More wit, wisdom and philosophy from literary works of the Viking Age:
Behold God’s prevailing gifts on earth, discernable
to all souls! His unique powers are bestowed
and apportioned widely to every woman and man.
None are so wretched, unfortunate, or feeble-minded
to believe that the Giver of all has not endowed them
at least with a living breath, speech, and a smart mind
to appreciate their wordly abilities in this life.
Gifts of Men (tr. Jackson)
Grief is remarkab1y hard to shake off. The clouds roll on…A hawk must go on a glove, the wild thing stay there. The wolf must be in the forest, wretched and solitary, the boar in the wood with his strong, fixed tusks. A good man must gain honour in his own country. The javelin goes in the hand, the spear that glitters with gold. On a ring a jewel should stand large and prominent. A river must mix in the waves with the sea’s current. A ship must have a mast, a standing spar for sails. The splendid iron sword must lie in the lap. A dragon must live in a barrow, old and proud of his treasures. A fish must spawn its kind in the water. In the hall a king must share out rings. A bear must live on the heath, old and terrifying. A river must run downhill in a grey torrent…God’s place is in heaven, he is the judge of deeds. A hall must have a door, the building a broad mouth. A shield must have a boss, a firm finger-guard. A bird must play, up in the air. In a deep pool the salmon must glide with the trout. Stirred by the wind the shower shall come down to this world from the sky.
The Laws of Nature (tr. Shipley)
Teacher: What skills do you have?
Fisherman: I am a fisherman.
Teacher: What do you gain from your skills?Fisherman: I get food, clothes and money.
Teacher: How do you catch the fish?
Fisherman: I get into my boat, put my nets into the river and then I cast my bait and wicker baskets, and whatever I catch I take….I catch eels, pike, minnows and dace, trout, lamprey and any other species that swim in the rivers, like sprats.
Æfric, Colloquy (tr. Watkins)
Take any life you choose and study it: It gladdens, troubles, changes many lives. The life goes out, how many things result? Fate drops a stone, and to the utmost shores. The circles spread.
Domesday Book (tr. tr. Masters)
Bare is the back of the brotherless.
From Chapter 84 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
Wondrous is this masonry, shattered by the Fates. The fortifications have given way, the buildings raised by giants are crumbling. The roofs have collapsed ; the towers are in ruins There is rime on the mortar. The walls are rent and broken away, and have fallen, undermined by age. The owners and builders are perished and gone, and have been held fast in the earth’s embrace, the ruthless clutch of the grave, while a hundred generations of mankind have passed away. Ked of hue and hoary with lichen this wall has outlasted kingdom after kingdom, standing unmoved by storms. The lofty arch has fallen.
The Ruin (tr. Kershaw)
Merchant: I embark on board ship with my wares and I sail over remote seas, sell my wares and buy precious objects that are unknown in this country. I bring these things to you over the sea enduring great danger and shipwreck with the whole of my goods hurled overboard and with me hardly escaping with my life….I bring purple cloth and silk, precious stones and gold, various sorts of clothes and dyes, wine and oil, ebony and brass, tin and brimstone, glass and like products.
Ælfric Colloquy (tr. Watkins)
Wood must be hewed in the wind,
row out to sea in good weather,
talk with maidens in the dark,
many are the eyes of the day.
A ship must be used for a swift journey
and a shield for protection,
a sword for a blow
and a maiden for kisses.
Verse 82 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)
Hard-striving soul, greet the wayfaring stranger,
To the keen-sighted singer give welcoming words,
Question to the questing one of all the worlds before,
Implore him to tell of incalculable creations,
The innate artful forces forever quickening
That day after day under God’s dominionBring wonders laid bare to fairing generations.
Song of the Cosmos (tr. Tobin)
Old friends are the last to sever. Ill if a thrall is thine only friend.
From chapter 84 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
Tanner: I buy hides and skins and prepare them with my skill. I make many styles of shoes from them, baskets and clogs, boots and buckets, bridles and harness, flasks and leather bottles, spurs and halters, bags and purses, not one of you would like to spend the winter without my skills.
Ælfric Colloquy (tr. Watkins)
Deeds done will be told of.
From chapter 40 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
In the night, as soon as the king is sated with sleep, it should be his duty and business to center his thoughts upon the kingdom as a whole and to consider how his plans may be formed and carried out in such a way that God will be well pleased with the care that he gives to ,the realm! also how it may be made most/profitable and obedient to himself; further what measure of firmness <ne must use in restraining the rich lest they become too arrogant toward the poor, and what caution in uplifting the poor, lest they grow too defiant toward the wealthy.
From pages 250–251 of The King’s Mirror (tr. Larson)
O Christ, our Morning Star,
Splendour of Light Eternal,
shining with the glory of the rainbow,
come and waken us
from the greyness of our apathy,
and renew in us your gift of hope.
My heart is in Dublin
And the women of Trondheim
Won’t see me this autumn
The girl Has not denied me
Pleasure visits; I’m glad
I love the Irish lady
As well as my young self.
Magnus “Barelegs” Olaffson
(With thanks from Regia mates: Hrolf Douglasson, Gary Golding, Rich Price, Kim Siddorn, Ali Vikingr and Paula Lofting Wilcox)
CONFESSIO PARS DUOBUS
Woods: When I first realized dimly that plastics were farby, I turned to wood. However, the woods chosen were often no less farby, up to and including plywood (laminated woods date to ancient Egypt and were used sporadically through the ages, though not apparently in the early middle ages, and what we view as modern plywood was patented in the nineteenth century but not regularly and popularly used until the Second World War). You can find a list of native and available woods in an earlier entry in this blog. Please note that in the case of such woods as larch, the wood was not native but was imported, either in a raw of, more likely, a finished form!
Fabrics: When I realized that double knits, nylon and danceskin tights were not at all period, I lit upon cotton. It was a natural fabric, right. It was only later that I realized that cotton was expensive and directed mainly toward the posh and the knowledge that cotton was virtually unknown and certainly unused during the early middle ages was not acquired until later. The knowledge that silk was even more expensive than the finest linen and used mainly as trims came along about at the same time, but the knowledge that raw silk was a byproduct that was usually thrown away even when silk became less expensive and that as a fabric it came to used only in the twentieth century was a very late piece of knowledge. To put it simply, wool and linen were the most popular fabrics—in that order—but not all colors and weaves were period. http://www.squidoo.com/medieval-fabrics-for-re-enacting. Linsey-Wolsey, a combination of linen and wool apparently was not created until the eighteenth century. This has been a very recent discovery on my part, and I am still not entirely convinced…
Shoes: Boots were de rigeur in my early days in “living history.” Black boots were the best. The boots had sewn-on soles, heels of varying sizes and ascended to at least mid-calf. Later, I realized that despite all preconceptions, Richard the Lion-Hearted probably did not wear Harley boots. But the shoes I bought mostly had nailed-on soles; I did buy an early pair of turnshoes, but the maker apologized for not being nailed. The ironic thing is that turnshoes were standard until the end of the fifteenth century, when welted shoes were introduced. I later learned that black leather was unknown and then that the height of shoes during our period was not much above the ankle and certainly not knee- or thigh-high as popular images and notions indicate. A good chart of shoe styles may be found in the YAT’s book on leatherworking.
Tents: Here I am not talking merely of the shapes of the tents—though I never really considered that until I became involved in American Revolution reenacting. After that, thinking on what was used for the tents—certainly not the blue plastic sheets that were everywhere!—I went on to want tens of cotton Sunforger canvas (unfortunately still preeminent since because of availability), flax canvas, wool and hemp canvas. The early discovery that the Norse A-tent was used as a sort of shipboard cabin was illuminating, as were the illustrations of tents being used to dry wet clothes on wash days in eighteenth-century camps! A very late and interesting discovery was that grommets—the brass or metal circles—were not invented until the eighteenth century, and earlier versions in which a brass ring was tied to the fabric with a rope around it, seems to have occurred no earlier than the fourteenth century. We have attempted to develop stitching—from sails for the most part—to substitute and should disguise the metal grommets with an overstitch of some sort (but sloth has delayed that; but eventually…”
Food: Foodstuffs and their preparation never entered into my mind, except when ham was preparing prepared in a kosher kitchen. Only later, reading medieval cookbooks—or rather, their modern redactions and interpretations, though that fact eluded me—I began to understand that there was a period and accurate way to prepare food. Later, I came to understand that certain foods—potatoes, tomatoes and hot peppers for example—were unknown by and not eaten by people in the era. Finding out what was available and eaten was more difficult, although through the efforts of Anne Hagen and others, the information has been gathered from archaeological investigations and became more readily available. So was the availability of “heirloom” vegetables, which still have to be selected through to see that they are period. There are still controversies, and there are still discoveries that I have made with far-ranging affects—I stopped watching the HBO series “Rome” when they dumped over a cart of bright orange carrots—so that this is still a very ongoing process!
Frequency: This is less a physical than an ordinal matter. In the early days, I was little concerned with any kind of or number of instances of provenance for an artifact or a practice. Finding a single provenance was generally unnecessary and unknown. Then, any unique incidence or artifact was enough to justify its appearance in many impressions. However, it was soon apparent that there had to be more than a single incidence of its use or appearance before it was deemed common enough to be legitimately portrayed in ordinary everyday living history. One member of the society to which I originally belonged announced that he preferred objects or practices that were unique because they are more important. In other words, he and others would rather be Roland or Lancelot rather than a common foot soldier of their retinue and certainly not a peasant laborer they might triumphantly ride past when returning to the castle to celebrate a success. As it is, I did not then and do not now want to The epic hero, and this is an approach with which I cannot agree and heartily condemn! Finding multiple incidents becomes paramount to the portrayal of everyday life in a different era. You do not want to deal with things like the Helgo Buddha but instead with things like the Þorr’s hammer. You want something that is seen everywhere that is common. In other words, three examples of the same type of physical artifact descriptions or of a period description—even if they were not identical, since this was the time before mass uniform reproduction—was required for its adaptation. A single artifact could be what Darrell Markewitz terms an “Aunt Martha,” a unique and unuseable object that one got from Aunt Martha and then placed into someone’s grave because ir was a white elephant to him! The rule of thumb developed in most living history—and which I readily adopted once I was exposed to it—was that there were at least two—and now three—separate, unrelated incidents of the artifact or practice had to be found before it was allowed on the line. As noted in Micel Folcland’s Newbie Handbook: “If you cannot provide at least three cases of primary documentation, reconsider the purchase of an article—at least to wear or to use at Regia event. Don’t choose an item because it looks period or because it’s cheap or even because an older member advises its purchase without providing documentation. Many vendors will provide documentation for what they sell; ask for it, and don’t buy from someone who wants to sell you something without being able to provide documentation.”
The examples listed above only touch the surface of the matter. There are many more subjects—metals, weapons, size of jewelry among them—that a good reenactor must consider if an accurate impression is planned.
Keep in mind that any opinion set forth by someone without proper provenance is simply that: An opinion. Perhaps a reenactorism or perhaps just reciting piece after piece of familiar, comforting trivia. For example, the tattoos which were found on Harold Godwinsson at Hastings were apparently invented in the1950s and which have been perpetuated by anyone wishing to justify the historical importance of tattooing
The moral of this essay then is that you should not assume that you know everything about. What are the areas with which you most conversant? These are the areas with which you must be most diligent and most skeptical. All new information might not be valid, but you must be able to analyze the information and not merely reject it as being in opposition to your dogmatic knowledge! Learn to qualify your statements by adding “in my experience” and “to my knowledge” or “from what I have read, experienced or seen” And at all times, in every situation, be willing, be able and in fact be excited to accept the possibility that you must change the matter about which you are so familiar! You mus be willing to amend it, to clarify it and bring new facts and interpretations to bear!
Sôþlîce. Þanc êow, Fæder
CONFESSIO PARS UNUM
Fæder, forgive me, for I have sinned.
I did not start out as an anal progressive. One could say that it is a state into which I regrettably slid…or evolved. I of course prefer the latter. When I started in what I might laughingly refer to as living history—though that term did not attain any type of popularity for another decade or so—or perhaps medievaloid fantasy. I was as a member of a fancy-dress group. For many years I knew that I knew more than anyone else who was not in the group (and who did not have more grandiose titles than I did). Knowledge was just an injection into my brain from that membership card in my pocket! Looking back on it, I have to laugh only because I do not want to cry.
However, the knowledge of those days—spawned by the association with popular culture such as films, teevee, historical novels and comic books—was minimal, and the personal perception of the knowledge immensely wrong. The first glimmer of a consciousness emerged when I designed costumes based on Arabian Nights films and King Kull costumes, and it emerged suddenly as a kind of epiphany that this was not. That fact because evident within a decade. It started with historical cultures in college and then grew with leaps and bounds as I became familiar with folks who did real living history and did not merely say that they did. I realized that I did not know as much as I thought that I did. It became absolutely repulsive within twenty years as I became involved in other societies and I realized how ignorant I actually was. And the more that I knew, as the common folk wisdom goes, the more that I realized I did not know! Many times, it took a while even to consider what I did not know
Gradually, as I looked more intently into matters of everyday life—which is not altogether easy in a culture that attempts to define history as only what happens to the great men—I came to see that so many things that I took for granted, that I never even thought about, were among the things that were most important for defining the culture of a previous time. I came to see that I knew very little if anything. I was forced to do additional research into period sources, period artifacts and contemporary interpretations in order to figure out what was the proper way to do things! I wish to thank the authenticity officers, the historical inspectors, the other folk who are eager to share what they have discovered and especially those people who keep you honest! They have provided—and continue to provide—me with a direction toward which my researches should travel.
Here are, for example, a few areas with which I thought I was very familiar, but which, upon closer look…
Spectacles: The knowledge that Norse warriors did not wear spex was pretty ubiquitous even early on/; the trouble was that I did not realize how much of a burlesque it created. That happened later, in American Revolution reenacting. Until I bought some nineteenth-century frames, I successfully went without spex (the frames were accepted for use in eighteenth-century reenacting because we did not know better; all living history is an evolution!). For a time, I used these frames in medievaloid acting; but I eventually set them aside while in costume and even found a set of more period spex (I was doing fourteenth-century impression then) that I could use for close-up vision. Eventually, when we started doing early medieval impresions, my wife and I both discarded spex at all times. It was easier for me; I had cataracts surgery and the insertion of permanent contact lenses. For her, it was more radical; and when she puts her spex back on at the end of an event, her first line is usually, “Ah, the green blobs have leaves…” The use of contact lenses—permanent or temporary—is a compromise that is not easily discerned by the public.
Hats: Slouch felt hats are dashing, and I eagerly wore them in my early days. In fact, even when I stopped wearing the cowboy hats and other modern incarnations, I still wore the hats. After all, I was doing a fourteenth century impression, and these are examples of their use. When I began to do an early medieval impression, I eventually stopped. Broad-rimmed hats were still in the future. Caps might have been worn by the Norse, though there is no indication that they were worn by the Englisc (see the laborers in the Julius and Tiberius work calendars, working bare headed in the sun), though there is controversy over how these caps were constructed. What I term “baby bonnets” were not yet used, and the most frequently used head covering for some genders was the hood. There is no real evidence for straw and wide-brimmed hats during this era in England and Scandinavia. http://www.vikingage.org/wiki/index.php?title=Sun_hats notes that there is a description of Oðinn wearing a wide-brimmed hat that might be straw, but the saga was actually written down in a later periods! I decided that going about bare headed—for males; wimples and caps were used by females, at least married and older females—is the most common act!
Belts: If I ever thought about belt widths, I’d have assumed that they were as big and bold as the medieval warrior. As time ent on, I learned that wide WWF-style belts were not known during this period. Going from the sizes of buckles and other belt furniture, belts were usually between ½ and ¾ inch (6.35 and 12.7 mm) wide and never more than one inch (25.4 mm ); merely by purchasing thenty buckles (assuredly not buckles from someone who made them bigger and bad because members of their client base knew that belts were all big and bad). In addition, dangling ends were apparently a later development, and belts were tucked into slides like modern belts // http://regia.org/members/basclot3.htm // . The so-called ring belts,_ in which there is merely a brass or other circle at the end of the leather—are totally spurious and perpetuated just by vendors and sellers catering to the lowest denominator, The only buckles which had no tongues merely lost the tongues, so the ring belt is, above all, fantasy!
Names: The idea of regularized spelling is a relatively new concept. It certainly post-dates the invention of the printing press; and even in Colonial America, one finds examples of what Mary Dohan terms “phonetic spellings remarkable even in that relatively freewheeling orthographic age.” Different spellings might refer to the same person, not only different translations and interpretations according to contemporary popularity (Eric, Erik, Eirik, Eirkr) but absolutely bonker spellings can be seen, and writers apparently did not even notice the difference. For example in The Origin of English Surnames, P. H. Reaney writes, “On April 23, 1470, Elizabeth Blynkkynesoppe, of Blynkkynsoppe, widow of Thomas Blynkensope, of Blynkkensope received a general pardon,” and notes that “Here are four variations within two lines written by the same hand. This will give the casual reader an idea of the vagaries in spelling.”
–To Be Continued
RITUALS OF TRANSITION
How do you prepare yourself for a reenacting session?
I pose this question because I am concerned with the entire reenacting experience. Reenacting is based upon looking at things, experiencing them and teaching them a little bit differently than you might expect . Recognizing what is different, you do not want to speak about modern politics, about modern religion, the science-fiction novel you love so much or about the television show you watched last night.
(Actually, speaking about the first two in contrast to modern day politics and religion is fair, but the third is entirely out of bounds!)
You cannot automatically think the way that someone from the past thought no matter what you think—ad it is probably impossible to do so when making a conscious effort. You have too much modern baggage with you to do this. You cannot logically delude yourself that such a thing is possible. To ignore this is to give a lie to the entire reenacting process. Howev3er, there should always be something in the back of your mind while you are dressed up in your fancy togs that you are not portraying a person of the twenty-first century. That your tastes and knowledge would be different. That what you think is important is going to be different.
It is not important that you see the details of what is going on, at least if you and your fellows have done your bit to make the details accurate during manufacture. At one event, we had a member go without glasses or contact lenses just to prove that it could be done! There has to be a striving for safety. In fact, making our encampments safe for the limited sighted has actually helped us, because we began to clean up the encampment more so that people did not stumble over things so much!
Doctor David Friedman, a Scadian and a proponent of first-person impressions but not of accuracy in the environment, points out that he does wear spex while in his impression notes in his Miscellany that
” Doing without glasses when I am in persona is not merely a matter of being authentic — it is also a striking way of reminding myself that I am in a different world. Fuzzier. As an adult, Cariadoc has never seen the stars clearly, and cannot recognize a friend across the length of a hall. Those are some of the ways in which he is a different person from David.
One might say that this is only important when one is doing a first person—or a second person, as some describe an impression which is mainly first person but which allows the participant to break into third person as needed—impression, however, it is also important for someone doing a third-person impression. It is something that you must always keep in your mind. You must realize that what you pick up, how you sit, how you walk, what you use, affects the way that you are perceived and the illusion that you are attempting to create.
Not only does I help in the selection of clothing and kit, but it helps them to think about what they need to talk about so that they are not talking about modern concerns except in relation to period concerns. Hopefully, it will keep them from thinking about modern concerns in the first place!
It should be pointed out that such a transition is not the exact way that a person of the period would have thought or acted. After all, your knowledge and actions, even for someone doing first-person, are affected to some extent by things that you know that the period person did not, is not a reflection of what the period person thought. There is no way that this is possible. It is a interpretation, and hopefully an interpretation based on facts. However, it is better than coming to an event, putting on fancy dress, shades, sneakers, spending the event texting on your phone about what a grand old time you are having and strutting around like your favorite character from “Braveheart”!
For most reenactors, it is recommended that you have a certain ritual that you perform when you begin a reenacting session. Changing into historical clothing might be good enough for some people, but there is still the natural impulse to move in a modern manner (we shall not mention the desire to emulate what has been seen in popular culture, which often must be avoided as well and requires research more than anything).
The ritual that you follow while converting to, for lack of a better word, a reenactor mindset may vary. Perhaps it is only putting on a certain artifact or making a certain action which helps convert you—at least hopefully—from your modern-day mindset. For some people, it may be just be the act of donning historical clothing. For some, it might be repeating the pater noster in Old English or Old Norse. Or even, for all the fact that it is erroneous, one of the prayers that are being made by a Norse figure from “The Thirteenth Warrior” or similar films.
For example, I have a Fenris (also Fenrir) cross For me, it is a clew to guide my reactions an d thought processes at the time. Just reaching up and touching it reminds me to change my mindset. If I am encouraged to say something political or religious, it provides a reminder that I should not do this and that I should steer the conversation into something that is more period. So at the beginning of an event—actually before the event starts, when I am arranging things and getting them prepared—I give it a kiss, which is a real action which helps me to change the way the way I am thinking. I then hang it around my neck, and I take care not to take it off during public hours. Any time that I do take it off—for example sleeping at overnight events—I make certain that I repeat the process. I again kiss the cross, and I make certain that I do put it on.
At events I use my Fenris cross to enter myself into the proper frame of mind. It is a reproduction of one found in Iceland, in which Norse motifs—the Fenris wolf and Þor’s hammer—is combined with Christian—a cross. I call it my Hedge Your Bets Cross, a dual religious icon for someone who has not settled on a single deity. In the morning, as I say, he might go to Church and pray to Jesus; but in the afternoon, he might embark on a journey and pray to Þor for a safe journey.
This interpretation is controversial, of course. Some people think that it is nothing more than the inclusion of a non-Christian cross in the heathen jewelry (after all, the cross had other pre-Christian meanings and besides, in the thoughts of many heathens, Jesus was just another god, an addition to he Norse pantheon but hardly unique). It seems probable to me that it combines the motifs from two different faiths, but it is not my intent here to debate the matter; for me, it is just different enough that it brings home the fact that things were different in the past!
To me it is a reminder. Just reaching up and touching it reminds me to change my mindset so that if I am tempted to say something inappropriate, it reminds me that I should not do this!
It is suggested then that you come up with your own ritual to usher yourself into the period world. It may not be to your liking—that is why different societies have such different or nonexistent authenticity regs—but you may well find it a very valuable and, indeed, fulfilling!
Recently, I have been working on a portable altar in the style of the one found at Jarrow and a reproduction of which can be seen at Bede’s World. That got me thinking about religion in the middle ages. The original notes it is to the honor of Saint Peter; mine is to the honor of St. Olwyn, the patron saint of Micel Folcland. Matters in several books read lately, including a list of tithe days in Larsom’s Canute the Great, combined with the matter and set me scribbling…
The importance of the Church in the middle ages cannot be minimized. The Middle Ages was defined by the Christian Church. So many aspects of medieval life—from the royalty, to the taxes, to some of the actual kit being worn—was defined and regulated by the Church. Any attempt to engage in an historical recreation while not incorporating or disregarding ecclesiastical thought and life is entirely specious and inadequate if not fantasy. What some folk call a medieval reenactment or, indeed, the more ambiguous re-creation but which ignore the Church is doing nothing but having a fancy-dress party. By that, we do not mean just having people walk around in formal ecclesiastical garments but that certain rituals, certain rites, certain practices, the illusion of certain beliefs are presented and in fact required and reenacted. This is, to a great extent, the difference that you will see between a fantasy organization ands serious living history society. At the most, you can only call such half-baked attempts medievaloid or perhaps medievalish.
However, the importance of religion in the culture of the middle ages is not restricted to Christianity. For example, in heathen times the common people of England respected their kings when they were responsible for a good interaction with the deity but not when there apparently was not. As Laurence Larson notes in Canute the Great, “They were to secure the favor of the gods. A failure of crops meant that a duty had been shirked. The feeling lingered for some time after the disappearance of heathendom.” For several centuries afterwards you can still perceive heathen practices and beliefs within the so-called Christianized Europe. This is not to say that they were trying to perpetuate heathen practices. In fact, certain superstitions that we see yet today sprang out of the heathen beliefs ad practices!
In fact, if we look at the battle that was taking place in northern Europe around the time of the Millennium when Christianity tried to assert itself over the prevalent heathenism, one is left with a certain feeling that the people who were to be converted were being succored into the Christian faith by the acceptance of certain heathen beliefs, which were incorporate into Christian thoughts and practices. This is seen as far back as the conversion of th Anglo-Saxons in the seventh century, when Pope Gregory said,
“The temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God …. And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be exchanged for them on this account…. but kill cattle to the praise of God…. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps.”
This quote is, the way, recounted by Bede in Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, quoting a letter to Mellitus in June 601. (We shall not mention the importance of Bede, a cleric, in our understanding of what went on in early medieval English culture…)
Returning to the importance of Christianity during the period, we might mention the reason for Crusades, or the various pogroms that massacred Jewish populations or the brutality seen in the conquest of Jerusalem from Muslims, where an eyewitness, Fulcher of Chartres, who noted in Gesta Francorum Jerusalem Expugnantium that, “In this [non-Christian] temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.”
However, the importance of religion in the eleventh century in England can be seen much closer than Jerusalem. The sheer requirement of tithes was essential to the conduct of business during the middle ages as can be seen by the list of customary ecclesiastical fees that Larson notes in his biography of Cnut that Church Lights were gathered at the Feast of the Purification (Candlemas, 2 February), Easter Eve and All Saints Day (1 November); the Church Scot on Martinmas (11 November); Peter Pence on Saint Peter’s Day (1 August); Plough Alms on Fortnight after Easter; the Tithe if the Harvested Crops on All Saints Day (1 November); and the Tithe of the Young Beasts on Pentecost.
To ignore these as so many “reenactors” do—or perhaps they have no idea of their existence at all—is to create a fallacious concept of life in the time. In fact, we look at the conflict between the ecclesiastical and the secular cultures during this time, it becomes very important! And its portrayal is essential to an honest portrayal of the culture of the time!