas I’ve written about in my book Feeling Persecuted (Reaktion, 2010): I’d love to hear about other kings, princes and prelates who have sought to die at Jerusalem, or ‘Jerusalem’.

Hello world!

11 Mar

Thanks for visiting my new blog!

I am a medievalist, teaching and researching at Birkbeck College, University of London. I’ve recently edited and translated Sir John Mandeville’s fourteenth-century Book of Marvels and Travels and, growing out of this, I’ve started a new research project, funded by the AHRC Research Network award and then by a Philip Leverhulme Prize, on western European representations of Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the period following the Crusades (i.e. 1291 – c. 1550).

The Latin Christian kingdom of Jerusalem was established by Crusaders in the Holy Land in the period 1096-9. Nobility, clergy, pilgrims, converts, and many others quickly established a state focussed on, and based around, the conquest of Jerusalem, building new castles, fortresses, cathedrals and cities. The Latin Kingdom was hugely important, but endured for only a short time: the last mainland Crusader town, the fortified city of Acre (Akko, Israel), was taken by the Mamluks in 1291. The Remembered Places project explores the European memory of the Crusades in the centuries which followed, thinking about the cultural consequences of the loss of the Latin Kingdom. As Jerusalem and the Holy Land once more came under Islamic control, European Christendom re-imagined its relationship to the holy sites, especially to Jerusalem, the ‘centre’ or ‘navel’ of the known world.

I’ll be using this blog informally to report on and discuss the many different versions of Jerusalem I come across in my research, and at the workshops and public lectures associated with the Remembered Places project. I’ll also be using it to get feedback on some my ideas and to share and store my photos of representations of Calvary, Jerusalem and other holy sites.

All photos on the site are taken by me, and can be used freely (though an acknowledgement to me, Anthony Bale, would be nice).