Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Name of the Rose

When Gerard Segarelli was rejected by the Franciscans, he took matters into his own hands and formed the Apostolic Brethren in 1260. The Brethren, active in northern Italy, gained many followers with their life of extreme poverty and their message of repentance.

[Source]
In 1274, at the Second Council of Lyon, Pope Honorius IV prohibited all mendicant orders if they were not sanctioned by the papacy. In 1280, the Bishop of Parma imprisoned Segarelli, and in 1286 banished him from the diocese.

The prohibition against unapproved mendicant orders was renewed in 1290 by Pope Nicholas IV, who also began going after those "orders"; the Brethren were a particular target.

In 1294, four members of the sect were burned at the stake. Segarelli himself was sentenced to life in prison, but on 18 July, 1300, he was burned at the stake in Parma after being made to confess that he had relapsed into heresy. The Apostolic Brethren gained a new leader in the charismatic Fra Dolcino, who is worth his own post someday.

The motto of the Brethren under Segarelli, and later under Fra Dolcino, was Poenitentiam agite [Latin: Make penitence]. This was abbreviated to Penitenziagite! and made known to millions of readers 680 years after Segarelli's execution in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Apostolic Brethren

Mendicants
In the later part of the 13th century, a new order was founded in northern Italy.

Sort of.

The founder, Gerard Segarelli, was a resident of a town in the territory of Parma. Poor and uneducated, he wished to follow a strict Christian life. He applied to be a Franciscan, thinking that their life of simplicity and poverty was suitable to his spiritual goals.

They turned him down.

So about 1260, inspired by a picture he had seen of the apostles, he made himself an outfit patterned after that design, sold his house, distributed the money in the marketplace, and became a mendicant, eschewing property, money, a place to live, and anything that might be considered a luxury. He preached repentance, urged the simple life that he embraced, and found many followers. The Apostolic Brethren, or Apostoli, were scoffed at by the Franciscans—they were a little "over the top" in their pursuit of poverty and simplicity.

But their lifestyle was tempting to many: surviving only on alms, living in the moment without plans for tomorrow, with no fixed dwelling, trusting on God's (and other humans') charity. They took no vows; they considered the vows of other orders hypocritical, because the vow of poverty did not mean living as poorly as the Apostolic Brethren were living. They followed one principle only, based on the Acts of the Apostles:
All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them ..., according as anyone had need. [2:44-45]
But this was not to last. Tomorrow I'll tell you how Segarelli's dream ended, only to be remembered over 700 years later in a literary bestseller.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Damnation of Memory

The Roman Severan family, with
Geta "erased" from lower
left by orders of Caracalla
[link]
Memory is a tricky thing: it cannot easily be controlled, but steps can be taken.

The Roman Senate had a practice reserved for traitors to the state: Damnatio memoriae [Latin: "Damnation/Condemnation of memory"]. It was intended to remove any mention of that person from official records. On 21 April 395, the Senate condemned Eugenius (blamed for a recent civil war) to Damnatio memoriae, claiming "Let that time be reckoned as if it never was." Another famous example is when the Emperor Caracalla erased the memory of his brother, Geta, which involved physically removing his likeness from artworks. (See the image to the left.)

Damnation of memory was not strictly Roman. Queen Hatshepsut was almost wiped from Egyptian history by her ungrateful stepson, Thutmose III, in the 15th century BCE. Akhenaton promoted his brand of monotheism by removing images of the god Amon. Modern Egypt isn't immune to this practice: witness the recent removal of the name of President Hosni Mubarak and his wife from monuments and public spaces after his downfall.

Snorri Sturluson, mentioned here, tells us that the 10th century earl Hákon Sigurdarson was referred to solely as "the evil earl" long after his death.

The 55th Doge of Venice, Marino Faliero, was executed in 1355 after a failed coup, after which his portrait was removed from the Doge's palace in Venice and the space painted black. The blackened space still exists.

And Magnus Maximus was condemned with Damnatio memoriae, for all the good it did (see the previous two days' posts). Stories have a way of surviving; memory is like that.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Magnus Maximus, Part Two

rom a 14th century Welsh Book of Hours,
this is thought to depict Maximus
[link]
Yesterday we introduced Magnus Maximus, a general who briefly became ruler of much of the Western Roman Empire. Leaving the young Emperor Valentinian II in Rome, Maximus ruled over Britain, Gaul, Spain, and Africa.

He did things that did not sit well with his constituents, however. He is believed to be the first person to order execution for heresy when he executed Priscillian and six followers.* We are so used to thinking of the Middle Ages killing heretics that we would be surprised to know that this wasn't always common. In this case, St. Martin of Tours (mentioned here) tried to prevent it. On the other hand, when Maximus tried to censure Christians for burning down a synagogue, Bishop Ambrose of Milan condemned Maximus' decision.

Maximus also pushed his luck by driving out Valentinian II, who later, with the help of Eastern Emperor Theodosius I, returned and attacked Maximus, defeating him in 388 at the Battle of the Save (near modern Croatia). Maximus surrendered to his enemies at Aquileia; despite pleading for mercy, he was executed.

Maximus had family, and although we are not certain what became of all of them, we have some ideas, and legend offers another. His son, Flavius Victor, was strangled. His wife sought counsel from St. Martin, but we know nothing of her after that; we don't even know her name, although a popular Welsh legend calls her Elen. Maximus had a mother and daughters who were spared. One of his daughters, Sevira, is named on the Pillar of Eliseg as a wife of Vortigern. (The pillar was erected centuries after Vortigern, so we cannot be certain of the accuracy of the data.)

Later historians did not forget the story of a warrior starting in Britain and conquering Rome. They embraced him, and wove him into England's greatest legend. Accordingly, one of his grandsons was Flavius Ambrosius Aurelius, who had a son, Ambrosius Aurelianus. Depending on which ancient historian or modern author you pick, Ambrosius is either the uncle of King Arthur or is the figure on whom King Arthur is based.



*"Priscillianism" will be covered in the near future.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Magnus Maximus, Part 1

Yesterday's post on St. Illide mentioned that he cured the daughter of Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus. Although Maximus was Emperor of Western Roman Empire for only five years (383-85 CE), he has a bearing on medieval legend, and you ought to be introduced.

[link]
Magnus Maximus (c.335-28 August, 388) was a Roman general who served in Africa, then in southwest Germany on the Danube. He went to Britain in 380 and held it against invasions by the Picts and Scots.

In 383, when the current Western Roman emperor, Gratian, became unpopular, Maximus' troops declared him emperor. Maximus took his troops and set out for Rome to take Gratian's place. Gratian and his army met Maximus near Paris, where Gratian's troops were defeated and Gratian was pursued to Lyons and killed.

But Maximus did not become emperor automatically. Gratian had a half-brother, Valentinian II, who was declared Western Emperor. Maximus continued toward Italy to overthrow Valentinian, who was only 12 years old. Valentinian had help, however, from the Eastern Emperor, Theodosius I (once mentioned here regarding the date of an eclipse). Negotiations followed, aided by Bishop Ambrose of Milan (later St. Ambrose, mentioned here disagreeing with Plato). Maximus was given the title Augustus and allowed to rule Britain, Gaul, Spain, and Africa, while Valentinian II remained on the throne of Italy. Maximus was allowed to mint coins and make laws. He is credited with the first executions for heresy (I'll get to that some day).

He did not, however, remain popular for very long. I'll talk about that tomorrow, as well as tell you about his great-great-grandson, who probably did not exist and whom you all know.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Saint Illide

Yesterday's post featured a picture of the chapel of Saint Illide, belonging to the Château d'Alleuze. The chapel was built in the 12th century and named for a 4th century bishop of Clermont, France. Given that the picture yesterday showed a no-longer-used stone building, you can assume that the stained glass window to the left is not from there. It is found in the Church of Saint-Eutrope in Clermont-Ferrand.

The bishop, alternately known as Illidius or Allyre, is credited with helping Clermont-Ferrand become an important center of monastic culture and religious teaching—probably one of the reasons it was chosen by Pope Urban II for announcing the First Crusade.

Illide supposedly cured the daughter of Emperor Magnus Maximus of Rome. His reputation earned him praise from Gregory of Tours.

Illide died in 385. His feast day is 7 July (except in Clermont, where they celebrate him on 5 June.)

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Castle above Saint-Flour

The picture below was posted on Facebook a few days ago by a long-time friend. (That's his daughter seen to the right of it. Hi, Kyrie!) It is the chapel of St. Illide. As interesting as the chapel is, however, I want to talk about the castle on the hill behind it.


The Château d'Alleuze was built in the 13th century in south central France, looking down on the commune of Saint-Flour. Saint-Flour is named for Florus of Lodève, reputedly the first bishop of Lodève who came to Christianize the area in the 5th century. One of his acts was to strike a rock with his staff, bringing forth water from a spring.

The Château d'Alleuze was built in the 13th century and owned by the bishops of Clermont. Typical for the time, it was built square with round towers at each corner. During the Hundred Years War, it was seized by the Breton Bernard de Garlan, who spent seven years terrorizing the area.

[link]
The locals burned down the castle in 1405 to prevent it from being used as a base for future terrorism. This understandably annoyed the actual owner, a Monseigneur De la Tour, who made the locals restore it to its original state. It survived for centuries afterward, being used for, among other things, a jail by the bishops of Clermont.

A ruin now, it was declared in 1927 as an historic monument, and a recommended tourist spot.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The King of All Birds

The wren, O the wren, is the King of All Birds.
On St. Stephen's Day he got caught in the furze.


So goes a medieval carol. But why would the diminutive—though disproportionately loud—wren be the king of all birds? The Christians of the Middle Ages had a story for that.

God, wanting to know which bird was the king, challenged them all to a contest. Whichever could fly the highest and farthest would be declared king. They all set off, flying until they dropped from weariness. When the eagle was left, and started to fail, the tiny wren popped out from where it was hiding under the eagle's wing, and won the competition.

Cute, but it looks a little contrived after the fact. Why would the wren be considered king, and therefore need a fable to justify it? And why is it important that it got caught in the furze (gorse) on 26 December? A traditional St. Stephen's Day pursuit is to hunt the wren, kill it, and bury it. The is sometimes still done in England, although these days it is pantomimed with an artificial bird.

The Norse story is that the wren betrayed St. Stephen, leading to his martyrdom; hence the hunting and killing of the wren on his feast day.

There's an older Celtic connection of the wren with the past year; in the Netherlands its name means "winter king" because the European wren sings through mid-winter. The hunting and killing, then, is probably symbolic of getting rid of the old year to make way for the new. Its "kingship" in European/Celtic tradition likely stems from this tendency to keep singing its surprisingly loud song when most other birds have disappeared to warmer climes.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Protecting the Jews

The Plague, also called the Black Death, spread across Sicily shortly after the arrival of a fleet of a dozen Genoese galleys bringing goods from the far eastern end of the Mediterranean. This was in October of 1346. A few months later, in January 1348, galleys from Kaffa (in Crimea) reached Genoa and Venice, where outbreaks also began.

The rest of Europe might have been spared—crossing the Alps would be difficult for the Plague carriers—but one of the galleys was driven away from Italy and found shelter in the port of Marseilles on the southern coast of France. That was the real introduction to continental Europe, after which there was no stopping it.

There is plenty of information about the Black Death to be found online—including in the blog—so there is no need to go into details here. There is, however, a specific event related to the Plague that took place on today's date.

Many populations throughout history, unhappy with their lot, either due to general difficulties or tragedy, have looked for a scapegoat. That scapegoat often takes the form of other people who can be labeled as "outsiders" who are not us and whose presence or actions are hurting us. In the case of the Plague, that scapegoat in many locations was the Jews, who were persecuted and killed, accused of poisoning wells (despite the fact that they drank from the very same sources of water), or of general wickedness that had brought down the wrath of God.

Pope Clement VI was moved to produce a papal bull, Quamvis perfidiam, defending the Jews against the accusations, and urging his fellow Christian prelates to defend them in their territories. It was released on 6 July, 1348. Unfortunately, persecution persisted, and so he re-issued it on 26 September.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pets and the Clergy

Christine de Pizan and her dog [link]
In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Prologue describes the Prioress as having small lapdogs that she dotes on, feeding them roasted flesh and milk. This behavior is similar to that of a noble-born lady, not a nun. As it turns out, nuns keeping pets was not uncommon, and it was not always a good thing.

Romsey, which was often the home to noble ladies, gives us an example of pet-based extravagance. John Pecham, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1279-1292, criticized the abbess for not providing adequate food to her charges, while at the same time keeping and dogs and monkeys (!) in her chamber.

William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, wrote to Romsey's abbess in 1387:
...clear proofs that some of the nuns of your house bring with them to church birds, rabbits, hounds and such like frivolous things, whereunto they give more heed than to the offices of the church, with frequent hindrance to their own psalmody and that of their fellow nuns and to the grievous peril of their souls, therefore we strictly forbid you, ... to bring to church no birds, hounds, rabbits or other frivolous things that promote indiscipline;
... whereas through the hunting dogs and other dogs abiding within your monastic precincts, the alms that should be given to the poor are devoured and the church and cloister and other places set apart for divine and secular services are foully defiled, ... we strictly command and enjoin you, ..., that you remove these dogs altogether.
The keeping of pets was common for the upper classes, and monasteries and abbeys were frequently refuges for noble women who had no prospects of (on interest in) marriage. They clearly did not intend, however, to leave certain luxuries behind, and companion pets were clearly a desirable option.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Brothers-in-law

Among the groups in history that have long since disappeared, there are the Pechenegs. They were a semi-nomadic group that spoke a Turkic language, originally inhabiting the area north of the Black Sea, but being pushed westward until they came into conflict (and cooperation, but more often conflict) with others.

Pechenges versus the Rus, from a 15th century Russian history
The group's name, Pecheneg, derives from the old Turkic word for brother-in-law. We assume that the tribal units comprised people related by marriages. One of their early mentions in documents is by an 11th century Uighur scholar, who analyzed their language and declared it a Turkic dialect. In the 12th century, Anna Comnena described them as speaking a common language with the Cumans (a literary language of Central and Eastern Europe).

An invading group of other Turkish peoples drove the Pechenegs from their homeland. The Pechenegs pushed into Hungarian lands in the mid-800s. Some scholars of the time claimed that some Pechenegs remained in their homeland and were absorbed into the invaders' culture. A Byzantine historian of the 10th century wrote of those who stayed:
...even to this day they live among them, and wear such distinguishing marks as separate them off and betray their origin and how it came about that they were split off from their own folk: for their tunics are short, reaching to the knee, and their sleeves are cut off at the shoulder, whereby, you see, they indicate that they have been cut off from their own folk and those of their race. [Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Imperial Administration]
Moving westward, Pechenegs made an alliance with Byzantium, who used them as allies against other groups, such as Magyars and Rus. Alliances shifted, however. Some Pechenegs attacked Kiev (in 968), while some joined Kiev in attacking Byzantium (970-71). The Pechenegs eventually had no neighbors with whom they did not have a history of hostility. In 1087, a large migration/invasion of Pechenegs (estimated at 80,000) started moving toward Constantinople from the north, plundering as they went. Byzantium, after years of mis-management and weak leadership, was unable to meet this threat without help. Alexios I Comnenos offered gold to the Pecheneg-related Cumans to come to his aid.

In April of 1091, a combined force of Byzantines and Cumans met the Pechenegs at a place called Levounion. The Pechenegs, with their women and children, were not prepared for such strong opposition. The slaughter was extensive, and the few survivors were taken into servitude at Constantinople. Any mention of Pechenegs after this (and there are very few) lists them as soldiers under Byzantine rulers.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

St. Fructuosus of Braga

St. Fructuosus on Braga Cathedral
It is not unknown for rulers who have been harsh to try to "buy their ay into Heaven" near the end of their lives. Chindasuinth, who had been harsh in his dealings as king of the Visigoths, became very beneficent to religion in his final years. One of his accomplishments was financing the building of a monastery at San Román de Hornija in which he would be buried. His remains are there, next to those of his wife, Recciberga. (That may be San Román's only claim to fame; it has only a few hundred people living there these days.) The man who built the monastery was Fructuosus of Braga.

The son of a general, Fructuosus studied religion under Bishop Conantius of Palencia. When his parents died, he became a hermit in Galicia. He attracted others with his knowledge and piety, and thus began a monastery called Compludo. In all, he founded about 10 monasteries, including one solely for 80 virgins under the abbess Benedicta.

The monastic rules he wrote exist in two copies. The rule for his original monastery was extremely strict. Monks were not allowed to even look at each other, much less talk. Any thoughts, visions, or dreams were to be confessed to their superiors. There were bedtime inspections at any time of night. Infractions were punished by flogging and imprisonment for three to six months, on a diet of six ounces of bread.

In 654 he was asked to become Bishop of Dumio and given the job of fixing its finances; previously, the income was being used to help the poor and free slaves. Unfortunately, this rendered the diocese insolvent. Fructuosus was asked to make it solvent, but still be sensitive about the slave issue. Fructuosus, for whom the issue of political prisoners was an ongoing cause, was willing to balance the needs of the bishopric with the desire to free slaves.

On 1 December 656, he was made Archbishop of Braga, but remained a pious man who dressed so poorly that he was often mistaken for a peasant instead of a bishop.

He died on 16 April, 665, age unknown. In 1102, his relics were transferred from the Cathedral of Braga to Santiago de Compostela, but were returned to Braga in 1966.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rebellion Among the Visigoths

In the 7th century, the Kingdom of the Visigoths covered much of the Iberian peninsula and a good chunk of what is now southern France. A Germanic tribe whose ruler was approved by all the nobles, there were some rulers who attempted to create a dynastic succession, so that they could hand the kingdom to their sons.

Chindasuinth
One such was Chintila (c.606 - 20 December 639), who took over from Sisenand at a time of unrest. Chintila was not a bad ruler. He held two Councils of Toledo (the 5th and 6th), in which (among other things) it was determined that the king must be chosen by the nobles and the bishops from the nobility: he could not be a foreigner, a peasant, or from the clergy. Chintila tried to leave the throne to his son, Tulga. This did not sit well with too many people, and so a warlord decided to stage a rebellion.

That warlord, Chindasuinth, may have been as old as 79. Commanding the frontier forces—and with much experience of rebellions from quelling them after the forced conversions from Arianism to Roman Christianity, and dealing with hostile Basques—he had himself declared king by his followers (but without the bishops). He marched his forces to Toledo, captured Tulga, and cut his hair. More specifically, he gave him a tonsure and exiled him to a monastery, because Tulga's father had helped establish that clergy could not ascend to the throne.

With his rebellion a success, Chindasuinth proceeded to rule, being properly anointed king on 30 April 642. But to rule successfully, he realized he needed to guard against—you guessed it—rebellion. So he decided to quell a rebellion pre-emptively. He rounded up and executed 200 members of the Gothic nobility and 500 members of the lesser nobility, without any pretense of a trial or even any evidence that a rebellion against his rule was being planned.

In October of 646, the 7th Council of Toledo retroactively ratified all of his decisions to take the throne and execute potential troublemakers. He then proceeded to make a pretty good king, establishing peace, heavily supporting the church, and refining the legal system.

But then he tried what others had tried: he named his son his heir. He declared Reccesuinth a co-king while Chindasuinth was still alive, so that the people would get used to the idea of Reccesuinth ruling. Reccesuinth was the "front man" for years, doing everything "in Chindasuinth's name." When Chindasuinth died in 653, Reccesuinth simply continued making decisions.

Froya, a Visigothic nobleman who had not been executed 10 years earlier, took exception to this and staged (wait for it) a rebellion, reaching as far as the important city of Saragossa with the support of the Basques (who held a grudge against Reccesuinth's father). Reccesuinth managed to put down the rebellion, execute Froya, and send the Basques back into the mountains. Then he reigned for almost 20 years on his own.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Death of William Rufus

Recent posts have talked about the sons of William the Conqueror: how he left the kingdom to his second son, William Rufus; how the eldest, Robert Curthose, had a temper and was shunted off to Normandy; how the youngest, Henry, took the throne upon his older brother's death during a hunting accident. We haven't yet talked about the hunting accident.

from Ridpath's Universal History (1895) 
If it was an accident.

On 2 August, 1100, King William II, called "Rufus" (probably on account of a red face), went hunting with a party of men that included his younger brother, Henry. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that he was "shot by an arrow by one of his own men." A later reference says an arrow glanced off a tree and went through his lung.

Details are scant. This was somewhere in the New Forest; the exact location is unknown, although later legend has picked a spot. In fact, a few centuries later, a stone was erected purporting to be on the site of the oak tree from which the arrow glanced.

William of Malmesbury claims that an archer named Walter Tyrell was responsible for the errant arrow, despite the fact that he was considered an excellent shot. Rather than carry the king's body back for burial, the hunting party left it there. Henry rushed to Winchester to seize control of the treasury and declare himself king; he was confirmed the next day. A peasant later came across the body and caused it to be brought to Winchester for burial.

Some historians claim that, if Henry wanted his brother killed, he would have waited; that William and Robert were headed for inevitable conflict, and that he merely had to wait until one of them eliminated the other, and assassinate the remaining brother. We know, however, that Robert was still away on the First Crusade, the money for which he had been given by William. At that time, it looked like Henry's elder brothers were getting along. Henry might also have been aware of the agreement between his brothers to be each other's heir. If Henry wanted his chance to be king, he had to seize it and consolidate power while Robert was far away and in no position to assert his claim. Henry also used his coronation charter, the Charter of Liberties, to cement the loyalty of the nobles.

We will never know for certain if William's death was an accident, but the situation so clearly benefitted his younger brother that it is difficult to shake the suspicion that it was engineered.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Charter of Liberties

A copy of the Coronation Charter of Henry I/Charter of Liberties
When William Rufus died, his younger brother Henry assumed the throne. It should have gone to the oldest brother, Robert Curthose, who was away on the First Crusade, because of an agreement between William and Robert. After all, when their father died, Henry was given a chunk of money; he wasn't even given a plot of land to rule the way Robert was given the dukedom of Normandy and William got England. The nobles didn't want to accept Henry at first. It was probably the Charter of Liberties that changed their minds.

The Charter of Liberties is also known as the Coronation Charter. It is the earliest extant coronation charter from England. In it, the new king makes promises to uphold laws. The statements made in this particular Charter were popular because they undid many of the acts of William that were unpopular.

For instance, statement 1 promises that Henry "shall not take or sell any property from a Church upon the death of a bishop or abbot, until a successor has been named to that Church property." (William had left the position of Archbishop of Canterbury lie vacant after the death of Lanfranc, so that he could appropriate the revenue from the archbishop's lands.)

Statement 6 forgives "all debts and pleas which were owing to my brother, except those which were lawfully made through an inheritance."

Statement 8 reverses the practice of being forced to bribe the king: "If any of my barons commit a crime, he shall not bind himself to the crown with a payment as was done in the time of my father and brother, but shall stand for the crime as was custom and law before the time of my father, and make amends as are appropriate."

Other statements put more control in the hands of the barons, and promise that the Crown shall not act rashly. When Robert Curthose went on the First Crusade, William gave him 10,000 marks—the equivalent of 25% of the annual royal budget. William got this money from a very heavy tax levied on the whole of England.

Even though in the normal course of events Henry would not have been part of the succession, the Charter of Liberties presented at his coronation helped to "sell" him to the noble class.

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