Notre Dame De Paris Celebrates 850 Years With Special Events

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One of the icons of Paris is turning 850 this coming year. Notre Dame de Paris was founded in 1163, although the beautiful Gothic cathedral wasn’t completed until 1345 and the building has been altered several times since.

To celebrate, Notre Dame is hosting a series of special events throughout 2013. A concert series has already started. Some of the shows will feature the cathedral’s great organ with its five keyboards, 190 ties and 8,000 pipes. The cathedral has excellent acoustics so the musicians will sound their best.

Restoration work is also underway. Several of the cathedral’s bells are being recast. These are 19th-century bells of inferior quality that had been made to replace bells that had been melted down during the French Revolution in the 1790s.

Notre Dame is one of the most popular attractions in Paris, and justifiably so. Its breathtaking stained glass windows, some dating back to the 13th century, are only matched in beauty by the soaring vaults of its ceiling. There are lots of little details here too, such as the various gargoyles and chimeras perched on the exterior, and the grim scenes of Hell on one of the portals.

The cathedral has witnessed some of the great events of the history of Paris. It was here that Heraclius of Caesarea called for the Third Crusade in 1185. Henry VI of England was crowned king of France here in 1431. In the bitter winter of 1450, Parisians hunted down a deadly pack of wolves in front of the cathedral that had been terrorizing the city. The cathedral was desecrated during the French Revolution but managed to survive and continue as a house of worship to the present day.

The cathedral has numerous holy relics, including the purported crown of thorns, as well as a nail and a piece of wood from the True Cross.

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[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Reassembling The Skeletons Of Medieval Royalty

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A team of scientists from Bristol University are using DNA analysis to identify the remains of early medieval English royalty.

The bones are kept in several mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral and include the remains of King Cnut, a Norse ruler who conquered England and ruled it from 1016-1035. The other remains are of Emma, his queen, and later kings Harthacnut, Egbert, Ethelwulf and William Rufus.

During the English Civil War the cathedral was looted by the supporters of Parliament, who disliked the “Popish” trappings of the elegant house of worship. In addition to stealing everything of value, they opened the mortuary chests and scattered their contents. The bones were replaced but of course are now mixed up.

The Daily Mail reports that the team will use DNA matching to determine which bones belong to which person. One of the DNA matches they will use will be from a recently excavated 10th century queen from Saxony named Eadgyth, who was related to some of the royals kept at the cathedral. The team is working within the cathedral so as not to remove the bones from hallowed ground.

Winchester Cathedral is the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe and dates to 1079. Like most historic churches in England, there was an earlier church on this site and many later changes to the present structure. The nave has a beautiful vaulted ceiling and some very nice stained glass, as well as an interesting museum. The town of Winchester boasts not only the cathedral, but also some other fine medieval buildings. It’s an hour by rail from London and makes a good day trip.

[Cathedral photo courtesy Tony Hisgett. Photo of coin bearing the inscription “Cnut King of the English” courtesy Wikimedia Commons]
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The Viking Ship Museum In Denmark

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The Vikings were the greatest sailors of their age. They built sturdy vessels that took them as far as Greenland and even North America. A few of these amazing craft have survived to the modern day.

The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, has five such ships on display. Fifty years ago they were discovered at the bottom of Roskilde Fjord, where they had been deliberately sunk to create a defensive barrier in the 11th century A.D. Silt and cold temperatures kept them remarkably well preserved and archaeologists were able to restore and display them.

Walking through the main hall of the Viking Ship Museum, it’s easy to imagine you’re in a busy Viking port. The ships are of various types, such as the knarr, a broad ocean-going trading ship. These were the ships that the Vikings took on their long voyages of commerce and exploration. The famous longship was for battle only and didn’t do well on the high seas.

There’s a longship here too, a 98-foot-long beauty that was probably the warship of a chieftain. Tree-ring analysis of the timber shows it was built in or around Dublin about the year 1042. The Vikings settled in Ireland in 800 A.D. and founded several towns, Dublin being the most important.

%Gallery-174000%There’s also a smaller type of warship called a snekke. Shorter than the longship at only 57 feet, it was still a formidable vessel and remnants of the shield rack and carved decoration can be seen on the side.

The best-preserved boat is a byrding, coastal trading vessel built of Danish oak. There’s also a small boat that may have been used for fishing or whaling.

After examining the displays – very well done and with signs in English as well as Danish – walk outside to the museum harbor. Here you’ll find reconstructions of some of the ships you saw inside as well as historic vessels from later eras of Denmark’s seagoing history. At the boatyard, you can watch shipbuilders using traditional techniques. The star attraction is The Sea Stallion from Glendalough, a reconstruction of the museum’s longship. It’s seaworthy, and tests have shown it reaches an average speed of 2.5 knots and a top speed of 12 knots when under sail. There are even a few surprises, like kayaks from Greenland and Borneo.

Some ships are actually used and visitors can go on boat trips around the fjord.

If you’re heading north after your trip to Denmark, check out the excellent Viking ship museum in Oslo, Norway.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Video: Recreating A Medieval Inn


Recently we reported on the discovery of King Richard III’s remains at a grave in Leicester, England. Now historians have recreated the medieval inn where he stayed the night before being killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The Blue Boar Inn was the new, posh place to stay in late-15th-century Leicester, and so it was a natural choice for the king to rest there before facing his enemy Henry Tudor in the decisive battle of the War of the Roses.

The Guardian reports on several legends related to the inn, including that it was originally called the White Boar Inn. White boars were featured on Richard III’s coat of arms, as shown below in this Wikimedia Commons image. When the owner of the inn heard that Richard had fallen in battle and Henry Tudor had won the day, he quickly painted the boar on his sign blue and renamed the inn. Another story relates that a bag of gold was found hidden in a secret compartment in the king’s bed a century after the battle. This wasn’t the stroke of good fortune it should have been. Someone murdered the landlady to get the treasure.

By the early 19th century, the Blue Boar Inn had become a tourist attraction but that didn’t save it from being demolished in 1836. Luckily a local architect made detailed sketches of the inn along with measurements. The video explains how these were used to create a computer animation and a scale model, allowing a glimpse into what it was like to stay at an inn 500 years ago.

Oddly, the site is still used as an inn. A Travelodge stands there today.medieval, Richard III

Remains Of King Richard III Discovered In Parking Lot


Back in September, we reported that the lost tomb of Richard III may have been found in Leicester, England. Now the Daily Mail reports the remains in that tomb have been determined to be those of the king.

Richard III was the last of the Plantagenet kings and fought the Tudors during the War of the Roses for control of the kingdom. The final showdown came in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard was killed. His body was buried in the church of the Franciscan friary of the Grey Friars in nearby Leicester. The church and friary were demolished in the 1530s and its location forgotten. Using old maps, archaeologists from the University of Leicester and the Richard III Society figured out that the church lay beneath the parking lot of the city’s social services department.

The team sunk exploratory trenches and soon located the friary and the remains of a man and a woman. The male skeleton had wounds from an arrow and from a blade to the skull, consistent with accounts of Richard’s death. The skeleton also suffered from scoliosis. Richard was said to have been a humpback, and this disease could have created such a deformity.

There has yet to be an official announcement. The Daily Mail cites an unnamed source with “knowledge of the excavation” and states that an official announcement won’t come until a TV documentary airs in January. A descendant of Richard III was used to provide a DNA match but it’s unclear if this is what has determined the body is that of the dead king.

The Daily Telegraph has also reported that unnamed sources confirm the skeleton is that of the king “beyond all reasonable doubt.”

While royalty are generally buried in Westminster Abbey in London, the Ministry of Justice has ruled that any remains determined to be those of Richard III should be buried in Leicester Cathedral.