Around this time of year you might think of rabbits as cuddly-wuddly lickle fluffykins that hide Easter eggs, but in the Middle Ages they didn’t give you chocolate, they murdered you.
Schoolchildren look at the relic of the heart of the French queen Anne of Brittany
It narrowly escaped being melted down after the French Revolution, but a 16th century gold case containing the heart of the only woman to have twice been crowned queen of France has now been stolen.
By David Chazan
The theft of the reliquary containing the heart of Anne of Brittany, who was briefly betrothed to the Prince of Wales, has provoked outrage over the loss of an object of enormous historical value.
Robbers broke in through a window of the Thomas-Dobrée museum in the western French city of Nantes during the weekend. They got away with the 6-inch oval case despite setting off an alarm.
Philippe Grosvalet, the president of the Loire-Atlantique department which owns the museum, said: “The thieves attacked our common heritage and stole an item of inestimable value. Much more than a symbol, the case containing the heart of Anne of Brittany belongs to our history.”
Mr Grosvalet said the theft was particularly disturbing as the reliquary had been saved from being melted down during the turmoil following the French Revolution in 1789.
The reliquary, topped by a gold crown with nine ‘fleurs-de-lis’, the lily-shaped royal motif, is considered a masterpiece. It was displayed at the museum for more than 130 years.
A picture shows the solid gold casket which contained the heart of the French queen Anne of Brittany, exposed by the castle of Blois, central France
Catherine Touchefeu, a departmental councillor, urged the robbers to return it. “If the thieves were motivated by the fact that it is shiny and made of gold, they should understand that its historical and symbolic value far outweighs its 100 grams of gold.”
After Anne’s death in 1514, she was buried, as custom dictated, alongside other French royals in the Basilica of Saint Denis outside Paris. But to show that her heart belonged to Brittany, it was placed in her parents’ tomb at the chapel of the Carmelite friars in Nantes, in accordance with her wishes. As queen she defended the autonomy of Brittany, then a duchy linked by treaty to France and often referred to as “Little Britain”.
Reputed to be the richest woman in Europe, her hand was eagerly sought by many kings. In 1483, her father arranged for her to marry the Prince of Wales, Edward, but the young prince disappeared, presumed to have been killed by his uncle Richard III.
She married Charles VIII of France in 1491, ascending the throne as queen consort at the age of 12. As he died without an heir in 1498, she married Louis XII a year later and became the only woman to be crowned queen of France twice.
Louis, grief-stricken when she died in 1514 at the age of 36, is said to have wept for eight days and ordered her tomb to made large enough for two.
The three days before Easter—Maundy Thursday (named for the command Jesus gave his disciples, and not, as I thought when I was little, just an oddly-named ‘Monday Thursday’), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday were called the Triduum, and medieval people would, unsurprisingly, spend a lot of these days in church. Easter was, as now, the most important festival in the Christian calendar, which is presumably why it needed forty days of fasting and preparation to get ready for (which in turn is part of why people were so excited for it).
Easter celebrations in Kyivan Rus park near the Ukrainian capital had a historic touch. The event organizers amazed the crowds with reenactments of knightly battles, archery competitions, and lessons on Ukrainian Easter traditions.
Easter eggs are a popular symbol of the springtime holiday, but did you know that the association of eggs and Easter is much older than our modern chocolate varieties?
During the Middle Ages, the period of 40 days before Easter known as Lent was observed by Christian families as a time of fasting. Several foods were forbidden during this period, particularly meats, fats, milk and eggs. To overcome these restrictions, cooks became creative and a playful tradition emerged of imitation foods, that is, dishes made to look like other foods. Popular dishes included imitation meats, to indulge cravings guilt-free and also to allow cooks to show off their culinary skills. Another playful joke that proved popular in medieval Europe was imitation eggs. The British Library holds a 15th-century recipe for one imitation egg made from almond paste in an English cookery book (now Harley MS 279).
Introduction: My investigations into the depiction and punishment of rape in late twelfth-century literature in northern France stem from a particular interest in some of the earlier branches of the Roman de Renart. One of these early tales recounts how Renart first committed adultery with the wolf’s wife, Hersent, and then how, soon afterwards, he raped her, and was seen to rape her by her husband, Ysengrin.
Introduction: In his classic study of medieval sainthood, André Vauchez outlines the qualities which characterised a saint-bishop in mid-twelfth-century Europe: ‘He was not expected to perform ascetic exploits or shine as a scholar, but be sober and temperate. What was crucial was that he should be of good morals, and above all demonstrate the values of a leader and administrator. The chief virtues demanded of him were benevolence and discretion, moderation and balance.’