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

  • ...that animals were put on trial in the Middle Ages? Cats were the most infamous and thought to embody Satan himself. But neither was there any quarter given the rest of the animal kingdom. Foxes often were hauled into court for their thieving ways, as were brazen, grain-eating rats. In one particularly famous case, a 15th century French advocate defended a sow and her piglets for having partly devoured a small child. The sow was eventually executed, but the piglets were released with a stern warning not to follow their mother’s bad example…
  • that the custom of placing ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday harks back to the medieval practice of 'sackcloth and ashes'? At local churches, those who sought redemption on the first day of Lent appeared in sackcloth in a solemn ceremony held outside. After a sprinkling of ashes and special prayers entoned repentants were welcomed back into the fold...
  • that the stigma of Friday the 13th originated in the Middle Ages? The Great Flood and Christ's crucifixion were both said to have occurred on a Friday. However, the number's reputation had a contemporary connection - to the downfall of the leader of the Knights Templar, Jacques De Molay. By papal order, he was arrested on a chilly Autumn day in 1307, along with thousands of his followers. Many soon joined De Molay in being tortured and burned at the stake for heresy. The rest either either fled the country or went underground. The date the arrests began: Friday the 13th, October 1307…

  • that one of the classic screen versions of the life of Joan of Arc featured a fledging actress with no movie acting experience? Director Carl Dreyer had sought an ingenue with an ‘inner light’ for the role and apparently found it in French stage comedienne, Renée Falconetti. Filming began on The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927) when a pitched battle immediately grew between the director and the film’s Hollywood-influenced producers. Dreyer instead shot the film with only spare decoration and in entirely low angle close-up. The actors wore no makeup. For the final shot, just before Joan is led to the stake (and with the film crew reportedly in tears) Falconetti’s hair was actually shorn on camera by the executioner. The result was a classic movie mix of deep spiritualism and stark realism. The early masterpiece was described as ‘a symphony of faces’ led by its star, Renée Falconetti, who never made another film…
  • that global warming may not be a new phenomenon? Unusual climactic conditions, referred to by scientists as the Medieval Warm Period, ushered in the Viking settlement of a once cold and forbidding Greenland. In fact, reports from other northern climes in Vinland - probably what is now Nova Scotia - told of sunny conditions, arable land and record grape harvests. The trend began around 1000 AD and continued for almost 300 years followed by colder conditions now known as The Little Ice Age…

Did You Know?... Part I
Did You Know?... Part III
Did You Know?... Part IV

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