The Judas Tree, And Other Legends of the Betrayer

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This is cercis siliquastrum, the Judas Tree:   It is, according to legend, the type of tree from which Judas hanged himself, and its once-white blossoms blushed with shame to be part of such a terrible history. Or perhaps it’s called the Judas Tree because the clusters of blossoms sometimes hang from the branches, suggesting [Read More...]

Jesus–The Revenge!: A Medieval Drama

Signs and portents warning of the destruction of Jerusalem .

The British Museum recently acquired a beautiful illuminated manuscript of a fairly obscure mystery play called Mystère de la Vengeance de Nostre Seigneur Ihesu Crist. In English: Mystery of the Vengeance of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh yeah, now we’re talking. I can see the movie poster already. “He’s back, and this time … it’s personal.” [Read More...]

A Dishonest “Cosmos”

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When my friend Tony Rossi posted about the cartoon about the life of Giordano Bruno that was inexplicably shoehorned into the reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series,  he received a number of negative comments. Tony had asked a few of us with a background in Church history what we thought before he wrote his post, [Read More...]

Our Ancestors Weren’t Idiots

Cardinal Hugh of Saint-Cher at study. wearing the first eyeglasses ever depicted in art. (Tommaso da Modena, 1352)

I spend much of my of time reading the words and trying understand the thought processes of the medieval mind. Christendom between about the year 1000 and the Reformation was a time and place with a view of the world profoundly different from ours. (The idea of the Renaissance as some great opening of the [Read More...]

Medieval Book Shrines

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Medieval Fragments has a terrific, well-illustrated post on book shrines: shrines designed to look like books. Called a cumdach, the book shrine was a kind of reliquary contains pages from books associated with saints, and occasionally first class relics: Usually quite small, they served as a portable vessel meant for the preservation of a sacred [Read More...]

Catherine of Cleves Has a Case of the Mondays

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From the Morgan Library & Museum comes this page from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Monday Matins “Office of the Dead.” Even in the 15th century, Mondays had a grim association. The Morgan describes it thus: As a man dies, his wife offers him a candle, a doctor examines his urine, and his son [Read More...]

When Archaeology and Epidemiology Meet

A 1400-year-old tooth containing plague DNA

The past is always present. A group of scientists has managed to extract DNA from the teeth of two people who died during the Justinian Plague in the 6th century, and tests have confirmed that the same pathogen was at the root of the Black Plague of the 14th century, with mutations that are still [Read More...]

Augustine Contemplates the City of God

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From the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum comes this amazing illuminated page from De civitate Dei. If you click on it you can zoom and scan to a remarkable level of detail. The illuminations are by Girolamo da Cremona from 1475, and the Morgan describes it this way: “In the lower portion of this sumptuous [Read More...]

Just Beautiful: Medieval Calendar Pages

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If you haven’t already added The British Library Medieval Manuscript page to your must-visit list, you really should. They routinely offer beautiful and fascinating treasures from their collection. This year, they’re running pages from The Huth Hours, a manuscript noted for its spectacular illuminations: The Hours include double page monthly calender spreads noting the feasts [Read More...]

Hidden Medieval Manuscripts Uncovered Thanks to New Tech

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This story first appeared while I was sick, when I marked it for later coverage. Even though it’s a few weeks old, it’s just too important to let slide. A palimpsest is a writing surface that has been erased and used again. Since parchment is made of animal skin, it was durable enough to stand [Read More...]