The Unusual Heretic

Domenico Scandella, also known as Mennochio, was an Italian peasant who lived during the 1500s. He knew how to read a little, so was considered semi-educated, and it is known that he read a number of contemporary histories and religious works. The Roman Inquisition branded him a heretic for teaching a version of unorthodox Christianity to his fellow peasants -- twice.

The first time he was accused, Mennochio abjured, and claimed to have reformed. He was sent home in 1586 but had to wear a burning cross on his clothing as a visible symbol of what he had done. In 1598 he was re-arrested for preaching, again, his own beliefs. At his questioning, he gave his rendition of Creation as he thought the Church had taught him. Taken from The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg (1976):

"I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed – just as cheese is made out of milk – and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels. The most holy majesty decreed that these should be God and the angels, and among that number of angels there was also God, he too having been created out of that mass at the same time, and he was named lord with four captains, Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael."

Unfortunately this was considered blasphemy in the eyes of the Catholic Church. It did not help that at his trial Mennocchio also spoke out against masses helping the dead get out of purgatory, against the sacraments including baptism against Latin as the language of religion and the courts, and against the Church hierarchy's wealth and abuse of the peasantry. He was burned at the stake in 1599.

God Created the World, But the Dutch Created the Netherlands

The famous Dutch saying is not very wrong. Since the 1200s, the Dutch have been slowly creating land from the sea. A large part of the Netherlands is below sea level. Without the existing dikes, about 65% of the country would be underwater. There's a reason the Netherlands are famous for their windmills: this revolutionary medieval technology was instrumental in allowing them to drain land. The windmills at the lower level will pump out the water to higher level, which is be pumped out again to a higher level. The windmill chain continues until the water is drained to a nearby river, where it can flow to the sea.

Beautiful Axe From A Danish Vikings' Tomb

In the winter of 970 to 971 CE, a Viking magnate was buried in a chamber grave in Mammen, Denmark. He lay on two down cushions inside a wooden coffin. It's important to be comfortable in your eternal resting place. With him were symbols of his power: an expensive outfit of red and purple silk with blue and red embroidery, a large wax candle, a bronze bucket and two wooden buckets, and a ceremonial axe inlaid with silver decorations.

What does his tomb tell us about this man? It is unclear if he was Christian or pagan. The decorations on the ceremonial axe could be interpreted either way, but the wax candle was likely a Christian symbol, so its more likely than not that he was Christian. The fine quality of his grave goods, and the timing of the burial, suggest the Viking belonged to the circle around King Harald Bluetooth.

Did You Know Joan of Arc Had Two Trials?

Twenty-five years after she was burned at the stake for heresy against the Roman Catholic Church, Joan of Arc was re-tried. It was 1456, the Hundred Years' War was over, and the side Joan supported had won. It was time to declare that the woman who had led Charles VII to his coronation was not, in fact, a heretic. On July 7th the various judges, clerks, and priests filled the Great Hall of the Archbishop's Palace in Rouen. Joan's aged mother and brothers were in attendance as well. They had waited twenty-five years to hear what was about to be said.

The verdict: the original trial and sentence "being filled with fraud, false charges, injustice, contradiction, and manifest errors concerning both fact and law" should be considered "null, without effect, void, and of no consequence." Joan was washed clean of the "taint of infamy." After the archbishop read the new verdict, a copy of the original charges and proceedings from her first 1431 trial were ritually torn up.

What's Up With Anglo-Saxon Names?

Anglo-Saxon names tended to be made up of two elements, combined to have a particular meaning. For instance, Æthelstan (considered the first King of England united) is formed from Æthel, meaning "noble" and Stan, meaning "stone."

Within families the first part of a name might be reused many times. It was a sort of marker that people were related -- each would get a unique second half, of course. Sharing a name’s first part appeared especially common in aristocratic families. But it seems to have been widespread among Anglo-Saxons. In the 1000s, when England was conquered by the Danes and then the Normans, new naming practices were introduced and the two-part naming structure fell out of usage.

Goldworking Is Ancient Technology In The Americas

Gold was probably the first metal to be exploited in the Andes, by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. From there, the archaeological record suggests goldworking then traveled north, reaching Central America in the first centuries CE, and Mexico by about 1000 CE.

This particular necklace is from the Chavin Civilization, which developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from about 900 BCE to about 200 BCE. That sounds old, but relatively speaking, that is not old at all. Gold had already been mined and worked in the Andes for a thousand years when the Chavin arrived on the scene.

India Has Been a Pluralistic Society for Centuries, Meaning Governing India Has Been Difficult for Centuries

Emperor Akbar ruled the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605. When he came to the throne, he confronted a problem that had plagued his predecessors: how to be a Muslim ruler over a majority-Hindu nation, that also had substantial numbers of various other religions including Buddhism and Jainism. He eventually came to believe that no religion could have pre-eminence. In fact, he was not even sure that any religion was "the truth" but were all humanity's imperfect interpretations. The logical conclusion is that all subjects of his empire should be free to practice whatever religion they wished.

Akbar began to hold conferences weekly, with wise men from all faiths (no known women, though). He would apply their wisdom to questions of state. He slowly took over spiritual leadership, even getting the Muslim clergy to pronounce a fatwa (judgement) that as emperor, Akbar could adjudicate any dispute between religious authorities -- even overruling the Qur'an if necessary for the public interest.

Legally, Akbar made two big changes. He abolished the hated tax levied on the Hindu majority, the jizya, the "contribution for not being put to death". He also created a private faith for the elite. It was not a new religion, per se. It was a kind of Sufi system for the rulers, with 10 cardinal virtues, the essence of which was promoting tolerance. Akbar combined aspects of different faiths, borrowing from all the religions of his empire, to create an ethical code that he wished his inner circle to follow. He called this the Din i-Ilahi, or "Worship of God." While it has been accused of being a pick-and-mix religion, Akbar did not proclaim it a religion, and he remained a Muslim all his life. The Din i-Ilahi died with Akbar in 1605, and the jizya was reintroduced by Akbar's great-grandson Aurangzeb in 1679.

Devi, The Great Goddess

Revered from the soaring Himalayan mountains in the north to the southernmost tip of India, Devi is the force that animates all living things. Her power manifests itself in every aspect of the natural world, including trees, water, and rocks. Devi also vitalizes believers, strengthening their hearts during times of adversity.

This particular sandstone sculpture of Devi was crafted sometime around 975 to 1000 CE. She gazes at the viewer, who is supposed to gaze back. Thus this Devi can bestow a "darshan" — a sacred gaze exchanged with the deity during worship.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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