Archive for August, 2016

Medieval Green Men

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

1993-LL- 3-8Green men or foliate faces are carved in many medieval churches in England as well as on the continent of Europe.  In our travels abroad, my husband and I have found examples of such faces in France, Spain and Germany.  They are particularly prevalent in the English County of Devon where I have set the second of the Lady Apollonia West Country mysteries, Plague of a Green Man.  Someone uses the depiction of a green man as a symbol of threat and intimidation.

Exeter Cathedral, which also plays a role in my story, has many examples of medieval foliate faces, most carved in stone but also some in wood.  A number of the stone carvings are roof bosses where the ribs of the vault come together while others appear at the tops of columns or in corbels which support the ribs of the vault overhead.  The picture shown above is the one I feature on the cover of my 2nd book.  Several of the medieval misericords, or fold up seats in Exeter Cathedral’s quire, depict green men that are carved in solid oak.

The term, Green Man, was not coined until the 20th century to describe these ancient foliate faces, but the idea of mixing images of foliage and human faces goes back to at least Roman times.  We don’t know how medieval people interpreted these figures or why they were so popular with medieval carvers.  Neither do we know how the clergy of the period reacted to them.

There are great varieties in the style and mood of these faces.  Some seem to represent anticipation of new life while others appear more threatening.  Some carvings are very realistic while others seem more abstract.  Sometimes foliage grows out of the mouth of the foliate face but occasionally from the nostrils or ears.  The images nearly always focus upon the face.  Only rarely is more of the body included.2013-PP-01-2

Churches in Lady Apollonia Stories

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

2012-04-128-1The medieval church plays a major role in each of the Lady Apollonia stories because of its wealth and omnipresence in 14th century life in England. Readers will learn that the parish church in the village of Aust was a Prebend or ecclesiastical living held by John Wycliffe early in his career. Thought to have been built on pagan ground, the church was not dedicated to a saint and had no name in the 14th century. It survives today as the Chapelry of Saint John. Aust parish church appears in the first book of the series, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, and will be important in the seventh book.

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Exeter had been built by 1380 and plays an important role in the second book, Plague of a Green Man. There are other remnants of medieval buildings in Exeter such as Saint Nicholas Priory and Polsloe Priory, both of which are referred to in the story.

The church of the Abbey of Saint Mary in Gloucester did not become a cathedral until the time of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and is important in the third book, Memento Mori, set in 1392. The picture shown above shows the north side of the church with the chapter house on the right. Another living Gothic church in that story is Saint Mary de Crypt which continues its ministry today.

Cirencester Abbey in book four, Templar’s Prophecy, was destroyed at the time of the Dissolution as was Glastonbury Abbey of book five, Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure. There are no ruins left above ground for two of the Cirencester churches in the story of Templar’s Prophecy, but the parish church, though altered after 1395, still stands. Only ruins remain of Glastonbury Abbey’s great church which is critical to the story set in 1397, but Saint John’s Parish Church, which also plays a role in the story, is still in use today.

Finally, the present cathedral in Worcester is important to the story of book six, King Richard’s Sword. It was a monastic cathedral in the Lady Apollonia’s 14th century, an important priory church.2013-PP-01-2

Medieval Church Problems

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

2005-G9-17-2Although the Christian church was central to many aspects of medieval religious life, it was not without serious problems calling for reform.  Some of these problems were religious issues and others were temporal.  John Wycliffe, a 14th century scholar in England, sought to reform both.  Wycliffe had a personal connection to the village of Aust as Prebend of the parish church during those years when my fictitious heroine, the Lady Apollonia, would have been raising her five sons in Aust.  John Wycliffe is well known for his translation of the Bible from Latin into English so that Holy Scripture would be accessible to any in the country who were literate.  He was convinced that the Bible was central to the faith of every Christian.  At the same time, he was convinced that the great wealth of the church was evil.  He believed that the church should be poor, as it had been in the days of Christ’s ministry on earth.  John Wycliffe was eventually declared a heretic by the church and posthumously dug from his grave and burned in the 15th century, well after my novels are set.

Another example of a doctrinal problem within the ministry of the church was the selling of indulgences which forgave the buyer from some specified time in Purgatory.  There was much abuse of this practice and it later became an issue in Luther’s Reformation.  In my stories, I have introduced a character, Brandon Landow, who is inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s pardoner in the Canterbury Tales.  Landow misuses his clerical status to grow rich by selling indulgences and fraudulent relics with forged authentications by the pope.

The papacy, too, created a major quandary in the 14th century church because there was not one but two bishops who claimed to be pope, each supported by a different nation, enemies during the Hundred Years War.  The pope in Avignon and was supported by the French king.  The other pope was in Rome and enjoyed the support of the king of England.  This temporal dispute was a problem for all faithful Christians.  At one point there was even a third claimant before the matter was resolved in the 15th century.

The Papal Palace in Avignon is shown at the top.2013-PP-01-2

Medieval Pilgrimage

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Pilgrimage was significant to medieval religious life, and I have spoken of it in several of the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  There were many pilgrimage destinations in England as well as Europe and the Mediterranean world beyond.  Canterbury was the most famous pilgrimage church in England because of the martyrdom and sainthood of Archbishop Thomas Becket who was killed in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 during the reign of King Henry II.  Fourteenth century pilgrims going to Canterbury from Southwark have been immortalised by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales.

Cathedrals and monastic churches throughout the Christian world used the remains of various saints and other relics to attract pilgrims.  For some, the ultimate pilgrimage was to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  Rome was another important pilgrimage site for medieval Christians.  Many pilgrims crossed Europe to Spain to visit Santiago de Compostela.  There, they wished to see the shrine of Christ’s disciple, Saint James the Great, which is pictured below.

Phyllis of Bath is a character in my 2nd novel, Plague of a Green Man, set in Exeter in 1380, obviously based on Chaucer’s Wife of Bath.  Phyllis announces proudly that she has travelled to all of the pilgrimage sites mentioned above.

Martin Harlech, an English pilgrim from Cirencester, opens Templar’s Prophecy, my 4th novel, by entering the Nubian city of Banganarti in Africa to seek healing from his personal affliction in the Church of the Archangel Raphael.  Now, merely ruins explored by archaeologists in the 21st century, Banganarti was the most important healing site in the Kingdom of Makuria.  My character, Martin, went there in 1350, a few years before this important Christian pilgrimage site was overrun by Islam.  In Templar’s Prophecy, it is Martin Harlech’s granddaughter who plays a role in my story.

Robert Kenwood, an English pilgrim from Worcester, introduces my forthcoming novel, King Richard’s Sword, by returning to his home town from a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.  This fictional character was inspired by the remains of a real Worcester pilgrim, a medieval skeleton discovered along with his pilgrim’s walking stick within Worcester Cathedral a few years ago.  My character, Robert, is a wealthy merchant of Worcester who, with his family, become good friends of the Lady Apollonia of Aust.

Monasteries, great churches, cathedrals, even parish churches of the 14th century were built to display relics and accommodate pilgrims seeking the intercession of saints.  Yet, in so many ways, pilgrimage was also an international tourist industry of that time.  My heroine, the Lady Apollonia never goes on a pilgrimage herself, but to be true to the period, some aspects of pilgrimage must be part my stories.2002-E4- 9-2

Medieval Monastic Churches

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Medieval cathedrals have been the subject of my last three blog postings, but there were other great churches in England at the time, especially some of the monastic churches. Although some monastic churches survived as cathedrals of the new foundation, many important monastic churches did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.

Westminster Abbey is the most famous example of a monastic church that did survive the Dissolution, but it is not a cathedral. It is called a Royal Peculiar. A few monastic churches still survive because they serve as parish churches. I have chosen in my novels to use two of the great monastic churches that were by modern times reduced to ruins.

Templar’s Prophecy, the 4th novel in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, is set in Cirencester in 1395. In the 14th century, Cirencester Abbey was the largest of the Augustinian abbeys in England and controlled much of urban life in Cirencester which created considerable tension between the abbey and the town. I have used this tension between town and abbey to be part of the drama of the story. The abbey grounds and fishpond remain in Cirencester, but nothing of the church or other monastic buildings is left standing. Some stones from the abbey can be found in local buildings erected in the 15th century. Otherwise, only a gate to the abbey grounds and a few buildings away from the centre of town are still standing.

Similarly, Glastonbury Abbey is central to the story of Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the 5th novel in the series. It is set in 1397 and uses the reality that the medieval town was literally built around the monastery. Glastonbury rivalled Westminster Abbey for its wealth and grandeur. The church was almost 600 feet in length, exceeded only by the length of the Gothic version of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London before the great fire in the 17th century. Today, only ruins of the church and a few other buildings such as the abbot’s kitchen remain on the abbey grounds. Several other buildings remain outside the abbey grounds, some located as far away as the village of Meare, Somerset.

Westminster Abbey, the most famous of the medieval monastic churches, is pictured below.2013-04-019-1

Cathedrals of the New Foundation

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

In my last two blog postings I have talked about secular and monastic cathedrals in England.  Today, I want to discuss other medieval monastic churches which only became cathedrals after King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.  These are called cathedrals of the new foundation which did not happen until centuries after the Lady Apollonia’s time.  One of these medieval monasteries plays a significant role in Memento Mori, the 3rd of Lady Apollonia’s West Country Mysteries.

I am referring to the Abbey of Saint Peter in Gloucester.  The church, the Abbot’s House, and the infirmary are important in my story, but in the fourteenth century, the city of Gloucester was not in a separate diocese.  It was in the medieval Diocese of Worcester.

The Diocese of Gloucester was carved out of the Diocese of Worcester in the 16th century.  The church and the Abbot’s House are today part of Gloucester Cathedral while the infirmary is now reduced to some ruined arches.  The surviving cloister is an early example of elegant fanned vaulting and in recent years was used as the setting for some scenes in the early Harry Potter movies.  Other cathedrals of the new foundation are found in Bristol, Chester, Oxford, and Peterborough.

The west front of Gloucester Cathedral is pictured below with the Abbot’s Lodging, which also plays a role in Memento Mori, just to the left of the church.2012-04-148-1

Medieval Monastic Cathedrals

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

The cathedral church of a diocese means the church which contains the seat or throne or cathedra of the bishop of the diocese.  There are many important churches in England which are not cathedrals.  The best example is Westminster Abbey which serves royal functions such as coronations and weddings but is not a cathedral.

The Church of England has a mixture of secular and monastic cathedrals as well as cathedrals that are called of the new foundation.  This blog post will talk about monastic cathedrals while my previous blog post discussed secular cathedrals and my next one cathedrals of the new foundation.

In the medieval period before the reign of the Tudor King Henry VIII, the Christian church in England was loyal to the Pope in Rome.  There were fewer dioceses then than one will find in the contemporary Church of England, and many of them used monastic churches to house the thrones or cathedrae of the bishops of those dioceses.  The most important example was Canterbury Cathedral where there was an archbishop, but there were others: Carlisle, Durham, Ely, Norwich, Rochester, Winchester, and Worcester.

The diocese of Bath and Wells as well as that of Lichfield and Coventry were special cases.  The Bishop of Bath and Wells had thrones or cathedrae in both the secular church at Wells and the monastic church at Bath.  Similarly, the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry had thrones at secular Lichfield and monastic Coventry.

All the monastic churches were priories.  Most were Benedictine, but Carlisle was a priory of Augustinians.  The setting for “King Richard’s Sword”, the upcoming novel in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, is Worcester where both the cathedral church and the associated priory play a role in my story.

Pictured below are the west towers of Canterbury Cathedral, the best known of the monastic cathedrals.1989- S-16-2