Originally posted 31st May 2024

The Galilee Porch at Ely Cathedral - the large covered porch on the west end which is now used as the main entrance - is considered one of the finest thirteenth-century porches in England. It may have been an elaboration or rebuilding of an earlier Galilee, and even during the medieval period its architecture and decoration was fine enough to be used as a precedent for the architecture of the Lady Chapel, built a century later.

A Galilee, in Church architecture, is a building at the west end of a church which was considered less sacred than the rest of the church. For example, the Galilee at Durham Cathedral is a chapel which was used by women, who were forbidden from entering the main church building. The name may have been a reference to “Galilee of the Gentiles”, referred to in Matthew 4:15, though according to another theory the name originated in the fact that processions formed up in the West end porch and their arrival in the church itself symbolised Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem from Galilee. The first record of a church structure called a Galilee comes from 1035 and referred to a building at the abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, which was highly influential across Europe at the time and may have inspired copycats in other monasteries as time went on: the Galilee chapel at Durham was built in the 1170s.

The Ely Cathedral Galilee Porch is attributed to Bishop Eustace, who was in his seat from 1197 to 1215, but there is evidence that he built on the foundations of an earlier porch: his Galilee is referred to as the “new” Galilee. However, porches were uncommon in Anglo-Norman churches and if they did have Galilees they were usually screened-off areas of the nave. Ely Cathedral has some filled-in wall sockets at the west end of its nave that could have supported a wooden screen, so it’s possible that the original Galilee was an internal space.

After the initial construction, more decorative work took place and there are even some surviving graffiti that suggest a finishing date in the middle of the 1200s: architectural sketches scratched on the inner walls of the Galilee that show designs for classically-thirteenth-century window tracery. It wasn’t uncommon for parts of a great church to be used as a masons’ tracing house before they were consecrated and the walls would have been covered with thin plaster. These surviving scratches went deeper than the plaster into the stone itself.

Originally posted 15th June 2024

William II, also known as William Rufus though it is not clear whether the nickname was ever used in his lifetime, was the third son of William the Conqueror and the second-oldest to survive him. He became the king of England when his father divided his realm on his death, leaving the duchy of Normandy to his eldest son Robert and the kingdom of England to William.

The historical record has not been kind to William, partly because he had the bad luck of being sandwiched between two much more famous kings and partly because most of the formal Latin records were written by the Church at a time when tensions were high between the Church and the Crown. While vernacular French records remembered him as chivalrous and good-humoured, the Latin records present him as an avaricious monster who presided over a court full of debauchery. This last point and the way it was described - together with the fact that he never married - has also led to a lot of speculation about William’s sexuality.

At this time, there was usually segregation between men and women, most noticeably in religious life but also for young military men; suitable brides were in relatively short supply, so most knights spent a lot of time as bachelors, living with other knights. Statistically, it is likely that not all these young men were straight, so it is likely that same-sex relationships did occur at William’s court. At the same time, changing fashions in Europe at the time led to the increasing appearance of hairstyles and clothing that conservative observers considered effeminate such as longer hair, shorter beards, and impractical long-toed shoes. At the time, the Church was campaigning hard against disapproved-of sexual practices including homosexuality, while also fuelling a growing trend of misogyny, so the behaviour of these young knights attracted a lot of criticism.

Since William led the court that was being portrayed as a debauched hotbed of homosexual activity and had also offended the Church by appropriating their revenues and quarreling with the Archbishop of Canturbury, he was naturally portrayed as the driving force behind everything seen to be wrong there, including his knights’ sexual habits. As early as the 1170s, in the verse chronicle Roman de Rou (or the Romance of Rollo), hints were being dropped that William was bisexual. His actual sexuality is unknown - we can’t look into his mind - and historians have been left to draw conclusions from hints dropped by his contemporaries and the fact that he never married, is not known to have had any mistresses, and there is only one hint of him ever having fathered an illegitimate child. This combination of factors really only shows that he had little to no interest in women - or that he was infertile - but has led to the conclusion that he was gay.

William died in a hunting accident in the New Forest when one of his companions shot him; there are many theories to this day that the accident was in fact a murder organised by his younger brother Henry, who shortly afterwards became Henry I. In an odd coincidence, it was also a hunting accident in the New Forest that had claimed his elder brother Richard at the age of about 15, though nobody has been accused of murdering him.

Originally posted 20th June 2024

The village of Cottenham has been one of the largest villages in Cambridgeshire since the 11th Century; according to the the Domesday Book it had 60 tenants in 1086, divided between two manors which may have been physically separate, one near the church and one around Crowlands manor house. There may also have been two village greens at the time, though by the 13th century the local surname “at green” had emerged, suggesting that there was now only one green.

Village greens generally emerged informally when the villages were first settled; many villages simply spaced their houses out so that there was a wide space between them that traffic moved across at will, and grassy areas on that space could serve as grazing for tethered animals. Even more cramped layouts generally saw patches of grass at junctions, and the location of the surviving green in Cottenham suggests this kind of green: a triangle between the roads that lead towards the church, Histon, and Rampton.

The medieval layout of the village south of the southern bend in the High Street - where the Co-op now is - was fairly regular, suggesting a planned village, perhaps laid out by the lord of the manor. This could have incorporated the two greens (the other was probably in the triangle between the High Street and Denmark Road). Planned greens do occur and were probably intended for animal grazing, though the surviving green at Cottenham is small for this purpose. However, supplemented by a second green and only designed to serve a limited number of farmsteads, it may have been big enough for occasional use. Some greens also served as marketplaces; there was an annual fair and weekly market granted to the rector of the church in 1265, at around the time that the northern green appears to have disappeared.

Originally posted 27th June 2024

During the 1100s, a series of earthquakes hit the area around what is now Lebanon and parts of south-east Turkey, northern Israel and north-west Jordan but at the time was the Principality of Antioch and County of Tripoli. This was the height of power of the Crusader states following the First Crusade and especially in Jerusalem to the south there was a great deal of building going on, especially of new castles and churches.

In the area of the earthquakes, most substantial buildings were of stone and humbler houses were built of sun-dried mud, and since this was an active war zone at the time many towns and castles were constantly under repair, increasing damage from the earthquakes. For example, the series of quakes from October to December 1138 resulted in the collapse of a castle and church at Harim on the modern Syrian border and the destruction of a Muslim citadel at nearby Athareb, killing 600 members of the garrison. Both locations had already been damaged by warfare and earlier earthquakes.

One especially notable earthquake occurred on 29th June 1170. Contemporary records describe the results in apocalyptic terms, though there may have been some exaggeration; some records describe how every building was razed to the ground but then mention that survivors had taken refuge in churches and mosques. However, it is clear that there was widespread destruction, especially since many buildings in the area were already badly damaged by an earlier earthquake in 1157 which had had its epicentre in almost the same place.

Both Muslims and Christians treated the earthquakes as God’s justice on a sinful world (and their enemies) and the 1170 earthquake resulted in an unofficial truce, though this had more to do with the need to rebuild than any fear of further divine retribution.