Romanesque Piles: Those Old, Round Buildings

Before the pointy, stained-glass rich cathedrals and palaces of Europe came Romanesque. It tends to get overlooked because, well, it’s round and lumpy unless it is square and lumpy. You have the Glory that was Rome, and then everything is romantic (or Romantic) ruins until poof! Cathedral and the high Middle Ages and architecture gets cool and soaring again. Except that’s not quite how it works. Continue reading


Carolingians, Salians, Ottonians, Oh My!

Quick! List the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire from 800 to 1200.

[Waits for dust to settle from fleeing readers]

Just kidding. Unless you are really interested in Early Medieval history, there’s a bit of a blur between Charlemagne and, well, probably Charles V of Austria and Spain. Most of us in the States and Canada vaguely recall Charlemagne, then jump back to England and Alfred the Great, then 1066 and the Norman Conquest. There was a Holy Roman Empire on the continent, but that’s not where we draw most of our history from so we sort of nod at it and go back to the Normans and Saxons. Continue reading

Into the High, Dark Forest…

Silva Nigra, the Romans called it. The dark, or black, forest: a wall of dense trees and mountains that hemmed in the Rhine and that could conceal all sorts of troubles. Behind it to the south rose the fangs of the Alps. Aside from a few hot springs, there was nothing worth venturing into the woods for. The gold and silver and lead were all on the western side of the Rhine, anyway.

You hear that? What was that? I can’t see anything!

Continue reading

Perigrination – Whys, Wherefores, and Wheretos

There’s always one who can’t sit still. That kid, the guy over there, crazy Uncle Fred who comes back from strange places with the coolest stories and stuff for the kids… Especially from Central Asia west, people have had an itch to move around. Sometimes entire populations moved, either because of a push (drought, no food for the horses), a pull (Roman trade goodies), or a few times just for the heck of it, or so archaeology suggests. Mostly it is one or two people who wander off and keep looking over that next hill, or over the river. In the Medieval time, these wanderers were called Perigrini, and their trips peregrinations. Pilgrim is related, although not all those who wandered were looking for spiritual comfort. Continue reading

Book Review: The Environmental History of Medieval Europe

Hoffman, Richard. An Environmental History of Medieval Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2014) Kindle Edition

Hoffman’s work is an overview of western Europe’s environmental history from the Fall of Rome until roughly 1500. He points out that the simple “everyone knows” stories of decline from a pristine Nature before Rome and Christianity don’t always apply. The story of humans and their environment is long and complicated, and Hoffman does a very good job of relating that story as well as pointing out problems in the accepted theories in the literature.

What will interest the general reader the most are Hoffman’s case studies. He describes the problem, gives an overview (farming, water use, mining, the “tragedy of the commons”, natural disasters) and then provides a few specific examples from different locations in Europe and Britain. He has picked very good examples and uses them well to tell the story of people and landscape. Continue reading

Filling in Empty Lands

Well, not empty as in completely free of human inhabitants, but as in “were not Roman and lack towns.” I’ve been reading through a book about the German Fairy-tale Route, and noting all the founding dates of the towns. With a very few exceptions, the earliest recorded settlements and charters are from the AD 800s CE, a few more from the 900s, and then more and more through the 1500s.  To this day, the spaces between towns are rather impressive and make it hard to believe that Germany is considered rather crowded. But between the 300s and 900 or so? Empty, no towns worth mentioning, and wide open empty land, more or less. Continue reading

Sermon Gadding

In the 1600s and 1700s in England, a number of writers and preachers complained vociferously about the terrible practice of “sermon gadding,” and the problems it was causing their parish churches. Parishioners must stay in their own parishes! This business of going about and visiting different churches, or leaving one’s assigned parish to hear a minister reputed to have entertaining sermons was disruptive, disrespectful, and a threat to public order!

I can see a number of clergy alternating between shaking their heads at the folly and musing about the “good old days.” Continue reading