Notes and Sources

First, a word about the title of this book. The “mysteries” are not the mysteries of modern detective fiction. Our word mysteries derives from the Greek mystēria, originally a reference to the secret rites performed in pagan cults, especially the rites of Demeter, goddess of grain, which were conducted at Eleusis and to which yearly pilgrimages were organized from Athens. These rites were kept so effectively secret that to this day no one can be certain what was involved in their execution. Classical Greek Christians (apart from the whispering Gnostics) were resolutely opposed to such religious secrets: they wanted everything out in the open. And yet they called their own rites mystēria because they viewed them with the same exalted, trance-like awe in which the mysteries of Demeter were conducted. Mystery, therefore, became the word in the Christian East for what we in the West would name sacrament. These words once covered more experiences than we might allow for them today. The worship of the Virgin Mary was a sacramental mystery, as was the vowing of a nun, as was almost any broadly symbolic action—Francis presenting himself naked before Assisi’s cathedral, Giotto making a painting of that scene—carried out with ritual dignity.

As has been the case in the preceding volumes in this series, the bibliographical notes that follow are not intended as a complete list of everything I consulted, only of those sources I found most helpful and which I imagine an enterprising reader might be interested in consulting. Secondo me, there is no single work that gives one a more intense and extensive understanding of the Middle Ages than Sigrid Undset’s astonishing three-volume novel Kristin Lavransdatter, set in Norway in the first half of the fourteenth century and covering the life of one woman from birth to death. It has recently been republished (1997–2000) by Penguin in a much improved translation by Tiina Nunnally. If an interested reader were to undertake but one more study of things medieval, Undset is your woman. Her other medieval novels, The Master of Hestviken, a tetralogy, and Gunnar’s Daughter, are almost as masterful.

In keeping my bearings, I found two atlases especially useful: Colin McEvedy’s The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (1992), simply laid out and well seasoned by its salty commentary, and Rosamond McKitterick’s less focused but quite valuable Atlas of the Medieval World (Oxford, 2004), a work of many hands and more than one point of view. Two encyclopedias provided excellent checklists: Norman Cantor’s one-volume Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages (New York, 1999), up-to-date but oddly selective; andThe New Catholic Encyclopedia, second edition (2003), a fifteen-volume affair with supplements, whose bias is far more evident in its title than in its generally balanced and exhaustive entries. One of the best new histories of the period is Europe in the High Middle Ages (Penguin, 2001) by William Chester Jordan, though three series—The Short Oxford History of Europe, The Short Oxford History of Italy, and The Short Oxford History of France—are also helpful.

I found especially useful two books on intellectual history. The first of these, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400–1400 (Yale, 1997) by Marcia L. Colish, concerns, as its title suggests, the Middle Ages themselves. It is both encyclopedic and balanced. The second, Inventing the Middle Ages (Morrow, 1991) by Norman F. Cantor, traces the twentieth-century reaction against the negative view of the Middle Ages that was propagated during the Renaissance. It is selective, quirky, and subjective.

A Chaucerian Invitation

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is widely available in several editions. The murder of Thomas Becket provides the subject for T. S. Eliot’s famous play Murder in the Cathedral.

Prelude: Alexandria, City of Reason

The classic study of Alexandria and its spirit is E. M. Forster’s Alexandria: A History and a Guide, which Lawrence Durrell rightly called “a small work of art.” In coming to terms with the reception of Christianity by the Greco-Roman world, I found especially insightful a book from the first half of the twentieth century, Christianity and Classical Culture by Charles Norris Cochrane, published in 1940 by Oxford and available still from the Liberty Fund of Indianapolis under their Amagi imprint. But the most impressive work on this period has been accomplished by Peter Brown, who practically invented scholarship for what is now labeled “late antiquity.” His many books—from his early and innovative The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Columbia University Press, 1988) to his recent The Rise of Western Christendom (Blackwell, 2003)—have served as invaluable resources; likewise the anthology Late Antiquity (Harvard, 1999), edited by Brown, Bowerstock, and Grabar. Other helpful books in this vein include Henry Chadwick’s Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (Oxford, 1966) and Robert Louis Wilkin’s The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yale, 2003).

For those familiar with biblical languages and the problems of translation, mention should be made of my treatment of Philo’s commentary on Genesis. Philo’s psychē zōē, which I translate as “living soul,” is Septuagint Greek. It so happens that the King James Version renders this phrase as “living soul,” even though the translators of the KJV were supposedly translating from the Hebrew. But they may well have had an eye on the Septuagint; or if their translation was not informed by the linguistic bias of the Septuagint, it may have been informed by the more generally Grecophile assumptions of Western society.

Introduction: Rome, Crossroads of the World

Much of the research for this section is dependent on the same sources named in the note on the Prologue. For the lives of early popes, Eamon Duffy’s Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Yale, 1997) has served me well, as has R. A. Markus’s Gregory the Great and His World (Cambridge, 1997). The full text of “My Dancing Day” may be found in The New Oxford Book of Carols (1998). But it must be confessed that much of the material in the Introduction is a result not so much of my reading as of my experience of contemporary Rome—which is of necessity an experience of historical Rome as well. For readers who wish to explore Italy’s dark side, Tobias Jones makes a perceptive, if long-winded, companion in The Dark Heart of Italy (Faber, 2003; North Point, 2004).

A second confession: the idea of politicians wearing a miniature electric chair around their necks came to me by way of Lenny Bruce.

One of my early academic readers judiciously cautioned me against my description of medieval mystery plays as “tinseled and tumbledown.” While it is certainly true that the guilds invested much money and energy producing these plays, I think they would appear to us, who are so accustomed to sophisticated lighting and complicated electronic tricks, as ramshackle, amateurish, and occasionally tasteless.

One: Bingen and Chartres, Gardens Enclosed

For Hildegard’s Scivias, I used the translation by Columba Hart (1990) in Paulist Press’s most commendable series Classics of Western Spirituality. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen are available in English in a three-volume set from Oxford (1994–2004), translated into English and with a remarkably good introduction and notes and a terrific short bibliography by Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman. Included are many letters from Hildegard’s correspondents. The bibliography points out notable work on medieval women by Peter Dronke, some of it still available only in German. There are several popular lives of Hildegard, the best one by Fiona Maddocks (Headline, 2001; Image/Doubleday, 2003). Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World,edited by Barbara Newman (California, 1998), is more scholarly.

There are several excellent recordings of Hildegard’s music. My personal favorite, which contains the Latin hymn quoted in the text, is 11,000 Virgins: Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula (Harmonia Mundi, 1997, 2003) by the marvelous vocal ensemble Anonymous 4. (The English translation of the hymn is mine.) Likewise, the illuminations found in early manuscripts of Hildegard’s works are available in several editions, the most popular being Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen (Bear & Company, 1985), with a commentary by Matthew Fox. Fox’s commentary is, however, far more Fox than Hildegard.

In the opinion of some recent scholars, papal approval of Scivias is a suspect aspect of Hildegard’s biography. See, for instance, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, “Prophecy and Suspicion,” Speculum 75.2:224–25, and John van Engen, “Letters and Public Persona of Hildegard” in Hildegard von Bingen in ihrem historischen Umfeld (Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2000), pp. 375–418. One theory in this controversy is that the letter of approbation from Pope Eugene may actually have been written by Volmar. From my point of view, whether Hildegard received papal approbation or just pretended to do so is less important than that, in either case, she wished to be seen as orthodox and as a staunch ally of the reformers.

Similarly, the incident about Hildegard predicting the color of an unborn calf is not meant to demonstrate Hildegard’s powers of prognostication, just to remind the reader that she was not above a certain manipulative self-dramatization. After all, how many colors is a calf likely to be?

The classic Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams is available in several different editions.

It is often claimed that the Christian worship of the Virgin Mary, especially in the image of the Mother nursing the Child, is borrowed from the pagan worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis nursing the divine Horus. But the evidence for this is extremely thin, if not nonexistent; and I remain unconvinced.

Two: Aquitaine and Assisi, Courts of Love

For my money, C. S. Lewis’s chapter “Courtly Love” in The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford, rev. 1938) remains the best short treatment of courtly love in English, even if I tend to the opinion that the cult of the Virgin Mary had more to do with the origins of courtly love than Lewis would allow. Newer critical approaches concentrate on courtly love as a literary convention, much to the exclusion of interest in how the convention may have affected behavior or been the consequence of behavior. But just as in our own day the actions of literary and dramatic figures encourage patterns of behavior (and stem from existing patterns of behavior) in the larger culture, I am sure they did so in medieval times. In addition, Lewis’s English style offers an adamantine pleasure that few, if any, contemporary critics would be capable of providing.

The (very loose) translations of Ovid are mine, as are the translations of Capellanus and, later in the chapter, of Chrétien de Troyes. When the original language is particularly interesting in itself (and likely to be understood by some readers), I have included it, as in the case of Ovid and Chrétien. When it’s just doggerel, as in the case of Capellanus, I haven’t troubled you with it.

Alison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine (Cape, 1999; Ballantine, 2001) is the most up-to-date of recent biographies and possesses invaluable “Notes on the Chief Sources” and an enormous (and enormously helpful) bibliography. There are many recent and excellent studies of medieval warfare and violence, among them Crusades: The Illustrated History (Duncan Baird, 2004), edited by Thomas F. Madden; The Oxford History of the Crusades by Jonathan Riley-Smith; Medieval Warfare: A History, edited by Maurice Keen; andChivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe by Richard W. Kaeuper, these last three all published by Oxford in 1999.

In my treatment of Francis I have relied heavily on Donald Spoto’s down-to-earth Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi (Penguin, 2002), which is careful never to go beyond the evidence nor to trust in pious legend. But there are so many studies of Francis, old and new, good and bad, skeptical and credulous, that I despair of sorting them out here. For Francis’s composition “The Canticle of the Creatures” I used the version in Spoto, which he had from Arnaldo Fortini, Nova Vita di San Francesco (Assisi, 1959). For the English translation I also used the version in Spoto, which he had from the three-volume work Francis of Assisi: Early Documents (New City, 1999–2001). In the translation, however, I made some small alterations to bring the English closer to my understanding of the Umbrian original.

Intermezzo: Entrances to Other Worlds

The introduction of Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse will no doubt strike some readers as irrelevant, since it is an early twentieth-century, not a medieval, work; and the incident Chesterton gives us—Alfred’s vision of the Virgin—has no historical basis. But for me, as in my earlier recommendation of Kristin Lavransdatter, there is here a genuine evocation of the feeling and fabric of the Middle Ages that is worthy of our attention.

We now have two contesting schools on the confrontation between Islam and the West: the leftish “Golden Age” school, which emphasizes only the high culture and tolerance of Islam’s past (especially in early medieval Spain), and the right-wing “clash of civilizations” school, which declares that no accommodation between Islam and the West is possible. Though each side has its valid points, I belong to neither. And though it is impossible to write about the high medieval period in Europe without reference to Islam, the matter of this book is confined to the lasting contributions of the Catholic Middle Ages to Western society, which means that Islam must remain at its margins.

The travel memoirs of Marco Polo are available in several editions, but the Penguin Classics edition (1958), translated and introduced by Ronald Latham, is still awfully good.

Three: Paris, University of Heavenly Things

The classic study of medieval university life is The Rise of Universities (Cornell, 1959) by Charles Homer Haskins, first published in 1923. A persuasive, and far more complex, recent study is God and Reason in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2001) by Edward Grant. It should be noted that universities arose in the Muslim world well in advance of their rise in Europe, at Fez, for instance, in 859 and at Cairo in 975. Greek texts preserved at these universities, as well as in the Muslim enclaves of Spain and southern Italy, helped prepare the way for the philosophical-scientific renaissance of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe.

The medieval philosophers are well limned in Frederick Copleston’s monumental History of Philosophy, Volume II (Image/Doubleday, 1962), even if Abelard is given short shrift. Copleston’s Aquinas (1955), available from Penguin, is also outstanding. The classic on this subject is Étienne Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy (Notre Dame, 1991), first published in 1936. Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages (Harcourt, 2003) by Richard E. Rubenstein, a clear, accessible account (despite that misleading phrase about supposedly “Dark Ages”), contains a most readable chapter on the life and thought of Abelard.

A new edition of The Letters of Abelard and Héloïse (Penguin, 2003), translated by Betty Radice and revised by M. T. Clanchy, is an indispensable beginning for a study of the two lovers. Constant Mews’s The Lost Love Letters of Héloïse and Abelard (St. Martin’s, 1999) adds detail to their story.

For those seeking a more positive view of Bernard of Clairvaux than is provided by my hasty caricature, the place to begin is the collection of Bernard’s writings (1987) in the previously cited Classics of Western Spirituality series.

The differences between Augustine and Aquinas, the two unavoidable figures of medieval philosophy, are many and (sometimes) subtle, just as the differences between their favorite Greeks—Plato for Augustine, Aristotle for Aquinas—are many and (sometimes) subtle. It all goes back to different theories of perception and (attainment of) knowledge. For the Platonic Augustine, God must directly illuminate a human mind if its possessor is to come to know truth; for the Aristotelian Aquinas, the human mind grasps accurately what comes to it through the senses. God’s grace only perfects what is already there.

The text and chant for the hymn “Adoro Te Devote” may be found in the Liber usualis (Desclee, 1947), pp. 1629–30, along with references to several other eucharistic hymns by Thomas Aquinas. The text and chant for “Pange Lingua” may be found on pp. 811–13 in the section on liturgical texts for the feast of Corpus Christi, all of which were chosen and/or composed by Aquinas. The English translation of “Adoro Te Devote” is included in many editions of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins under the title “S. Thomae Aquinatis Rhythmus.” Hopkins used a variation on the Latin original, which substitutes supplex for devote in the first line. It is a later (and inaccurate) version of the original, but it makes no difference to the sense of the translation.

Four: Oxford, University of Earthly Things

To paraphrase T. S. Eliot: No! I am not a scientist, nor was meant to be. My information in this chapter comes largely from four books: Charles Singer, From Magic to Science, originally published by Longman in 1928 and reprinted by Kessinger (n.d.); David C. Lindberg (ed.), Science in the Middle Ages (Chicago, 1978); David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science (Chicago, 1992); and Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1996). The oldest book may be the most accessible.

Five: Padua, Chapel of Flesh

I first came across the connection between Francis’s invention of the presepio and the tradition of artistic realism in Chesterton’s Francis of Assisi (Image/ Doubleday, 1957), one of his best books. The best “books” to read about Giotto are his paintings, of which there are few in North America: Boston, New York, Washington, D.C. The books I found most helpful are Luciano Bellosi, Giotto: The Complete Works (Scala, 1981), a cheaply produced paperback readily available in shops throughout northern Italy and containing an exhaustive list of extant Giottos and their whereabouts; and Francesca Flores d’Arcais, Giotto (Abbeville, 1995), which contains an incisive commentary and a lavish, nearly perfect portfolio of reproductions.

Six: Florence, Dome of Light

The bite-sized biography cited in the text, Dante (Penguin, 2001) by R.W. B. Lewis, is a trifle muddled, but it ends with a model bibliography. William Anderson’s Dante the Maker (Routledge, 1980; Crossroad, 1982) is the standard biography in English.

The choice of a translation of La Divina Commedia is a thoroughgoing conundrum, for no English translation is entirely satisfying. For sheer readability from start to finish, I would recommend Allen Mandelbaum’s The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri in three paperback volumes (Bantam 1982, 1984, 1986) with facing pages in Italian and English. It is accurate and genuinely poetic. For a prose rendering that adheres closely to the Italian, the obvious choice is John D. Sinclair’s (Oxford, 1961), also in three paperback volumes with facing pages in both languages (and using the same title as Mandelbaum’s). The translation I use frequently in the text because of its successful imitation in English of Dante’s terza rima scheme is by Peter Dale (Anvil, 1996), widely available in the U.K. if not here. There are also many articulate defenders of translations by Dorothy L. Sayers and John Ciardi. The best solution, if you can spare the time, is to learn a little Italian and then use one of these translations as a trot while reading Dante’s original.

Among many admirable appreciations of Dante, I found most helpful “Life of Dante” by Giuseppe Mazzotta in The Cambridge Companion to Dante (1993) and several essays in Dante’s Testaments (Stanford, 1999) by Peter S. Hawkins.

Seven: Ravenna, City of Death

The epigraph is traditionally attributed to Sir Walter Scott because he quotes it in Old Mortality (1816), but it is more correctly attributed to the long-forgotten Thomas Osbert Mordaunt (1730–1809) in his poem “The Bee.” Procopius’s The Secret History is published in English translation by Penguin (1966).

Postlude: Love in the Ruins

The assertion that “there were no cardinals or popes” in apostolic times, along with the assumption that there were deacons and bishops, needs this further clarification: there was also no separate caste of priests. The only priesthood acknowledged by the primitive Christian community was the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9), an idea that would be rediscovered at the Reformation.

“Kilcash” appears in Kings, Lords, and Commons (Gill & Macmillan, 1959), an anthology of translations of poems in the Irish language from A.D. 600 to 1800 by Frank O’Connor.


Once again, I have many to thank who read the first draft of the manuscript and whose penetrating criticisms were essential to keeping me on the right road. They are: my wife Susan Cahill, John E. Becker, Lauren Broughton, William J. Cassidy III, Michael D. Coogan, John Cullen, Paul Dinter, Mario Marazziti, James M. Morris, Gertrud Mueller Nelson, Gary B. Ostrower, Donald Spoto, Burton Visotzky, and Robert J. White.

Those who toil for my American publishers deserve special thanks: always in the place of primacy Nan A. Talese, but also Kathy Trager, Stephen Rubin, Jacqueline Everly, John Pitts, Rex Bonomelli, Rebecca Holland, Nora Reichard, Ronit Feldman, and Terry Karydes, who is responsible for the smashing design of this book. I am permanently in the debt of Jennifer Marshall, whose intelligent publicity plans have brought my book to the attention of more readers than ever. My debt to the entire Random House sales force is, by this point in the series, ancient and unpayable.

Beyond Doubleday and Anchor, I am particularly grateful to my agent, Lynn Nesbit, and her able colleague Bennett Ashley; as well as Barbara Flanagan, the stouthearted copy editor; Diane Marcus, my assistant; and Andrea Ginsky, research librarian of the Selby Public Library in Sarasota, Florida. In touring various sites I was extremely lucky to have the expert advice of Gertrud Mueller Nelson in Germany, Marion Ranoux in Paris, Malcolm Miller at Chartres, and Rinaldo Piazzoni and Sandra Battisti in Italy. To Vanessa Vreeland I owe special thanks for pointing out the connection between Islam and ikonoklasm and between ikonoklasm and the subsequent flood of Greek images into Italy.

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