Medieval Monday: Pottery

potter-at-wheelOne of the tasks medieval people could do any time of the year was dig for clay along river beds, which was used for pottery and tiles among other things. At least in the early medieval period, making pottery was mainly a rural activity. It was easiest to set up a workshop and kiln at or near the source of the materials needed. Large supplies of not just clay, but sand, wood to fuel the kiln, and water were needed. Access to a road or boats for transportation was also required.

potter-at-wheel-2Pottery making was typically handed down as a family industry among the peasantry. Though pottery was valued as a necessity of daily life, pottery makers were one of the lowest regarded craftsmen. It was often a secondary job, done after work in the fields was completed. Tools were simple, including combs, knives, and stamps to add decoration. Wheels were not commonly used until after the 12th century. In the mid and late Middle Ages, pottery making became a larger industry and was also done in towns and cities. Pottery began to include other materials such as wood and metal. Each region’s pottery had its own unique, easily distinguishable characteristics.

I found an in interesting video of medieval-style pottery being made for you to enjoy. He shows a really great piece that was apparently made for washing hands that I’d never heard of.

Medieval Monday: Travel

travelTravel in medieval times was a challenge to say the least. In and between rural areas, there might not be more than a narrow, beaten earth path. Overly wet or snowy weather could make such roads impassable for long stretches of time. Bandits, weather, and wild animals all added to the hazards of the road. Though main trade routes were larger and better maintained (better guarded as well) they were far from comfortable. Wagon tires were primitive, made from flexible sapling wood, and transporting anything heavy was fraught with difficulties. When possible, pack animals were used by merchants who needed to get their goods from village to village. Travel by sea was no safer than travel by foot or beast, and the sea claimed many a historic figure, including the son of King Henry I.

heraldic-regaliaHowever, history shows that in spite of the dangers and discomfort of travel, it remained an important part of medieval life. Travel was just about the only way to get news from one place to another. Couriers might be entrusted with critical and private messages, while those meant to be disseminated among large populations were given out by public proclamation, or announced through church sermons. Celebratory events of historic significance, and sometimes propaganda, were immortalized in songs and poems, which spread quickly and continued to live on in people’s memories. Since most could not read or write, verbal person-to-person communication was the most effective. Some forms of communication were visual as well. Certain types of clothing bore special meaning that would have been understood by those who came in contact with the wearer. Banners, coats of arms, specific patterns of color, and badges were also visual forms of communication.

pilgrimsBut there was another important reason to travel, aside from the need to spread news, buy and sell wares, or the desire to see new places and people. That was a spiritual one. Pilgrimages to holy sites, whether small local shrines, to Rome, or to the ultimate site of Jerusalem, were encouraged by the Church. The most important pilgrimages were those made to places that were directly connected with the birth, life, crucifixion, or resurrection of Jesus. Christians would travel in large groups to such destinations for greater safety on the road. When such an arduous journey was impossible, one found closer pilgrimage sites associated with martyrs, the saints, important relics, or visions of Mary. It was believed that traveling to such places was an act of penance that might lead to the forgiveness of sins, and brought about a greater chance of going to heaven. Shrines were thought to be places of power, where supernatural intervention could occur for those most desperately in need of help. Some shrines were known for specific powers, like curing sickness. Pilgrims who made it to sites of significance collected or wore badges as a sort of souvenir, and proof that they had made a significant spiritual journey.

A medieval souvenir pilgrim badge from Amiens Cathedral

A medieval souvenir pilgrim badge from Amiens Cathedral

 

Medieval Monday: Pottery

Ok, yes, I know it is now Tuesday. The last few days have been very busy and time got away from me. A day late, but hopefully no less interesting, here is my Medieval Monday post for the week.

potter-at-wheelI mentioned last week that one task medieval people could do in January was dig for clay along river beds, which was used for pottery and tiles among other things. At least in the early medieval period, making pottery was mainly a rural activity. It was easiest to set up a workshop and kiln at or near the source of the materials needed. Large supplies of not just clay, but sand, wood to fuel the kiln, and water were needed. Access to a road or boats for transportation was also required.

potter-at-wheel-2Pottery making was typically handed down as a family industry among the peasantry. Though pottery was valued as a necessity of daily life, pottery makers were one of the lowest regarded craftsmen. It was often a secondary job, done after work in the fields was completed. Tools were simple, including combs, knives, and stamps to add decoration. Wheels were not commonly used until after the 12th century. In the mid and late Middle Ages, pottery making became a larger industry and was also done in towns and cities. Pottery began to include other materials such as wood and metal. Each region’s pottery had its own unique, easily distinguishable characteristics.

I found an in interesting video of medieval-style pottery being made for your interest and enjoyment. He shows a really great piece that was apparently made for washing hands that I’d never heard of.