Friday, December 05, 2014

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 2

  In this next exciting episode of the medieval tombs story, we will look at the proliferation of knightly grand effigy tombs in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. As tombs extended to different social classes and we produced in different materials and styles, certain concepts and iconography remained consistent. From the 13th century there survive some tombs from the knightly classes, knights depicted in their armour, women in their finest attire.

  This 13th century example from Bedale, in Yorkshire, shows certain features that constantly recur. In this example, the drapery suggests that the figures are definitely lying down, and the lady has her head on a pillow and her hands in praying position.  The knight has his head under an architectural canopy, which suggests standing up, but his pose is a twisted, crosslegged, active but lying down pose. Both figures have animals at their feet, and the knight also has a small kneeling figure of a monk beside him, as well as a beastie biting at his shield.

  The composition has all the significata of liminality, as discussed in the last posting. The uncertainly about verticality or horizontality, the tension between resting and activity, the sense of being still but awake, all point to these figures being still on the threshold. The connection between this depiction and the concept of purgatory is made by the little figure of the monk, who is praying for the knight to hasten his trip to salvation. The monk's head has been knocked off; a common fate for these subsidiary figures with reference to purgatory, which became a discredited concept at the Reformation. The shield would once have displayed his armorials, a reference to his status and family entitlements. There is a little passing nod to feudalism, for those that are into that. Note also that these effigies are battered, worn, decoloured and broken and are sitting on a modern slab surrounded by modern heating pipes, divorced from their original setting. Save that thought for later.
  There is a constant tale that crossed legs on a knight mean that he had been on crusade. This is a myth. Most of the crosslegged knights date from after the crusading period, and some of the earliest effigies from a period when they may have been on crusade, such as some of those in the Temple church in London, do not have crossed legs. However, the pose does seem to denote some reference to the active life as a means to be a good Christian. The beastie biting his shield may represent evil being conquered in the same way as  does the image of a dragon with a crosier down its gullet in the effigies of senior ecclesiastics.

  These effigies of knights in the Temple church, London, represent William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke (d.1219) and William Marshall, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (d.1231). The former is straightlegged and very flat, although his hand is firmly gripped on his sword handle and his drapery hangs down straight as if he is vertical. The latter has the twisted, active pose with his had reaching across his body for his sword, but his surcoat draped open like an unmade bed. Either way, these boys are going to fight their way to wherever they have to go: dead but not yet fully departed.

  Now here is something very interesting, if not beautiful and certainly a trifle creepy. This pair of battered and decontexted wooden effigies lies in the church of Allerton Mauleverer in Yorkshire. The church was rebuilt in the 18th century, but a few old memorials have been salvaged. These would once have been gessoed, painted and gilded and set up in some splendour in an architectural setting. At the time they were photographed (1979) they were lying on pallets with other relics in a dusty corner of the church. They represent two styles of crosslegged knight. The one in the foreground has the active, twisted pose, clutching his sword and shield. The one in the background represents where monumental effigies were going; relaxed but alert, hands in praying position. He is praying for his mortal soul and you are invited to do so too. All his earthly glory has been stripped away, but he's still praying and still waiting. You can spend a long time in purgatory.
  The 14th century produced a great deal of social change, what with plague reducing the workforce, revolting peasants depleting the serf class, expansion of trade and craft specialisation in the towns creating a new class of wealthy civilians, and the necessity for beating up the Scots and the French, and whoever else was being annoying, stimulating the creation of large numbers of new knights. Social mobility was high. 14th century knightly tombs pop up all over the countryside, often in funny little rural churches as well as in the grander places.

  This tomb of a crosslegged knight in Brancepeth, county Durham is typical of the genre. Actually I don't know the fate of this effigy as the church was subject to a disastrous fire which burned the internal woodwork. These tombs are not portraits or personal depictions of the people they represent. They are a highly generic collection of symbols in which the individual is only identified through heraldry or the tomb inscription. Both of these may have disappeared as the heraldic motifs were often painted on, not carved. Inscriptions were lost or deliberately defaced, or the effigy may have been moved and placed on a completely different chest. That is another thought to hold for later. The art historians rather snootily refer to these as "shop work" because they were not individualised but turned out in multiples of very similar copies from particular workshops. That doesn't mean that many of them were not very beautiful.
  Now back then every knight had to have a suit of armour, or at least be depicted as if he had one. Furthermore, it had to be the very latest in suits of armour. While the blank, calm, wide-eyed but not quite dead yet faces were largely identical, every detail was depicted of the changing fashions in surcoats, mail shirts, plate armour, spurs, sword belts, shield shapes and general significata of being a knight. The history of the rapid changes to armour in the 14th and 15th century can be traced closely through funerary depictions, and have been. The feet often rested on an animal, often a tough scary animal like a lion or large hunting dog but sometimes an animal with significance to the owner's name or heraldry. The head often rested on a pillow supported by angels looking upward; another reminder of purgatory and the necessity for the congregation, consisting largely of the knight's feudal tenants, to pray for him. The angels have usually had their heads knocked off by Protestant reformers who didn't approve of such nonsense.

  This spunky knight from Pickering, in Yorkshire, sports the more modern short surcoat over his mail shirt and metal protective plates on his arms. His heraldic arms are actually carved on his shield, his hands are praying, his eyes are open and the decapitated angels are entreating the congregation to help lift him over the threshold. I don't know whether all early 14th century knights had magnificent biker moustaches, but they were certainly drawn that way. It has also occurred to me to wonder whether all these nouveau knights actually had brand new, latest fashion suits of armour in fact, or whether some of them had to clatter off in secondhand mail from their old Uncle William. Status demanded that the latest be depicted on their tombs.
  Moving into the late 14th and 15th centuries, the use of new materials allowed greater expression of conspicuous display, but also made more modest memorials available to those of lesser means. The documentation of armour continued to be meticulous.

  The use of alabaster from Derbyshire, a beautiful, translucent, easily worked stone, resulted in some lavish memorials carved with intricate detail. This example is from Burton Agnes, a small village on the East Yorkshire wolds, which has the remains of a Norman manor house as well as a medium sized post-medieval mansion. The effigies follow the usual conventions with some rather fine foot supporter animals. The chest has weepers and angels bearing heraldic shields under architectural canopies. Very splendid, but a bit "in your face" for a country village.

  Details are intricately rendered. The knight's head, with the latest in Yorkist haircuts, rests on a helm with a large crest of a head, while his Lancastrian SS livery collar is clearly depicted. All is symbolism, nothing is intimate or personal. His praying hands have been knocked off, as have those of his wife, presumably by the same mob that knocked the heads off angels, but the defaced object remains in pride of place, still waiting with eyes open.
  The increasing use of flat brass plates for effigies from the 14th century onwards creates another tradition, although the imagery and symbolism remains the same, just rendered in two dimensions.

  The centre of the nave in Felbrigg church, Norfolk, hosts an array of brasses. The one in the foreground is to Sir Simon and Lady Margaret de Felbrigg (1419). He was a very eminent knight and it shows that this form of memorial could also be a high status tomb, even though it was lying on the floor and people could walk on it. Some were also elevated on table tombs. Brasses are probably better known than the three dimensional effigies because of the former popularity of making reproductions by brass rubbing, a practice no longer permitted in most places. The confusion between verticality and horizontality is expressed somewhat differently in this flat medium. These figures are under an architectural canopy, and the lady's drapery suggests a vertical mode. The knight appears to be standing on the lion at his feet rather than resting his feet on it. Nevertheless, the figures hold their hands in the praying position and the slab is actually horizontal. They are still in a liminal state. 
  It does seem that in the case of brasses, inscriptions are more likely to be preserved, often being on a brass plate at the foot of the effigies. This can give an accurate date for the figures, but also gives us some insights into the later treatment of these tombs. Save that thought for later along with the others.

  This rubbing of a brass, or rather half a brass, as it is actually a four figure composition, is also from Felbrigg and indicates some further changes. The figures are actually only around one metre high and represent Roger and Elizabeth de Felbrigg, parents of the Sir Simon depicted above. The inscription, in French, indicates that Roger is not buried here but died in Prussia. So it is a memorial rather than a tomb. Over time, these smaller brasses proliferated. Some are found in church floors, others on walls. Probably at least some were always intended for the walls and represent something simpler in the way of funerary commemoration.
  It is intriguing that after the Reformation and in the period that some like to designate as Early Modern, some tombs continued in the medieval tradition, with recumbent figures in suits of armour (still a status symbol even if people were essentially city merchants) and still depicted in that liminal state. No angels by pillows or praying for the soul, but a comforting familiarity of tradition. 
  For the next episode we will explore some of the other types of people commemorated and the diversity of their commemoration. Heaven knows how many blog postings this will take up. Meanwhile I am slowly but surely putting up images of tombs from my collection in a Flickr album here. It is totally not organised at this stage, but you can browse randomly.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 1

  Recently, having been sorting and resurrecting my medieval photograph collection, I made a passing remark on Twitter that I should write something about why some of the most splendid medieval tombs are found in strange, tiny places. I received an instant reply from a reader, "In one word, feudalism" with a little extra embellishment. Well, no. Not exactly. Not at all, really. It's far more complicated than that and I have been sitting on this for too long. So I thought I would write a blog post on it. Then I realised it wouldn't fit into a blog post, so here goes on a whole series of blog posts about medieval tombs. You never know, this might turn into something.
  So to start at the beginning, which is always a good idea, here is a quick summary of medieval funerary commemoration. During the course of the middle ages, ordinary folks did not have tombstones or fancy commemorative monuments. Most people were buried outside the church, where there was most likely a churchyard cross to commemorate all of them, as well as serving as a place for preaching and holding weddings. Whatever temporary commemorative objects may have been placed there immediately after death, no trace of them survives. Unmarked graves are not paupers' graves or plague pits, just graves.
  Only people of some significance in their community, whether clerical or lay, were buried inside the church and commemorated with a durable monument. At this point it is necessary to say that the medieval period was never a simple coherent thing, and that the nature of this commemoration, and the people commemorated, changed over the centuries, like most other things - including feudalism.
  The earliest examples of tombs with life sized effigies of the departed appear in the 12th and 13th centuries, representing the top echelons of society. Examples from this early era are relatively sparse, but whether from the fact that not many were constructed, or just the greater capacity for them to be destroyed over time is not entirely clear. I think a bit of both.

  Abbot Benedict of Peterborough died in 1193. His tomb may have been constructed later as an act of commemoration, but the canopy over his head and the drapery of his attire has a Romanesque look. Interestingly, the iconography and conventions of medieval effigy sculpture seem to have been born fully developed. The figure is a calm and expressionless representation of an abbot wearing the appropriate apparel, carrying a crosier and a book, it seems, standing on a serpent which he is choking to death with his crosier, conquering sin or the devil. He is neither lying down nor standing. Although he is horizontal, if the slab were propped up he would be standing under an architectural canopy. He is calm as in death and yet not a corpse. He is, as the anthropologists would say, in a liminal state, on the threshold. No longer here but not yet departed. Hold that thought.

  King John died in 1216. Not a favourite king, but they gave him a decent tomb in Worcester Cathedral. Once again a series of conventions are already established. He wears his crown, as kings always do in artistic depictions. His feet rest on a lion; good tough beast to be associated with and representing Christ in the bestiaries. His tomb chest is adorned with heraldic devices just in case you had forgotten who he was. He has two bishops by his head, and it is not clear whether he is standing or lying down. The drapery of his robe is not definitive on this matter. He is in a liminal state.

  William Longspee died in 1220. He was of very high birth and rank, being the grandson of Geoffrey Plantagenet, father of King Henry II and progenitor of the Plantagenet line. Said Geoffrey was the owner of the first known personal armorial bearings, and these are displayed on the shield of his grandson on his tomb in Salisbury Cathedral. Intriguingly, the elaborations and terminology of heraldry also appear without any obvious evolutionary development in manuscripts such as heraldic rolls at about this era. There is something definitely going on quite abruptly here in relation to the significata of status. William seems to be lying quite definitely horizontal here, dead but still in his earthly glory.

  This is not a uniquely English phenomenon by any means. Evrard de Fouilley was bishop of Amiens from 1211 to 1222. His stunning tomb in Amiens Cathedral is cast from bronze; an amazing feat from an era when some folks claim they had no scientific knowledge, but we will pass on that. Cast bronze is not found in English tombs, but the scheme is very much the same. The bishop wears his ceremonial attire and has two particularly splendid serpents or dragons at his feet. He is attended by two acolytes. He is under an architectural canopy and his drapery is of that enigmatic nature that means the figure could be horizontal or vertical. This tomb shows an important feature that has often disappeared from tombs over the centuries as they have been moved or displaced, the inscription, which runs around the edge in large majuscule letters.
  Where inscriptions survive, they have certain stereotyped and enduring features; they identify the person, their status, when they died, and they beseech prayers for the soul of the deceased. This was an era of increasing significance being placed on the concept of purgatory. The prayers of the living could decrease the time spent in purgatory by the departed and send them on their way to Paradise more quickly. The liminal nature of purgatory itself is reflected in the enigmas of the various representations on these tombs. It very rapidly became the norm that the hands of the deceased were shown in a praying position; another reminder to the congregation. 
  It must be noted that these medieval effigy tombs no longer look like they did when they were new. They were known to have been brightly painted and gilded. The stone was often covered with gesso so that small details were sculpted into it (such as the links of chain mail) that may have disappeared when the effigy was reduced to its stone core. In general there was much more colour in churches, on the wall, painted screens, carvings. In fact there was probably more colour in a church than anywhere else in the medieval experience. How they became so pale and monochrome is a consequence of time, wear and differing aesthetics over the centuries - and, I suspect, something else to do with the concept of liminality. Back to that later.
  So we have a collection of concepts here: identified high status individuals, iconographic significata of rank or status, heraldry, purgatory and an imposition of obligation on the members of a particular community, whether ecclesiastical or lay, to assist the departed to their final state in heaven.
  Once these conventions were established, they spread through other sections of society, and society itself was not static at that time. For the next blog post, a look at the increasing diversity of medieval tomb types, and the features they retained in common. Watch this space.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Notarial Signs

  I have a bit of a change of theme here as a result of a request. Yes, I do requests. Sometimes. A correspondent was interested in images of notarial signs, so I have pulled together all of same from the miscellaneous collection of medieval detritus that I have accumulated and put them up as a Flickr album. Potter through and enjoy.
  The signs themselves represent different ways of doing medieval legal business. In those places where ratification of legal process developed from sworn oral testimony - primitive unlettered places like Britain or the Germanic speaking areas - the insignia of authenticity rested in the use of the seal. People did not sign documents. Kings did not sign documents, King John did not sign Magna Carta, OK? Even when they became a bit more literate, the seal was established as the authenticating instrument and documents referred to witnesses, not necessarily to the document, but to having seen and heard that an oral agreement had been made.

  The seals started off with relatively simple designs, but many became very elaborate by the 14th and 15th centuries.

  Seals were owned by individuals, by offices, by institutions and corporations. There is still a whole field of study with much to be learned about seals.
  In parts of Europe which retained aspects of the Roman system of law, legal documents were drawn up and ratified by notaries, who authenticated them with their own unique pen drawn marks and endorsements. I am informed that such transactions as property deeds tended to be much longer and more specific in detail than the brief and spare charters and deeds of the seal using lands, where the document was basically to identify witnesses who could testify to the details.

  This notarial endorsement was at the bottom of a property deed on a roll that was twenty membranes long. I don't know what they filled it up with as I don't have the other nineteen membranes.
  As every notarial sign was supposed to be unique, they developed many complex elaborations; some more fascinating than beautiful, while other had an ingenious simplicity.

  The division was not necessarily along national lines, or at least what we now perceive as national lines. (OK, that's another story.) In the more southish eastish parts of France the notarial system was in use, while in the more northish westish areas seals were used on short snappy documents as in Britain. Sometimes a belt and braces approach was used, as in the following document from 16th century Brittany. Yes, that's westish. People got around in those days, despite rumours to the contrary.

  In Britain, notaries were only used by the church, to draw up documents with, or appealing to, papal authority, such as this one, so that notaries were a relatively rare species among the writing classes.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Imagining Medieval Leicester

  In my attempts to nibble around the edges of some blockbuster epic projects of yore, and resurrect some interesting photographs, I have tried two Flickr tours of medieval places, Beverley and Pickering, small and charming towns in Yorkshire. So, in a fit of enthusiasm, I have attempted something a little more tricky.
  Leicester is a town whose post-medieval history has cut swathes through its historic past, but it is possible to put together a mental picture of the size and shape and nature of the town through surviving bits and descriptions while plodding up busy streets, dodging traffic and getting lost in labyrinthine parks. It's not like York where you can perambulate leisurely around the walls and fit the picture of the city together and conceptualise the spaces. I'ts like a jigsaw puzzle with lots of bits missing.

  There are relics marooned by traffic.

Some very splendid buildings.

Some sites practically deserted and incomprehensible.

Some things displaced.

And some which have gone forever.

  As our travellers John Leland, Celia Fiennes and Daniel Defoe all had a bit to say about Leicester, we can see how it changed. Links to other photographic sites have been included, as I had not spent as much time in Leicester as some places and some buildings were just not accessible at the time. And of course it is just a wee bit topical right now.
  The system is as before. Start here then click your way through, scrolling, meandering and diverting as you will. Eventually all these bits and pieces will come together into something with coherence and some themes. Optimist, me.
  Now I had better give my brain a rest and just get on with cleaning up and cataloguing all my medieval images. Besides, I'm sick of trying to copy type 16th and 17th century spelling. Bon voyage.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Another Medieval Day Trip - Pickering, Yorkshire

  Continuing the theme of trying to integrate some old resources into little explorations of medieval places (See previous blog post for the background.) the latest little adventure is to Pickering in Yorkshire. This fits the baby steps into small and not too complicated sites, as Pickering has just two notable medieval monuments, a church and a castle.
  The down side of following the formula that I started with Beverley is that neither Daniel Defoe nor Celia Fiennes seem to have visited Pickering, or they were asleep in the coach when it rattled through. This rather messes with the concept. Leland had a few words about it though, so all is not lost.
  The church in Pickering is mainly noted for its 15th century wall paintings, one panel of which, the Corporal Acts of Mercy, I illustrated a couple of postings ago. The tour shows all the paintings, although some of the photographs are a bit dodgy as the lighting conditions can be pretty awful. The pictures were taken by myself on two different occasions and by my son Eddy on a third, and as luck would have it the sun was shining through the clerestory windows on different sides of the church, so something is cobbled together. You can see the scheme, and maybe imagine the totally different aesthetic of a medieval church in its heyday, with coloured imagery jumping out in all directions.

  A huge St Christopher greets all wayfaring travellers who enter the south door of the nave.

The story of St Catherine of Alexandria is told in strip cartoon form as narrated by Jacobus de Voragine in the Golden Legend. And there's much more painted along the nave walls.

  There are tombs, including this handsome knight.

  Although we don't have any descriptions from the 17th century travellers, there is a suitably romantic early 19th century steel engraving that shows the motte and bailey castle is a rather more decrepit and decayed state than it is today. Either English Heritage have tidied and reconstructed it something savage, or 19th century artists liked to embellish the romantic decrepitude of historic places, and they always had sheep or cows and rustic yokels in them.

  In its preserved state it serves as a pretty picnic spot for those who like a touch of history with their potted meat sandwiches and pork pies, and then there is a chance for an excursion on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, one of the best historical steam railways in England. That isn't medieval but it's damned good fun.
  To do the tour, start here . Read the blurb, look at the map, click on the first picture and off you go. You have to scroll down to get the commentary.
  Now, in this meandering ramble through old resources, where do I go next? 

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Little Experiment in Medieval Beverley

  Many years ago, when computers had numbers that ended in *86 and Windows 3.11 was considered the ultimate improvement, I started messing around with multimedia to see how it could be used to present various aspects of medieval history. I was way, way too early. Everything I did back then is now unusable, and Medieval Writing was the only project to be rescued from the wreckage and developed in newer formats.
  Other projects that were being worked on included a guide to the medieval church, of which the only relics are some extracted text files and a Glossary of the Medieval Church, now on the web in totally primitive form. There was an animated medieval atlas, which rapidly morphed into something that looked like a cross between Dungeons and Dragons and Pacman. Another blockbuster epic was a Toolbook project on the nature of medieval towns and the significance of their surviving forms, based on York, Lincoln and Norwich. Then there was the project that never was, about the changes to town and country at the English Reformation, as seen through the eyes of John Leland and some later travellers.
  I have recently been cleaning up, recataloguing and putting on Flickr my collection of medieval digital photographs, all derived from old slides. Not all brilliant photographs by any means, but all telling interesting stories. So here is the experiment. Take a small medieval town, not so spectacular as York, Lincoln or Norwich, but more manageable. Find all the pictures, put them into a Flickr album arranged in a logical narrative and include commentary by Leland, Daniel Defoe and Celia Fiennes by pretending that they are actually adding comments to the Flickr images. Put them all on the map at high resolution, then see if it works. So here is .... ta da .... Beverley.

  It includes big and spectacular things and things now completely missing.

Hidden things.

  Disregarded things.

Displaced things.

  And things you have to hunt around to find.

  So start with the Flickr album Beverley. Read the general blurb on the main page, then click on the first picture. You have to scroll the page down on each picture to get the commentary, which is annoying. Then just click through the tour. If you go back to the main album page, you can also click on the Map link and it shows you where all the pictures were taken, which should get you here. If you click on the Map link under each individual picture, it shows you everybody else's pictures, but many of them have not been placed so accurately on the map, so that might get a bit confusing.
  I would appreciate any feedback. Is it fun? Is it informative? Is it incomprehensible? Is it so bloody annoying that you feel like hurling your computer out the window? Be honest, but nice about it. Please direct any comment to @HipBookfairy on Twitter, as comments directed at this blog are nearly all ads for internet gambling or fake handbags and I have taken to deleting them by default.
  Might try something similar for some other small medieval places before tackling the biggies. And meanwhile I have to continue the donkey work of cleaning up and cataloguing digital photographs.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Corporal Acts of Mercy

  A couple of posts ago I compared two programs in stained glass windows in York, one from the magnificent All Saints North Street. This one also looks at a window from that favourite church of mine, but compares it with a wall painting in the parish church of Pickering in Yorkshire. This is another in strip cartoon style, representing the Corporal Acts of Mercy. This theme is not so foreign or exotic as some in medieval iconography, as we are still carrying out those same functions today for our brethren who have fallen on hard times, whatever our religious persuasion, or lack of it.
  The concept, unlike many in medieval Christian iconography, comes straight from the Gospels. "For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." (Matthew 26:35-36, from the one and only King James version). This is the road to salvation, so it is perhaps unsurprising that a wealthy patron might wish to have himself commemorated performing these acts, as appears to be the case in All Saints, North Street, where a benign, bearded elderly gent presides over every panel.

  The acts of mercy are represented in the two central rows of panels. The bottom row contains images of kneeling donors and an image of the sun and planets, which may or may not actually belong here.

  To feed the hungry, the virtuous man doles out loaves of bread to beggars with the help of a faithful servant.

  To give drink to the thirsty, he pours liquid from jugs into bowls with the aid of the same wee servant. Note that the figure in front is walking on padded knees with little stools under his hands; one of the desperately needy.

  He takes in the stranger by welcoming a couple of travellers with walking staffs into his home. I'm not too sure whether that is supposed to represent a cockle shell on his hat, indicating that he too has been a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostella. I may be over-reading it here.

  He clothes the naked with some spiffy red garments, once again with the help of the faithful servant. Medieval guys wore boxer shorts evidently.

  He visits a sick man, bringing some sort of gift - might be money, or bread, or home baked goodies. Probably money, I think. The wife of the sick man seems quite overcome. Note the commode by the bed. The 15th century glaziers of York were quite partial to this as a symbol of illness or impending death.

  Finally he visits the prisoners, not in some dungeon vile, but in the town stocks. Best of all, he has brought a large purse into which he is dipping his fingers. Presumably he has payed their fines. Perhaps it is easier to be virtuous if you are rich.

  The wall paintings in Pickering church are faded and less vividly coloured, not to mention difficult to photograph as you are firing into the clerestorey windows. They are also enthusiastically restored, but the scheme is still there. This church contains an array of paintings of some of the most popular motifs in late medieval art, but we will look at this one for now. 

  The individual panels slightly overlap one another, giving the look of a continuous scene.

  In this sequence a beardless young dandy dispenses the goods, in this case loaves of bread to a couple of long haired wayfaring strangers who look alarmingly like George Harrison and John Lennon from the late 1960s. This seems to combine feeding the hungry with taking in the strangers.

  These same two enjoy a quaff from a bowl which has been dispensed from a jug.

  The young man has also dispensed a garment which seems to be a bit difficult to get into, as the wayfarers proceed on their journey. If you are wondering, as I was, why a large spear might be considered a merciful thing to give the needy, I think the figures on the right actually belong to the next scene, as follows.

  The benefactor is visiting a prisoner in a cell. As he is holding a large purse, I presume he has bribed the jailer to lower his weapon. The grateful fed, watered and clothed hippies seem to have come along to help, or perhaps they are just wayfaring on.

  Here he visits the sick bearing some sort of gift, again with a somewhat overwrought wife in the background.

  The final panel represents the burial of the dead. This is not mentioned in Matthew, but it makes up that favourite number seven, and is undoubtedly a merciful act, at least for the survivors.
  So what does this all have to do with Medieval Writing? Well it does show that texts can be represented in pictures, and were. I don't think it necessarily implies that the readers were illiterate, but just that the teaching and preaching tradition contained written, pictorial and oral elements which added up to a total experience in the church, which was undoubtedly a more colourful and exciting environment than any other in the lives of most parishioners. It also encouraged the worshippers to pray for the souls of the patrons and donors represented there, in the same way that medieval tombs did. That's a story for another day.
  I don't think I know of this pictorial program in a medieval manuscript, but they are probably out there somewhere. If you know of one, please tweet it to @HipBookfairy.