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Part I in a continuing series: > Part II, Part III, Part IV


  • ...that in European medieval bestiaries (zoology books) panthers, lions and birds were listed right alongside that of the common dragon? Its Latin name was draco. It dwelled in caves - and its tail was lethal. "Not even the elephant, with its huge size, is safe. For lurking on paths along which elephants are accustomed to pass, the dragon knots its tail around their legs and kills them by suffocation," wrote one medieval scribe. Nowhere is there mention of the dragon's propensity for breathing fire, although the 12th-century Aberdeen Bestiary hints at its origins. "Dragons are born in Ethiopia and India, where it is hot all year round..." 
  • that it was inevitable that medieval manuscripts were taller than they were wide?This was due to the logic of folding rectangular vellum (animal skins), or parchment, to produce hand-made manuscripts. The resulting shape was always rectangular. With the invention of paper, bookmakers naturally followed the age-old tradition. Books are still taller than they are wide because monks more than half a millennium ago used natural vellum…
  • ...that medieval tapestries, popularly admired for their painstaking beauty, were not created to be enduring masterpieces? Originally intended as wall decoration, they were often cut into pieces and hung in doorways or drafty passageways to save on heating bills. This explains why medieval museum collections include many different and odd-shaped sizes. Even the smallest remnants had their uses. Makeshift cushioning was a good alternative at a time when chairs were made only of hardwood …
  • that there were female orders of knights in the Middle Ages? One particular account describes the result of a siege in the Spanish town of Tortosa in 1149. While the townsmen entertained thoughts of surrender, the women donned men’s clothing and successfully fought off a band of pillaging Moors. Soon after, the Order of the Hatchet was founded to honor the women who fought for the town's defense. Those admitted were exempted from all taxes and received many other privileges. After a generation no more was heard of the Order of the Hatchet, and it probably died out with its original members …
  • that skin warts were considered unsightly as far back as the 13th century? Here's a cure that dates from at least 1250:
wart cureProcure a live eel - fresh or salt water – and cut off its head. Then anoint those parts of the body afflicted with warts, using the fresh blood of the eel. Allow to stand until the blood dries. Do not wash off for at least three days. Bury the head of the eel deep in the earth. Remember where you buried it, so you can check its decomposition. As the head of the eel rots over time, the warts will disappear. 

This cure generally works better in the summer months, because the eel's head rots faster…

Did You Know?... Part II
Did You Know?... Part III

Did You Know?... Part IV

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