Rumwoldstow is a historic reenactment / living history project based around a fictional Anglo-Saxon monastery dedicated to our local saint Rumwold. At the project’s heart are a cloister, garden and orchard located near Banbury which represent an early tenth century monastery in miniature. We’re setting up a local reenactment group for crafts, living history and roleplaying. If you live nearby and are interested in getting involved, please contact the Dark Ages Society.
In our story, Rumwoldstow was refounded in 916 AD on the site of an earlier minster that was sacked by Vikings, perhaps in 914 AD. We are tracking the tenth century against modern years, so 2016 AD corresponds to 916 AD in the story of Rumwoldstow. We plan to build up resources to describe Rumwoldstow and its history, such as a founding charter and monastic rule.
In our story, Rumwoldstow is a monastery of women. The Anglo-Saxons used the word ‘monastery’ or ‘minster’ for for establishments of both men and women; they did not use the word ‘nunnery’. Please note that we welcome people of any gender – there are priests, craftspeople and lay folk as well as nuns at Rumwoldstow. If you’re more interested in the Vikings than Anglo-Saxons, that’s fine too; there was a strong Viking presence in Mercia at this time and it’s very much part of our story.
Latest posts from Rumwoldstow
- St Matthew’s Church, Longford
I recently visited St Matthew’s Church in the company of the mighty Wychwood Warriors, all praise to them. We saw a number of interesting ancient sites in the Cotswolds to the west of Oxford but this was the stand-out from an Anglo-Saxon viewpoint. The most obvious feature of interest is the socking great stone tower dating from the 11th century, built by Anglo-Saxon masons even though they may post-date the Norman Conquest.
The porch includes two Anglo-Saxon stone rood reliefs, but they are repositioned and their original sites are not known. The one on the east wall of the porch is 8th century and has lost its head. The one on the south gable of the porch is 10th century and has been assembled with Christ’s left and right arms swapped over and the figures of Saint Mary and Saint John the Evangelist also transposed. (source: Wikipedia article linked above).
There is further speculation that the carvings were re-used, perhaps from an earlier church on this site, and that ignorant masons got various bits the wrong way round.
We also found two delightful sets of paintings of saints depicted against Oxford scenery. My favourite was of course St Frideswide herself. Sadly I have found no information about these paintings, but they look Arts and Craftsy to me?
- A Tale of Two Mantles
The mantle is one of the most characteristic and yet mysterious of early mediaeval garments, one that seems to be a woman’s garment. You can read the beginning of my adventures with the mantle in earlier posts:
Pin the mantle on the nun
We have no archaeological evidence for the mantle, only literary references and manuscript illustrations such as the picture below showing Saint Æthelthryth.
I’ve now completed two versions of the mantle – one for every day, and one for high days and holidays.
The plain mantle
My plain mantle is a semicircle of grey wool, hemmed around the curved edge, and using the selvedge of the fabric along the straight edge. This is the same shape as an ecclesiastical cope.
The wool is a little scratchy and I very naughtily sewed a strip of nice smooth linen along the inside of the cloak where it touches my neck. A real nun would leave the wool plain and accept the discomfort. Honest.
The mantle in illustrations shows no opening, and for this version I sewed the front closed up to about my breastbone, so you put it on over your head. It’s a warm and comfortable garment, very cosy if you are working from home and it’s a bit chilly; it keeps one’s body and legs warm, and you can easily put your hands up under the front hem and I think this gives an appearance in keeping with the manuscript illustrations. The straight edge can be folded over to make a collar and it keeps the back of my neck warm.
Would an artist have drawn the seam down the front? Or would they have just drawn the overall shape, as we see it in illuminations?
For any serious labour, you would want more freedom of movement and I think that’s where the scapular (a tabard-shaped apron) would come into its own both for warmth and to protect your main garments from dirt.
The fancy mantle
I wove a decorative band to go round the neck of my fancy blue wool mantle which Abbess Cyneswithe will wear when there are posh visitors to Rumwoldstow, such as Bishop Godfrid (whether or not he is having an ascetic moment). The design for the tablet weaving is inspired by brocaded tablet-woven edges to the vestments of St Cuthbert (Durham textiles) and embroideries on the Llangorse Fragment, woven in a technique known from Laceby, Lincs and also one of the Durham textiles. Birds, clumsy lions and plants seem to have been familiar high-status motifs.
The band is woven in find wool, which I moistened and ironed to help ease it around the curve.
My blue mantle is a full circle and is open-fronted. I found that a light, ansate brooch is entirely adequate to close it – there is less weight on the pin than there would be with a heavy rectangular cloak. The front edges naturally overlap and are really very stable. And again, the opening is not, I think, very obvious.
This garment is even more snuggly than the plain mantle, being a soft, lightweight wool.
Both the plain and fancy mantles are high status garments as they are made by cutting away fabric and discarding it, to create a half or full circle.
The mantle is often reconstructed as a poncho with rounded corners, but the poncho design (a flat fabric with a hole cut in the middle) doesn’t seem to relate to cloaks from around this time, whereas the semi-circular cloak is known from finds such as Leksand and lived on in the ecclesiastical cope. The poncho could be regarded as a wider scapula with curved edges – it’s a totally valid interpretation – but I went with the half- and full-circles to see what they’d be like.
The circle has the advantage that you don’t have to put it on over your head. The half circle uses less fabric and keeps your neck warmer, also you don’t need a clasp. Both are good, warm, practical garments and I think fit the iconography well enough.
- Spring snow and flowers
OMG it’s the end of the first quarter of 923, the equinox is past and here I am writing just after the Feast Day of that most learned and well-travelled princess Saint Hildelith, abbess of Barking. The black hellebore or “Christmas rose” is flowering in fine style. This is a plant of complex character, a winter flower bringing hope of spring, a medicine and a poison. I read that:
Treating intestinal worms lasted into the 18th century. The only drawback was that the patient might end up being killed together with the worms.https://poisonousplants.ansci.cornell.edu/christmasrose/christmasrose.html
This comes as a surprise to me; I deliberately avoided planting what I knew to be toxic plants such as foxglove and aconite in the Rumwoldstow garden, but hellebore passed me by, partly because the hellebore is such a garden staple. So, erm, whoops! It is out of place in the food-and-flowers garden, and belongs in a medicinal garden with health warnings. It reinforces the message that you should be awfully cautious of eating random plants from the garden…
Moving swiftly on, here are some snaps of the light snowfall we had earlier in March, as viewed on a walk through Rumwoldstow to the end of the orchard and back.
- Riddle me this…
The Anglo-Saxons were very fond of riddles and word-games. At a recent feast, I spoke these riddling words:
In youth I stood still,
Facing the sun.
People slew me,
They spun me round and round.
After death, I am still again,
But people grow dizzy.
As the banquet-guests puzzled over these words, I took a drink of mead and explained that it wasn’t something obscure.
The answer is given below, in white text. Highlight the box below to read the answer!
A wooden cup, turned on a pole-lathe, and filled with mead.
Did you guess it?
- Tree pruning
An orchard in February doesn’t look like much, but there are promises of spring appearing – snowdrops, catkins, and swelling buds on the trees. High time to prune those apple and pear trees!
Our first task was to prune the older tree, which we’ve been gradually reshaping to a proper ‘tree’ shape (it had grown very siiiiiiideways due to the light from the south being blocked). We went at it somewhat cautiously, pruning a bit at the ends, and removing branches that crossed each other, or went too much straight up.
The variety is unknown but it produces nice eating apples.
The Hambledon Deux Ans got a bit of a trim, as did the Wyken Pippin. This latter is such a sturdy tree now, and has kind of gone sideways, so Al removed the protective frame around it. We’ve kind of decided to keep livestock out of the orchard now, as it’s clear that the fruit will always be low enough to be munched even by sheep. And the frame was very rickety. But it may be reused later.