Annal for A.S. XXXI (5/96 – 4/97)

Bjorn and Morgen made two more Pelicans in the Province: Ygraine of Preston in Northern Outpost on May 4, and Brekke Franksdottir at the Festival of the Pillar in Sterlyng Vayle on September 28. In June, Rufina Cambrensis became the Chronicler. In July Gabriella Verde became the Captain of Archers. Suzanne Neuber de Londres took over as Minister of Lists in October. Joshua ibn-Eleazar became the Province’s first Web Minister in January. In February, Alexander de Pantera became Seneschal of Northpass. In March, Kamilah al-Sudani became the Seneschal of Whyt Whey.

At Lions End’s Lions in the Sun event on June 21, Seahorses were given to Eleanor the Fair and Marion of York. The entire Moose Guard received that honor on September 7 at Barleycorn.

Ygraine of Preston had her Arms Augmented at the Coronation of Lucan and Elspeth on October 6.

The Queens County Fair was held on September 14 and 15.

Book review: How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill, reviewed by Richard the Poor

Book Review
by Richard the Poor of Ely

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe
By Thomas Cahill, pub. Nan A. Talese – Doubleday, New York
Copyright 1995 by the author

Well, here’s a nice bit of nationalist hyperbole.  Cahill so boldly and broadly states his goal in the title that when he doesn’t quite reach it the reader (at least this one) feels cheated and disappointed.  He spends virtually all of the book setting the stage to explain how the monasteries established by Irish missionaries in the sixth and seventh centuries became the centers for the revival of learning in the Carolingian era, and then passes over that subject in at most a few pages.

Mr. Cahill, you’ve shown us how Western Europe lost “civilization”, and how the Celtic catholic church got to be the people who would bring it back.  Can’t you devote the same attention to the subject stated in your main title?

It’s not that the book is bad; it’s just that it’s incomplete.  Much of the historical material is presented through biographices of a few key people (Ausonius and Augustine of Hippo for the Late Roman Empire, for example).  An entire chapter discusses the mindset of pagan Ireland, and another discusses the life and labors of St. Patrick.  When the chance comes to sum up the saving of civilization by Irish missionaries with the life of the ninth century philosopher John Scotus Eriugena (John the Irishman from Ireland), this “most splendid blossom of the continental spring” rates only two pages.

Cahill includes many excerpts from Irish poetry of the era.  While the most relevant may be “The Hermit’s Song” (attributed to a disciple of St. Patrick) as it shows (according to Cahill’s commentary) how the quiet hermitage of a solitary monk became a full-fledged community, my favorite is a ninth-century insert into a miscellany by an anonymous copyist, beginning with the line “I and Pangur Ban my cat”.

If one wants to look for the heroes in “Ireland’s Heroic Role”, the people Cahill nominates for the honor are St. Patrick (of course), Columcille (known outside Ireland as St. Columba), who brought Celtic Christianity to England, and St. Columbanus, who went to Europe and set up monasteries as far south as Italy.

Cahill’s basic premise is that the catholic (i.e. open-minded) character of the Irish allowed them to value knowledge regardless of its source, and thus their monastic scribes copied Classical literature in addition to religious works.  They were then the people that Europe would turn to for scholars when the bits of Europe started to come back together.

Personally, I don’t feel it was their “Irishness” that let the Irish save Civilization, but simply the fact that they were literate when few others were.  The monks at the monasteries founded by Irish missionaries would become the logical choice for administrators as Medieval Europe was beginning.

[from the March 1997 Seahorse]

Book review: The Medieval Garden, Sylvia Landsberg, reviewed by Stephen Bloch

Tending your Garden

by Stephen Bloch

Sylvia Landsberg has a job to die for.  The dust jacket of The Medieval Garden (Thames & Hudson 1996?, ISBN  0-500-01691-7) describes her as “a garden historian and lecturer who has designed several thirteenth- to sixteenth-century gardens.”  In other words, she’s a professional garden recreator, involved in designing reconstructed medieval gardens at Singleton (in Sussex), Hangleton (in Sussex), Crickhowell (in Wales), Winchester Castle, and Shrewsbury (home of Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael), all of which she discusses in detail in a chapter entitled “The Medieval Garden Re-Created.”

In this beautifully illustrated and (apparently, to my inexpert eye) carefully researched book, Landsberg distinguishes several types of medieval European garden.  The enclosed “herber”, of under an acre, was often divided in half by a low wall or fence, one side for raised beds of flowers and herbs, the other largely lawn, with turf-covered benches and shade trees for recreation.  The orchard, typically one to four acres, might have trellises and tunnel arbors, between its rows of fruit and nut trees.  The “pleasure park”, typically around ten acres, seems to have been a forest stocked with wildlife, not for hunting but just for spectacle: cleared avenues among the trees radiated from a central pavilion or gazebo, from which nobles and their guests could watch deer, rabbits, hares, goats, porcupines, and in the largest parks lynxes and lions.

Landsberg describes all these, as well as vineyards, peasant and kitchen gardens (essentially an herber without the recreational half) in sufficient detail– measurements, species lists, construction diagrams, gardening tools, crop rotation schedules, etc.– that the reader might join her in reconstructing them.  A whole chapter entitled “Make Your Own Medieval Garden” discusses tradeoffs among authenticity, practicality, and expense, and suggests plans suitable for residential yards as small as a hundred square feet.

Landsberg writes from a decidedly British viewpoint, and the English gardening terminology may send you to your dictionary, but many of the plants she recommends are readily available in the U.S., having immigrated and taken the role of roadside weeds centuries ago.  The book ends with a list of re-created gardens to visit (the one U.S. entry being New York City’s  Cloisters), a list of recommended suppliers for gardening materials, an index of plant species mentioned in the text, and an extensive bibliography.

Missing from Landsberg’s bibliography, but perhaps of interest to local garden re-creators, is Tania Bayard’s Sweet Herbs and Sundry Flowers: Medieval Gardens and the Gardens of the Cloisters (Metropolitan Museum of Art 1985, ISBN 0-87099-422-0 or 0-87923-593-4).

[from the January 1997 Seahorse]