St. Michael

After St. George, what could be more logical a saint to write about than St. Michael? I have been collecting material on this remarkable figure and I want to write at least something about him this summer – even if the conference I wanted to present at rejected my paper proposal (sad face). This post is an attempt at putting some thoughts in order…

St. Michael was one of the most popular saints in medieval Europe, in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy. This is rather odd, because Michael is not a saint at all, but an angel. Saints were human once, and performed some noted service to Christianity; the most prestigious ones were martyred for their faith. Saints are in heaven with God, and in the Middle Ages acquired the function of intercession: you could pray to them, and they would be deputized with answering; they might specialize in providing a particular type of miracle, and amass a particular set of devotees.

Angels are different. In both the Old and New Testaments, angels function as messengers of God. Gabriel, Uriel and Michael are the three best-known. They had never enjoyed a human existence, but were always semi-divine members of the court of heaven. As such, one would think that they would enjoy a Christian cult like that of the most powerful saints, but only Michael seems to have. (One would think that Old Testament prophets like Moses, Elijah, or Isaiah could be Christianized in this way as well, but one generally does not find churches dedicated to them, prayers addressed to them, or accounts of their lives included in saints legendaries.)

Why St. Michael should have enjoyed church and guild dedications, heard Christian prayers, had his own feast day (Michaelmas, September 29), been included in the Golden Legend, etc., is a mystery I’d like to explore more. Gabriel, despite his appearance to the Virgin Mary herself, was nowhere near as popular. The only thing I can think of right now is artistic: St. Michael was often shown battling the devil, as he does in Revelation. I’m convinced that one of the main reasons why St. George was so popular was simply because he was shown fighting the dragon; people loved the action. In England, George and Michael were sometimes paired, each one overcoming his scaly enemy.

This leads to a very important aspect of St. Michael’s patronage: he was a warrior saint. He protected and encouraged “those who fight,” as they fought. This was not entirely a Christian thing to do, but once the Church endorsed crusading (Holy War to liberate Jerusalem from the infidel), it was only natural that different saints should be accepted as specialists in warfare – whether practiced on crusade or not. Once the English managed to monopolize St. George in the context of the Hundred Years’ War (following the Battle of Crécy in 1346), the French turned increasingly to St. Michael. Colette Beaune talks about this in her Naissance de la nation France; the Norman monastery of Mont-St-Michel played a role, as did the foundation of the French Order of St. Michael in 1469.

Depictions of St. Michael followed suit. Normally, he was shown as an angel, dressed in dalmatic. As the Middle Ages wore on, however, he acquired more and more pieces of military equipment, such as helmet, breastplate, greaves, and shield. And on the shield – a coat of arms.

What these coats of arms were will be the subject of another post.

Vive la Résistance

From the National Post:

The incredible life of a fearless agent, smuggler and spy who fought the Nazi occupation of France

Jeannette Guyot, who has died aged 97, resisted the occupation of France by Germany throughout the Second World War and became one of France’s most highly decorated agents.

Jeannette Guyot was born on February 26 1919 in Chalon-sur-Saone, where, after the fall of France in June 1940, she and all her family were quick to join the Resistance. Until August 1941 she worked for Felix Svagrowsky of the Amarante network as a passeur, using a German-issued pass, or Ausweiss, to smuggle people out of the occupied zone to the north and across the Saone river by boat into Vichy France.

In August 1941 she met Gilbert Renault, alias Colonel Remy, chief of the Paris-based Confrerie Notre-Dame reseau (network), and she became one of his liaison officers, carrying mail into Vichy France, while continuing as a passeur. In February 1942, however, she was arrested and imprisoned for three months at Chalon-sur-Saone and Autun. She resisted all interrogation and nothing could be proved against her, but the Germans withdrew her Ausweiss. Unperturbed, she resumed her role as a passeur, accompanying a dozen people a month across the demarcation line.

More on the incredible heroics of this agent at the link.

And Now I Know How Joan of Arc Felt

Interesting story from the Art Newspaper:

France and Britain prepare for battle over Joan of Arc’s ring

Jewel sold in UK for £300,000 last month has left the country—but did it have an export licence?

A dispute may be about to blow up between France and Britain over a ring that once belonged to the Medieval French heroine, Joan of Arc.

The ring sold for nearly £300,000 at the London/Harwich-based TimeLine Auctions last month, but questions have arisen over the legality of its export. If no licence was granted, the British authorities are likely to ask for it to be returned.

Gaëtan Favreau, a spokesman for the Puy du Fou theme park, which acquired the piece of jewellery, tells The Art Newspaper that “the ring is now in France”. He has “touched” the ring and says it “probably has an export licence”. Favreau says there was no attempt to hide the fact that the ring is now in France (invitations to a ceremony to unveil the ring have been issued) and that he believes the ring was there legally.

However, the official guidance states that for items which may be of national importance (including those closely connected with the UK’s history) the time taken to issue a licence “will normally be 28 working days”. A licence is required for antique items, such as the ring, if they are worth over £39,219 and have been in the country for at least 50 years.

The ring came up for sale at TimeLine Auctions on 26 February, with an estimate of £10,000-£14,000. Competition was fierce, and it sold for £297,600 (with buyer’s premium). The buyer was the Puy du Fou Espérance Foundation, which supports a historical theme park near Nantes, in western France. Puy du Fou attracts around 1.5 million visitors a year.

The silver-gilt ring was made in France in around 1400 and was given to Joan of Arc by her parents as a devotional object for her first communion. Joan of Arc inspired the French side in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. At the age of 19 she was tried by a pro-English bishop and burned at the stake in 1431. The ring had been seized from her in prison and taken across the Channel as war booty.

The ring was acquired by Cardinal Henry Beaufort, who was present at the trial and execution. It then descended through the Cavendish-Bentinck family (the Dukes of Portland) and remained with them for nearly five centuries. In 1914, Lady Ottoline Morrell (née Cavendish-Bentinck) gave it to her lover, the artist Augustus John, who wore the ring for years. He later sold the ring and it then went to Frederick Oates (the keeper of the London Museum and of the King’s Armouries), James Hasson (an art historian and author of a romanticised account of the ring, The Banquet of the Immortals) and Cyril Bunt (a library employee at the Victoria and Albert Museum). Bunt’s son Robert, who lives in Essex, sold the ring at TimeLine Auctions.

This means that the ring has been in the UK for nearly 600 years, way over the 50-year-period for which an export licence is required. TimeLine’s managing director, Brett Hammond, tells us: “We handed over the ring to the buyer’s solicitors in London on 3 March. We also gave them a letter, which they signed for, advising them that the ring would need a UK export licence.” Obtaining the licence is the responsibility of the exporter, not the auction house.

If it turns out that the ring has gone to France without an export licence, the UK authorities are likely to demand its return. To export it would then mean going through the normal procedure. If an export licence was subsequently deferred, a UK buyer would have an opportunity to match the price.

It sounds to me like they got away with it. Of course, the fact that it wasn’t acquired by a proper museum, either in England or in France, is somewhat disconcerting, but Puy du Fou sounds like an interesting home for it. But note that the “acquisition has been welcomed by the Far Right in France. Marine le Pen, leader of the Front National, has thanked Philippe de Villiers, the founder of the theme park, for bringing it back to French soil.” Oh dear – maybe they’d better give it back after all!

More From Amiens

From Culturebox, via my friend Mike Ryan:

The Jewels of the Amiens Cathedral Treasury Are Brought To Light

After twenty years of work, the treasury of the cathedral of Amiens is once again accessible to the public. It features a collection of exceptional richness, both artistic and historic, made up of devotional items and reliquaries considered masterpieces of medieval goldsmiths.

Amiens Cathedral, constructed between 1220 and 1269, is home to many jewels. The treasury has been closed for the past twenty years while its liturgical objects have been worked on. One may now see them in all their restored splendor, including chalices, crowns, processional crosses, jewels and priestly vestments, objects that bear witness to the great skill of medieval craftsmen.

The showpiece of this collection is the skull of St. John the Baptist, Christ’s cousin, which was acquired in 1206 by crusaders. Fifteen years later, to provide it with a home befitting its importance, Amiens cathedral was begun in earnest. And to welcome pilgrims from across Europe, it had to be the biggest cathedral in France.

The treasury has been completely redesigned to welcome the public who may view these exceptional pieces behind glass – but only twenty people at a time, and for a maximum of forty minutes. With over half a million visitors in 2015, one will need patience in order to take this plunge into history.

Illustrations (and the original French text) are at the link.

Paris

Generally I don’t like participating in Media Events, but the recent attacks in Paris have shocked me more than most jihadist activity in recent years. One thing to think about, though, if you’re going to Do Something about it on Facebook: the French tricolor is symbol of France – but a secular, republican symbol, like Marianne or the Coq gaulois. By all means change your profile picture if you wish, but be aware that it is somewhat incongruous to display a French flag with “pray for France” written on it. 

(St. Louis, St. Joan or St. Denis might be better choices here. Or Charles Martel himself!)

Given that the attacks took place in Paris, the arms of Paris might also be a good choice to show at this time. The motto, translated as “She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink,” seems especially appropriate.

640px-Armoiries_paris_faïence

Via Wikiwand.com

The Black Prince

This news is a bit old now but I record it here for posterity. I met Guilhem Pépin at Kalamazoo one year; I found his work on the war-cry “Saint-Georges!” most inspiring. Here, he helps to rehabilitate Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales and hero (or villain) of the Hundred Years’ War:

Was Edward the Black Prince really a nasty piece of work?

A newly discovered letter that has lain unread for over 600 years is forcing a rethink of a 14th Century prince with a controversial reputation, writes Luke Foddy.

He was the superstar of his age, winning his spurs in battle aged just 16. But the reputation of Edward of Woodstock – or the Black Prince, as he has become known to history – is still the subject of the same type of dispute that rages over the reputations of Richard III and Oliver Cromwell.
A persistent theory runs that Edward’s nickname refers to the cruelty he inflicted upon the French during the Hundred Years War – the dynastic struggle for the crown of France.

The blackest stain upon Edward’s reputation is the sack of the French town of Limoges in September 1370.

An English possession, it was ruled by Edward as Prince of Aquitaine.

In late summer 1370, the Bishop of Limoges, Johan de Cross – a friend of Edward’s and godfather to his son – betrayed the prince and defected to the French. He welcomed a garrison into part of the town, and held it against the English.

According to the chronicler Jean Froissart, Edward was incensed at the news and stormed it. A massacre followed, says Froissart.

“It was a most melancholy business – for all ranks, ages and sexes cast themselves on their knees before the prince, begging for mercy; but he was so inflamed with passion and revenge that he listened to none, but all were put to the sword. Upwards of 3,000 men, women and children were put to death that day.”

Despite some academics dismissing Froissart’s account, the sack of Limoges has become a well-known aspect of Edward’s career to modern schoolchildren and history buffs. In a recent episode of the BBC’s QI, host Stephen Fry described how the prince “almost destroyed the entire population of Limoges”.

But now, a previously unknown letter written by the prince is shining new light on the controversy.

The letter was discovered by French historian Dr Guilhem Pepin in a Spanish archive.

“The letter was written by the Black Prince three days after the sack of Limoges,” says Pepin, who will be presenting his research at the International Medieval Congress conference in Leeds this week.

“He was writing to the great Gascon lord Gaston Febus, Count of Foix, to tell him what had happened.”

In the letter, Edward describes how he took several high ranking prisoners in the attack, including the bishop of Limoges and Roger de Beaufort, the brother of Pope Gregory XI.

Crucially, however, Edward refers to the number of prisoners he took in the town. “He specifies that he took 200 knights and men-at-arms prisoner,” says Pepin. “When we compare this new evidence with other sources, it becomes very significant.”

One source, the Chandos Herald, says there were 300 men garrisoning the town. “We also have a contemporary, local source written at the abbey Saint-Martial of Limoges, which says there were around 300 fatalities in total in the city,” says Pepin.

“So, when this evidence is combined, it seems that 100 soldiers and 200 civilians were killed, as opposed to Froissart’s claim of 3,000 innocents.”

In the medieval world, the death of hundreds of people during the storming of a town was far from unprecedented. But the cold-blooded murder of 3,000 civilians would have been scandalous. Richard the Lionheart’s decision to execute a similar number of Saracen prisoners at Acre during the Third Crusade in 1191, for example, has led to him being a controversial figure even in modern times.

It is now clear, though, that Froissart greatly inflated the scale of violence at Limoges, making it seem extraordinarily, excessively cruel. That Froissart’s version has stuck is an injustice to Edward, argues Pepin.

“It now seems he doesn’t deserve the ‘evil’ reputation he has for what happened at Limoges.” Froissart’s credibility is further undermined by Edward making no reference to a massacre in his letter.

More at the link.

Henry V’s Chapel

I’d love to see this:

Henry V ‘secret’ chapel opened for Agincourt anniversary

Westminster Abbey is opening Henry’s V’s chapel – rarely seen by the public – for guided tours to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

The chapel was built within the shrine of Edward the Confessor.

Henry V ordered the chapel’s construction so prayers could be said for his soul after he died.

Tours of the chapel, located at the east end of the abbey, will be led by the Dean of Westminster on the eve of the battle’s anniversary on 24 October.

 

Agincourt at the Tower of London

My friend Malcolm Mercer, Curator of Tower History at the Royal Armouries Museum at the Tower of London, is featured in a Guardian story about this year’s Agincourt exhibit:

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Tower of London remembers Agincourt – with a little help from the French

Battle of 1415 commemorated in exhibition that boasts battlefield model incorporating real mud and treasures from the Louvre and the Musée de l’Armée

Some of the mud that helped give England a victory still famous after 600 years, has been incorporated in a spectacular model depicting the Battle of Agincourt, centrepiece of an anniversary exhibition at the Tower of London.

Along with spectacular loans including treasures from French national collections such as the Louvre and Musée de l’Armée , curator Malcolm Mercer and his colleagues from the Royal Armouries brought back a plastic lunchbox filled with soil from the site.

“It has changed remarkably little,” Mercer said, “it was a ploughed field then and it is a ploughed field now.”

Shakespeare immortalised the 1415 victory in the “band of brothers” St Crispin’s Day speech, which he put into the mouth of Henry V. Whether or not the real Henry managed such oratory, the mud played a significant role in the battle. When Henry goaded the French (“I don’t want to sound jingoistic but he did play to their Gallic character,” said Mercer) to advance under an arrow cloud from the English archers, the wet mud churned up by the cavalry became a quagmire that the French, in heavy plate armour, sank into up to their knees.

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More at the link. And speaking of the Tower, the Independent reports that:

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Tower of London staff ‘used magic to repel the forces of the Devil’

The Tower of London has arguably been England’s premier fortress for almost a thousand years – but new evidence suggests that despite its impressive fortifications, its staff sometimes felt far from secure.

Research carried out by archaeologists in one of the fortresses’ major buildings has revealed that at least some of its inhabitants felt so insecure that they tried to use magic to give themselves an extra layer of protection.

Archaeologists, carrying out survey work in the residence of the Queen’s representative in the Tower, have found dozens of ‘ritual protection’ marks literally burnt into the timber uprights holding up the roof.

Historic Royal Palaces, which run the Tower of London, says that the discoveries are “hugely significant”. It is believed that the marks – 54 in total – were put on the timbers, mostly between the mid-16th and earlier 18th centuries, as a way of trying to magically protect the building from fire and lightning and to repel the forces of the Devil and the spells of witches.