How would you know you crossed a border during the Middle Ages?

The feature that would most clearly indicate that you were passing from one region to another would be tolls collected on roads and bridges. It would be less a change of border than a change of private jurisdiction. These were maintained by the local lord or sometimes local monastic house. The income from the tolls was supposed to be used for the upkeep of the road or bridge. Main roads would pass through towns, which would be walled and gated. These would likewise require a toll to enter. Merchant travelers, who often travelled in groups for safety, were advised to have gold and silver coins easily convertible to the local currency. In 1179, the Third Lateran Council threatened excommunication to anyone who raised the cost of old tolls or imposed new ones without the permission of their king or prince.

Christians traveling in Muslim lands would be subject to something more closely like a border crossing protocol. At Alexandria, they and their baggage were closely searched upon landing at the port.

Another indicator of a change of region would be a shift in the language spoken, which could sometimes be dramatic. There were places in rural France where people in one village could barely understand the dialect of a village just a few miles away.

See Jean Verdun, Travel in the Middle Ages (1998; trans. George Holoch, 2003)

Credit to redditor Whoosier

Image: Medieval bridge at Aylesford (x)

Child Oblation

Child oblation was the practice of promising one’s infant or young child to the monastic life and was almost exclusively practiced by the upper classes.  The reforming orders of the 12th and 13th centuries made a point of opposing the practice and requiring that postulants actually be of an age to make an informed decision before entering the monastic life.  What they were speaking out against was a practice that had been going on for centuries and, as they saw it caused some pretty major problems in monastic discipline.

This was generally not, as has been argued, a way of getting rid of excess or unwanted children.  The fact that many families sent nobody into the Church for generations while others committed “dynastic suicide” by sending all of their children as oblates or letting them join later.  Rather, the idea was that the parents were offering a gift to God and to the Church.  Making one’s child a monk or nun set them on a holier path than the secular life, it ensured there was someone praying for one’s soul, and it opened up the potential for much greater political power than a child of any parents less prestigious than the upper nobility could ever hope for.*  It also meant that the child in question would be raised in a secure place and position.**

Once such a promise was made, it was very hard to get out of.  When the oblate was drawn to the religious life, or at least unopposed to taking it up, things worked out relatively well.  It was when they had no interest in the monastic life that things got sticky.  Some communities might allow a young oblate to leave the community.  More often though, especially if the child had been sent to the Cluniacs, leaving was extremely difficult, if not impossible.***  As a result, many monasteries contained a certain number of people who didn’t want to be there and had no interest in asceticism.

Child oblation served a purpose and for some it worked well, but the benefits weren’t worth the problems both for and caused by those who weren’t so inclined to the monastic life.  A few Church councils tried to forbid the practice, but it didn’t begin to fall out of favor until the 12th century when it began its slow decline.


*Abbot Suger of St. Denis came from a simple knightly family and went on to become friend and advisor two kings.  Hildegard of Bingen and Guibert of Nogent came from similar families of the lesser nobility.
**Mostly.  Abbots and Abbesses tended to do better in the position if they hadn’t been raised exclusively in a monastery.
***Katharina von Bora, a later example, had to be smuggled out among fish barrels.

Sources/Further Reading:
Barber, Malcolm. The Two Cities: Medieval Europe 1050-1320. London: Routledge, 1993.
Bouchard, Constance Brittain.  Strong of Body, Brave & Noble: Chivalry & Society in Medieval France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Archambault, Paul J. A Monk’s Confession: The Memoirs of Guibert of Nogent. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.
Flanagan, Sabina. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179: a Visionary Life. London: Routledge, 1989.

Schema monks or nuns are those who have taken on the angelic habit and are known to be literally so holy, they are considered to be living together with the angels.
..This is extremely rare. A schemamonk is a rare step taken in monastic life and is seldom approved by the abbot or bishop. The schema goes beyond carrying the Cross of Christ. Like our Lord Jesus Christ, he must be willing to surrender his life to totally save people’s souls. He must in fact be willing to be nailed to the cross he has been carrying. The schemamonk is in essence an elder among the monastic community. He is a monk who has aspired to a spiritual level that transcends worldly desires. It is a life of constant prayer. He is a walking icon of our Lord Jesus Christ. A schemamonk is sought after by religious of all ranks, monastic and lay people for spiritual advice and comfort, as well as other spiritual and religious matters. The schemamonk will again take a new name in Christ to show he has totally given up his worldly life

Bohemia, early 13th century.

“As the commonly used title of this manuscript suggests, the Codex Gigas, dating from the first third of the thirteenth century, is a book of remarkable proportions. At 90 cm in height and 50 in width, weighing 75 kilograms, it is the largest known manuscript book in the world. It is believed to be the work of one monk belonging to the Benedictine Monastery of Podlažice in eastern Bohemia. To its unusual dimensions, the costs of its preparation and also the full-page coloured drawing of the Devil on f. 289r. it owes its alternative name – The Devil’s Bible. In addition to biblical texts, the work Flavia and Isidora and several further minor works it contains a penitential, a calendar and also one of the copies of Cosmas’s Chronicle (1119-1125), the oldest historiographical work relating to the Czech Lands. Certain other parts of the Codex, in particular the Orders of St. Benedict, have not survived.

The book was not intended for everyday reading; in fact, its dimensions in combination with the relatively small hand render this impossible. Besides this, the majority of the texts it contains are written in a form which was archaic even at the time of the Codex’s creation. The Codex Gigas is a symbolic representation of a library depicting the macrocosm in the eyes of a representative of traditional Benedictine scholarship and culture.”

dharm-a asked:

What suggestions and advice would you have for anyone seriously considering becoming a Buddhist monk?

Don’t do it.

People often think monks and nuns have it easy. They just sit around all day meditate, chant and give lectures. But life as a monk is actually very difficult, lonely and overwhelming.

In 2012 I spent 3 months living at a Thai monastery in Thailand. I was fresh out of college the year before, so this was my chance to leave everything behind and start over. Of course, I didn’t really know what being a monk involved. I only knew from what I saw as an outsider.

A typical day as a monk consists of waking up at 4am to start morning meditation. At 5:30am it’s time to go out for alms. Around 6:15am or so, it’s breakfast. After breakfast you spent the next several hours doing chores. At about 11 or so, lunch time and the last meal of the day (some monasteries, breakfast is the only meal of the day). After lunch, lecture is given followed by meditation. The rest of the day is filled with more chores, meditation/chanting, and studying. Bedtime is usually around midnight when final prayers are done. So you only have about 4 hours of sleep everyday.

I’m not saying don’t do it because I’m discouraging you. As Westerners, we’re extremely lazy and attached to our beauty sleep, eating whenever we want, go wherever we want to go, and do whatever we want to do. But as a monk, you can’t. Unless you have a very disciplined life, a monk’s life is going to be too much to handle and you’ll disrobe before you reach full ordination.

Many temples will offer retreats for the lay to live a life of a monastic. This is a great way to dip your feet into the water before taking the dive. If this option is available and accessible to you, I’d encourage you to take it. To really have a valid and strong opinion about actually becoming a monk, a retreat needs to be for several months. Because it will take a month just to get over being home sick, away from friends and family, away from long naps, all you can eat food, technology, and sometimes even electricity.

Smile and be well!

Prayers to Saint Patrick:
+Troparion (Tone 3):
Holy Bishop Patrick,
Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock,
You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel:
The mighty strength of the Trinity!
Now that you stand before the Savior,
Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!

+Kontakion (Tone 4):
From slavery you escaped to freedom in Christ’s service:
He sent you to deliver Ireland from the devil’s bondage.
You planted the Word of the Gospel in pagan hearts.
In your journeys and hardships you rivaled the Apostle Paul!
Having received the reward for your labors in heaven,
Never cease to pray for the flock you have gathered on earth,
Holy bishop Patrick!

Prayer of Saint Patrick:
+Fáed Fíada (Deer’s Cry)/Lorica (Breastplate):
I arise today
through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial,
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.
I arise today
through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.
I arise today
through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me:
against snares of devils,
against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.
I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics,
against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.
May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.