Tag Archives: gardens; medieval; medicine; women’s space; song of songs

The Grand Tour: Gardens, Conferences and more Gardens

LHM writes: I’m just back from a three-week tour of medieval gardens – with the odd conference thrown in for good measure! First, Oslo, on my way to the Women’s Literary Culture and the Medieval Canon conference in Bergen (June 22-24, 2017). In Oslo, I was very taken by a series of reconstructed gardens, not the least those incorporated into the breathtaking Oslo Botanical Gardens, pictured here on the left. Constructed to engage all of the senses at once, these gardens draw large numbers of the local population and tourists to bask and picnic amidst the flowery conglomeration of aromas and colours.

Perhaps most dramatic, however, was the so-called ‘Viking Garden’, conceived of as a Viking ship formed from raised beds planted with herbs and flowers, with informative interactive information boards identifying the plants and their (largely medicinal and practical) uses. Based on scholarly study of primary source material, the garden is far more than the mere theme-park it might first appear, however. Instead, it takes the visitor through the names, origins and functions of a whole range of plants cultivated within Scandinavian cultures in the early Middle Ages, encouraging the visitor to smell and touch (although not taste!) the plants and see the ways in which they were once put to use. This is reconstruction of the best kind: visually arresting, interpretive and informative, its story boards encouraging engagement and offering succinct information that is both accessible and easily digestible.

After Bergen, the Enclosed Gardens team, both past and present, headed towards Leeds for this year’s International Medieval Congress (July 3-6, 2017), where we were delivering one of the first sessions of the Congress (‘Strange Fruits in the Medieval Garden’). With Trish chairing the session, Theresa spoke first on the delights of the Picardian estate of Hesdin, introducing the audience to the Countess Mahout, the strong and creative owner of the large park and gardens situated there. Mahout, it turns out, had commissioned an early copy of the travelogue of Marco de Polo and the unusual figures and plants she produced at Hesdin may well have been inspired by this new narrative of exotic travels in the east.  My own paper focused on ‘strange’ grafting narratives in the writing of Mechtild of Hackeborn (d. 1298) and Gertrude of Helfta (d. 1302), both of whom adopted plant grafting as a concerted metaphor in their writing in their attempts to describe their unique visions of God – and their mystical fusion with him. This ‘strange’ literary practice was also examined by the project’s PhD student, Maria Zygogianni, in the context of Chaucer’s garden in ‘The Knight’s Tale’, which, so she persuasively argued, forms a queer and heterotopic space in the Tale, overlaying and informing a range of other spaces too, such  as the prison tower and the temple of Diana.

A chance visit to another ancient site of female spirituality after the conference – this time in nearby Knaresborough – had the odd effect of pulling together many of our recent ‘garden’ experiences, both material and intellectual. Here, in a steep cliff running alongside the river Nidd leading up to the now lost Priory, is to be found not quite a temple of Diana but a newly restored late-medieval shrine to the Virgin, the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, dating from 1408 and cut into the sandstone cliff. Its vaulted ceiling and stone altar testify to a sacred female-coded space used by pilgrims en route to the Priory – or else visiting the hermit reputed to have lived in a second cleft in the rock higher up the valley. Most arresting about this spot, however, was the newly planted gardens, packed full of Marian flowers and herbs, all helpfully labelled up, with their medieval uses also documented. A steady stream of children climbed the steep steps to the stony enclosure, no doubt attracted by its small doorway and window hewn out of the hard rock, along with a larger-than-life figure of a medieval knight in full armour also carved into the rock to the right of the doorway. Apparently,‘John the Mason’ constructed this shrine in thanks to the Virgin for curing his son who had been seriously injured by falling rocks on the cliff-face in the early fifteenth century.

My final foray into medieval garden architecture was at the medieval Carthusian ruins of the monastery of Mount Grace in northern Yorkshire, stumbled across purely because of having ignored the car’s Sat Nav! Here again, the materiality and spirituality of gardens come together in the spectacular remains of this once dynamic and internationally important charterhouse – and, moreover, the one that famously copied and preserved our only extant manuscript of  the complete Book of Margery Kempe (now British Library, Additional Ms 61823, about which Laura Kalas Williams has written – see below). The Carthusians were famous for their hermitic life-style – but also for their gardens – and their concerted support for women’s visionary literature. The works of Mechtild of Hackeborn and Gertrude of Helfta were both disseminated and preserved by Carthusian patronage, for example. Perhaps their concerted use of garden imagery and discourses of flourishing spoke resonantly to the Carthusian monks, much of whose lives were spent in their own flourishing gardens. As well as an enormous cloister garden, orchards and other green, cultivated spaces, each enclosed monk had his own walled garden at the back of his personal cell, although archaeologists have disputed that these were used for food production. Instead, it is claimed that the gardens were orchestrated to represent personal and secluded wildernesses for each monk, who could find there direct access to God. Most remarkable, however, was the fact that each cell and its L-shaped garden – at least at Mount Grace – had its own fresh water source, piped along narrow channels from the main well behind the monastery at the bottom of the hill – and also providing running water for the individual latrines found behind uniform doors in the garden wall farthest from the cell. Today, all these areas are merely turfed over, although the front gardens of the medieval guest-house (still in use today) were at their July best in the hot midday sunshine. If you ever find yourself near Northallerton, I would thoroughly recommend turning off the busy A19 into this tranquil, aromatic, still, contemplative site, have a picnic and buy some plants for your own garden from the sale outside the shop.

Today, I’m back in Swansea, looking at the neglected state of my own domestic walled garden and deciding on my best plan of attack to rid it of the super-weeds that have invaded it whilst I’ve been touring the immaculately conceived gardens of others!

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Herbs and spices for Margery Kempe

Dr Laura Kalas Williams, a postdoctoral researcher from of the University of Exeter, has uncovered the ‘mystery’ of a medical recipe bound inside the cover of the only surviving manuscript of The Book of Margery Kempe.

Opening lines of The book of Margery Kempe. BL, Additional MS 61823

Opening lines of The book of Margery Kempe. BL, Additional MS 61823

Although the manuscript has been much consulted since it resurfaced in an English country house in 1934, this recipe has never attracted much attention. Now, however, its contents have been deciphered by Laura and colleagues at Exeter and Oxford as providing some kind of medical remedy. The ingredients used for this remedy –  sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, aniseed and fennel seed – are to be mixed together, heated then dried, to form a type of ‘lozenge’ for later consumption.

Laura points out that Kempe’s book documents many of the illnesses she suffered during her lifetime, including a long bout of the ‘flyx’ (excessive menstrual flow or else dysentery, documented in Chapter 56 of the book), and that the remedy may well reflect one of the cures she herself used.  Cures for the ‘flyx’, however, would have involved astringent medicines and Theresa Tyers has suggested to me that the remedy in the manuscript is more likely to have been used for digestive problems. This, of course, raises another whole set of fascinating questions which Theresa and I have been mulling over this week, returning to the chapter on Margery Kempe’s eating habits by Cristina Mazzoni in The Women in God’s Kitchen: Cooking, Eating and Spiritual Writing (New York, London: Continuum, 2005), pp 102-113, to help us.Women in God's kitchen

We’ve been discussing mainly whether the lozenge would have provided a suitable aid for those undergoing fasting, helping to maintain sugar levels etc. during the absence of food. Regular fasting was common practice during the later Middle Ages, both inside the monasteries and amongst the laity, but we have found no evidence to suggest that monasteries, at least, cut back on the consumption of sugar and luxury spices during this period. Indeed, even during the thirteenth century, the Durham Cathedral accounts show that the monks were consuming vast amounts of both sugar and saffron throughout the year!

Margery Kempe’s book is full of her own fasting anxieties (Should she? Shouldn’t she? When should she?) and, no doubt, digestive issues connected to on/off fasting were fairly common for her and for those others undergoing the practice in a somewhat haphazard way. It may even be that some of Margery’s fainting-fits were attributable to her lack of food, rather than ‘just’ her religious ecstasies. On one occasion, for example, whilst on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, Margery nearly falls off the ass she is riding as she succumbs to an ecstatic faint. Concerned for her health, two fellow travelers, one of whom is a priest, ‘put spycys in hir mowth to comfort hir, wenyng sche had ben seke’ [put spices in her mouth to comfort her, believing her to be ill] (Chapter 28). Again, Theresa has suggested that the ingestion of pure powdered spices in such an instance is unlikely because, in this form, they would have been extremely unpalatable – especially for somebody in a faint. Instead, a sugary, spicy ‘lozenge’ of the type produced by this recipe (which would also have been far more portable for a pilgrim!), washed down with wine or ale, would have done the job of reviving Margery very well.

The remedy’s ingredients also speak to us of Margery Kempe’s locale and background: far from being based on ordinary kitchen-garden ingredients, the recipe combines familiar English garden herbs (fennel seed, for example) and items of some luxury (sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon), not readily available to the ordinary person in England via her/his own gardening or foraging practices. These were imported and costly goods, although they would, no doubt, have been readily available in Bishop’s Lynn via its busy port – and even more so to Margery as part of an important mercantile family. Indeed, Theresa has identified at least one Lynn family with the patronym ‘Spicer’ (one of whom had been a former mayor of Lynn, as had Margery’s father), suggesting commercial distribution of spices from abroad and likely family involvement. She has pointed me also towards an image in one manuscript of Aldobrandino’s Regimen depicting a woman heading off to an apothecary’s shop to buy spices. The one pictured here, however is from a French translation of a medical text by Mattheus Platearius, dating from the early fourteenth century.

BL, MS Sloane 1977, fol. 97v (Amiens, early 14th century). Courtesy of BL Open Access.

Margery may have been able to purchase her own spices from a shop similar to this one in Lynn, or else directly from the merchant who imported them. Whilst we have no way of proving that this particular recipe did originate from Margery Kempe herself, the manuscript association between this recipe and Margery’s book helps to augment what we already know about the type of elevated social status in Bishop’s Lynn into which she was born and the life-style she enjoyed, particularly before her conversion. And we have Laura to thank for that!

 

 

 

Laura’s findings have recently been published in a Guardian newspaper article (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/28/recipe-found-in-medieval-mystics-writings-was-probably-for-drugges-margery-kempe). She will also be giving a talk on Margery Kempe at this year’s King’s Lynn festival in July.

Gardens in the Cultural Imagination

A guest post by Maria Zygogianni:

Fascination with the garden is inextricably linked with human nature. The enclosed garden is employed as the birthplace of life or the garden of the dead where life ends in mythology and religion. Supernatural loci, such as the Isle of Avalon, Eden, the Garden of Hesperides, straddle the real and the imaginary. Medieval geographers have tried to make these concepts tangible by associating them with actual geographical locations. According to Genesis, Eden is located between four rivers:

The name of the one is Phison (Ganges): that is it which compasseth all the land of Hevilath, where gold groweth. And the gold of that land is very good: there is found bdellium, and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gehon (Nile): the same is it that compasseth all the land of Ethiopia.  And the name of the third river is Tigris: the same passeth along by the Assyrians. And the fourth river is Euphrates. And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it (Douay-Rheims Bible).

Much to the frustration of explorers, such as Cosmas Indicopleustes, the discovery of the worldly Paradise eluded them. The hortus conclusus, in its many forms, has captivated the artistic imagination as well.

Figure 1. The Garden of Hesperides, 1892, Frederic Leighton, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, Public Domain [Wikimedia Commons]

Figure 1. The Garden of Hesperides, 1892, Frederic Leighton, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, Public Domain [Wikimedia Commons]

Frederic Leighton’s depiction of the Garden of Hesperides, a space of eternal bliss where the nymphs of the evening dwelt, highlights three features common to most of these Other-worlds; an apple tree, a strong female presence, and a snake/dragon.

 

 

 

While the most prominent figures of the garden in cultural history are religious, the secular garden has found its place in folklore, literature, and the arts as well. An international art project, THE GARDEN- End of Times, Beginning of Times, will be launched in the summer of 2017, in Aarhus, the cultural capital of Europe for 2017. THE GARDEN zone will cover the past, starting from the Baroque period, the present garden, in Aarhus city centre, and the future, along the coast and in the forest by the city. The project looks at the changing relationship between man and nature and the interesting choice of location seems to bring the garden in conversation with the landscape (the enclosed museum space, the urban city centre, the forest, and the sea).

Figure 2.Grandmother's Garden, 1869, Kristian Zahrtmann, Bornholm Art Museum, Public Domain [Wikimedia Commons]

Figure 2.Grandmother’s Garden, 1869, Kristian Zahrtmann, Bornholm Art Museum, Public Domain [Wikimedia Commons]

The secular garden, still, remains an Other-world, a heterotopia. A heterotopia is a space real and imaginary, in and outside of society, which encloses people in crisis, such as a boarding house, a prison, or a home for the elderly.

 

 

The contemporary garden attracts individuals in crisis; the artists, the elderly, the youth. The Eden Festival, is such an example. This music festival aims to support artists, involve the young people and the community, bringing the audience in an otherwise overlooked area.  And their tagline captures the charm and danger of the garden-space:

“Sometimes you eat the garden, sometimes the garden eats you”

The secular garden is primarily a space of pleasure where one grows flowers or vegetable and fruit. A private and protected space, it is a common addition to the house and a source of inspiration for crafts and decoration.

Figure 3. Wall decoration, Kosmeteio Foundation, Athens

Figure 3. Wall decoration, Kosmeteio Foundation, Athens

The image left shows a mpanda, a wall-hanging carpet/blanket, common to Greek households, which was used to keep the house warm and decorate. Such wall-hangings would often depict gardens as a space of social gathering, with a female figure, or animals. Despite the apparently mundane nature of the garden, it remains an irresistible, but dangerous space. Rapunzel’s mother cannot resist the urge to eat a rampion from Dame Gothel’s garden and her husband sneaks into the forbidden garden to steal the plant. Caught by the witch, he promises to give her the baby and in exchange take everything he needs from her garden. The evil Gothel takes the girl and imprisons her in a tower in the middle of a forest.

The garden remains gendered in Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle.  Joan Foster, the protagonist of the novel, is writing one of her costume gothics set in a manor with an impressive, albeit sinister, maze in the garden. Charlotte, the heroine, is magnetised by the labyrinth and cannot keep away despite the fact that the Redmond’s former wives all disappeared, and were presumably murdered, there. When she enters, she finds them thriving and well in the heart of the garden-labyrinth, explaining that in this Other-space they are free. Joan Foster’s heroine and Joan herself discover the feminine garden, a safe space that empowers them and shields them from the destructive, vampiric men in their lives.

Cultural representations of the hortus conclusus suggest the power of this feminine space and its influence on the artistic imagination. The commonplace secular garden is no less supernatural than its religious counterparts; through the lens of heterotopia, a space of transformation and liberation, but also destruction and imprisonment, the image of the enclosed garden has permeated both life and culture throughout human history.

Hortus project recognised for award!

LHM and TS write:

 

The Hortus Conclusus team were today celebrating winning an Impact Acceleration award, sponsored at Swansea by the EPSRC, to help us develop our goal of reconstructing a real, medieval, enclosed garden here in Wales, and assessing its therapeutic qualities.

Gardens as places of therapy are attracting increasing attention: a recent. A recent Gardener’s Question Time http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b068yd6m was broadcast from the walled garden in Auchincruive, Scotland. This is a garden devised as a therapeutic centre for ex-servicemen and women to help them with PDSD and other traumas.

As part of our award, we shall be measuring the health benefits of quiet, enclosed spaces, as well as writing applications for sponsorship of both the new garden and of a horticultural trainee to help us realise this vision. When the garden is built, we shall be using it for medieval-themed events and performances, as well as opening it up as a contemplative space. Follow the category ‘Impact’ to see how we progress!

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Women and the Sacred, Bangor, 18 January 2016

Early 15th Century Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Angel calls the Birds to Eat
Early 15thC Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

TT writes: The collaborative Research Group “Women and the Sacred” (a scion of MEMO, Swansea and the School of English Literature, Bangor) met together at Bangor University this week with the aim of seeking out ‘Our Mother’s Sacred Gardens’: the results surpassed all expectations and proved to be a very fruitful one that included lots of garden metaphors! The day began with Liz Herbert McAvoy’s  paper that took as its starting point the quotation ‘For our Vineyard hath Flourished’ and in which she teased out vestiges of the gendered overwritten model of flourishing in representations of ancient gardens and vineyards. This was followed by a cornucopia of evidence taken from disparate sources by Theresa Tyers (author of this post!) based on a forage into the distant, and not so distant past, that provided evidence of vineyards, lone vines and female ownership along with the use of their fruit in well-being and healing. Elizabeth Clarke (University of Warwick) examined the beautifully melancholic early-modern poetry of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, where again references to the Song of Songs were to be found along with garden imagery. Discussion continued over lunch (graciously provided by the organisers) re-convening with Sue Niebrzydowski’s (Bangor University) paper focussing on Chaucer’s garden ‘walled al with stoon’, and a number of exquisite images and representations of the Virgin Mary in the Hortus Conclusus. The garden as a place of contemplation came to the fore in Helen Wilcox’s (Bangor University) exploration of extracts from female authored early-modern poetry, in which the song of the lark was used as a personal reproach to a later riser, and fruitless trees, nipt blossoms and the lack of useful plants in a garden, all painted a picture of distress and failure. Despite the overwhelmingly sense of spiritual melancholy in the poetry examined, the arbour in the garden orchard finally proved to be a source of restoration and succour for the seventeenth-century female author.

The day was rounded off with a group reading of the late fourteenth-century Middle-English Pistil of Swete Susan. Here we found nightingales nesting in trees, parrots frolicking and any sense of seasons abandoned as an Edenic garden, of both delight and nourishment, was imaginatively presented to readers as the setting for a re-telling of Susanna and the Elders.

The event provided much food for thought. We thank the organisers for their warm welcome and for the tulips on the tables as a reminder of Spring on its way despite the snow on the mountains. We would also like to thank all of the participants for their insight and contribution to what turned out to be such a stimulating and productive day.

One of our bodies is missing…

TS writes: Thanks to a lively audience and the support of RIAH, the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities at Swansea University, our presentation ‘Come into the Enclosed Garden’ for the Being Human Festival was a huge success, but not without its hitches. Twenty minutes before we were due to speak, one of our rolled-up posters, featuring the medieval diagram of a pregnant woman (see our post of 28 October 2015) went missing. Whoever picked that up is going to get a surprise when they unroll her! Pressing on, however, we gave three short presentations on history, spirituality and medicine in the garden (Theresa’s amazing collection of aromatic plants, oils and other substances bringing the sensory experience to life)

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and then offered the opportunity to ‘pin the medicinal plant on the person’, to much amusement. Poor ‘Eric’ was soon cured of his many health problems…

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Being Human – the AHRC Festival of the Humanities

TS writes:

What does the HC have in common with these images? Find out when the Hortus Conclusus team takes part in the Being Human festival at Swansea University from 11-20 November 2015. We’ll be offering the sensory experience of the enclosed garden in words, pictures and a very hands-on test of your plant knowledge. Details are here, just come along if you’re in the Swansea area on 20 November!

L0038592 The Physician's Handbook Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The Physician's Handbook: English medical and astrological compendium 1454 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 Wellcome Library, London.

L0000845 foetal positions in uterus, pregnant female Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Four foetal positions in uterus - Full-figure anatomy of pregnant woman labelled with ailments Ink and Watercolour Circa 1420-30 MS 49 Apocalypse, (The), [etc.]. Apocalypsis S. Johannis cum glossis et Vita S. Johannis; Ars Moriendi, etc.; Anatomical, medical, texts, theological moral and allegorical 'exempla' and extracts, a few in verse. Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Wellcome Library, London

Medicine of Words – and Pictures!

LHM writes: On 11 September I attended day 1 of the excellent Medicine of Words: Literature, Medicine and Theology in the Middle Ages conference. With a glittering array of speakers focusing on the intersections betweMedicine of Words 2en medieval medicine, literature and theology, the conference quickly established itself as innovative and dynamic, with especially memorable plenaries from Mary Carruthers, Denis Renevey and Vincent Gillespie. There weren’t many gardens featured prominently at the conference (except for the lovely grounds of St Anne’s College clearly visible out of the window behind the speakers in the auditorium) but there were plenty of enclosed, suffering bodies needing care and cure. Particularly interesting in their gendered approaches to care and cure were papers by Laura Kalas Williams (Exeter) and Greta Dinkova-Bruun (PIMS, Toronto) on the healing power of Margery Kempe’s ‘pain surrogacy’ and the Virgin Mary as medicine respectively. Also a memorable high point was a set of images presented in the fascinating paper by independent scholar Michael Leahy. This paper examined aspects of the Stockholm Roll, including some extraordinary images of finely-attired as well as naked bodies on display and showing off their wounds (frequently in intimate locations) requiring medical intervention. Clearly, some of these injured bodies, which were evidently inviting some kind of moral judgement from the reader, could have done with some quality ‘time out’ in the medieval walled garden to ingest its healing aromas, view its aesthetic presentation and feast on the curative properties of its plants!

Welcome to the Enclosed Garden!

Launched in June 2015, the Enclosed Garden Project is inspired by the fourth chapter of the Song of Songs, one of the most popular and influential of biblical texts during the entire Middle Ages, in which the speaker famously professes, ‘My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up (4:12). Over the next two years, the research team will be exploring the medieval enclosed garden from all angles, literary, historical and medical. We welcome comments on our blog! CONFERENCE%20PHOTO%202015

Image: participants in The Medieval and Early Modern Garden, Enclosure and Transformation, the MEMO Symposium by the Sea 2015