Glasses on Guthlac’s Monks?

Roundel 14, Harley Y.6  'the Guthlac roll'

Roundel 14, Harley Y.6; ‘the Guthlac roll’

I was looking at the Guthlac roll in the British Library online and I noticed something rather odd. Have you noticed it? The two outer figures are wearing glasses! According to the British Library page for the roll, its dates to c. 1175-1225 and is believed to be prototypes for stained glass windows. This seems a bit early for glasses. The guy on the right has particularly modern looking specs. Come to think of it, the one on the left in addition to the glasses has a rather flamboyant feather in his hat. What do you all think? Are these objects c. 12th century or has someone added these to the roll?

St Oswald and the Sussex Plague

Modified from the vault for St Oswald’s Day:

Happy St. Oswald’s Day!

It has been a while since I wrote but I can’t miss the feast of St. Oswald.

What little time I have had for medieval topics this summer has been focused on the plague, so this brings to mind the unique place King Oswald has in Anglo-Saxon plague history.

oswaldPlague isn’t recorded in Anglo-Saxon England during Oswald’s lifetime. Oswald’s legacy surely was in the thoughts of his countrymen in 664 when the plague is first recorded, but his role as founder of the Irish church of Lindisfarne would have made him a rather controversial topic in 664. Remembrances of St Oswald were also just beginning in 664. Although I think that his hand had probably been translated into a shrine in the church of Bamburgh by this time, other sites associated with his veneration (like Heavenfield and Bardney) still didn’t have official recognition or had not yet been established.

By the time the second major wave of plague circulated around Britain in the 680s much had changed. Although there are no plague associated miracles at Bardney, this is about the time it was established and he was credited with healing miracles there. Likewise, the site of Heavenfield was probably contained within the monastic grounds of Hexham by then under the rule of Bishop Wilfrid of York.

It was at one of Wilfrid’s monasteries in Sussex that St Oswald was said to have interceded on behalf of the monastery to stop a plague. As far as I can recall, this is the only plague intercession in Bede’s History. [As a matter of fact, I can only think of two plague intercessions in 7-8th century Britain -- this one by Oswald and Adomnan's credit of his preservation from the plague while visiting Northumbria to Columba.]  It is significant that Bede notes that it was from this point that Oswald came to be widely celebrated throughout southern England. This may indicate that he was, at least for a while, seen as an intercessor for the plague in a time of plague.  The vision of Sts. Peter and Paul telling the child that the monastery was being spared further plague by the intercession of St. Oswald for his people on the day of his own death (August 5), the day of the vision, is surely unique. It also satisfies the Wilfridian circle’s need for a Romanist vision vouched for by two primary Romanist saints.

We can be skeptical that this miracle occurred in one of Wilfrid’s monasteries, given that Wilfrid also controlled Heavenfield, but Wilfrid is unlikely to have really embraced the idea of a royal intercessor, given his own troubles with kings and that royal power was in conflict with episcopal power. I’ve discussed Acca’s role in developing Oswald’s veneration before, but it is possible that this miracle, a late insertion into Bede’s History, really was considered a major event in Anglo-Saxon England. Bede surely didn’t have to make such a late insertion. Its unlikely that this is the type of material that King Ceolwulf would have demanded.

In much later medieval times, Oswald was considered a plague intercessor in Italy. People would make long pilgrimages into the Alps to visit his shrine there seeking his intercession for their illnesses, so this was a theme of Oswald’s medieval cult.

What ever you think about such miracles, today is a day to recall St Oswald and ponder on the cultural role of Anglo-Saxon kings.

Wilfrid and the British Boy

Michelle Ziegler:

I know I haven’t been here hardly at all this summer but I haven’t forgotten about Heavenfield! Here is a blast from the past related to something I’m working on now. Hopefully I’ll be back with a blog post relatively soon.

Originally posted on Heavenfield:

Thinking about this month’s lost kingdom of Craven, it calls to mind the episode in Stephan’s Life of Wilfrid where Wilfrid miraculously restores a boy to life and then later forcefully reclaims him at age 7. The miraculous healing of the British boy is given in the chapter immediately after Wilfrid is given lands in Craven.

“St Wilfrid was out riding on a certain day, going to fulfill his various duties of his bishopric, baptizing and also confirming people with the laying on of hands; among these there was a certain woman in a town called “On Tiddanufri”, sad at heart, moaning with grief and wearied with her load. For she held in her bosom the body of her first-born child, wrapped in rags and hidden from sight; she uncovered the face of the corpse for the bishop to confirm it amongst the rest, hoping thus to bring it back…

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Versatile Blogger? Tag, You’re It.


Thanks Sally Wilde for tagging me. Its been a while since I’ve done one of these and there are lots of good, versatile blogs out there to nominate.

So the rules for accepting this nomination are:

  1. Display the logo
  2. Thank and link back to your nominator.
  3. State seven things about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other bloggers.
  5. Link back to a specific blog post on each blog so the blogger is notified.

Given seven things about myself… hmm, I don’t usually blog about personal things so I guess this is an opportunity to share a little.

  1. I should start with my three blogs Heavenfield here, Contagions on historic infectious diseases, and Selah on Bede’s abbreviated psalter, development of prayerbooks and modern church stuff.
  2. I started the journal The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe in 1998. I’ve long since turned it over to capable hands.
  3. My training is in biology and biosecurity; no formal history or literature training. I teach several life science courses online every year, in addition to working in the lab.
  4. I also maintain my church’s website and facebook page. As my online activity has diversified, I seem to have less time to blog (and to think about what to blog on).
  5. I first got interested in medieval studies from an interest in Arthuriana, but once I found Bede I never really looked back at Arthur again. I’ve focused here on seventh Northumbria and I’m still very interested in it.  I’ve pretty much caught up with 7-8 th century history, short of new things that come out. New discoveries on the Plague of Justinian will hopefully eventually give me more topics for Heavenfield.
  6. Plague brings together all of my interests: scientific, biosecurity, public health, history. While the science is coming quickly now (discussed mostly on Contagions), I’m sure history’s time will come soon. It would be nice to have a few more plague of Justinian sites confirmed.
  7. I’ve lived in the midwestern US my entire life, mid-Mississippi Valley to be more precise. I’ve only been to England-Wales once, Lindisfarne is as close as I’ve ever been to Scotland.

Now to make some nominations. Let’s see how far I can get this going and how many new history and archaeology bloggers will be discovered in the end. (Steering away from professional bloggers who I don’t think will participate.)

  1. Tim Clarkson of Senchus and Heart of the Kingdom writes about all things early medieval Scotland.
  2. Curt Emanuel, the Medieval History Geek, who writes primarily about Late Antiquity.
  3. Karen Jolly of Revealing Words who writes about 10th century Northumbria.
  4. Derek Olson of Haligweorc writes about Anglican liturgical history and development.
  5. Jonathan Jarrett of A Corner of Tenth Century Europe who writes about Catalonia and Oxford academia.
  6. Guy Halsall of Historian on the Edge (AKA Professor Grumpy) writes about Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Europe when he isn’t being grumpy about UK academia.
  7. Katy Meyer of Bones Don’t Lie who writes about mortuary archaeology.
  8. Kristina Killgrove of Powered by Osteons writes about Roman bioarchaeology.
  9. Diane McIlmoyle  of Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore writes about, you guessed it, history and folklore of northwestern England/southwestern Scotland.
  10. Later than the rest but for Sally, Lindsey Fitzharris of The Chururgeon’s Apprentice who writes on early modern surgery and medical collections.

Molecular Confirmation of Yersinia pestis in 6th century Bavaria

Michelle Ziegler:

Finally the Plague of Justinian is plague! Now hopefully biological anthropologists will start looking in Britain (like at Bamburgh’s cemetery).

Originally posted on Contagions:

Erasing any lingering doubts about the agent of the Plague of Justinian, a group of German biological anthropologists have shown conclusively that Yersinia pestis caused an epidemic in a 6th century Bavarian cemetery at Aschheim. Harbeck et al (2013) provide a convincing refutation of previous theories about the etiologic agent of the Plague of Justinian.   Returning to the same cemetery where plague was previously reported, two independent labs using the most modern standards to prevent contamination confirmed Yersinia pestis from multiple burials within the cemetery making this the best characterized Early Medieval plague cemetery.

The cemetery, called Aschheim, is in Bavaria outside of Munich. It contains the remains of 438 people with an unusually high number of multiple graves but no disordered mass graves. The 19 multiple burials contained two to five individuals arranged in lines. The cemetery was dated archaeologically to 500-700 AD with remains being carbon dated…

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The Plague of Justinian is Finally Plague!

A group of German biological anthropologists gave me a good 6th anniversary present for Heavenfield. There is now good confirmation that the Plague of Justinian was the Plague! I know that sounds a little anti-climatic but some have fought the diagnosis against the odds for years now. We still need more data from well dated cemeteries but some things are clear.

Plague was diagnosed in Bavaria beyond the Roman world where plague had never been documented. Two sites from Gaul have also produced plague protein  results and well documented symptoms from Gaul and the Mediterranean suggests that it was wide-spread in the Late Antique world. I’ve written about the details of this newest discovery on Contagions.

The cemetery is well dated archaeologically to the 6th century and radiocarbon dates support that date. There were no disordered mass graves. So the graves all looked reasonably normal except there were a greater than normal number of multiple graves, but still well-ordered 2-5 person graves. I would take these graves to be household size. From what little I know of sixth century Bavaria this fits a diffuse settlement patterns without large urban areas. So far no historian of Germanic territories has written about this discovery to help put it in better context. A full write-up of this cemetery should be illuminating. The first paper on this cemetery reported that the grave contained some high status and trade goods.

Now that plague genetics seems to be getting sorted out, hopefully I’ll be able to spend more time  on the first pandemic and related topics here on Heavenfield.