Friday, December 14, 2012

Garden Haul! or: The End of the Beginning, Part 1

Well, with the year and semester being over, we begin to hunker down for the cold months that await us. As the lake freezes and the soil sounds crunchy beneath our feat, we turn now to Loyola's Medieval Garden? 

Just how did she fair this fall? Well, there's an old saying: If at first you don't succeed, redefine success! I kid, I kid. But the semester has had its ups and its downs, for sure. First, I think I need to reiterate just how I found the garden:

Though the image quality is dreadful, you can see the overgrowth and the lack of order. Fennel, Pseudo-Hyssop, Creeping Charlie, Crabgrass and thistles were allowed to run rampant over the entire garden. Some of that is still present, I'm afraid, but through hard work a lot has been accomplished. 

The pansies added in September. Much to our dismay, rabbits loved pansies and not in the good way. 

My friend and graduate student Hector Escobar tilling the soil. In December. Odd weather we've been having.

The harvest was not plenty but the workers were indeed few.

The man of action himself. Take note, readers on how a man disposes of chaff. 
With some photos explaining our progress over the semester, it's time you folks found out just what we were able to pull out of the garden.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Charlemange and the Capitulare de Villis: "So that none might be reduced to poverty"

Charlemagne (or Karolus Magnus) was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800 AD by Pope Leo III. The next (and last) 14 years of Charlemagne's life were completely devoted to establishing his family's hold over his vast empire, and solidifying Christianity in the West against the various bands of pagans that constituted the disparate political landscape.

Not only did the emperor seek to revive arts and learning (his efforts resulted in what we now call the "Carolingian Renaissance"), he sought to revive the economy as well. One of the more famous documents to come out of this period was Charlemagne's Capitulare de Villis, or On the Management of Estates.

In this early, chaotic period of the Middle Ages, Charlemagne hoped to revive what he saw as a more stable, Roman villa-based economy. The document lays out Charlemagne's and his court's plans for proper estate management and productivity levels, with these stated goals:

It is our wish that those of our estates which we have established to minister to our needs shall serve our purposes entirely and not those of other men. 
That all our people shall be well looked after, and shall not be reduced to penury by anyone.

The entirety of the Capitulare de Villis can be found here, and in English!

9th-century manuscript depicting the event. The king himself said that the crowning was a surprise, but I surmise that it was awfully hard for the pope to hide a big, jeweled crown and sneak up on a kneeling man without anyone noticing. 

The Peasant Economy Part 2: Gardens

A major problem in garden research (at least, that I have found) is that generally, as garden knowledge was so common-place and not considered a real "science" of sorts, most horticultural knowledge was passed down orally; at least, it was almost never written down. I assume it's the same with riding a bicycle - no one buys a book on how to ride a bicycle; everyone just teaches their children (and so on) how to do it. Reflect on future generations, who will ponder just what those strange, two-wheeled contraptions are!

What in God's name... (Here's to hoping that these get popular again one day)

Nonetheless, gardens and gardening are not entirely absent from medieval literature (as previous posts have shown) - and not just in the figurative and literary sense. Gardens and information regarding their care show up in deeds, charter, surveys, manorial or household accounts, and wills.[1]

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Labyrinth COMPLETED!

After two months of hard work and the generous support of volunteers, I can proudly say that Loyola University's Medieval Labyrinth is finally fully restored, and then some!

Click below to see more of the excellent additions!

Cosimo's Garden: Fit for a Prince

Cosimo d'Medici assumed control of the Florentine Republic in 1415, and started the famous Medici dynasty that would control much of Italy and influence Europe for much afterward. His immense wealth meant that he controlled all political offices in Florence - Pope Pius II said of Cosimo that "he is king in all but name."

Much like Augustus Caesar when he assumed the role of first emperor of the Roman Empire, Cosimo had to balance two images during his reign - that of the good republican, and that of the noble prince worthy of meeting with other princes and rulers on equal terms.

What is interesting for our purposes is how the garden of Cosimo in the Palazzo Medici served both to highlight Cosimo's civilian origins and princely bearing.

Cosimo d'Medici, pictured here frustrated that his son's nickname"the Gouty" had caught on.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Expressive Landscaping

I hope all readers of this blog had a happy Thanksgiving - I certainly did, and enjoying time with the family is never something to be passed up.


Robert Liddiard, in his article "Medieval-Designed Landscapes: Problems and Possibilities," says that until recently, historians of landscapes have disregarded medieval gardens in favor of the "developments" and "progress" displayed by post-medieval landscaping and horticulture. Specifically, he says:

"The suggestion that medieval men and women did not, or could not, conceive of the countryside in anything other than functional terms remained influential in writing on high-status landscapes for many decades; the scattered nature of landholding, attitudes to private property, and a perceived lack of appropriate sensibilities all ensured that 'the aesthetic manipulation of the countryside was not to begin until after the close of the Middle Ages (Williamson 1988, 261)'"[1]

The line "perceived lack of appropriate sensibilities" caught my eye, as I feel it more or less typifies the academic and popular attitude towards the Middle Ages as a whole. Whether it is gardening, or science, philosophy, or art, medieval Europe is given the short-end of the stick in popular imaginings - nowhere is this more evident in the terminology of "the Dark Ages." What was nothing more than a smug declaration of superiority bycontinental Enlightenment thinkers has curiously maintained itself in public vocabulary despite numerous, efficacious challenges to its veracity. People are only now rediscovering Peter of Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and [to bring things back on track] the nuanced way medieval society viewed the world in which they lived. Particularly through landscaping and horticulture!

While never truly forgotten in the Roman Catholic Church, Scotus has for a long time been ignored in the secular academic world.