Category Archives: Medieval History

Catholic locations recently declared World Heritage sites

image by Cybjorg~commonswiki

Bethany beyond the Jordan – believed to be the location of St. John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus

image by Travis Witt

San Antonio Missions in Texas

Catholic sites in Sicily – including Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale


#281 – The Goliards

The Goliards enjoyed wine, women, song and complaining about the Catholic hierarchy. Their poems and pranks caused scandal and brought down upon them the wrath of the Church authorities.

The Confession of Golias
Other Goliardic poetry
Poems from the Carmina Burana
Youtube – Goliardic poem Meum est Propositum in Taberna Mori
Youtube – O Fortuna

Primas, Hugh. Hugh Primas and the Archpoet. Cambridge Medieval Classics 2. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Symonds, John Addington. Wine, Women, and Song. New York: AMS Press, 1970.
Waddell, Helen. The Wandering Scholars. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1989.
Wicher, George F. The Goliard Poets: Medieval Latin Songs and Satires. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1979.

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podcasticon#281 – The Goliards

#251 – Medieval Books

Books were the livelihood of the medieval monk but they were rare and expensive. Not surprisingly this meant various and create ways to protect them.

The Evolution of the Medieval Book
The Art of the Book in the Middle Ages
Medieval Books of Hours

“Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses” by Marc Drogin

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podcasticon#251 – Medieval Books

Today in Catholic History – The Defeat of Kerbogha of Mosul

On 28 June 1098, the armies of the First Crusade defeated Kerbogha/Curbara of Mosul outside of the city of Antioch.

Kerbogha was one of the best Muslim generals and he led a force of 30,000 troops.

Kerbogha and his armies had hoped to lift the Crusader siege of Antioch but his force was weakened by dissention among his soldiers and the desertion of the Fatimid soldiers who feared that Kerbogha would become too powerful should he prove to be victorious.

According to a later legend, the Christian forces were able to obtain victory through the aid of St. George, St. Demetrius and St. Mercurius who fought the forces of the Turks with them.

With the defeat of Kerbogha, the Crusaders were able to obtain control over Antioch.

This is the account of the defeat of Kerbogha from the Gesta Francorum:

After Curbara saw the lines of the Franks, so beautifully formed, coming out one after the other, he said: “Let them come out, that we may the better have them in our power!” But after they were outside the city and Curbara saw the huge host of the Franks, he was greatly frightened. He straightway sent word to his Emir, who had everything in charge, that if he saw a light burn at the head of the army he should have the trumpets sounded for it to retreat, knowing that the Turks had lost the battle. Curbara began immediately to retreat little by little toward the mountain, and our men followed them little by little. At length the Turks divided; one party went toward the sea and the rest halted there, expecting to enclose our men between them. As our men saw this, they did likewise. There a seventh line was formed from the lines of Duke Godfrey and the Count of Normandy, and its head was Reinald. They sent this (line) to meet the Turks, who were coming from the sea. The Turks, however, engaged them in battle and by shooting killed many of our men. Other squadrons, moreover, were drawn out from the river to the mountain, which was about two miles distant. The squadrons began to go forth from both sides and to surround our men on all sides, hurling, shooting, and wounding them. There came out from the mountains, also, countless armies with white horses, whose standards were all white. And so, when our leaders saw this army, they were entirely ignorant as to what it was, and who they were, until they recognized the aid of Christ, whose leaders were St. George, Mercurius, and Demetrius. This is to be believed, for many of our men saw it. However, when the Turks who were stationed on the side toward the sea saw that that they could hold out no longer, they set fire to the grass, so that, upon seeing it, those who were in the tents might flee. The latter, recognizing that signal, seized all the precious spoils and fled. But our men fought yet a while where their (the Turks) greatest strength was, that is, in the region of their tents. Duke Godfrey, the Count of Flanders, and Hugh the Great rode near the water, where the enemy’s strength lay. These men, fortified by the sign of the cross, together attacked the enemy first. When the other lines saw this, they likewise attacked. The Turks and the Persians in their turn cried out. Thereupon, we invoked the Living and True God and charged against them, and in the name of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Sepulchre we began the battle, and, God helping, we overcame them. But the terrified Turks took to flight, and our men followed them to the tents. Thereupon, the knights of Christ chose rather to pursue them than to seek any spoils, and they pursued them even to the Iron Bridge, and then up to the fortress of Tancred.

#238 – Dancing Mania

Throughout the Middle Ages, Catholics saw friends and neighbors afflicted with what they believed was the irresistible desire to dance. The cure for this strange ailment, they believed, was to be found in the intercession of the saints…and more dancing.


An article on the Dancing Plague from the Discovery Channel

“Rethinking the Dancing Mania” by Robert E. Bartholomew in Skeptical Inquirer Volume 24.4, July / August 2000 – the author explains the dancing mania as an expression of prohibited heretical/pagan beliefs

“A forgotten plague: making sense of dancing mania” by John Waller in The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9664, Pages 624 – 625, 21 February 2009 – the author finds an explanation for dancing mania in mass psychosis – for a fuller treatment see his The Dancing Plague. The Strange, True story of an Extraordinary Illness.

“The Dancing Plague: a public health conundrum” by LJ Donaldson, J Cavanagh, and J Rankin in Public Health 1997 Issue 4, p201-204 – the authors suggest a variety of causes for the dancing mania

The painting is The Pilgrimage of the Epileptics to the Church at Molenbeeck: Three groups of Epileptics going to the left by Pieter Breughel the Elder

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Today in Catholic History – The completion and dedication of the Basilica of Saint Denis

On 11 June 1144, the Basilica of Saint Denis was completed and dedicated by Abbot Sugar in an area now part of Paris. The Basilica would become an important place of pilgrimage, the burial place of the French kings and the model of Gothic architecture in Northern Europe.

Saint Denis is the patron saint of France and, according to French tradition, was the first bishop of Paris. As such, his shrine at the Basilica of Saint Denis was a popular place for Catholics to visit.

Another reason for visiting the Basilica was to see the first major example of the “French Style” (Opus Francigenum) as it was known before it was more commonly called Gothic. Many of the memorable characteristics of the Basilica such as the Rose Window, the radiating chapels, and the flying buttresses had been used in Romesque style architecture before but Abbot Sugar was the first to pull these architectural characteristics all together. His placement of the Rose Window will be imitated in the construction of other French basilicas such as the Basilica of Chartres.

All but three of the French monarchs from the 10th century to 1789 are buried at the Basilica of Saint Denis. These monarchs were buried tombs containing effigies or images of the former king or queen contained in the tomb. Unfortunately, during the French Revolution the bodies of these monarchs were all removed from their tombs and buried in a common grave and after the revolution it was impossible to separate one body from another. Thus, the bodies of the French monarchs up to the French Revolution are now buried in a common ossuary. Fortunately, the effigies were preserved.

The art and architecture of Saint Denis

Today in Catholic History – Frederick I drowns while on the Third Crusade

On 10 June 1190, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa drowned in the Saleph [also known as the Calycadnus] River near Antioch. Some accounts claim that he drowned while bathing. Other accounts state that after Frederick fell from his horse while crossing the river, his head hit some rocks and drowned.

Frederick, along with French king Philip Augustus and English King Richard the Lionheart was leading the armies of the Third Crusade in the hopes of re-capturing the city of Jerusalem from the Muslims and their leader Saladin. But with his death, the soldiers of the Third Crusade fell into chaos as rivalries between Philip Augustus and Richard the Lionheart split the Crusaders apart. Much of the army of Frederick I would return to Germany. Unable to preserve the body of Frederick I in vinegar, his son Frederick V of Swabia will have the body boiled to remove the flesh of of Frederick Barbarosa from his bones. This was a typical treatment of fallen Crusaders as it was easier to transport just the bones of a dead Crusader rather than the entire body. However, this practice will eventually be condemned by the Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. While Frederick V hoped to bury the bones of his father in Jerusalem, he will be unable to do so and instead the bones will be buried in the city of Tyre.

Richard the Lionheart and his soldiers would later attempt to retake Jerusalem, but fail. This failure would lead to a call for a fourth crusade a few years later.

One account of the death of Frederick I

#235 – The Philosopher’s Game

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Rithmomachia was one of the most popular games played in the universities and theological schools and promoted by Roger Bacon and Thomas More. Today, it has fallen into obscurity.


Wikipedia has a good simple presentation of the basics of rithmomachia
Here is a Renaissance presentation of rithmomachia
Rules for playing rithmomachia can be found here and here
For the really adventurous, here are the rules of Boolean rithmomachia
Computer [Java] versions of rithmomachia can be found here and here
Rithmomachia boards and pieces can be purchased here and here

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podcasticon#235 – The Philosopher’s Game

Today in Catholic History – The First Recorded Batch of Scotch Whisky

On 1 June 1494, Monk John Cor of Lindores Abbey recorded the first known reference to Scotch Whisky – “To Friar John Cor, by order of the King, eight bolls of malt wherewith to make aqua vitae .” “Aqua Vitae” or “Water of Life” was the name given to the local spirit. In Gaelic “aqua vitae” was “usquebaugh” which later became “uksy” and then “whisky”. Historians believe that “aqua vitae” was a term used by Saint Patrick both to refer to baptism as well as alcoholic spirits.

A boll was an old Scottish measurement about six bushels or 56 pounds. The amount of malt mentioned would be enough to make 1,500 bottles of whisky.

It was common for Benedictine monasteries to distill spirits which were seen as beneficial for health. For example, Benedictines in France were producing such spirits as Chartreuse. It was believed that whisky was an effective treatment for colic, palsy and small pox.

The Lindores Abbey was destroyed by the supporters of John Knox in 1559. But today special bottles of Scotch Whisky are being sold to raise funds to preserve the remains of the site.

Benedictine Abbey of Lindores
The History of Whisky

Today in Catholic History – Robert Guiscard enters Rome

On 27 May 1084, after an appeal from Pope Gregory VII, Norman duke Robert Guiscard entered Rome to defend Gregory from the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and his anti-pope Clement III.

The roots of the conflict between Gregory and Henry lay in what was known as the Investiture Controversy, whether the secular ruler or the pope possessed the authority to appoint bishops within particular dioceses. Henry wished to appoint bishops within his empire and so placed a “pope” supportive to this view – Clement – in power at Saint Peter’s in Rome. Yet, as the conflict between Henry and Gregory grew, the issue of contention became more and more one concerned with the power of the papacy versus the power of the king.

At the time anti-pope Clement III was installed by Henry at Saint Peter’s, Gregory continued to resist Henry just a short distance away at Castel San Angelo. He asked for help from Robert Guiscard who responded by sending and army of 36,000 soldiers to enter Rome and rescue the pope. However, Guiscard’s armies also pillaged Rome for three days and partially burned the city – leading to the destruction many ancient buildings including the original basilica of San Clemente and the church of Santa Maria in Cosmodin.

Gregory died a year later in exile but his views on the secular primacy of the pope would be taken up by his successors while the support of Henry IV would decline.

Pope Gregory VII