Greetings dear populace,
It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that, due to circumstances beyond our (the Canton of Beau Fleuve) control, we must cancel the Brass Ring Thing Demo. The demo was to be held June 4th from 11-6 at the Hershel Carrousel Museum.
Thank you for all of your support in the past and look forward to the future!
THL Govindi of Dera Ghazi Khan
A subterranean chamber recently discovered on Mainland, Orkney, turns out to have been discovered by the Victorians first, and they filled it with rubbish. The entrance to the structure was found by Clive Chaddock on his land near the Harray Manse. A horticulture professor at Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Chaddock called his colleagues from UHI’s Archaeology Institute to investigate. Two weekends ago, the Archaeology Institute’s Martin Carruthers and county archaeologist Julie Gibson examined the find.
The structure is an architecturally impressive well or a souterrain, an underground gallery used neither as a tomb nor for religious purposes. Their exact purpose is unknown. They are associated with settlements, so could have been used for food storage or perhaps a place to hide when the going got tough topside. The Orkney Islands have several notable souterrains, among them Castle Bloody, a souterrain mound on the island of Shapinsay with several passageways leading to a central chamber, a multi-chambered one at East Broch in the island of Burray and another chamber near the Harray Manse.
This one has a short entrance gallery with a low ceiling which leads to partially corbelled square chamber. Comparison with similar structures suggests it dates to the Iron Age. The chamber is fully roofed, but in the 19th century it was exposed and used as a trash chute. Its full depth is obscured by a pile of rusted iron kettles, buckets, glass bottles and even imported French mustard jars. Whoever found it didn’t document it, and eventually it was closed back up and forgotten again.
Martin Carruthers spoke to the Archaeology Institute’s excellent blog about the archaeological double-whammy.
The chamber appears to be entirely constructed from coursed masonry with no bed-rock or glacial till apparent as some Iron Age souterrains and wells do. There are no uprights or pillars present inside the chamber, which makes this structure feel like one of the so-called wells more than a classic souterrain or earthhouse. The steep drop-off between the passage and the chamber also encourages the idea that there may well be a steep flight of stairs leading down into the chamber. The chamber might be really quite deep underneath all the Victorian, and perhaps earlier, in-fill.
As you can see from the images there’s so much Victorian material it probably represents quite an academically interesting collection in its own right. We might be tempted to think that later periods are so well-understood and documented that it isn’t worth thinking about this detritus archaeologically, but actually its often the case that the domestic habits of later periods are often overlooked in many mainstream histories and documents. The Victorian rubbish is potentially a neat snap-shot of someone’s (perhaps one of the Manse’s Ministers) domestic waste of that era and may be full of insight about the habits, tastes and practices of a Nineteenth Century Orkney house- with a real social history value. What’s more, it’s also an interesting insight into a recent intervention in an Orcadian souterrain/well that we had no previous knowledge of. So it’s also noteworthy that here we have an example of another prehistoric underground building that was clearly known to locals, for a time, but didn’t make its way on to the official archives, and helps make the point that there are likely to be so many more of these sorts of structures still to be found in Orkney.
The site has been sealed again and will be monitored for the time being. Keep an eye on the Archaeology Orkney blog for future updates (and for its general awesomeness).
The theme for the Ӕthelmearc Kingdom Party at Pennsic VL will be “Arthurian Legends”. Dress as your favorite hero from the time of King Arthur. Even better, imagine how your persona would view King Arthur and how your persona would dress for Arthurian tournaments (which were surprisingly popular in medieval Europe). We will have more details about the Party as Pennsic draws near, but the King and Queen wished to give the populace plenty of time to think about costumes. The Ӕthelmearc Kingdom Party will be held on the evening of August 8, starting at 8:30PM, in the Ӕthelmearc Royal encampment. All members of the populace and friends of Ӕthelmearc are invited.
Our thanks go to THL Elss of Augsburg, who provided the idea for the theme.
Byron and Ariella, Rex et Regina Ӕthelmearc
A fragment of 13th century pottery unearthed in Teruel, Aragon, eastern Spain, has been identified as a rare depiction of a Jewish man. The fragment was discovered in 2004, one of thousands that were squirreled away for later documentation. It was catalogued in 2011 but the image was only recognized as a Jewish figure this year by archaeologist Antonio Hernandez Pardos. This is a very rare find. Most surviving images of Spanish Jews from the Middle Ages are illuminations in Haggadot or Christian prayer books.
Unusual for pottery decorations from that period, which mostly featured geometric shapes or depiction of flowers, the Teruel fragment shows the lower part of the face of a bearded man wearing a frilled gown that Pardos was able to trace back to Jewish iconography from the period. [...]
The research by Pardos suggests the fragment was part of a work performed by the earliest known potters of Teruel, who were possibly commissioned by a Jewish resident of the area.
Founded in 1170 by Alfonso II of Aragon on the border between his kingdom and Muslim Spain, Teruel flourished during the second third of the 13th century after King James I of Aragon conquered Xarq-al-Andalus, the Levante or eastern region of the Iberian peninsula. Under James I’s relatively enlightened rule, Jews and Moors moved from less tolerant climes and settled in Teruel. The earliest documentary evidence of Jews living in Teruel dates to 1258 when James I confirmed the Jewish community’s tax obligations to the crown. The first written reference to actual members of Teruel’s Jewish community comes 11 years later. It mentions Dueña del Cano and her late husband Samuel Najarí, an important money lender who was one of the crown’s top creditors.
Jews in Teruel thrived in the 13th and 14th centuries, engaging in a variety of trades, particularly weaving and dealing wool. Several prominent Jewish scholars lived in Teruel. Things took a dark turn at the end of the 14th century. A delator (informer or denunciator) arrived in 1385, presaging the pogroms and riots of 1391 which spread through Spain like wildfire and resulted in the murder of thousands of Jews and forced conversions of thousands more. That bloody year was a turning point for Jews in Christian Spain. More and more laws were enacted against them, prohibiting money-lending, commerce with Christians, wearing the same clothes as Christians and forcing them into walled Juderías. Many Jews fled south to the more tolerant areas of al-Andalus. The Jewish community of Teruel was diminished but survived until 1492 when the last bastion of Muslim Spain, the Emirate of Grenada, fell and all of Spain’s Jews were either forced to convert to Christianity or expelled from the realm.
The small fragment of pottery is of outsized significance because despite the distinctiveness of the Jewish community in medieval Spain, with its unique legal status, designated living areas and particular religious/cultural traditions, there are few clear markers of Jewishness in the material culture. There’s no immediately identifiable Jewish architecture like there is Islamic architecture, no immediately identifiable ceramic tradition distinct from Christian or Islamic crafts. The exception is in objects of religious meaning and ritual purpose, but everyday things with an unmistakable Jewish identity are very rare in any period, all the more so in the first few decades of Jewish presence in Teruel.
This lacuna widened into a chasm during the Spanish Civil War when Teruel was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Fought over three months from December of 1937 through February of 1938, the Battle of Teruel devastated the city, subjecting it to constant artillery barrages and aerial bombardment. Tens of thousands of people died before the Nationalists finally won. Large sections of the medieval center of the city were destroyed, and what had once been the Jewish Quarter was all but leveled.
The war-damaged areas were extensively developed in subsequent decades. The Jewish Quarter was rediscovered in 1978 when the ruins of a building abutting its central square and three menorahs were unearthed. The structure was built in the mid-14th century when the neighborhood was going through a third phase of improvement. The large cellar built on powerful masonry arches discovered in 1978 was initially believed to be a synagogue because of its impressive size and strength. The Jewish Quarter wasn’t fully explored archaeologically until 2004 when a major urban renewal project in the plaza area provided the first opportunity for a proper archaeological survey of the site. The excavation revealed several layers of pottery fragments which gave archaeologists new insight into the evolution of the neighborhood in the 13th century, from the perspective of both use and production of ceramics.
There are boxes full of fragments from this excavation that haven’t been studied yet. Pardos expects there are more happy surprises to be found in there. His study of the fragment has been published in the journal Sefarad and can be accessed free of charge here (Spanish language pdf).
Unto the populace of the East Kingdom, greetings,
It has been my pleasure to serve this realm as EK Archivist for these past 12 years. It is now time for me to step down and pass the office unto another gentle.
The responsibilities of the office include maintaining the accrued items that presently are in storage and to organize any new items that are passed onto the office. Presently the items are being stored in north New Jersey, but can be moved to where they are convenient for the new officer.
Anybody interested in the position should contact the Kingdom Seneschal or myself no later than June 30, 2016.
In service to the East,
Filed under: Announcements, Uncategorized
The Æthelmearc Gazette reports that their kingdom has new heirs, Prince Marcus and Princess Margerite. For more information, read the Æthelmearc Gazette article.
Filed under: Tidings Tagged: aethelmearc
This day in the Barony of Delftwood, Crown Tournament has concluded and Marcus and Margerite were crowned Prince and Princess of Æthelmearc!
The semi-finalists were Duke Timothy of Arindale fighting for the honor of Duchess Gabrielle van Nijenrode and Duke Malcolm Duncan MacEioghann fighting for the honor of Viscountess Rosalinde Ashworth in the winner’s list, and in the losers’ list, Duke Marcus Eisenwald fighting for the honor of Baroness Margerite Eisenwald and Sir Gareth Kincaid fighting for the honor of Mistress Julianna Delamare.
In the semis, Duke Timothy bested Sir Gareth in one fight while Duke Marcus defeated Duke Malcolm twice to move on to the finals against Duke Timothy.
The finals were fought best of five bouts. Duke Timothy won the first round with polearm. Duke Marcus won the second round with great sword. Duke Timothy won the next round with two-weapon. Duke Timothy then yielded a fight to Duke Marcus, evening up the count, to great praise from the populace for his chivalry. The final and deciding bout was won by Duke Marcus, who crowned his lady wife as Princess.
The unbelted fighter who went farthest in the tournament was Baroness Beatrix Krieger, who was the only non-Knight in the round before the quarter-finals.
Vivant Marcus and Margerite, Heirs to the throne of Æthelmearc!
Thank you to Mistress Ekaterina Volkova for her usual excellent Facebook updates that allowed us to bring you this report!
During the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale’s 2014-2015 dig at Deir el-Medina, archaeologists found a female mummy with extensive tattoos of animals and flowers. The mummy dates to between 1300 and 1070 B.C., which makes her the first mummy from Dynastic Egypt with non-abstract figural tattoos. Her artwork wouldn’t be out of place in a modern tattoo shop. She has lotus blossoms on her hips, cows on her left arm, baboons on her neck and Wadjet eyes, also known as the Eye of Horus, on her neck, shoulders and back.
“Any angle that you look at this woman, you see a pair of divine eyes looking back at you,” says bioarchaeologist Anne Austin of Stanford University in California, who presented the findings last month at a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
Austin noticed the tattoos while examining mummies for the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, which conducts research at Deir el-Medina, a village once home to the ancient artisans who worked on tombs in the nearby Valley of the Kings. Looking at a headless, armless torso dating from 1300 to 1070 BC, Austin noticed markings on the neck. At first, she thought that they had been painted on, but she soon realized that they were tattoos.
Aware of studies like the recent multispectral photographic imaging scan that discovered previously unknown tattoos on Ötzi the Iceman, Austin examined the mummy under infrared lighting with an infrared sensor. She found more than 30 tattoos, several of which were on skin that was too darkened by the mummification process for the ink to be seen with the naked eye. Working with Cédric Gobeil, director of the French mission at Deir el-Medina, Austin photographed and digitally reshaped the tattoos to see what they looked like on living flesh, before the skin was shrunk and shriveled by mummification.
All of the tattoos are religious symbols. Cows represent the goddess Hathor; the lotus was a symbol of rebirth associated with Osiris; baboons represent Thoth. Wadjet of eye fame was one of the earliest Egyptian deities, later split into various gods including Hathor who, in one version of the mythology, restored Horus’ left eye after Set tore it out. It was a protective symbol against evil. It’s possible that the woman was a priestess, singer and/or musician in the service of Hathor and that the tattoos on the throat and arms were meant to strengthen her performance and connect her to the gods.
Judging from the degree of fading, the tattoos appear to have been made at different times. This may be an indicator of increasing status in her religious community; the greater the seniority, the more tattoos. Alternatively, they have been her way of expressing her religious fervor, and given how painful the application must have been, it would have demonstrated very great dedication indeed.
There are no known written records from ancient Egypt that mention tattooing, but there is iconographic evidence in wall paintings and figurines. There’s a faience bowl in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden from around the New Kingdom (1400-1300 B.C.) that depicts a lute player with a pictogram of the god Bes on her thigh and a v-shaped dot grouping on her chest. The Louvre has a piece from the late Middle Kingdom (ca. 2033–1710 B.C.), a faience figurine of a nude woman wearing a belt of cowry shells, her body adorned with groups of dots that may or may not represent tattoos, but are very similar to the dots and dash groupings found on mummies of the period. These kinds of figurines have traditionally been known as Brides of the Dead (this is a misnomer as some were placed in the tombs of women and others weren’t found in tombs at all) and are believed to be guarantors of sexual success and fertility in the next life.
The earliest Egyptian mummies with identifiable tattoos have the same kind of patterns seen on the Brides. The first examples were unearthed in the late 19th century, most famously at Deir el-Bahari in 1891. French archaeologist Eugène Grébaut discovered the mummy of a woman named Amunet who was a priestess of Hathor in the 11th Dynasty (ca. 2134-1991 B.C.). Her body was tattooed with diamond-shaped patterns of dots on her right thigh, matrices of dots under her sternum and above her navel, and a multiple rows of dots forming an elliptical pattern that covered her abdomen from leg to leg. This tattoo is particularly relevant to fertility because during pregnancy it would have stretched and grown to give the pregnant belly the appearance of being wrapped in a net, likely a protective symbol.
In the New Kingdom, pictographs of the gods were added to the abstract dot and dash patterns. Pictographs of the war goddess Neith have been found on mummies of women dating to around 1300 B.C. Tattoos of Bes, protector of mothers, children and the household, have been found on the thighs of dancers and musicians. Bes danced, sang and made noise to scare away evil spirits, so it’s a reasonable connection. These mummies date to the 4th century B.C. and were the oldest known non-abstract tattoos in Egypt before the recent discovery of the figural tattoos on the mummy from Deir el-Medina.
That’s one of the reasons the find is so exciting. Another is that the archaeological record of Egyptian tattoos is patchy at best. Tattoos can be very hard to spot on darkened and wizened mummified flesh, or they can be lost to decay. Besides, we’re no longer in the giddy, reckless days of late 19th century, early 20th century Egyptology when archaeologists loved to unwrap mummies, often in front of crowds. Nowadays mummies are kept wrapped as a matter of course. Technology like CT scanning allow examination in great detail without the invasive and destructive interventions of yesteryear. It can’t read tattoos on the surface of the skin, however, so keeping mummies wrapped makes documenting tattoos impossible.
With the great success of infrared imaging on the Deir el-Medina mummy, perhaps the large gaps in the record can be at least partially filled by examining mummies that were unwrapped back when that was trendy, or whose wrappings have been lost. All of the Egyptian mummies with tattoos discovered thus far have been female. Was the art form the exclusive province of women, or have we just not found the tattooed men yet? There is artwork that suggests men had tattoos too. A thorough IR analysis of the mummy record may at long last answer the question.
A European web site, oapen.org, in cooperation with Leiden University Press, is offering a free e-book on the history of book publishing in the Middle Ages.
At last month’s Board of Directors meeting, the Grand Council was disbanded after a little over twenty years of service to the Society. After the decision was announced, it became clear that some members of the SCA weren’t aware of the Grand Council, its history or its activities. The Gazette thought it would be useful to provide this information. Our thanks to the former Grand Council and Board members who provided the information for this article. Without a comprehensive written record of the SCA, it took many people to recreate our own history. – Mistress Catrin o’r Rhyd For
The Grand Council was an informal committee created by the SCA’s Board of Directors in the mid-1990’s after a difficult time for the SCA. An Executive Director had been hired who wasn’t familiar with the organization, and his handling of proposed changes and the membership’s concerns were unpopular. The proposals included a “pay-to-play” policy that might have required memberships in order to fight, receive awards, hold an office, or attend events. In addition, the SCA was facing extreme financial problems, which took the membership by surprise. When members requested access to the books, the Executive Director and the SCA’s legal counsel interpreted the governing documents as not allowing members access.
Several things happened as a result of this. Members sued for the right to access the financial records and won the case. An “SCA reform” email list was created with hundreds of members that advocated for change. Three Board members stepped down. Ansteorra incorporated as a separate organization, although it remained affiliated with the SCA. The royalty of the kingdoms met at Estrella and eleven of the thirteen kingdoms signed the Estrella Compact. The compact stated that the kingdoms would recognize each other’s “laws, customs, traditions, ranks and titles in perpetuity, no matter what their affiliations and circumstances”. This would have allowed more kingdoms to incorporate outside the SCA’s corporate structure, while still preserving a connected game for its participants.
Several actions followed this activity. The non-SCA Executive Director left. The corporate financial records were made available to the members. The Board modified the “pay-to-play” proposal, removing some of the restrictions and adding a fee for non-members attending events.
In addition, the Board created two advisory groups – the Inter-Kingdom Advisory Council and the Grand Council. Each group was given a specific area of the SCA to examine and were asked to provide feedback to the Board. The Inter-Kingdom Advisory Council was assigned the “game side”, as in things that affected the historical re-creation and inter-kingdom activities. The Grand Council was assigned the SCA’s corporate and organizational structure.
It isn’t possible to describe the Grand Council’s activities as one static structure since they changed over the years. The following are some things that stayed the same and some that didn’t.
Over the years, the Grand Council discussed many topics that they proposed themselves. Early topics included outsourcing the corporate office functions, direct elections of Directors, and the impeachment process for Directors. Later topics included the Ministry of Children and child care rules; ending physical newsletters; the pros and cons of a new Peerage; how to decide whether to create another peerage; participant retention; alternative revenue models for the SCA; improved policies for social media/social networking; a new communications policy for the SCA; and officer training at all levels of the Society.
Topics requested by the Board over the years included how to improve the value of membership; a mandatory Code of Conduct for the SCA; creating a policy for dealing with individuals who have committed crimes outside of the SCA; an official start and end date for what is the SCA’s time period; whether to require membership for awards or combat; improvements to TI or CA; topics to add to the Known World Handbook; what should be, or what are, the requirements for a successful SCA reign; a tiered membership format; officer retention and recruiting; and analysis of the demographics of the SCA.
The Board disbanded the Grand Council at last month’s meeting with thanks for their service. John Fulton, Richard Sherman, and Andrew Coleman were assigned to investigate the creation of a new vehicle which could facilitate communication between the membership and the Board. At this point the format of the committee is unknown. A preference has been stated by the Board for the Kingdoms to have representation on and control over most of the committee. In addition, it will be expected to use social media to connect with the membership and give them access to the committee’s work. The Society’s new President, John Fulton, has invited anyone with suggestions for the design of the committee to contact him at email@example.com.
Filed under: Corporate Tagged: Grand Council
A 2000-year-old tablet inscribed with the rules for horse racing has been discovered in the Beyşehir district of Konya Province, central Anatolia, Turkey. According to Selçuk University history professor Dr. Hasan Bahar, this is the only tablet ever found that details rules of the sport that had a massive following in the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras. Other sources mention horse racing, but don’t get into the rules.
“There are horseracing rules on the tablet. It says that if a horse comes in first place in a race it cannot participate in other races, while another horse of the winning horse’s owner also cannot enter another race. In this way, others were given a chance to win. This was a beautiful rule, showing that unlike races in the modern world, races back then were based on gentlemanly conduct,” Bahar also said.
That may be overstating the case somewhat. Ancient equestrian sports had many of the same features of modern ones — multiple heats and races in a day, careful breeding of horses, publically published bloodlines, on and off-track betting — including scandals like doping and contractual disputes. Both chariot and mounted horse racing were often brutal, resulting in injury and death to horses and drivers/jockeys. Then fandom was very far from gentlemanly as well. Supporters of the four factiones of the chariot race (Reds, Blues, Whites, and Greens) regularly faced off against each other in violent riots. The Nika Riots of 532 A.D. lasted a week, killed tens of thousands and burned half of Constantinople to the ground.
The tablet is part of a monument known as “Horse Rock” to the locals after the relief of a horse carved into the rockface. It was a funerary monument dedicated to Lukuyanus, a beloved jockey who was likely buried in the “grave room”, a small chamber next to the horse relief with a columned entrance. The grave room is devoid of remains now so we don’t know much about Lukuyanus other than what’s on the inscription. It opens: “Lukuyanus The Warrior, Died Before Getting Married. He is Our Hero.”
Since he died before marriage, he was likely a young man when he met his end, but he lived long enough and had enough success on the track to earn him dedicated fans who built him such a handsome and on-topic final resting place. Fan-funded funerary monuments for sports heroes have proved rich sources of historical information before, thanks to their elaborate inscriptions of victory statistics and laments about referee error leading to death.
The monument is near the site of an ancient hippodrome in mountains that were sacred to the Hittites. The Romans may even have built a hippodrome on this spot to bless and be blessed by the Hittites’ holy hills.
When researchers surveying a new railway tunnel being constructed in Delft, Netherlands, saw a yellow gleam, at first they thought it might be gold. In fact it was a tin can wrapped in a brass sleeve that still shines gold in color if not in material. The brass wrapper has a repoussé label identifying it as “Preserved foods, W. Hoogenstraaten and Sons, purveyor, turtle soup, Leiden.” W. Hoogenstraaten and Sons changed its name in 1900, so the can has to date from 1860 to 1900.
An old, damaged tin can may not seem like much of an archaeological discovery, but in its day this product was very high-end, hence the fancy metalwork label. Turtle soup was a refined food, even when canned, the kind of product only found in the pantries of the wealthy. It had been a staple on the menus of the most exclusive eateries and catered affairs since the 18th century. It was on the menu at the celebration of King William III’s 70th birthday in Amsterdam on April 23rd, 1887.
In the US it was a popular dish for elite even before there was a United States. John Adams recorded eating it several times at the Continental Congress. Other Founding Fathers including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, were members of a club, the Hoboken Turtle Club, dedicated to eating turtle soup. It made regular appearances at Fourth of July celebrations in the 19th century. President Abraham Lincoln served it at his 1861 inauguration and President William Howard Taft had it as often as possible when he was in the White House from 1909 to 1913. It was so desirable in the Victorian era and so out of reach for people without an unlimited budget that mock turtle soup became a thing. A nice, cheap calf’s head was used in place of the amphibian flesh.
It wasn’t just a delicacy for gourmands, however. Turtle soup was believed to have medicinal properties. Famed Swiss doctor Samuel-Auguste Tissot had a high opinion of turtle soup, even though it proved incapable of curing the effects of one of the greatest ills ever to afflict the human body: masturbation. In his 1760 treatise Onanism: on the Diseases Caused by Masturbation, Tissot described ejaculation was a kind of epilepsy, a violent spasm that expelled more than mere semen, leaving the body weakened and the brain and nervous system dangerously debilitated. Masturbation caused gout, headaches, apoplexy, blood in the urine, nervous disorders and pretty much everything else. One of his unfortunate patients, a college student, masturbated so much he gave himself tuberculosis. His loud, hard coughs, a classic symptom of onanism, woke up the neighbors.
He was frequently bled, doubtless to relieve his sufferings. A consultation of physicians was called; they prescribed turtle soup and a return home, as he was a native of Dauphiny, and promised him a perfect cure. He died two hours later.
Apparently not even turtle soup could counter the pernicious effect of wanking (or of draining the blood of a late-stage tuberculosis patient).
Tissot’s prescription was widely endorsed, even directly cited by the purveyors of fine viands. Turtle soup was the house specialty at Julien’s Restorator, established in 1793 as one of the first restaurants in Boston, which billed itself as a spa-like health resort where the convalescent would find a restful environment and proper nourishment. Julien’s advertised the soup in the papers emphasizing its ostensible curative abilities.
Turtle soup. Much has been said on its efficacy in purifying the blood by Tissot in his celebrated dissertation on the subject, and by Buffon, the great naturalist, who discovered the beneficial nature of amphibious animals. Those who use this soup must not expect that it be made strong with spice, but from ingredients clear and light.
Many celebrated physicians have recommended it. … As the first establishment of a restorator in Paris was not for Epicurians — but for the benefit of those invalids who stood in need of light substance, nourishing and strengthening to their stomacks, it was recommended for the purpose by the Academy in Paris. Citizens of the above description are invited to call and try the virtue of Julien’s turtle soup.
Turtle soup is illegal in Europe now because the main ingredient is an endangered species. It can still be found on US menus made from freshwater or farmed turtles — it’s a standard in Cajun cuisine wherein, unlike at Julien’s Restorator, it’s definitely “made strong with spice” — but generally speaking the taste for it faded after World War II. That raggedy tin can in Delft truly captures a bygone era.
Music that hasn’t been heard in hundreds of years was performed for the first time in almost a milennium at Pembroke College Chapel, University of Cambridge, on April 23rd. The concert was the culmination of years of research into medieval music notation which reconstructed lost melodies in a collection of songs drawn from philosopher Boethius’ great work The Consolation of Philosophy.
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was a senator and consul of Rome born in the late 5th century to a patrician family, young Boethius was given an exceptional education, rare at that time even among the scions of wealthy, noble families. He distinguished himself at an early age, holding a number of important offices under Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great. In 523, it all came crashing down when he was arrested for treasonous conspiracy with Byzantine Emperor Justin I against Theodoric. He was jailed for a year during which he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy. He was executed in 524, but his work far outlived him and became a seminal influence on medieval philosophy.
Boethius also happened to be an accomplished mathematician and musician, and wrote another hugely influential treatise on the subject, The Principles of Music, which was still consider the essential text on the mathematics of music as late as the 18th century. Setting the Consolation, Boethius’ most famous work, to music, therefore, was a natural pursuit for medieval scholars. An 11th century manuscript in the Cambridge University Library known as the Cambridge Songs is a collection of texts that were in use at the Canterbury Cathedral Priory at the time. At the back of the book are some Boethian texts and a few of the famous Carmina Burana poems set to music.
The symbols representing the musical notation, called neumes, recorded the melody, not the pitch, and instead of having a one-to-one correspondence between notation and sound, the neumes relied on the aural traditions and memories of the musicians to fill in the details of a melodic outline. Those traditions died off in the 12th century and without the essential contribution of musicians’ knowledge, the music recorded in early medieval manuscripts became unreadable.
Cambridge University’s Dr. Sam Barrett has spent 20 years studying neumes and reconstructing the lost knowledge that made the songs playable. An important piece of the puzzle was a leaf from the Cambridge Songs with Boethius songs that was cut out of the manuscript by a German scholar in the 1840s. He donated it to a Frankfurt library where it remained unremarked upon until 1982 when it was recognized as purloined by historian Margaret Gibson and returned to Cambridge. This rediscovery of this one page was of major import to Barrett’s work because its density of notations allowed him “to achieve a critical mass that may not have been possible without it.”
“After rediscovering the leaf from the Cambridge Songs, what remained was the final leap into sound,” [Barrett] said. “Neumes indicate melodic direction and details of vocal delivery without specifying every pitch and this poses a major problem. The traces of lost song repertoires survive, but not the aural memory that once supported them. We know the contours of the melodies and many details about how they were sung, but not the precise pitches that made up the tunes.”
After piecing together an estimated 80-90 per cent of what can be known about the melodies for The Consolation of Philosophy, Barrett enlisted the help of Benjamin Bagby of Sequentia — a three-piece group of experienced performers who have built up their own working memory of medieval song. Bagby, co-founder of Sequentia, is also a director of the Lost Songs Project which is already credited with bringing back to life repertoires from Beowulf through to the Carmina Burana.
Over the last two years, Bagby and Barrett have experimented by testing scholarly theories against the practical requirements of hand and voice, exploring the possibilities offered by accompaniment on period instruments. Working step-by-step, and joined recently by another member of Sequentia, the harpist-singer Hanna Marti, songs from The Consolation of Philosophy have now been brought back to life.
Alas, there is no recording of the April 23rd performance online that I could find. I’ll update the post when there is. Meanwhile, here are two all-too-short excerpts of the reconstructed music. The first piece is played by all three members of Sequentia, from left to right Benjamin Bagby, Hanna Marti and Norbert Rodenkirchen, the second by Hanna Marti and Norbert Rodenkirchen.
Their Royal Majesties have asked the Gazette to share the following with the populace:
Unto the Hospitable Barony of Blackstone Mountain and the Staff of Blackstone Raids Do Byron and Ariella, Rex et Regina, send sincere thanks!
We greatly enjoyed our time at your event last weekend and observed many enjoying the same! Your preparations for Us were extensive with food, drink, and accommodations beyond anything we might expect. Thank you to those who provided such delicious food all weekend and carefully followed our Whims. Having the tent set up on the field as well as all ranges and the battlefield was wonderful. Event staff was courteous and helpful to Us and our Entourage, even while running such a large and long event. We spoke with neighbors from other Kingdoms — Atlantia, the Midrealm, and the West — who were also smiling and having a great time. Our Kingdom is proud of how you host Blackstone Raids!
Unto all the groups of Æthelmearc does the Order of the Scarlet Guard wish to issue a challenge.
This year on Saturday, June 11, in the Shire of Hornwood at the Scarlet Guard Inn IV, we are inviting every Barony, Shire, Canton, and College to send an individual to compete in an archery competition.
To enter, each group can pick one representative who is a member of that group, and send along a signed letter from the seneschal of the group as proof of entry. Only persons with a signed letter from the group’s seneschal will be allowed to compete. We would also ask that each group send a small item or token from their group that would then be put in the prize basket for the winner. There is also a banner for the winner to keep during the year. It is our plan to have the name of the winner and group he/she is from added to this banner each year.
Members of the Scarlet Guard are not eligible to shoot in this competition. Also, the archer who won the previous year is not eligible, but that group may send another archer instead.
The winner of last year’s challenge was the Barony-Marche of the Debatable Lands, which sent Takamatsu Gentarou Yoshitaka as its representative.
It is our hope to continue this challenge every year.
If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an ancient air conditioning system in a 7th-8th century structure on Failaka, a Kuwaiti island in the Persian Gulf. Researchers from the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) and Kuwait’s National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters excavating the Nestorian Christian village of Al-Qusur discovered the foundations of a stone tower with a complex system of canals inside.
“According to a preliminary analysis, it’s a unique so-called windcatch-tower, utilising an ingenious interior cooling system based on the flow of air, caught by openings in the tower superstructure,” [SAV Archaeological Institute director Matej Ruttkay] claimed.
Windcatchers work by evaporative cooling. Heat converts water to vapour which takes heat with it as it evaporates, just like sweat does for the body. The technology is commonly associated with traditional Persian desert architecture used all over the Middle East today, but there are versions of windcatchers going back to the 19th Dynasty of Pharaonic Egypt (ca. 1300 B.C.). Paintings on Egyptian tomb walls depict roof ventilators that pulled out warm air by suction, but that system is insufficient for the greater heat of the Persian Gulf.
The Failaka tower enhanced the cooling power of the windcatcher by passing the air over the below-ground water canals into the living spaces of the palace, lowering the temperature of the air dramatically. Modern versions of this system have been clocked cooling the interior of a home to 25°C (77°F) when the external air is 40°C (104°F). It’s a sophisticated approach, impressive for the time and location, and as far as the archaeologists who found it know, is the oldest of its kind ever discovered.
Failaka was first settled around 2000 B.C. by Mesopotamians from Ur who ran a trading concern from the island. By 1800 B.C., the Mesopotamians had either left or been escorted off the island by the Dilmun civilization, which at the height of its power encompassed modern-day Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and coastal Saudi Arabia. The Dilmunites were maritime merchants who controlled trade in the Persian Gulf. Strategically located at the entrance to Kuwait Bay with an easily defended coastline and native sources of water, Failaka was an important hub of their network. They built extensively on the island, constructing a large temple and nearby palace over the ruins of the old Mesopotamian structures. The construction was imposing. The temple was 60 feet square supported by massive limestone columns made of blocks that had to be imported from the mainland, evidence of how prosperous the Dilmunites were, how significant the Failaka settlement was to them and how big and strong their ships were to make such imports possible.
In the 7th century B.C., Mesopotamians under Nebuchadnezzar II returned to Failaka and remained there until the end of the Neo-Babylonian Empire after the death of the last king, Nabonidus. Then the Greeks took a turn. Alexander the Great and his successors controlled the island from the 4th to the 1st century B.C.
A Nestorian Christian community settled the island starting in the 5th century. The village of Al-Qusur was in the fertile center of Failaka. Today bounded by marshland, when the Nestorians lived there it was fertile agricultural land with tidy irrigation systems and easy access to the sea. Two churches have been found dating to the 5th and 6th centuries, along with a number of modest courtyard homes and farmsteads. The peak of Failaka’s Nestorian era was the 7th and 8th century. The settlement was abandoned in the 9th century.
The Kuwaiti-Slovak Archaeological Mission has been exploring Failaka since 2004. This season’s aim was to use field excavation, geophysical surveys, aerial photography and 3D modelling to discover the largest structure in Al-Qusur. They were successful beyond their wildest dreams, finding a palatial building dating the 7th-8th century A.D. that was previously unknown. Its architecture of stone masonry foundations topped with mud brick walls is relatively well preserved and its dimensions far eclipse those of the more than 140 settlement structures that have been found at Al-Qusur since it was first excavated in the 1970s. Also it had air conditioning.
Artifacts found in the palace include ceramic and glass vessels, stucco and tile stamps with Christian symbols and Byzantine coins. The latter helped narrow down the date of the find.
At the request of Their Sylvan Majesties, Byron and Ariella, the thrown weapons community is starting a “Get Out the Throw” campaign!
We want people of every age and skill level to flock to the ranges and start throwing! We want to expand the ranks of Æthelmearc’s throwing community and show the Known World both our superior numbers and skill. I know the subject line made mention of a contest, and here it is:
This will be a participation contest, beginning May 1st and culminating at the Pennsic War! Points will be awarded for participation, not scores or tournament wins. This allows for a more level playing field.
But the big points come at Pennsic!
For any competition or practice that runs between now and Pennsic, marshals can use the email address below to send me a copy of the score sheets (or just a list of the names) and I will record them. As this is a Kingdom-based tournament, I am using the Royal Round scoring maintained on the Æthelmearc Thrown Weapons website.
The winners will be announced at an event of Their Majesties’ choosing following the War.
The prizes, you ask? Custom made thrown weapons bags containing items no thrower can do without!
Scores and any questions can be emailed to Master Antonio at email@example.com.
Throwers to the line, Æthelmearc! Let’s Get Out the Throw!
Arts & Sciences Research Paper #9: Making green paint medievally with spring irises and fall buckthorn berries
Our ninth A&S Research Paper comes to us from Lady Adrienne d’Evreus, of the Province of Malagentia. She turns to the flora of her woodlands to learn ways that medieval painters made green pigments. (Prospective future contributors, please check out our original Call for Papers.)
Making green paint medievally with spring irises and fall buckthorn berries
Many medieval manuscripts explain how to make green for illumination with seasonably available resources. Excited to make green from my local plants, I used iris in May and buckthorn in September to make some beautiful green paint using instructions from an anonymous medieval treatise, De Arte Illuminandi. Even with some incorrect assumptions about materials, by using translated fourteenth century instructions as a guide with iris blossoms and buckthorn berries, beautiful green pigment was produced.
According to Daniel V. Thompson in The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting, the primary medieval substitutes for verdigris in book illumination were iris and sap green (Thompson 169-171). I was inspired by his book and excited to make green paint using some medieval methods.
My love of iris began as a child in my father’s gardens as I learned how to grow with him. His observation that they tolerated and seemed to enjoy wet soil was driven home years later as a college student when I accidentally chose a tidal riverbed for a late night nap after dark and woke up with the break of dawn a few hours later getting increasingly damp in rising tidewater amongst these beautiful blue lilies! The place I chose for my iris at home is a garden spot that floods in the spring and stays moist but not sopping in the summer. They seem to be very happy and produce many blossoms every year.
Looking to medieval manuscripts to make recipes for iris or lily green (Thompson and Hamilton 2), instructions were found in Mappae Clavicula (Smith and Hawthorne 51), De Arte Illuminandi (Thompson and Hamilton 6-7) and a number of Mary P. Merrifield’s Original Treatises (Merrifield ccxix, 422, 504 and 678, 684), often as clothlets. On Merrifield’s page 678 and 684 she translates recipes from a seventeenth century manuscript. Those recipes inspired me to try fermented iris juice experiments too.
Clothlets are a means of storing pigments. The impregnated cloth could later be placed into a dish (Thompson 144) or clam shell (Thompson and Hamilton 17) and wetted with a bit of glair (egg white) or gum water, and it would release its stored pigment into the vessel, creating a transparent stain. The glossary of the British Library describes “clothlet” as “A piece of cloth impregnated with pigment (generally a vegetable dye)” and in The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting Thompson says:
“iris green… was made from the juice of iris flowers, sometimes mixed with alum and thickened… but more often prepared as a clothlet. Bits of cloth were dipped into the juice of iris flowers and dried, again and again, until they contained a sufficient quantity of the color.” (Thompson 171)
De Arte Illuminandi indicates that you should pound iris blossoms in a mortar and pestle then squeeze them through a cloth to extract the juice. Linen cloths pre-treated with rock alum should then be dipped in the juice and dried in the shade multiple times. These clothlets are then stored in books. (Thompson and Hamilton 7). Merrifield’s “Bolognese Manuscript” from the fifteenth century calls for dipping the cloths in rock alum first then iris juice and keeping these cloths in a closed box (Merrifield 422).
The recipes often consist of adding alum to the iris juice. I didn’t get the Dover edition of Merrifield’s Original Treatises until Christmas of 2015 so for the 2015 experiments I used alum acquired from a modern and traditional dye supplier—aluminum sulfate, Al2(SO4)3. What was actually indicated and used by the medieval craftsman was rock alum, defined in the Dover edition of Merrifield’s glossary as potassium aluminum sulfate, KAl3(SO4)2(OH)6 (Alexander xii, xxviii).
Taking the advice of Wendy Feldberg, I collected iris blossoms as they bloomed daily at the end of May and beginning of June in 2015 and froze them to try with the recipes when they were done blooming. Though there were not freezers in medieval Europe, this seemed like a reasonable compromise since spring inspires so many other activities and obligations. After freezing and thawing the iris blossoms, without the added work of ‘pounding’, they gave me 78.91g of gorgeous transparent blue liquid that I poured into a clean glass jar. I separated the juice into four portions, adding additional variables.
I wondered what would happen when you didn’t modify the juice at all or exposed it to alkaline materials (like clam or eggshell) rather than an acid like the alum suggested by the medieval sources so I tried it all: plain iris juice for a control, and iris juice with clam shells and eggshells for alkaline as well as iris juice with aluminum sulfate, an acid.
The aluminum sulfate and iris juice combination started turning a dark turquoise color. It was swirled to combine and allowed to sit undisturbed for approximately four hours. I decanted the aluminum sulfate saturated juice into a clean jar and used that solution to saturate three clean 8x10cm squares of linen. Then they were dried on a piece of parchment paper under a gentle fan protected from the cat and other disturbances. After waiting for each saturation to completely dry, this procedure was repeated five more times over several days.
After the first experiment with fresh iris blossoms, the bag of partially exhausted blossoms was returned to the refrigerator. Several weeks later the blossoms had fermented. Intrigued by the slightly post-1600 recipe ideas that used fermented iris (Merrifield 678, 684), I used the blue liquid squeezed from them too. After letting the white slimy precipitate settle I poured the cleanest juice off for new trials. These used clam shells and eggshells with and without aluminum sulfate, as well as three linen clothlets soaked in a 10:1 aluminum sulfate solution first, which follows the original medieval recipe procedure in De Arte Illuminandi (Thompson and Hamilton 6-7). These second clothlets were only soaked three to four times because I ran out of juice. As they were soaked they had a beautiful blue-green hue. They were dried, as before, between each soaking.
All clothlets and jars with variables were reserved on the refrigerator away from the cat and as cleanly as possible while drying under a fan.
The trials of iris juice with the addition of aluminum sulfate, from both ‘fresh’ and fermented iris juice, in an alkaline substrate like clam shells or not, all produced green results. A small brush was used to combine distilled water, Winsor and Newton gum Arabic, and prepared pigment from iris to paint out resulting materials onto Strathmore 100lb vellum surface Bristol board.
The plain iris juice, plain iris juice in a clam shell or eggshell without aluminum sulfate resulted only in browns whether fermented or not. I was a little surprised that the juice didn’t stay blue at all by itself after drying.
There were no iris clothlets prepared without aluminum sulfate. Both fermented and non-fermented clothlets made with aluminum sulfate produced pretty green linen yielding delicate green ‘paint’ when combined with some distilled water and gum Arabic. The fermented iris juice clothlet produced a slightly more brown-green than the non-fermented. The bacteria and fungus in the fermentation process may have caused the iris green to deteriorate slightly resulting in a more brown-green than pure light green produced from the clothlet prepared with non-fermented juice.
In the fall it took me what felt like forever to find Rhamnus spp. berries for the sap green. I searched the fields and ditches near my house, and even went to “Buckthorn Lane” in my local neighborhood. I found other trees with other fruits but no buckthorn! Even though my dad had taught me about many plants and how to garden, he never taught me about buckthorn. Non-native invasive species were to be eradicated in his experience, not fostered or encouraged.
Finally someone said “look for tall trees, usually somewhere wet” so I went back to my stomping grounds as a teenager in Westbrook, Maine and found spindly trees with small berries in what used to be a wetland for protected turtles. “This?! Is this it?!” I begged my friends to confirm cell phone pictures of my find. The leaves looked right from the National Agricultural Library’s invasive plant website (NAL 2015) and Mistress Isabel Chamberlain’s blog (Siconolfi); the berries were dark and the bush was spindly and taller than I might have guessed, growing somewhere wet. “Yes!”, they chorused, “that looks right, try it!”
Sap green from buckthorn berries (Merrifield ccxviii) is defined by Pigment Compendium as a flavonoid dye coming from buckthorn, Rhamnus spp (Eastaugh et al. 338). De Arte Illuminandi and Original Treatises have recipes to produce it, just like the iris green. The identification of the berries and when to gather them is described in De Arte Illuminandi (Thompson and Hamilton 43) which points to Cennino Cennini for their identification (Thompson 32n). Once identified, the buckthorn berries should be combined with lye and rock alum dissolved under heat to make green (Thompson and Hamilton 7). Recipes to make the green were also found in Merrifield’s Original Treatises (420-428, 662, 706, 708-710, 786, 808). The recipes after page 640 in Merrifield’s books are from manuscripts written after the sixteenth century. They were not as interesting to me but I feel that these other sap green recipes are relevant to researchers of the earlier sources due to their material and procedural similarities.
According to De Arte Illuminandi the green from buckthorn could have been prepared and stored as clothlets, like iris, or sealed in a glass bottle (Thompson and Hamilton 7). I decided to experiment with the second method.
On September 4, 2015, 100.00g of buckthorn berries were added to a 12oz glass jelly jar and crushed with a plastic fork. They were sticky and smelled slightly winy. They ranged from almost black and squishy through reddish to green and firm.
The recipe in De Arte Illuminandi contains lye as I previously mentioned. Lye or ley is defined in the new Dover edition as an alkaline solution made from mixing wood ashes with water (Alexander xxiii). In an online conversation with Geffrei Maudeleyne, he explained where in De Arte Illuminandi to look (Thompson and Hamilton 36-37) and Asplund confirmed that potassium carbonate, K2CO3, is what the medieval craftsmen would have made and used. Since I didn’t have the Dover edition with its glossary until Christmas 2015, I relied on the sage advice and resources of these online friends and fellow pigment makers.
In a Corning Ware sauce pan (to emulate the “glazed porriger” of De Arte Illuminandi‘s instruction) 11.60g of lye, K2CO3, was mixed with 100g of distilled water. Adding 5.05g of aluminum sulfate, Al2(SO4)3, resulted in immediate bubbling. The reactions at this point had increased the temperature a little to 80 degrees F. Warming the mixture on a simmer burner on low, I hoped to dissolve more of the alum. After about ten minutes the bubbling had mostly stopped. The temperature had risen to 120 degrees F and the solution had a pH of 6 and a milky appearance. Heating it up to encourage the aluminum sulfate to dissolve, a little mass and volume was lost by evaporation and in the sink when it was transferred into the jar with crushed berries. A little residue remained in the pan, and the total weight of the solution decreased to 87.07g. Pouring the liquid into the berries caused an immediate color change like I saw in the spring with the iris! Turquoise again!
The lye/aluminum sulfate solution was mixed into the berries with the plastic fork. The following day the solution had bubbled out of the jar a little. The jar was relocated into a glass bowl in an undisturbed corner for two more days. The third day after the addition of aluminum sulfate and lye, a clean square of cloth was used to strain the juice into another jar. The jar was capped and closed when not accessing this liquid for paint experiments. It produced another pretty green liquid! This is most likely the sap green I was hoping for.
A small brush was used to combine distilled water, Winsor and Newton gum Arabic, and prepared pigment from the buckthorn to paint out resulting materials onto Strathmore 100lb vellum surface Bristol board.
Both iris and buckthorn berries produced green pigment using the fourteenth century instructions from De Arte Illuminandi, despite using aluminum sulfate rather than potassium aluminum sulfate. Moving forward with the “correct” alum will be interesting next time. I wonder if it will produce the same green or a different one. My father would be satisfied that I made lovely green paint from the plants I grew and found using science. My science teachers would have been happier with better note taking and more pictures so I will attempt that with fresh and correct materials in 2016. There are so many colors achievable from other berries and more invasive and native plants and weeds using historic European recipes from hundreds of years ago. I can’t wait to see what else is achievable! What are you inspired to learn, experiment with, and achieve?
Alexander, S. M. Glossary of Technical Terms in Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting. By Merrifield xi-xxxiv. New York: Dover, 1967.
Asplund, Randy. Personal communication on Facebook and in e-mail, 2015.
Broecke, Lara. Cennino Cennini’s Il libro dell’arte, A new English translation and commentary with Italian transcription. London: Archetype Publications Ltd., 2015.
Brown, Jamin. Accessed December 2015.
Clarke, Mark. The Art of All Colours. London: Archetype Publications, Ltd., 2001.
Eastaugh, Nicolas, et al. Pigment Compendium A Dictionary of Historical Pigments. Boston: Elsevier, Ltd, 2008.
Feldberg, Wendy. Personal communication via blog comments and e-mail, 2015.
Maudeleyne, Geffrei. Personal communication, August 2015.
Merrifield, Mary P. Original Treatises: Dating from the XIIth to XVIIIth Centuries on the Arts of Painting, in Oil, Miniature, Mosaic, and on Glass; of Gilding, Dyeing, and the Preparation of Colours and Artificial Gems; Preceded by a General Introduction; with Translations, Prefaces, and Notes, In Two Volumes. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1849. (The new Dover edition with a glossary also suggests some of her dating of the manuscripts is not correct.)
Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting, Original Texts with English Translations. New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1967, 1999.
National Agricultural Library. Accessed September 2015.
Siconolfi, Claire. Accessed September 2015.
Smith, Cyril Stanley and Hawthorne, Daniel G. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society held at Philidelphia for promoting useful knowledge. New series Volume 64, part 4. Mappae Clavicula, a little key to the world of medieval techniques. 1974.
Thompson, Daniel V. The Craftsman’s Handbook. “Il Libro dell’Arte”. New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1960.
Thompson, Daniel V. The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting. New York: Dover Publications, 1956.
Thompson, Daniel Varney and Hamilton, George Hurd. De Arte Illuminandi, the Technique of Manuscript Illumination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1933.
Filed under: A&S Research Papers, Arts and Sciences Tagged: a&s, Arts and Sciences
The church of Yemrehanna Kristos in northern Ethiopia was commissioned by and named after a priest-king of the Zagwe dynasty who ruled from about 1087 to 1127. The church was built in the early 12th century in the late Azumite style inside a cave facing northeast on the side of Mount Abuna Yosef in the Lasta Mountains, the church is as beautifully situated as it is remote. The town of Lalibela, later capital of the Zagwe kings of Ethiopia and famous for its rock-hewn churches, is just 12 miles away, but until 15 years ago, Yemrehanna Kristos took a day’s hard ride on a mule to reach. Recently a dirt road was built from Lalibela making the church accessible to 4WD vehicles. Even with a proper Jeep it still takes an hour and a half to get there.
Yemrehanna Kristos was a major site of pilgrimage, especially for people on the verge of death. Inside the cave behind the church are the bones of an estimated 10,000 people who journeyed from everywhere around Ethiopia and as far as Egypt and Syria to die at the holy site. Monks and priests live in the cave, some in a second building beyond the church, others sleeping on woven cots in the open cave.
The building itself is one of the best-preserved late Axumite churches in the country. The walls are made of timber beams alternating with white plastered stone which give them a striped look. The windows are covered with intricately carved wooden lattices. The design of the church’s interior is a simple central nave with an aisle on each side, divided by masonry pillars and arches. Every piece of wood on the inside of the church is painted. The ceilings are decorated with polychrome painted geometric designs. Scenes from the Bible are painted on the walls.
These murals are the oldest surviving wall paintings in Ethiopia, but they weren’t even published internationally until 2001 because between the layers of dirt on the surface and the darkness of the interior of the cave, they’re hard to see.
The figurative images are mainly New Testament scenes, many of which are now barely legible because of an accumulation of dirt. They include a depiction of the arrival in Egypt of the Holy Family, who are welcomed by an angel. Mary rides a donkey, with Joseph walking behind, carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders. The wooden ceiling is decorated with 17 painted medallions of animal motifs: wild beasts, birds, an elephant, a winged creature, a scorpion and a dragon. Other wall paintings have geometric designs.
The murals and church are in dire need of the tender attentions of conservators. Earthquake tremors have weakened the structure, putting cracks in the walls and damaging the priceless decoration. Previous inexpert and undocumented attempts at restoration have coated the murals with a layer of varnish, now darkened, and a rough cleaning attempt left brush marks on the surface.
Last fall, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) received a $150,000 grant from the U.S. State Department Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) to fund an 18 month-long structural analysis of the church, interior and exterior. Laser scanning and motion monitors will hopefully pinpoint the source of the movement in the building and identify areas of top concern. The WMF will work with the Ethiopian Heritage Fund (EHF) on the project.
The initial investigation will include in-situ microscopy, along with ultra-violet and infra-red examinations. Paint samples will be tested, partly to determine the original pigments and media used and to identify added materials. There will be small-scale cleaning trials, to test which materials should be used. Monitoring sensors will be installed to record temperature and humidity changes. A separate team from the University of Cape Town will undertake a laser scan survey to create a three-dimensional data model of the church and cave, to map structural movement.
Once they have the data, they will conserve the paintings for the first time under contemporary professional conditions. If all goes well, conservation will begin by October of this year and continue through early next year. The objectives will be to stop the paint from flaking and to clean the murals thoroughly.
Yesterday in Tir Mara, Duke Brion Anthony Uriel Tarragon won the right to make his consort, Duchess Anna Ophelia Holloway Tarragon, Princess of the Eastern Kingdom. He first made her a princess just over thirty years ago, and they ruled as the 34th Crowns of the Kingdom of Atenveldt. They have twice before ruled as King and Queen of the East.
The Gazette thanks Sir Simon Gwyn for the use of his photos.
Filed under: Court Tagged: Crown Tournament