Posted by: kljolly | September 18, 2014

Vermin: Sherry Mice

This just in, courtesy of a colleague in the Botany department (thanks, Don Drake):

Mice nibbling on sherry casks, the boss wants to bring in a cat, the workers defend the mice, and set up their own sherry-drinking stations for the mice, complete with ladder.

This suggests a completely different way of reading those prohibitions on drinking beverages into which a rodent has fallen and the prayers to cleanse casks into which something foul has fallen (see Panchiel short story and background).  Did rodents nibble holes in wooden casks and other containers?  Would some monks take a kindly view, like these workers, and supply an alternative food source?  I think of stories of St. Cuthbert bargaining with birds stealing his thatch and whimsical animal pictures in manuscripts to remind me that not everyone in the past is as dead serious and pragmatic as we imagine them.


Posted by: kljolly | September 5, 2014


Thinking of Aldred’s cat got me thinking of vermin, as in the rodent Panchiel caught in the ale cask.  That, and the ISAS 2015 Glasgow conference theme of everyday life inspired me this week to look into what kind of vermin troubled the Anglo-Saxons.  Previous work on medical texts and prayerbooks addressing afflictions of the human body, their animals, and their fields gave me a general sense of the kinds of critters that provoked a remedy or protective prayer:  worms, flying things, and rodents.

I spent the day trying to track down vocabulary for rodents and other small mammals, using a combination of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Corpus of Old English texts, the Old English dictionaries, as well as Latin dictionaries, and even the UK Natural History Museum index (which gloriously has Welsh and Gaelic as well as English!) to figure out what critters might be there.

The main issue I struck was the relative rarity of OE ræt, with only one instance and that in a glossary translating Lat. raturus.  Is there another Old English word for rat, or was it included under another generic term for rodent, like mus?


black rat

Certainly the black rat (Rattus rattus, of plague fame) was in the British Isles by at least the third century C.E., based on archaeological findings, and perhaps earlier (credit the Romans).  Oliver Rackham (The Illustrated History of the Countryside, p. 23) notes that the brown Norwegian rat came later.  The black rat is slimmer and has a longer tail, so while it might seem long at 13-18 inches, more than half of that is tail.  It comes in various shades of black and brown with a lighter underside.  [Confession: I chose this cuter picture because I had a pet rat, of the white lab variety, when I was a child].

In modern (Linnaeus) taxonomy, rattus rattus is in order rodentia, family muridae.   In classical Latin (Lewis and Short), mus (pl. mures) can refer to either a mouse or a rat, as well as a sable, marten, or ermine.  The same may be true for Old English mus, a more commonly attested word in the Old English corpus.

OE mus shows up, along with wesle (weasel), in the penitentials as unclean contact for which penance must be done:  eating the communion bread, soiling the hands, or fallen (dead) into one’s drink.  Animal blood of various kinds, unwashed off, is offensive, although mouse blood does show up in a Leechbook  remedy (III.25) for warts, combined with dog piss.

I also investigated shrew, mole, and vole, as well as hedgehog.

Shrew is an Old English rooted word (scréawa), used to gloss mus araneus or musiranus (although in Linnaeus, the shrew is sorex araneus, order insectivora, family soricidae).  Curiously, scréawa has no counterparts in other Germanic languages, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, although it could be related to a root word meaning “cut,” sceorfan. OE scirfe-mús glosses Lat. sorex.  So while modern taxonomy differentiates rodentia muridae from insectivora soricidae, the Anglo-Saxons probably saw the shrew, rat, and mouse as more closely related, if not interchangeable pests.



Vole (another rodentia muridae) is not attested in Old English that I can find, although tantalizingly the word does derive from Norwegian vollmus or Icelandic vallamus, according to the OED.  Unfortunately, the earliest instance of vole in English occurs in an 1804 history of the Orkneys.  Note, however, the generic use of mus with modifiers, suggesting that mus functioned as a generic category.  I am not sure when mouse became limited to just the varieties of rodentia muridae (common, field,  and other mice) we think of as different from a rat, shrew, or mole.

Mole (genus talpa, order insectivora, family talpidae): like vole, the word mole is not attested in Old English, although it is found in other Germanic languages [it perhaps shows up in some English place and person names (Moll-)].   Apparently the Anglo-Saxons did have another word for the critters, wand (wond) or wandeweorp, glossing Lat. talpa or palpo.  But that is all we know, unless you care to speculate ab0ut the meaning of wand (cf. ge-wand, ge-windan) and weorp (turning and tossing, digging up dirt?).

The danger of all this speculation, of course, is that the classical Latin terms found in our ancient and medieval sources combined with the modern taxonomy using said Latin give us the false impression that we are talking about the same animals then and now.  Add to that an Old English translation, often done by a glossator trying to find an English equivalent to a Latin term for an animal he thinks is the same thing…and you have a mess.

European hedgehog

European hedgehog

Last, but not least, what about the hedgehog, another insectivora?  Was it in Anglo-Saxon England?  What did they call it?  Hedgehog is not attested, alas, until 1450 and the alternative name urchin cannot be traced much earlier (OED).  If they had them, did they think they were cute or a pest, or both?

Which brings me back to the opening question, of what kinds of animals were deemed pests–nibbling on seeds, crops, foodstores, and the eucharist?  We think more of the destructive capacity of rodentia than the insectivora (at least they eat other pests), but how did the Anglo-Saxons classify them?  By what they looked like or by what they did?

In a religious house, and undoubtedly elsewhere, they knew the teaching of Jesus:  “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where rust and moth destroy, and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  And I haven’t even gotten to the moths, gnats, fleas, spiders, and flying things (birds as well as insects) that annoy and destroy.


Posted by: kljolly | September 1, 2014


In the process of transcribing Aldred’s gloss to Durham A.IV.19, slowly but surely, I have found another “Aldredism,” if not Northumbrianism, in an unusual compound word:  stancarr glossing Latin petram.  What follows is my process of discovery, aided and abetted by Northumbrian expert and blog commentator Seumas MacRath.

On fol. 9v, glossing a verse from Isaiah 50:7, Aldred has:

    drih[t]’   god    helpend    min    7 f’eðon nam ic   sceomigende
5 Dominus deus auxiliator meus. et ideo non sum confu

        f’ðon ic [gi]sette ondwlioto mino soelce stancarr heard
6 sus ideo   posui       faciem     meam  ut        petram   durissimam

    7 ic wat f’ðon       ne biom ic sceomigende
7 et scio    quoniam non confundar.

“The Lord God [is] my helper, and therefore I will not be confused; therefore I have set my face like hard rock, and I know that I will not be confounded.”

For Latin and Greek petra, Old English stan is a perfectly reasonable translation, one that Aldred has used elsewhere in his gloss of the Lindisfarne Gospels, but as an alternative to carr, a borrowing from Cumbrian or Old Welsh, carrecc.

In the Lindisfarne glosses of petra, Aldred puts carr as an unusual (loan) word first then stan as the more broadly understood or common word (as in Mark 15:46 and Matthew 7:24, carr ł stan).  When petra is repeated in close proximity, he uses only carr (Luke 6:48), and by the time he glosses John, he uses only carr (1:42, the naming of Peter).  In the gloss to the gospel prefaces discussing Matt. 7:24, he also uses carr ł but does not complete the alternative with stan.

So when we come to the Durham A.IV.19 gloss of Isaiah, we find a surprising collocation of stancarr, the reverse order of his vel glosses and combined into one word, the only instance of such a word so presumably an Aldredism.

Once we look into carr, though, some interesting possibilities occur.

For Tolkien fans, yes this is the Carrock of Beorn, in a collocation of carr + rocc, although in Old English vocabulary glossaries, one finds stan + rocc. Carrock appears to be a northern (Cumbric) phenomenon, found for example in Carrock Fell in Cumbria, just northwest of Penrith.  [To make things even more interesting, look up "crag" in the Oxford English Dictionary to try and figure out how it is related to carr!]


To explain why carr would need clarification with stan or rocc, though, Seumas points out that modern Northumbrian usage of carr in place names can mean either rocky place (more common as derived from Cumbric) or marshland in one instance derived from Old Norse kjarr.

So it is entirely possible that Aldred knows the possible confusion among Viking-era Northumbrians between carr as rock and carr as marsh.  He wants to make sure that his readers, who might include Scandinavians, know that Isaiah sets his face like a rock and not like a marshy place!  Of course, he could have used stan alone, but he shows a distinct preference for using local (Northumbrian) vocabulary and then clarifying with a more widely used Old English word when necessary.

What does this tell us about Aldred?  Well, he is not glossing alone.  He has an audience in mind, a local northern one of mixed linguistic backgrounds, and perhaps a larger imagined audience of English speakers who might, like us, want to know that the Northumbrians say carr for stone.

Posted by: kljolly | August 8, 2014

Background to Aldred’s Cat

The first hurricane seems to have broken up after running into the volcano on the Big Island of Hawai`i and is passing south of us, so no loss of power.  The second storm is on its heels but we have a couple of days before it passes north of us.   So I have a space of calm to give some background on my short interlude on Aldred’s Cat, Panchiel.

British short hair (wikipedia)

British short hair (wikipedia)

First, the cat’s name, shortened to Pan, which I blogged about earlier (see also more cats on coloring).  It comes from the archangel name Panchiel used in the field prayers Aldred copied and glossed in the additions to Durham Cathedral A.IV.19.  These five prayers for clearing vermin and other evils from the fields are written in a red majuscule (that deteriorates into minuscule over the next pages) and glossed in black, the opposite of Aldred’s usual style of red gloss on black, so they must have meant something to him.  These prayers caught my eye early on, starting my adventures with Durham A.IV.19 and Aldred (in addition to my book, I wrote an earlier article chronicling my search to source these prayers, but see also addenda and corrigenda 1).

Anyway, Panchiel is an Irish spelling of Paniel, a slightly unorthodox archangelic name meaning face of God (see Peniel, the place where Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32:30).  In a fiction chapter on the field prayers set earlier at Crayke but not posted here, young priest Aldred finds a kitten with a dead mouse it has caught in a field devastated by the Vikings.  He prays some of the field prayers there and names the cat Panchiel, taking her with him to Chester-le-Street.  She and her progeny are excellent mousers for the scriptorium and elsewhere.

As for the prayer over a vat fouled by rodents, that is found in the original collectar of Durham A.IV.19 (fol. 56v4-14).  Scribe O copied it somewhat badly and gave it a title in Old English.  It looks as follows:

4     scal reda ofer ða feta de ful infalleð

driht’ hælga faeder alm’ ece god ðv ðe worhtest
5 Domine sancte pater omnipotens aeterne deus qui fecisti cae

heofon 7 earðe sae 7 alle ða ðe in ðæm sindon
6 lum et terram mare et omnia que in eis sunt. ro

ic bidde ðec 7 ic giwiga on nome hæl’ crist’ ancend’ bearnes ðin’
7 go te et peto in nomine Ihesu Christi uni[geni]ti filii tui

þ’te gihælgia gimeadoma ðv 7 bloetsiga gihriord
8 ut sanctificare digneris et benedicere epulam

ðas’ svæ gibloedsadest þ’ gihriord hab
9 istam sicut benedixisti epulationem habra

is’ ia’ 7 svæ gibloetsadest sex stænen fato væt’s
10 he isaac iacob et sicut benedi[xi]sti sex hydrias in

in can’ galili’ wætres on wine godv’ ymbvoendedo
11 chanan galileae aqu[ae] in uinum bonum conuerse

aron of vætre svæ giwoende gimeodvma ðv æfne
12 sunt de aqua ita conuertere digneris mate

ðiss alðes on svoetnisse 7 bliðnisse
13 riam istam ceruise in suauitatem et hilaritatem

esnv’ ðinv’ ðæm ða ðe in lvfv rehtlefend [vel...] gilefdon
14 seruis tuis his qui in fide catholica crediderunt.;

Of the errors made by Scribe O, he corrects two himself and Aldred corrects two (sort of), as well as glosses it all.  The corrections and gloss are explored in another part of my fictional narrative not posted here, a modern scholar studying the text and Aldred.  In some ways, Aldred is paying closer attention to this prayer than the original scribe.

What I will note here is the curious title and previous comments about this prayer.  Although Scribe O has labeled it as something to be “read over a vat that [something] foul fell in,” the language of the prayer suggests it was written for blessing beer at a feast, with “just as” clauses invoking the way God blessed feasts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the six water jars turned into wine by Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana.  Of course, one can always turn a blessing into an exorcism.

Christopher Hohler, in a witty and sardonic reference to this prayer, says the following:

And among the few apparently indisputable contributions of England to the Latin liturgy is the formula, to be read over the cask by the priest, to improve the quality of beer in which mice or weasels have got drowned. It was not that the English were alone in wishing, for gastronomic or economical reasons, to drink such beer; the penitential embedded in the Romano-Germanic pontifical expects the priest specifically to ask at confession whether his German penitent has drunk beer flavoured in this way. Admission of the offence involved forty days penance. But in England the view was different; and, by calling in the priest first, it was possible to indulge in this recondite vice with impunity. [Christopher Hohler, “Some Service Books of the Later Saxon Church,” in Tenth Century Studies, ed. David Parsons (London: Phillimore, 1975), 71–72.]

Now Scribe O’s Old English title just says something “foul” and does not mention rodents, although it clearly could include such a thing if you know about the penitential rule as Hohler does.

In addition to adding a reference to this penitential practice as the men argued in my story, I also included two hagiographic tales.  In the Life of Liutbirga, the devil accuses the saintly woman of a girlhood sin, finishing her drink after laughingly pulling a dead mouse out of her cup by its tail [Frederick S. Paxton, trans., Anchoress and Abbess in Ninth-Century Saxony: The Lives of Liutbirga of Wendhausen and Hathumoda of Gandersheim (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 104].

The devil doesn’t win this argument against her, but it is a different outcome for the wretched nun in Gregory the Great’s Dialogues who eats a lettuce from the garden without blessing it with the sign of the cross.  A little demon on the leaf “innocently” swallowed complains that it is not his fault she got sick and needed to be exorcised.

All this goes to show that

  1. food and drink are precious and not to be wasted;
  2. alcohol is safer than water;
  3. some illness-causing vermin are visible and others invisible;
  4. for the visible ones, keep a cat; but
  5. for the invisible ones, blessings and exorcisms add some protection in an already dangerous world.




Posted by: kljolly | August 7, 2014

Aldred’s Cat Panchiel

This brief draft story was inspired by a comment from Seumas MacRath on my Boethius and Brunanburh chapter post.  I am still playing with it, and will post something else about the prayer over a vat into which something foul has fallen.  However, two back to back hurricanes are arriving this weekend, so there might be some delay….

Interlude (955)

She kept her body low, green eyes fixed unwavering on his back as he balanced above her on the curved lip of wood. He did not see her gray-clad form melted in the shadows. Good. Noiselessly shifting her feet back and forth three times (for good luck), she sprang forward and pounced, bringing him down under her.

Ah, her lawful prey. But what was this odor about him? Even as he struggled in her grasp, he shivered like a dog shaking water from his fur. Why was he soaking wet? A quick bite to the neck, a bitter taste in her mouth, and he was dead.

Pan carried him to the master. It was somewhat of a journey to get from the dark cool place filled with crocks and barrels to the sun-lit room where men scratched with featherless bird quills on the dead skins of cows, sheep, and goats, she knew their smell.

She went through the place of many tastes—hot, dry, cold, and wet flavors filled her nose, but she did not stop to steal or beg any, skulking through the edge of the room unseen, an obligation to fulfill first.

Once she reached the master, she sat respectfully and dropped the body at his feet.

“Mew.” This was her only address to the man who worshiped her, and she him. Insofar as she thought about it, Pan knew that the man loved her—he fed her treats, stroked her head, and gave her a warm place to sleep—and that she must therefore be his goddess. Nonetheless, it was he who rescued her, young and motherless, from the field of screaming men. And so, she offered him gifts in return, as is right between a lady and her lord.

He did not deign to pay her attention right away—a game she and he played, pretending not to see or hear each other. But Pan was better at the game, sneaking up so quietly he did not know she was there. She always knew where he was, by her ears and nose.

The scratching continued for a bit longer as she waited. Then he looked down at her and made those comforting noises in his own language, not hers. Although she heard the sounds, she could only guess at their meaning from the pitch and tone of his voice.

“Hwæt, Panchiel, my archangel, such a gift! But what is that smell?” The man stroked her head, but in bending down his nose came close to the fur heap at her feet.

“Now where did you find this rascal?” he asked. “It seems he has been in the cellar drinking ale.” He pushed the little body into a small bin that smelled of trees, and she looked after it hungrily when he carried it away.

Pan led him to the place where she had caught the criminal. The master seemed very disturbed by the scene she had left. Were their more thieves in the cask? She saw that the lid was still askew, and her scratch marks along the side.

The master went and fetched the older man who seemed to be her master’s master. Pan followed.

“Provost Bearnhard, someone has been in the ale again and left it open! Look what my virtuous Panchiel has found, drenched in it.”

The other man peered into the bin and sniffed. Their noses were not as good as hers, but certainly they knew the smell of their own drink.

Now there was some discussion between them.

More men came in, the younger ones. Some shuffling of their feet and loud exclamations, followed by stern words from the master’s master. No one answered.

Pan moved among their legs, sniffing. She came to one young one and smelled that mixture of ale and wood. She raised up and pawed the hand of the young man. Her master smiled.

The master’s master turned to the one she had marked and asked, “Was it you, Osfrith?” That young one looked down at Pan and said “Are you my accuser, sent from God or the devil?”

Pan meowed and backed down from the young man. Her master stroked her. She purred.

Now the men all returned to the room with the crocks and barrels. Pan followed, keeping her nose and eyes checking the room for more culprits.

The men stood around the cask, one stirring it with a long piece of wood. Perhaps there was another rat?

Their voices sounded like bleating sheep and dogs barking as they spoke over and under each other:

“We’ll have to dump the whole thing out.”

“What a waste.”

“I won’t drink it.”

“What, water is safer?”

“It is not Lent, why should we not drink the ale.”

“Canon law forbids drinking from a vat fouled by rodents.”

“Forty days penance for us all, so we have a second Lent!”

“Yes, but don’t you remember the story of that saintly nun who pulled a mouse out of her cup, then drank the rest?”

“Hah, that was the devil who reminded her that she sinned as a girl doing that.”

“Oh, I only remember the bit where she laughed when she pulled the mouse out by the tail.”

“Then there was that nun who ate a demon on a stolen lettuce leaf without blessing it, and look what happened to her.”

“Why is it always a nun?”

“Women are greedy and never waste anything.”

“At least they don’t leave the lid off the cask, like some do.”

“Surely there is some blessing we can use over it!”

Her master said nothing and in the middle of all this caterwauling, strode out. Panchiel trotted behind him, back to the room of animal skins. He rummaged in a cupboard, muttering something. “I saw it somewhere, some folio at the back…”

Pan jumped up into the cupboard and began sniffing. It smelled mostly like sheep and goats. She scratched at the back, smelling cow, and something caught her claw. She dragged it out.

“Aha, here it is, thank you Panchiel.” He gave her another pet.

Moving into the sunlight she loved, he started moving the thin cow skins, shuffling through them, stopping on one of them toward the bottom, and then spoke words while his eyes were looking down at the thing, “this a man shall read over a vat into which something foul has fallen.”

Then he went back quickly to the other place, where she had started her hunt. Pan was not tired with all of this coming and going, just curious.

Her master showed the animal skin to his master. The arguing men were silent, as this master spoke with his voice of authority, “Osfrith, as the exorcist and guilty party, you will now cleanse the ale with this benedictio.”

The young one nervously began to recite in an uneven and high pitched voice that other language they spoke in a sing-song voice. The men listened:

Domine sancte pater omnipotens aeterne deus qui fecisti caelum et terram mare et omnia que in eis sunt. rogo te et peto in nomine Ihesu Christi uni[geni]ti filii tui ut sanctificare digneris et benedicere epulam istam sicut benedixisti epulationem habrahe isaac iacob et sicut benedi[xi]sti sex hydrias in chanan galileae aque in uinum bonum conuerse sunt de aqua ita conuertere digneris materiam istam ceruise in suauitatem et hilaritatem seruis tuis his qui in fide catholica crediderunt.;

She watched one of the older men who always shooed her away in the animal skin room and used a heavy voice with her master. He kept raising one of his eyebrows while the young one recited, and after they had all said with one voice,

“Amen,” that one turned to her master:

“Where did you find that feast blessing! I hardly think it is appropriate.”

Her master looked thoughtful. “The Wessex collectar the bishop brought back, it has some extra blessings at the end.”

The other replied, “That worthless thing? We need better service books than that.”

But her master thought otherwise and answered him with his mild voice, “Who knows what might prove useful. All parchment is precious.”

As he marched off, Panchiel sniffed and went with him, tail held high.

While he walked, her master continued to look at the animal skin collection she had found for him. He often moved his lips while walking, and sometimes stumbled, once tripping right over Pan as she wove in front of his feet trying to warn him.

But this time as they moved through the place of many tastes, he did not forget to reward his Pan. A bowl of creamy milk, and later he returned the rat.


Posted by: kljolly | August 1, 2014


One of my aims inSandbach9crop our four day jaunt around Lancashire and the Peak District, besides experiencing the landscape, was viewing Anglo-Saxon stone monuments.  I already posted on a few at Heversham and Heysham at at Bakewell.  We also stopped at Sandbach, Eyam, and Wirksworth, the first site an expected known one and the latter two more surprising for their Anglo-Saxon artifacts.

I must admit to not being able to take in Sandbach very well.  It was a gray day, we were still damp from our foray onto the Heysham headland, and the crosses are very weathered, as well as behind a fence.  Nonetheless, they are quite imposing monuments. The complex iconography I will trust to Jane Hawkes (The Sandbach Crosses:  Sign and Significance in Anglo-Saxon Culture) and other scholars who have looked at it more closely.  I think the crosses would have been easier to enjoy if still painted, as imagined by English Heritage.

Eyam in Derbyshire, famous as the plague village that heroically sealed itself off from outside contact in 1665, had three Angl0-Saxon stone monuments of interest: a cross, a font, and slabs.  The outdoor cross is 8th century and missing a section, which made it look stubby by comparison to the Sandbach crosses (or Gosforth!).  However, it was bedecked with angels, a quite reassuring monument if one is worried about death and the afterlife.


The font was a surprise, since we did not know it was there until we saw it across the nave, clearly recognizable as of Anglo-Saxon vintage (unlike the more Norman one near the entrance).  It may look plain, but we were very excited to find it in a village we otherwise visited only for its plague fame.


The font raises all kinds of fun questions about baptism rituals and their iconography, which I heard about at Leeds from Carolyn Twomey (“Basins and Baptisms:  The Material Culture in Early Medieval Britian”), in a session also featuring Victoria Whitworth, who may want to comment further as a stone specialist (among other things).  I had not thought about other implements used in baptism, but apparently a spoon or ladle figures prominently as the device for pouring water over the candidate for baptism, as well as basins and other foot-bath like vessels in which they would stand–Jesus’ baptism is often shown this way.  But full sized stone fonts like this one, hardly moveable,  come later and replace that more portable system.  I gather one holds an infant over the font while pour water over them with such a spoon, although I still think of William of Malmesbury’s apocryphal story of St. Dunstan baptizing the future King Æthelred Unready, who “shat” in the waters, presaging the difficulties of his reign!  By the way, Google turns up a lot of St. Dunstan silver christening spoons, if any one is looking for one.

The slabs, back outdoors at Eyam, are likewise plain but evocative of the simple cross slab markers that might have been a much more common sight in the tenth century than the more famous and elaborate cross monuments.


Wirksworth offered an even more baffling stone artifact,  apparently a coffin lid?  The carved scenes are so complicated we picked up the brochure in the church just to sort it out, but even that left me confused on the possible sequence, assuming the scenes are meant to be a narrative.  The stone was discovered in 1820, two feet under the pavement in front of the altar and face down over a stone vault with an intact human skeleton.  The right edge of the stone is broken off, so we don’t have a full picture.

Wirksworth 002lighten

The church brochure labels the scenes  A, B, C, D across the top, left to right, and E, F, G, H across the bottom from left to right.  However, A, B, E, and F on the left end top and bottom make a more coherent narrative (Christ washing the disciples’ feet, the crucifixion, descent into hell, and ascension) than C, D, G, H on the right end, which are identified respectively as (C) the burial procession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (D) presentation of Christ in the temple, (G) annunciation, and (H) “mission” (Peter, a boat, the BVM with baby Jesus holding a scroll and pointing to Peter).  This last identification doesn’t fit as well with the Marian emphasis, which may be due to the missing bits.  It still presents a sequence issue, unless you find a way to put H (bottom right) first, then move left to the annunciation, then up and right the presentation, then left to Mary’s burial, but that does not follow the clearer sequence found on the left end with A-B-E-F.  Maybe we need to reinterpret the carvings?

Wirksworth also had a lot of bits of Anglo-Saxon stone work embedded here and there in its walls, sort of like a treasure hunt (unlike Bakewell, where someone gathered the pieces into a collage).  Here is a rather embarrassed-looking Adam with serpent and fruit.

Wirksworth 015crop

While these stone monuments complement my landscape view of the tenth century, I have to keep reminding myself that the vast majority of human artifacts–wood, textile, clay, glass–have not survived as well as stone.  So what we see is more the monumental or exceptional and less of the everyday.


Posted by: kljolly | July 27, 2014

Lancashire and Peak District Landscapes

It is hard from the comfort of a car to imagine traveling on foot or horseback the winding roads we traverse so easily.  As we traveled south from our visit to Heysham through Lancashire, I tried to see the landscape as tenth-century Aldred might have viewed it, slogging along, looking for paths and markers.  How exciting a crossroad might have been, or the sight of a hearth fire’s smoke!  A riverside would be a comfort, as well as source of water, no matter how winding the path along it.

Rivers_of_LancashireWe did stop once for me to get pictures of the River Wyre at Garstang, an area where I have Aldred unsuccessfully avoiding the Battle of Brunanburh (location unknown).  The roads don’t make it easy for us to follow the river, which meanders from two sources converging at Abbeystead (the middle dark blue line on this map) westward to Dolphinholme (I love that name!), then south through Scorton and Garstang, before turning west again through St. Michael’s and Great Eccleston, and then north to the coast at Fleetwood.  This Wikipedia map of Lancashire rivers also shows the Lune to the north and the Ribble to the south.


The only point where our more direct (and perhaps Roman) road intersecteWyre2d the Wyre was at Garstang, so I got out to take two pictures just for the atmosphere of the river.  However, in my current storyline for Aldred, I have him heading west into the Wyre lake area north of here, then getting taken forcibly to somewhere near Garstang before the battle.  So I am left with this feeling of almost, but not quite, glimpsing the landscape Aldred might have seen.


PeakDistrictCavernsRoadThe next day, we explored some stunning areas of the Peak District (I will leave the Anglo-Saxon stone monuments for a separate post).  Near the end of the day we went through Castleton (brief view of Peveril castle, too modern for our early medieval tastes) westward to Blue John Cavern, arriving too late to go inside but with enough time to admire the views.  Above us was the Pennine Way trail, with hikers visible.  As we drove west on the A618, an interestingly looking northward road took us into what seemed a high and secret pass.  I wondered if the road even went through to anywhere or just dead-ended in a crevice.  But it (Mam Tor Road) did go through the vale of Edale.  It reminded me of some kind of hidden path to Rivendale, but it also made me wonder who, in the tenth century, might find their way through these paths, and why.

Remoteness has advantages and disadvantages.  Lower agricultural land is highly productive, long-tilled, and subject to high traffic (and invasion).  Higher grazing ground, less accessible, with scattered human populations, is a bit lonelier.  Then there are the uninhabitable peaks.  Although I did not see any, I can imagine that a religious hermit or community might find these hills a solitary place to contemplate the divine mysteries.

Posted by: kljolly | July 22, 2014

Slow Scholarship and Digital Humanities

This summer I attended two very different conferences in my field, where I gave two inter-related papers reflecting on the processes of scholarship in a digital world.

The first conferDAIV19ence, in Cambridge, was a small one of specialists in early English history, Writing Britain, 500-1500.  My paper, “Inscribing Identity:  Northumbrian Old English and Latin in Dialogue,” addressed two of the conference themes:  the role of language in regional identity and digital humanities.  In it, I explored some theories about extensive versus intensive social power as a way of understanding the political dynamics in tenth century (Viking era) northern England, using the bilingual text (Latin glossed with Old English) from my current project on the manuscript known as Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 (one set of texts already published available on ScholarSpace).

That brings me to the digital part, where I got to show off the work of colleague David GoldbergGoldberg, collaborating with me in producing a tool to digitize a glossed manuscript.  The problem with typing up a glossed manuscript is how to represent the relationship between the base word (Latin in this case) and the Old English gloss word floating above it.  MS Word has the advantage of needed special characters and other formatting, but has no way to tie the two words together other than hard or soft spacing, which often gets skewed.

David wrote a program we are calling Glossa, still in its infancy, that allows me to type or paste in the two lines of text,  “grab” the Latin word, then grab the Old English gloss word(s), creating a permanent association.  This means we can create a two-way glossary (Latin to Old English or vice versa), allowing further linguistic analysis as well as searchability of the text.  Finally, this xml code can be shared with the Text Encoding Initiative for others to use.  Attendees at the Writing Britain conference were very interested in both the potential for the software as well as the linguistic implications of analyzing this bilingual text for what it can tell us about tenth century England’s diverse political and social landscape.

The other conference I attended was the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, with over 2000 delegates.  My paper there may seem antithetical to the digital world, given in a series session called “Slow Scholarship.” However, the aim of the sessions was not to dismiss the benefits of “big data” with digitization, but to combine it with the kind of patient, focused attention to detail that humanities research has always prized.  Digitization should free us up to spend more time contemplating the meaning of texts and artifacts, not zoom us past that stage of reflection.


My paper, “Letter by Letter:  Manuscript Transcription and Historical Imagination,” explored the theory of “deep attention” in relation to “hyper attention”  as developed by Kate Hayles.  One slow side of my work is transcribing, letter by letter, the glossed manuscript.  In doing so, I see things--odd words and different understandings the glossator has of the text–that I would not have noticed if I had just scanned it and then searched the text.  On the other hand, I want that tedious work of typing to have some long term value, hence my desire to digitize it in such a way that it is searchable and can be compiled to look for patterns that I might not see in the slow process of transcription.

The other slow bit in my title has to do with imagination, and here I transgress the boundaries of traditional historical scholarship by writing historical fiction (or attempting to).  The more time I spent with this glossator–whose name is Aldred–the more I got to know him, in a peculiar way, given that the only evidence we have about him is from his Old English gloss translations of Latin liturgical and encyclopedic materials and two “colophons” where he describes himself somewhat ambiguously.  But to know him in his home terrain means exploring the landscape he inhabited.  Bakewell 016

So off I go to England to traipse around Northumbria and Cumbria, imagining what he might have seen a thousand years ago, and taking some (digital!) pictures to remind me.  This one to the right, at Bakewell in the Peak District, shows one side of a cross fragment with a carving of the Scandinavian hero/god Woden on his horse Sleipnir, an image illustrating the Viking settlement and acculturation to Christianity in tenth-century England (given comments below, I am now revising this view, especially since the cross fragment is dated by some to eighth or ninth century).

Bakewell 030Meanwhile, this image of stone fragments, also at the church in Bakewell, is a reminder of our fragmentary knowledge of the past, similar to the fragments left by Aldred in the manuscripts he glossed.  It is my job to take these jigsaw pieces and built a puzzle from them.  That takes time, time digital tools can enhance.



[cross posted to Digital Arts and Humanties @UH]

Posted by: kljolly | July 16, 2014

Heversham and Heysham

Because I failed to get there last summer, I aimed this summer to get around Morecambe Bay and further south into Lancashire, in part because of recent interest in the Battle of Brunanburh.  From there, my expert local guide and driver (left anonymous unless she wants credit) took me into the Peak District, where we saw a surprising number of Anglo-Saxon stone artifacts, even some we did not expect based on our handy guidebook (Laing and Laing).

HevershamChVinescroll2Our first stop was Heversham, so that I could see what remained of a monastic site Aldred might very well visit if he traveled west of the Pennines visiting religious communities in the Lindisfarne Cuthbertine network.  In the porch of the (later) church is a nice late 8th century Anglian vine scroll with beasties cross fragment (at left).  I often wonder how Aldred or other travelers responded when they reached a stone cross marking a byway or saw a church rising in the distance:  did they quicken their pace, like a horse nearing its barn?  Something familiar and comforting in the landscape would be a welcome relief if one were trudging through wet paths.  We were able to hop back in the car and turn on the windshield wipers as we made our way to the coast.

Bay from Morecambe

Bay from Morecambe

Heysham was properly atmospheric, that is, it rained heavily and we couldn’t see across Morecambe Bay, same as last summer when I was on the other side of the bay:  it seems to be my fate to see only a mist covered tide running in or out of the flats.  My local guide as well as my expert driver kept apologizing profusely for the English weather, but for me it simply indicated that this is what someone like Aldred might very well experience on site.

HeyshamStPatrick1However, the churches of St. Peter’s and St. Patrick’s were well worth visiting, despite the wind and rain.   The entry through a stone archway (left) reminded me of Irish monasteries with their gateways into the stone encircled sites.  St Peter’s church, intact, is first, then further along the headland is the ruin of St. Patrick’s, both part of a single religious community, apparently.

St. Peter’s has, among other things, a well-preserved tenth-century Viking hogback:

HeyshamStPeterHogbackSigurdIts interpretation is of course problematic:  men and animals in various poses on both sides could be Christian and/or Scandinavian legends, and perhaps both and neither is the best way to view it, as I would guess Aldred would as well:  an alien addition to a decidedly Christian site full of Anglian sculpture.

HeyshamStPatricks3St. Patrick’s has this evocative doorway overlooking the sea.  In addition, it has the sadly empty stone tombs (well, unless they evoke the empty tomb of Christ with its hope of resurrection!).  I doubt they were empty when Aldred visited, and probably still had their head markers for which you can see the stone posthole.




I also discovered that you really can’t see the Lune from the headland, but you can see the present day port and powerplant (hard to miss).  Not part of Aldred’s tenth century landscape, so I took shots off the headland (the dog is optional).


HeyshamStPatricks10So now I may rewrite the scenes of Aldred at Heysham to reflect this view of the site.

Posted by: kljolly | July 14, 2014

Cambridge and Leeds

I just returned from the UK, attending the Writing Britain conference in Cambridge and then the Leeds International Medieval Congress, with four days between to explore Lancashire (possible Battle of Brunanburh sites!) while avoiding the Tour de France.  More on the road trip in the next post (except for this picture from the Peak District).


I won’t say a lot about the sessions because it is too much to absorb and report on all at once, other than to say that it was great to hang out and converse with Anglo-Saxonists and other medievalists at both conferences (I have learned from following Jonathan Jarrett that it can take a full year to report on the IMC!).  However, I will note two things from Leeds:

First, Michael Wood’s plenary lecture on the Battle of Brun(n)anburh was a masterfully told story, unsurprisingly.  It was like being in a sleek boat on a swift stream, moving inexorably toward a destination, without being able to see out the sides where the alternative streams and byways might lead.  He gave the obligatory warnings about the location of the battle being undiscoverable and about the unreliability of the primary sources, then proceeded to take us to the site he has discovered while relying on twelfth century or later sources he asserted were authentic tenth century records, all along assuring us that no one had paid attention to this or that fact or source that he was highlighting.  Convincing…unless you have read the debates.  However, he did cast enough serious doubt on the Bromborough Wirral thesis to keep the debate going.  He also punctured the notion that archaeological finds might locate the battle:  no specific battle has been authenticated by sucTreevesh finds, and if we did find something, we would then debate what battle it was.

Second, I discovered in the book area that Arizona Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies (AMRTS) now has a historical fiction wing called Bagwyn Books.  They have published, among others, a novel called Eadfrith, Scribe of Lindisfarne by Michelle “Treeves,” heartily endorsed on the back by none other than Lindisfarne Gospel expert Michelle Brown.  It is a short book, highly informative and descriptive with strong sympathy for the religious life of its main characters.  At least initially, its style is very evocative of Anglo-Saxon poetry.  I enjoyed reading it and am encouraged by it to pursue my own project on Aldred, heir to, and witness of, Eadfrith’s opus dei in the Lindisfarne Gospels.

ISASlogoLast, I was gratified to hear from a number of Anglo-Saxonists that they are eagerly looking forward to attending ISAS 2017 in Honolulu.  Next up, Glasgow 2015!



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