Disability in the Middle Ages – Work in progress
I am in the process of researching disabilities in the Middle Ages of Western Europe for the following groups: Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing, blind, and the physically handicapped. This will be a four phase research projection. The following phases are as follows – Phase One – Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Phase Two – Blind; Phase Three – Cripple/Physically Handicapped; Phase Four – Disability from War and Crime. I will be concentrating my efforts on primary resources and supplement it with peer-reviewed secondary sources. Help needed – Anyone working in academic willing to share their library log on so I access the research database since ILL is down due to Covid? I am a former librarian so passwords are safe with me.
Deaf/Hard of Hearing
The first phase of my research will be on the Deaf and hard of hearing in the Middles Ages. Much of the time we do not have memoirs from people who are Deaf or hard of hearing but luckily we are blessed with one – Teresa de Cartegena. To get dispensation from the Pope to be an abbess because she was deaf (this is lower case because she was not deaf by birth) is a remarkable feat. She wrote two treatises – Grove of the Infirm and Wonder at the Works of God. Both describe her experience being deaf and the isolation she felt.
There are a number of individuals attributed to teaching sign language to those in the cloister and the laity. Scholastica, an abbess (1451-1504) is attributed as teacher of sign language to the laity. However, the person who was given the label of “teacher of the deaf” was Pedro Ponce de Leon (1508-1584).
The Cistercians have a long history of sign language as part of their order since it is a silent order. The earliest text on sign language is the Monasteriales Indicia dating to the time of King Edgar (959-975) in England, which was result of the revision to Benedictine rules of order around that time.
Society and Legal Rights
Typically those individuals who were Deaf were not admitted into the cloister. The Rule stated that you had to be of sound mind and body. In special cases, dispensation would have be sought for the Deaf/deaf. Ironically the monastic community were the pioneers in the field of sign language and teaching the laity. Sign language was a way of life for the cloister, especially for those members of silent orders.
In modern society we firmly believe that human life has value and basic inalienable legal rights. However, in the Middle Ages your voice made you fully human/person. If you couldn’t speak for yourself, you would not have the most basic rights allowed in during this time. A designated spokesperson was acceptable, but imagine not knowing if that person would represent you and your own best interests.
Language / Communication
This portion of the research will take a bit longer since I want to explore as much as possible the basic signs used in the cloister, how it was adapted to everyday life for the laity, and how it evolved into our modern American Sign Language.
Devotional Objects – Prayer Beads and Psalter
As part of my entry into Aquaterra’s Arts and Sciences Championship in November 2019, I selected to enter pater nosters/prayer beads and a small psalter. While the pater nosters were not complicated to make they were expensive due to the cost of the beads that were typically used during the Middle Ages. I constructed a small psalter. I am an early learner to calligraphy. I had experienced book binding as part of my professional training as a librarian/archivist.
The type of prayer book or book of hours is also known as a psalter. A psalter is composed of psalms. It could have the most common psalms from the Bible, or all 150 psalms. A psalter could be very simple or very elaborate — such as the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Psalters could contain specific prayers, Bible passages, and writings about the saints.
Psalters that contained psalms were divided into groups, with each group beginning with a decorated initial. The first group was comprised of Psalms 1, 51, and 101. The second group collected Psalms 1, 41, 72, 89, and 106. The third grouping of Psalms were 1, 26, 38, 52, 68, 80, 97, and 109. These groupings followed the Divine Office for each day of the week for the church laity.
Pater noster (see detail of pater noster in The Arnolfini Protrait) and rosary is used interchangeably in most of the academic circles even though they have slightly different connotations. Pater noster is actual two Latin words that mean “Our Father”. This one of the primary prayers recited by Christians during their devotional practices. The rosary didn’t become a common word related to an actually artifact until the 16th century. Rosary was also used for a garden that primarily grew roses and later evolved to imply a wreath of roses. The Virgin Mary is associated with roses and her visitations to medieval Christians.
The beads also have a significant definition that compliment pater nosters and rosaries. The old English word gebed from the Germanic word means prayer. Prayers are the companion aspect to the pater noster and its owner. The pater noster is also known as the “poor man’s psalter”. (Click the images below to see larger verions.)
Arrow Whistles/Whistling Arrows
Whistling arrows and arrow whistles were constructed for many centuries by several Asian and Middle Eastern culture for the purpose of sending messages, signaling troops, wounding foes, marking targets during ceremonies, and distracting prey during hunting excursions. Help needed – seeking a safe secure shop location where I can store and set up my lathe to start making whistles again.
“[A] whistling arrow has a sharp point and can be a lethal projectile. An arrow whistle has a whistle but no sharp point. The whistle element of a whistling arrow can have three, four or even five apertures, and, constrained by the presence of a sharp post, the whistling sounding box is often small. A arrow whistle, on the other and, is often larger with more holes and a border profile head-on. They can be made of bronze, iron, wood, bone, horn and with a woodier sound their calling power is clearer than that of whistling arrows”Liao Wanzhen, “Whistling arrows and arrow whistles”, trans. Stephen Selby, Asian Traditional Archery Research network, (1999), 2.
This project was one of my first projects in the SCA and the first entry into any sort of competition. I fell in love with Turkish whistles due to their sheer beauty. Manchester Museum’s archery collection from Ingo Simon and the two arrows he created challenged me to try my hand at it. At the time of my construction, no one in the world had achieved any success in getting any arrows to whistle. I was fortunate enough to spend a day in the Grayson Archery Collection in the Museum of Anthropology at University of Missouri examining arrow whistles and whistling arrows. I consider myself fortunate to have met Dr. Grayson who gifted me with a feather from his own collection. Fast forward 20 years, many archers are successfully recreating them. I was very excited to see that an archer had created, tested and achieved excellent results with the elusive and little-known bouncing arrow. Arrow technology is an amazing field.
Tools and Construction
For all three whistles, I used a lathe and chisels to shape the whistle. The Japanese dog whistle is steamed cherry wood. The Chinese and Turkish whistles are Asian water buffalo horn. The Japanese whistle interior was hollowed out with wood-carving chisels. However the Chinese and Turkish whistles from horn proved to be more challenging. When heated, horn is very odoriferous, not to mention very hard. I found soaking the horn made it less smelly and easier to turn. Hollowing out the whistle required the use of a Dremel© tool, since I had precious little amount of time before my entry into the championship. I used a drill to provide the initial cut for the sound holes. After that I continued shaping the holes with a series of files and dental picks. The arrow shafts were purchases from Northwest Archery. The Japanese dog whistle is a steamed bamboo shaft with a horn nock. For the Turkish and the Chinese arrow whistles, I created the nocks.
Hand cut goose fletching for Chinese whistle Detail of the Chinese whistle Chinese whistle Detail of the Turkish whistle Turkish arrow whistle on taper cedar shaft Detail of Turkish hand cut horn nock and sinew binding Japanese dog whistle, bamboo shaft, horn nock, and cherry whistle