Carmina Burana

A Scholarly Skater

Wheel of Fortune page from the manuscript Carmina Burana. Photo from Wikimedia commons.

I’ve been working on a dance routine to “Carmina Burana” and wanted to do some research on the history of the piece. I was planning to write more about gargoyles this week, but I decided to write about this instead when I saw a picture of the original medieval manuscript.*

A scene from the manuscript Carmina Burana. By Meister der Carmina Burana [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Before it was a well-known piece of music, the Carmina Burana was a Gothic manuscript containing eight illustrations and two hundred and fifty-four poems, primarily in medieval Latin with some in old German, from the eleventh through thirteenth centuries. (1) It was created around 1230 and discovered in the library of the Benediktbeuern Abbey in Bavaria in 1803. While likely originating from somewhere in that area, the Carmina Burana was not necessarily created at the Benediktbeuern Abbey, though…

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Medieval Letter-People


The human body is one of the most common objects encountered in art, whether in paintings, sculptures or other objects. Things have not changed much since medieval times, when artists loved to fill their work with human figures – commonly saints or individuals affiliated with biblical stories. Among the great diversity of depictions, there is one type that stands out in that the body is used (or rather, abused) to express something other than itself. These particularly fascinating and often amusing depictions are found on the medieval page. We see people bent and stretched into unnatural shapes in order to change them into something for which the book was created: letters (Fig. 1).

British Library, Add. MS 8887 (15th century) Fig. 1 – Letter G: British Library, Add. MS 8887 (15th century) – Source

Looking at these unfortunate victims of book decorators – in this case the letter G from the Macclesfield Alphabet Book – may bring a smile to…

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Sokushinbutsu: Mummified Japanese Monks

Tribalmystic Stories

I have found these stories very fascinating. One story is about the Japanese monks and the other story is about ancient Chinese statues and an interesting discovery.


Scattered throughout Northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture are two dozen mummified Japanese monks known as Sokushinbutsu, who caused their own deaths in a way that resulted in their mummification. The practice was first pioneered by a priest named Kuukai over 1000 years ago at the temple complex of Mount Koya, in Wakayama prefecture. Kuukai was founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, which is the sect that came up with the idea of enlightenment through physical punishment. A successful mummification took upwards of ten years. It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only between 16 and 24 such mummifications have been discovered to date.

The elaborate process started with 1,000 days of eating a special diet consisting only of…

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Paradox of Chartres Cathedral | Theory Of Irony

Originally posted on Theory Of Irony

More than 1600 years before all the New York City skyscrapers, the matt-haired and rag-draped farmers of northern France built a simple wooden church – which, burned down.  The good people, faithful and diligent though they were, replaced it with another, which burned down, and another, which burned down, and yet another – which also, burned down.  The year now 1144, they rebuilt with stone, working on a Romanesque design, with towers of such height and sculptures of such beauty as had never, on completion in 1164, been seen before.  It too, largely burned down, but this time the towers, the front façade and the crypt survived. So, starting on these foundations in 1194, the locals rebuilt again using a new Gothic style of architecture.  To this end an army of illiterate peasants descended from all over France, joined by the equally illiterate nobility and they volunteered for work crews en-masse.  Stories exist of the whole lot hitching themselves up to carts like farm animals in order to haul supplies and stones from a distant quarry.  With a spirit and humility lacking translation, they put up a new Cathedral in near-record time and it was basically completed by 1220.

The various fields of science, often unfairly cast as the bane of religion, saw advancements which now allowed for better Church construction. Architects started with soaring, pointed arches where low, semi-circular ones had in the past supported the laborious weight of stone. To these arches, the architects slapped on a system of “flying buttresses,” sort of external supports which distributed horizontal loads away from the sides and downward to the ground. Builders, consequently blessed with higher and thinner walls, questioned, “What could be done with all the new wall space?” They were answered with stained glass windows, which conveyed…

via Paradox of Chartres Cathedral | Theory Of Irony.

The Familiar and the Fresh | History Today | Richard the Lionhearted

Originally posted on History Today

Richard I of England, called the Lionheart, seized the island of Cyprus in the summer of 1191. Almost 700 years later, in 1878, Cyprus came under English, or British, rule once more. Between 1951 and 1954 the great Byzantinist Steven Runciman published his three-volume narrative, A History of the Crusades, achieving both scholarly acclaim and enormous sales. Following this, Runciman’s old friend, Peter Quennell, a founding editor of History Today, commissioned him to write a profile of Richard for the magazine, then in its fifth year.

Runciman, who had passed a convalescent VE Day on Cyprus relaxing beneath the castle of Kyrenia, had remained well-informed about Cypriot affairs because of his friendship with the Greek poet and diplomat George Seferiades, or Seferis, who was torn between admiration for British culture and unwavering support for Cypriot independence. From Seferis, Runciman would be one of the first Britons to hear of the foundation of the Cypriot terrorist organisation, EOKA, with its solemn oath ‘to free Cyprus from the British yoke’, in the same month that his article appeared in History Today.

Runciman’s profile of Richard is to some degree extracted from The Kingdom of Acre (1954), the third volume of A History of the Crusades, and condenses what was the most familiar and dramatic part of the story to…

via The Familiar and the Fresh | History Today.

Adeliza of Louvain, Queen of England

The Freelance History Writer

A noblewoman kneeling in front of Christ - most likely Adeliza of Louvain, from "The Shaftesbury Psalter" A noblewoman kneeling in front of Christ – most likely Adeliza of Louvain, from “The Shaftesbury Psalter”

Matilda of Scotland, the first wife of King Henry I of England died in May of 1118 and in November of 1120, Henry’s only son and heir William Adelin died in a tragic ship wreck. Henry was left with only his daughter Matilda as his heir and she was married to the German emperor Henry V. While it wasn’t impossible for a women to rule his kingdom, the White Ship disaster forced Henry to consider remarrying and working on getting a new heir.

Henry didn’t want his nephew, William Clito, son of his elder brother Robert Curthose, to inherit the throne and negotiations for a marriage to Adeliza of Louvain may have begun even before the loss of William Adelin. On January 6, 1121, after taking counsel, Henry announced to a large assembly…

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Richmond Castle

Historical Ragbag

Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire is one of my favourites and this is at least partly due to the relatively intact St Nicholas’s Chapel which dates to the late 11th century. It was in this chapel that I came the closest I have ever come to telling off another tourist. I was standing there marvelling at the fact that it had survived, that it had the original circular windows, the original barrel vaulted ceiling and the remains of a tiny bit of the original paint. Then a woman came in with two friends and she just stood there complaining that the windows were too small and didn’t let in enough light. I didn’t tell her off, but it was a near thing.

So St Nicholas’s Chapel is where I’m going to start. It was built in the late 11th century and is an excellent, if a bit mutilated, example of a…

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Medieval Swedish Sword Found in Siberia

Life in Russia

information_items_1755 The scientists would be keen to hear from European experts who could throw more light on its origins. Picture: The Siberian Times

German made, Adorned in Sweden

How is it possible that a German-made 12th century blade, adorned in Sweden, reached Siberia?

Buried under a tree in the Novosibirsk region, Archaeologists discovered a medieval sword. Unearthed in 1975 scientists are looking to unlocking it’s secrets with the help of European experts. It is the only weapon of its kind ever discovered in Siberia.

What is known is that it’s origins lie in the Rhine basin of Germany, this beautifully engraved sword then possibly traveled to the Swedish mainland, or Gotland an island of Sweden were it was adorned with an ornate silver handle and Norse ruse pattern.

inside mid sword and inscription The blade was made in the Rhine basin of Germany in late 12th or early 13th century. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Mother of…

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Analysis of Skeletal Remains Confirms King Sverris Saga

King Sverre's Castle Sverresborg

The castle as it appeared when King Sverre ruled. (Photo: Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum)

On 17 November, in a well in the King Sverre Sigurdsson’s caste (Norwegian: Sverresborg) in Trondheim it was found a skeleton which according to Sverris Saga is a Bagler from 1197 AD. Analysis of the skeleton proves that the saga tells the truth.

The Sverresborg castle, also named Zion after King David’s castle in Jerusalem, was built about 1182-83 AD on a plateau in the medieval city of Nidaros by Sverre Sigurdsson (Old Norse: Sverrir Sigurðarson, c. 1145 – 1202). Sverre was King of Norway from about 1184 to 1202 and considered one of the most important rulers in Norwegian history.

He assumed power as the leader of the Birkebeiner rebel party in 1177 during their fight against King Magnus Erlingsson. After Magnus was killed at the Battle of Fimreite in 1184, Sverre became the sole…

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