Merovingians, again…

Please join me today for this great story. It is an old story, but worth repeating. I have had an interest in the earlier garb styles for as long as I have been an SCA member, and even before that. This particular topic, the Merovingians, their clothing and adornments are very fascinating to me.

Back in 2014 several excavations were done in the town of Uden, not that far from the borders of Trivium.

Uden, in the south of The Netherlands

Hundreds of traces and items from the early Middle Ages were found in Uden. Among other things, an iron sword and a ‘Pouch Cup‘ from the Merovingian age (525-725) were excavated.

The excavated items are proof that around 550CE the first farmers started inhabiting the south of The Netherlands. The swords, horse harness, gold coins and jewellery show us that the people were not poor.

Some 29 graves in total were discovered from the Merovingian time, between 550 and 680CE. In addition, this very unique glass was found, the so called Pouch Cup, of fine quality, of which there are only 9 in Europe.

Pouch Cup

Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I would like to tell you something about that, and at the same time I would like to showcase the art of a fellow Scadian, the lady Else van Stretford, whose persona documentation I wrote not too long ago. Read that article here.

Mother’s Day is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. It is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly in the months of March or May.

The origins of Mother’s Day can be traced back to the era of the ancient Greek and Romans; during this period the Greeks and Romans held festivals for the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele.

The latest and more moderate version of Mother’s Day, however, can be dated back to the Christian festival, ‘Mothering Sunday’ that was first held in the UK. During the 16th century, people returned to their local Mother churches for a service held on Laetare Sunday. In this context, one’s Mother church was either the church where one was baptized, the local parish church, or the nearest cathedral (the latter being the mother church of all the parish churches in a diocese). Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone ‘mothering’, a term recorded by 1644:

Every Midlent Sunday is a great day at Worcester, when all the children and godchildren meet at the head and cheife of the family and have a feast. They call it the Mothering-day.

In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members.

In churches, you may sometimes see carvings on the altars of a pelican feeding little pelicans. The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation.

It is for this reason, that Lady Else has added the Pelican feeding her young on this beautiful card for Mother’s Day.

Oldest bridge

Today, I would like to tell you about the oldest bridge in the Low Lands. It is an incredible structure!

I am going to take you to Maastricht, all the way to the South of The Netherlands, very close to the Belgian border. It also happens to be my favourite city because the town is bursting with medieval atmosphere!

The oldest bridge of my country is also situated here and it was built in the 13th century, between the years 1280 and 1298. Because the land where the bridge was built on (yes, both sides of the Meuse river) belonged to the Saint Servatius church chapter, the bridge was not only called Saint Servatius bridge, the monks were also allowed to collect tolls.

Part of the tolls were supposed to be used for the upkeep of the bridge but sadly the monks only practised ‘damage control’ and would only replace the odd brick here and there. As a result, in 1349 the city of Maastricht took control of the bridge and the much needed repairs.

Source: Wikipedia

Now, I would not be showing you a bridge, as beautiful as this one is, if there wasn’t something incredibly interesting about it. Not to sound degrading, but this is a lot of bricks, yes? And this one you see here is the reconstructed one from 1948, after it was destroyed in September 1944.

Enter the Charter of Conrad III, king of the Holy Roman Empire from 1138 till 1152. I mentioned just now that the Saint Servatius Church Charter was allowed to collect tolls on the bridge. This deed, from the year 1139 is exactly that: the King’s donation of the bridge over the river Meuse (later called Sint-Servatius bridge) to the chapter of Saint Servatius in Maastricht. The charter was kept for centuries in the archive of the chapter of Saint Servatius.

What is says:

Eapropter eorum videlicet qui beato Servatio militant necessitatibus iuxta apostolum communicantes, pro amore dei et beati Servatii … necnon et Arnoldi cancellarii nostri eiusdem ęcclesię prepositi precum instantia permoti, pontem, qui supra Mosam situs est in ipso Traiecto, quem nostri iuris indubitanter esse constat, beato Servatio donamus et concedimus cum omni usu et utilitate, quę omnibus temporibus inde proveniet, libere possidendum hac conditione servata, ut de ipso fructu, qui inde percipietur, pons idem, quocienscumque necesse fuerit, reficiatur, reliquum, quod super erit, in duas partes dividatur, alia cedat in usum prepositi et successorum illius, alia vero ad refectorium fratrum et cotidiani victus augmentum. Cura vero et custodia eiusdem pontis sub tali cautela fiat, ne vel prepositus fratribus vel fratres preposito in causa premineant, sed sicut eos pares fecimus in donatione, sic etiam parificentur in ipsius possessionis ordinatione. Quod si prepositus vel aliquis successorum eius partem suam beneficiare vel invadiare temerario ausu presumpserit, tam ipse quam successores sui eadem portione ulterius careant, et in usus fratrum eadem pars cum altera iure perpetuo possidenda redigatur. … Actum publice in ęcclesia beati Servatii … multis clericis et laicis presentibus … quorum nomina subscripta sunt: Winandus ęcclesię sancti Servatii dekanus, Reinerus scholasticus, Andreas cantor, Willo camerarius, Everardus cellerarius …; ex familia ęcclesię Godefridus de Machlinis, Franco frater eius, Christianus, Engrammus, Godefridus frater eius, Heinricus de Lata Strata, Bertoldus villicus, Reinerus, Adolfus.

(R. Hackeng “Het middeleeuwse grondbezit van het Sint-Servaaskapittel te Maastricht in de regio Maas-Rijn”)

Translation (not perfect!!):

For that reason, according to the Apostle to the needs of their sharing in the One who is the blessed Servatio serve in the army, for the love of God and of the blessed Servatius… as well as of the provost of the church of the same, and the fervency of our greatly alarmed by Arnold the chancellor, over the bridge, which is above the Meuse that had been laid there, in the very he had transported, without doubt, which is admitted to be our own masters we grant and concede them the benefit of the use of Servatio, he and all of the blessed, which is accessible at all times from there turn out, is free to possess it: and the condition that in practice, is that from Him the fruit, He then addressed the same runway, as often as necessary, to recover the rest, so that above will be divided into two parts, one turns to the use of the reeve and his successors, and others in the refectory of daily living and growth. Under the care of such a caution, however, and the hold of that bridge done so as not to the reeve, or brethren, to the brethren in the cause of premineant or the reeve, in the gift; but, as we have done, that they were equal, so, too, were equivalent to the possession in the ordination. But if you, the reeve or any of his successors, pledge, or a part of it too bold and his beneficiare presume to do so, both he and his successors should further be deprived of a portion of the same, so when the second part of the right to possess for ever the same, and in the support of a brother to be drawn up. Publicly in St. Servatius … … … presents many clerical and lay, whose names are underwritten, Winandus Church St. Servatius Dekans Reinerus student Andrew Canter, Willem Chamberlain, Everard cellerarius …; , of the family of the Church, Godfrey of Machline, the French king was his brother, a Christian, Engrammus, Godfrey, his brother, Henry of The wide street, it Bertold him a steward, Reiner, Adolf.

Disclaimer: I am aware that my Latin and the resulting translation is not perfect! BUT this translation is NOT for grading or an exam, it is for your entertainment only so that you have an idea of the contents of the deed. Thank you for not shooting the messenger.

Where counts live

Hello all, it has been a while. I have been using my time over the past few weeks to write some new articles and I know full well I have neglected you all a bit.

I am going to tell you about a building I know very well, inside and out, in my hometown of Leiden: the Gravensteen.

Graven means Counts, and Steen was used to indicate a place where law was practised . I know this building so well because it used to be home to the International office of Leiden university and yes, I used to work there. When my persona Ava is parked somewhere safe, my regular mundane person has to work for a living, right? 🙂 And so, this old building was my office, back in 2006.

Gravensteen, Leiden, photo Wikipedia

The Gravensteen was built at the beginning of the 12th century. First, it was used as a safe house for the Counts of Holland, who used a local manor as one of their residences frequently. Later it became the local prison. The square tower dates (in all probability) from the 13th century, making it the oldest surviving part of the building.

It is by far the most beautiful building I ever worked in.

In 1556, the prison cells you see in the gallery were added to the building. Punishments were a public event, as you might know. The culprit would be tied to the pole you see below and would receive a flogging as a sentence. After this, no doubt many a rotten egg followed by the enthusiastic crowd…

Unique library

Dearest Traveller, I have found SUCH a unique place! Please, come sit by the fire, I really must tell you all about this amazing library!

This library, called Librije is a public reading room from the year 1564, founded by 2 church masters from the Walburgis church in Zutphen, Conrad Slindewater and Herman Berner. The reading room was not only meant for members of the church, but also for the entire city and held quite a diverse number of books. Because the disappearance of books (is theft a nasty word?), the church masters decided to create a ‘chain library’. Some books have been chained to the reading desks since the time of foundation. The reading desks (lecterns) date from the 1560s.

Librije, Zutphen

The Librije was intended to be a stronghold against the increasing popularity of the Reformation. Slindewater thought that, if people read the right books, they would be cured of their “errors” and become true believers of the Christian faith. To him this meant the Roman Catholic faith. Mind you, this isn’t my personal opinion, just quoting here 😉

The core of the collection consists of acquisitions by Slindewater and Berner in the first half of the 16th century. Another part of the collection was acquired through legacies. Particularly in the 15th and 16th century, learned inhabitants of Zutphen left their books to the ‘Librije’. The collection contains 5 manuscripts and 85 incunabula (books printed before 1500). On the reading desks we find mainly books from the original collection – 15th and 16th century works with beautifully tooled leather covers and silver mountings.

This library is a unique and recognized cultural and historical monument! There is only ONE other chain library in Europe: the Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena. (Italy).

Another beautiful and unique ring found in Utrecht

photo by Alexander van der Bunt

A very special gold ring was found in Utrecht: a medieval Love Ring, or Promise Ring. It is unique because it is the first of its kind found in The Netherlands. The discovery was presented to the world by Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht.

This ‘black letter posy ring’ was made between 1375 and 1550. On the inside this gold ring has a poetic line: Amours portent mon cuer à mon ami. Translated it reads ‘love leads my heart to my beloved’.

We do not know who the beloved was, or to whom the ring belonged. Promise rings like these were not uncommon in Europe. Especially in Great Britain these rings were common to declare your love for a person.

The Utrecht ring is unique in several aspects. Not only is it the first one found here in the Low Lands, but the text is remarkable as well. Who is ‘mon ami‘ ?

Usually this type of ring was given to a woman by a man. But then, following the rules of French grammar, it would have been ‘mon amie’ with an E.

Was it, in this case, a woman who gave the ring to a man? Or was it a ring from a man to another man? The French language from those days was studied but that gave no clues as to why there was only an I at the end of ‘ami’. It is extraordinary to say the least!

Three Ravens

My dear traveller, come and sit, warm yourself by the fire. How good of you to stop by! In times like these friendliness is much needed. Is the plague wreaking havoc where you are from? I sincerely hope not! This village, where I live, is a safe place. Friendly folk, enough food and wool for spinning.

In my house you, too, will have a safe place. Have you met my new neighbours? Allow me to introduce you… I have named them Tristan and Iseult. Iseult is actually the one peeking over the fence. Tristan is forever looking for food and not interested in humans…. aren’t they adorable?

Tristan & Iseult

It is in times like these that I turn to music. Perhaps it may offer you some solace as well. This next balad is gloomy. Really gloomy, and fitting for the times we live in. The music, however, is simple and easy to learn. And you know, that is the main reason I am sharing it with you. You can learn this too! The song was composed around the year 1611 by a gentleman named Thomas Ravencroft. Here, have a look at the sheet music.

Knitted hats

The snow in my country makes me long for hot cocoa and knitting. Yes, knitting. I am not going to show you what I knit myself. That really isn’t something to write about. Instead, what I am going to share with you today, is just a bit outside the SCA time frame. But you know what? I don’t care! These hats, because it is hats I am going to show you, are absolutely adorable and date from the late 17th century.

In 1980 archaeologists investigated the graves of 185 Dutchmen – whale hunters and workmen of the train oil refineries – who had died on or near Spitsbergen during the 17th century. The skeletons were still wearing their knitted woollen caps! Each cap was individualized; the men recognized one another only by the pattern of stripes on the caps. The men were bundled up so tightly against the fierce cold that only their eyes were visible. And, if you have ever been in a snowstorm, you know you can barely see. So those hats were important to recognize a particular co-worker.

The amazing re-enactor Sally Pointer also has a pattern available on Ravelry, or you can order from her shop. She describes these caps as doubly knitted. The hats are without seams, so made on a circular needle OR on 4 separate needles. You then create a very long tubular shaped item, Sally describes it as a “large flat rugby ball”. You then fold one end into the other, thus creating a very warm double layered hat. You can felt them, as was costumary back then and will of course also give you warm ears today 😉

This hat from Marken you see hereunder, dates from the 1800s. You can see how the lighter knitwork can become the lining by folding it inwards.

If you look on elsewhere on Ravelry, the knitting community online, you will be able to find a pattern if you look for ‘Dutch whaler’s cap‘. So, what’s keeping you? Get your yarn!

The entire Spitsbergen excavation is documented in this book by archeologist Sandra Comis, I will try to find an English version and post it here as well.


Archeologists have uncovered quite a few remarkable graves in Belgium from the 7th century. Read on if this is your thing!

The river Durme, near Elversele in Belgium, has been a place of habitation since the beginning of time. Some 47 Merovingian graves and grave finds were uncovered in 2018. The finds are quite unique for the area.

On a small sand dune, archeologists discovered a grave field of 32×18 metres with 47 graves in total. The graves and grave finds all dated from the Merovingian era. After analysis of the grave items, it was discovered the graves were from the 7th century and a discovery like that is quite rare in Flanders. The site has a ton of information on burial rituals, status and culture of these early medieval people.

In Flanders, the Merovingians ruled from the 5th till the 8th century. Men, women and children were buried individually, usually in a wooden grave chamber or coffin. The deceased received a lot of goods for the journey to the Other Side. Beads, amulets, fibulae were found, but also daggers, swords, knives and shields.