Gaye Mack’s Blog

WHOOOO ARE YOU?… MEDIEVAL MORTUARY CHESTS HOLD THE ANSWERS

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

On my recent trip to the UK as noted in my last post, I spent the better part of a day in Winchester Cathedral.  Although I’ve visited this magnificent structure many times in the past, I’ve learned there’s always something new for me to discover and this visit was no exception.

 Back in Chicago in preparation for writing my next book, A Watch of Nightingales,’ I’d been grappling with making sense of historical reporting versus practicality surrounding the tomb of Henry II’s ‘fair Rosamund’ at Godstow Nunnery.  From past research and experience I was aware of and have seen the many elaborate tombs created for persons of prominence as the United Kingdom’s churches and family chapels are full of them.  For Arthurian enthusiasts, there even exists a detailed description of the massive black marble tomb created for the April 1279 reburial ceremony of Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury during the state visit by King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.

 However, in researching the ‘facts’ surrounding Rosamund’s placement in Godstow’s church and subsequent demand to have her remains moved by Bishop Hugh of Lincoln some 11 years later after her death, something wasn’t making any sense…until I discovered the mortuary chests at Winchester.   My timing couldn’t have been more perfect due to the preparations for an extensive research project underway for the purpose of matching preserved bones to the early monarchs and bishops of the kingdom of Wessex, i.e, early Winchester. 

 To backtrack briefly here, one of the curators with whom I met, explained that when significant people died, their bodies were often left ‘open’ to natural decomposition.  Once the process finished and the bones were the only remains, they were cleaned and then placed in ‘small mortuary chests’.  Considering the non-existence of mortuary science as we know it today, such an approach was a very efficient means of preserving and honoring those who had passed. As to Winchester, this was the custom until Oliver Cromwell and his troops arrived.  As we know from history, Cromwell and his men were ruthless when it came to destroying England’s history.  Priceless artifacts were smashed, destroyed and scattered everywhere…the sacred bones of Wessex’s early leaders were no exception.  In an effort to save what could be saved, the bones were gathered up and basically ‘dumped’ into various chests with frankly, no idea who belonged to what.

 The goal of the current research project is to identify which bones belonged to which monarch and bishop; a formidable task but with the technology available today, perhaps not impossible.  In any case this brings me back to the subject of mortuary chests; discovering their existence and how they were used solves my ‘technical’ dilemma regarding the conflict between Rosamund’s original tomb placement and the outrage of Lincoln’s very pious Hugh of Avalon.  Stay tuned.

                                       

Photography©Gaye f. Mack, inc.


A RARE FACE TO FACE MEETING WITH 12TH CENTURY ECCLESIASTICAL TRAPPINGS

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 6 Comments

As I write this post, I’m currently ensconced in one of my favorite English cities, Oxford, where tomorrow I’ll be tramping around what remains of Godstow Nunnery just outside of the city and the setting for book #3 in my ‘Flight Through Time’ historical mystery series.  While I’m looking forward to this, two days ago I had an extraordinary experience at Winchester Cathedral.

 Through connections to the Cathedral, an old friend of mine was able to arrange an opportunity for me to spend some time with one of the Cathedral’s curators who allowed me to privately view the 12th century ‘Sparsholt Chalice and Paten’, on loan to the Cathedral, but not on display.  

We tend to fantasize that such ecclesiastical trappings were always very ornate, made from the most valuable of metals such gold or silver, decorated with priceless gems.  The reality is that in fact, often they were not. 

During a Victorian renovation of Sparsholt’s church which is located about three miles from Winchester and believed to be a site of worship since Saxon times, the chalk grave of a 12th century priest was discovered near the pulpit;  buried with him were a ceremonial pewter chalice and paten.

What surprised me the most was not only its lack of ornamentation and utter simplicity, but the size!  A visual guess puts the chalice at roughly four inches tall with the bowl perhaps six inches in diameter.  The paten is perhaps four inches in diameter.  With the exception of the medieval Christian cross embossed in the center of the paten, both pieces are totally devoid of decoration and although Pewter was considered a valuable metal, it certainly wasn’t in the category of gold and silver.  During a recent conservation restoration, the decision was made not to attempt to repair the crack in the bowl.  Nevertheless, to contemplate something so old in front of you, wondering who might have used it 900 years ago, staggers the mind.

We also forget that the average height of the medieval body was much shorter than modern physical characteristics, so one wonders; even though the pieces were ceremonial, were they proportionally fashioned?

Unfortunately, but understandably, I wasn’t allowed to hold them, but nevertheless it was an extraordinary experience, knowing that characters in my books have been taking the sacraments from items such as these.

 

 

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.


EARLY GRAFFITI ARTISTS~BORED MEDIEVAL MONKS AND NUNS!

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 1 Comment

Not every young medieval man (or woman for that matter) was thrilled to be packed off to the monastery or nunnery.  Aside from those who ‘felt the call’ of dedicating their lives to the glory of God, more often than not religious houses served as an answer to a family’s dilemma; what to do with Romauldus or Matilda if the family was poor with no long term means of supporting them (as well as younger siblings), or in the case of the more affluent, the oldest son got the inheritance, leaving everyone else to a life of religious duty…or perhaps a less honorable means of living.

And these weren’t the only reasons.  Say for example at the old age of 18, a woman had no suitors on the horizon, she was packed up along with a nice dowry to ensure her admittance by Mother Abbess.  Even less honorable, if a WOMAN was the eldest child in a family of wealth, she could be sent away so that her brother next in line, would inherit.  Can you imagine?  In any case,  these young people were relegated to spend their lives within the cloister, their days and seasons marked by the ‘Hours of Office’, work in the fields, orchards, stables, brewery, infirmary and…the Scriptorium where their days were more than uncomfortable, long and BORING.

 In researching material for my  historical mystery series, Flight Through Time, I came across this amusing piece showing us that not much has changed through the centuries when young men and women are bored with their studies.  Actually I’ve seen this posted in various formats more than once, but have never seen the source cited; perhaps you have.     Later today I’ll be leaving Chicago for England’s 12th Century land and hope to be posting while ‘on the road’.  In the meantime, I’m sharing these medieval margin notes as some of the notations are quite funny. Now that I read this again…I think these can readily apply to any modern writer  who has hopes of producing the next ‘best seller!’

…I have my favorite; which one is yours??


WAS THE SAINTED HUGH OF LINCOLN CATHEDRAL REALLY SO ‘SAINTLY’?

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

If one could board the ‘way back machine’ with Mr. Peabody and Sherman from the endearing ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ show, it might be interesting to dial in coordinates for May 1186, Eynsham Abbey, Oxfordshire.  Upon arrival, we might very well hear the town crier announcing,

STUNNING RESUME CATAPULTS HUGH OF AVALON

INTO BISHOP’S CHAIR AT LINCOLN CATHEDRAL!!

 It was to Eynsham that King Henry II summoned a council of bishops and barons in order to elect Hugh of Avalon to the vacancy at Lincoln.  No question, by this time in his life, Hugh had amassed a very impressive resume of accomplishments and on the surface it would seem that he was well placed in the monastic life.    Following his appointment as a deacon for the Benedictine priory of Villard Benoît near Grenoble France, Hugh’s ecclesiastical career was on the proverbial meteoric rise by the age of 19, particularly after he came to the attention of the powerful Plantagenet king, Henry II.

 As it was, in 1170 Henry found himself in a hot spot of bother with the Pope over that nasty business concerning Thomas Becket.  However, Henry being the quintessential deal maker, managed to appease Pope Innocent III (an ‘interesting name’ in and of itself!) by making an offer that Innocent couldn’t refuse.  In lieu of going on pilgrimage as part of his penance for his complicity in Becket’s murder, Henry agreed to establish a Carthusian house in England; which he did, just down the road (more or less) from Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset. 

 Unfortunately by 1179, the Witham Charterhouse was pretty much of a mess; so who to call?  By this time Hugh, now quite accomplished in his mid forties, was on Henry’s radar and thus, was commanded to Witham to sort things out… which he did…brilliantly actually.  As there is nothing like success, Hugh’s accomplishments at Witham led him to an additional assignment on the King’s orders.

 By 1183 the political climate had become so poisonous at Glastonbury that Henry ordered Hugh to take on the supervision of Glastonbury’s diabolical ‘Custodian’, Peter D’Marcy.  Predictably, D’Marcy didn’t take kindly to Hugh’s interference which provides rich fodder for my book, A Murder of Crows.  However, following Glastonbury’s disastrous Great Fire of 1184, Hugh remained at Witham until the Eynsham council elected him to head Lincoln’s bishopric in 1186.

Hugh’s biography, written by Adam of Eynsham, a Benedictine monk who was Hugh’s constant companion during Hugh’s final three years of life, remains in manuscript form in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.  Predictably, Adam’s accounts of Hugh’s life and behavior is impeccable. 

 However… in his contemporary and highly entertaining book, Sex Lives of the Popes, author Nigel Cawthorne informs us:

            “Like other popes, Alexander III [1159-1181] had particular problems with the clergy in England.  Determined to have someone celibate in the See of Canterbury, he appointed the monk Clarembald, only to discover the he had seventeen illegitimate children in one village alone.

            At the that time, the Bishop of Lincoln [this would be Hugh] was concerned about the debauchery of nuns in England.  So he developed a novel test to see if they were living up to their vows of chastity.  He would go through the convents fondling the nuns’ breasts to see how they would react.”

 Hmmmm….What do YOU think???

Nevertheless,  Hugh of Lincoln is the most venerated saint in Great Britain today after Thomas Becket!

A Murder of Crows is book one in my historical mystery series, Flight Through Time, which is in production.

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.


THE ZODIAC OF TIME: GLASTONBURY’S ENIGMATIC TOR –FROM PREHISTORIC ORIGINS TO LONDON’S OPENING CEREMONIES FOR THE 2012 OLYMPICS

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Karmic and Self-Discovery Astrology 4 Comments

About a year ago, I posted a blog about one of my most favorite places in England, Glastonbury Abbey, the site of Britain’s earliest devotion to Christianity.  In that blog I mentioned Glastonbury’s famous Tor only in passing.  The truth is that in reality, this ‘hill’ (for the translation of ‘tor’ is hill) deserves so much more as witnessed by the fact that Danny Boyle, producer for the opening ceremonies of the summer Olympics, chose it as a very graphic focal point.

 Reaching back into ancient times, the myths surrounding the Tor are extensive in scope.  From a small guide produced by the Gothic Image, THE bookstore in Glastonbury, we’re told that the Tor has been called, “a magic mountain, the fairies’ glass mountain, a spiral castle, a Grail castle, the Land of the Dead, Hades, a Druid initiation center, an Arthurian hill-fort, a magnetic power-point, a ley-line crossroads, a center for Great Goddess fertility rituals and celebrations, and a converging-point for flying saucers.”

Scientific proof of several of these myths eludes…although it has been established that the Tor is a ley-line crossroad.  As for other suggestions, what I can say is that having climbed the Tor on several occasions over the years, there is something very other worldly about its energy and atmosphere…time and space seem to inexplicably dissolve.  My mentor in evolutionary astrology, Steven Forrest, would no doubt say, it’s  positively ‘Neptunian’!

Rising 518 feet through the (often) misty landscape, the Tor suddenly manifests in the distance as you round an eastbound curve on the A361 outside of Glastonbury…not unlike the sudden appearance of Stonehenge, which stands starkly isolated on the Salisbury Plain.  And like Stonehenge, once you see it, it’s difficult to keep your eyes on the road.

 Among more recent speculations regarding the Tor are those ascribed to a British artist, Katharine MaltwoodIn 1935 Maltwood announced her aerial discovery of a ‘vast terrestrial Zodiac’ revealed through the topography of the Tor and surrounding countryside.  While her claims of zodiacal connections are abstract within the framework of what we think of as the traditional Zodiac, there is evidence that Maltwood had company in making such claims by Queen Elizabeth I’s celebrated astrologer, Dr. John Dee.

 So much has been written about this landmark that even if you never have the opportunity to visit it physically, you can read and let your mind cross the barriers of reality which is exactly why I chose it to play a significant part in my book, “A Conspiracy of Ravens” the second of historical mysteries in my “Flight Through Time” series, currently in production.

 As for the closing ceremonies of the Olympics; I wouldn’t be surprised to find that we haven’t seen the last of Glastonbury’s Tor.

         St.  Michael’s Tower, from which Glastonbury’s last Abbot, Richard Whiting was hanged, drawn and quartered

                                  by Henry VIII’s men for refusing to reveal secrets of Glastonbury Abbey at the time of the dissolution

      Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.