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“Do not let your adorning be external”*…

 

In 2011, textile conservators discovered fragments of medieval manuscripts lining the hems of dresses at the Cistercian convent of Wienhausen in Northern Germany. The dresses in question, made by nuns in the late fifteenth century, clothed the convent’s statues.

The medieval dresses were made of patches of different cloth such as linen, velvet and silk, some in the form of lampas, a luxurious material, and sported rabbit fur trim. To achieve drapery-like folds in the fur, the nuns stiffened the hems by lining them with strips of parchment gathered in folds by means of a thread. The parchment… was not brought into the Convent for the purpose of lining. In fact, the manuscript fragments that have been discovered are recycled materials that include liturgical manuscripts and legal texts. Book recycling was common in the late fifteenth century, as evidenced by a manuscript from the Bodleian’s own collection (below). Because this was a period of religious reform, liturgical texts became outdated particularly quickly, accounting for their use as dress lining…

Bodleian Library, MS. Lat. liturg. e. 18

Read more at the Bodleian Library’s Conveyor, in Nora Wilkinson’s “Texts and Textiles: Finding Manuscripts in Unusual Places.”

* 1 Peter 3:3

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As we wear it well, we might recall that it was on this date in 1374 that Geoffrey Chaucer received an annual pension of 10 pounds from John of Gaunt.  Chaucer was fresh back from a military expedition to Italy, during which he is believed to have met Petrarch and/or Boccacio, and to have encountered the forms of medieval Italian poetry which he would use in later work like The Canterbury Tales.  Earlier in the year Gaunt’s brother, King Edward III, granted Chaucer “a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life” for an unspecified task– an unusual grant, but given on a day of celebration, St George’s Day (April 23rd), when artistic endeavors were traditionally honored, it is assumed to have been for an early poetic work.  It is not known which, if any, of Chaucer’s extant works prompted the reward, but the suggestion of him as poet to a king places him as a precursor to later poets laureate.

Chaucer in an initial from Lansdowne MS 851 fol. 2. British Library

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Written by LW

June 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?…”*

 

Animals have evolved a variety of defensive techniques– camouflage, tough skins, fierce looks.  But as National Geographic explains, olfactory defenses are among the most effective.  Consider the hoatzin…

Hoatzins on the Rio Napo in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photograph by Jared Hobbs, All Canada Photos/Getty Images

Hold your nose and meet the hoatzin, a bird with a number of distinctions, not the least of which is that it smells like fresh cow manure. The animal mostly eats leaves, which it digests in its crop, a pouch some birds have high up in their alimentary canal. It’s the only bird known to digest by fermentation, like a cow. This process is what causes its odor and has earned it the nickname the “stink bird.”

Don’t knock it, though. That stink means that even people don’t want to eat the hoatzin…

More on feral fragrance at “5 Animals With Stinky Defenses.”

* Friedrich Nietzsche

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As we hold our noses, we might spare a thought for Hannah Wilkinson Slater; she died on this date in 1812. The daughter and the wife of mill owners, Ms. Slater was the first woman to be issued a patent in the United States (1793)– for a process using spinning wheels to twist fine Surinam cotton yarn, that created a No. 20 two-ply thread that was an improvement on the linen thread previously in use for sewing cloth.

A waxen Hannah, at the Slaters’ Mill Museum in Pawtucket, RI

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