Archive for November, 2020

Death and Plague in “Memento Mori”

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

The last blog posting completed my discussion of the ancient city of Gloucester in Memento Mori, my third novel in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries Series, whose cover is shown above on the left.  Now I wish to discuss other topics addressed in this book beginning with Death and Plague, topics much related in the 14th century setting of my books.

Throughout history there have been major occurrences of what we now call the Bubonic Plague, transmitted by fleas often found on rats.  The sheer number of rats and their contact with humans became the vector for the disease to jump from animals to humans.  Two major outbreaks of plague have been in Europe: the first was in the 6th to 8th centuries and was known as the Plague of Justinian, the emperor who contracted the disease after its arrival in Constantinople in AD 542.  Justinian was one of the few lucky enough to survive it as between a quarter and a half of the population were killed by the disease in this occurrence.  See my earlier posting of May 16, 2017 in the archives below on the right for more information on the Bubonic Plague.

Major occurrences of the plague came to Europe in the middle ages in multiple waves.  The first wave, called the Black Death at the time, struck England in 1347 with several repeat visits before 1392 when my Memento Mori novel was set.  These waves, a devastation which affected almost everyone, wiped out a third to a half of the total population of the country.  Subsequent waves of the plague returned to England for three more centuries and even spread to colonial America.

One of the effects of the 14th century plague in England was an emphasis on creating tombs decorated by full length carvings of decaying bodies in churches. These were obviously remembering one’s death, or “memento mori” in Latin which I have used as my title.  Such tombs were nearly always accompanied by a threatening poem:

Listen man, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I;
As I am now, you soon shall be
Prepare therefore to follow me.”

However, a cheeky widow in Yorkshire was known to have added her own codicil to the poem:

To follow thee, I’m not content
Until I know just where thee went.

By the next century, transi or cadaver tombs became quite popular in England.  The effigy in such a tomb shows the human body in some state of decay.  The skull shown on the cover of my book is taken from one of my husband’s photos of a transi tomb in Exeter Cathedral, while the photo shown immediately below has me looking at a transi tomb in Tewksbury Abbey.

Plague and death greet the reader of Memento Mori in the prologue to my story.  Laston, the squire of the knight Sir Alban, Lady Apollonia’s fourth son, is returning from a crusade of the Teutonic Knights that he and his master had joined.  He is trying to find Apollonia to inform her of the death of her son from the plague and bring her what little remains of her son were possible in 1392.  Eventually, he finds her in Gloucester and one important aspect of my story tells how Apollonia deals with her loss.

The Lady decides, in Memento Mori, to construct a fitting memorial for the remains of her son.  In writing this story, I was guided by a fourteenth century tomb in Exeter Cathedral, shown below, as my inspiration for how Apollonia wished her son’s tomb to be designed.  This badly damaged Exeter example displays an effigy of a knight with his squire on the left and his horse, on the right.

Please join me in December when I will continue speaking of other aspects of medieval life described in Memento Mori.

City of Gloucester in “Memento Mori”, Part 5.

Monday, November 9th, 2020

My last blog posting continued a discussion of surviving medieval buildings in the city of Gloucester.  It focused on the medieval monasteries in Gloucester other than the Abbey of Saint Peter which I discussed in an earlier posting.  Gloucester in 1392 is the setting for my third novel in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries Series, Momento Mori, so please join me as we consider other medieval buildings which still stand in Gloucester.

We begin with two parish churches, the first of which is Saint Mary de Lode, shown above.  It is also known as Saint Mary Before the Gate of Saint Peter because of its location just west of Saint Mary’s Gate of the Abbey of Saint Peter.  This is the gate through which my heroine entered the abbey grounds when she visited the abbey church.  The picture you see above is the view she would have had when she exited the abbey grounds through this gate.

We can see that the tower of Saint Mary de Lode Church is ancient Norman architecture while the chancel is 13th century Gothic.  Its earlier history is less certain, but legend suggests that a local king was buried on this site in the 2nd century, the first Christian church in Britain.  The word “Lode” in the name of the church refers to a water course or ferry and may go back to a time when there was an east branch of the River Severn which passed near this site.

Another parish church shown above on the left, Saint Mary de Crypt, also plays a role in Memento Mori.  One of my villains, Sherf, was married on the porch of this church before departing to live in Cornwall at the end of the novel.

Another surviving ancient building is The New Inn on Northgate Street.  It is shown on the lower right and is a fine example of a medieval courtyard inn with galleries.  In our day, the New Inn has a restaurant, pub, coffee shop, hotel with 36 rooms, and two function rooms  Although the present building dates from half a century after my novel, it was built on the site of an even older inn and provided me with a living example of a medieval inn that was in business in Gloucester during the fourteenth century.

The last building, shown below. is on Westgate Street, and, like the New Inn, was built after 1392 when Memento Mori is set.  When I was last in Gloucester doing research for my story, this ancient building had become The Gloucester Folk Museum.  However, it served as my inspiration for Windemere House, the grand home in my story of Lady Apollonia and her third husband, Richard Windemere.

Please join me for future posts as we prepare to discuss a great “pandemic” of the fourteenth century:  the bubonic plague.