lack of understanding of context of history

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guthrie
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lack of understanding of context of history

Post by guthrie »

I visited Rosslyn Chapel earlier this week. Its a couple of years since I was last there, and I noticed a few more things about it I hadnt seen before, and also came up with a few pertinent thoughts. Since I last visited it, I have learnt more about medieval imagery, design and all the rest of it, and suddenly the chapel didnt seem quite as wonderfully odd as it had been before.
Yet, taken on its own, as the most well known of a very small class of buildings to exist from that period in Scotland, it is all too easy to fall prey to the madness and hype that surrounds it. Which is where the context comes in.

Many people, MoP's and others, dont give our ancestors enough credit for a lot of things. THey dont know how fashions changed, how people were influenced by ideas and foreign practises, how you kept up with the Jones in those days, and also how local experimentation took place in all sorts of interesting ways. So they make more out of things that have no need to be made more of, and ignore many other interesting things.

So, my current view of Rosslyn is that it is something like a medieval millionaires fantasy, someone pushing the boundaries a bit and mixing in a bunch of influences, because they can and they want to make a big impact. I understand also that some of the carving and design is suggestive of Spanish influence, reinforcing the internationalism of the era.

To sum it up- as re-enactors we can (hopefully) have some insight into depths of meaning and practise of historical life, and a greater awareness of what the heck actually went on then, and why. But of course we sholdnt get big headed about it...
Then theres the difficulty of communicating it to people.

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

As a former student of Catholic theology it is nowhere as weird or as unconventional as some would set it out to be (mainly basing their understanding of it on wild stories about Knights Templers, Freemasons and so on.) It is in short the kind of chapel Elton John or the Beckhams would have erected if they had been around then. Full of pretensions and gimicks stolen form other places and as such in my opinion is completely without taste.
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Post by guthrie »

Thats kind of my point- unless you have a good idea of the actual context, and also recall that the people who had it builtwere human like you and me, people will get really confused as to its actual nature. Can you say more on which gimmicks were stolen from where?

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

Tricky without being avle to direct you to a picture, but the bushels of corn stuff that are "meant" to be proof of mysterious travels to America are also found in Moorish patterns in Spain and Eygpt, lots of the roof designs are familiar to the south of France (obviously connected to the Cathar hersy- which had been died and buried for a 100 years before the chapel was built mind you) the pillars are not unlike those found in royal chapels in Spain and Northern Italy along the pilgrimidge orutes to Santaigio at, b**ger it some monestry that begins with M, built by the Augustinains, it'll come to me later, and i guess the masons have visited York minster and Durham amongst others for the whacky faces in the ceiling. Rosslyn isn't too strange by the way, there are some Basque churches that look as though they were designed by masons triping on acid (doubtless some underground ritual) as they were supposed to cut the laity from the nobility from the religiuos from the priest etc to make everything seem even more weird and otherworldly. Afterall a trip to a medieval church was to be given a glimpse at heaven where the mysteriuos and wonderful was everyday, people forget the drama and mystisim involved because they are ised to the whitewashed empty shells that the Reformation turned churches into. There is a old book called "how To Read A Church" i'll try and look at my copy and find the author ISBN details and stuff if you want.
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Post by Jim Smith »

What especially interests me is how that drama and mysticism (or rather the need for it) faded from the minds of ordinary people between the end of the fifteenth century and the middle of the seventeenth. There is plenty to sugeest that in fact it didn't and that this was something recognised and understood by Luther. It was the Calvinists who pushed the view that the only glimpse of heaven you needed was that afforded by reading the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If you look carefully, there are a few pre-Reformation survivals in English parish churches. One of the best is the painted C14 rood screen at Ranworth in Norfolk.
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Post by guthrie »

Thanks marcus, but 20 seconds with amazon turns up the book in question. Looks interesting, I shall put it on my list of books to buy in the future.

I don't know much about church and religious history, but it seems to me that the need for drama etc is a constant, although its exact intensity waxes and wanes. And what could be more mystical than everything from conventicles to possessions? Perhaps it all took a more inwards turn, rather than the outwards spectacle of the painted churches etc.

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Post by gregory23b »

Nice thread Guthrie.

We in this time frame tend to see things through the wrong end of the telescope, in that the items/styles we see are condensed, we forget that buildings took generations and were altered on the go by interfering/well meaning bishops etc. The admixtures of styles we see as idisyncratic and sometimes chaotic took a long time to get that way. Conversely our predecessors as you rightly say were not averse to wiping the slate clean to suit their own tastes. This idea of a static history as seen 'preserved' is in my view a false one and I do feel that at times we reenactors think the 'olden days' were set and unmoving, pandering to popular misconceptions.

We do not get and are not part of a context in which all those things are perfectly logical and sensible, they are seen as merely decor, unfair I feel.

I married my wife in a 1960s Catholic church which could easily give a no frills protestant church a run for its money in the austerity stakes. No prizes for figuring out why we couldn't get married in the lovely Norman church in her village.

As for drama, is the drama a physical one needing obvious visible links between man and God or is the drama in the story and lesson, as Jim is getting at?
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

It is an interesting thread, one which goes beyond things like what a place looks like to the way people feel or felt. It's like the misconceptions about movement in armour or the notion that the clothes people wore in the past were "fancy dress" when in fact it is as practical and sometimes more practical than modern costumes. Thanks for this one Guthrie.
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Post by StaffordCleggy »

I was watching a programme the other week - think it was titled 'buildings that made Britain' - along those lines anyway.
There was a piece about Durham Cathedral (i think) & how the architecture & design changed in style as they were building it. At the East end of the Knave (sp?) the columns & arches had a strongly distinct Norman sensibility about it, all austere & dramatic. By the time the Western end was built the decoration & architecture had morphed into a very Anglo-Saxon style, all this in 40 years. The programme was using this example as an illustration of how the Norman overlords were becoming 'anglicised' (Anglo-Saxonicised?) by constant contact with their mainly Saxon peoples.
Styles & tastes change, sometimes slowly, sometimes exceedlingly quickly when considering the speed of communications across Europe.

Of course, the masons & other craftsmen would have been locals in the main, with just a few master craftsmen hired in from elsewhere, so the local styles & tastes would have had plenty of opportunity to insert themselves into the design evolution.

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Post by guthrie »

Come to think of it, the topic is also related to that thread to to diwth moving properly in period kit. Although the subject is somewhat more intellectual.
For example, can you recall not knowing how lightning happened?

Then, any ideas how we can give a better idea of the movement of things through the periods we re-enact? I cant think of any thing right now, but there must be ways and means. I suppose multi period bashes can have some of that, and of cours enot everyone has our capabilities of soaking up lot of info and asking pertinent questions...

Its partly what I also find so frustrating about alchemy and suchlike- although there are similarities in the main ways of thinking, the way things are expressed changed every century, with expressions and justificaitons becoming more complex, and messing about in so many ways. Yet to them at the time, many of them were perfectly comprehendable.

As for religion, the drama associated with it, perhaps the reduciton in that is related to an icnrease in reading and accessability of the main text. Caxton was 15th century, was he not? That meant you could read your bible in person, in secret almost, rather than participate in public rituals. That in itself, over the centuries, must have helped change the outline of religion.

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Post by craig1459 »

guthrie wrote:As for religion, the drama associated with it, perhaps the reduciton in that is related to an icnrease in reading and accessability of the main text. Caxton was 15th century, was he not? That meant you could read your bible in person, in secret almost, rather than participate in public rituals. That in itself, over the centuries, must have helped change the outline of religion.


Also being able to read it in your own language rather than Latin
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Post by X »

When it comes to religion, one thing I tend to be aware of is that the nature of belief in god has changed, I think. Six hundred years ago, you didn't believe, you knew. The option of there not being a god just didn't exist - the arguments were over what type of god it was and how he ought to be worshipped. Believing in god was like believing in tables - their existence was self-evident, proved by the way your crockery didn't fall on the floor. The existence of god was self-evident, proved by the fact that the world existed and it had to have been put there by somebody.

Nowadays, atheism and agnosticism are common, and we also have exposure to religions which are not of the Christianity/Judaism/Islam family. Even if you are a die-hard believer, the nature of your belief is different because you have chosen to believe as one of a variety of options open to you. Also, while science hasn't satisfactorily explained everything (although the question of why the toast always lands butter-side down has been sorted out) so many of the mysteries have been solved. The "well, how else do you explain a rainbow if there isn't a god?" aspect has been removed.


The change from Catholicism to Protestantism changed a lot more than the religion itself. It was a pretty radical political change, too, both on the micro and the macro level. On the macro level, the community of Europe began to break up as the unifying influence of the Catholic church lost its power over the Protestant areas; Protestant rulers no longer had to look over their shoulders to the Pope. There was also a subtle shifting of alliance - Catholic with Catholic, Protestant with Protestant.

On the micro level, the nature of people's relationship with the church, and what this meant to them and the way the church worked, changed. Under Catholicism, the priest interprets the Bible and is the only conduit between the worshipper and God. Under Protestantism, each worshipper has his own personal relationship with God, and the priest becomes, almost, first among equals. People start to question what they've always been told, and once people start questioning religion, they won't stop there. They'll start questioning everything, including the entire social order (Levellers).

At this distance in time and philosophy, it's hard for us to understand the depth of feeling people had regarding religious issues because the nature of religion has changed so much. Here in the UK, it's very much optional - a personal decision whether or not, or what, to believe. It's illegal to discriminate against somebody because they don't believe in the same things as you do. It's therefore quite hard for us to imagine a religious climate where the appropriate course of action to be taken when encountering someone who believed something different to oneself was to burn them at the stake or deport them - and if it's difficult for us to imagine, how can we get that over to the public?

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Post by Sophia »

Well said X - for anybody who is really interested in this aspect of our history they should read the following two books by Karen Armstrong.

"A History of God" - examines the history and status of the 3 western monotheistic faiths, i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam (very fair to all).

"The Battle for God" - examines the development of fundamentalism as we know it today in the abive mentioned faiths.

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

I have found reenacting to be much more than putting on the clothes inorder to look at the past. We do look at things very differently and our relationship with religion is one of the most difficault ones to try and put across. I find it strange that people are willing to spend so much time and money on getting the right bit of kit and then make no effort to reenact the totally over whelming part religion played in the lives of our ancesters. But thats because they quite rightly chose not to do something that isn't for them. I just find it funny that they'll happily make out they are in a "battle" but are not willing to bow for an equally make believe prayer.
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Post by guthrie »

That all depends. I count myself as agnostic, and am not willing to take make believe religion too far, along the lines partly of a pascals wager, and partly because it might offend someone, and also, doing it in an unreal fashion seems a little bit like taking the mickey.

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Post by Sophia »

Very reasonable point there Marcus.

Guthrie - I don't think that anyone is expecting you to take communion, confess your sins or purchase a pardon, but I think most people would agree with some sign of respect for it (i.e. standing in respectful silence).

Personally speaking I am Jewish - which could cause a lot of problems. I have reached my own compromises though - something I can do because I am not ultra orthodox. You won't see me wearing any overtly Christian religious symbols, I read a Psalms rather say the Paternoster and don't discuss the religious status of my character unless I have to. If I was to do serious first person living history as they do at Kentwell I would have a real historical character to re-enact, i.e. I am not myself anyway.

Also no pork chez nous why do you think I am so keen on all Martin's preserved Beef stuff - would love it if he branched out into Mutton. :D

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*Dreaming of being able to commission a hand written book of psalms in english from Jorge*

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Post by guthrie »

well, yes, I dont do any of these things. Yet in theory, if we are to take the portrayal of religion at least semi-seriously, we aught to be acting out some of them. We could even go so far as to have several priests doing mass whilst a bunch of us stand the other side of the rood screen and watch, gossip, buy and sell stuff etc etc. Now I'm sure that would confuse a lot of mops.

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Post by Sophia »

Yup - great way to scandalise modern uptights is to point out that St Pauls in London was as much somewhere you went to do business as to pray.

Also one of the reasons some people can find orthodox jewish services so odd - too free form and not serious enough. Also on a weekday business gossip going on, certainly if you go to early morning service in a business district which does a breakfast afterwards.

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Post by guthrie »

Were Episcopal services in the 17th century that lax? Or whatever they called the established church then.

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Post by Sophia »

Not sure about 17th Church of England in UK - post Reformation things started to get a little more serious. Can't say for Scottish Espicopalian or anything stateside. Though in fact if you read social history pre-reformation there was almost always someone trying to launch a campaign to clean up the activities in and around church property.

I will try and chase up some stuff - but will probably have to wait until after Tewks.

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Post by guthrie »

My general understanding is that after the 16th century, when religion was somewhat more open to the masses, Churches in general became more sacred. I mean the chuirch as a whole, none of this high alter only for the consecrated stuff.
Of course people would still have gossiped etc whilst waiting for the service to start, but I cannot imagine a Scottish presbyterian service with someone trying to buy and sell in the back row during the service. (At least not in anything above whispers)

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

In my earlier posting I was not suggesting that anyone adopted a particular faith (although it would be wonderful for me if you all did convert-I'd get thousands of years "off" of purgetory) but it is easy enough to act the part. As a commited Catholic I had no problem in becoming a worshipper of Bel or Ceronnos when I was in "role" doing Iron Age stuff, nor was there a more fervent Puritan when I was in the ECWS. The problem with the former came when pagan reenactors expected me to celebrate Samhain etc when in downtime (ie when I was in kit but not amongst MOPS).
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Post by gregory23b »

Craig

"Also being able to read it in your own language rather than Latin"

Which was illegal in the 15thc I believe, the first printed vernacular Bible (Tyndale) in Germany was 1525 some 140 years after Wycliffe's manuscipt english Bible - outlawed by the Pope, if it wasn't Latin it wasn't legal - Tyndale ended up burned at the stake as a result.

But prayers etc were as likely to be written in English, French or Latin etc.

So don't go asking Mr Caxton for a wee jobbie in English please.
:D


If acting out then I don't have a problemas long as it is done respectfully and not a funny jokey affair. Too many reenactment services are done too self conciously or grudgingly "I didn't do this to be religious", my counter to that is "I didn't do this to actually kill people but I pretend to now and again". Not having religion or engaging with it in 15thC reenactment is a sandwich with no filling. As mentioned previously by X, belief was all pervasive in every single aspect of life. Of course there was a range of devotion but by and large God is everywhere and sees everything and we are at his mercy. It is more than mere lip service.

Does anyone produce a reliable primer for English religious services? For reenactors specifically, might be a very useful document.


Sophia - If you want a book of psalms I have a method of producing one over a period of time that doesn't involve huge outlays. Have we met perchance?

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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

Its also probly easier to "make out" this aspect than it is to fight a battle convincingly. Lots of medieval reenactors, rightly or wrongly, wear a roary at their belt. It is no big deal to sit quietly in camp with one in your hand and every so often slip another bead through your fingers, you don't need to be actually saying the rosary (hey between you, me and God i have done this when iSHOULD be saying the rosary) you can just be thinking about how sunny or wet or cold or wonderful the food smells (or otherwise-you get the idea) and if someone asks you what you're doing you say, "mediataing on the Holy Mysteries and praying for success in this afternoons battle" before going on to explain how important relogion was and son on. I actually have sat in camp and said the Rosary and found it very uplifting by the way.
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Post by Sophia »

Jorge - you have met my fellow Winchester Geese Alan and Birgit who have bought some playing cards from you (Cressing I think). We are at Tewksbury - perhaps we can talk then.

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Post by craig1459 »

gregory23b wrote:Craig

"Also being able to read it in your own language rather than Latin"

Which was illegal in the 15thc I believe, the first printed vernacular Bible (Tyndale) in Germany was 1525 some 140 years after Wycliffe's manuscipt english Bible - outlawed by the Pope, if it wasn't Latin it wasn't legal - Tyndale ended up burned at the stake as a result.

But prayers etc were as likely to be written in English, French or Latin etc.

So don't go asking Mr Caxton for a wee jobbie in English please.
:D


And Jan Hus of course, but I meant the effect more generally rather than just in Caxton's time
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Post by StaffordCleggy »

Interesting stuff.

But can anyone tell me how 'fervent' the English & Scots were during the late Medieval period? Of course, by modern standards they were far more religious than our society (as a whole Marcus!) is today, but how were they percieved by their European compatriots? Was there a marked difference between the South of England & the North?

As an example, the 'Loveday' celebrations for the reconciliation between the factions of the WoTR is often remarked upon as a great exercise in futility & cynicism by the ruling classes, did the common man hold an entirely different view of the World/Heaven & Hell than those who were born to rule & had the power & influence to make the Church bend to their political will?

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Post by gregory23b »

Craigster " but I meant the effect more generally rather than just in Caxton's time"

yep and you would be right, big changes in that period.
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

I have mentioned in other postings that it is hard for us to obviously tell what the common man or woman might think because they didn't tend to write things down and if thety did and someone did not agree with it then they ended up as a winter warmer. I think that people's faith was more like that which we still see in the developing nations. As a source of constant hope and peace when you might be engaged in a daily struggle against nature and mankind in order just to survive. When the promise of a better life might be the next one. We gget the impression that ordinary men and women had a healthy contempt for the papacy as the money went on really improving the social and political wellbeing of the bishops and cardinals. We get the idea they felt that the monastic orders had gone astray, but their continued to be a more healthy respcet for the mendicant orders (friars) and the parish preists who were on the front line doing God's work. Also personal piety was more important than the Protestent church has led you to believe. Church services might be in Latin but the sermon was not and many people said the Rosary or the Little Office during the services in their own tongue. There were many Psalm and Books of Hours available. I have mentioned how a Venitian ambassedor was surprised at the lack of attendence by common soldiers in the English army that fought the Scots in 1482, but deeply impressed (even to the point at which you sense he felt humbled) by the personal piety shown, how the Rosary and Little Office and Evensong were called well, religiously, by the soldiers everyday. A similar stroy was given by those witnessing English mercenaries in the Burgundian army.
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Post by StaffordCleggy »

So a deep & personal relationship with God, but a less than satisfactory one with the Church?
Plus a remarked-upon lack of conformity with the established order?
Sounds like we (the English) were well on our way to Quakerism et. al.

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