...in which I share some of my favorite medieval research resources and methods for the benefit of others interested in also writing about the Middle Ages

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Hug a Medievalist Day 2018: Winners!

Congratulations to our Hug a Medievalist Day winners! Debbie G (who wanted to hug Robin Hood) won the Love and Chivalry puzzle and Judith M (who wanted to hug Broderick MacConnaway from the book, Heart of a Highlander) won the Love and Chivalry water bottle.

Other popular votes for hugs on Hug a Medievalist Day included King Arthur, Guinevere, and Merlin. 

These names also received some much appreciated hugs: Joan de Beaufort, Abelard, Albucasis, the Lairds of Leckie, Robert the Bruce, Jeanne Hachette, Lancelot, King Edward Longshanks, William Marshal, Robert Gisgard, Thomas á Becket, Johann Gutenberg, William the Conqueror, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Bluetooth the Dane, Leonardo da Vinci, William Tell, Sir John of Canterbury,  Marco Polo, and Ivan the Bonelss. Literary choices included Geoffrey Chaucer, Umberto Eco, Romeo, and two kind people who nominated characters from my novels, Gerolt de Warenne (from Courting Cassandry) and Triston de Brielle (from Illuminations of the Heart). :-)

Thank you, everyone! I loved reading through this list! We'll do this again next year!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Hug a Medievalist Day Giveaway 2018!

It's almost here! That day I know you, like I, await breathlessly to roll around each year . . . Hug a Medievalist Day (March 31st)! And I'm celebrating with another giveaway!

This year I'm giving away not one, but two prizes, which means there will be TWO winners! This year's theme is Love and Chivalry, inspired by the artwork of the Codex Manesse, a collection of High German Medieval poetry collected between the years 1304-1340 (approximately) that included 137 miniature paintings representing each of the poets in the collection. The poet in the pictures on these prizes was named Bernger von Horheim. You can read more about Bernger here and more about the Codex Manesse here.

1st place winner will win this 100 piece "Love and Chivalry" puzzle.

2nd place winner will win this 18 oz "Love and Chivalry" water bottle.

Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. NOTE: The first entry is REQUIRED. You must answer the question: Name a medievalist you'd like to hug. It can be someone real (like King Richard the Lionheart), someone fictional (Robin Hood, King Arthur, a character from a favorite novel), or even someone alive today who likes to dress up in medieval garb and attend medieval faires (a husband, a son or daughter, etc). Just have fun with the answers. If you'd like to share your answer in a comment on this blog post as well as on the entry form, please do!

All the other entry options are completely optional. (Don't see a Rafflecopter form? Just click on the link to go to the Rafflecopter page.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Official rules: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Deadline to enter is 11:59 am PST April 3, 2018. Winner will be selected on April 4, 2018 and have 48 hours to respond to an email notifying them of their win. OPEN TO USA ONLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. Questions? Contact me at jdipastena@yahoo.com

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas in Medieval Art

I thought it'd be fun to celebrate Christmas through medieval art this year. So here's the Christmas story as told in scripture accompanied by some of the beautiful medieval artwork I've been able to find. I haven't tracked down the source for all of these pictures yet, but I'm working on it. I'll add sources as I find them. (If you know a source that I don't have listed, I'd love you to leave it in a comment.)

I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. :-)

Luke 1:30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou has found favor with God. (I love the colors in the picture!)

Luke 1:31 And behold, thou shalt conceive in they womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. (painting circa 1310)

Luke 1:38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Note how the artist painted Mary and the Angel inside the letter R.)

Luke 1:41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb.

Luke 2:4-5   And Joseph also went up from Galilee…unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem…To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Luke 2:6-7   And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered…[but] there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. (I can’t help but like this one for the expression on Mary’s face. Hard to believe she might not have felt this way about being stuck in a stable, at least just a little.)

Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. (Here’s another version of yesterday’s verse. Joseph doesn’t look too comfortable scrunched into the letter O.)

Luke 2:8-9 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them. (I love the sheep in this one!)

Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said unto [the shepherds], Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings or great joy, which shallbe to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:13-14 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:16 And [the shepherds] came with haste and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Look at those sweet little angels!)

Matthew 2:1-2 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (12th century) 

Matthew 2:9 & 11 …and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. (I have to admit, this little drawing in the margin of a book is one of my favorites!)

Matthew 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. (Adoration of the Magi, 1304-06, Capella Scrovegni, Padua)

 Matthew 2:12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, [the wise men] departed into their own country another way.

 Luke 2:19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hug a Medievalist Day ~ Winners!

Congratulations to the winners of my Hug a Medievalist Day giveaway!

Melissa K won the illustrated copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and map.

Julie P won the autographed copy of my medieval romance, Illuminations of the Heart.

Thank you to everyone who entered and helped me celebrate Hug a Medievalist Day 2017. 


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hug a Medievalist Day giveaways!

March 31 is International Hug a Medievalist Day and I want to share it with you with not one, but TWO giveaways, and a book sale! (Click here to read an interview with the creator of Hug a Medievalist Day.)

(Have you hugged a medievalist today?)

Prize 1 is a two-pack prize: an illustrated copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales plus a replica of a hand-drawn map of the pilgrims' route to Canterbury, which I picked up at this year's Arizona Renaissance Festival.

This giveaway is available to USA residents only. If you're international, check out my next giveaway below.

(If the Rafflecopter form doesn't show up, just click on the link that says "a Rafflecopter giveaway")

a Rafflecopter giveaway

OFFICIAL RULES: NO PURCHASE NECESSSARY. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Deadline to enter is April 5, 2017. Winners will be selected on April 6, 2017 and have 48 hours to respond to an email notifying them of their win. OPEN TO USA ENTRIES ONLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. Questions? Contact me at jdipastena@yahoo.com.

Prize 2: An autographed PRINT copy of my medieval romance, Illuminations of the Heart. (This is marked Book 2 in my Poitevin Hearts romance series, but can be read as a standalone novel. If you've downloaded a copy of Loyalty's Web in one of my recent giveaways though, you might want to read that one first, but it isn't necessary to enjoy Illuminations of the Heart.)

(Click on the book cover to read a summary of the book)

Autographed copies will be sent to USA residents only, but if you're international you can still win! I'll send you a print copy via Amazon Global -- it just won't be autographed.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

OFFICIAL RULES: NO PURCHASE NECESSSARY. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Deadline to enter is April 5, 2017. Winners will be selected on April 6, 2017 and have 48 hours to respond to an email notifying them of their win. OPEN TO USA AND INTERNATIONAL ENTRIES ONLY ON THE CONDITIONS DESCRIBED ABOVE. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. Questions? Contact me at jdipastena@yahoo.com.

Finally, I'm also holding a $0.99 sale of my medieval romance, Courting Cassandry, March 29 - April 4, so if you've been wanting to grab a copy on sale, this is your chance.

(Click on the book cover to read a summary)

Click here to be directed by Books2Read to the bookseller of your choice for a $0.99 copy of Courting Cassandry.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Researching 12th Century Venice - the Rialto Bridge

Your 12th century character needs to visit the Rialto Market in Venice. How does he or she get there? If he is visiting Venice in 1170, like mine, the one way he does not get to the Rialto is via a bridge over the Grand Canal.

(Modern Rialto Bridge - photo by Chene Beck, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I began the scene I am currently writing with my character preparing to cross a pontoon bridge from the *sestiere (district) of San Marco on the east side of the canal to the sestiere of San Paolo on the west side where the Rialto Market stood. After all, several of my research sources cited there being such a bridge in the 12th century, and my story took place in the 12th century, right? So surely I was safe including a pontoon bridge in my story.

Wrong! The first bridge (which happened to be a pontoon bridge) to cross the Grand Canal was built in 1181—11 years after my story takes place! Prior to that, there was no bridge connecting the east and west sides of the canal.

(Photo of the Grand Canal from space, courtesy of NASA photos--just remember, all those houses weren't there in the 12th century!)

In 1181 a pontoon bridge, also known as a floating bridge, was created by connecting several shallow boats together with wooden planks to allow people to cross the canal. This pontoon bridge was replaced with a wooden bridge in 1250. Wood, of course, is more stable than floating boats, but it is also flammable. This wooden bridge fell victim to fire in 1310, then collapsed in 1444 weighted down by too many people trying to rush across it all at once to get to a water parade. Finally the decision was made to rebuild the bridge in stone, resulting in the Rialto Bridge that we know today, built between 1588-1591.

So if you’re writing a story set in medieval Venice and want a character to cross a bridge to the Rialto, be sure to check not just your century, but your exact year to see what kind of bridge they would have been crossing. And if your story is set prior to 1181, whatever you do, don’t let your character walk across a bridge to get to the Rialto! Let him take a gondola. Or move his house to the San Paolo side. Or, like I decided to do, just fudge it and start the scene with him (or her) already at the Rialto. Unless it’s important to the story, does your reader really need to worry how your character got there?

You can read more about the history of the Rialto Bridge on Wikipedia, “Rialto Bridge” and An Engineer’s Aspect blog, “The Rialto Bridge Disaster of 1444”.

*Sistiere – Venetian name given to its six districts. You can read more about each of these districts at The Six Venice’s Sistieri and at Go Italy: About Travel, which includes a map of the six sistieri (plural of sistiere).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Researching 12th Century Venice ~ San Marco’s bell tower

Okay, here’s a tidbit of information I found to share with you about the bell tower of the Church of San Marco (in Italian: campinile di San Marco) According to A Brief History of Venice, by Elizabeth Horodowich, by 1150 this bell tower was serving as a lighthouse of sorts to help guide ships into the harbor. I have not as yet read specifically how it was lit. Presumably by torches, but how many, where positioned, etc? If anyone knows, please share in a comment. (And include your source, as well.)

Church bells throughout Europe rang to help monks and nuns know the hours of prayer, and became a way for common people to also keep track of time. The bells in the tower of San Marco, however, were unique and served quite different purposes. There were five bells altogether, each with its own name.

The largest bell was called la marangona. This bell rang at the beginning and end of each workday, summoning laborers to work and telling them when it was time to go home.

(La marangona, largest of the 5 bells in San Marco's bell tower)

La nona (2nd largest bell) rang at the ninth hour. This would have been midday, or around 3 PM, on our present clocks. This remained the case on the European continent until the 14th century, with England being an exception. Later this hour shifted to around 12 PM and became the basis for our modern word, noon.

La trottiera (3rd largest) summoned the magistrates of Venice to “rush or ‘trot’ their horses” (see Horodowich) to the Doge’s palace. (We all know that Doge is the Venetian word for Duke, right?)

A bell called the pregadi (4th largest) announced meetings of the Venetian senate.

The smallest bell, and the most sinister one, was called la renghiera or la maleficio. This bell announced an execution was about to take place.

(San Marco's bell tower the way it looks today, 
NOT the way it looked in the 12th century)

When recreating San Marco’s bell tower in the 12th century, keep in mind that it did not look like the bell tower there today. The present look of the tower was designed by Bartolomeo Bon in 1514. I have not been able to discover what the earlier tower looks like, if anyone knows. (Again, if you have any additional information or sources, please share in a comment.)

Sources used:

A Brief History of Venice:, by Elizabeth Horodowich

For the bell sizes: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campanile_di_San_Marco (I used Google Translate to translate information on the bell sizes into English.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Researching 12th Century Venice - Introduction

There have been (and continue to be) many times during my research efforts on my current unnamed work-in-progress when I asked myself, “What possessed you to set a historical novel in medieval Venice?”

The answers seemed simple when I chose the time period:

(1) I wanted to write a sort of prequel to my medieval romance, Courting Cassandry. (“Sort of” because Gerolt, the hero of Courting Cassandry, is a secondary character in this WIP, not the central hero.)

(2) In Courting Cassandry, I mentioned that Gerolt had visited (among other places) Venice when he was nineteen years old and I thought Venice would be an easy city to research, because it’s so famous. (This was the biggest error in my thinking, but I didn’t know it at the time.)

(3) And I thought setting a book in Italy would be a fun way to honor my Italian ancestors, even though none of them came from Venice specifically, so far as I know.

However, to my consternation, I have found researching 12th Century Venice (the year 1170 specifically) to be maddeningly frustrating. There is a wealth of information on Venetian politics and Venetian trade, neither of which my story centers on other than in a tangential way. But trying to discover day-to-day-life type information has me all too many days banging my head against the wall. There are fascinating bits of information I could use if I could set my story just a few years later, but I’m locked into the year 1170 by the age of my character Gerolt in Courting Cassandry, which has been published for over 6 months and can’t be changed now.

(miniature of Venice, "The Travels of Marco Polo", c.1400 (Bodleian Library - 
too late for my time period of course)

Day-to-day-life information is widely available for the Renaissance, and somewhat more available a few years and decades after 1170, but for my particular year it is proving to be sparse. I have a sense that there may be records available which have simply not been translated into English, but since I can’t read Italian, they’re no help to me. Information on subjects such as food, dress, housing, what did the women do all day, how were children raised, etc., can be easily found for England, France, and even to some extent Germany, but not for Italy. To complicate matters, Italy was not a united country in the Middle Ages, it was made up of independent city-states, so that one cannot absolutely extrapolate that, say, the rules of inheritance in one city or the way women were limited or not limited in another was also the case in Venice.

I am, however, gradually finding bits and pieces to help me set my story with what I hope will be some degree of authenticity for my chosen year. I am going to share with you what I do succeed in finding as I research, in the hopes it might be useful to some other struggling writer who wants to set a story in 12th century Venice. As I do so, if any of you know of any additional resources beyond those that I share (available in English, please) or have any further information on any of the topics I cover, I would be ecstatically happy if you shared your knowledge in the comments!

Friday, April 29, 2016

The travelogue inside my head

Here are some of the places my research and imagination have visited recently:

The world of medieval Pater Noster cords. How do they differ from rosaries? Both are used to count prayers, but rosaries form a loop, while Pater Noster cords hang loose at each end. 

(detail from Adoration of the Magi, by Stefan Lochner)

Crystal reliquaries

(14th century reliquary from Florence, Italy)

And St Edburg (also known as St Edburga or St Eadburh)

(stained glass rendering of St Edburg)

Monday, March 21, 2016

The travelogue inside my head

I can't afford to travel to all the places I'd like to visit to research my books--besides, the price of a time travel machine is absolutely prohibitive!--but thanks to the internet, I can virtually visit the places I research. Here are a few places I visited today.

Medieval Sicily:

Did you know there was a huge earthquake there in 1169? It was over there on the east coast. It triggered a tsunami and at least 15,000 people died. Hugo Falcandus chronicled the event. You can read a bit of his account in this excerpt from A History of the Tyrants of Sicily By 'Hugo Falcandus' 1153-69 at this GoogleBooks link: http://bit.ly/21Bp3Gy. (Or you can order a copy of the book, but the going rate for the paperback version on Amazon is $159.95! http://amzn.to/1UsRHdK) The GoogleBooks excerpt cuts the account off before the end, but what's there is still fascinating reading.

I also visited....

Medieval Venice:

Medieval Florence:

Where will I go next?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Medieval Word of the Day

Manor: agricultural estate owned by a lord; sometimes attached to a castle, sometimes attached to a fortified manor house

(villeins working on a medieval manor)

Click here to view the layout of a medieval manor and take a tour of a medieval manor house