Medieval Christmas

The Christmas of 2017 has finished and what a year it has been! I graduated from the University of Lincoln in September and started my MA in Medieval Studies later that month. The first semester has been brilliant. In our Research Methods module, we discussed questions I had never properly considered before. Another module, Saints and Scholars, introduced me to the engaging world of medieval hagiography, through which I examined the truly fascinating case study of Sainte Foy of Conques, that became the focus of my last research project. And last but not least, Medieval Latin has been a rewarding challenge (more on that to come soon in another post).

The Medieval Christmas Market at Lincoln

The Medieval Christmas Market at Lincoln

With the festive period just gone, I’ve been thinking about Christmas celebrations in the medieval period. I remember that this curiosity became prominent at the beginning of December, when I went to the Medieval Christmas Market in Lincoln. The market is always an enjoyable experience and it takes place in the beautiful Bishop’s Palace. But I do always wonder how “Medieval” all this really is…

Despite the fact that the market’s contents have nothing medieval about them (or perhaps a vague stylistic inspiration) the atmosphere of merriment and cheer was an element of winter festivities inherited from the pre-Christian, which continued throughout the Middle Ages. This is an interesting aspect that Alexander Murray discussed in History Today (1986).

Murray explained how Christianity adopted and adapted existing pagan feasts celebrating the winter solstice to take control of seasonal festivities. The winter solstice has been celebrated since ancient times. From the creation of the Julian Calendar in 46 BC the celebrations have fallen on 25th December. The Bible does not disclose the exact day of Christ’s birth so it is easy to see why the Feast of the Nativity, first recorded in 336, took place on 25th December.

As Christianity started to take part in winter celebrations it would adopt aspects of pre-existing seasonal feasts. Murray cites three feasts as the major influences for Christian Christmas. The first is the Saturnalia, which celebrated Saturn in late December. Another was Kalends, which took place on 1st January for high officials taking office that year. Both of these were of a roman imperial nature, celebrating pagan gods and the bureaucratic structures of empire respectively, which allowed their customs to be more easily adopted because the imperial identity transcended ethnicity, geographical origin and religion. The third feast that influenced Christian Christmas was Yule, celebrated outside the Empire meaning it was rooted more in paganism, Christianity’s main competitor at the time.

The roots of medieval and modern Christmas can be found in these feasts. Presents were given at both imperial feasts. Greenery was used as festive decorations at all of them; evergreens in the south and conifers in the north. With Saturnalia, Kalends and Yule being feasts food took centre stage. Special pies and cakes were present at Saturnalia and Yule. The Yule boar was a centrepiece in Northern Europe, Turkey would arrive in 1531 from Mexico. The Christmas feasts of the high orders in the Middle Ages could get excessive, for example, at Richard II of England’s court in 1377 28 oxen and 300 sheep were eaten.

The Medieval Christmas Market inside parts of the Bishop’s Palace

The Medieval Christmas Market inside parts of the Bishop’s Palace

Christianity created a whole festive period centred around the Nativity feast with Advent in place by 500 and other feasts, such as that of St. Nicholas, also taking place in December. In the Carolingian chronicle of 829 Louis the Pious had a 57 day period of festivity dating from St. Martin’s day until Epiphany had passed on 6th January.

During the medieval period Christian Christmas absorbed elements of pre-Christian feasts and built up a winter festive season which used food, decorations and presents to create a sense of social harmony and cheer, an atmosphere which is replicated with the assortment of gifts, food and drink that are at the heart of Lincoln’s Medieval Market as well as modern Christmas in general.

Further Reading

Cabaniss, Allen. ‘The Christmas of 829’, Chuch History 43:3 (1974), 304-307.

Murray, Alexander. ‘Medieval Christmas’, History Today 36: 12 (1986), 31-39.

 

Dr Elena Woodacre: ‘Is it all about the Money? Joan of Navarre and the economic element of Queenship’

The recent engagement of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry has sparked media interest internationally and the much discussed event has also contributed to women belonging to (or entering) the British Royal Family being in the public gaze once again. The success and popularity of historical dramas focusing on modern queens, such as Victoria and the newly released second season of The Crown, confirm how much modern audiences are fascinated by the subject.

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Perfect timing then, on Wednesday 6th December, to host Dr Elena Woodacre (University of Winchester) at the last History and Heritage research seminar of the semester, who presented her research on Queen Joan of Navarre (1370-1437).  Dr Woodacre discussed the economic activity of Joan, wife to Henry IV, especially regarding her dower. In her paper, Dr Woodacre examined what exactly constituted Joan’s dower; whether and how she managed to attain (through constant struggle) the correct amount due to her as a queen, and how she spent her money.

Dr Elena Woodacre

Dr Elena Woodacre

All these aspects demonstrated how significant Joan’s economic activity was to the royal court. It certainly had an impact on the kings’ politics, an example being Joan’s imprisonment from 1419 to 1422 after being accused of necromancy by her own step-son Henry V, who was most likely motivated by financial need.

As an MA student in Medieval Studies, I found this paper particularly fascinating and enlightening for the ways in which the selection of sources presented by Dr Woodacre made me consider and re-assess a range of approaches to medieval economics. The analysis of Joan’s household accounts, which show annual expenditure, shed new light on the behaviour, personal relationships, networks and ways of operating of Joan as a queen, but also as an individual.

Dr Woodacre’s truly engaging paper demonstrated that the accurate examination of queens’ economic activity allows historians to get an insight into a wide range of aspects concerning their personal connections, political strategies and modes of behaviour, which perhaps one might not expect to gather from account books. Thank you, Dr Woodacre, for such a valuable lesson, worth applying to the study of queenship and beyond.

Completed MA Medieval Studies

This week marks the end of my MA Medieval Studies course at the University of Lincoln, and I cannot believe it has gone so quickly.

On Friday 15th September, me and my course-mates handed in our independent projects and said goodbye to the university campus. I am already looking forward to graduating in January so our MA class can meet up again, we became such a close knit group this year!

While I am sad to be leaving Lincoln, it was an excellent feeling to hand in that hefty 83-page long study to the submission office!

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On behalf of my course-mates I would like to say thank you to our personal tutors and the medieval department in the School of History and Heritage for supporting us throughout our studies, and helping us to put 20,000 words of dissertation to paper!

Visiting Fellow in Medieval Iberian History, Eduardo Manzano

Visiting Fellows in Medieval Iberian History

Santander Universities

International Exchange Mobility Award

Medieval Studies Research Centre

School of History and Heritage

University of Lincoln

Coordinated by Dr Graham Barrett

 

Eduardo Manzano Moreno

Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Madrid)

Eduardo Manzano

Workshop

Matching Facts and Artefacts: the new venues which multidisciplinary approaches can offer for the study of medieval Iberia

10am-12pm, 4 May 2017, BH 0101

Lecture

Convivencia: Jews, Christians, and Muslims; or, how we have failed to tackle multiculturalism in medieval Iberia from a social perspective

5-6:30pm, 4 May 2017, DCB 1102

My stay at the University of Lincoln as a Visiting Fellow of the School of History and Heritage took place from the 2nd to the 4th of May 2017. I led a workshop entitled ‘Matching Facts and Artifacts: the new venues which multidisciplinary approaches can offer for the study of medieval Iberia’. My aim in this workshop was to offer an overview of the different sources we are using to reconstruct the medieval Iberian past. I started with a general description of the written sources (highlighting the increasing interest on manuscripts as an historical source in itself), singling out the main different Arab chronicles and their principal peculiarities. I also explained the fact that our written records are not limited to historical accounts, but also include legal, literary, and scientific works which provide us with precious data on the configuration of medieval societies. The main challenge that we are facing nowadays is how to adjust this formidable written corpus to the data emerging from the material record, particularly from archaeology, numismatics, and epigraphy. My thesis is that these records should not be considered as complementary, but rather as coherent, so that they should add to common historical interpretations. In delivering this workshop I was especially interested in explaining students the many possibilities which medieval Iberian history has to offer, and to bring about the exciting prospects which recent research is opening.

I also delivered a lecture entitled ‘Convivencia: Jews, Christians, and Muslims; or, how we have failed to tackle multiculturalism in medieval Iberia from a social perspective’. The main aim of this lecture was to show the possibilities which multiculturalism can offer for the study of medieval societies. The main point of departure is the idea that social history has not been concerned with the study of culture as a relevant social element, thereby failing to incorporate such a crucial element in medieval societies. This is particularly regrettable in the case of Iberia, which has one of the richest multicultural environments of the whole of western Europe. By assessing the various evidence which cultural interaction has left in the historical record, it is possible to compare the fate of different cultural communities and how they adapted to changing social circumstances. Again, this is an interesting case which shows the enormous possibilities that the study of Iberian history might offer prospective students.

In both the workshop and the lecture a number of interesting questions and debates were raised. My main aim was, on the one hand, to show the state of research which has been done in the last years in Spain, and, on the other, to promote the study of medieval Iberia as a promising field of study in the United Kingdom. Lincoln students responded admirably on both fronts.

Visiting Fellow in Medieval Iberian History Julio Escalona

Santander Universities

International Exchange Mobility Award 

Medieval Studies Research Centre

School of History and Heritage

University of Lincoln

Coordinated by Dr Graham Barrett

Julio Escalona Monge

Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Madrid)

Julio Escalona

Workshop

Body and Soul: Monastic Networks and the Laity in the County of Castile (10th c.)

10am-12pm, 27 April 2017, MC 0024

For an historian of medieval Iberia, Lincoln is quickly turning into a must-go location! In recent times several young scholars have gradually converged in the University of Lincoln’s Medieval Studies Research Centre to constitute what is bound to be one of the most significant clusters of Anglophone specialists in this field for the coming years. It was then a great pleasure to be invited to visit Lincoln with the financial support of the Santander Universities programme, which I did between the 25th and the 28th of April 2017.

Besides enjoying the medieval beauty of Lincoln’s old town, and the all-time hospitality of English weather – from sleet to sunshine, to sleet again – at the core of this visit were two academic activities. The first was a workshop for undergraduate and graduate students entitled ‘Body and Soul: Monastic Networks and the Laity in the County of Castile (10th c.)’. For two hours we discussed traditiones corporis et animae, a particularly abundant type of charter in tenth-century Castile by which one or more individuals give themselves to a monastic house, along with some property. By carefully de-constructing some examples, and through quantitative analysis of the charter corpus, we could establish that such operations involved primarily non-aristocratic actors who sought a favourable relationship with the monastery of their choice. However, an exploration of the court cases in which such deeds often ended up, and of the ambiguous ways in which the transferred properties were identified, reveals that, despite their individualistic appearance, the traditiones corporis et animae actually connected – willingly or otherwise – whole kin groups to the monasteries. Monasteries acted like hubs for locally intricate social networks which spread beneath the more visible layers of aristocratic patronage and alliances.

 

Lecture

Spain, Feudalism, and the European Union

5-6:30pm, 27 April 2017, DCB 1102

Feudalism 1

The second event was a lecture aimed at a wider audience, entitled ‘Spain, Feudalism, and the European Union’. This was a critical reflection on the links between contemporary events and historiographical developments in Iberia over the 20th century, but mostly after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. I started from the identification by Cambridge historian Peter Linehan of a dramatic U-turn among Spanish medievalists of the 1980s, who swiftly disregarded the inherited notion that all of Spain (except Frankish-driven Catalonia) had stayed clear of the feudalism which dominated the rest of the continent and deemed medieval Iberia as feudal as any of its contemporary neighbours. Linehan lucidly saw this as a reflection of Spain’s urge to join the European Union and stop ‘being different’ as per the immensely successful slogan promoted by the late Franco-period tourism authorities. My aim, almost 25 years later, was to put those observations in context, by showing that the pro-feudal trend was actually twofold. One strand brought on board the influence of the French ‘Annales School’, mainly through the works of Marc Bloch and Georges Duby, while the other derived from Marxist historiography, itself a most sensitive development in Spanish academia as a turbulent 20th century approached its end. I sought to connect Spanish scholarly debates with political attitudes, but also to frame them within the more general shift from a French historiography which dominated the central decades of the 20th century to the global hegemony of Anglophone scholarship. This change did away with feudalism as an identity marker of the European Middle Ages, but had nothing to substitute for it. The result is the present state of things, where the disciplinary identity of Medieval Studies seems to drift between obsolete (but utterly undead) views of the origins of nation-states, a never-too-well-defined European common identity, and a global history where medievalists are largely ‘naked and far from home’.

Julio

Both events went extremely well. I was very impressed by Lincoln’s young students, who, never put off by the ‘exotic’ looks of Latin Iberian charters, fully engaged in the discussion of the underlying social processes. Similarly, the strong political implications of recent Spanish historiographical developments were debated enthusiastically by the participants. Having known colleagues like Graham Barrett, Robert Portass, Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo, and Jamie Wood for quite a while, it was hardly surprising that our talks on the Iberian Middle Ages over these days were the most enjoyable part of this visit’s informal face. However, the most important outcome was our realization that the link between Lincoln’s Centre and Spain’s CSIC should become formalized in a stable way, and we decided to explore the funding programmes that could make it possible in the near future.