“Indeed I see that in your intellect
now shines the never-ending light; once seen,
that light, alone and always, kindles love;
and if a lesser thing allure your love,
it is a vestige of that light which – though
imperfectly – gleams through that lesser thing.”
Beatrice to Dante
You may be surprised. While there are certainly stories about knights who drowned in shallow water because they couldn’t stand up in armor, that wasn’t the norm.
Last week, a group of Russian and Israeli history buffs and reenactors staged the Battle of Hattin, in which Saladin routed the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem near the same extinct volcano in Israel where the original battle was fought July 3rd and 4th, 1187.
Replete with swords, shields and body armor, the group marched 27 kilometers (17 miles) this weekend while re-enacting one of the most significant battles of the Middle Ages. The level of detail went down to the use of wooden and ceramic utensils and hand-woven undergarments reflective of the time.
“It’s a direct way of connecting to history, not through books and not through the computer,” said Genadiy Niznik, who organized the event and heads the only Israeli chapter of the “living history” trend.
About a third of the participants arrived with their elaborate gear from Russia. The project is supported by the Lower Galilee Regional Council.
This marginal illustration comes from Le champion des dames (A Defense of Women) by Martin Le France, 1451. Martin was secretary to both Antipope Felix V and Pope Nicholas V. His work is a 24,000-verse (!) poem extolling the virtues of women, but also condemning heresy and corruption.
The witches are identified Vaudois, or Waldensians, who were accused of practicing witchcraft and celebrating the witch’s Sabbath. Flight was one of the powers given to demons and their minions, and thus was often associated with evil.
The art is interesting because it’s part of a shift from depicting witches demonically or sexually, to showing them as simple women in everyday clothes.
Why the broom? The internet is full of very silly theories with little historical grounding, the most commonly repeated being that brooms were used to apply flying ointments to the nether regions of the witch. Go ahead and take a moment to imagine that. I’ll wait. The flying ointment part is real. The awkward and painful applicator? Not so much.
We’re also told that it stems from the testimony of male witch Guillaume Edelin in 1453, which was two years after this manuscript was created. So, we can stop blaming poor Guillaume any time now.
I prefer simple answers: as witches start to be depicted as more ordinary, they’re given a prop to indicate their commonplace, feminine nature. What’s more ordinary than a housewife’s broom?
The witch, it tells us, is not always discernible by outward appearances. What does evil look like? It looks like us. Or, in the case of medievals, like that annoying woman next door.
Four scenes from the life of St. Peter of Verona (1206 – April 6, 1252), also known as Peter Martyr, are depicted in frescoes at the Portinari Chapel, at the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, Milan. One of these shows an incident from his life in which he exorcised a possessed statue of the infant Jesus and the Blessed Mother, complete with devil horns!
As if the painting and incident are not strange enough, there’s this: the frescoes were the work of Renaissance master Vincenzo Foppa, yet were hidden under layers of plaster until 1952, when they were carefully recovered. The chapel also contains the tomb of Peter Martyr.
Peter Martyr was an inquisitor who preached against heresey. On Palm Sunday 1252, he was assassinated by two hitmen hired by the Cathars of Milan. After they struck off a piece of his skull with an axe, he recited the opening words of the Apostles Creed and fell to the ground. Some stories say that he wrote “Credo in Unum Deum” in blood as he lay dying. When his assassin, Carino of Balsamo, saw that the blow to head had not finished his victim, he stabbed him, which is why Peter often is show with both instruments of matrydom, as so:
His assassin fled to a Dominican monastery, repented, did penance, and is venerated as Blessed Carino Pietro of Balsamo.
I wrote something on the Crusades flap for Catholic World Report. Here’s the beginning:
It’s not hard for President Obama to stir outrage. Six years into his presidency, all he has to do is speak to make the opposition angry. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes not.
At the National Prayer Breakfast, following his condemnation of ISIS violence, the President had this to say: “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
The facts on their face are undeniable. During various Crusades and Inquisitions, some people did indeed do terrible things that no Christian should do, nor should any defend. But they also did great things in the name of Christ, and at the exact same time. Let’s look at one notorious incident and how it played out on both sides.