Gardening at The Met Cloisters

At the northern edge of Manhattan, nestled atop a hill in peaceful, leafy Fort Tryon Park, is a small slice of the Middle Ages: the Met Cloisters. Beyond its impressive collection of medieval art, this museum is also notable for their gardens, whose varied contents shift with the seasons.

Colonnade at The Met Cloisters: Aloe, Houseleek, Dittany of Crete and other medieval plants are shown potted on the  ledge in the foreground. Bavarian Hops climb to the roof in the background.

Ashley Newby, a current Medieval Studies MA student and extern volunteer in the gardens of The Met Cloisters, writes about her experience:

The three enclosed gardens of The Met Cloisters contain a carefully researched collection of plants either inspired by those featured in medieval art, or historically cultivated in medieval gardens. They are maintained by three full-time horticulturalists and a dozen or so volunteers. I had the opportunity to join the volunteer staff this past March, and for the past four months have spent Tuesday mornings grabbing a quick cup of coffee and walking through Fort Tryon Park to work in the gardens.

One of my favorite aspects of this work has been the opportunity to learn the history of each plant–particularly those grown in the Bonnefont Cloister, which are directly sourced from medieval European varietals. Some historical uses are more entertaining than strictly accurate…Mandrake root, for instance, was thought to resemble a human body and thus to cure all ills except death. It was also rumored to make a terrible noise if uprooted by a human, which could possibly drive the harvester mad and might even prove lethal. (For this reason it was advised to tie one’s dog to the plant and harvest it safely via a third party.) By contrast, the uses of other plants are still appreciable today. Sweet woodruff was regularly used in medieval households to perfume linens, sweeten bedstraw, and make garlands on feast days. Woodruff is low-growing and not especially flashy, but when cut and allowed to dry it produces a chemical known as coumarin which is amazingly fragrant, smelling like spicy new-mown hay.

Sweet Woodruff, Bonnefont Cloister Garden

Working with plants like these has given me a more direct understanding of how life was experienced and rationalized in the Middle Ages. I am especially grateful to the Managing Horticulturist, Caleb Leech, as well as to the two other full-time horticulturists and garden-tour docents who have taken time to share their knowledge with me.

Fermented Woad, compressed into ball and dried, prior to making blue dye

I have also appreciated the opportunity to learn slowly, while working with the plants themselves. In graduate school it can often be tempting to privilege time spent researching in the library above any other kind of “work.” But I have discovered that nothing can replace the knowledge gained through direct manual labor, outdoors in the fresh air. Even the seemingly mindless work of sweeping out a cloister garden (especially, let’s not forget, on a beautiful spring morning in view of the Hudson) becomes a real privilege. I feel incredibly lucky to have had that privilege.

-Ashley N. Newby, MA Medieval Studies

 

 

 

Fordham Medieval Students and Faculty Present at Kalamazoo

 

Galina takes Kzoo

This past weekend (May 10-13) was the 53rd Annual International Conference of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI. With over five hundred panels running throughout the weekend, this is the largest medieval studies conference in the world, and there were at least 3600 scholars in attendance at Western Michigan University to kick off the event. Among them, were several Medieval Studies graduate students from the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.

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Thomas Madden Talks Towers and Texts at Fordham

The Center for Medieval Studies had the privilege of hosting Professor Thomas Madden from Saint Louis University for two events. Dr. Madden is a renowned expert on medieval Venice and particularly its role in the Crusades, and he came to Fordham to share some of the insights from his current research. On Wednesday, April 11th Dr. Madden led a master class focusing on the resources of the Venetian state archives where he has performed the bulk of his research. After a brief introduction to the history and organization of the archive, Dr. Madden lead students on an in-depth exploration of one of a number of documents available on the archive’s website, paying particular attention to the conventions and methods of the notaries responsible for producing the documents. Students were surprised to learn that unlike other Italian city-states at the time, Venice’s notaries were all clerics in minor orders. Dr. Madden continued to outline the various parts of the document, a twelfth-century receipt indicating the payment of a debt, stopping only to relate tales of the difficulties of working in the Archives before the internet, and of the unwritten codes of behavior that he had to pick up as graduate student. The formal presentation was followed by a lively Q&A in which students picked Dr. Madden’s brain about the kinds of documents within the archives and the information they contained, including records of the often overlooked slave trade, and the prominence of women in the records. (Read on for more details of Prof. Madden’s presentation) Continue reading

A Comparative Celebration of Eastern and Western Easter Traditions

On April 1st of this year, approximately 1.2 billion people celebrated Easter in the Catholic Church. Seven days later, approximately 225 – 300 million people celebrated Easter in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The date of Easter differs because of the observance of two different calendars: the Gregorian in the West and the Julian in the East.  I was raised in a Catholic household, but much of my family kept their Eastern Slavic traditions, which sparked my curiosity to celebrate Easter in an Eastern and a Western church this year.  The two churches split in 1054 due to several theological disagreements, including the use of the word filioque in the Creed. The Eastern church did not support the change which articulated the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.  Additionally, the Eastern church resented the Western insistence on clerical celibacy and use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist.  By celebrating Easter in both of these traditions, I was able to experience firsthand these differing traditions.  Each paschal celebration exhibited the legacy of the theologies behind the 1054 schism, into the twenty-first century. Continue reading

Reading [Latin] is Fun[damental]!

Fordham English PhD Student David Smigen-Rothkopf leads the Latin Reading Group

If there’s one skill that’s crucial for medievalists, it’s the ability to read Latin confidently and well. Sooner or later there will be Latin charters to read, religious texts to translate, laws and other literary gems to parse out, all of which require a solid command of Latin, and there is a huge chasm between having taken a Latin reading course or finished a grammar book and the actual ability to translate with (relative) ease. This is exactly where the Latin Reading Group comes in, and Galina Krasskova, one of the leaders of the group sent us this article to tell us more about this aspect of life in the Center for Medieval Studies. Continue reading

Medieval Undergrads Present at Marist College Conference

(l-r) Fordham Medieval Studies Students Ruisen Zheng, Emily Gerace, Dr. Andrew Albin, and Katie DeFonzo at the 4th Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium

On February 24, Fordham Medieval Studies undergrads attended an academic conference at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. The Conference, the 4th Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium, brought together scholars from across New York state. Three Fordham scholars presented papers: Emily Gerace (“Memory, Friendship, and Grief in the Book of the Duchess”), Ruisen Zheng (“Interpreting Byzantine Diplomacy in the First Crusade: When the Knights Bow to the Basileus Alexius Komnenos”), and Katie DeFonzo (“Margery Kempe: Outspoken Heretic or Woman of God?”). Continue reading

2017 Compatible Careers Talk and Workshop

This past 11 April, the Center for Medieval Studies hosted its annual “Compatible Careers” event.  Each year, the Center asks alumni to share their experiences of finding jobs after their graduations that go beyond the traditional academic/tenure-tracked path.  The perennial question for graduate students nearing their graduations is: “what next?”  To study what you love is a joy, but the fact of the matter is that, eventually, one needs to realize what one wants to do for a living.  This question haunts many a student at night, especially those who would elect a non-academic path.  The purpose of this annual workshop is to show students that taking alternate paths is not only possible, but it may even result in finding a better fit for them.  This year’s speakers represent a wide array of careers that show promise and reward the creative medievalist willing to look beyond the usual choices presented to them. [Read on for more about the 2017 Compatible Careers Workshop] Continue reading

Rita Orazi and Larissa Ross Present at the 2017 Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium

This past 25 February, Fordham students Larissa Ross and Rita Orazi presented at the 2017 Hudson Valley Medieval and Early Modern Undergraduate Symposium at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

Larissa Ross (st right), Rita Orazi (at left)

Larissa Ross presented her paper, “Daughters of the King: Medieval Female Piety as Seen in Julian of Norwich and Constance in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale.”  In her paper, Larissa looked to Julian of Norwich and Chaucer to explore late medieval conceptions of the metaphysical nature of women and of ideal female holiness.  Julian and Chaucer, contemporaries who influenced and were in turn influenced by the same cultures and ideologies, are rarely brought into conversation with each other.  Larissa placed Julian of Norwich, a renowned holy woman, into dialogue with Chaucer’s fictitious holy woman to see where both figures embody or toy with popular perceptions of what it meant to be a woman mystic considered holy.[Read on for more about Larissa and Rita’s presentations] Continue reading

Medieval Studies students visit “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections”

From the Magdeburg Missal, 1486
Harvard University, Houghton Library, Typ Inc 2756

On December 4th, students in Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies visited Boston’s Beyond Words illuminated manuscript exhibit.  Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections features manuscripts from 19 different libraries and museums in the city.  Co-curated by Jeffrey Hamburger (Harvard University), William P. Stoneman (Houghton Library), Anne-Marie Eze (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), Lisa Fagin Davis (Medieval Academy of America), and Nancy Netzer (McMullen Museum of Art), the exhibit takes place at three different venues: Harvard University’s Houghton Library, Boston College’s McMullen Museum, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  Visiting the exhibit gave the Medieval Studies MA students the unparalleled opportunity to view over 200 illuminated manuscripts in one day, supplementing their coursework in manuscript studies, medieval literature, and medieval art history.

The Fordham medievalists viewed the McMullen Museum first.  Titled Pleasure and Piety, the McMullen exhibit shed light on lay readership in the High Middle Ages.  We were lucky to receive a tour by Lisa Fagin Davis, one of the co-curators of Beyond Words and the Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America.  The McMullen was packed with books of hours, antiphonals, breviaries, saints’ lives, Marian devotions, psalters, and the writings of medieval theologians, with items ranging from enormous folio-sized codices to minuscule prayer books meant to be carried on belts.  While showing us the manuscript fragments in the exhibit, Dr. Fagin Davis told us about her fascinating digital reconstruction of the dismembered Beauvais Missal.  She also introduced us to the Chronique Anonyme Universelle (Boston Public Library MS pb Med. 32), a 34-foot-long genealogical roll that recounts biblical events, the mythological history of Europe, and the succession of English and French kings.

After the McMullen tour, the group traveled to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which featured Italian Renaissance books.  The incunables in their exhibit allowed us to think closely about the ways in which visual culture and book culture changed in the wake of humanism and the invention of the printing press.

Items in Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections can be viewed in the exhibit’s digital catalogue and in a richly-illustrated print catalogue.  Many of the books are fully digitized.

The Center would like to thank the Graduate Student Association for their generous support, Dr. Fagin-Davis for the insightful tour, and Dr. Kowaleski and Dr. Stoneman for their help in planning the trip.