Archive for August, 2020

Christmas in “Plague of a Green Man”

Monday, August 24th, 2020

While I am speaking of topics in my second book, Plague of a Green Man, shown on the left, I also seek to describe a medieval Christmas and how differently it would have been celebrated in the 14th century.  The Lady Apollonia’s household, Christmas is celebrated near the end of my story.  Much of this posti ng is repeated from my posting of December 23, 2016.

Some aspects of the celebration of Christmas when Plague of a Green Man was set in 1380, have come down to us today but much has been added to the celebration that was not part of Christmas in Lady Apollonia’s day.  The name of the holiday “Christmas” comes from the Middle English usage “Christ’s Mass” when on the 24th and 25th of December, there were three masses celebrated:  the Angel’s Mass at midnight, the Shepherd’s Mass at dawn, and the Mass of the Divine Word during the day.  In my story, Plague of a Green Man, Lady Apollonia and her husband are able, with her chaplain and household, to observe each of the masses in their family chapel newly built in Exeter House.

A holiday banquet was an important part of the celebration of Christmas in medieval times.  We often have turkey for our Christmas dinner, but turkeys came from the New World long after the time of my story.  Any medieval family that could afford it in 14th century England would prepare a yule boar for the feast.  More humble tables might substitute a meat pie shaped like a boar.  Churches, chapels, and homes were colorfully decorated for the holiday with ivy, mistletoe, holly, and anything green in the midst of winter.

In my story, the Lady Apollonia’s Exeter House also included a life-sized crèche, created outdoors in the back garden by Friar Francis, the Lady’s chaplain.  The first Christmas crèche was a Franciscan holiday tradition begun in the early 13th century by Saint Francis of Assisi that became popular throughout Europe.  The image to the right shows a modern Christmas crèche that my husband and I found in Lichfield Cathedral in England.  The medieval version put the emphasis on the Christ child and the animals while the more contemporary crèche has added Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and wise men.

Medieval Christmas in England was not a single day in the year.  All of Advent was a part of its celebration and involved fasting before the major feast on Christmas day.  It continued until Epiphany, 12 days later.  Some folk even prolonged their festivities for forty days after Christmas until February 2.  That part of the holiday had begun as an ancient pagan festival but became Candlemas in the Christian calendar or alternatively celebrated the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple.

There were special religious days immediately after Christmas Day as well.  The first was an important saint’s day honoring Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, rather than the Boxing Day holiday on modern English calendars for December 26.  The day after that was dedicated to Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, while December 28 was Holy Innocents’ Day commemorating the male children killed by King Herod.  We should also be aware that gifts were not exchanged on a medieval Christmas Day but on New Year’s Day.

Please join us next month, to discuss topics from my third Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery, Memento Mori, set in Gloucester in 1392.

Medieval Terms in “Plague of a Green Man”

Monday, August 10th, 2020

My novels are set in the West Country of medieval England, so it is necessary that I use some terms and expressions that are peculiar to that period.  Many are familiar to us in the 21st century but had medieval meanings which we no longer use.  I would like to comment on several of these terms that appear in my second book in the Lady Apollonia Mystery Series, Plague of a Green Man, the cover of which appears on the left.

My heroine and her second husband were in the woolen trade, a vastly important part of the medieval economy, and this required the use of specific terms relevant to the trade.  My story is set in Exeter, Devon, where an official of the woolen trade called the “aulnage” had his residence.  The aulnage was a royal official whose duty was to examine all cloth offered for sale and see that it conformed to the requirements of English law.  Not surprisingly, that official becomes one of the characters in my story.  I also use the phrase: “the cloth of assize”.  That was cloth measuring 24 twenty-four yards by two yards which was used as a standard.

Another important character in this story and my other novels is Bandon Landow, a Pardoner, or an ecclesiastical official charged with the granting of Indulgences.  An Indulgence is a document containing a partial remission of punishment in purgatory, still due for sin after one’s absolution.  The medieval church saw itself able to offer Indulgences because of its control of something called the Treasury of Merit, defined in the medieval church as a treasury of the goodness and merits of Christ and all the saints, left in the keeping of the Church.  In the later Middle Ages, the sale of indulgences became a significant means of raising funds.

Brandon Landow is based somewhat on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales.  Brandon is a devious person who is more interested in enriching himself than in serving the church in which he holds clerical status.  He did this by selling fake relics and reliquaries in addition to the indulgences mentioned above.  Relics in the medieval church were an ecclesiastical term referring to the body, a part of the body or a personal memorial of a saint or members of the Holy Family regarded as worthy of veneration.  Ancient churches always offered a series of important relics where believers could come and pray.  These relics were often a bodypart of a saint, an item which had belonged to a saint, or even the blood of Christ.  It was believed that such relics were the physic remains of a holy person through whom a sinner could seek God’s help.  Many churches included a “reliquary”, a beautifully crafted receptacle for a relic where the believer could kneel and pray for such intervention.  The jeweled reliquary of Saint Foy, which is over a thousand years old, can be found in Conques, France.  It is shown on the right.

A minor character in the story of this book is a “doctor of physic” where physic, in the 14th century, is any medicine or drug, especially one that purges.  The term “doctor of physic” in the medieval period, referred to a highly regarded and successful medical practitioner.

Another important disease term which appears in this and in several of my other novels is leprosy.  This word was not well defined in the medieval period and was applied to many diseases of the skin.  In Plague of a Green Man, I also refer to the “mass of separation”.  This was a mass, spoken by a priest, performed at a leper’s hut, forbidding him or her to have any human contact in religious or human society, to drink at any stream or fountain, or to touch anything belonging to another human being.  Medieval society ostracized anyone who was deemed to be a leper.

Finally, I want to comment on the term “sanctuary” which plays an important role in my story.  We think of the word as designating a special place for worship, but it had another important meaning in the medieval period.  Sanctuary was a holy place where fugitives could seek refuge and were entitled to find immunity from arrest.  Two of my villains seek such refuge in Exeter Cathedral.

I include such period definitions and terms in the glossary at the end of each novel so that my readers may understand and feel themselves returned to a time centuries ago.