Posts Tagged ‘Hildegard of Bingen’

Friday, September 23, 2011

Figs and Fig Leaves

fig-in-fruit_225 figs_225

A young fig tree flourishing in a sheltered corner of Bonnefont garden; detail of the ripe fruit (click to see full image)—note the tiny hole in the base of the fig at the lower right, and the milky sap that exudes from the stems when the figs are picked. This latex was a medicament and a rennet; it was also used as a mordant in medieval gilding and as a binder in the preparation of egg tempera.  Photographs by Deirdre Larkin

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

—Genesis 3:6, 7

Much of the plant lore of the Middle Ages, like many other aspects of medieval culture, was a synthesis of classical and biblical tradition. The Tree of Knowledge is not named in the biblical account of the Fall; more than one species has been identified with the forbidden fruit, and the fig is among them. In Greco-Roman culture, the fig was associated with fertility and with the female genitalia. D. H. Lawrence explores this complex of cultural associations in his remarkable poem “Figs” (listen to a reading of this poem on YouTube).

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Saint or sprite?

Geranium robertianum

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), called ruprechtskraut in German, is sometimes said to derive its name from the seventh-century Saint Rupert or Robert of Salzburg, but the plant is also associated with the German hobgoblin Knecht Ruprecht and his English counterpart, Robin Goodfellow.

Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Women and the Medieval Garden

Honor Making a Chaplet of Roses

Above: Honor Making a Chaplet of Roses, ca. 1425–1450. South Netherlandish. Wool warp, wool wefts; 93 x 108 in. (236.2 x 274.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1959 (59.85). See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

The theme of this year’s Garden Days at The Cloisters is the relationship between women and gardens, real or imaginary, in the Middle Ages. Please join me at noon on Saturday, June 4, and Sunday, June 5, for enticing views into the hortus conclusus of the Virgin Mary, the convent cloister garth, and the delightful pleasure grounds of medieval romance, inhabited by elegant ladies. In Bonnefont garden, we’ll focus on women’s role in practical horticulture and on plants in medieval health, healing, beauty, and housekeeping, especially herbs mentioned in the works produced by the brilliant twelfth-century Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen and those attributed to the legendary Dame Trotula of Salerno.

In addition to this special gallery/garden talk, you’ll have the opportunity to meet the gardeners, enjoy tours of the gardens, hear readings from the Romance of the Rose, participate in a family workshop, and see a demonstration of medieval embroidery techniques.

Learn more about the programs scheduled for June 5 and 6.

I’ll post again after the event and a short break.

—Deirdre Larkin

Friday, May 6, 2011

Swallow Wort

Greater Celandine Broken Stem of Greater Celandine (detail)

Greater celandine, or swallow wort, has an ancient association with the common European swallow; it was believed that mother birds dropped the juice of the celandine into the eyes of their blind fledglings. The plant and the bird were linked for many centuries, and celandine’s reputation as a sovereign remedy for clearing eyes and sharpening the sight outlasted the Middle Ages.  Photographs by Corey Eilhardt

It seems to be called Chelidonia because it springs out of the ground together with ye swallows appearing, & doth wither with them departing. Somme have related that if any of the swallowes’ young ones be blinde, the dames bringing this herbe, doe heale the blindness of it.

—Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book II: 211

The greater celandine, Chelidonium majus is native to Europe and western Asia, but is widely naturalized in waste places in the eastern United States, where it is commonly known as “swallow wort.” For more information, see the U.S.D.A. Plants Database. (Chelidonium majus is characterized as greater celandine, to distinguish it from an altogether different species, Ranunculus ficaria, widely known as lesser celandine.) Read more »

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grasping the Nettle


Handling Nettles (detail)
Nettles' Stinging Hairs

Leather gauntlets are required when handling the stinging nettles grown in Bonnefont garden. The nettles grow in the middle of a raised bed, where visitors won’t brush against them inadvertently, and are caged with willow and labeled as an additional safeguard (see full image). Photographs by Corey Eilhardt

But this little patch which lies facing east
In the small open courtyard before my door
Was full — of nettles! All over
My small piece of land they grew, their barbs
Tipped with a spear of tingling poison.
What should I do? So thick were the ranks
That grew from the tangle of roots below,
They were like the green hurdles a stableman skillfully
Weaves of pliant osiers when the horses hooves
Rot in the standing puddles and go soft as fungus.
So I put it off no longer. I set to with my mattock
And dug up the sluggish ground. From their embraces
I tore those nettles though they grew and grew again.

—From Hortulus by Walahfrid Strabo. Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne. The Hunt Botanical Library, 1966.

The stinging nettles in Walahfrid’s monastery garden were clearly unwanted, but Urtica dioica is carefully cultivated in Bonnefont Cloister garden. A common perennial weed of moist soil and disturbed ground, stinging nettle is widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, having crossed the ocean with the earliest English settlers. (See the U.S.D.A. database for more information). Nettles thrive on the phosphates that are a product of human habitation and animal husbandry, and are often found near long-abandoned settlements and waste dumps. Read more »