Medieval Warfare Magazine: The Knights Templar

Today we have a review of a great historical magazine for you. Medieval Warfare is published by Karwansaray Publishers out of the Netherlands. They publish other history magazines such as Ancient History and Ancient Warfare as well as one called Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy. But right now we’re taking a look at Medieval Warfare Magazine Volume 6, Issue 5. It is a bi-monthly magazine that features 60 full colour pages with great illustrations, and is edited by Peter Konieczny. The issue I have here is themed around the Knights Templar, but there are also a few unrelated parts of the magazine.

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First of all, let’s see what the magazine has to offer in just pure written content. Coming under the theme of the issue there are 8 articles. Included in these you have a good introduction to the topic and who the Templars were, their rise and fall, and the aftermath of their order being destroyed up to how they are perceived in the present day. There is then a piece by world leading scholar in research into the military religious orders and the Crusades, Helen Nicholson, about her work and how she first became interested in this particular piece of history. Aside from a couple of good articles about the history of the Templars that go into more detail on certain events, there is also a list of 10 facts about the Templars, which is a nice touch to add into such a complex theme, making the magazine a little more easy to digest in this case. The ten facts are also quite interesting! Such as this one:
Female Templars – While the Templar Rule demanded that its brothers keep women away, and forbade them from being members, scholars have been able to find scattered references to ladies who joined
the order and lived with the men. For example, a woman named Berengaria of Lorach was the ‘soror’ of a Templar house in Catalonia, where her name appears in witness lists among those of the brothers, and she is recorded as giving counsel to the commander of the house.”
The main theme of the magazine is then finished of with The afterlife of the Templars which looks at the depictions of the order after its end, and in modern popular culture. Overall in terms of just the theme of this one issue there is a good amount of content with a few different focuses and approaches that makes things interesting.

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Other than the theme of the issue, there are also a few articles and other features in the magazine. The magazine starts of with Marginalia right after the editor’s introduction that is a couple of pieces of news or recent developments to do with the history of Medieval warfare. In this issue there is some news about the stone marking the spot where King Harold fell at Hastings in 1066 has been moved to a new location following a new study of the battlefield. Other features in the magazine include a very interesting one about Bellifortis, a treatise written by Conrad Kyeser in 1405 on military engineering at the time, with many designs and ideas on gunpowder weapons and siege warfare. I found this a particularly interesting read as it was completely unknown to me, and was apparently so to most people for a long time due to Kyeser not having acquired a patron by the time of his death and the therefore unlikely odds of any of his designs actually being built or used.

At the end of the magazine there are a few reviews. One was of the 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven which is quite appropriate for the theme of the issue. This is an interesting film to review as it is one of the most popular and successful out there about the crusades, and yet there are many criticisms to be made of it, majorly of its historical inaccuracies of not just the crusades, but also many fundamental facts about the Medieval world and warfare. The review here is one pretty much agree with, and tackles the choices that were made in the film that revolve around clumsily inserted modern agendas alongside poor history. The other reviews at the end of the mag are of a couple of books, one of which is particularly interesting to me; The Art of Swordsmanship, which is a translation of a fencing treatise originally written by Hans Lecküchner in the late fifteenth century, and translated by Jeffrey L. Forgeng. It was originally titled Kunst des Messerfechtens, or The Art of Messer Fencing.

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Finally I just want to make some points about the design and appearance of the magazine. Overall I think it looks great. There are excellent illustrations by various people throughout, which often remind me of an Osprey book. Also the overall design is very clean, easy on the eyes, and easy to read unlike some other magazines I know of which end up looking like a bit of a mess. Here they just keep things simple and add in a few nice medieval styled designs around some of the text columns. Another little touch I like is the clearly separate boxes at the end of each article that give you sources for further reading which are a good way of including a list of sources that doesn’t look as confusing as in academic books or papers.

Overall I have to say this magazine was a great read and a pleasure to review. Now I’m certainly thinking about a subscription!

If you’d like to know more then go to their site at: https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/pw/medieval-warfare/

The Creation of the Anglo-Norman Church

Carrying on with my talks on church reform, we will have a quick look at the case of the Anglo-Norman church following the conquest of 1066. Pre-conquest England had a relatively coherent religious agenda and structure, founded on the Regularis Concordia and an active cult of saints. The Anglo-Saxon monasteries were prosperous thanks to the ritual donations of their patrons and the wealth obtained from their different economic exploitations. One cannot help but wonder if there was a real need to transform a well-established religious system. Leaving aside William’s personal interests and political agenda, it could be argued that the English Church was rather static and conservative.

Let’s take a look at the stance the Conqueror took regarding Papal control over the English Church. It was William I’s intention to keep the English Church development under the guidelines provided by Rome, but at the same time he took measures to avoid papal intrusion in the affairs of the state. The effort of the pontiffs to get English high-ranking clergymen to travel to Rome and do homage to the Pope only made the situation degrade. This is reflected in the events that took place in autumn of 1079 with the announcement of the forthcoming Lenten synod when William refused to allow any of his clergy to go to the synod. On top of that it was decreed that any legate sent by the Pope would only be admitted as a diplomatic envoy and not as someone with an interest towards the affairs of the English Church. It was only thanks to Anselm, during the reign of William Rufus, that the barrier between the papacy and England was partially broken, but to the eyes of Rome, England was like the prodigal son.

Perhaps some of the most noticeable changes in this re-structure involved the liturgical discourse, which required a changed in religious architecture and processional space. The most significant elements that configured the new buildings were the twin tower façade without a porch or narthex, the lantern tower, the three-bay presbytery, the apse-echelon plan of five chapels and the three-story elevation with full tribune. Moreover, metropolitan offices such as Canterbury added the use of a crypt to host the relics of their patron saints. Furthermore, there was a redistribution of the different altars and their function regarding the processional route that the lay community would take within the church. These customs were adopted by many churches, but not all. A clear example is Winchester, which carried on the traditions imposed by the Regularis Concordia, incorporating odd elements within its architecture. The most relevant is the west end that most likely represents the continuation of the Anglo-Saxon customs of crown-wearing rituals.

Nevertheless, the most significant changes that the English Church underwent in the post-Conquest era are those related with monastic foundations. The Norman settlers invested a great deal of their fortunes in these religious houses. There were several reasons that encouraged the lay population to invest in such foundations such as the protection for the benefactors’ soul, the display of power and wealth, and in many cases profitable land revenues. New monastic houses were introduced in England between 1066 and 1086, although admittedly most of them were of Norman origin. This process carried out during the reign of William II who commissioned some of the important ‘alien’ houses of the island: Binham (1093), Norwich cathedral priory (1096) and Wymondham (1107). Due to the arrival of these institutions two new types of foundations were created; daughter houses, which were directly dependent of their mother house in the continent, and monastic cells that acted as centres of administration for these English properties. Of course, the old  foundations were still used – or re-purposed in some cases. This is the case of the cell of Bec at Clare, Suffolk, that Gilbert of Tanbridge re-founded around 1090. The foundation of new nunneries after the conquest is somehow obscure – it seems that some monastic orders did not want to be associated with the female communities…Nonetheless, new women houses were founded, although the reasons and circumstances about their establishment might differ from those of the monasteries. For instance, Elstow was established by Countess Judith (1076-86), as she became the widow of Earl Waltheof, who was executed due to treachery, therefore buying herself a way to survive in the new regime. In addition, it seems that men of lower social and political status with not enough money to found a monastery, set up nunneries instead, especially in the northern areas of the country. Some old nunneries continued under Norman patronage.  The appointment of abbesses like Cecily who run the house from 1107, and was the daughter of Robert fitz Hamon and sister-in-law of the Earl of Gloucester, is an example of this continuity.

However, it is clear that despite all these changes there was a degree of continuity of the Anglo-Saxon traditions incorporated within the Norman rule. This is most clearly shown by the revitalising of old religious houses, like Gloucester Abbey. Such a place was important for the Normans; its location provided easy access to the problematic Welsh marches. Besides, it was a nodal point for communication, a profitable town and a good site for hunting. Maintaining and advancing its Anglo-Saxons roots was, therefore, crucial and so many investments were done in the abbey and other local churches, especially during the reign of William Rufus. Another example of continuity is the cult of saints. Despite it has been actively argued that the Normans erased all the native saints from their calendar and replaced their relics for others of their taste, recent studies demonstrate that the previous statement is wrong. Even Lanfranc shows a personal devotion to an Anglo-Saxon saint, St.Dustan, whose relics were moved with the majority of the other holy remains to his newly reformed Christ Church cathedral. Most importantly the fact that despite all the efforts to try to distinguish the secular from the regular clergy, the Normans adopted and carried on the old tradition of monastic cathedrals, unique of Anglo-Saxon England is significant.

Therefore, in order to understand the nature of the Anglo-Norman church and the developments of the English church for years, and even centuries to come, it is crucial we recognise the importance of the previous Anglo-Saxon traditions, as well as the political context in which the Normans had to liaise the control over liturgy and practice.

The hard way to Heavens: Dialogues des Carmelites, Poulenc achieves immortality.

Now, you think about opera and something epic comes to mind. You think about French composers and something beautiful but somehow light is expected. You think about nuns and silence and boredom are words that could come to mind. Not that nuns are usually welcome as great historical characters. You think about Francois Poulenc and you may think: Francois who?, the man being not so well-known as some other composers. You think about classical music and it seems it all ended with Mahler and Strauss in the first half of the 20th Century. Maybe you should think less, and listen to some music instead.

Dialogues of the Carmelites is a quite unusual opera, we have to concede that. It is based on a play which in turn is based upon a short piece, which is based upon an almost forgotten episode of the French Revolution period. It was composed by a composer appreciated for his high-spirited music but not really regarded as a master of serious composition. It was also intended to be a ballet, first, and not even based on that particular story but, some may say, fate was dictated from above to get the terrible story of these people to the stage.

Continue reading “The hard way to Heavens: Dialogues des Carmelites, Poulenc achieves immortality.”

Nazarens and drums

Holy Week is supposed to be a religious celebration. And it was. Probably it still is for some people. But in Spain, nowadays, it is more of a cultural manifestation, and a tourist attraction, very popular with nationals and foreigners alike. Each year this week of street demonstrations moves millions of euros; each year it moves less and less consciences into religion.   Though Spain is officially a non-confessional country, and statistics consistently show that religious feeling, and specially Catholic, is constantly declining moreover between the younger population, Catholic presence is still overwhelming in many everyday aspects, from education to holiday, from public ceremony to football. Even in politics and, allegedly, in governmental issues. And, during a whole week, main streets all over the country belong to the quite strange commemoration of a murder.   Most shocking for non accustomed visitants are the Nazarenes. These are the members and associates of “Cofradías”, which are club like institutions, usually focused in the promotion of one specific saint or virgin. Sounds a little strange, but it looks even stranger. Many of them keep company to the images all along the course of the demonstration which, in some cases, can last for more than ten hours.

Penitent in the procession, walking around with the cross as sign of repent.
Penitent in the procession, walking around with the cross as sign of repent.

From an artistic point of view, the most relevant thing of “Semana Santa” is the sublime imagery, which is considered one of the pinnacles of Spanish arts during the Baroque period. Those images, usually made from wood, sculpted and painted to achieve the maximum dramatic effect, are the center of the celebrations, and, although not all are pinnacles of its art, and many are mere copies or inspired by the long-lost originals, are revered in awe and justify by themselves a close look to this celebration. The better sculptures were designed by the likes of Alonso Berruguete and Juan de Juni. These artistic development began as a part of the Catholic Counter-Reform, of which Spain was the greatest defender. As a form of opposing Lutheranism and its despise for religious images, Spanish Catholics developed a fancy for realistic depictions of the life and deeds of Jesus Christ, and preferably of the last night with “Ecce homos” and Crucifixion at the top. Soon Saints, Virgins and scenes of the everyday life of Jesus began to take part in what, from the XVI century onwards, was a Catholic Church sponsored activity which, Spain being the stronger supporter of Catholicism, counted also on the Royal favor: the Spanish Monarchy wanted people showing of their love for God and Christ in the streets, and it was staged as a popular demonstration, state in which it has last.

One of the
One of the “Pasos” during the procession in Santander (Spain). It represents Judas betrayal.

The”Cofradías”, originated in guilds and unions during the Spanish Golden Century, were the center of those devotional celebrations. And they still survive, albeit in a different version, usually related to a specific church or district, otherwise there still are some guild based.   But let’s go back to the “Nazarens”. Clad in their long robes, usually hooded and handling some sort of torch, or light, this ghost-like figures are a constant presence in the Semana Santa. Penitents in the beginning, today most of them take part as a long running family tradition deprived of deepest religious meaning albeit devotion is still strong, mainly in Andalucia, and would probably be described as idolatry in many a culture as the zeal is customarily related only to a particular image and not necessarily as a part of a more complex religious understanding. Lately, the responsibility of increasing the ranks of the “Nazarens” falls mainly in woman and children. Moreover, quite a lot of those kids get involved with “procesiones”, as demonstrations are called, as a school activity as they assist to schools run by religious orders more because of the quality of the education provided than as a result of a strong family involvement with religion.

“Little Nazarene” getting ready for procession with her school’s parish Cofradia.

An act of cultural affiliation, maybe, as Semana Santa and its traditions are considered, at least by a significant share of the locals, as a mains stake of true Spanish culture and way of life. And that extends to music, or some kinds of music at least: it is customary for “Cofradías” to parade along with wind and brass small bands or even to boast their own Nazarene musicians, all clad as their mates but playing the traditional drums and bugles. It is everything but ironic that, for instance, the main “procesión” in the city of Santander is called “Del Silencio” (the Silence) while almost every “Cofradía” plays the drums during the whole parade.   The everyday of a Nazarene during the Passion Week, as it is sometimes called, could be really stressful, because responsibilities with the “Cofradía” must be usually shared with regular life duties, thus creating a very harsh timetable. It depends on the geographical areas and local traditions, and we have to admit that some days are considered Bank Holidays that week, but the fact remains that “procesiones” do start after dusk, and the longest of them end in the morning. And all that could take place after a long day at work or school. When arriving home, the Nazarene must change clothes. Again, there are different local customs, but the customary basic equipment comprises of a large cloak which covers a habit and is held by a soft rope; dark plain shoes, gloves, and the always surprising hood, which sometimes, with newcomers, arise the non too fair and tremendously awkward comparison with KuKluxKlan that so annoys Spaniards.

Different representatives from Spanish Cofradias
Different representatives from Spanish Cofradias

This hood could have a cardboard frame inside to give it a long conical look, and children would not wear it, as is for penitents and sinners and small kids are considered still pure enough. Now clad like an anonymous Templar, you can go out and walk through your town keeping company to a four hundred years old wooden sculpture of Christ in the cross which is considered a masterpiece. And that would last at least four hours. Fortunately, if you are a kid, you’ll probably get some candy for all the effort.