Not Angles but angels

According to the Venerable Bede, the evangelisation of the southern English was proposed by a Pope with a pun.  In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People,  the story goes that Pope Gregory I was walking through the market of Rome when he saw some slave boys with striking looks and hair.  What people, he…

Egyptian Days and Ayurvedic Man: medical cultural connections

One of the advantages of working in central London is the sheer number of interesting exhibitions and other events going on all around me.  The other day I wandered into the Wellcome Collection to see if they had anything interesting to see, and was rewarded with a free exhibition called Ayurvedic Man: Encounters with Indian…

How many colours were there in a medieval rainbow?

This is the sign of my covenant, that I make between me and you and all living creatures for all generations, that is that I will set my rainbow in the clouds and it will be a sign of my covenant between me and the earth: when I cover the heavens with the clouds, then…

In the Seven Sleepers’ den

There must have been many people who have come across this line from John Donne’s seventeenth-century poem and wondered who the Seven Sleepers might have been – or why the poet might have snorted there.  The second question has a quick answer: it simply means ‘snored’.  But who were the Seven Sleepers? In June last…

Adam, agate and amulets: a medieval general knowledge quiz

What is the connection between Adam’s navel and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s left ear? This was the first question that was asked in the first episode of the long-running British comedy quiz QI, which has been producing one series for each letter of the alphabet since the A-series in 2003.  Of course, the whole point…

A medieval astronomy lesson

If you drilled a hole through the centre of the earth, and dropped a stone down it, what would happen?  How big are the Sun, Moon and stars?  And, hardest to answer of all, are there any people on the other side of the globe?  I’ve been reading up on medieval science.  In particular, I’ve…

Faithful cross, gate of heaven

Today is Good Friday, the day which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  For today’s blogpost, I’ve decided simply to post and translate some Anglo-Saxon texts dedicated to the Holy Cross: a hymn, a poem, and two prayers.  As my research is all about how texts were adapted and reused in different contexts, in each…

Have mercy, guide me, guard me: an eighth- (and eleventh-) century prayer

It’s Lent, and time for something a bit more penitential than some of the glorious manuscripts and linguistic fun that I have been writing about in recent posts.  It happens that a lot of my current work (adapting my doctoral thesis for publication) has been on confessional prayers of various kinds, which is pretty convenient. …

An Old English Alphabet (part 1)

Sometimes, in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, we come across grammatical treatises and lists of Latin words, to act as learning aids for those new to the vocabulary and grammar of the main language of the church.  Unfortunately for us, nobody at the time created word lists in Old English: there was no real need, and dictionaries as…

Honey and peace will abound: Anglo-Saxon predictions for 2017

Happy New Year!  If you’re wondering what is to come in 2017, early medieval monks had the answers.  A number of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts include prognostics of various kinds – texts for predicting the future. One such manuscript is London, British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A. iii.  As mentioned in some earlier posts, I’ve worked with…