Sunday, 27 September 2015

Pomesmoille: apple pudding

As the apples harvest season has started, this is an excellent opportunity to try the apple pudding recipe 'Pomesmoille'. It is found in the Laud Misc. 553 Manuscript (Bodleian Library, Oxford, UK), and a translated modern cooking version appears in the book 'Pleyn Delit - medieval cookery for modern cooks' by C.B. Hieatt, B. Hosington and S. Butler. This recipe tastes especially good when it is combined with whipped cream with a little rosewater added (the cream with rosewater was mentioned on a medieval food website, but no original source was given).

Folio 7v of Laus Misc 553, a treatise with herbal and medicinal texts, including some recipes.



Nym rys &bray hem in a mortar; tempre hem up with almande milke; boile hem. 
Nym appelis & kerve hem as small as douste; cast hem in after be boiling, & sugur; 
colour it with saffron, cast therto goud poudre, & zif hit forth.


  • 1 pound cooking apples, peeled cored and finely diced
  • 60-120 gram ground almonds
  • 2 cups of water
  • half a cup of sugar
  • quarter of a cup rice flour
  • half teaspoon cinnamon
  • an eighth teaspoon ginger 
  • a pinch each of salt, ground cloves, and nutmeg 
  • pinch of saffron

 The peeled and diced apples.

Draw up the almond milk with the water (a basic method which has can be found in many medieval cookbooks and websites). Mix the sugar, rice flour, and almond milk in a sauce pan; stir in the apples and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir and boil for about 5 minutes, or until quite thick. If necessary a little more rice flour can be added to thicken. Mix in a small cup all the seasoning's except the nutmeg with a spoonful of the pudding. Put this mixture back into the pudding pot and stir until thoroughly blended. A stew pestle can be used to decrease the size of the apple parts. Pour the pudding into a serving dish and sprinkle some nutmeg on top. Serve it cool (preferably with some whipped cream with a sprinkle of rosewater added).

The cooked and thickened pudding in the form.  

The whipped cream with rose water.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The bones of Saint Thomas

I was curious if there were some relics of our guild patron saint Thomas spread over Europe (or India). The answer is yes - and, surprisingly, there is an almost complete skeleton of him! The story is that after Saint Thomas was slain, he was initially buried in India. In the 3rd century, however, his bones were transported to Edessa in Mesopotamia (the place from the feast with the hand of the cupbearer) by the Indian King Mazdai (Misdeus), where a tomb was build for him. In 13th century the bones were 'rescued' together with the tombstone to Italy, as the shrine with the bones was threatened by the Turks. The relics made an intermediate stop at the island of Chios in the Aegean. From there they were stolen by Leone Acciaiuoli, captain of a ship from the fleet of Manfred, prince of Taranto, and taken to Ortona in Italy were they arrived on 6 September 1258. In Ortona, the relics were kept in the basilica San Thomasso Apostolo, which was desecrated by the Turks in 1566. After this event the remains were kept in an gild copper urn that was made in 1612 by Tommaso Alessandrini from Ortona.

From the 17th century to today, the shrine has been opened several times to do some surveys (which bones are there) and even some research. Between 1983-1986, the shrine was opened for a protection and preservation project. The opportunity was also taken to do some scientific research on the bones of the apostle. This was done under supervision of prof. dr. Arnaldo Capelli, prof. dr. Sergio Sensi, prof. dr. Luigi Capasso (paleopathology) and prof. dr. Fulvio Della Loggia, all from the Faculty of medicine from the University of Chieti. The anthropological examination on the remains of the skeleton established that the bones belonged to a relatively long male individual with delicate bone structure, with a height of 1 metre 60 cm plus/minus 10 cm. At the age of death the individual was between 50 and 70 years old, with a fracture of the right cheekbone caused by a sharp blow shortly before or after death. The person did also suffer from rheumatism or artritis, which could be seen at the small joints of the hands. Furthermore, a small osteoma (bone tumour) was found in the frontal region of the skull.

 The gild copper urn holding the most of the remains of Apostle Thomas.

As can be seen from the photo of the skeleton, several bones are missing, especially the bones of the arm. In 1953, a wrist bone of the right arm was extracted from the Ortona skeleton and given to the Indian church. It now resides at the Marthoma Pontifical Shrine in Koddungalloor in Kerala, India, one of the places where Thomas supposedly has built a church.

The shrine with the right wrist bone of Apostle Thomas in Koddungalloor. 

Another bone from the arm of Thomas is found in a relic in the church of Saint Nicholas in Bari, Italy. The Cronicon Bari mentions that a French bishop, cousin of Baldwin of Le Bourg, Lord of Edessa, returning in 1102 from the Holy Land and from Edessa, left the relic of St. Thomas the Apostle in the Basilica in Bari, The reliquary itself is dated to 1602-1618 and has the form of a right arm holding a spear in the iconography of the martyrdom suffered by the Apostle, and rests on a base containing a relic of the Magdalene. The bone of Thomas can be seen through a window of the reliquary. In 2009, the bone was measured and compared to the bones in Ortona. The upper arm bone has a length of 23 cm; this can be used to calculate the full body length, resulting in a length of 163.4 cm plus/minus 2 cm, more or less the same as the skeleton in Ortona. The left upper arm of Bari is missing in Ortona, so this bone could be from the same person. 

The reliquary S. Tommaso Apostolo in Bari. The central window shows a rectangular bone set.

On the long sides that surround the window, some words are carved: on the left side from bottom to top "Brachii SANCTI THOMAE Apostles" and on the right side in descending order "ECCLESIAE SANCTI NICOLAI BARENSIS".

Surprisingly, another arm bone of Thomas is found in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in the treasury of the Basilica of  St. Servaes. Curiously, the treasury text mentions this as the right arm bone of St. Catherine, but the text that can be seen through the window of the reliquary clearly state: St. Thomas Apollona (Apostle). Perhaps this is the missing right upper arm bone from the Ortona skeleton.

The reliquary containing a right arm bone of St. Thomas in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Also some finger bones are lacking in Ortona. The bone from the index finger of 'doubting' Saint Thomas, which touched the wound of Christ, can be found in the Basilica Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome Italy. Some say that this relic has been in Santa Croce from the time of St. Helen (third century, i.e. the time that the body was moved to Edessa). In the centre of the reliquary, remade after the French revolution,  is an oval case with both sides of crystal in which a holder in the shape of a finger with two openings in the side is placed. Through the openings the finger bone can be clearly seen. Some other finger pieces of Thomas did return from Edessa to India (instead of to Europe). A reliquary with some hand bones is preserved in the St. Thomas Museum in Milapore.

The index finger of St. Thomas in Rome, Italy.

Piece of a hand Bone of St. Thomas in the St. Thomas Museum in Milapore, India.

Finally, a second skull of Saint Thomas exists (really a miracle!) in the Greek orthodox monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the island on Padmos, Greece. It is kept in a large embossed silver goblet with a lid of silver with a very rich Venetian rug. Byzantine Emperor Alexios Kommenos (11th century) had the relic bound with silver strips, both lengthwise and over the top. Where the silver strips crossed, they were adorned with precious stones. After it was completed, it was presented to St. Christodoulos, the founder of the monastery.

The second skull of Thomas Apostle in an orthodox monastery on the island Padmos in Greece. 

Other Thomas artefacts

Some other artefacts related to St. Thomas are his tombstone, which made the same trip from Edessa to Ortona as the skeleton, and also resides in the Basilica San Thomasso Apostolo. The tombstone measures 137 by 48 cm and has a thickness of 48 cm and is made of chalcedone. This tombstone is actually a plaque used to cover a tomb made of lower quality material, a practise used in early Christian times. The plaque has an inscription and a bas-relief that similar to those in the Syrian Mesopotamian area (i.e. where Edessa is situated). The inscriptions are in Greek unicals and are dated from the 3rd to 5th century and mention 'thomas osios' (holy Thomas or Saint Thomas). More careful study of the inscription found some traced signs over the words, which would change the meaning slightly to that of 'the real Thomas'. The bas-relief depicts a religious figure with a halo in the act of imparting, with the right hand, the blessing (according to the rites of the Eastern Church and indicating the first two letters, in Greek, of the word Christ).  In the left hand he holds an object that could be a sword, which is a clear reference to the martyrdom of Saint Thomas. The lower part of the stone has two holes of different sizes, such as those found in various tombs of the early centuries of Christianity,  in order to introduce balms or make libations on the grave of the deceased. When it came to the tomb of a martyr, the broader was also used to provide relics from contact. 

 A close look at the tombstone from Edessa in the Basilica San Thomasso Aposotolo in Ortona. 

The following relic of Saint Thomas is a bit strange; it is said to be the tip of the lance that took the life of the saint. It was recovered from the (original Indian) grave during a Portuguese excavation in the 16th century and is now preserved in the Milapore St. Thomas Museum in India. However, it is also said (see above) that Saint Thomas was slain by a sword, which would mean this reliquary is a hoax. Death by the sword is also depicted on the Thomas Teppich in Wienhausen, Germany and in the windows of Chartres Cathedral in France.

The reliquary with the tip of the lance that took the life of St. Thomas 
in the Milapore St. Thomas Museum.

Modern science

Now imagine what you can do with all these bones using modern 21st century research techniques (not those employed 1983): check his exact age using C14 radiocarbon dating; extract some DNA from the bones or teeth and you would have the complete genome of the doubting Apostle himself. Having the genome, the geographic origin of the skeleton can be deduced (does he come from the Galilee region). As Thomas is sometimes called Dydimus ('the twin' - in fact the name Thomas means twin in Aramese), he is therefore by some thought to be the brother of Jesus (for instance in the Book of Thomas the Contender, one of the New Testament apocrypha represented in the Nag Hammadi library, a cache of Gnostic gospels secreted in the Egyptian desert). If one takes this to be true, then you would have the genetic material of Maria and Joseph as well (actually the brother idea might not be that strange: Joseph was a carpenter and likely would pass his knowledge to his siblings. If Thomas was given the woodworking knowledge by Joseph, his voyage to India to build a palace is less far-fetched as it seems). More down-to-earth, simple DNA fingerprinting (a now common forensic technique), would also allow to compare all the scattered arm bones of the saint. Check, for instance, if  the forearm in Bari and the index finger in Rome originate from the same person. 

And you could also use 3-D forensic facial reconstruction techniques to shape the face of Thomas in clay...

Sources used:

Website of the Basilica San Thomasso Apostolo.
The website of Keith Hunt on Doubting Saint Thomas in India
And many other internet sources, including some utterly confusing Indian ramblings on St. Thomas.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The medieval toolchest: Reconstruction of a medieval plane

This post features a reconstruction of a medieval plane that was excavated in Greifswald in northern Germany. The descriptions have already been given in a previous post, as well as a glimpse of the reconstructed plane during our visit to Castle Hernen. Bram decided to take the challenge to reconstruct this 14th century plane.

The drawings of the original 14th century plane from Greifswald, Germany.A layer of  1 cm was added to the sole. Also this plane is wider, due to the use of a wider iron.
While the original plane is made of beech, the reconstruction was made from maple. Like the original plane has been made from one single piece of wood, chopping out the space for the blade with a chisel. Even with a low angle of 20 degrees, the opening for the plane blade in the sole is too spacious. Likely, the original plane had seen much use, and layers of wood were worn away. Bram calculated one extra cm to the bottom of the plane in order to have the blade correctly fitted. The iron Bram used for the blade is a recycled old one, a bit smaller than the original (4 vs 4.6 cm). Also different is the iron pin, which is square in the original and round in the reconstruction. Nevertheless, the oak wedge holds the iron securely against the pin. The plane works very fine, although for a more comfortable grip the iron will need need to be shortened in length, as it now pricks in the palm of your hand. 

The 14th century replica plane made by Bram.

Medieval clothing (and something else) from Vienna - part 3

This time I will show photos I made from the Imperial Treasury in the Höfburg, the MAK (Museum für Angewandte Kunst) and the Kunstkammer in the Kunst Historische Museum. Especially the Imperial treasury did have a stunning collection of medieval clothing, including gloves and socks. This set of medieval clothes was actually the coronation dress of King William II of Sicily, which later were used for the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (also the other regalia can be seen in the treasury).

Starting with the underwear, the Alba of the coronation clothes was made in 1181 in Palermo - according to the embroidered text on the cloth in both Latin and Arabic - for King William II. It is worn underneath the Dalmatica. As I could not make a decent photo of it, this one was retrieved from internet.

Over the Alba, the Dalmatica, also called blue Tunicella, was worn. The gown was also made in Palermo, Sicily in 1140 and belongs to the coronation clothing, and later of that of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. It is made of dark blue Samite silk; the red silk at the end of the arms and the underside of the gown is the same cloth as coronation mantle, decorated with rows of pearls and gold embroidery.

Detail of the arm of the blue Dalmatica.

The coronation mantle or Pluviale is worn over the blue Tunica. It was also made in Palermo in the Royal Workshop around 1133/1134. The mantle is made from red Samite silk with gold silk embroidery, pearls, enamel, filigree gold, precious stones and a tablet weave at the edge.

The hands were covered with gloves. These were made in Palermo, Sicily, Italy before 1220 from Samite silk and decorated with gold embroidery, enamel, niello, pearls and precious stones. They are part of the coronation clothes. The front (right) and back (left) of the gloves are shown.

The legs were covered with stockings or short hose. These were made from red Samite silk with embroidery of gold thread around 1150-1200 in the Court workshop in Palermo. The hose have a length of 60 cm and a diameter of 34 to 40 cm. The silk bands used to tighten are a later addition.

The feet and hose were covered by the shoes, also made from red Samite silk around 1130 or around 1220. The top of the shoes show a broad band of gold cloth covered with precious stones (in total 5 sapphires, 4 amethysts and one emerald) and medallions of griffins and sirens. The shoes have a length of 26 cm and a height of 10.8 cm, which equals size 41 in the Netherlands (or the UK size 7). The sole is made of leather. Also here I used a better photo from internet.

The Eagle Dalmatia is like the blue Tunicella worn over the Alba. This gown, decorated with eagle medallions, was first mentioned in 1350 and is likely made around 1300 from Chinese damask (the fabric shows a Chinese cloud pattern) and black silk. The gold embroidered edges are made from damask silk. The (imperial) eagle medallions are stitched with black silk thread and have enamel eyes. Originally also a hood belonged to this gown, which was lost when these clothes were transported from Nürnberg to Vienna.

Not really clothing, but an accessory to put on clothing, although there is actually some clothing on this brooch. The brooch is Burgundian-Dutch and dates around 1430-1440. It is made from gold, enamel, precious stones and pearls.

These are 16th century Italian pontifical stockings made from red silk with gold embroidery. On display in the MAK.

Thes are images from the Vienna model book of around 1410. This booklet with a leather case contains many silverpoint drawings on paper of animals, men and godly creatures. The model book was used by painters as some sort of reference book. Some of the drawings show different types of head-wear, such as those shown in this photo. Kunstkammer, Kunst-Historisches Museum.

This is the complete set of the model book with leather casing. Photo from the KHM.


In the Kunstkammer of the Kunst-Historisches Museum was a late 15th century bust of a female by Francesco Laurana with an intricate hair net with (gold) latticework decorated with red flowers. The bust could perhaps depict Ippolita Maria Sforza or her daughter Isabella.

Also in this museum is a statue of 'vanitas' by Michel Ehrhart, made from linden wood around 1470-1480. It figures a young couple and an old wife. What is most intriguing is that the only piece of clothing is a piece of male string underwear (both women are naked), fastened with a bow! 

Finally, something else:  

This 15th century 'Saintly' beer glass was also on display in the MAK. Cheers Thomas!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Medieval furniture from Château Châteaudun

Château Châteaudun is a French castle rising more than 60 metres up from the banks of the Loir (a side river from the Loire). The castle was started in the 12th century, of which the keep remains, but most of it was built in the 15th century for Jean of Orleans, who fought next to Jean d'Arc. In 1456, the castle chapel contained a piece of the relic of the holy cross that was obtained by Saint/King Louis, but this is now gone (another piece of the holy cross can be seen in the Imperial treasury in Vienna). The castle is a national monument, and likely due to this, some late medieval furniture from the (depots of) the Musee des Arts Decoratifs and the Musee de Cluny (the National Musee du Moyen Age) in Paris has been placed here. I visited the castle this summer holiday and was pleasantly surprised with the furniture decorating the rooms. In most of the rooms you could even use flash-light to take photos, except (of course) for the tapestry room.

The great hall, located between the two great stairways, with some of the late medieval furniture in it.

The window shutters of the great hall all have linenfold panels.
Neogothic oak dressoir from the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, dating from the 19th century. Height 2.05 cm, Length 162 cm and depth 60 cm. The dressoir has two decorated doors at the bottom with two drawers beneath. Direct next to the doors are small parchemin panels smaller heavily decorated at the top. The headboard is of an floral/Gothic design covered with an open crown-board.

(Left) Also the side of the dressoir has a parchemin panel. (Right) The door and drawer of the dressoir. The drawer can be pulled by an iron ring. It looks like this part of the dressoir has been reinforced, as iron nails are used in places where it is not necessary.

One of the three panels of the headboard. 

The open crown of the headboard.

Oak chest dating from the first half of the 16th century from the Musee de Cluny. Height 77 cm, length 154 cm and depth 66 cm. The front of the chest is decorated with a scene of the Annunciation directly below the missing lockplate. Next to it, the other panels with have medallions which are topped by imaginary animals.

 The sides of the chest are decorated with linenfold panels. The lid consist of two planks.

An oak buffet dating from the end of the 16th century, from the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Height 170 cm, length 155 cm and depth 61 cm. The buffet has two large doors composed of four linenfold panels each. The top part of the buffet has two doors with carved panels.

 In the central panel has the letters JHS (Jesus). 

The top door panels are similarly carved with a floral pattern and a helmet and shield. The shield contains instruments of the Passion. Perhaps this buffet once belonged to a church? The hinges and the lock-plate are heavily decorated and of a German style.
(Left) The back of buffet consist of long roughly cut planks. (Right) The side of the buffet consist of a frame with four linenfold panels. Note that the horizontal middle of the frame is set at a different height than at the front of the buffet.
 The bottom of the buffet consists of four planks set in the length covered with lots of spiderwebs.

A chest made from oak and walnut dating from the second half of the 16th century originally from the Musee de Cluny. Height 80 cm, length 136 cm and depth 68 cm. The front of the chest is divided into three sections divided by pilasters. The middle scene beneath the lock contains the Annunciation, while the panel on the left contains Saint Bartholomew with a knife and on the right John the Baptist with a cup and a book.

The sides of the chest contain carved medallions surrounded by floral designs.

An oak panel wall from de Musee des Arts Decoratifs, first half of the 16th century. It consists of twelve rectangular panels separated by vertical pilasters. The panels are decorated with scroll-work and floral and animal designs of an Italian-like type. The set measures 85 by 214 cm.

Painted chest made from oak and walnut from the Musee de Cluny. Height 95 cm, length 157 cm and height 67 cm. Christ stands at the centre of the chest front and he is surrounded by the apostles. The bottom rail is decorated with children's heads.

The apostle Thomas with the square and a book.

The sides of the chest show some undefined gilded statues.

In the kitchens of the castle two very stout working tables are found with a thickness around 9-10 cm. 
No date is given for the tables.

The legs of the kitchen table are ingeniously connected to the table top  with a dovetail and a mortise.

Oak chest from the 15th, early 16th century, originating from the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Height 67 cm, length 151 cm and depth 63 cm. This is a strange combination of a chest with a frames and panels, in which the sides are connected by dovetails. The four panels on the front consist of decorated arches in which a linenfold pattern is carved.

(Left) The side of the chest also has linenfold panels set in a frame and an wrought iron handle. On the sides of the frame the dovetails can be seen. The lid is made out of a single plank. (Right) The wrought iron handle.

These are two oak neogothic double seater chairs were made in the 19th century and originate from the Musee de Cluny. Height 143 cm, length 108 cm and seating height 43 cm.

(Left) The pattern of the backrest panel. (Right) The side of the chair.
 Detail of the side of the chair with two open panels.

Bank with a chest from the 16th century originating from the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Height 205 cm, Length 136 and depth 55 cm. The panels from the chest part are carved with a linenfold pattern, those directly above the seating are plain, while the top contain flamboyant Gothic trace-work topped with a medallion. The space between the pinnacles originally was filled with an open-worked foliage style crown.
 A 16th century trunk in the tapestry room. Note that the lid of the trunk is set asymmetrically.