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Leading authority on the Middle Ages, Professor Robert Bartlett, presents a series which examines the way we thought during Medieval times.
In Knowledge, Professor Bartlett explores the way medieval man understood the world as a place of mystery, even enchantment - a book written by God. The medieval world was full of marvels as revealed through medieval sources. He unearths records of strange sightings of fish men caught off the coast of Suffolk, or green men in Essex. Travelling to Hereford Cathedral he decodes the Mappa Mundi, with its three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia) and its strange beasts thought to exist on the periphery of the earth: hermaphrodites, unicorns, men with the heads of dogs.
In Sex, we unearth remarkable evidence of the complex passions of medieval men and women. On the one hand, there was a down-to-earth approach you might expect in a peasant society; on the other was an obsessive abhorrence of desire grounded in religious fervour. Professor Robert Bartlett explores the subject using medieval sources, and quotes some of the questions the 11th century Church recommended priests to ask their parishioners: "Have you committed fornication with your step-mother, your sister-in-law, your son’s fiancée, your mother?
In Belief, Robert explores belief in the supernatural. The medieval dead shared the world with the living: encounters with the dead and visions of the next world ensured a two-way traffic between this world and the next. Robert uses medieval sources to create a keen sense of the after-life. The cult of the saints was part of the medieval preoccupation with death. The holy dead were active in their intercession for the living, and their relics were prized. Robert explores this preoccupation through one of the few medieval relics in Britain, the skull of St Simon Stock at Aylesford Priory.
In Power, Professor Robert Bartlett lays bare the brutal framework of the medieval class system. Inequality was as part of the natural order, the life of serfs little better than those of animals, the knight’s code of chivalry more one of caste solidarity than morality. The class you were born into determined who you were. There were three classes, or estates: those who pray (the clergy), those who fight (the aristocratic warrior class of knights) and those who work (everybody else – in practice, usually serfs on a knight’s estate).
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