Medieval Wine ‘Supertanker’ Saved by Community in Wales

Medieval Wine ‘Supertanker’ Saved by Community in Wales

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A unique project is taking place in the United Kingdom to rebuild a ‘one-of-a-kind’ 15 th century ship in Wales. This vessel is from the Age of Discovery and is the best surviving example from this period. The restoration is also unique because it is driven by the local community, who have taken great pride in the vessel and are committed to preserving their heritage.

The ship was found in the historic port city of Newport in southeast Wales in the River Usk. It was found during the construction of a new theater on the waterfront, in 2002, sunk into the mud and silt. The ship was remarkably well-preserved, although some of its hull had been warped over time. It was found in what was going to be the orchestra pit of the new Riverfront Theatre. The vessel has become popularly known as the ‘Newport Medieval Ship’.

A Rare 15 th Century Medieval Ship

This vessel was revealed to have a displacement of approximately 400 tons and originally was over 100 feet (30m) in length. It was a clinker type of vessel, constructed of overlapping planks of timber, and would have been used as a merchantman. Bob Evans, chairman of the Friends of the Newport Ship told Wales Online , “in her time the Newport Ship was one of the biggest vessels afloat.”

It appears that the ship was engaged in the wine trade, which involved transporting English cloth to Iberia in exchange for wine. Evans told Wales Online that “she could carry up to 200 tons of wine in one voyage – that’s 50,000 gallons or around 200,000 bottles - truly a 15 th century wine supertanker.” Analysis of the timbers indicates that she was probably made in the Basque Country in Northern Spain. A small French silver coin was found in a niche in the timbers that indicated that it was not built before 1447.

The Newport Medieval Ship being excavated and restored. ( Friends of the Newport Ship )

Seized by pirates?

Painstaking archaeological and historical research has helped to piece the story of the ship together. It probably sailed into Newport damaged in some way. There is some speculation that it was seized on the orders of the notorious pirate the Earl of Warwick, who played an important role in the Wars of the Roses . It appears that while it was berthed on a special cradle that the vessel toppled over into the inlet and was left there, until it was found in 2002.

Originally the vessel was going to be left in the mud and covered over by the new theater. However, the authorities did not expect the intense public interest in the find. They demanded that the ship be restored, and a public campaign was launched that had the support of, among others, Sir Anthony Hopkins. The Friends of the Newport Ship group was established, and it staged a vigil by the vessels to protect it. The Welsh government gave in and agreed to fund a restoration project.

Piecing the Puzzle Together

Archaeologists are working on the massive restoration project, in a converted warehouse now known as the Medieval Ship Centre. They used newly developed software to identify every plank on the vessel. The timber was freeze-dried to preserve them and removed from the mud. Just this year, the group working on the ship received two shipments of preserved planks, including the big-framing timbers, and this allowed them to begin reconstructing the ship in earnest.

Shot of original restored planks from the Newport Medieval Ship. ( Friends of the Newport Ship )

The planks are being slowly pieced together and the experts are recreating the 15 th century ship. Evans told Wales Online that “reassembling a 600-year-old ship from its original timbers is like doing a 3D jigsaw puzzle with 2,500 pieces, without the picture on the box.” It is important that the team knows where the planks go as they need to get it right first time. They are also working with Swansea University to create a cradle that will hold the reconstructed vessel.

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Restored timber plank from the Newport Medieval Ship. ( Friends of the Newport Ship )

Impossible Without the Community

None of this would have been possible without the support of the public. This project illustrates the role of communities in preserving our heritage. Evans told Wales Online that “it is important to remember that the ship was saved by actions of the local Newport community and there is nothing like her anywhere else in the world.” Indeed, the city takes a great deal of pride in the Newport Medieval Ship and a local craft brewery has even named a beer after the 15 th century vessel.

The ‘Friends of Newport Ship’, according to their Facebook Page, “open the Medieval Ship Centre, to visitors free of charge” every weekend. The group hopes to find a suitable location for the restored 15 th century ship by spring 2020 and is then due to open to the public. A book based on the vessel and its history, the ‘World of the Newport Medieval Ship’, has been published.

History of French wine

The history of French wine, spans a period of at least 2600 years dating to the founding of Massalia in the 6th century BC by Phocaeans with the possibility that viticulture existed much earlier. The Romans did much to spread viticulture across the land they knew as Gaul, encouraging the planting of vines in areas that would become the well known wine regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, Languedoc, Loire Valley and the Rhone.

Over the course of its history, the French wine industry would be influenced and driven by the commercial interests of the lucrative English market and Dutch traders. Prior to the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was one of France's largest vineyard owners-wielding considerable influence in regions such as Champagne and Burgundy where the concept of terroir first took root. Aided by these external and internal influences, the French wine industry has been the pole bearer for the world wine industry for most of its history with many of its wines considered the benchmark for their particular style. The late 20th and early 21st century brought considerable change—earmarked by a changing global market and competition from other European wine regions such as Italy and Spain as well as emerging New World wine producers such as California, Australia and South America. [1]


Petrarch Edit

The idea of a Dark Age originated with the Tuscan scholar Petrarch in the 1330s. [13] [16] Writing of the past, he said: "Amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius no less keen were their eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom". [17] Christian writers, including Petrarch himself, [16] had long used traditional metaphors of 'light versus darkness' to describe 'good versus evil'. Petrarch was the first to give the metaphor secular meaning by reversing its application. He now saw classical antiquity, so long considered a 'dark' age for its lack of Christianity, in the 'light' of its cultural achievements, while Petrarch's own time, allegedly lacking such cultural achievements, was seen as the age of darkness. [16]

From his perspective on the Italian peninsula, Petrarch saw the Roman period and classical antiquity as an expression of greatness. [16] He spent much of his time traveling through Europe, rediscovering and republishing classic Latin and Greek texts. He wanted to restore the Latin language to its former purity. Renaissance humanists saw the preceding 900 years as a time of stagnation, with history unfolding not along the religious outline of Saint Augustine's Six Ages of the World, but in cultural (or secular) terms through progressive development of classical ideals, literature, and art.

Petrarch wrote that history had two periods: the classic period of Greeks and Romans, followed by a time of darkness in which he saw himself living. In around 1343, in the conclusion of his epic Africa, he wrote: "My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age. This sleep of forgetfulness will not last forever. When the darkness has been dispersed, our descendants can come again in the former pure radiance." [18] In the 15th century, historians Leonardo Bruni and Flavio Biondo developed a three-tier outline of history. They used Petrarch's two ages, plus a modern, 'better age', which they believed the world had entered. Later the term 'Middle Ages' – Latin media tempestas (1469) or medium aevum (1604) – was used to describe the period of supposed decline. [19]

Reformation Edit

During the Reformations of the 16th and 17th centuries, Protestants generally had a similar view to Renaissance humanists such as Petrarch, but also added an Anti-Catholic perspective. They saw classical antiquity as a golden time, not only because of its Latin literature, but also because it witnessed the beginnings of Christianity. They promoted the idea that the 'Middle Age' was a time of darkness also because of corruption within the Catholic Church, such as: popes ruling as kings, veneration of saints' relics, a licentious priesthood, and institutionalized moral hypocrisy. [20]

Baronius Edit

In response to the Protestants, Catholics developed a counter-image to depict the High Middle Ages in particular as a period of social and religious harmony, and not 'dark' at all. [21] The most important Catholic reply to the Magdeburg Centuries was the Annales Ecclesiastici by Cardinal Caesar Baronius. Baronius was a trained historian who produced a work that the Encyclopædia Britannica in 1911 described as "far surpassing anything before" [22] and that Acton regarded as "the greatest history of the Church ever written". [23] The Annales covered the first twelve centuries of Christianity to 1198, and was published in twelve volumes between 1588 and 1607. It was in Volume X that Baronius coined the term "dark age" for the period between the end of the Carolingian Empire in 888 [24] and the first stirrings of Gregorian Reform under Pope Clement II in 1046:

"The new age (saeculum) that was beginning, for its harshness and barrenness of good could well be called iron, for its baseness and abounding evil leaden, and moreover for its lack of writers (inopia scriptorum) dark (obscurum)". [26]

Significantly, Baronius termed the age 'dark' because of the paucity of written records. The "lack of writers" he referred to may be illustrated by comparing the number of volumes in Migne's Patrologia Latina containing the work of Latin writers from the 10th century (the heart of the age he called 'dark') with the number containing the work of writers from the preceding and succeeding centuries. A minority of these writers were historians.

There is a sharp drop from 34 volumes in the 9th century to just 8 in the 10th. The 11th century, with 13, evidences a certain recovery, and the 12th century, with 40, surpasses the 9th, something the 13th, with just 26, fails to do. There was indeed a 'dark age', in Baronius's sense of a "lack of writers", between the Carolingian Renaissance in the 9th century and the beginnings, some time in the 11th, of what has been called the Renaissance of the 12th century. Furthermore, there was an earlier period of "lack of writers" during the 7th and 8th centuries. So, in Western Europe, two 'dark ages' can be identified, separated by the brilliant but brief Carolingian Renaissance.

Baronius' 'dark age' seems to have struck historians, for it was in the 17th century that the term started to spread to various European languages, with his original Latin term saeculum obscurum being reserved for the period he had applied it to. But while some, following Baronius, used 'dark age' neutrally to refer to a dearth of written records, others used it pejoratively, lapsing into that lack of objectivity that has discredited the term for many modern historians.

The first British historian to use the term was most likely Gilbert Burnet, in the form 'darker ages' which appears several times in his work during the later 17th century. The earliest reference seems to be in the "Epistle Dedicatory" to Volume I of The History of the Reformation of the Church of England of 1679, where he writes: "The design of the reformation was to restore Christianity to what it was at first, and to purge it of those corruptions, with which it was overrun in the later and darker ages." [28] He uses it again in the 1682 Volume II, where he dismisses the story of "St George's fighting with the dragon" as "a legend formed in the darker ages to support the humour of chivalry". [29] Burnet was a bishop chronicling how England became Protestant, and his use of the term is invariably pejorative.

Enlightenment Edit

During the Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, many critical thinkers saw religion as antithetical to reason. For them the Middle Ages, or "Age of Faith", was therefore the opposite of the Age of Reason. [30] Baruch Spinoza, Bernard Fontenelle, Kant, Hume, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Marquis De Sade and Rousseau were vocal in attacking the Middle Ages as a period of social regress dominated by religion, while Gibbon in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire expressed contempt for the "rubbish of the Dark Ages". [31] Yet just as Petrarch, seeing himself at the cusp of a "new age", was criticising the centuries before his own time, so too were Enlightenment writers.

Consequently, an evolution had occurred in at least three ways. Petrarch's original metaphor of light versus dark has expanded over time, implicitly at least. Even if later humanists no longer saw themselves living in a dark age, their times were still not light enough for 18th-century writers who saw themselves as living in the real Age of Enlightenment, while the period to be condemned stretched to include what we now call Early Modern times. Additionally, Petrarch's metaphor of darkness, which he used mainly to deplore what he saw as a lack of secular achievement, was sharpened to take on a more explicitly anti-religious and anti-clerical meaning.

Romanticism Edit

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Romantics reversed the negative assessment of Enlightenment critics with a vogue for medievalism. [32] The word "Gothic" had been a term of opprobrium akin to "Vandal" until a few self-confident mid-18th-century English "Goths" like Horace Walpole initiated the Gothic Revival in the arts. This stimulated interest in the Middle Ages, which for the following generation began to take on the idyllic image of an "Age of Faith". This, reacting to a world dominated by Enlightenment rationalism, expressed a romantic view of a Golden Age of chivalry. The Middle Ages were seen with nostalgia as a period of social and environmental harmony and spiritual inspiration, in contrast to the excesses of the French Revolution and, most of all, to the environmental and social upheavals and utilitarianism of the developing Industrial Revolution. [33] The Romantics' view is still represented in modern-day fairs and festivals celebrating the period with 'merrie' costumes and events.

Just as Petrarch had twisted the meaning of light versus darkness, so the Romantics had twisted the judgment of the Enlightenment. However, the period they idealized was largely the High Middle Ages, extending into Early Modern times. In one respect, this negated the religious aspect of Petrarch's judgment, since these later centuries were those when the power and prestige of the Church were at their height. To many, the scope of the Dark Ages was becoming divorced from this period, denoting mainly the centuries immediately following the fall of Rome.

The term was widely used by 19th-century historians. In 1860, in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Jacob Burckhardt delineated the contrast between the medieval 'dark ages' and the more enlightened Renaissance, which had revived the cultural and intellectual achievements of antiquity. [34] The earliest entry for a capitalized "Dark Ages" in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a reference in Henry Thomas Buckle's History of Civilization in England in 1857, who wrote: "During these, which are rightly called the Dark Ages, the clergy were supreme." The OED in 1894 defined an uncapitalised "dark ages" as "a term sometimes applied to the period of the Middle Ages to mark the intellectual darkness characteristic of the time". [35]

However, the early 20th century saw a radical re-evaluation of the Middle Ages, which called into question the terminology of darkness, [9] or at least its more pejorative use. The historian Denys Hay spoke ironically of "the lively centuries which we call dark". [36] More forcefully, a book about the history of German literature published in 2007 describes "the dark ages" as "a popular if uninformed manner of speaking". [37]

Most modern historians do not use the term "dark ages", preferring terms such as Early Middle Ages. But when used by some historians today, the term "Dark Ages" is meant to describe the economic, political, and cultural problems of the era. [38] [39] For others, the term Dark Ages is intended to be neutral, expressing the idea that the events of the period seem 'dark' to us because of the paucity of the historical record. [9] For example Robert Sallares, commenting on the lack of sources to establish whether the plague pandemic of 541 to 750 reached northern Europe, opines "the epithet Dark Ages is surely still an appropriate description of this period". [40] The term is also used in this sense (often in the singular) to reference the Bronze Age collapse and the subsequent Greek Dark Ages, [11] the brief Parthian Dark Age (1st century BC), [41] the dark ages of Cambodia (c. 1450–1863 AD), and also a hypothetical Digital Dark Age which would ensue if the electronic documents produced in the current period were to become unreadable at some point in the future. [42] Some Byzantinists have used the term Byzantine Dark Ages to refer to the period from the earliest Muslim conquests to about 800, [43] because there are no extant historical texts in Greek from this period, and thus the history of the Byzantine Empire and its territories that were conquered by the Muslims is poorly understood and must be reconstructed from other contemporaneous sources, such as religious texts. [44] [45] The term "dark age" is not restricted to the discipline of history. Since the archaeological evidence for some periods is abundant and for others scanty, there are also archaeological dark ages. [46]

Since the Late Middle Ages significantly overlap with the Renaissance, the term 'Dark Ages' has become restricted to distinct times and places in medieval Europe. Thus the 5th and 6th centuries in Britain, at the height of the Saxon invasions, have been called "the darkest of the Dark Ages", [47] in view of the societal collapse of the period and the consequent lack of historical records. Further south and east, the same was true in the formerly Roman province of Dacia, where history after the Roman withdrawal went unrecorded for centuries as Slavs, Avars, Bulgars, and others struggled for supremacy in the Danube basin, and events there are still disputed. However, at this time the Abbasid Caliphate is often considered to have experienced its Golden Age rather than Dark Age consequently, usage of the term must also specify a geography. While Petrarch's concept of a Dark Age corresponded to a mostly Christian period following pre-Christian Rome, today the term mainly applies to the cultures and periods in Europe that were least Christianized, and thus most sparsely covered by chronicles and other contemporary sources, at the time mostly written by Catholic clergy. [ citation needed ]

However, from the later 20th century onward, other historians became critical even of this nonjudgmental use of the term, for two main reasons. [9] Firstly, it is questionable whether it is ever possible to use the term in a neutral way: scholars may intend this, but ordinary readers may not understand it so. Secondly, 20th-century scholarship had increased understanding of the history and culture of the period, [48] to such an extent that it is no longer really 'dark' to us. [9] To avoid the value judgment implied by the expression, many historians now avoid it altogether. [49] [50] it was occasionally used up to the 1990s by historians of early medieval Britain, for example in the title of the 1991 book by Ann Williams, Alfred Smyth and D. P. Kirby, A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain, England, Scotland and Wales, c.500-c.1050, [51] and in the comment by Richard Abels in 1998 that the greatness of Alfred the Great "was the greatness of a Dark Age king". [52] In 1999, Patrick Wormald referred to "barbarian legislators, including Alfred". [53] In 2020, John Blair, Stephen Rippon and Christopher Smart observed that: "The days when archaeologists and historians referred to the fifth to the tenth centuries as the 'Dark Ages' are long gone, and the material culture produced during that period demonstrates a high degree of sophistication." [54]

Science historian David C. Lindberg criticised the public use of 'dark ages' to describe the entire Middle Ages as "a time of ignorance, barbarism and superstition" for which "blame is most often laid at the feet of the Christian church, which is alleged to have placed religious authority over personal experience and rational activity". [55] Historian of science Edward Grant writes that "If revolutionary rational thoughts were expressed in the Age of Reason, they were made possible because of the long medieval tradition that established the use of reason as one of the most important of human activities". [56] Furthermore, Lindberg says that, contrary to common belief, "the late medieval scholar rarely experienced the coercive power of the church and would have regarded himself as free (particularly in the natural sciences) to follow reason and observation wherever they led". [57] Because of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire due to the Migration Period a lot of classical Greek texts were lost there, but part of these texts survived and they were studied widely in the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate. Around the eleventh and twelfth centuries in the High Middle Ages stronger monarchies emerged borders were restored after the invasions of Vikings and Magyars technological developments and agricultural innovations were made which increased the food supply and population. And the rejuvenation of science and scholarship in the West was due in large part to the new availability of Latin translations of Aristotle. [58]

Another view of the period is reflected by more specific notions such as the 19th-century claim [59] [60] that everyone in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat. [60] [61] In fact, lecturers in medieval universities commonly advanced the idea that the Earth was a sphere. [62] Lindberg and Ronald Numbers write: "There was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth's] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference". [63] Other misconceptions such as: "the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections during the Middle Ages", "the rise of Christianity killed off ancient science", and "the medieval Christian church suppressed the growth of natural philosophy", are cited by Numbers as examples of myths that still pass as historical truth, although unsupported by current research. [64]

The Medieval Black Death Made You Healthier—If You Survived

Game of Thrones doesn’t tell you the half of it. Life during the medieval ages was nasty, brutish and short. That was especially true during what became known as the Black Death. The widespread outbreak of plague struck between 1347 and 1351, killing tens of millions of people, resulting in the loss of 30 to 50% of the region’s population. The disease itself was horrific. “In men and women alive,” wrote the Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio, “at the beginning of the malady, certain swellings, either on the groin or under the armpits&hellipwaxed to the bigness of a common apple, others to the size of an egg, some more and some less, and these the vulgar named plague-boils.&rdquo And it seemed to strike indiscriminately and without warning. People could be healthy in the morning and dead by evening.

The upside, if you can call it that, is that the plaque left in its wake populations that were healthier and more robust than people who existed before the plague struck, according to a new study published today in PLOS ONE. “The Black Death was a selective killer,” says Sharon DeWitte, a biological anthropologist at the University of South Carolina and the author of the paper. “And after the Black Death ended, there was actually an improvement in the standard of living.” The plague was natural selection in action.

In a way, that’s a marker of how brutal the medieval era was. It took a serial killer of a plague to actually bring about an improvement in living conditions. If that sounds counterintuitive, think about how life might have changed after half of Europe’s population died off. Suddenly there was a dramatic drop in the number of able-bodied adults available to do work, which meant survivors could charge more for their labor. At the same time, fewer people meant a decreased demand for foods, goods and housing&mdashand as a result, the prices for all three dropped. By the late 15th century, real wages were three times higher than they were at the beginning of the 14th century, before the plague struck. Diets improved as employers were forced to raise wages and offer extra food and clothing to attract workers. As a result, the money spent per capita on food in the wake of the Black Death actually increased. “People were able to eat more meat and high-quality bread, which in turn would have improved health,” says DeWitte.

But the clearest evidence that people were healthier after the Black Death than they were before it comes in the bodies themselves. DeWitte looked at skeletal samples taken from medieval cemeteries in London both before the plague and after it. She found that post-Black Death samples had a higher proportion of older adults, and that morality risks were generally lower in the post-Black Death population than before the epidemic. In other words, if you were strong and lucky enough to survive one of the deadliest epidemics in human history, you were probably strong enough to live to a relatively ripe old age. And since the Black Death was so widespread, that was true for the surviving population as a whole.

Earlier studies looking at historical documents like diaries, letters and wills from the time period had shown conflicting results, but that kind of data only covers the very small part of the population that was literate, male and relatively well off. The advantage of DeWitte’s grave-combing bioarchaeological research methods is that they encompass a much more representative swath of the medieval population. “This provides information about the people who are missing from historical documents, including women and children,” says DeWitte. Not everyone in medieval London left a will behind&mdashbut everyone left a corpse.

So for survivors, life after the Black Death would have been at least a little less nasty, brutish and short than life before it. But that doesn’t mean the survivors were really the lucky ones. The Black Death was a period of unremitting horror and terror, the likes of which we can’t imagine. No one knew how the disease spread, or how to treat it. Popular but gruesome methods like blood-letting or boil-lancing would have been counterproductive at best, assuming victims could find anyone to treat them. Doctors abandoned their patients for fear of infection, and priests even refused to give last rites to the dying&mdashan appalling dereliction given medieval fears of eternal damnation. Even animals like sheep, cows and pigs fell victim to the disease. “The people who survived the Black Death would have lost everyone they knew,” says DeWitte. “They’re the people I feel sorry for.” If the Black Death really was natural selection at work, it was the cruelest form imaginable.

Bakers in the Middle Ages

Bread has been a staple of the human diet since the first cultivation of grains, and the Middle Ages were no different. Bakers in the Middle Ages had to manage a unique and specific set of obligations and situations while providing food for their families, remaining in good favor with the monarchy, and maintaining their standing within their Bakers’ Guilds. Bakers were often times millers as well, taking on the work of milling the grains in order to prepare flour for baking.

Responsibilities of Bakers

Milling and baking were crafts governed by craft guilds. Each village or town’s guild would determine the fair price of a loaf of bread, the fines for cheating or thievery, and the quality standards the bakers must maintain for their finished products.

Bakers were generally townspeople and could earn additional income by letting their ovens to the nobles, who were required to provide public ovens for the use of their own serfs. Bakers needed to carefully manage their own obligations for daily baking for sale, daily baking for the community, and daily baking for their families with the time they leased to nobles for public usage.

Fines were steep and quality was carefully controlled by the guilds, ensuring bakers would suffer severe penalties should they cheat their customers of the bread for which they had paid. Bakers who had fallen from favor could find themselves overwhelmed by work and unable to turn a profit as a result of strict pricing regulations and the fines and levies to which they were subjected.

Types of Bread

Middle Ages bread was generally unleavened bread. The use of yeast as a leavening agent was not widespread until later in the Renaissance period. Yeast was instead reserved for pastries and desserts. Unleavened bread, however, was still made quite carefully and in many specific varieties for different customers and occasions.

Unleavened bread was dense and difficult to digest, so it was made thin. Pieces of unleavened bread were used as plates to hold the rest of the meal, which usually consisted of meat or fish. As the meal progressed and the juices from the meal soaked through the bread, the bread itself became more flavorful and easier to eat, making it often the last part of the meal to be eaten.

Even as leavened breads began to rise in popularity, unleavened bread remained a staple of the diets of rich and poor alike. Unleavened bread was made available at feasts and banquets as well, served with rich foods that would be sure to impart juices, flavors, and sauces to the bread.

Peasants ate rye or barley bread, which was dark in color and coarsely ground. Rye and barley flour, when milled, could contain pieces of tree bark, dirt, or other filler that blended unnoticeably with its darker brown color.

In response to this, white flour and its resulting white bread were developed as a way for the wealthy to feel confident they were receiving a superior product free of contaminants. This mindset persists in many people to this day, who feel that white bread is more satisfying, tastier, or more exclusive than more natural-looking, darker breads.

Individual loaves of bread varied in size, color, shape, and texture. Bakers would develop specific recipes for different members of the community based upon their own preferences and needs. These loaves came to be known by names such as king’s loaf, knight’s loaf, squire’s loaf, and so on.

Loaves of bread were usually designed to make one full portion size for an individual with a normal appetite, even with the crusts removed. In polite society, the man himself was given the loaf of bread, and would offer the crusts to the women present. Women would dip their crusts into their soups or other foods in order to soften them for eating.

Bakers in the Middle Ages also developed the first biscuits. Biscuits, in their original form, were simply bread baked twice, leaving it crispy, flaky, and easy to preserve. Biscuits remained edible for much longer periods of time than loaves of bread, making them ideal for long travels, war time, and stored supplies of food for winter months.

Challenges Faced by Bakers

In addition to keeping up-to-date on rules and regulations, maintaining strict quality guidelines, and managing their time and efforts in order to bake sufficient supplies of bread for the village, bakers faced some serious and often crippling problems.

The economic and political instability of the time, along with increased rates of disease, could easily lead to famine and starvation within a community after simply one bad growing season. Because preservatives were not available to keep bread fresh for long periods of time, there was no way to store and prepare for such occurrences. Instead, bakers had to make do with whatever ingredients were available, continuing to feed the village even if resources were low or unavailable.

During times of famine, the monarchy could, and would, step in and force bakers to make bread available at below-market prices to prevent their populace from starving. In extreme situations, a baker’s bread would simply be confiscated with no payment made and redistributed to those who needed it. Bread was a vital component of diet during the Middle Ages, and a lack of bread would rapidly lead to starvation and death rates that could rapidly decimate a village.

Unfortunately, these losses would need to come directly from the baker’s pocket and table. His own family may find themselves without bread to eat and without funding to continue acquiring the materials they need to remain in operation. Bakers in the Middle Ages were of critical importance to the health of their communities, but unfortunately, were in a position to be hurt gravely by famine and economic difficulties.

The establishment of bakers’ guilds aimed to address this problem, but created its own problems as well, by disallowing bakers to establish their own pricing or manage their own quality standards in the ways that would best allow them to earn a reasonable profit for their work.

Remnants of 13th-Century Town Walls Unearthed in Wales

The Welsh town of Caernarfon played a crucial role in the fraught history between England and Wales here, in the late 13th century, English king Edward I built an imposing castle to solidify his conquest of the region. Recently, during a survey ahead of construction, archaeologists stumbled upon several important relics from Caernarfon’s medieval past—including possible remnants of the town walls that surrounded Edward I’s castle.

According to Arron Evans of the North Wales Chronicle, the C.R. Archaeology firm carried out its survey at Porth yr Aur, or “Golden Gate,” which was once the main seaward entrance to the borough adjacent to Caernarfon Castle. The area is now owned by a local “social enterprise” that plans to build a community health center there.

One of the key discoveries unearthed at the site was a flight of steps. As archaeologist Matthew Jones tells North Wales Live’s Amelia Shaw, the find is “very exciting” because it “could represent the remains of the original town wall, which was … built over in the 14th century.”

In the Middle Ages, according to the BBC, Welsh princes were vassals of the English king, but in the late 13th century, Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd—who had tussled with Edward’s father, Henry III—refused the English king’s summons to pay him public homage. Edward stormed into Gwynedd, the seat of Llywelyn’s power, and forced the prince into submission. Llywelyn’s geographic influence was greatly restricted, and after he began leading an uprising against the English crown in 1282, he was killed in a skirmish.

The archaeologists unearthed pottery fragments and what may be a wine jug handle, among other artifacts. (C.R. Archaeology)

During his campaign in Wales, Edward set about building what became known as the “Iron Ring of Castles”—a series of towering fortifications meant to ward off and exert dominance over the disgruntled Welsh. In Caernarfon, Edward overhauled a manor that had been established by Welsh princes, building a castle he hoped would echo the intimidating walls of Constantinople. Next to the castle, he constructed a walled borough with a grid of streets, which, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, was anointed the capital of North Wales.

The town walls were built over in the 14th century they had either been weakened by Welsh rebel attacks in 1297 or a fire in 1326, explains Jones to North Wales Live. The newly uncovered steps appear to belong to the original structure, making them a particularly special find. But the archaeological survey unearthed other treasures, too, including fragments of medieval pottery, among them the handle of a green wine jug associated with Saintonge ware. This style of pottery has been manufactured in the Saintes region of western France since the 13th century—a fact that, in turn, points to Edwardian Caernarfon’s international trade links.

Another “really interesting” find, according to Jones, was the remnants of what appears to be a doorway or a fireplace. If a doorway, the discovery could represent a previously unknown entrance to Caernarfon’s gate house, a building that controlled access to the town. A fireplace might give archaeologists a better sense of daily activities that took place during Caernarfon’s medieval period—something that experts are keen to know more about.

“We have maps that show buildings and some records of names of people who lived there,” says Jones, “but very little evidence of their day-to-day lives.”

Medieval Containers Hint at Thriving Wine Trade in Islamic Sicily

Researchers at the University of York have found chemical residues of grapes in medieval containers indicating a prosperous wine trade in Islamic Sicily.

They found that a type of container from the 9-11th century, called amphorae, traditionally used for transporting wine contained chemical traces of grapes and were found as far away as Sardinia and Pisa, suggesting that the wine was exported across the Mediterranean.

Working with researchers from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, the research team from the University of York’s BioArch facility analysed the content of the amphorae by identifying chemical traces trapped in the body of the container, and found compounds comparable to those found in ceramic jars used by some producers today for maturing wine.

Together with a comparison of wine-soaked sherds degraded in the ground, the team concluded that the fruit trapped in the vessel was indeed grapes implying wine production.

The Islamic empire expanded into the Mediterranean regions during the 7-9th century AD into regions of the world that produced and consumed wine on a large scale.

Professor Martin Carver, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said: “Alcohol did not – and still does not – play a major role in the cultural life of Islamic society, so we were very interested in the question of how this medieval community had thrived in a wine-dominated region.

“Not only did they thrive, but built a solid economic foundation that gave them a very promising future, with the wine industry one of the core elements of their success.”

A wine trade existed in Sicily prior to Islamic occupation, but it appears to have mostly been imported wine, with the emphasis on consumption rather than production. This new archaeological evidence suggests that the Islamic community had seen the opportunity of this, and turned their attention to production and export.

There is no evidence, however, to suggest that members of the community actually drank the wine they were trading. Direct evidence for the consumption of alcohol is difficult to demonstrate in the archaeological record, and there are no historic sources in Sicily at this time to determine what the community was drinking.

Dr Léa Drieu, a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, who carried out the analysis, said: “We had to develop some new chemical analysis techniques in order to determine that it was grape traces we were seeing and not some other type of fruit, but the tell-tale organic residues found in the amphorae in Sicily, Palermo and elsewhere showed the content was almost certainly wine.”

Islamic wine merchants appear to have given Sicilian wine a new ‘branding’ by using a particular type of amphorae that researchers can now trace around the country and beyond to identify their trade routes.

The team’s wider research in this area shows great prosperity during this period, powered not only by the wine trade, but new crops, exchange of salted fish, cheese, spices and sugar. The trade routes show increased production and commercial links between the Christian and Islamic worlds, bringing in a new era of prosperity, which worked alongside the existing ‘old’ industries of Sicily.

Professor Oliver Craig, who directs the BioArCh centre where the research was carried out, said: “Now that we have a quick and reliable test for grape products in ceramic containers, it will be interesting to investigate the deeper history, and even prehistory, of wine production and trade in the Mediterranean.”

The Great British Pub

Renowned the world over, the great British pub is not just a place to drink beer, wine, cider or even something a little bit stronger. It is also a unique social centre, very often the focus of community life in villages, towns and cities throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Yet it appears that the great British pub actually started life as a great Italian wine bar, and dates back almost 2,000 years.

It was an invading Roman army that first brought Roman roads, Roman towns and Roman pubs known as tabernae to these shores in 43 AD. Such tabernae, or shops that sold wine, were quickly built alongside Roman roads and in towns to help quench the thirst of the legionary troops.

It was ale, however, that was the native British brew, and it appears that these tabernae quickly adapted to provide the locals with their favourite tipple, with the word eventually being corrupted to tavern.

These taverns or alehouses not only survived but continued to adapt to an ever changing clientele, through invading Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and not forgetting those fearsome Scandinavian Vikings. In around 970 AD, one Anglo-Saxon king, Edgar, even attempted to limit the number of alehouses in any one village. He is also said to have been responsible for introducing a drinking measure known as ‘the peg’ as a means of controlling the amount of alcohol an individual could consume, hence the expression “to take (someone) down a peg”.

Taverns and alehouses provided food and drink to their guests, whilst inns offered accommodation for weary travellers. These could include merchants, court officials or pilgrims travelling to and from religious shrines, as immortalised by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales.

Inns also served military purposes one of the oldest dating from 1189 AD is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham, and is said to have acted as a recruitment centre for volunteers to accompany King Richard I (The Lionheart) on his crusade to the Holy Lands.

Above: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham

Alehouses, inns and taverns collectively became known as public houses and then simply as pubs around the reign of King Henry VII. A little later, in 1552, an Act was passed that required innkeepers to have a licence in order to run a pub.

By 1577 it is estimated that there were some 17,000 alehouses, 2,000 inns and 400 taverns throughout England and Wales. Taking into account the population of the period, that would equate to around one pub for every 200 persons. To put that into context, that same ratio today would be approximately one pub for every 1,000 persons …Happy Daze!

Throughout history, ale and beer have always formed a part of the staple British diet, the brewing process itself making it a much safer option than drinking the water of the times.

Although both coffee and tea were introduced into Britain around the mid-1600s, their prohibitive prices ensured that they remained the preserve of the rich and famous. Just a few decades later however, things changed dramatically when cheap spirits, such as brandy from France and gin from Holland hit the shelves of the pubs. The social problems caused by the ‘Gin Era’ of 1720 – 1750 are recorded in Hogarth’s Gin Lane (pictured below).

The Gin Acts of 1736 and 1751 reduced gin consumption to a quarter of its previous level and returned some semblance of order back to the pubs.

The age of the stagecoach heralded yet another new era for the pubs of the time, as coaching inns were established on strategic routes up and down and across the country. Such inns provided food, drink and accommodation for passengers and crew alike, as well as changes of fresh horses for their continued journey. The passengers themselves generally consisted of two distinct groups, the more affluent who could afford the relative luxury of travelling inside the coach, and the others who would be left clinging on to the outside for dear life. The ‘insiders’ would of course receive the warmest greetings and be welcomed into the innkeepers private parlour or salon (saloon), the outsiders meanwhile would get no further than the inn’s bar room.

The age of the stagecoach, although relatively short-lived, did establish the precedence for the class distinctions that was continued in rail travel from the 1840s onward. Like the railways that operated a First, Second and even Third Class service, so the pubs evolved in a similar manner. Pubs of that time, even relatively small ones, would typically be split into several rooms and bars in order to cater for differing types and classes of customer.

In today’s ‘open-plan’ society such walls have been removed, and now anyone and everyone is welcome in the great British pub. So welcome, in fact, that almost one in four Britons will now meet their future wife or husband in a pub!

Above: The King’s Arms, Amersham, near London. This 14th century inn now offers en-suite accommodation, and was featured in the film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’.

Historical Note: The native British brew of ‘ale’ was originally made without hops. Ale brewed with hops was gradually introduced in the 14th and 15th centuries, this was known as beer. By 1550 most brewing included hops and the expression alehouse and beerhouse became synonymous. Today beer is the general term with bitter, mild, ales, stouts and lagers simply denoting different types of beer.

A Special Thanks

Many thanks to English Country Inns for sponsoring this article. Their enormous directory of historic inns is perfect for those looking for a quirky weekend away, especially with their recent inclusion of old smugglers and highwaymen inns featuring accommodation.

Communion in the Early Church

The Fractio Panis fresco, early 100’s, is the clearest example we have in catacomb art of the ritual of the Eucharist in the first two hundred years of the Gentile Church in Rome. In the New Testament book of Acts (c. 63-70) there are references to Christians gathering to “break bread,” called an “Agape Love Feast.”

An Agape (“God’s Love”) Love Feast—Catacomb of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42 “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Acts 2:46

The catacombs in Rome contain many frescos telling us what those Christians living between c.100–c.350 AD believed, how they lived out that faith and what things were most important to their faith. The Fractio Panis (Latin meaning “Breaking of Bread”) fresco in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria is liturgically and theologically one of the most famous of catacomb paintings because it gives an idea of how they took Communion, the Eucharist.

Fractio Panis in Priscilla Catacomb, Rome

Seven people, one of whom is a woman, are reclined/seated at a table where there is a cup of mingled red wine and two large plates. One plate contains five loaves of bread, the other two fish, replicating the numbers in the multiplication miracle from the Gospels. A man (presbyter/priest?) at the left end of the table has a small loaf in his hands. His arms are stretched out in front of him to show he is breaking the bread as Jesus broke the bread at the Last Supper and before He fed the five thousand and the four thousand. Near the man is a two-handled cup. On one side of the painting are four wicker baskets overflowing with bread. On the other side there are three baskets filled with bread representing the “seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Mt. 15:37) after Jesus had fed the four thousand.

Fish included as part of Communion—Priscilla Catacomb, Rome

The Fractio Panis fresco illuminates more clearly how the early catacomb Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper. We see the Eucharist bread is broken and blessed by the laying on of hands. A cup of wine is present as are two fish. All three elements are on the table. Two millennia later Christian Communion is exclusively celebrated (Latin celebrare meaning “to assemble to honor”) as reflecting the Last Supper when Jesus pronounced the Bread His Body and the Wine His Blood. According to their iconography, the catacomb Christians gave the Eucharist a much broader context by including fish in the ritual.

Philotheos Bryennios (1833-1917)

There is a very early description of the correct way to celebrate the Eucharist (meaning in Greek “thanksgiving”) in the Didache, a work cited by the Christian writers Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) and Athanasius (c. 293-373). Though known through those authors, the Didache in manuscript form had been lost for over 1,400 years until it was re-discovered in 1873 by a Greek Orthodox Metropolitan, Philotheos Bryennios, in the Jerusalem Monastery of the Most Holy Sepulcher in Istanbul.

Bryennios published the Didache in 1883. It was immediately recognized as one of the most important manuscripts (Latin manu meaning “by hand” and scriptus meaning “written”) of the Early Church because it was obviously written before church hierarchy was firmly in place and was very close to the Jewish Apostolic Age.

The Didache begins: “The teaching of the Lord through the twelve Apostles to the Gentiles ( meaning ‘nations’).”

The title of the Didache in the 1873 discovered manuscript

According to the Teaching, this is how the Eucharist should be celebrated:

“And with respect to the thanksgiving meal, you shall give thanks as follows: First with respect to the cup: ‘We give you thanks, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child, which you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.’

And with respect to the fragment of bread: ‘We give you thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.

As this fragment of bread was scattered upon the mountains and was gathered to become one, so may your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For the glory and the power are yours through Jesus Christ forever.’

But let no one eat or drink from your thanksgiving meal unless they have been baptized in the name of the Lord. For also the Lord has said about this, ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs.’

And when you have had enough to eat, you shall give thanks as follows: ‘We give you thanks, holy Father, for your holy name which you have made reside in our hearts, and for the knowledge, faith and immortality that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.

You, O Master Almighty, created all things for the sake of your name, and gave both food and drink to humans for their refreshment, that they might give you thanks. And you graciously provided us with spiritual food and drink and eternal life through your child.

Above all we thank you because you are powerful. To you be the glory forever. Remember your church, O Lord save it from all evil, and perfect it in your love. And gather it from the four winds into your kingdom, which you prepared for it. For yours is the power and the glory forever.

May grace come and this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let him come if any one is not, let him repent. Maranatha! (Come, Lord!) Amen. (So be it.)

But permit the prophets to give thanks (or: ‘hold the eucharist’) as often as they wish.’” Didache 9. 10

Several centuries later the 4th century Gentile theologian Cyril of Jerusalem left a more detailed and ritualistic instruction for Communion ((Latin communionem meaning “fellowship/sharing”). While the Didache concentrates on prayer and thanksgiving, Cyril’s instructions emphasize technique:

“Approaching (Communion)…come not with your palms extended and stretched flat nor with your fingers open. But make your left hand as if a throne for the right, and hollowing your palm receive the body of Christ saying after it, Amen. Then after you have with care sanctified your eyes by the touch of the holy Body, partake…giving heed lest you lose any particle of it (the bread). For should you lose any of it, it is as though you have lost a member of your own body, for tell me, if any one gave you gold dust, would you not with all precaution keep it fast, being on the guard lest you lose any of it and thus suffer loss? How much more cautiously then will you observe that not a crumb falls from you, of what is more precious than gold and precious stones. Then having partaken of the Body of Christ, approach also the cup of His blood not extending your hands, but bending low and saying in the way of worship and reverence, Amen, be you sanctified by partaking, also of the blood of Christ.” Catechetical Lecture 5

The Mystical Supper – 1312 AD, Vatopedi Monastery, Mt. Athos, Greece

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper was for the early Christians an extremely solemn occasion. Cyril describes the Bread/Body as more precious than gold or costly gems and admonishes them not to let a crumb of it fall to the ground. At the time of Cyril of Jerusalem, a 12-year-old boy in Rome, Tarcisius, was charged with carrying the consecrated bread down the street to some shut-ins. The Spanish Pope Damasus (c. 304-384) has inscribed what happened:

“When a wicked group of young fanatics flung themselves on Tarcisius who was carrying the Eucharist, not wanting to profane the sacrament, thereby preferred to give his life rather than yield up The Body of Christ to the rabid dogs.”

Tarcisius Christian Martyr – Alexandre Falguiere (1831-1900) Musee Augustins, Toulouse, France

The holy boy, Tarcisius, is called “the Eucharist martyr.” He was beaten to death rather than let the Communion bread fall on the ground. He is buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus where the poem of Damasus honors his sacrifice.

One thing is sure. The early Christians reverently and reflectively celebrated the Eucharist with bread and wine. But it is moot whether they ate the fish with the sacrament or included the fish as symbol of the totality of the bread and wine, Christ’s Body, Ichthus. Perhaps the fish depicted on Communion tables in the catacombs has a meaning yet to be comprehended by modern Christians.—By Sandra Sweeny Silver

Outgrowing Monastery Traditions

Teachers did not always limit themselves to knowledge taught and retaught for centuries. There were advances in mathematics and astronomy from several sources, including Muslim influences. Teaching methods were not as dry as one might expect in the 10th century, Gerbert, a renowned monastic, used practical demonstrations whenever possible. He created a prototypical telescope to observe heavenly bodies and used organistrum (a kind of hurdy-gurdy) to teach and practice music.

Not all young men were suited to monastic life, though most were at first forced into it. Eventually, some monasteries began maintaining schools outside of their cloisters for men not destined for the cloth. In time, these secular schools grew, became more common, and evolved into universities. Still supported by the Church, they were no longer part of the monastic world. With the advent of the printing press, monks were no longer needed to transcribe manuscripts.

Slowly, monastics relinquished those responsibilities to return to the purpose for which they originally gathered: the quest for spiritual peace. Their role as keepers of knowledge lasted a thousand years, making Renaissance movements and the birth of the modern age possible. Scholars will forever be in their debt.

Watch the video: Wales and Your Welsh Ancestry 1992 VHS (August 2022).