Boars of battle: The wild boar in the early Middle Ages

Thijs Porck

During the Middle Ages, the wild boar was admired and feared for its courage and ferocity. This blogpost calls attention to this warrior among beasts and, in particular, to its presence on various helmets from Anglo-Saxon England.

The boar as a warrior

blog-boar00 Boars in Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 45v; Morgan Library, MS M.81, Folio 36v; Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 20r (source)

As a symbol of courage, the boar enjoyed great popularity throughout the Middle Ages. In his biography of Alfred the Great (d. 899), for instance, the monk Asser described how Alfred led his people against the Vikings as ‘a wild boar’:

… the king [Æthelred, Alfred’s brother] still continued a long time in prayer, and the heathen, prepared for battle, had hastened to the field. Then Alfred, though only second in command, could no longer support the advance of the enemy, unless he…

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God in My Sister and Brother: the “Soul Friends” of Early Celtic Christianity

Mining for Gold

St Finnian teaching, represented in stained glass at Clonard, Ireland

From the late 5th to the 7th centuries, a powerful renewal took place in the churches of Britain. From their coastal bases in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, courageous evangelists known today as the Celtic Christian missionaries planted churches and communities around the British Isles.

From the biographies of these pioneers we quickly see what importance they gave to deep relationships. Each brother or sister was to have an anamchara, or “soul friend”, who would be for them a blend of mentor, spiritual director and close friend.

The abbess Brigid (died 525) said that “a person without an anamchara is like a body without a head” – lacking true sight and sense. By their norms, a soul friend is a person who will allow me to tell the whole truth about myself, and to encourage me to seek…

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‘Our God Shall Come: A Response to Psalm 50

Malcolm Guite

Rebecca Merry’s cover for David’s Crown

We have come to an important milestone or staging post in our journey through the psalms: 50! A third of the way through! So I thought I’d take this occasion to confirm that this collection of responses to the psalms will indeed be coming out as a book next year, published by Canterbury Press under the title ‘David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms’. As you will see from the picture above Rebecca Merry, who did the cover art for Sounding the Seasons has also made some beautiful art work for the new book. So do look out for it.there is already a page for pre-orders here. 

Psalm 50 gives us a glimpse of God’s beauty and majesty as it glimmers already through the light and beauty of the world:

  1. THE Lord, even the most mighty God, hath spoken: and called the world, from the rising…

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Early Christian Hymn Singing – the Jewish Roots

Mining for Gold

The 1st century traveller and writer, Philo, describes the singing of the Therapeutae, a contemplative sect of the Jewish diaspora based around Alexandria.

“They rise up together and … form themselves into two choirs, one of men and one of women, the leader chosen from each being the most honoured and most musical among them. They sing hymns to God composed of many measures and set to many melodies, sometimes chanting together, sometimes antiphonally.”

Jewish liturgical singing took two forms: antiphonal and responsorial. The first is what Philo is describing: the division of singers into two groups in such a way that they are separated from each other; for example, to the right and left sides of the central aisle in the building. They then sing alternate parts, one side starting, the other responding.

This has continued in Christian worship ever since, not so much in congregational…

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Rivers of tears, softening stone

For the Wynn

“Jesus wept.”  Famously the shortest verse in the Authorised English version of the Bible (John 11:35), when Jesus weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus, this is actually slightly longer in Latin, usually a more succinct language than English: Et lacrimatus est Iesus.

A major focus of my work is on the circumstances surrounding Anglo-Saxon prayer, including how the human body was put to use in it: the posture used in prayer, and the sign of the cross, for example.  Weeping is something I have only referred to in passing.  So this blogpost is an attempt to redress this – part of an (entirely inadvertent) series on bodily fluids, given than I have already covered both vomit and snot.

I’ve written elsewhere that confessional prayer was supposed to be an emotional process.  The texts of popular early medieval confessions suggest that their readers were expected not simply…

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Bloody trees


Blood oozing from the bark of a tree is not a pleasant image.  However, it appears time and again in Old English poetry.  The idea originates, as many interesting albeit creepy medieval images do, from the Bible.

Et de ligno sanguis stillabit’, or ‘Blood shall drip from wood’ (IV Ezra 5:5).

Bleeding tree, photo by Sarah Houghton,

The Fourth Book of Ezra is not a biblical favourite today.  It comes from one of the lesser-known apocryphal books – i.e., the reject books of the Bible that were considered unnecessary, irrelevant or simply too weird for inclusion (and for the Bible that’s saying something). It seems, however, that at least some Anglo-Saxons thought this verse – if you will excuse the pun – bloody good.  In the Old English poem Christ III, we have a fascinatingly horrific description of Judgment Day:

Ða wearð beam monig  …

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Borodinskiy Rye Bread


Sitting on the window sill of my room in Arkhangelsk, wrapped in two curtains (don’t tell the hotel staff!) & drinking hot chocolate – all to the best Greek music ever (!). You definitely need some warming up when there’s a nasty rain-snow storm outside and your shoes are wet. What can also help the situation is a good slice of black bread (already bought some dark rye Monastyrskiy bread and an oat ring and bulochki, or yeah) which I actually left home for my parents. As promised, I’m publishing a ‘report’ on my experiment – the first loaf with the use of rye malt. Although the recipe was found on a non-Russian website, I think – and my parents agree – the bread is great and doesn’t need to be authentic or not for that. As we are now having less and less daylight (though nothing compares…

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Detectives, Great and Good: Albert Campion

Des Nnochiri's Write to Speak


Albert Campion is a fictional character in a series of some 19 detective novels and over 20 short stories by Margery Allingham. Supposedly created as a parody of Dorothy L. Sayers’ aristocratic ‘tec, Lord Peter Wimsey, Campion established his own identity, and a considerable following, as the series progressed.

After Allingham’s death her husband Philip Youngman Carter completed his wife’s last Campion book, and wrote two more before his own death.

Meet Mister Campion…

Here he is, courtesy of YouTube, as portrayed by actor Peter Davison, from the BBC Television series of 1989 and 1990:

According to the literature, Albert Campion is the pseudonym used by a man born in 1900 into a prominent British aristocratic lineage. Early novels suggest that he was part of the royal family, but this reference is dropped in later works. In “Mystery Mile”, his true first name is said to be Rudolph, while his…

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A child at peace in the presence of his father: a Lutheran monasticism?

theology like a child

Note to any who dare to read: As Reformation day approaches, why not be a little controversial?  A week or so ago, I came across something I’d started writing a couple years ago, but had forgotten about.  I offer it now for feedback and critique – and to promote discussion about these matters.  Unhappily, I won’t be able to comment again myself again until Monday.

A new [Lutheran] monasticism for today?

Martin Luther, the monk who took down Western monasticism (at least making it less dominant), wrote in the Smalcald Articles:

As monastic vows directly conflict with the first chief article, they must be absolutely abolished. For it is of them that Christ says, Matt. 24:5,23ff : I am Christ, etc. 2] For he who makes a vow to live as a monk believes that he will enter upon a mode of life holier than ordinary Christians lead, and…

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