Category Archives: Medieval

When Architecture Fails: The Leaning Tower of Pisa and Beauvais Cathedral

I love it when architecture fails spectacularly. I’ve previously talked about the Bent Pyramid in ancient Egypt, which took 20 years to build and doesn’t actually contain anyone because it threatened to collapse. There’s also the Black Pyramid, whose mud brick core essentially melted during construction. But, just to ensure you that this medievalist does not play favorites, I give you two medieval examples of architectural fails: the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Beauvais Cathedral. Famous Architecture Fail: The Leaning

Art of the “Dark Age”

Sainte Chapelle, gothic architecture

One of the things I deal with is the continuing use of the term Dark Age to describe the Middle Ages. It wasn’t that dark, at least not overall. It did get pretty ugly at the beginning, however, and it was definitely different from what came before it, which was the Roman Empire. …with whom Renaissance writers were in love with, and they were the ones who decided to call everything I love the Dark Age, meaning the unfortunate time

What the Heck’s a Holy Roman Empire?

This strange entity known as the Holy Roman Empire never fails to confuse students. Let’s start with what it isn’t: It’s not the Roman Empire. It’s not the Eastern or Western Roman Empires, into which the Roman Empire split in the fourth century C.E. (Western Roman Empire falls in 476 CE.) It’s not the Byzantine Empire, which is really just the Eastern Roman Empire with another name, which lasted until 1453. It also isn’t ruled from Rome, which one might

St. Margaret of Antioch; or, the Teenager Who Destroys Dragons

St. Margaret of Antioch, also known as St. Margaret the Virgin and St. Margaret the Martyr, is purported to have lived at the end of the 3rd century during the great persecution of Christians under the reign of Emperor Diocletian.  Disowned for converting to Christianity, Margaret moved to the countryside where she attracted the unwanted attention of a man who demanded she both marry him and disavow Christianity. The teenage Margaret, already pledged to a life of chastity, refused, at

A Medieval Meme: Pedobear and Antichrist

Discarding Images, a common source of crazy medieval images for me, often labels their images in a very straight-forward manner, such as “Jupiter Castrates Saturn,” which is exactly what it sounds like, and is in no way safe for work.  Every once in a while, however, I encounter an image with a name like “Pedobear Satan.” For those of you unfamiliar with the meme, this is Pedobear –> There are about a zillion memes out there with pedophile jokes featuring

The War of Increasingly Distant Cousins

Kings of the War of the Roses

The term War of the Roses wasn’t used until the 18th century and not popularized until the 19th, while the war itself was fought in the 15th.  Like many wars, it had no official name at the time of conflict, but it could be described as a series of civil wars fought between the houses of Lancaster and York.  Those houses were represented by a red rose and white rose, thus encouraging the eventual romantic name. Recently, fiction author Philippa

What Didn’t Happen in the Middle Ages

That awkward moment you realize most people's knowledge of the Middle Ages comes from Monty Python.

Medieval is a rather abused word, often being used to cover everything from the fall of the Roman Empire to…well, gosh only knows.  People commonly mash it at least with the Renaissance, which comes with it a healthy sense of irony as Renaissance thinkers very actively separated themselves from medieval culture.  The Renaissance was the rebirth of Greek and Roman culture after the long Dark Age (their term) or what we now call the Middle Ages, a.k.a. the Medieval period. Read

Snow (Almost) Always Looks More Fun in Pictures

As explained here, medieval artists have very little interest in image backgrounds. However, as we get further into the High/Late Middle Ages, we see more and more of it, until artwork starts turning more realistic in general, and then we start seeing environment. Often they aren’t particularly relevant. Look at any Renaissance portrait, and there will certainly be a background, but it often is just that: an image to fill in the blank spaces and make the image look more

Where’s Jesus?

Through most of the Middle Ages, artwork had a decided lack of environment. If you weren’t familiar with medieval Christian Art, you’d have a hard time knowing what the image at right even is, much less where it is happening. What I see: Man with a bad bleach job and no thighs trapped in a tiny cell being watched by munchkins.  He may or may not be stoned. What this is: Christ sitting on a throne in heaven, although a

Today in History: The Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, 1170

On December 29, 1170, Henry II of England accidentally murdered his former best friend, Thomas Becket. The Anarchy As always, to understand a historical tale, you need to understand some of the context. Henry’s entire childhood developed in the context of a 18-year civil war known as the Anarchy, and that fight deserves its own mention. Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, produced a small army of illegitimate kids. (Wikipedia lists 24).  However, he only produced one legitimate son,

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