Holy blingbling

Some of the most fascinating medieval textiles survived time because they were kept in church treasuries as relic pouches, church vestments ect.  
You see them in museums, admire the gorgeous craftsmanship - but why bother to recreate them, normaly they are of no use at a living history event...

Lid of a communion wafer box from Bayrisches Nationalmuseum

Really? Piety was an important part of everyday live throughout the middle ages, so we thought about explainig a bit of that to the public at museum events for a change. And besides being a very interesting aspect of live (ecspecially if you grew up in a family of agnostics like me...), it is a wonderful reason to recreate rather unusual stuff :-)
We already had the little Totentanz I made last year, some pilgrim badges, a rosary - kind of normal stuff... So why not go for something fancy, something the medieval pilgrim would have seen at a "Heiltumsweisung" (presentation of holy artefacts to the public, sometimes with a procesion): a relic. Or two, or maybe even three...
Andi and I began to research on interesting relics covered in textiles (yes, there are those incorporated in big vessels made of precious metals - I'll go for them after I won the lottery...). I started to play around with bits of silk fabric, silk and gold thread, small gold bezans, glass beads, pearls, pen and paper. Andi took care of what was going to be inside the textile covering: skulls and bones. And after ten months of research and handiwork, we finally had this: 

Display of our relic replicas at Marienstiftskirche Lich

The first thing I finished was a box for communion wafers - these were often used later on to house relics.

A round splint box of apr. 10cm diameter, covered and lined with fine linen fabric. On the outside the linen is covered by a 13th century silk fabric (replica). A fingerloop braid made from silk and goldthread covers the brim of the lid and forms a closure over a rock crystal bead. Small blue and white glass beads are sewn to the braid and over the area where the silk is fixed to the linen at the lower part of the boxes body.

Examples of this type of Pyxis ("box") are now in Basel (Historisches Museum), Munich (Bayrisches Nationalmuseum) and Regensburg (Historisches Museum).

Pyxis with silk covering

And then the "Bone-box" arrived - a parcel full of ribs, finger bones and skulls. No real human bones of course, but high class anatomical 100% scale models, really hard to tell from the real thing...

A lot of the relic busts you can see in churches and museums today have been altered (some of them even more than once) since the middle ages, so we looked for the rather rare examples without baroque additions. Not very successful until Isis from Medieval Silkwork visited us and brought a book with her called "Stof Uit de Kist. de Middeleeuwse Textielschat Uit de Abdij Van St.-Truiden " (thanks Isis!). And in there was what we were looking for: A relic bust covered in silk showing the cranium of a saints skull. Thanks to the photos and detailed description it was possible to build a bust just like the original.

Andi altered the colour of the part of the skull that would be visible so that it looked old and like it was touched rather often. Then he build an understructure out of wood to put the cranium onto. I made a linen cover for it stuffed with leftover bits of wool fabric and attached the visible silk covering to it. Just like the original, the bust is only meant to be seen from this side - the other side is not even covered at all, you can still see the wooden structure.

relic bust replica covered in 11th century silk

Besides the relic bust they also have skulls wrapped in silk fabrics in Sint-Truiden abby, so we also replicated those. The originals supposedly belonged to some of the 11.000 virginal handmaidens of St. Ursula... Relics of the 11.000 maidens can be found all over europe today - there literally was a "maiden export trade" in Cologne in the middle ages:  Outside the city gates a burial ground was found in the 12th century (then called ager Ursulanus) containing the remains of the maidens. Today there is a widespread belief that it was just one of the many roman or early medieval grave fields in and around Cologne ;-)       

Anyway, medieval people believed in the 11.000 handmaidens, so we replicated two of them: To the left a skull wrapped in red silk tafetta with a headband and bands crossing at the top of the head made from gold brocaded "Kölner Borte" (bands from Cologne woven with gold thread). I was lucky enough to buy one meter of it from a church vestment workshop - they sold some leftovers from around 1920 and older...

To the right a skull covered in silk gauze with a tabletwoven silk headband I made with little flower shaped gold bezans. The warp of the headband appears to be striped because the tablets alternated s and z in groups...

skulls of less important saint were often just sewn into fabric
instead of incorporating them into a precious metal vessel 

Looking for other types of relics we came across some put inside a glass or crystal vessel, so we had to build one of those. Here is a bone fragment put inside a 13th century glass replica sealed with wax. The cedula (piece of parchment or paper stating from which Saint the relic is) inside the glass is a copy of a paper cedula from Bad Gandersheim from the 14th century - something rather common in a lot of church treasuries: Older relics were occasionaly repacked and labled with a new cedula when their vessel was to worn or considered not grand enough anymore...  

relic in a glass vessel

And finally we got into mass production ;-)
Bad Gandersheim has a vast number of relics from different Saints wrapped or sewn into little pieces of costly fabric, some labled with a cedula. So we used a lot of the silk fabric cut-offs I had kept from different projects over the last years. Most of the relic packs are really small, so a little wood turned pyxis can house a lot of them... There is one in Quedlinburg Domschatz where the lid is stuck nowadays - maybe its content looks like this: 

Pyxis filled with relic bundles
First time Andi took all the relics with him was to a rather small, but very nice event in Lichs gothic Marienstiftskirche - the perfect room for his presentation :-)

As it was so much fun to research and recreate all this, we will keep up "the relic industry", so look out for updates...


Having fun the peasant way...

How can I describe the most beautiful reenactment weekend I ever had?
Take a look at the photos and see for yourself:

Invited by Evocatio Ratisbonensis we went to Oberpfälzer Freilandmuseum in Neusath to have a late 15th century peasants fun fair - just the thing medieval farmes, cow herds and other rural people would have liked: a day off from working in the fields with lots of good food, beer and some fun like games, a lottery and a crossbow contest.

It took us 18 people almost three days to prepare everything for all the guest that would come to the fair on sunday...
We had to cut down the high grass where the games would take place, build lances for jousting, put up the target for a crossbow contest, stalls where you could by food and drink, an outdoor fireplace for cooking all the food and a big pavilion housing the kitchen during preparations.

clearing the "jousting arena"
raking grass with the brand new rake

Almost everybody brought bits and pieces of leftover wool fabric dyed in bright colours and I also brought my colourful wool ropes. Together with a lot of wild flowers collected on site and some straw our team of decoraters turned them into garlands, floral wreaths, straw stars and fluttering ribbons.
flowers for the kitchen table
a garland for "our" house

leaf wreaths for the contest winners
Bierzoigl on the tavern
 The big pavilion we used as a kitchen shed would be our tavern on sunday - so we stuck a big "Bierzoigl" made of straw and decorated with strips of leftover wool fabric to it. This hexagram is the traditional brewer's sign in Germany at least since the early 15th century (yes, it looks like the jewish star of David - a mere coincidence!). You can see it in the picture of the brewer Herttel in the housebook of the Mendelsche Zwölfbrüderstiftung from 1425 for example. It was used to mark breweries and alehouses and is still used by some brewing companies and inns in Germany today (see Wikipedia for details). And of course our beer stall where you could buy "Helles" and Dünnbier (only 0,1% alc.) also got one:

having a chat with the innkeeper

And then we started to cook... three cooks and a lot of helping hands cooked up pies and pot roasts, fresh butter and roasted ducks, fish soup and chicken stew, tartes and flat cakes.

"Are you tough enough to help in the kitchen, mate?"

We made chicken pies, carrot & thyme pies, cream & cheese pies, cream & ham pies, meat pies with lebkuchen sauce, meat & vegetable pies - enough to feed a small army ;-)

pies under construction

some pies before they went into the oven:
2 carrot & thyme pies, chicken & vegetable pie, cream & cheese pie

big bread oven (houses 20 loafs at once!) used...for baking pies

"Hm, they smell delicious... Have a taste of that pie!"

After all these hearty pies you need something sweet! So we made tartes with fresh fruit - plum tartes and  redcurrant, cherries and gooseberries on a bed of cream cheese.

plum tarte with nuts

In another oven in the same museum a local baker makes lovely traditional rhye bread on sundays - so all we had to do was order some and make fresh butter to go with the warm bread. Mhhhhhhhhhh, great!

Go for it!
Almost there - just a moment and the cream will turn into butter

The bonus for the one working at the churn - whipped cream leakes everywhere...

There also was  the best roast duck I ever ate in my life - you just can't beat a wood fired oven! We filled the ducks with apples, onions and dried plums, seasoned them with salt and pepper and basted them with dark beer every 20 minutes. Do I have to say more?

most delicious roast duck ever!

 Apart from eating and drinking we had some fun and games - a jousting tournament "peasant style", a crossbow contest, rope pulling, a funny game where you try to beat a stick as far away as possible with another stick, an early form of boule... And becaus tournaments are only real fun if you can win something, there were prices of course: A roast duck or a fruit tarte for the winning team, a big mug of beer for the second and so on. And the winner of the crossbow contest even won enough plant dyed wool fabric for a new pair of hosen.

winning team to the left - they won a tarte with fruit and cream cheese :-)

testing the brand new crossbow

I still think they won due to mass ;-)
 And because a fair would not be a real fair if you could not buy anything we had a hawker and a stall where you could buy pottery replicas.
"Hökerin" at work - selling candles, thread reels and other stuff

 Thanks to everyone who made this weekend so special!

They must have thought we were some kind of entertainment programm just for them...



Yes, I'm still there - not much in the workshop at the moment, though :-/
There are a lot of good reasons for that: Getting started for the events I'm going to attend this year (TEMPUS at Dorstadt being one of them), work, private things and last but really not least 12 cute little reasons with 4 feet and fluffy wool :o)

Paula, her brother and their proud mum, Josephine

Paula 10 days later

When I'm not at work or with my sheep, I'm working on a new 14th century dress (12 gore dress after Herjolfsnes) and on a research projekt about relics, relic bags and boxes and things related. I'll write more about that soon and show you some of the stuff I made...

In the meantime here is something for all you textile lovers that the people from The Archeology of York have made available for download:
Textile Production at 16–22 Coppergate by Penelope Walton Rogers