Tag Archives: cloister

A Mediterranean Gardener goes North

TS writes: Just back from the Lleida International Medieval Congress, where I presented on the intriguing case of Count Robert of Artois’s use of southern Italian and Sicilian experts to help him make the garden park at Hesdin, NE France. That paper focused on the practice of grafting plants, and the team will be developing it for future publication. Some key questions emerged about the purpose of grafting, and also about its relationship, as a practice, with contemporary religious ideas. Was the combining of two plant parts to make an improved plant a legitimate action or did it fly in the face of God’s creation? I’m going to be exploring this further, since the creation and maintenance of gardens for pleasure would surely have included such horticultural experimentation and display.

Meanwhile, the city of Lleida itself offered numerous distractions, not least the atmospheric environment of the 15th-century former Hospital of S. Maria, in whose cortile sat this rather sad rose,

and the modern Camps Elisis, a carefuly-landscaped Elysian escape from the heat of the city, complete with fountains and parterres sculpted in concrete.

In search of more cool, I visited the splendid Museu de Lleida, which had treasures of its own – among which were this al-Andalusi perfume flask

IMG_0196and a gloriously ‘fertile’ mosaic from nearby El Romeral. The latter swarmed with bird motifs among depictions of familiar and strange flowers and fruit, bringing nature into what must have been a prominent and visible part of the Romeral villa when in situ.

The Lleida congress was a delightful opportunity to engage with Catalunyan, Spanish and Italian colleagues, and with work that deepened my understanding of the Mediterranean society from which John ‘the Apulian’, with his grafting skills, emerged. I benefited hugely from the generosity of their suggestions, and will be making the return journey next year.


Foraging and history at Anzy-le-Duc

Wandering around the Burgundian countryside peering behind walls in search of traces of medieval gardens the ancient priory church of Anzy-le-Duc seemed to appear from out of nowhere. Standing at the edge of the village overlooking a fertile meadow, this Romanesque church, with its Carolingian origins, is tucked away in the village and seems to sleepily sit there awaiting visitors. The church itself with an impressive Italianate bell-tower borders one side of an extensive enclosed garden with the former outbuildings of the Priory enclosing it to the West.

The village of Anzy is the site of Enziacum where, in the ninth century, a property was owned by Letbalt or (Letbalde) the Revenue Collector for Semur-en-Brionnais and his wife Altaric (or Altasie) from Poitiers. In 876 the couple gave their domaine to the then powerful Abbey of Saint-Martin d’Autun. A new Benedictine priory on the site came under the direction of pious monk who, through his care for the needy, later he became known as St Hugh of Poitiers. The first church was dedicated to la Sainte-Trinité, la Sainte-Croix et la Sainte-Mère de Dieu et Vierge Marie, it was surrounded by a hospice and monastic buildings. St Hugh died at Anzy-le-Duc around 930 and his remains were later buried in the crypt at Anzy. After his death his relics attracted so many pilgrims to the site that by the eleventh century a new church, the one that welcomes visitors today, was eventually built to accommodate them.

The gardens are no longer planted as they would have been in its heyday, now having extensive areas of lawn and easily kept borders, but it is not difficult to imagine the church and gardens alive with the coming and goings of pilgrims arriving to venerate the relics of St Hugh, many of whom would be bringing their hopes of cures or the easing of spiritual cares along with them on their journey. Behind the walls in the height of summer bees drunk with the perfume of healing herbs and plants would be busily collecting nectar to provide the honey with which many cures were made.

Although there was nothing edible or medicinal now to be found within the garden walls of the old priory, this area of Burgundy proved to be a pick-your-own haven for one of today’s super-foods packed with vitamins and minerals. It is found cited in medieval recipe collections, reputed to have been a cure for a myriad of ills, and a sure cure for ‘blastings by lightening or planets and burning of gunpowder,’ although the consumption of too much hindered fertility (Culpeper). Called Purslane, (Portulaca oleracea) it was found in Burgundy valiantly growing at the base of walls, spreading along verges and footpaths, providing green-stuff for cooling salads at the end of hot days.


Tiny wild thyme plants also studded the grassy areas at the approaches to medieval castles, such as at Berzé-le-Châtel, while marjoram, salad burnet and water mint rampaged along the dewy footpaths. Proof that what once flourished and was valued within the enclosed walls of medieval gardens, can still be found in the fertile pastures and countryside alongside Burgundy’s beautiful Romanesque churches.

‘Medieval’ gardens 1: Paray le Monial

TT writes: Just visited a ‘medieval-inspired’ cloister garden at Paray le Monial (Burgundy) which was planted with a few medicinal plants. They had been planted around the edge of the cloister walk and were suffering badly from the shaded conditions as were the roses.  The grass areas within the sunny spots enclosed by box hedges would have been a much better location for them as most of them were of Mediterranean temperament, plus had they been in the middle of the cloister they would not have been attacked by mildew.

Link to Paray le Monial (French site)