Thursday, March 12, 2015

Unsolicited questions: what this blog's about, and where it's going

Dear friends,

About three years ago, Madame encouraged me to create a blog to put my ideas and opinions (which I've always held in superabundance) out there on the Internet. Tonight, I'm creating a Facebook fan page for Modern Medievalism and am also looking into other ways to widen my online presence. With hindsight and 79 entries to date, it's a good time to step back and evaluate exactly what this blog is about and what I mean to accomplish next.

I'll frame this in a series of questions which I can't exactly call "frequently asked", because no one asked.....

Q. What's this blog about?

A. Broadly, the intersection of the medieval and modern worlds. By "medieval", I usually mean the most liberal definition of the Middle Ages: a thousand-year span from the 500's to the 1500's. By "modern", I mean everything after that. An obvious example is praying the Divine Hours through an app on one's cell phone. But if we accept that the 19th century still firmly falls under the umbrella of modernity, we can see how articles on Gothic revival architecture, and other related returns to medievalism from that same era (whether the revival of Gregorian chant by the abbey of Solesmes or of Arthurian literature by Sir Walter Scott and Lord Tennyson) still apply. And, though purists may scoff at the notion, an article that treats themes from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga still fits the bill, even if Aragorn was never a real person and the War of the Ring never actually happened, much less took place in the "real" Middle Ages.

Q. Didn't the Middle Ages end by the late 1300's?

A. Francesco Petrarca, aka Petrarch, more or less was the first person to characterize the Christian centuries of European history as a dark age, at least where Latin literature was concerned. That was in the mid-1300's. For the average peasant in the field, though, life continued on much the same. For them, the Middle Ages didn't end until the religious upheavals of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Therefore, depending on the situation, I have no problem treating some part of Tudor history as "medieval", even if the idea of a Renaissance had long been established by the intellectual classes by then.

Q. Who were the modern medievalists?

A. From the Reformation until the end of the Napoleonic wars, there was essentially zero interest in the Middle Ages from any sector of society, including the Catholic Church's hierarchy. That the heirs of the Reformation and Enlightenment had nothing good to say about the medieval centuries is obvious, but even popes and cardinals were gutting the stained-glass windows and chancel screens of their churches during the Counter-Reformation and Age of Reason. The fall of Napoleon, however, signaled a temporary end to the "march of progress" and, at last, a budding interest in what once was. Consider, for example, the fact that the maid of Lorraine, Joan of Arc, was of little interest to Frenchmen prior to the 19th century. Until then, the only two major works of literature in the modern period about Joan are Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 1 (Joan is the villain, a witch whose victories against England are powered by the devil) and The Maid of Oranges (a poem by Voltaire with predictable attitudes toward the subject). After the medievalist movements of the 19th century, Joan is rehabilitated and declared a saint.

The most important of the modern medievalists was Augustus Welby Pugin, the great architect of Victorian England who forever reshaped the face of his country by medievalizing it via the Gothic interior of Westminster Palace (the Houses of Parliament) and the whole of the "Big Ben" Clock Tower... and the first prominent Catholic convert of the 19th century. But Pugin was merely the first of a very long line of modern medievalists, some which you can see and read about on the right column of this blog.

Q. Is this a history blog?

A. Undoubtedly so. I often write articles on historical subjects without necessarily relating them back to the present, save for the fact that it happened. However, I try to avoid inundating this blog with that sort of material exclusively, lest this blog be nothing more than a more fun version of Wikipedia.

Q. Is this a religion blog?

A. Yes and no.

Yes, because the Middle Ages are rightly called the ages of faith. No matter one's rank in society, nothing was more important (or, at least, more pervasive) than their relationship with God, which was simultaneously a public and private affair. It also helps that I share the same Roman Catholic faith as the majority of medieval denizens in western Europe, and further, that I fancy myself in a mostly "unreformed" camp, as far as legitimate differences of opinion can go. And, within all subjects that fall under medieval studies, the author is especially well-versed in the liturgy: the public rites of worship used by the Church, namely the Mass, the Office, and the rites accompanying the sacraments.

No, because while most of my articles will naturally gravitate toward religious matters, not all will; or at least, not everything will have a readily apparent connection to questions of faith. Especially in the first year of Modern Medievalism, I often posted articles of little or no interest to fellow Catholics, and I mean to write more of these in the near future: video game reviews, movie reviews, and reflections of events in secular history. I'll also try to remember to post memes that I've personally created here from time to time as well. In short, there'll be something for everyone on this blog.

Q. Do you like to talk about politics?

A. Sure. As a rule, though, I don't discuss politics without making a direct connection to some aspect or idea from the medieval world. This isn't the place for red state/blue state debates.

Q. Who are you?

A. Just some guy.

Q. What are you thinking of writing about in the future?

A. For the immediate future, I'm focused on getting enough research done to write least two articles on the imminent re-burial of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England. One of these will be on what those funerary rites would have looked like if Richard had been buried with full honors in his own time. I'm also considering a piece related to the Netflix remake of House of Cards, where the protagonist, and his predecessor in the old British version, both discuss their nefarious plans directly to the audience a la Shakespeare's Richard III.

Beyond that, as of this date (March 12, 2015) I'm planning articles on:
-what we can learn about the medieval Inquisition from the video game Dragon Age: Inquisition
-maximalist approaches to baptism in liturgy (integrating antiphons and other sung parts)
-and, critically, a series in honor of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta

If you're new to the party, welcome aboard and feel free to read any of the articles I've singled out on the right column, or comb through the archives for hidden gems I've written and subsequently forgotten in days past. Please let me know of any broken image links or typos, and finally, I promise I'll try to respond to questions left in the comment box more frequently from here on out.



  1. Lauren Elizabeth Laslo GriffinMarch 12, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    I always have to pinch myself because I forget I'm married to the Modern Medievalist. I'm so used to you always being devastatingly interesting that I take it for granted.

  2. Could you consider doing a post on the Medieval Hapsburgs (in particular Rudolf I, Maximilian I, and Charles V)? To me they represent the best of the Catholic civil rulers of the period, especially as they present to the modern world the values of the family and the Holy Eucharist, the values on which their house is founded.

    1. My dear HRM,

      I will certainly consider it. I've always been fascinated with Charles V, though I'll need to do more reading on his immediate predecessors.

      By the way, I hope you're not upset that my own opinion on the hypothetical restoration of the Holy Roman Empire is that it ought to return to a truly elective system.

    2. "By the way, I hope you're not upset that my own opinion on the hypothetical restoration of the Holy Roman Empire is that it ought to return to a truly elective system."

      Not at all. However, I do believe that the Elected should be of the House of Hapsburg, and preferably of the line of Bl. Karl. Thank you for responding, and I will continue to read your blog. God bless your marriage!

  3. @James Griffin

    I look forward to your post on the re-burial of Richard III, as I look forward to all your posts. I'd be interested, however, in your thoughts on the recent re-ordering of Leicester Catherdral. If you haven't already checked out their website for the coming re-burial, have a look and weep.

  4. That is certainly distressing! I might have a word or two on it in the near future...