Archive for July, 2016

Medieval Secular Cathedrals

Saturday, July 30th, 2016

The cathedral church of a diocese means the church which contains the seat or throne, a cathedra, of the bishop of the diocese.  The Church of England has a mixture of what are called secular and monastic cathedrals.  This division in terminology began with the Roman Catholic Church in England and was very much present at the time of the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.  After the break with Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, and the beginning of the Church of England, a category of cathedrals of the new foundation was added.  This blog post will talk about secular cathedrals while in later postings I will speak of monastic cathedrals and those of the new foundation.

As many of you know, I was a steward and tour guide in Exeter Cathedral during the four different years that we lived in England.  This marvellous opportunity for me as an American gave me hands-on experience of a living church of the fourteenth century and became my inspiration for creating the Lady Apollonia stories.  Exeter Cathedral is one of England’s medieval secular cathedrals and looks much as it did in 1380 when Plague of a Green Man, the 2nd of the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, was set.

The phrase, secular cathedral, might sound like an oxymoron because the basic meaning of secular is non-religious. We must remember, however, that secular cathedral is the mother church of the diocese having the bishop’s throne but one in which the cathedral clerics are not bound by some monastic rule.

Exeter Cathedral, like other secular cathedrals in medieval times, was governed by a dean and a chapter of clerics called canons.  The canons lived celibate lives as priests but they were not bound by the rules of a monastic order such as the Benedictines.

England has two archbishops, one in Canterbury and one in York.  Interestingly, Canterbury Cathedral was a monastic church while York Minster was secular.  The other famous secular cathedrals in England besides Exeter and York were Chichester, Hereford, Lichfield, Saint Paul’s London, Salisbury, Wells, and Winchester.

Exeter Cathedral, washed by a late afternoon rain, is pictured below.1989- C-36-2

The Medieval Church

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

The Church was an integral part of everyday life in medieval England.  Author Barbara Tuchman, in her book A Distant Mirror, describes Christianity as the matrix of medieval life.  Membership in the Church was not a matter of choice, it was compulsory for everyone.  I am attempting to write historical fiction in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries set in the late 14th, early 15th centuries in England.  Simply to be true to the times and places, the church plays a major role in each of my stories because it was dominant in peoples’ lives.

Lady Apollonia and her affinity are devout believers who regard the church as central to their lives.  Worship and prayer are an integral part of their daily existance.  As the Lady travels around the West Country, each of her residences has a chapel for her use as well as her affinity.  The conversion of space in Exeter House for such a chapel is described in Plague of a Green Man set in Exeter in 1380.

Several members of her affinity are clergy.  Friar Francis came to be her household chaplain while Brother William, a priest and former monk, serves as the Lady’s almoner.  Within her own family, her middle son, Thomas, becomes a priest faithfully ministering to his parish church in Axbridge, Somerset, while her youngest son, David, is called to leave his home in order to join the monastery at Tintern Abbey.

England in Apollonia’s time was largely illiterate and very dependent on the clergy for direction and instruction.  Clerics ran the gamut from devoutly ministering Christians to selfish wealth-seeking villains which are described by Geoffrey Chaucer in the religious characters he includes among his Canterbury pilgrims.

Some of the villains in the Lady Apollonia Mysteries have been monks or priests who came from noble families who would not inherit their father’s title or lands.  An important option for aristocratic families was to send a second or third son into the Church where, without the slightest calling to the religious life, such men could find wealth and political power as churchmen.

The parish church in Lady Apollonia’s home village of Aust is pictured below.1992- B-32-3

In Search of Medieval Voice

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

The Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries are set in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer but are not written in Chaucerian English.  Even if I did write in middle English, my readers would find it difficult to read.  How then can I help readers get into the period and the 14th century places in which each story is set?

First, I try not to use words which have come into the English language in recent centuries.  A good example is the word “Prithee” which has a nice sound as a contraction for “I pray thee”.  Unfortunately, it did not come into usage until the sixteenth century.  I try not to use contractions when my upper class English characters are speaking; an exception is “shan’t” which certain characters used in daily speech.

I consistently use a mild dialect for the uneducated or lower classes in my stories.  The manner of speaking was important in the fourteenth century, even as it is important in Britain today.  Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took voice lessons to enable her to speak more like the Queen than the grocer’s daughter she actually was.  There are many different local dialects throughout England today.  I have invented a mild dialect just to remind readers that some of my characters are not of the of the educated or upper classes.  Some members of Lady Apollonia’s affinity such as Nan, her personal maid, have learned to speak properly.  Others, such as the Lady’s long-time stablemaster Gareth Trimble, have never changed in their dialect.  A few characters in the Lady Apollonia stories have tried to improve their speech, only to find it reverting back when they are under pressure.

Another subtlety that I use to help the reader get into the time and place is the use of English spellings.  I am an American author, but I am trying to write of England’s 14th century long before the United States existed.  I don’t want English readers to be distracted by the American spelling of “judgment”, for example, when the English spelling is “judgement”. I choose to use the English spelling whenever one differs from an American spelling such as “realise” in place of “realize”.

These are simple things, but I use them to help to make fourteenth century West Country England come alive for my readers.

The Worcester Pilgrim

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Worcester, England, is the setting for King Richard’s Sword, the sixth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  This book, still in preparation, takes place in 1399-1400, and I hope to have it out before the end of the year.  Watch this blog for further details.

One of my new characters in this book is Robert Kenwood, inspired by a real life person known as the Worcester Pilgrim.  In 1987, during the course of excavations carried out to examine the foundations of the Central Tower of Worcester Cathedral, a grave was discovered close to the South-Eastern Tower pier.  The burial contained the remains of a man who had been wearing knee-length boots and woollen upper garments.  Remains of a staff lay by his side and a small shell, possibly a pilgrim badge, was found nearby.  Numerous examples of medieval pilgrim burials with staff and scallop shell indicating an accomplished pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain have been excavated in Europe, but this was the first to be discovered in England.  Scientific analysis of the pilgrim’s skeleton revealed that he was a robust, thick-set man, about five feet seven and a half inches tall.  He had clearly walked very long distances, and the development of his right hand, arm and shoulder showed that he made good use of his staff.  At some time during his travels, he seemed to have been wounded by arrows in his left leg and hip.  His clothing portrayed him as a man of some wealth, but probably not noble.

I have made the pilgrim, Robert Kenwood, into a wealthy merchant of Worcester who returns from pilgrimage in the prologue of the book and becomes a dear friend to the Lady Apollonia of Aust.

A drawing of the Worcester Pilgrim, pictured below, is on display in the crypt of Worcester Cathedral.2014-03-099-1

The Medieval City of Worcester

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

Worcester, England, is the setting for King Richard’s Sword, the sixth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  This book, still in preparation, takes place in 1399-1400, and I hope to have it out before the end of the year.  Watch this blog for further details.

Also, see my posts of June 9 and June 13 of this year for more information about Worcester.

The map, pictured below, shows medieval Worcester including its city wall and gates.  Sidbury Gate and Frog Gate at the bottom play their role in my story.  Both Lady Apollonia, my heroine, and Bryan Landow, the pardoner, are mentioned in the story as passing through the Fore Gate at the top of the picture.  Although it is not mentioned explicitly, there are a number of instances in the story when various characters passed through Saint Clement’s Gate on the upper left of the map.

Note especially the location of the priory church which is still the cathedral church as well as Friar Street where Lady Apollonia was living in the home of her son, Sir Hugh, and his wife, Lady Gwendolen.2016-MP-01-4

Glastonbury in Somerset

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

Glastonbury, Somerset, in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  This ancient town, unlike the places where I have set my other stories, does not have a Roman foundation.  Its origins are Celtic, and it was Celtic Christianity that first came to Glastonbury.  Local legend tells of Joseph of Arimathea, the secret disciple of Jesus, settling in Glastonbury in the first century.  In those days and for many years after, Glastonbury was accessible from the sea, though it is now several miles inland from the Bristol Channel.

Glastonbury Abbey dominated the medieval town and grew to become one of the wealthiest monasteries in England along with Westminster Abbey.  The Gothic abbey church was almost 600 feet long by the time of my story but was built on the site of the Vetusta Ecclesia, the original ancient church at Glastonbury, pictured below in a drawing on display at the Glastonbury Abbey Museum.  The great abbey church is now in ruins following the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.

Only the Abbot’s Kitchen survives completely among the buildings on the abbey grounds.  The abbey tithe barn which plays a role in my story still stands just outside the southeast corner of the abbey walls.  In the nearby village of Meare, one can find the surviving abbey fish house which also is described in my story.

Glastonbury Tor, a Celtic hill or rocky peak, stands next to the town and dominates the surrounding countryside.  In 1397 the small monastery of Saint Michaels stood atop the tor, but it has been reduced to just its church tower in modern times.  The monastery and the tor are important locations in my story.

Another important medieval building in this novel is the parish church of Saint John the Baptist.  Some of the church’s stained glass windows portray the Glastonbury legends of Joseph of Arimathea.2014-01-116-1

Cirencester in Gloucestershire

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Cirencester in Gloucestershire is the setting in 1395 for Templar’s Prophecy, the fourth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  This ancient town, founded by the Romans, was known as Corinium.  It grew to the second largest Roman town after London and is now usually thought to have been the capital of Britannia Prima.  The Corinium Museum in present-day Cirencester houses a wonderful collection from the Roman period.  The ruins of the Roman amphitheatre are just outside the medieval town and are one setting for action in my story.  The importance of Cirencester for wool goes back to Roman times and continued through the medieval period.

By the early 12th century, Cirencester Abbey, which had an Augustinian foundation, was granted the royal manor associated with Cirencester.  It grew to become the largest Augustinian monastery in England and always enjoyed a favoured position in the town with the monarchy.  This led to much stress between the abbey and the town over the centuries, and I have used some of that tension in my story.  Very little survives from the abbey after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539.  Today the abbey grounds are almost devoid of buildings.  There is a Norman Gate to the abbey grounds, and the fishpond survives.  Stones laid flush to the ground show the footprint of the great church that once stood here.  Part of the footprint of the nave of the church is pictured below.

The most important medieval building to survive is the parish church of Cirencester, next to the abbey grounds, but it was enlarged shortly after the time of my novel.  Other medieval remains include the ruins of a hospital just north of the abbey and a few of the abbey buildings which are outside of the town limits.

Most of the streets within the Roman precincts did not survive.  Those laid out in the Saxon period have come down through medieval times to the present.  I have used Dyer Street as the location for the residence of my heroine in this story.2013-01-201-1