Labyrinth of Jerusalem

July 9, 2009

n. A twisted path drawn into the ground to aide in prayer and meditation.

One last word from Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death.  Also known as a prayer labyrinth or meditation labyrinth, a Labyrinth of Jerusalem is a popular pagan ritual adopted by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.  While one would focus on the following the winding path to the center, one would reflect upon God.  Without knowing its name, I walked one of these at a church in California (interesting because they supposedly have fallen out of favor in modern times).

According to Wikipedia, the most famous of these can be found at the Cathedral of Chartes and seen here.  The standard maze design, including the one I walked on as well as the Chartes, can be found here


July 8, 2009

n. A  circuit criminal court, common in medieval Europe.

Another term from Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death.  Apparently, the court still exists in some places today, but they were a common form of judicial procedure in medieval England.  Franklin’s book is set around the time of Henry II’s Assize of Clarendon in 1166.  The event is noteworthy, Franklin explains, because it marks a shift in the British judicial system, away from trial by ordeals and trial by battles toward the more modern model of evidence and testimony and trial by jury.

Trial by ordeal, the process of determining guilt by whether or not the accused survives a painful process, has been most famously parodied by Monty Python in this famous scene from the Quest For the Holy Grail.  Trial by battle is exactly what it sounds like, a Thunderdome form of meting out justice.  The Assize of Clarendon did not eliminate these forms entirely, but it was the beginning of the end for these barbaric systems of justice.


July 7, 2009

n. A covered litter for one passenger consisting of a large box and two poles carried by four to six passengers (Oxford American Dictionary).

Everyone has seen one of these.  Until last week, I never had a name for them.  My wife and I were carrying our daughter up a flight of stairs in her stroller.  She struck me like a young Indian rani being carted to her wedding.  Sadly, I didn’t have the word for the image in my head.  Litter came to mind, and while it might be an acceptable word, the term seems to be more commonly used for stretchers.

Serendipity shined upon me though.  The term was featured multiple times in Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death as the mode of transport for political and religious leaders.


July 6, 2009

n. A city in eastern England.

I just finished Ariana Franklin’s very compelling medieval mystery novel Mistress in the Art of Death.  The book was lovely, if not for the increase to my vocabulary alone (I never knew what a glaive was, for example), and my next few words will all be from this book.

The book is set in Cambridge, current home of the university, during the reign of Henry II.  I have visited Cambridge, back in 1992, and have almost no recollection of the trip in the least (ah, the sad frailty of memory).  So, despite the fact that I have been there, I did not in the least remember the name of the river that runs right through the city.

Cambridge was build around the river Cam.  Obviously, the name indicates that it was the location of a prominent bridge over the river.  This opened my eyes to the wondefful, but obvious, origins of many English place names.  Oxford, for example, makes obvious sense.  The town of Elephant and Castle is still a mystery to me.

Franklin admits that during the setting of her book, however, Cambridge was still probably called Grentabrige, from the earlier Grantebrygce, because the river Cam was originally known as the Granta.  Oddly, according to Wikipedia, the name of the town changed to Cambridge, and the river only changed its name to match the town.  Therefore, Cambridge isn’t actually named because of its location on the river Cam, but the other way around.  Sort of…