The Mystery of Money – Beyond Greed and Scarcity | Chapter 5 | Bernard Lietaer (2002)

Reproduced from:

Chapter 5: Case Study of the Central Middle Ages

“History is philosophy teaching by examples.”
Henry St. John Bolingbroke (1678-1751)

“The Black Madonna is a metaphor for the memory of the time
when the earth was believed to be the body of a woman.”
Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum1

“Women are repeatedly accused of taking things personally.
I cannot see any other honest way of taking them.”
Maria Mannes2

We find obvious that it is a good idea to save in the form of money. In many countries, parents open savings accounts for their children in order to teach the value of thrift in that form. It is an accepted part of the “modern ethic” to save some money for the proverbial rainy day. Interest on money is a systematic incentive to accumulate savings in the form of money. Furthermore, the entire banking system has been geared up to capture savings in that form, so that these deposits can serve in turn to make new loans.

Now imagine a world where the reverse is happening. Imagine a currency system where there would be a small charge on keeping money but where the currency itself would keep its value. What would that do?

First of all, money would be used only as a medium of exchange, not as a store of value. Second, one would save in forms other than money, such as productive assets, stocks in corporations, forests, or art – anything that would keep or increase in value over time. Third, because nobody would be interested in accumulating money, it would circulate in real exchanges among people, and would not be scarce even among the lower strata of society. In short, such a system would support the saying that “money is like manure, it works best when it is spreadout”.

We have lived with the idea of receiving interest on money for centuries, so that the very notion of a charge on money sounds strange to a modern observer. However, such a system existed for several centuries in at least two civilizations, and it induced remarkable economic and social results.

Demurrage, i.e., a tax on currency charged over time, is a concept that has been out of fashion for a very long time. Except for a brief rebirth under the efforts of Silvio Gesell3 and a few implementations during the 1930’s4 one has to go back to the Middle Ages to find any significant precedent.

So far, I discovered only two periods where demurrage-charged currencies were used continuously over several centuries: the European Central Middle Ages (from the 10th to the 13th century); and Dynastic Egypt.

Furthermore, in both cases, there were actually two types of currency systems operating in parallel. There was first the well-known “long-distance” currency system that was used routinely by merchants involved in foreign trade, and episodically by military or royal elite to pay for or receive gifts, tributes or ransom. This currency system initially was based on rare and valuable commodities that became later the standardized gold and silver coins. It is what numismatic collections proudly show as “the” coinage of the period. I will call them the Yang currencies of these times.

However, in these two civilizations (and only in these two as far as I have been able to detect so far), there was also a second type of currency, one on which demurrage charges were applied. These Yin currencies were invariably less glamorous in appearance. They tended to circulate primarily as “local” currency.

In the case of Egypt, they were made of crude shards of pottery called ‘ostraca’ that were receipts for deposits made by the farmers themselves at the local storage houses. In the Germanic area during Central Middle Ages, they would evolve into ‘bracteaten’, thin plaques of silver metal, that would be withdrawn from circulation and replaced with new ones on the average every year. In both civilizations, this fragile, unglamorous, temporary currency was not designed to survive long. But a farmer could live most of his life and rarely deal with anything else than these “local” currencies. It is only in the comparatively rare purchase or sale of land, and payment of dowries or ransom that the hoarded Yang currency would be used. Written historical evidence will also tend to be biased in favor of these exceptional transactions, because it was typically only for these unusual “important” situations that sometimes a written document would be drawn up.

In contrast, in this book I will emphasize the role of the Yin currencies, because they turn out to have been the unsung actors that have made a much more dramatic impact on their respective economies than has been generally perceived. However, it should be clear that it is their complementary role in a dual Yin-Yang monetary system that may ultimately explain what was so different between our two case studies and other periods, including our own.

The big surprise came when I started investigating whether there was anything in common between the Central Middle Ages and Egypt, two cultures separated by over a thousand years and just about everything else I could think of – religion, language, culture, technology, climate, social organization, and so forth.

Although at first sight there is no logical connection between religious cults honoring the Great Mother, dual Yin-Yang currency systems, and periods of economic abundance, I kept uncovering strong evidence substantiating precisely such a relationship. Several of these findings run against conventional perception, so it is necessary to substantiate them here in some detail.

I will share the surprises in the sequence they happened. What started with a money connection got me on the trail of a mysterious Black Madonna, who led me straight back to Egypt. The best surprise came when I discovered the remarkable economic results achieved in both places, coinciding exactly with the time period when the demurrage-charged currency was in use. One of the most convincing arguments that these unglamorous Yin currencies had something to do with this exceptional boom period is that when these money systems were changed to a monopoly of Yang currencies, result was a spectacular economic collapse in both places.

A Money Connection

This whole project started because I had been looking for historical precedents for demurrage- charged currencies as examples for another book.5 The modalities by which demurrage charges were levied on money were different for both examples uncovered so far. But notwithstanding the difference in the means used, during the Central Middle Ages and in Egypt unexpectedly similar effects were the result.

Medieval Demurrage

The ancient Roman money system had slowly fallen apart over several centuries after the collapse of the Empire (4th century A.D.) It had fragmented into hundreds of local currencies of varying quality and importance. Charlemagne managed to re- centralize and uniformize the European mints again during the 9th century.6 His coins circulated in parallel with Saracen gold coinage imported from the Levant. He also introduced the rule that recoinage would occur (with a tax raised in this process) whenever the sovereign would change. This general rule would still be prevailing many centuries later, for example it would still be repeated as an automatic rule in the best-known continental European law compendium of the 13th century (the Saxenspiegel of1220)7.

Soon after the Carolingian period, however, the monetary fragmentation would resume and go further than ever before. “The fragmentation of political authority by grant and usurpation over a period of three centuries, first among the successor kingdoms of the Carolingian empire and eventually among the myriad of minor seigneurs was not paralleled at all levels by a fragmentation of mint rights. But they were fragmented certainly….”8 For instance, in 930 A.D. the English King Athelstan stipulated that every borough should have its own mint!

Photo 5.1 Williams 1/8 page

Silver penny of Sihric III Silkbeard, King of Dublin (993-1042).

This is the first coin ever minted in Ireland, and like in Sweden, Denmark and Norway at around that same time, they all imitated the crux-type penny of Aethelred II of England, the “inventor” of the periodic “Renovatio Monetae” as income source for the lords.

It was in this context that the tradition of local lords raising income through “Renovatio Monetae” became established (literally “Renewals of Coinage”.

I will use the word “recoinage” as a synonym). For example, in 973 Eadgar had completely recoined the English pennies. Yet, barely six years later, the new young king Aethelred II carried out a fresh recoinage. He repeated the exercise from then on at more or less regular intervals. The key motivation was that the royal moneyers gave out only three new pennies for every four old ones taken in.9 This was equivalent to a tax of 25% every six years on any capital held in coin. This averages out at roughly 0.35% per month (just over one third of one percent). This recoinage tax was therefore a crude form of demurrage charge.

It is also important to understand that while there was a time-related demurrage charge, there was no debasement of the currency itself. The precious metal content of the successive currencies was indeed kept constant over time, and harsh penalties laid out if the money issuer minted coins that were basely alloyed or too light. Althestan’s Second Code of Laws specified: “if a moneyer is found guilty of [issuing base or light coins], the hand shall be cut off with which he committed the crime, and fastened up on the mint.”10

Photo 5.2 and 5.3 each 1/8 page

Two examples of currency issued by local lords in the 11th and 12th century.

The first one is a pfennig of Sigwin, archbishop of Cologne (1079-1089). Initially the mint of Cologne would only strike royal coinage, then it issued currency in the joint name of the German emperor and the local archbishop. Finally, as in this one, in the sole name of the archbishop. This typical sequence demonstrates the growing independence from Central authority of currency issuing in Europe in the Central Middle Ages.

The second example is a base-silver denier, struck at Provins issued by Thibault II, Count of Champagne (1125-1152) in France.

The practice of Renovatio Monetae was spreading outside of Britain as well. In 1075 Harald Hen reformed coinage in Denmark, and from then on coinage was renewed on a regular basis every five or six years. At about the same time Vratislav II, the first ruler of Bohemia who called himself “king,” and Solomon of Hungary started the same process, followed within one generation by Poland’s Boleslav III (1102-38). In France and Germany, the mints similarly had fallen into the hands of counts, bishops, and abbots. Each issued his currencies and started his own recoinage cycles.

By the 12th century, the age-old traditions of payments of taxes in kind gradually had been replaced by the income from recoinage, to the extent that the latter had become the most important income for many local authorities. Notice that the value of the coinage itself throughout this period had remained fairly stable in most of Europe.11 In simple words, while coinages were periodically taxed, each coin kept its value over time. In technical terms, during the “good” centuries of the Central MiddleAges, while there was a demurrage charge on the currencies, there was no debasement of the currency itself.12

A variant of the scheme was the bracteaten system (from bractea = thin plate in Latin) 13. These were circular plaques of metal struck in paper-thin silver plate. What distinguishes them from coins from a numismatic viewpoint is that they would be stamped only on one side, but their very thinness would ensure that the design would be visible in embossed relief on the other side. They were so thin that one could make partial payments by breaking off corners of the wafer. However, the more important point from our viewpoint – a money systems viewpoint – was singled out by Frank Berger, the German specialist of bracteaten: what made them unique is “the circulation of these currencies were not only limited geographically, but also in time.”14 (their circulation was limited not only geographically, but also temporally).

Indeed, bracteaten were currencies that made recoinage a systematic annual process. The process of recalling the currency was tied in with the big annual Fall markets in each city – any merchant who wanted to trade on a given market needed to exchange the old currency for the new one at that time. From around 1130 onward, their use became widespread particularly in Germanic Europe, the Baltic and in Eastern European countries.

Photo 5.4 a (1/3 page)

This succession of four bracteaten was struck in four successive years around 1225 by the Archbishop of Bremen Gerhard von der Lippe (1219-1258). They show Saint Peter holding his characteristic double keys in his right hand. Each year would be marked by a small difference visible around the book he holds in the other hand. The first bracteat has a cross above the book, the second a star, the third has the cross below the book, and the last has no markings at all around the book. Such small differences would enable the tax collectors to identify the year when the bracteat had been issued.

Photo: Helmut Reitz of four bracteaten from the Bokel Fund, currently at the Kestner Museum, Hannover.

Photo 5.4 b  (1/4 page)

This bracteat was struck at Quedlinburg, in the Northern Harz area in Germany. It shows Adelheit III (1161-1184), a woman abbess, holding on the one side a lily scepter and on the other an open book, dominating “her” city protected by towers and walls. Significantly, bracteaten are among the few currencies in Western history that would represent real-life women.

The first issuance of a bracteaten has been traced to 1130 in the Markgrafshaft of Meissen, in Saxony. The esthetic quality of the bracteaten was highest during the 12th century.Photo: Helmut Reitz from original from the Frekleben Fund.

Egyptian Demurrage

The second case where demurrage-charged currencies were used for an extensive period of time was Dynastic Egypt.

I know of only one systematic study of the Dynastic Egyptian monetary system. Friedrich Preisigke, a German scholar at the beginning of this century, wrote it. It was published in three volumes with a correspondingly intimidating foot-long title: Girowesen im Griechischen Ägypten enthaltend Korngiro, Geldgiro, Girobanknotariat mit Einschluß des Archivwesens.15

By digging through it, I concluded that one of the stories of the Bible was true, but not quite complete.

Remember the Biblical story of Joseph, whom his jealous brothers had “sold to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and they brought him to Egypt.” (Genesis 37:28). Once there, he interpreted the premonitory dream of the Pharaoh about the seven fat and seven lean cows. His recommendation was to store food reserves during the seven fat years, so that they would be available during the leans ones. Everyone was so impressed that Joseph was named General Superintendent for all of Egypt. In short, a great story about a poor Jewish boy who did well in a big foreign country.

There is something strange about that story, but it is only after digesting Preisigke that I could put my finger on it. Storing food as an invention dates back to the beginning of the agricultural revolution. After all, storing food for the bad season and for next year’s seedlings is essential to any agricultural society. By the time poor Joseph arrived in Egypt, the Egyptians must have gotten quite good at it for more than two thousand years. Archeological evidence centuries before Joseph confirms that Egypt had an official food storage system organized around the temples. So why should everyone be so impressed by someone re-inventing storage?

What the Bible failed to mention was that Joseph may have invented the Egyptian monetary system that was directly connected to that food storage system, something quite impressive indeed. Here is how it worked.

Imagine you are a farmer in ancient Egypt who, after the harvest, has a surplus of ten bags of wheat. You bring them to your local storage site and the scribe gives you a receipt saying, “Received ten bags of wheat,” followed by an official’s seal and today’s date. Those receipts were usually written on pottery shards, technically called “ostraca,” of which many thousands have been found all over Egypt.16 They were used as currency for most ordinary exchanges.

However, the key to the system is discovered whenever you come back, say a year later, to cash in your ten-bag ostraca. The scribe looks at your receipt and orders nine bags returned to you. The conversation could go as follows:

  • “But I brought you ten bags, why do you return me only nine now?” He looks at you with a touch of impatience.
  • “Don’t you see that was a year ago?”
  • “So?”
  • “Don’t you see that guard standing in front of the storage building? He eats, you know! So do I for that matter. Notwithstanding all our precautions, we also lose some wheat to rats and mice.”
  • “Yes, but what has that to do with my tenth bag?”
  • “Well, that tenth bag covers simply the cost of storing your bags for a year.”

After this bit of pharaonic monetary theory, it should also be clear that this tenth bag is a demurrage charge for one year. Note that the Egyptian system was more sophisticated than the Medieval European one. For instance, had you returned six months instead of one year later to recover your bags, you would have received 9.5 bags in return. So the demurrage charge was exactly proportional to the time the currency had been outstanding, and the store in safekeeping.

So What?

Digging up forgotten monetary systems is a curious but rather solitary hobby. I wasn’t hoping that I could ever get anybody else excited about it (sidebar)

Implications and Exceptions

Currencies that are not inflationary but have demurrage charges are of unusual interest because they induce a totally different collective behavior pattern relating to money than that with which we are familiar today. Logically, such currencies would systematically discourage hoarding of that particular currency. Such currency would be used as a pure medium of exchange and not a store of value, while at the same time avoiding the well- know negative effects of inflation on the social relationships of a community. This would make these currencies comparatively rare examples of what I called “Yin” currencies, encouraging their circulation and ensuring their availability to all levels of society.

It should be emphasized that the Central Medieval system was only a “crude form” of a demurrage system. In comparison with the Egyptian system for instance, it had several flaws17 that would lead to abuses during the 14th and 15th century. But during the 10-12th century, in the areas where the system was not abused, these Yin currencies had a significantly positive economic impact as will be shown below.

Here I had two examples of demurrage- charged currencies, but there were certainly no identifiable connections between the two systems. A thousand years is a long time, particularly since by the tenth century A.D., there was clearly no one anywhere who still could decipher hieroglyphs to bridge the gap.

Then I started the research on the Great Mother archetype and its relationship to money systems (as documented in Part One).

The Trail of the Black Madonna

I previously mentioned the strange case of the Medieval Black Madonna as the one significant exception in the otherwise relentless repression of the Great Mother in the West (Chapter 2). When I started digging up Her symbolic meaning it became manifest that:

  • The Black Madonna is a totally unique phenomenon in Romanesque art history;
  • She was the key esoteric component of a powerful resurgence of the honoring of the Great Mother during that time;
  • The trail of the Black Madonna leads straight back to Egypt in an extraordinary number of ways, and specifically to another key exception in the repression of the Great Mother archetype, the Isis cult.
  • The disappearance of demurrage-charged currencies occurred concurrently with the fall of the cults of the Black Virgins and Isis in their respective cultures, and with a massive drop in the standard of living of ordinary people. Remember that such a correlation is a direct application of the general finding of archetypal psychology: archetypal figures provide valid descriptions of collective psychic sequences, and thereby can significantly shape external reality.

However, I want to emphasize that correlation is not causality. Specifically, I do not claim that there exists a causal link between religious cults on the one side, and money systems and economic results on the other. Instead, I believe that there is an indirect connection – that the cults, the money system, and unusual economic results were a sign that the same archetypal constellation was active in both places at their respective times. In other words, I will show that there is a striking correlation between archetypes and money systems, but I do not profess to have identified the mechanism underlying the connection between these two domains.

Photo 5.4 (full page if good picture can be obtained)

Black Madonna of Montserrat, Catalunia, the most famous Black Madonna of Spain. She is completely covered in gold except for her and the child’s faces and hands. Notice she does not have African facial features. Rather, these facial features are similar to contemporary “white” Madonnas, except that she is pointedly painted pitch-black. 

Why does She matter to us Today?

The best answer to this question I found in a book by Robert Graves. His book, The White Goddess, is well known, but the following quote is from a lesser-known work, Mammon and the Black Goddess18

“The Black Goddess is so far hardly more than a word of hope
whispered among the few who have served their apprenticeship to the White Goddess.
She promises a new pacific bond between man and woman…
in which the patriarchal marriage bond will fade away.
The Black Goddess has experienced good and evil, love and hate,
truth and falsehood in the person of her sisters…
She will lead man back to that sure instinct of love
which he long ago forfeited by intellectual pride.”

China Galland reports about another scholar, Gilles Quispel, who played a critical role in the acquisition, translation and publication of the remarkable collection of Gnostic tests of early Christianity discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. For him, “the Black Madonna plays a crucial psychic role that he described in Jungian terms as symbolizing the earth, matter, the feminine in men, and the self in women […] Unless men and women alike become conscious of this primeval image of the Black Madonna and integrate it within themselves, humankind would not be able to resolve the problems of materialism, racism, women’s liberation and all that they imply…He related her to the early Christian Gnostic tradition in which the Mother was also called ‘Wisdom’, the ‘Holy Spirit’, ‘Earth’, ‘Jerusalem’. To the early Christians, the Holy Spirit was personified as the Mother and prayed to because she was God as well.” 19

Jesus explicitly called the Holy Spirit his Mother in the Gospel According to the Hebrews.

The Hebrew tradition talks about the Shekinah, the Indwelling of God. The Buddhists and Hindus call it primordial emptiness. The mystical Christian tradition including Jakob Boehme, Meister Eckhart, Hildegard von Bingen, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich or the Portuguese cult to the Holy Ghost all spoke of the Motherhood of God. One of the Nag Hammadi texts is a poem uttered by a feminine power that could have been voiced by any one of the ancient Great Mothers.

“For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin…
I am the barren one, and many are my sons..
I am the silence that is incomprehensible…
I am the utterance of my name.”20

In short, the Black Madonna is about healing the split at the core of the Western patriarchal worldview – the split between matter and soul, body and mind, feminine and masculine, sexuality and spirituality, Nature and Humanity, cosmos and individuality. If this proves right, she may be the precursor symbol of the transformation that the Western world is undergoing during the current transition.

Esoterism vs. Exoterism

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: Lover of the Black Madonna

Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercian monastic order, is universally considered as one of the most influential personalities of the 12th century. He was born in Fontaines, near Dijon, France, whose chapel had a Black Madonna. As a young boy he received his vocation, according to a fourteenth century legend, from “three drops of the milk of the Black Madonna” at Saint-Varles near Chatillon-sur-Seine, France.

This unusual form of vocation should give us a clue that an esoteric tradition is involved. “Three drops of a virgin milk” is one of the traditional names of the mysterious “materia prima” (“raw material”) of the alchemists.

Inspired by this, he took the ailing order of Citeaux, by then reduced to a handful of monks, and turned it into “a vast multinational enterprise of civilization”21 involving hundreds of monasteries from Russia to the Iberian peninsula, every single one of them dedicated to the Virgin Mary. He is also the author of the Regula(the Charter with the Rules) for the Order of the Templars, and his uncle André de Montbard was among the original nine knights who founded that order. In contrast with contemporary Christian traditions, all official documents of the Temple, including the Rule, has the name of the Virgin always preceding the one of Christ.

Among the proofs that St. Bernard was involved in esoteric research is that Citeaux had a group of specialized scribes translating Hebraic texts from the Orient and Islamic alchemical texts from Spain, which could not possibly have been considered “catholic” by Rome22. Similarly, he wrote an astounding two hundred sermons on Solomon’s “Song of Songs,” which happens to be the poem that Jewish Cabbalists consider one of their most important texts. The Song of Song starts with “I am black, but I am beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.”23 He strongly encouraged the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella24, also called the “Path of the Milky Way” (a hint to Hathor’s overflowing udder of plenty, thereby referring to Isis?) that connects Black Madonna sanctuaries and is studded with Benedictine, Cistercian, and Templar sites.


Note that Saint Bernard was not the only one to have used the Black Madonna as his life’s inspiration. For instance, St. Ignatius of Loyola gave his sword to the Black Madonna of Monserrat, Spain, when he decided to found the Jesuit Order. Joan of Arc prayed to the Black Madonna known as Notre Dame Miraculeuse, and her mother prayed for her imprisoned daughter to the Black Madonna at Le Puy.25 Goethe used her as model for his “eternal feminine” in Fauste.

All religions have an exoteric and an esoteric tradition.26 The former refers to the official, publicly available teachings; while the latter is “hidden” knowledge, available traditionally only to initiates.

Each religion has had both forms of knowledge. For instance, the esoteric tradition in Judaism involves the “Kabalah,” in Islam “Sufism,” for Hinduism and Buddhism it is “Tantra.” For Christianity there used to be the traditions of the Benedictine, Cistercian, Augustinian, and Templar orders.

There is invariably a political tension, sometimes even hostility, between exoteric and esoteric traditions within the same religion. One of the reasons is that the esoteric knowledge among different religions was not as segregated as the official Churches would have liked.27 (see sidebar on Saint Bernard of Clairvaux).

All indications are that our Black Madonnas were part of the battle for influence during the 10th to 13th century between Rome and three Christian Orders (Benedictines, Cistercians and Templars) – all three specialists in transmitting the Western esoteric tradition. In other words, the Black Madonna forces us to explore the hidden part, the “underside” of the official Church. Among the thirteen characteristics that the “original” Black Madonnas have in common is a connection between all Her sanctuaries and those three Orders (see sidebar “Unique in Thirteen Ways). It is, therefore, in the esoteric traditions that we should search for the meaning of these curious statues.

The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln and its unorthodox Sanctus

The most famous devotional statue in Switzerland is the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln. The current Gothic statue is a standing Black Madonna and dates from the late 15th century; it replaced an original Romanesque Black Madonna destroyed by a devastating fire in 1465. There is actually humorous historical evidence of when and who sculpted that replacement figure.28 In contrast, the original statue was a seated one as demonstrated in several old woodcuts. It dated most probably from the 9th century when St Meinrad took it with him to his retreat as a hermit in the dark Finsterwald forest.

After Meinrad’s death, Saint Conrad – Bishop of Constance from 934 to 975 AD – came to formally consecrate the chapel at Einsiedeln in 948. However, legend claims that he witnessed on the night before the official date of the ceremony Jesus Christ himself surrounded by the four evangelists standing in front of the Black Madonna and honoring the statue and the chapel with his own divine consecration. In his book De secretis secretorum (“On the secrets of secrets”) Conrad claims that the Sanctus he heard during this ceremony had been curiously modified to “Sanctus Deus in aula gloriosae Virginis” (“Holy God in the realm of the Glorious Virgin”) instead of the traditional “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus dominus deus Sabaoth” (“Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth.”).

A theologian-psychotherapist comments on this very unique story: “These alterations are important, as they are still found in the liturgy of the monastery today…Conrad’s vision of Jesus before the altar of His Mother is an act of veneration of the highest degree. That Jesus is accompanied by the four evangelists suggests a sense of wholeness, but a wholeness that is grounded in its relationship to this feminine principle…Theologically, the patriarchal godhead recognizes and sanctifies the place of the Lord’s mother….It changes the emphasis from the ‘Lord God of Sabaoth’ alone to his relationship to the glorious Virgin. .. God as the father alone is not desired. Rather, de secretis secretorum says that the feminine should be considered as a vital reality in God’s relationship to humanity. The psyche needs more than a patriarchal standpoint and perspective on the world. It also needs the feminine.”29

In a papal bull of 964 AD, Pope Leo VIII officially declared authentic the vision of Conrad. Conrad was later canonized in 1123, and is still honored today in the Church’s calendar at the anniversary of his death (November 26).

The legend and rituals around the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln may therefore be the closest that the Christianity has come to formally addressing and healing the splitting off from the feminine which it inherited from the Hebrew canon. The significance of the fact that this whole process occurs between the 10th to the 12th century will become clear by the end of this chapter.

The first unusual featureis that the legends attached to most of the Black Madonnas – and only to those types of statues – claim that the statue was not made, but foundnear or even in an ancient pagan symbolic site. For instance the Black Madonna of Avioth was found in an ancient holy tree; the Black Madonna of Boulogne in an Isiac boat without crew; the Black Madonna of the Lac de la Maix (Vosges) near a Celtic sacred spring, the Black Madonna of Chartres was found in the “cave of the druids”which turns out to be a dolmen dating back to megalithic times, etc. Furthermore, these statues were found near or even as the major landmarks on the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostella (such as the sequence Conques, Ste Foy, Espalion, Aubrac, LePuy, Issoire, Clermont Ferrand, Moulins, Nevers, Montargis and Paris). This path turns out to be one of the oldest pre-Christian initiatic ways in Europe, as proven by markings dating back to the Stone Age. For a German scholar, all “this means that the Black Madonna cults refer back to the oldest known religious cults known to man.”30 A French author similarly concludes: “Only the Black Madonna was able to crystallize all the beliefs of Pagan traditions within the Christian faith, without falsifying any of these beliefs. In this, the Black Madonna is unique.”31

Unique in Thirteen Ways

Jacques Huynen32 has analyzed hundreds of Black Madonnas and classified them into “original” Black Madonnas who have in common 13 characteristics, and statues that date from a later period and copied only some of the original features. The thirteen characteristics are:

  • The history of the original Black Madonna sanctuaries has always a connection with either the Benedictine, the Cistercian, or the Templar orders. These three orders have at least one well-documented historical connection. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux reformed the Benedictine order to create the Cistercian order, and was the author of the Rule of the Temple as well. (See sidebar on Saint Bernard)
  • They all date from the same period (10th to 13th century). “No original Black Madonnas date from later than the 13th century.”
  • Within a small margin of error, they are all the same size, about 70 cm in height (just over 2 feet), and a base of 30×30 cm (roughly 1 square foot). Even more surprising is that the measure of the body of the Mother itself: it almost always oscillates between 63 and 68cm, which Bonvin explains as a close approximation of the sacred Egyptian ‘Coudée’ of 63.5666 cm.33 34 There is no other example in Romanesque art where the size is so standardized; not for crucifixions, statues of “normal” Virgins, or of other saints.
  • Although they all vary in small aspects, “they seem all to have been made to the same specific standards.” They are always “Virgins in Majesty,” where the Mother sits straight and the Child is looking at the same point in the far distance. The face of the Virgin is stern, hieratic, with an oriental touch that contrasts with the typical Romanesque Virgins, which typically represent women of the area. The face of the Virgin is more elaborately carved than the face of the Child, as if to mark that the important figure was the Mother, not the Child. Whenever the original polychrome is still visible, the vestments are in three primordial colors: white, red, and green. Sometimes, the whole or part of the statue is also covered in precious metals: silver or gold.
  • The location is invariably a site of a pre-Christian cult to a Celtic or other pagan Mother Goddess. The sanctuaries are often located near sacred springs or water wells (e.g., the “Puitsdes Forts” in Chartres), or near standing stones from prehistoric cults.
  • Even when there was a whole cathedral built for Her (as in Chartres), she would always originally be kept in the crypt35 below the church or cathedral.
  • The wood is often either from a fruit tree (Huynen), or from precious cedar wood (Bonvin) again quite atypical for statuary of that period. These woods have both an important symbolism (although quite hidden, given that the wood is invisible under the polychrome layers). The symbolism of the fruit is obvious; while the cedar wood was the most important oracular tree in Egypt, explicitly associated with the Isis-Osiris legend, with death-rebirth, and creative power.36
  • There was always an important pilgrimage attached to the statue, either specifically to the sanctuary itself or as a relay on the major pilgrimage of the Middle Ages to Santiago de Compostella. Santiago, the Western-most land of continental Europe, was reputed a sacred area even before Christianity. It is the extreme landfall (“Finis Terrae” the end of the Western world). Finis Terrae is also the name of the old firehouse marking Santiago from the sea, where the four cosmic elements symbolically meet: earth, water, air and the fire of the setting sun.
  • The legend attached to the statue involves invariably an oriental element, a crusader brought the statue from the Orient, pilgrims to the Holy Land were saved by invoking her, and so forth. In some cases, even her name is explicit. During the French Revolution, the Black Madonna of Chartres was burned under the motto, “A bas l’Égyptienne” (“ Death to the Egyptian one”). This same nickname “l’Égyptienne” is still attached to the black Madonna of Meymac, a statue dating to the 12th century.37
  • The legends always refer to miracles that She has accomplished. For example, saving the life of either three crusaders, three prisoners in Egypt, or three mariners. She often has the reputation of resurrecting children who were still-born, at least for the time necessary for them to get baptized (e.g. Black Madonnas of Avioth, or of Lac de Maix). She also is reputed to help sterile women become fertile, and pregnant with healthy children.
  • She is seated on a straight chair called cathedra (from the Greek kathedra, and the origin of the word cathedral). This chair is a replica of the straight chair that identified Isis in Egypt. This chair is what gave these Virgins the title Sedes Sapientiae (“Seat of Wisdom”), originally one of Isis’ main titles, and the Pharaoh by occupying that seat obtained the wisdom necessary to exercise his functions. Initially, the household of a Christian bishop was called ecclesia, but when this name became generically applied to any church, the name cathedrae became appropriated by the “seat of wisdom” of the bishop and later still the entire church where the bishop kept that particular seat.38
  • The official generic title attached to these statues is Alma Mater (the “Generous Mother”), the title still given by Americans to their “Mother University.”
  • Last but obviously not least, the Virgin’s face is always and her hands almost always are pitch black; thus justifying her name as “Black Madonna.”

Why is She Black?

The most striking feature of the Black Madonnas is, of course, their black color.

This blackness is also the part that the Roman Church most systematically has played down. To this day, the Church has tried to explain away their blackness as accidental, a result of candle smoke or exposure to the elements. But “if the faces and the hands of the Virgin and Child have been blackened by the elements, why has their polychrome clothing not been similarly discolored… and why has a similar process not occurred in the case of other statues from the same period?”39 In a number of historically documented cases, priests accountable to Rome have actually repainted the face and hands white.40 Paul Bonvin lists among such straightforward repainting jobs the cases of the Madonnas of Chappes (Allier), Limoux (Aude), Laurie (Cantal), Avioth (Meuse), Chailloux (Puy-de-Dome) and Tournus (Saône-et Loire).41 A German author provides a picture before the “restoration” of the Black Madonna of Tongeren (Belgium) that was repainted white as recently as 1990. When she asked why the statue had been changed, she got as justification that she was simply “more beautiful this way.”42 From our archetypal perspective, the very fact that such strong controversies have built up around the color of a Madonna statue is by itself a sign of its emotional (and therefore archetypal) charge.

Why would this blackness matter?

Photo 5.5 a 1/3 page

These following three Egyptian pictures each have key features of Isis that will become characteristic of the Medieval Black Madonnas. The first represents Isis in her Hathor form, i.e. in her mothering role with Horus on her lap. This is the archetype from where the Black Madonna symbolism derived.

Kestner Museum

Photo 5.5 c Kestner Museum 1/3 page

This tomb painting represents either Isis or a queen that enacts the role of Isis in an Osirian ritual of rebirth.

Notice that the facial features are not Negroid, but the color is pitch-black. Similarly, the part of her forearm that is not covered by the blue-gray dress is black.

(From the tomb of two sculptors at Thebes, 18th dynasty ca. 1380 BC. Currently at the Kestner Museum in Hannover).

Photograph 5.5 b of Isis with Kathedra emblem on head. 1/3 page

Isis is shown painted in gold, and carved on black basalt, with her emblematic throne on her head. Notice her hieroglyphic name is the emblem of that same chair as is shown two times in the text in front of her. This straight chair is the original “Chair of Wisdom” that will become one of the names by which Black Madonna’s will become identified. The form of the furniture on which she kneels is the Egyptian emblem for gold, confirming her connection to that metal. (Sarcophagus of Amenhotep II, Val the Kings, Thebes, c. 1427-1401 BC)”

Photo 5.6 ½ page

The next two pictures illustrate the continuity between Isis and the Black Madonna. This typical Black Madonna combines symbols from all three previous Isis representations. They have in common the rigid hieratic expression as if looking beyond the devotee, and the cathedra chair (emphasized in next picture) . She is the mother in majesty as in the first of the Isis representations. She takes on the colors black and gold from the other two. (Notre Dame 12th century, Puy-de-Dôme, France)

Photo 5.6 a. picture showing side of chair ½ page (??)

This picture from the side shows the chair “cathedra” also called the “Sedes Sapientiae” (“Seat of Wisdom”) that was originally Isis’s identifying hieroglyph.

(From an early Romanesque Madonna from Frankfurt am Main.)

(Catalog MAI 595 X343035 from Bildarchiv
Foto Marburg Tel 06421-283600)

Here our search for the meaning of the Black Madonna splits up into three different trails, and all three would have represented a problem from the established Roman Church viewpoint.

  1. Ancient Goddesses that were black were those that represented the Feminine in its power, not as a consort or a “nice” and docile feminine influence. Among the best known are the Hinduist Kali (literally the “Black One” in Sanskrit), the Black Anath of the Ugaritic pantheon in the Near-Eastern Mediterranean , or the Black Annis of the British Islands. Their common theme is that they represent the feminine in its Warrior mode, capable of wielding the power of destruction. Some details of each will illustrate the point.43Kali is the most powerful form of the Devi, the primordial feminine force in the Hindu pantheon. To Western eyes, she can be terrifying because she transforms life into a dance of death. Her tongue juts out of her black face, her hands hold powerful weapons, and her necklace and earrings are made of severed heads. Many myths tell just how uncontrollable is Kali’s energy, onceunleashed. Anath, also called Anit and Anata, is the most powerful Goddess of the Ugaritic tradition. “Mother of nations,” she was widely invoked as the most powerful Warrior of the Middle East. Even the Ancient Hebrews invoked her in battle. The Black Annis, the British form of the Welsh Cailleach, was said to live in a cave in Argyll. She would appear among the branches of an old pollard oak, the last remnant of a huge forest that grew out of a cleft at the mouth of her cave. She was the dark side of Gentle Annie of the fairytales, who brought the good weather and crops, that Black Annis could destroy at will.

One can imagine that from a patriarchal viewpoint, it was not comfortable to live with the power of any of these Black Goddesses.

Photograph 5.7 of Kali Manuela Dunn book) ½ page

Kali, the Black One, the potentially destructive power of the black goddesses. She has a snake, a sacrificial knife, and a severed head in her hands. A string of skulls serves as collar.

The archetypal nature of the blackness itself is illustrated by its meaning in many different cultural settings (see sidebar.)

Blackness as an Archetype

“Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding
Lao Tzu44

Looking up some precedents outside of Western culture can assess the archetypal value of the color black.

To the Chinese, Yin is black. Similarly in Hinduism, black is the color of the primordial matter Prakriti and of Chaos (meaning “Infinite Becoming”).

The most sacred site for the Australian Aborigines is Ayres Rock where the Moon Goddess resides in a cave that they see as the dark Mother of abundance and of dream time.

In Mexico, the Aztec Great Mother Goddess Tonantzin was honored in Tepeyac, a place marked by a big polished black stone, the same place where later the humble Indian Juan Diego would have the vision of the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe asking for a Christian church to be built right there.

The Brazilian goddess of the seas and mother of the earth, Jemanja, is black. So is Sara, the Great Mother of the gypsies.

The oldest idol of Hedjaz (today’s Mecca, Saudi Arabia), was a black meteor called the Kaaba(literally “Nubile one, ready to be fecundated”). It had been associated successively with Venus by the Romans, Anahita by the Byzantine, even with Mary by Christian Arabs. Mohammed cleared away all the idols, but did not touch the venerable stone itself. Instead he integrated the Kaaba in the Islamic rituals and kept as sacred the Friday that had been Her holy day.

In the temple of Diana at Ephese, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient world, a totally black statue of the Goddess was honored. It is in that same city that Mary is supposed to have lived after the death of Christ and that Her Ascension took place in a site called karatchalti (literally “the black stone”).

Lilith, the first Eve that Adam rejected because according to tradition she “wanted to be on top when having intercourse,” is mentioned only once in the Bible in an apocalyptic invocation (Isaiah 34:14). But both the Zohar and the Talmud elaborate on her black color, and warn against letting her influence manifest in the conjugal bed.

Generically, Erich Neumann concluded “The Great Mother remains true to her essential and eternal and mysterious darkness, in which she is the center of the mystery of existence”45

  1. The second aspect that would be highly disturbing to a patriarchal system is the unbridled sexuality of the great Black Goddesses. Sexuality and the dark womb of the Earth Mother herself were already connected in the Paleolithic initiatic cave, as we saw in the case of the Great Mother of Laussel (Chapter 2).Several famous myths tell just how uncontrollable Kali’s dance can be. Once she danced with Shiva, the Lord of the Dance. The dance grew wilder and wilder until it seemed that the world would shake itself to pieces – and so it will, because their dance continues beyond the appearances of worldly reality. The story of Anath is even more explicit. Anath, the invincible Warrior, was also sexually powerful. She was said to have never lost her hymen despite her blatant promiscuity. For instance, she took the initiative to copulate 77 times with the god Baal in one single frenzied session. Once feminine sexuality is associated with Earth fertility, trouble cannot be far away for a Church officially committed to celibacy.
  2. The third trail may explain why a group of Christian monks bent on esoteric transmission might have gotten involved with this Black Madonna in the first place, notwithstanding all of the above. During the Middle Ages, initiations and esoteric knowledge was an important dimension of the culture and played an important role, difficult for us to fathom today. For instance, every established guild (e.g.: bakers, painters, stone-masons, boat builders, even hat-makers) had formal initiation rituals, and “secrets of the trade” whose public disclosure could be punished by death. The same was true in intellectual knowledge transmission. The representation of Pythagoras on a Tympanum in Chartres substantiates that the Pythagorean esoteric tradition was part of the 12th century School of Chartres. Great efforts were deployed to make the language of transmission hermetic for non-initiates. For instance, the most important texts written by the Troubadours about Amour Courtois have been shown to contain coded esoteric information not approved by Rome.46 This fact would explain the terrifying Crusade against the Cathars unleashed by the Church during the 13th century. Similarly, the famous tapestries of the “Dame à la Licorne”, currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, have recently been revealed to express a wealth of esoteric plant symbolism.47
So what could be the esoteric message of our Black Madonnas?

Here also, several trails converge. At the most bare symbolical level, the Black Madonna symbolizes Mother Earth and the child represents humanity, any one of us. She therefore directly refers back to the age-old cults of the Great Mother, and to her relationship to us.

At the more subtle level, the key clue is, again, linguistic. The Arabic word “Khemit” means literally “Black Earth” and is the traditional name for Egypt. The word “Al” is simply the general Arab article. Therefore “Al Khemit” literally means “The Egyptian Art”. It also is the etymology of the word “Alchemy,” that was reputed to have originated in Egypt. For us today, alchemy has become associated with its literal symbolism of “transmuting the most vile metal (lead), into the most noble one (gold).” However, as is made repeatedly clear in the warnings of alchemists of all ages, the transmutation of metal is primarily a metaphor, a “philosophic” (i.e. symbolic) transmutation.

Joseph Campbell has described literalism as the “worst disease of our time,” and he compares it with someone reacting to the metaphor,

“She is running like a gazelle,” with, “That cannot be, because she doesn’t eat grass.”

Alchemy as a Symbolic Individuation Code48

Three key elements are involved in the alchemical process:

Sulfur (the Yang or masculine principle, symbolically associated a.o. with the sun, gold and fire); Mercury (the Yin or feminine principle, associated with the moon, silver, and water); and Salt (symbol of the material body).

Alchemy aimed at creating the “Philosopher’s Stone” (the Individuated Human) by a “mystical marriage”, the “fixation” in the body of an integration between the masculine and the feminine dimension of the alchemist him or herself. For instance, the alchemical handbook Aurofontina Chymica in its chapter on the Colours to be observed in the Operation of the Great Work” – that “this blackness doth manifest a Conjunction of the Male and”49 C.G.Jung would similarly refer to Individuation as the result of the integration of the Animus (the masculine which is the conscious in a man, and the unconscious in a woman) with the Anima (the feminine which is the unconscious for a man and the conscious for a woman). The individuated individual heals thereby the ancient split between the body, soul and spirit.

Goethe’s Faust has similarly been shown to be an elaborate alchemical metaphor.50 Finally, few people seem to remember today that Sir Isaac Newton attached more importance and wrote more pages about his research on Alchemy than on Physics or Optics together.

Alchemy was indeed one of the main traditional esoteric paths in the West for personal spiritual evolution.

Alchemists had only contempt for the “blowers” (“soufleurs” in French) who would read alchemical textbooks literally as a technology to get rich materially, as opposed to “philosophically” as a guide for personal evolution. The reason for disguising its nature so elaborately was that had it been acknowledged publicly for what it was, its practitioner would be considered “heretic” at best and a “sorcerer” ready for the stake at worst. In its elaborate “metallic transmutation” metaphor, even many Christian monks got away with researching and writing extensively about that sulfurous topic.51

According to the writings of Isaac Newton and C.G. Jung, both assiduous students of Medieval alchemy, the mysterious “materia prima” is revealed to be none other than the alchemist him- or herself. (sidebar on Alchemy).

The first step in the alchemical process was indeed called the “Nigredo” or “Work in Black” that Jung has described as the “Death of the Ego”, the “garment of darkness52 or the “Dark Night of the Soul.” It is what Medieval and Renaissance scholars called exoterically Melancholy (literally “Black Humours”). To the Medieval alchemists and the Renaissance artists, “Saturnine Melancholy”53 was considered the difficult, unpleasant, but indispensable initial step to reach true inspiration and wholeness.

Depression – Soul Epidemic of the 21st Century?

According to Dr. Christopher Murray, head epidemiologist of the World Health Organization, major depression will be the second most debilitating disease worldwide by 2020, just after cardiovascular diseases. There is now a $7 billion worldwide market for anti-depressants, expected to expand by 50% over the next five years.54 In addition, many people sink into alcoholism or drug addiction instead. Fifteen percent of severely depressed patients kill themselves; two-thirds of the sufferers contemplate suicide.

Today already, one of out 20 adults (between 18 and 64) suffers from a clinical depression in the US, one of out 10 in Germany and Canada, one out of 8 in New Zealand and Italy, one out of 6 in France, and one out of 5 in Lebanon or Russia.55

It is the most unsung source of suffering in the world.

It is a disease of the soul. Chemicals alone cannot heal it.

Therefore, to the initiate, the symbol of the Black Madonna stood as the prerequisite, the first step, for the “alchemist” in his work toward consciously integrating the soul back into matter, into the body. This particular path was also sometimes called the “wet alchemical path,” referring to a feminine initiatic approach. In all the ancient feminine initiations, as illustrated by the seminal mythology of the Sumerian Inanna or the Greek Persephone, the first step was a complete stripping of the initiate of all her ego-linked attributes as a condition to her “descent into the underworld.”56

In contemporary terms, the Black Madonna symbolizes what James Hillman sees as the positive purpose of depression – a slowing down necessary as the first step for a deepening in soul work.57 “Through depression we enter depths and in depths we find soul…The true revolution begins within the individual who can be true to his or her depression.”58 Working through depression is still the most frequent, typically un-intentional, path to the revitalization of life’s purposes. It is also what most often brings people to see a therapist, and if the treatment is successful, enables them to reach new stages in psychological growth.

In a period where the US National Institute of Health has declared depression a national epidemic, affecting one out of every four US citizens, the message of the Black Madonna may yet prove more healing than Prozac. The situation in Canada, New Zealand, Germany, France or Italy is even more severe (see sidebar). Our re-discovery of the importance and prevalence of all kinds of “psycho- somatic diseases” carries the same collective message. After all, the Greeks already described them as a consequence of separating thepsyche (spirit) from the soma (body). The “Mind-Body” connection that is now revealed as particularly relevant in chronic diseases provides further evidence of this relationship.59

I found it fascinating that even in this highly disguised form of a Black Madonna, the symbolism of the Great Mother would ultimately connect back to money systems. The metaphor of the final successful integration, the “elixir of the philosopher”, was symbolically represented as the transmutation of lead (“Saturnine depression”) into gold (“Solar consciousness”). And to the Medieval collective unconscious, gold was money, the highest valued monetary metal at the time. As Jungians like to point out, archetypes tell their own story independently of time and space.

The Egyptian Connection

Photo 5.9 ¼ page

Engraving representing the Black Madonna of Chartres, whose original was burned by revolutionaries in 1697. The cathedral itself is represented behind her on the left side of the picture. The title “Virgini Pariturae” translates as “Virgin ready to give birth” referring to her fertility role. Her popular name was “The Egyptian One” one more, very explicit, Egyptian connection. 

From the way the Black Madonna is unique (cf. sidebar “Unique in Thirteen Ways”), the Egyptian connections should have become obvious. The associations range from the “oriental” anecdotes in the legends to the importance of Her cathedra chair and the kind of miracles she performs (all of which were direct attributes of the Egyptian Isis). Finally, there is the esoteric Egyptian “alchemical” link. In a number of cases, the connections are even more explicit: the measurement of the body of the Madonnas closely approximating the sacred Egyptian “coudée”; or the popular name of the Black Madonna of Chartres being “l’Égyptienne”, as is still the case with the Black Madonna of Meymac.

Several Black Virgins, like the Black Virgin of Boulogne or the one of the Sablon, are reported to have arrived miraculously standing on a boat with no sails or crew, with a copy of the Gospels in an oriental script.60 This arrival by boat is, again, an exact transposition of the ritual along the Nile in Heliopolis, invoking Isis as “the Star of the Sea,” “Seat of Wisdom,” and “Queen of Heaven,” three titles that Saint Bernard applies directly to the Black Madonnas (Stella maris, Sedes Sapientiae, Regina Coelis.).

Furthermore, one of the very first representations of a Virgin Mary giving the breast to the infant Jesus (“Maria Lactans” dating back to as early as the 5th century AD) happens to be located at the Christian cloister of Jeremiah in Saqarah, Egypt, and is obviously inspired by the Egyptian iconography of Isis feeding Horus.61 Mirroring this same process a legend reported by Jacques de Voragine62 professes that in Egypt people had adored in secret the Virgin Mary even before the birth of Christ – a transparent allusion to the Isiac cult – because Jeremiah had predicted to them that a Savior would be born from a Virgin. Christine de Pisans, a woman scholar born in 1364, would in a like manner connect “Ysis qui fait les plantes et tous les grains fructifier” (Isis who enables the germination of all plants and grains) with the miraculous conception of a child by the Virgin Mary.63

Isis Cult and Marial Cult – Some additional connections

One of the features peculiar to Isiac temples was their connection to water: “holy water” played an important role in the rituals, and even the rainwater was honored by being channeled from the roof through water-spouts in the form of animals (such as those found in the Pompei Iseum).

They foreshadow respectively the holy-water basins and the gargoyles of the cathedrals.64

One of the standard encyclopedias of classical mythology has a whole section to deal with “Isis identified with the Virgin Mary.”65 From the Christian side, Hippolitus Marraccius66 attributes to Mary many names which used to be explicitly those of Isis, including as unexpected ones as: “the one with innumerable names” (myrionymos was used exclusively in Antiquity to refer to Isis), “sister and spouse of God”, “cornucopia of all our goods”, “lofty Pharos of light” (Isis Pharia had her shrine in Alexandria on the island of Pharos famous for its lighthouse), even “goddess of all goddesses”, and “form of all created things”.

Similarly the Akathyst Hymn of the Greek orthodox church refers to Mary as “the mystis” (she who initiates), “the heifer who has brought forth the perfect calf” (reference to Isis in her Hathor form), “Throne of the King” (Isis’ throne was the source of the Pharao’s power), and “Mistress of the World”. Her flower, just like Isis’ was the “unfading rose”.67

Jacques de Voragine recounts the medieval legend that “when the Blessed Virgin was fleeing into Egypt with her Son, a persea-tree piously bent down to the ground.”68 This is the exact same tree that Plutarch reported being dedicated to Isis “because its fruit resembles her heart.”69

Even the color of our Black Madonna’s further strengthens that link. For instance, Plutarch reports that on her big festival day (March 5) Isis’ statue in the form of a golden cow was carried completely covered up by a pitch-black linen shroud, the famed “Veil of Isis”.70 Similarly, one of her main priestly groups was known as the “wearers of black” because they specialized in the mourning side of Isis.71 Her brother/lover Osiris was also called “the Black One”, and even more explicitly, the spells invoking Isis start with “Thy kingdom resides in that which is utterly black.”72

There are many other tantalizing connections between the medieval Marial and the Egyptian Isiac cults (see sidebar).

Just to solidify the Egyptian connection, when Louis IX returned from the Crusades, a chronicle of the year 1255 mentions, “he left in the country of Forez an image of Our Lady carved in black color that he had brought back from the Levant.” This particular Black Madonna turns out to have been an original Egyptian statue of Isis with Horus on her lap. What ended up happening to it can be guessed from another case of a statue of Mary that was also an original Egyptian statue of Isis. This other antique statue had long been preserved and honored in St. Germain des Prés near Paris, until it was removed and destroyed in the 16th century on the orders of Bishop Bretonneau because he did not appreciate its “pagan origins”.73 A third example is the statue of the famous Black Madonna from Le Puy that, like so many others, was destroyed by the French Revolutionaries in 1793. Fortunately, in 1777, Faujas de Saint-Fons, a scientist, made three very detailed analyses of that statue and published a report74 on his findings. He described it as a pagan statue, specifically as “a statue of Isis with Osiris (sic), which had been modified into a Madonna.” He even describes the hieroglyphical inscriptions that he finds identical to those found on the “Table of Isis”.75

In the next chapter, we will pick up the Isis thread again, and discover its deeper archetypal significance. At this point, let us complete the visit of the Medieval episode by evaluating the economic consequences of the money system operational at that time.

Economic Results in Medieval Europe

It was the nature and scale of the economic impact that constituted for me the most surprising finding in this entire detective expedition.

Europe’s First Renaissance

Mathematics during the “First Renaissance”

Number handling – particularly relevant for money management – had been since the Romans the exclusive preserve of highly trained specialists of the “abacus” (the old Roman calculation table). The “Chancellor of the Exchequer” is still so called today in England because he used this complex device as late as the 18th century.

The first person to introduce to Western civilization the “Arabic numbers” system (in reality of Indian origin) – which made possible dramatic simplifications to arithmetic operations, particularly in products or divisions – was a 10th century French monk named Gerbert d’Aurillac who had learned about it from Islamic scholars in Spain. He taught Arabic numbering and calculus at the university of Reims, and was later elected pope under the name of Sylvester II in 999 AD. And – contrary to often-repeated statements – the graphic form of our modern numbers stem from the 12th century, not from the 16th. Leonardo of Pisa (1170-1250), better known as Fibonacci, launched in Europe around 1202 what has been described as “the first democratization of the use of Arabic numbers and calculus”.76 Both the zero and the use of Arabic calculus was well known in most of Western Europe in the 13th century as proven by many manuscripts of the time. Similarly, translations had already been made in the 12-13th century of all of Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemeus, and Aristotle as well as some key texts by Plato, and of all the major Arab scholars (Al Khuwarizmi, Al Biruni, Ibn Sina,).

The twelfth century not only rediscovered many ancient scientific texts, but strikingly original contributions were also made for instance in cosmology by Thierry de Chartres, William of Conches and Adelard of Bath; or in philosophy by Anselm of Canterbury, Gilbert de Poitiers, or Hermann of Carinthia.77

The availability of some of this knowledge would actually regress during the 14th and 15th centuries, before reestablishing itself permanently after the 16th century Renaissance. For example, a 15th century German merchant was advised that his son would be able to learn sums and differences at any German or French university, but that only in some select Italian universities were courses available on how to perform multiplications and divisions.78 Even more surprisingly, despite his well deserved reputation as one of the most learned scholars of the 16th century and his extensive university training at Bordeaux, Michel de Montaigne would admit without shame around 1575 that “Je ne sçay compter ny a get ni a plume79 (meaning that he could calculate neither with the old abacus nor in the “new” Arabic way).

The backlash against the “knowledge acquired from the Infidels” would not even spare pope Sylvestre II. The erudition which had been so admired in the 10th century and were the ground for Gerber’s election as pope in 999 AD, would become so suspicious centuries later that his tomb was actually opened in 1648 by papal order to ensure that “the devils were not still living there”!80

The generally received ideas about the Middle Ages are mostly the ones inculcated from history textbooks, still based on nineteenth century scholarship. The “Middle Ages” were called that way because this entire period was a “Dark Age” in between the “High Civilizations” of the Roman Empire and the 16th century Renaissance. We have been taught that this whole period was one of dismal poverty and primitive life styles, crowned by the Plague that killed a third of Europe’s population. The expression “medieval” is still being used today as a derisory way to dismiss something as hopelessly primitive.

However, the European Middle Ages cover more than 1,000 years of history. Recent scholarship has revealed important distinctions, depending on what segment one refers to in that long time span. A dismal view remains roughly justified for the earlier phase (ca. 5th to 7th century) and particularly for the end (14-15th century)81. It is even this terrible 14-15th century period – discussed later in chapter 8 – which has provided all the fuel for the bad image that later centuries would project on the entire Millennium time span of the Middle Ages. This is why I will refer specifically to these “Late Middle Ages” of the 14th and 15th century as the appropriately called “Dark Middle Ages”. But we know now that there are two to three centuries in the middle (approximately 10th to 13th) where something very different was happening. This period is typically referred to as the “Central Middle Ages”82, or the “Age of the Cathedrals” as almost all cathedrals were being built during that time period.

The period from roughly 1050 A.D. to 1290 A.D. has actually been called deservedly the “First European Renaissance.”83 For instance, it is in 1079 that pope Gregory VII obliges every bishop to maintain a higher education center. In addition, between 1180 and 1230 the first wave of universities are founded in Europe.84 Even abstract sciences like mathematics emerged in Western Europe during that time, rather than in the official Renaissance of the 16th century as generally believed (see sidebar).

Body heights in London across the ages

We all know that in America and Western Europe the average body height has grown strikingly over recent generations, a phenomenon usually attributed to improved food particularly throughout childhood and adolescence.

A remarkable study85 of body sizes from the Stone Age to today in the same area of the city of London reveals some striking results, summarized in Figure 5.1.

Figure 5.1 Body heights of Londoners across time86.

It shows that women were on average taller during the 10-12th century compared to any other period, including today (the average London woman during the Saxon period was 1cm taller than her counterpart today, and a whopping 7cm taller than in Victorian time)! Men have finally caught up only in the past fifty years and by 1998 had outgrown by one centimer their 10-12th century counterparts.

One observer comments on this data: “The bones that have been excavated from the graves of people buried in England in the years around 1000 AD tell a tale of strong and healthy folk – the Anglo-Saxons who had occupied the greater part of the British Isles since the departure of the Romans. Nine out of ten of them lived in a green and unpolluted countryside on a simple, wholesome diet that grew sturdy limbs – and very healthy teeth.”

One further comment, the relevance of which will become evident by the end of this chapter: “[In contrast,] archeologists who have studied the [later Medieval centuries (the 14th -15th centuries)] say that they can almost see the devastation of the Black Death looming in the evidence of increasingly frail and unhealthy skeletal remains.”87

Some historians are even making the claim that the quality of life of the common people was highest in European history during that specific economic boom period! For example, the French medievalist Fourquin concluded that for France “the 13th century was the last century to have known a generalized prosperity in the countryside.88 François Icher, another historian, reports that “Between the 11th and 13th century, the Western world experiences a high level of prosperity that is reflected concretely by a demographic expansion without precedent in history.”89 A third one is even more specific: “the time from 1150 to 1250 was a time of extraordinary developments, a period of economic prosperity such as we have difficulty imagining nowadays.”90

Among the unquestionably hard evidence for the exceptional well being for ordinary people in the Central Middle Ages is the average size of the bodies excavated over time in the same geographical area of the city of London (see sidebar).

Note that this “First Renaissance” happens to coincide with the period where the demurrage-charged currency systems were prevailing and the cults of the Black Madonnas were rapidly expanding and flourishing.

Demurrage-charged Money: the Invisible Engine?

While there is among today’s medievalists no doubt anymore about the extraordinary economic boom of the Central Middle ages, even the most recent researchers have to admit that: “For such a considerable historical event, no satisfactory reason has yet been presented…The medieval blossoming has been described many times (in its manifestations, its chronology, its many facets) but never explained. Its mechanism remains an enigma.”91

There is one unusual aspect of that time period, however, that has been so far mostly overlooked, and that may provide the missing key to this economic mystery.

It is in this rare instance of human history in which there was honoring of the feminine along with the masculine that we have the equally rare appearance of both Yin and Yang currencies co-existing together, complementing one another.

The Yin currency, issued and used as a local currency, had an unusual feature – a demurrage charge – that would belevied for holding onto the currency for more than a specified period of time without spending it. This feature actively discouraged the accumulation of wealth in the form of that currency.

The demurrage feature was realized by a process – “Renovatio Monetae” – a recoinage after a fixed period of time; customarily, every five or six years.92 Coins in circulation would be recalled and reissued with a recoinage tax (typically 3 new pennies were exchanged for 4 old ones). Whoever was stuck in possession of that dated coin would have to pay that tax. Thus, it was far better to spend or invest that coin rather than accumulate it.

This Yin currency operated therefore as a pure means of payment and exchange; it was not used as a store of value. In other words, saving or hoarding of this money was actively and intrinsically discouraged. As a result, this medium of exchange would circulate freely at all levels in society and would always be available even to the lowest economic classes. This, in turn, enabled these less-privileged classes to engage in transactions that significantly improved their standard of living.

In summary, a Yin-based, demurrage-charged currency would motivate people in two predictable ways:

It discouraged saving in the form of currency. The currency would be used exclusively for exchanges; anybody who had any money would automatically be motivated to either spend or invest it. (In technical terms, this means that the function of medium of exchange is separated from the function of store of value.)

It encouraged savings in productive goods that would last for a long time. The ideal investment vehicle became land improvements or high quality maintenance of equipment, such as water wheels or windmills, or long-term investments for the community, such as the cathedrals.

Photo 5.10 a ¼ page

“Three floating water-mills under the ‘Grand Pont’ in Paris. The boat is delivering grain to be milled.”

[Editor: combine all medieval production scenes with relevant texts into an economic Kaleidoscope”

The accounts of the Royal Monastery of Saint-Denis suggest what these two effects mean in practice. A significant part of the mills, ovens, wine presses and other heavy equipment were improved upon or even completely rebuilt every year. “They did not wait until anything was breaking down… On the average, at least 10% of all gross revenue was immediately reinvested in equipment maintenance.”93 Demurrage-charged money gave everyone a built-in incentive to do this. No other period, either today or anytime since the 13th century, encouraged preventive maintenance to such levels.

It is important to understand that people using these currencies could and would still save, but not by accumulating money, but rather in the form of investments in productive assets. More importantly still, a pattern of long-term vision in investments became the norm rather than the exception.

In parallel to these local-based currencies, there was a second type currency in circulation during the Central Middle Ages, a Yang currency that would be used mainly for “long-distance” trading of luxury goods (e.g. the famous “foires de Champagne”), as opposed to day- to-day local exchanges. One of the best known examples of these Yang currencies was the bezant, a Byzantine gold coin that has the world record of longevity of any currency.94 Another example of Yang currency: silver bullion in various forms was used to pay off ransom to Viking invaders in England.95 These Yang currencies didn’t have demurrage charges, and could therefore be accumulated indefinitely without penalty. Therefore, in contrast with the Yin currencies, they cumulated the functions of medium of exchange and as store of value. They also shared other characteristics with present-day conventional national currencies: concentration, competition, and scarcity.

It is the complementary circulation of both types of currencies – Yin and Yang currencies in balance – that may explain the mysterious phenomenon pointed out by the most recentresearch on the medieval economic mystery. “The medieval wealth expansion can obviously not be explained by specific individual factors (such as population or climate)…One cannot understand the medieval economic blossoming without taking into account the new and decisive role played by the mechanisms of the market and of money. It is not that the medieval society has invented the market or money, a claim that would be absurd. It has simply put them at the disposal of all producers and consumers, including the most modest ones.”96

It is proposed that one key ingredient in the unusual high quality of living for the ordinary people turns out to be the demurrage charged currency.

Photo 5.10 c Icher pg 20 ½ or full page?

“Scene de labour in “livre du regime des princes XVth century Bibliotheque Nationale Paris ms fr 127 fol 71)

An active scene of agricultural labor, showing several medieval innovations, such as the plow and the horse collar, both improving dramatically productivity.

As is the case for all taxes, at all times, the Renovatio Monetae were resented by the population. I will also show that later abuses of the system legitimately brought that resentment to a high pitch.

However, seemingly unbeknownst to either the lords or the people at the time, the demurrage system helped to create an extraordinarily successful economic mutation in Europe.

A demurrage charged currency (such as Aethelred’s recoinage at 25% every 6 years) would motivate people in two predictable ways:

  • It does not make sense to save in the form of currency. The currency would be used exclusively for exchanges, and anybody who had any money would automatically be motivated to either spend or invest it. (In technical terms, this means that the function of medium of exchange is separated from the one of store of value.)
  • Instead, savings would occur in tangible productive goods that would last for a long time. The ideal investment vehicle became land improvements for instance, or high quality maintenance of equipment like water wheels or windmills.

Photo 5.10 b. ½ or full page (?)

“Miniature showing forests being cut down, roads and a bridge being built. The replacement of forests with agricultural developments culminated in the 12th century.”

I will provide just one significant example of what these two effects mean in practice. According to the accounts of the Royal Monastery of Saint-Denis, available for the years 1229-1230 and 1280, every year a significant part of the mills, ovens, wine-presses and other heavy equipment are improved upon or even completely rebuilt. For example, in the period of only two years (1229- 1230), no less than 14 wind- and water-mills, and 18 other major pieces of equipment (wine-presses, etc.) were overhauled. All this was preventive maintenance. “They did not wait until anything was breaking down… On the average, at least 10% of all gross revenue was immediately reinvested in equipment maintenance.”97 This was not exceptional or limited to monasteries; the money system gave everyone a built-in incentive to do this.

Notice we are talking of gross revenue (the entire income from the production), not profits. I don’t know of any agricultural or industrial country where re-investment on preventive maintenance approached such levels, either today or in any period since the 13th century.

Economic Expansion

Recent scholarship has revealed that starting around the 10th century there was a marked shift in consciousness and economic conditions in Western Europe. The period spanning from roughly 1050 to 1290 is even referred to as “the First Modernization” (F. Braudel), “the true European Renaissance” (A. Sapori), or the “European take-off” (G. Bois).98

For instance, the first wave of universities is founded in Europe between 1180 and 1230.99 Abstract sciences like mathematics, generally believed to have surfaced in the official Renaissance of the 16th century, emerged in this time span instead.

It was also an age of unusual prosperity. “This at the very least is now generally accepted: Europe experienced [during the Central Middle Ages] a period of economic growth of an exceptional scale and length.”100

Prosperity For All

The prosperity of this era, though quite substantial and unique in quantitative terms, is made all the more unique by the fact that it significantly benefited the masses. “The initiative came from below, from the popular masses. This is the most unusual characteristic of this entire central medieval emergence: from the so called “Gregorian” reforms to the popular heresies, covering many other changes in between. In the agricultural sector, for the first time the small landowners as a group become much more productive than the Seigniorial holdings. In short, Europe becomes more and more a world of small producers with the family unit as fundamental engine. This is true even in England, where the Seigniorial domains remained more vigorous than on the continent.”101

The working class seldom had fewer than four courses at lunch or dinner and enjoyed three to four meals a day. The number of work hours per day was limited. When the dukes of Saxony tried to extend the workday from six hours to eight, workers revolted. While Sunday was the “Day of the Lord” and the appointed day for public matters, Monday was designated as a free day, the so-called “Blue Monday,” set apart for the general public to attend to their private affairs. In addition, the number of official holidays in a year was at least ninety! In some regions, there may have been as many as 170 holidays in a year.

Historians, such as François Icher, claim that the quality of life of ordinary people in the 12th century was the highest in all of European history, including today. “Between the 11th and 13th century, the Western world experiences a high level of prosperity that is reflected concretely by a demographic expansion without precedent in history”102 Medievalist D. Damaschke similarly concludes: “The time from 1150 to 1250 was a time of extraordinary developments, a period of economic prosperity such as we have difficulty imagining nowadays.”103 Guy Bois, the French economic medievalist, further updates this view with the specifics from the most recent research: “One can only be impressed by the extraordinary vitality and power of the changes that occurred during those three centuries. Whether one considers the demography, the urbanization, the techniques, the relationships between labor and money, every one of these aspects of society was completely revolutionized… One will have to wait five hundred years to live another wave of transformation of that scale: the capitalist Industrial Revolution.”104

Since nobody was gathering GNP numbers at the time, the best we can do is piece together the pattern from diversified sources (see the “Economic Kaleidoscope” below). But the bottom line is that there is now general consensus that an era of highly unusual prosperity started around the 10th century and collapsed after the 13th century.

[Editor: the economic kaleidoscope would have the different activities mentioned illustrated with the photos attached. Will require page by page montage and adjustments. The purpose is to give an impression of “productive business” diversity and activity.]

Photo 5.11 ¼ page

Vertical two-beam loom, from a 12th century copy of the Utrecht Psalter. Notice that those operating this new type equipment are women.

Photo 5.11 a ½ page

Systematization of production of threads and textiles. The production of textiles became a major ‘industrial’ output in the townships both of Northern Italy and of Northern Europe”.

Photo 5.12 ¼ page

“Glassblowing from a 12th century version of a work by Hrabanus Maurus. Glass, and particularly colored glass for cathedral windows became a sophisticated process.

Some of the colors (such as the “Chartres blue” have not been yet been able to be reproduced to this day.

Photo 5.12a ½ page

Building activities

Building of entire villages and cities – both public and private edifices – took off on in an unprecedented scale during the Central Middle Ages.

Photo 5.12b ¼ page
Wine harvest

“Refinements in vintage techniques took on new levels of sophistication during the 12th century, not improved upon until the late 19th century. This miniature shows vintage work, harvesting of grapes and a wine-press in the 10th century from a Mozarabic manuscript”

Photo 5.12c ¼ page  Plow in action

One of the keys to the increase in agricultural output during the Central Middle Ages was the generalization of the use of deep plows with metallic blades, and the horse collar that enabled a horse to pull a much bigger load. Both are represented here in action.”

(original in Gorleston Psalter, c.1310 at the Courtauld Institute of the Arts, University of London)105

Photo 5.13 and 5.14. ½ page

“Treading of grapes in England show the extension of wine cultivation in Europe during the Central Middle Ages.

The second miniature shows the delivery of wine casks at the port of Paris. The assistant in the boat takes advantage of the negotiations to taste the product.”

Photo 5.16 ¼ page

The Bridge of St Benezet at Avignon. One of the many bridges built by a specialized order of builders “Les Freres Pontifes” that originated in the South Western part of France.

Medieval Economic Kaleidoscope

A small sampling of data points illustrating the economic impact of the First European Renaissance (with names of the individual historians in parenthesis) includes:

“This was the period of the largest increase in cultivated agricultural land in our society in the entire span of the historical record.” (M. Bloch).106

“Not only did the land available expand, but also the average yield more than doubled in most cases {…} The consumption of cheese, butter, leather and wool grows substantially. By 1300 A.D. there are 8 million wool-producing sheep in England for a total human population of 5 million, and just as was the case in France with the vineyards, most of them belonged to small farmers.” (G. Fourquin)107

“Central medieval growth isn’t limited to a demographic explosion combined with a strong agricultural expansion. A flourishing commercial expansion was its third dimension.” (Bois)108

“From 950 on, there was…. a growing manufacture of textiles, pottery, leather goods, and many other things. The list of articles manufactured gets longer and longer. [As we move into the 11th century] the products get better and better. Prices go down in terms of man hours because of more efficient management, improvement in tools and machinery, and better transport and distribution.” (R. Reynolds)109

“Ordinary life is being revolutionized: coal is used for heating, candles for lighting, eyeglasses for reading, glass is used more and more commonly, paper is manufactured on an industrial scale.” (Bayard)110

“The oldest surviving reference to an experimental greenhouse to acclimatize and select plants, dates from 1273 in Doberan, Austria…In Paris, a Carthusian monastery cultivated 88 varieties of pears…” (Moulin)111

“Vineyards spread everywhere the climate allowed {…} Sophisticated beer brews appeared in Germany and the Low countries in the 12th century.” (Delort)112

In France alone, at the beginning of the 12th century, operated no less than “20,000 water mills, which represented the energy of 600,000 workers. Such technologies liberated massive amounts of labor (R. Philippe)113.

The creation of seasonal high altitude cattle grazing cycles, unknown in the West until the 12th century, are developed particularly in the Alps of Bavaria, Tyrol, and Haute Provence. “Tens of thousands of animals would migrate every year from Arles in Provence, France, to the mountain ranges in the Alps.” Such migrations required complex cooperative “rights of passage” agreements between herders and thousands of farmers all along the way. Some of these agreements are still in place today. (G. Duby)

“In bridge construction… a resurgence occurred in the 11th century. The London Bridge, for instance, dates from 1176, and stood intact until the 19th century. In southeastern France in the 12th century, St. Bénézet founded a new highly specialized Order, the “Frères Pontifes” (the “Brothers of the Bridge”). (J. Gies)114

“From 950 on, there was…. a growing manufacture of textiles, pottery, leather goods, and many other things. The list of articles manufactured gets longer and longer. [As we move into the 11th century] the products get better and better. Prices go down in terms of man hours because of more efficient management, improvement in tools and machinery, and better transport and distribution.” (R. Reynolds)115 For example, in the textile industry more efficient horizontal looms and thread-making equipment were developed. (J. Gies)116 Ordinary life is being revolutionized: coal is used for heating, candles for lighting, eyeglasses for reading, glass is used more and more commonly, paper is manufactured on an industrial scale. (Bayard)117

“In Paris, a carthusian monastery cultivated 88 varieties of pears…In Norway, the largest monastery of the country, Lyse (founded in 1146) was famous for its fruit trees with which it supplied the whole area.” (Moulin)118

The improvement in quality of life created a demand for quality wines. Techniques to produce quality wines were unknown or unnecessary before that time. “Developed between the 11th to 13th century- and they will not be modified until the phylloxera epidemic [early 20th century] – the wine-making techniques became the most sophisticated agricultural technologies of the Western world” (R. Dion and Fourquin) “Vineyards spread everywhere the climate allowed it, including Britain. Quantities of wine consumed everywhere was considerable… Cider spread from Biscay in the 12th century all the way to Normandy… Sophisticated beer brews appeared in Germany and the Low countries in the 12th century”(Delort).

From the 11th century onward, there is a rapid growth in sheep, cattle and horse population. Meat stops being scarce. One single monastery at Maisoncelles-en-Brie in France sold in 1229-1230 no less than “516 ‘wool animals’ (sheep), 40 hogs, 7 oxen and 30 cows and veals.” The monastery of Bobbio in Italy has 5,000 hogs by itself; in Saint-Germain-des-Prés near Paris they maintain some 8,000 hogs, not to speak of 2,400 rabbits.119 The consumption of cheese, butter, leather and wool grows substantially. By 1300 A.D. there are 8 million wool-producing sheep in England for a total human population of 5 million, and just as was the case in France with the vineyards, most of them belonged to small farmers.” (G.Fourquin)120 There are single-owner sheep flocks of 13,000 sheep in Ely and 20,000 in Winchester.121 “Salt consumption was enormous, probably double of today, because of the vast quantities of meats and fish being salted for storage” (Delort).

“Calculations of average rations provide minimal levels similar to the consumption of today’s developed countries, i.e. 3000 calories per day…Detailed evaluations of calories intake result in 3,500 per day in Beaumont, France, in 1268. Another study on laborers on the abbey in Montebourg for the year 1312 concluded to 3,500 to 4,000 calories per day. In 1310, the rations of the Venetian mariner amounted to 3,915 calories per day.” (Delort)122.

Explosive expansion on the number of villages and cities built, and of the activities occurring within these cities (Pirenne). Pirenne’s work concentrated on the continent, but the same was happening in Britain. For example: “Warwick, Stafford, Buckingham, Oxford – most of the county towns of modern England originated in the tenth century” (Lacey, Danzinger)123 “In a word, Europe was turning from a developing into a developed region. The growth of industry meant the growth of cities, that in the 12th and 13th centuries began to abandon their old roles of military headquarters and administrative centers as they filled with the life of commerce and industry.” (J. Gies)124

The creation and expansion of numerous craft and trading guilds. One of these trading guilds became very quickly international. The first Hanse started in Cologne and with the founding of the city and harbor of Lübeck 1158. It connected newly founded cities like Rostock, Danzig, Koenigsberg, and many others such as Visby in Scandinavia, Riga in the Baltic and Novgorod in Russia in the East; to London and Bruges in the West. This first Hanse fell apart in the late13th century and would be rebuilt only after a century later.

It is important to notice that all of these trends culminate around the year 1300 and are followed by a sudden collapse and regression thereafter, often for several centuries.

A Renaissance for the People, by the People?

Perhaps the most extraordinary of all these great improvements is the fact that they significantly benefited the little people.

Evaluating the standard of living of the ordinary laborer is no easy task. Again, no statistician was around to give us some help. In addition, almost all texts available from the time talk about the feats and activities of the lords, the kings and the Church who were the employers of practically all the scribes of the time.

Dress Code and Nudity: Central Middle Ages vs. Renaissance

The Great Mother archetype relates also to the way one sees the body. In this perspective, the Black Madonna symbolizes spirit in matter, as opposed to spirit separate from the body and matter. It is, therefore, interesting to check whether there are significant changes in attitudes toward the body, nudity, and clothing between the Central Middle Ages and the centuries immediately following. Such a comparison illustrates the subtlety that archetypal expressions can take in society. Here is the result:

  • During the Middle Ages, nudity was not rare, neither male nor female. One reason was that intimacy was almost non-existent, as whole families would sleep in the same room. In addition, every city had at least one and often several public baths where nudity was the rule, independent of age, sex or social rank. (At the end of the 13th century, there were 26 public baths in Paris alone; it is only in the 17th century that one would claim that bathing was unhealthy). Man and women alike wore loose tunics. Fashion did not exist, as the style of clothes did not change for several centuries. Furthermore, “there was little difference in dress between working men and women in the Middle Ages.”125 Medieval clothing was “long, made in heavy cloth, and dressed in the same way man and woman, priest and king, all fairly uniform in a single universal family.”126
  • In contrast, fashion became important and changed rapidly over time for both men and women from the 14th and 15th century onward. “In the early fourteenth century, women definitely abandoned the loose tunics …for tighter fitting clothes, undergarments began their fashionable ascent. Henceforth some kind of breast support was considered essential to the wardrobe of a self-respecting lady. From that time until the beginning of our own century, breasts were supported first by corsets, later by bras. Corsets became truly formidable in the fifteenth century with the invention of the ‘body’ in Spain.”127 Montaigne would write “To get a slim body, Spanish style, what torture do they not endure, tight-laced and braced!”128 The difference in dress among men and women, and among commoners and nobility grew rapidly. “From the 14th century onward, there was a deep change in mentalities. Clothing becomes an elaborate way to distinguish social and professional activities. Wealth and social status become obvious.”129 “An extravagance like that found in the style of dress between 1350 and 1480 has not been experienced in later ages, at least not in such a general and sustained way. ..A court costume is overburdened with hundreds of precious stones and all its proportions exaggerated to a ridiculous degree; the headdress of women assumes the sugarloaf form of the hennin. The décolletage began abruptly. Male garments, however displayed still more numerous extravagances; most striking of all, the elongated toes of the shoes, the poulaines, which the knights of Nicopolis had to cut off in order to be able to flee…The mourning dress (!) that Philip the Good wears after the murder of his father while receiving the King of England is so long that it trails from the tall horse he is riding all the way to the ground.”130
  • Simultaneously, again from the 14th century onwards, “Nudity signified withdrawal from society. Male nudity was associated with madness and savagery.”131 In contrast, the first renewal since antiquity of an esthetic interest in female nudity manifested itself. The first two studies of a female nude posing for a painter are perhaps the two Albrecht Dürer drawings of a standing young woman dated respectively 1493 and 1506. One generation after Dürer, Titian’s nude paintings became a standard in Renaissance art production. 19th century scholars saw in them “learned allegories from classical Latin literature,” but they have now revealed another purpose. “Only recently did contemporary correspondence come to light that showed that these works of art were painted to meet a vigorous demand for bedroom paintings depicting erotic nudes in salacious poses. When Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, was negotiating to buy the painting now known as The Venus of Urbino from Titian in 1538, he referred to it simply as a painting of a ‘naked woman’…The Papal Nuncio in Venice expressed the view that another Titian nude (Cardinal Farnese’s) made the Venus of Urbino look like a frigid nun.’ In 1600, in response to a request from an admirer of the Urbino painting to acquire a copy, the Duke agreed, on condition that the identity of the owner of the original be kept a secret – he did not wish it to be widely known that he was the owner of ‘that kind of painting’.”132 In short, Titan’s nudes were the Playboy centerfolds for the elite of the time.

Photo 5.17 ¼ page

A woman unabashedly bathing naked in front of a man. From a German medieval woodcut.

Nevertheless, what sources we have are eloquent. For instance, Johann Butzbach in his chronicle records, “The common people seldom had fewer than four courses at dinner and supper. They had cereal and meat, and eggs, cheese, and milk for breakfast, and at ten in the forenoon and again at four in the afternoon a light meal.”

The German historian Fritz Schwartz summarized it well: “No difference between the farmhouse and castle.”133

Durer’s first nude Photo 5.18

This drawing on high-quality blue Venitian paper, clearly dated and signed by Dürer, shows a naked woman, without any other excuse than an ‘academic study’. There are earlier drawings of the same artist, such as ‘ women in a bath house’ dated 1496 that, although representing six nudes, used circumstance as an excuse.(Nude woman, in collection of Dr Rudolf Blasius in Braunschweig)134

For the common laborer, Monday was a free day, the so-called “blue Monday.” While the Sunday was the “Day of the Lord” to take care of public matters, the Monday was set apart so that people could attend to their private affairs. In addition, the number of official holidays in a year was at least ninety! Some historians even claim that there were up to 170 holidays in a year.135 Therefore, the journey-man did not work on average more than four days a week. In addition, the number of hours per day was limited. When the dukes of Saxony tried to increase the working time from six to eight hours a day, the workers revolted. The dukes also had to admonish their subjects that “laborers should receive only four courses at each meal.”136

Photograph 5.19 , medieval meal ¼ page Icher pg 143 “repas dans une auberge” 

A generous meal is being shared between men and women in a Medieval tavern.

Venise bibliotheca nationale Marciana

Peasants, considered the lowest class, “were wearing silver buttons on vest and coat, in double lines mostly, and using big silver buckles and ornaments on their shoes.” Social differences between high and low, between nobleman and peasants had been shrinking considerably (see sidebar on dress code).

But there is one kind of social difference that is particularly interesting to explore. How were medieval women treated?

A Half-Renaissance for Women

“Conventional divisions such as medieval or modern, that have long seemed solid and valuable in the light of masculine doings, seem quite different when measured by the experiences of women”137 A seminal article entitled “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” first published in 1977 by Joan Kelly Gadol gave the forthright answer “No” as far as the “official” Renaissance of the 16th century is concerned.138

In contrast, “in the twelfth century a window of freedom began to open for town-dwelling European women, only to close again before the end of the fifteenth century.”139 One saying became “Town air makes free,”140 and it seemed to apply to both men and to women, although to the latter to a lesser extent. It should be understood that I do not claim there was no discrimination against women during that time. There was, in fact, plenty. The point here is that “Europe’s First Renaissance” was a period where women were much freer than was the case either before or after that period. For the period “before” the Central Middle Ages, the best basis of comparison is the Roman Empire that set the standard until the 5th century AD in much of the area of Europe covered here (sidebar). For the period “after”, in many respects it is only in the past fifty years that women have gotten back what was considered “normal” in the 12th century!

Status of Women under Roman Law and Custom

Cicero summed up the Roman attitude towards women as follows: “Because of the weakness of women’s judgment, our ancestors wanted them subject to guardians…” French historian Jean Markale concluded: “The Romans looked upon women as bearers of children and objects of pleasure…”

The paterfamilias had absolute control over his wife, particularly in all legal and financial matters. There was a brief period, at the end of the Republic, when women had secured a few secondary rights, but this was tightened up again after the reign of Augustus. At no point in time, however, was it possible for a Roman woman to conduct business matters or get married without the agreement of a male guardian. Even wedding vows were exchanged exclusively between the bridegroom and the father-in law! In the ritual in an upper class classical Roman wedding ceremony the groom would ask the father or the male guardian: “Do you promise to give your daughter to me to be my wedded wife?” The bride’s father would answer: “The gods bring you luck! I betroth her to you.” The bride herself was not supposed to say a word…

In contrast, in Italy around 1000 AD , the bride was finally allowed to say “I do” herself. And according to the “Schwabenspiegel”, a 13th century German legal code, not only the woman should state the marriage vows herself, but it allowed males at age 14 and females at age 12 to marry without their respective father’s consent.141

Women Activities.

Photo 5.20 1/3 page

A woman distilling various herbs samples of which lie on the floor. This is one of the ‘muliebria opera’ that would get women associated with the dark arts when the backlash started in the 14th century.

Photo 5.20b ¼ page

Two technical innovations from the Central Middle Ages shown operated by women. On the right, the fast rotating spinning wheel. On the left the carder with metal teeth. Women had a de facto monopoly on the important textile production field.

There were associations of women with special skills, “muliebria opera, work that men did not understand,” such as a monopoly on the processes of cloth production (including quasi-industrial processes such as dyeing, or the production of yarns and silks), brewing, all products of milk (including butter and cheeses), and of course, cooking. Some of this would backfire later in the papal bull of 1488 by Innocent VIII against witchcraft, because the “dark arts” were also considered a muliebre opus. In addition to these monopolies, of the 312 professions formally registered as métiers in France at the end of the 13th century, women were active in 108. This included towns employing women as keepers of the keys, tax collectors, town guards, and musicians. Women were bankers, inn and shop managers.142 For instance, “in the 13th century, urban women appear frequently as independent artisans in many crafts and trades…By the late 15th century, their participation in the work force is greatly diminished.”143 And that trend downward would continue to the point that by 1776 Turgot would complain that women are excluded from all commercial activities, “even those that are most appropriate for their sex, such as embroidery.”144

Photo 5.20 a ¼ page

A woman trader selling a man’s gown. Women could own and operate shops in a wide variety of fields. One list of items sold by women supplied to the Görlitz town council in 1409 included items such as crossbow covers, saddlebags, parchment, paper, spurs and stirrups.145 All such items would soon become “improper” for women to handle commercially.

We can actually assess the exact timing of that shift for the case of Paris, thanks to tax registers of the time. In 1292, 15% of all taxpayers are women considered as financially independent and hence liable for taxes, without distinction on whether they were single, married, or widowed. They represented an extraordinary variety of 172 different occupations. This includes functions as barrel- and crate makers, soap boilers, candle makers, book binders, doll painters, and even, if rarely, butchers. “Women were involved even in mining, sword and scythes making.”146

In the Parisian tax survey of 1313, the number of women had already dropped to 11% of the total, and the number of their occupations had started to decline to 130.147 Even in Italy, where the Lombard law was the least favorable to women of all of Western Europe, women appear more economically active in ca. 1300 than they would be in any later century.

Saint Albertus Magnus (“Albert the Great” who died in 1280) made an indirect comment on the working conditions of women by explaining that while men according to Aristotle are supposed “by nature” to live longer than women, the reverse was happening in the 13th century because women have lighter and better work, and “for that reason women are not so much consumed.” An analysis of burial epigraphs has shown that while in Ancient Roman times men outlived women by four to seven years (confirming Aristotle’s view), during the Middle Ages the reverse had indeed been occurring. Medieval specialist Herlihy concludes “Women improved their chances of survival particularly during the Central Middle Ages (1000-1350)148

The historians do not agree on why women lost visibility in the urban economies between the thirteenth and fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. But that fact that they did so is indisputable.

I believe that applying archetypal analysis sheds some light on this mystery.

Women and Property

Women enjoyed an unusually high level of freedom concerning property, a situation that did certainly not prevail after the central Middle Ages. “Under the Carolingians, the stewards, the managers of the royal estates, presented their accounts to the queen…The queen also guarded the royal treasure, and seems to have had chief responsibility for distributing the yearly gifts to the knights at court, the equivalent of their salaries.”149

A pre-Christian tradition that was maintained throughout the Middle Ages was the legal system to impose fines, called Wergeld, to be paid to the family by whoever had caused injury or death. Fines protecting women were usually as high as, and sometimes higher than, those protecting men.

Particularly, women of childbearing age enjoyed a higher protection.

Furthermore, one Anglo-Saxon law code specifies that a woman could walk out of a marriage on her own initiative if she so desired, and that if she took the children and cared for them, then she was also entitled to take with her half of all the property.150

“Only thirty wills survive today from the late Anglo-Saxon period (10-11thcentury), and ten of those are the wills of women, each of whom was a significant property owner, with the same rights of ownership ad bequeathal as any man. In the year 1000 the role that women played in English society was more complex that surface impressions might suggest.”151

Women also had thereby control over large endowments as founders of monasteries and general benefactors, making them notable in their communities.

Women and Intellectual Life

Photo 5.21 a ½page

The knight paying homage to his Lady. As this is the official Seal of Raymond de Mondragon, it shows the image he wants to project of himself. Contrast this with previous and later lords who would invariably insist on their Warrior prowess.

Drawing by Moreno Tomasetig, copied from the seal.

Photo 5.21 full page

Trobar Fin Amor” as illustrated in a Central Medieval miniature. The troubadours are the ones who invented our Western concept of love, as a person-to-person relationship.

The unused arms of the Warrior are stored in the top register.

While boys and men of aristocratic lineage were trained primarily in weapons handling and war, women, in contrast, were quite routinely trained in reading, writing, singing and painting. They were typically the only lay people who were literate. Nor was this limited to aristocratic women. In monastery schools, one finds record of girls being educated from the ages of six or seven, not only noble children, but also daughters of servants and artisans.152 Not only did women read, they also wrote. For instance, it has always been claimed that François Rabelais wrote the oldest formal manual on education in France. However, five centuries before Rabelais was even born a woman called Dhuoda wrote her “Manuel pour mon Fils,”153 written between 841 and 843 A.D.

The arts are blossoming: for example, for the first time music leaves the constraints of religious and church occasions, and the first purely instrumental pieces are being composed.

Even more remarkable and totally unique is the explosion of literature concerning “Courtly Love”, started initially in Provence and Aquitaine in Southern France. Uc de St. Cir, a 13th century troubadour, exquisitely summarized its essence: “Courtly love for a man is to reach heaven through a woman.”

The values embedded in that literature ended up influencing Europe two times, the first when it was written in the 12th-13th century, and more surprisingly at its rediscovery in the 18th century, when it spawned the whole Romantic Movement.154 Régine Pernoud even claims, “Love was invented in the 12th century.”155 Certainly what makes Western love different from that seen in the rest of the world was invented at that time. This 12th century innovation has been considered “an essential stage in the emancipation of women.”156

According to C.S. Lewis, the troubadours “effected a change that has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched, and they erected impassable barriers between us and the classical past or the Oriental present. Compared with this revolution, the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.”157

The very first impulse of Courtly Love literature occurred in lenga d’oc. It was called “trobar fin’ amor” in Provençal, at the time the language of the entire Southern half of France. It spurred the development of poetry in all the other nascent vernacular languages in Europe from Catalan and Galician to the Northern French langue d’oïl (where practitioners were called “Trouvères”), Germanic (“Minnesänger”), English (“Troubadour”), and Italian (“Trovatore,” later the inspiration for Dante’s Beatrice).158 Notice that until that time, the only literature available was invariably written in scolastic Latin, accessible typically only to church-trained scholars. So this first appearance of a literature in the popular language was not only an innovation by its content, but also had a deep social meaning by becoming comprehensible to a public of much broader social classes. For the first time since the collapse of Rome, ordinary people had actually something to read!

Women Troubadours of the 12th Century

Meg Bogin researched what was common among all twenty women troubadours of the original wave of Courtly Love.159 They all stemmed from Southern French nobility and owned property under their own name, as was customary under inheritance laws of the time. They all spoke as women, and we have surviving documents attesting that at least half of them were officially acknowledged as poets during their own lifetime. These women would obviously not have understood the need to take a male pseudonym, as George Sand had to do in a later century, as a last resort “to be taken seriously.”

Of the twenty women trobairitz who wrote in the original lenga d’oc, we have surviving texts for eighteen. Here are some short extracts illustrating a directness not found in contemporary troubadour poetry written by men.

“Elias Cairel, I want to know
the truth about the love we two once had;
So tell me, please, why you have given it to someone else?”160

Isabella (born c. 1180)

”.He has wronged me so gravely
that he barely knows where he should hide;
no, I haven’t erred if I’ve deprived him of my love,
and I won’t lower myself for his sake”161


“Still, in the long run it’s you who stands to lose
if you’re not brave enough to state your case,
and you’ll do both of us great harm if you refuse.
For a lady doesn’t dare uncover her true will,
lest those around her think her

Garsenda (born c. 1170. Married Alphonse II of Provence, and at his death in 1209, became Regent of Provence and remained in charge until 1217 or 1220).

To the embarrassment of some scholars, there is even a unique case of what appears a lesbian love declaration for an unidentified woman by Bieiris de Romans, one of the women troubadours.

I pray you, please, by this which does you honor,
don’t grant your love to a deceitful suitor.
Lovely woman, whom joy and noble speech uplift and merit,
to you my stanzas go.
For in you are gaiety and happiness,
and all good things one could ask of a woman.”

Bieiris de Romans (first half of 13th century).

Interestingly, no less than twenty women troubadours have been re-discovered among the original 12th century lenga d’oc troubadours.164 The views of these trobairitz, as these women poets were called in their own language, provide an unusual insider’s look into courtly love from a feminine medieval viewpoint (see sidebar).

Once again, the pattern of something very unique honoring the feminine archetype manifested itself exactly during the Central Middle Ages, the period that interests us. The freedom and quality of expression of the women trobairitz would not be found again for a long time after the 13th century.

Historically, Black Madonnas existed obviously before the Courtly Love poetry, but the explosive multiplication of such statues around Europe coincides nevertheless with the spreading of that literature. There is even a direct linkage: at the spiritual level, this literature has been shown to include an explicit Sufi influence.165 One Sufi tradition, whose blossoming coincided with the Black Madonna boom in Europe, called Maria ‘Laïla’ – the Night – and honored Her as the highest purpose of their mystical quest.166 This was reflected identically when Troubadours talked about ‘Notre Dame de la Nuit’ honoring Her as the Madonna of Transformation, as Queen for their spiritual quest.167

It may therefore not be so surprising that women were perhaps most prominent of all in the charismatic sectors, figuring eminently among the most famous mystics and mystical authors of their time; e.g., Hildegard von Bingen, Herade von Landsberg, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Catherine of Genoa, and many others.

One German scholar brought together all these pieces: “The literature of Courtly Love, the mystical love for the Black Madonna, the alchemical and Sufi influence in its medieval form, all had one common purpose: the internal experience of the Hieros Gamos (sacred marriage) with androgynous qualities, the integration of the masculine and feminine within, the merging of the human and the divine.”168

Women in Politics

Some very independent women played prominent roles both in politics and in the intellectual life of the Central Middle Ages. The example of Eleanor of Aquitaine dominates the 12th century. She was two times queen, mother of two kings, she defied successively the Emperor and the Pope, and managed her two kingdoms with remarkable dexterity and strong will.169 It is that latter aspect that would give her a bad reputation among (male) historians in later centuries. At the time she was not considered an exception. Régine Pernoud170 analyzes the life of Adèle de Blois, Queen Anne, Countess Mathilde, Agnès de Poitou, and Aliénor of Castille, showing how all were quite independent and powerful in the politics of their time. All were active between the 10th and 13th century.

Finally, even women in monasteries had their say in the world. “During the 11th century, the abbess of Maubeuge, in the North of France, had authority not only over her monastery but over the city and territory owned by it. The abbesses of Regensburg sent their deputies to national assemblies.

The abbesses of Herford and Quedlinburg furnished military contingents to the Emperor’s army and were represented in diets of the Empire.”171

Many earlier monastic communities were “double houses”, i.e. had under the same jurisdiction a monastery for nuns and another one for monks. According to a study done on 50 such double houses, all of them were under the direction of a female. Everyone answered to the abbess, not the abbot!172

Bridal Money versus Marital Money.

Many societies around the world still have the custom of providing either bridal money (the bride’s side brings money or other resources as dowry) or marital money (where the groom has to bring dowry). Tacitus observed in 98 A.D. that among the Germanic tribes, the groom brought dowry to the bride, not the reverse, as was practiced in Rome. So by following how the pendulum swings over time between the Roman tradition versus the Germanic one, there may exist some quantifiable indication about how women are considered in a society. What is interesting is that the Germanic system not only survived intact into the Central Middle Ages but at that time also widely displaced the Roman tradition, even in Mediterranean Europe where Roman traditions had prevailed for many centuries. The Arab chronicler Ibrahim Ibn-Jakub described in 965 A.D. one of the traditions typical of barbarian Europe. “The marital price was so high that if a man has two or three daughters they are as riches to him; if however boys are born to him, this becomes for him a cause of poverty.” Nearly the same complaint would be heard again in Europe during the late Middle Ages (1300-1500) but the sexual reference model would be exactly reversed173

This may be the closest that we will ever get to quantifying to an economist’s content that there was a significant shift involving the feminine archetype, because the 10th to the 13th centuries stand out as a clear and quantifiable reversal of monetary appreciation of girls and women compared to either before or after that period.

Photograph  5.22 ½ page

Medieval stone masons in action, using a variety of tools: a windlass with radiating spokes, a plumb line, a level, axes and an adze.

Some historians have tried to explain the unusually active role of women during the Central Middle Ages due to simple “labor scarcity” in the cities during that time period. If labor was so scarce, why would there be “Blue Mondays”? Why would people invest so much time in chiseling ornate sculptures in the most remote and invisible corners of gigantic buildings like cathedrals? Even more puzzling, why would anybody start to build cathedrals that can house three of four times the population of the entire town, and whose completion they would never see in their own lifetimes? I believe that something deeper was at stake, and offer the cathedrals in testimony.

The time of the Cathedrals

“It was the greatest period of building activity that there has ever been, and no mere catalogue of names and places can convey any idea of the strength and quality of its products” is the conclusion of one well-established historian.174 A 12th century observer, Pierre Francastel, would rightfully state that “one has never seen as many simultaneous large construction sites.”175

Photo 5.22a of a pen drawing of stone quarrying Icher 74 (ibid. fol. 755) 1/3 page

Pen drawing showing quarrying for the raw materials to build the monastery of Schönau. Different stages are shown from rough cutting to transport (at the bottom). The scale of stone quarrying on a per capita basis happening during the Central Middle Ages was unequaled anywhere, before or after.

Indeed, I see the sudden blossoming of cathedrals during the central Middle Ages as the most lasting tangible proof that something different was happening archetypally at the time. This unique building boom also stopped after 1300 just as suddenly as it had started three centuries earlier. I also believe it to be quite significant that almost all of the 300 odd cathedrals built in Europe during that time span were dedicated to Mary, and none to Jesus Christ, whose religion this was all supposed to be about. In France alone, over 80 cathedrals and more than 250 churches were built in Her honor during the Central Middle Ages. This is even more significant as, contrary what many people believe today, there was no central authority (Church or otherwise) in charge of building or naming the cathedrals. In addition to the above, an estimated 1,108 monasteries were built or rebuilt between the years 950 and the 1050. Another 326 abbeys were completed during the 11th century and 702 additional ones during the 12th.176 Particularly during these last two centuries, such abbeys were almost city-sized undertakings as can be shown by Cluny, Charité-sur-Loire, Tournus, Caen, and many others. Jean Gimpel estimates that in these three hundred years, millions of tons of stone were extracted in France alone, more than in Egypt over its entire history of more than three thousand years (notwithstanding that the Great Pyramid of Gizeh represents 2.5 million cubic meter of stone by itself). Medievalist Robert Delors estimates that by the year 1300 there were in Western Europe 350,000 churches – including almost 1,000 cathedrals and several thousand large abbey foundations. The total European population at that time is estimated at 70 million. This averages out to one place of Christian worship for every 200 inhabitants! In parts of Hungary and Italy the ratio was even higher: one church for every 100 inhabitants.177

“The Work of Our Lady” or Cathedral Finances178

A special legally and financially independent institution called “la Maison de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame” was created for each cathedral. One of the most complete records relates to the cathedral of Strasbourg, in Alsace, France. In 1206 the Oeuvre Notre Dame at Strasbourg consisted of a committee of citizens, still including the local Bishop. However, from 1230 onwards the role of the bishop and clergy drops to the point that after 1262 the Bishop is even completely excluded from that committee. In 1290 “l’Oeuvre Notre Dame” becomes an official municipal function. It has remained so to this day, with a brief exception after the French Revolution (1789 to 1803) when it was controlled by the French State (“Régie des Domaines”).

In the case of Strasbourg, the “Maison de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame” is still standing and is currently a museum with a unique collection of original documents relating to the planning and construction of that particular cathedral.

Nor is Strasbourg an exception: although each cathedral tends to have its own organizational idiosyncracies, by the end of the 12th century most cathedrals had adopted an organization structure involving elected representatives (first yearly, later every three years) who become canons in charge of the material aspects of the buildings. These institutions are already firmly established in 1215 in Reims, between 1218 and 1234 in Tournai, in 1226 in Lausanne. Even before 1196 there was a “chanoine ouvrier” (“workman canon”) in Arles who was in charge of architectural matters.179 Merchants and other bourgeois are part of these institutions, and introduce formal accounting systems that are audited annually by an independent commission.180

The scale of the financial investments is surprising given the relatively small populations of the communities where those cathedrals were being built. Jean Charbonnier, the canon of the cathedral of Sens, estimates in 1501 that the cost of the sole portal of Abraham was 1,390 livres equivalent to 11,000 salary days of a professional mason. One estimate for building of the cathedral of Chartres is 83,000 livres, or an equivalent of 50 million dollars.181

Contrary to common perception today, the vastmajority of the Medieval cathedrals did not belong to the Church or nobility.182 “God’s house was also the people’s house. Everybody had access to it; to pray, of course; but also to simply “hang out”, eat and even sleep.

People went there with their dogs; there were loud discussions about all kinds of topics.”183 The cathedral was the place where, in addition to religious activities, town meetings for the whole population would be held, as well as any other public activity that required a covered space. Even the sick were being treated in one of the side-chapels, near the entrance. That is where doctors treated them: the Medical Faculty of Paris was therefore officially installed in Notre Dame until 1454.184

Cathedrals were owned and financed typically by the citizens of each city where they were built. “It is clear that the French gothic cathedrals were financed mainly by gifts of local lay people.[…] It appears that the contributions by farmers of neighborhood rural areas contributed almost as much as the citizens of the cities themselves.”185 Detailed financial archives support those conclusions: small individual gifts from ordinary citizens and pilgrims amounted to 34% of the income for building the cathedral of Rodez in the late 13th century, 50% for the cathedral of Sens, and more than 55% of the one at Tréguier.186 Additional income was generated by the sale of goods, perception of fines, or payments for the right of burials in the church and similar services. There were also testamentary gifts of farms or other real-estate that produced yearly income for the long run. Some contributions were made in the form of goods or services: the records of Sens show contributions of hemp to manufacture the ropes used in the construction, transport services, and one ham…187 Even the spectacular and unusual contribution of 10,000 florins by pope Clement V to the cathedral of Bordeaux in 1314 represented only a small fraction of that year’s expenses.

The Church enjoyed, of course, its “privileged times” (i.e., Mass at sunrise every day and the whole day on the frequent religious festivals) as well as its “privileged place” (the choir around the altar). But they were definitely only one of many players. The special institution that handled the finances of a cathedral was an independent organization quite significantly called “l’Oeuvre Notre Dame” (“The Work of Our Lady”).188 It was in charge of both raising the money and paying for the successive teams of workers, initially for building, and afterwards for maintaining the cathedral (see sidebar).

Every guild that had paid for its own chapel completely controlled the use of its chapel. Local nobility and/or royalty would donate a spectacular Rose window or a reliquary for the relic of the local Saint.189 In short, they would provide the cherry on the cake. But ordinary citizens and merchants paid for the cake, and the town and its citizens owned the cathedral itself. For example, in Danzig, the guild of the sack-carriers contributed both to the building of the famous Marien Church and paid for its own window, one of its most beautiful ones. In Chartres, one can still see the stained glass window representing the draper’s merchants in action (see illustration), the furriers paid another one.404 In Amiens, the single largest donor was a local dye merchant.

Photo 5.23 ½ page

Bakers are shown in their daily activity, as a reminder of the financial contribution of their guild for the construction of the cathedral at Chartres. ”

Photo 5.24 ½ page

Ditto for iron-mongers.

Here again, not coincidentally, the period from the 10th to the 13th century is the one where all the cathedrals in France were started and built (some were continued at a slower pace later, but not a single one got ever finished). For instance, the bulk of the cathedral Saint-Etienne in Sens was built in 65 years (from 1135 to 1200); of Notre Dame in Paris in 57 years (1163 to 1220); and of Chartres in a remarkably short 30 years; all within that same overall time window.190

In England, “the peak of building lay between 1210 and 1350. A profound slump, beginning before the Black Death, reached its low point by the mid-fifteenth century… A general decline in religious devotion cannot be invoked…”191 A graphic analysis by Morris of the number of major churches being built in England shows it reached its maximum exactly in 1290, after which it dropped precipitously throughout the 14th century.192

I like the cathedral example because I see them as one of the most beautiful gifts of Western history. They are a strong statement of faith, ingenuity, solidarity, and generosity. From a narrower economic viewpoint, they were also a grandiose way to create long-term future income for the community as a whole (see sidebar on Cathedrals). The earlier example of maintenance standards in productive equipment illustrates exactly the same point.

What explains this wealth of building projects?

A change in the intensity of faith or devotion does not explain this building boom and it’s ending. However, the timing of a shift in archetypal values and a concomitant change in the money system could explain both.

When you can’t keep savings in the form of money, you invest it in something that will last and produce value in the future. It became normal for people to invest in land improvements, irrigation projects, tapestries, paintings, cattle, sheep, textile looms, bridges, transport equipment, windmills, wine-presses, or even cathedrals, instead of hoarding currencies (sidebar).

Cathedrals: An Investment Forever?

Besides the obvious symbolic and religious roles, that I certainly do not want to belittle, one should remember that cathedrals had an important economic function. Attracting currency flow into your community is always a very important economic advantage, as today’s communities around Disneyland will confirm. At the time, this was done by attracting pilgrims, who played the economic role that tourists perform now. The best way to attract pilgrims was to build the nicest cathedral in the area. Otherwise, why would communities build cathedrals that could house two or three times its own population?

But what is most intriguing to me is that Cathedrals were built to last forever and to create cash flow for the community in the very long term. This was a way of creating abundance for you and your descendants for 13 generations! The proof is that it still works today. In Chartres, for instance, the bulk of the city’s businesses still live from the tourists coming to visit the cathedral, 800 years after it was completed.

How long will Disneyland perform its economic function?

How the Music Stopped

The music of Europe’s First Renaissance of the central Middle Ages stopped quite abruptly.

The Backlash of 1300

Photo 5.25 2/3 page

The king being crowned by the archetypal King Christ himself. The text on the open book says ‘I am the light of the world. Follow me.’ Drawing by Moreno Tomasetig from a mosaic representing the coronation of King William II of Sicily, in the Cathedral of Monreale, Italy.

Photograph 5.26 in Erika Uitz pg 169
(original in Albert Schramm: Der Bilderschmuck der Frühdruck. Leipzig 1943 ill. 705) 1/3 page

Woodcut printed by Hans Vintner in 1486 showing the devil sitting on a woman’s long robe, while she is being admonished by a churchman for her vanity and arrogance.

Exactly as Gerda Lerner discovered for the Sumerian case (Chapter 2),193 the establishment of a centralized imperialistic kingship coincides with a strong repression of women in society. The logic of such a connection could be that it is easier for men to accept submission to an authoritarian king, if they themselves can be “king in their own house.” So, when the Church consolidated the institution of a “King by Divine Right,” it connected directly temporal military power with the “natural” predominance of masculine archetypal power. In archetypal terms, an institutional link was thereby established between the King, Warrior and Magician, the three Yang archetypes.

One interesting early warning sign was the historical parallelism between the fate of the literature of Courtly Love and the cults of the original Black Madonnas. A German scholar notes: “With the geographical expansion of the courtly love culture from 1100 onwards, the cult of the Black Madonnas spread from France across all of Europe… A remarkable fact is that the literature of Courtly Love and original Black Madonna statues blossomed and disappeared in parallel with each other… In 1277 the Church officially condemned the literature of courtly love. Courtly love poets were excommunicated as ‘servants of Satan.’ At the same time as this condemnation of erotic courtly literature, the original Black Madonnas in stark Romanesque style are being replaced with sweetly smiling white Madonnas, which will end up characterizing the Gothic women and mother- ideals. Many of the Black Madonnas ended up being repainted in flesh colors and (the green colored mantle) repainted as a blue veil, or they were simply thrown away and buried, their crypts closed or left unused…The Romanesque Black Madonna, seated in majesty on Her throne, had been a cult figure which mirrored the role of woman in society, and thereby also the nature of Love accepted in that society.”194

In parallel, at the social and legal level, the rights of women were gradually eroded: “the leadership role of women abbots in double monasteries was curtailed. Sacraments became deliverable exclusively by male priests…Women, who earlier were relatively free and could become poets, medical doctors or heads of a guilds, became gradually constrained to the role of object of exchange in marriage, despised as demonic tempters, appreciated only for their capacity to produce heirs.”195 There was initially a strong resistance to such changes, even among the clergy. “When education for women was cut back, and when finally even nuns were restrained from teaching, the movement of the ‘Beguines’ took form, who refused to take religious vows, which enabled them to continue educating women and girls. But in 1312, even this organization’s properties were confiscated and its rights curtailed, and the Inquisition moved in against it.”196

History of the Breast: From ordinary to sacred; Then from erotic to commercial.

During the Central Middle Ages, women’s breasts were considered “ordinary”. They would neither be hidden nor displayed anymore than a man’s chest.

Fourteenth century Italy would make fashionable the Sacred Breast in the form of the numerous “Madonna del Latte”, the Virgin Mary shown nursing, exposing the breast to her child. But this would only turn out as a transition phase. During the fifteenth century this symbolic role of the breast would enter in conflict with – and notwithstanding heroic efforts by the clergy, permanently lose to – a vigorous new one as a key erotic “object”. It would remain that practically until today. As such, the tantalizing breast would soon become “commercial”. It would be used to sell (primarily to men) just about everything. From revolutions (e.g. the Marianne which came to symbolize the French Republic to this day), to American war savings bond, from beer and blue jeans to cars.

Marylin Yalom summarizes this reprogramming process as follows: “Increasingly, in art and literature, the breast would belong less to the baby, or to the church, and more to men of worldly power who treated it solely as a stimulus to desire.”197 The painting by the court painter Jean Fouquet showing Agnès Sorel, the twenty year old mistress of Charles VII of France, is credited with this significant transition of the breast from the sacred to the erotic (see photo 5.26a).

Agnès Sorel was the first “official mistress” of a French king. “Agnès was rewarded with castles, jewels, and other luxuries previously unknown to royal favorites. She received the considerable sum of three hundred pounds a year, wore the most costly clothes in the kingdom, and had a retinue larger than the queen’s… Agnès became the first of the royal mistresses to reap the full benefits from sexual favors.”198

This redefinition of the breast also coincided with a new era in French history. It officially and publicly makes the direct connection between sex, politics and money. She was indeed the first of a series of royal mistresses that would influence politics, a process that would last as long as there were Kings in France.

Photo 5.27 “The Virgin of Melun” (Anvers, Photo Buloz) (central fragment showing breast and child) ¾ page

Agnès Sorel, the mistress of King Charles VII of France, is represented under the guise of the Madonna, with what was described as “orbs of heavenly frame” in prominent display. The breast is directed to the observer, not the child, who stares absent minded elsewhere. Anne Hollander isolates this painting as the moment when the single bare breast became an “erotic signal in art”.199

Another sign that the Zeitgeist was shifting back toward patriarchal models can be traced almost exactly to the year 1300. In parallel with the first appearances of fashion, new laws controlling it are introduced. “One kind of legislation did have a special relevance to women. These were the ‘sumptuary laws’ that multiplied around Europe from about 1300. The laws were directed against the supposed waste embodied in lavish social events (weddings and funerals) and expensive attire – theoretically applicable to both men and women, but fundamentally directed at the latter.”200 (See Illustration in Woodcut). Another revealing switch was how society reinterpreted the role of the breast, an archetypal feminine and mother symbol par excellence. (sidebar and photo).

The patriarchal backlash started around the end of the 13th century, lasted for at least six centuries, and even intensified over time, as was shown in women’s reduced access to work and freedom. Until the middle of the 20th century, most women in the West would not even be entitled to open their own bank account “without marital consent,” a situation that Eleanor of Aquitaine would have found ridiculously unthinkable.

The collective emotional implications of this shift back towards the repression of the feminine will be dealt with later (“The Dark Middle Ages as an Emotional Imprint” in chapter 7), here only the material aspects will be discussed.

Population impact

One of the most fundamental indications of a massive societal shift is an alteration in its capacity to physically feed and maintain its own population.

We do not have Medieval population census data on a Europe-wide basis, and even those relating to single countries are not always reliable. However, between 1,000 and 1,300 B.C. Europe’s population is generally estimated to have increased an unprecedented twofold.201 The following graph shows the evolution of the English population from 1086 to 1600, according to the best estimates available202. (Figure 5.2)

Figure 5.2 The Population of England 1086-1600 (in millions) [Editor: See more precise original graph from Standards of Living in the later middle ages attached as Fig 5.2 and add the key dates of monetary change, population reversal, and appearance of the Plague]

The expansion of the population particularly between 1150 and 1300 is quite spectacular, and confirms the kaleidoscope of economic data assembled earlier. But even more spectacular was the drop between 1300 and 1350. In fact, we have to wait until ca. 1700 for the English population to recover to the level it had reached in 1300!

But the most important point to realize is that the outbreak of the Plague in England was in 1347.203 It was a devastating new disease, that would hit recurrently from that date on. Notice on the graph, however, that the population had already started dropping for two generations before that date!

Medievalist Fourquin notes:“Toward the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the next one, large scale famines reappear. Famines and epidemics – the former often provoking the latter – had been rare and highly localized since the year 1000. This changed from the year 1300 onward.”204 Historian Lucas dates the first generalized European famine to 1315 and 1316, and he estimates that it killed off 10% of Europe’s population. There were widespread scenes of people eating cats, rats, reptiles, animal droppings and even cannibalism.205

In the city of London, the prices of grain suddenly rose in 1308-9. A London chronicle reports in 1316: “This year was a great dearth of corn and other victuals, for a bushel of wheat was worth five shillings. And the poor people ate for hunger cats and horses and dogs… Some stole children and ate them.”206

Another specialist of the period, Barbara Harvey is more specific as to the sequence of events: “The contraction after 1300 has been measurable by falling rents and prices, a reduction in the area under cultivation, empty tenements in towns and falling demand in industry. As the economy contracted, so did the population begin to decline. But the decline in population was at first slower than the economy, and in consequence standards of living, as measured in per capita incomes, declined.”207 This quote is from the first pages of a book significantly entitled “Before the Black Death.” It brings the research on that period up to date and disproves the old idea that the Black Death was the cause of the collapse. Instead the Plague turns out to be result of an economic collapse that had started about 50 years earlier.

These findings indicate a massive economic contraction from ca. 1300 onward. That contraction was so substantial that repeated generalized famines, particularly in the 1320’s and 1340’s, actually physically weakened the population at large. After two generations, this had prepared the terrain for the outbreak of the deadly disease that put a final death sentence to the “good centuries.”

Most historians just took note of the “good period” as a curious exception: “Had life span and quality returned to the same precarious levels as during the Carolingians? …In any case, two and a half to three centuries (depending on the region) turned out only to be a hiatus between two periods where life was short and nourishment scarce.”208

Predictably, there is now a lot of debate among medievalists about the causes of that extraordinary pre-Plague economic collapse. Among the most important candidates being discussed are climate changes, land exhaustion, and overpopulation.

While these factors may all indeed have played a role, I would like to add one other apparently overlooked key: the economic collapse was preceded and accompanied by a significant shift in the monetary system. Indeed, the old demurrage currencies had fallen out of fashion for three convergent reasons:

  1. the demurrage system had been abused.
  2. an increasing centralized authority over the monetary system was happening, with two results:
    • it would become impractical to produce income from demurrage through recoinage because of the larger areas involved,
    • whenever a monetary ‘mistake’ such as currency debasement would be made (as would be the case by Philip IV of France from 1298 onwards) it would affect larger areas.
  3. royal monetary authority had been enforced militarily and would later become permanent by the Gunpowder Revolution.

Combined with the other factors mentioned above, this new situation created an economic collapse that would make it possible for the Plague to grow to the disaster it has been. Between one third and one half of the population of Europe would die. Each of these points will be developed below.

Demurrage Systems Abused

It should not come as a surprise that some lords would become greedy for the income from the Renovatio Monetae process. One of the first examples of such excesses was in England, when Harold I recoined in 1038 only three years after Cnut had done so, and Harthacnut in 1040 only two years later.209 The reaction from both nobles and the population at large was such that the English kings had to slow down the process to more reasonable frequency thereafter.

The Renovatio Monetae remained in place longest in Germanic and Eastern Europe. But even there, by the 14th century the bracteaten system had been abused. Archbishop Wichmann of Magdeburg revoked the money in his domain twice per year. Extremes would soon be reached. For instance, Duke Johann II of Saxony had his money re-minted 86 times during his 18-year reign from 1350 to 1368. One ruler in Poland changed his coins systematically four times per year!

Centralized Authority

Photo 5.28 miniature 15th century showing king visiting his centralized Royal Coinage 2/3 page
Icher pg. 45.

A king is visiting his central mint. This miniature is an illustration from the very first theoretical treatise on money, published by Oresme (c. 1320-1382) entitled “A Treatise on the First Invention of Money”. For being the very first, it is remarkably sophisticated.

Sample: ‘Money… is an instrument artificially invented for the easier exchange of natural riches. And it is clear without further proof that coin is very useful to the civil community, and convenient, or rather necessary, to the business of the state.”

“Traite de la premiere invention des monnaies” par Oresme, Paris Bibliotheque Nationale (ms fr 23927).

By the end of the 13th century, the French kingdom had grown so much in size that it had become impractical to recall the currency. Notice that we may find here the mechanical connection between a growing central Yang power and the demise of the Yin currencies of that time. The stronger the king, the larger the kingdom, and the less practical it becomes to keep the demurrage system going. This happens in parallel with a growing political necessity for a repression of women as well. The stronger the patriarchal impulse, the more it may appear necessary to give to each man the feeling of being “king in his own household”.

Notice also that royal coinage had been around for a long time before that, but it did not enjoy the monopoly that would soon become the rule. During the Central Middle Ages, one could be a farmer and rarely see or ever use any of the “long distance currencies” such as Saracen or Italian gold or royal coinage that would be traded for luxury goods in the international trade fairs. Whenever demurrage currencies were around, they would be the ones used for any local exchange by preference anyway, while the high asseyed gold or silver coins would logically tend to be hoarded210, or used for long-distance trade. This is why all Medieval treasure hoards tend to contain exclusively or predominantly these higher value gold and silver currencies that had no demurrage charges.211

Photo 5.29 1/3 page

Hoard of 118 Anglo-Saxon and Frisian coins buried in c. 730 and found at Woodham Walter, Essex. All are silver coinage (sceattas), and were most probably used for international trade with the continent. This hoard was found close to a road leading from the sea-faring harbor of Maldon.

However, the kiss of death to the “good” monetary period came first in France, when King Philip IV resorted to debasement instead of demurrage to meet his urgent income requirements.

Debasement is a different way than demurrage to make money from issuing money. It is certainly not a new way; it had already been resorted to in Sumer, China, and the Roman Empire. Because debasement is a less visible tax than demurrage, it was harder to organize resistance to it. But debasement implies inflation, i.e. the drop in the value of the currency itself; while demurrage charges do not.

What Philip the IV did is take the easier debasement road, and he did it on a huge scale (See sidebar). (By the way, the gradual erosion of all national currencies due to inflation during the 20th century demonstrate the same temptations still prevail: even the Deutsche Mark, the “best” national currency in the post- World War II, saw its value eroded by half due to inflation over the past 25 years)

This was the monetary part of “how the music stopped” for the European First Renaissance.

Debasement versus Demurrage

Debasement is the process whereby the precious metal content of the coin is significantly reduced. This enables the issuer to make more coins from every mark or pound of precious metal. He can, therefore, pay a higher price, per mark or per pound, for precious metal brought to the mint, including the old coins already in circulation. This is why it may seem profitable to his subjects who owned precious metals or old currency to bring it to the mint to be recoined. Of course, this illusion would not last, and inflation would soon set in. Sudden debasements are catastrophic for anybody who lives on fixed incomes, such as landowners with long-term money-rents. But its main advantage to the ruler is that the debasement is at first not visible. The resulting inflation is really a tax, but a “stealth tax,” one that doesn’t appear to be a tax.

In contrast, well-managed demurrage does not create a change in the value of the currency unit. But demurrage has the significant disadvantage of being more easily identified as a tax.

In the specific case of Philip IV of France, we can actually reconstruct the process precisely. Accounts for the year ending on All Saints’ Day 1296 showed that Philip IV had received 101,000 livres Parisis from his mints, to be compared with his total income of 550,974 livres. In 1298- 99 the mints brought in 1,200,000 livres tournois with less than 800,000 livres tournois coming in from all other sources. The mint’s profits though debasement had shot up to become the majority of Philip’s income.

War and the Gunpowder Revolution

But why was Philip IV in such tight monetary straits in the first place?

War is the short answer: successively one war against England (1295) and a second one against Flanders (1311). After that, wars spread all over Europe. During the 14th century, there were civil wars in France, Castille, Naples, and Prussia; inter-city wars by land and by sea in Northern Italy; “social” revolts of peasantry in England and France and of artisans in the cities of Flanders and northern Italy.

Although there are specific circumstances peculiar to each conflict, the underlying reason is the establishment of growing and centralizing kingdoms, a process which automatically instigated more and bigger clashes between them. Unfortunately, once started, the Warrior energy would become unstoppable for a long time.

Photo 5.30 1/3 page

Woodcut showing one of the early sieges which used canons to breach city walls. The opening in the wall is clearly visible, and produced by the canons in the foreground.

The Chinese knew gunpowder for many centuries, but they used it only for New Year’s firecrackers. It is in Europe during the 14th century Europe that it became first effectively used for war.

During the 15th century, a new war technology – gunpowder212 – permanently outdated the Medieval geographical and political power maps. A spectacular demonstration was given in 1494 when Charles VIII used new siege guns to reduce to rubble in eight hours an Italian city-state. A few years earlier – before the new technology -that “same fortress had made itself famous by withstanding a siege of seven years.”213

Until then, medieval defenses had the upper hand: a good wall around the city and a good armor around the body had been successful at deterring larger offensive armies for a long time. In contrast, gunpowder gave powerful advantages to the offense, and whoever could line up more soldiers with more guns would from then on win wars.

Velocity of Money and the “Discovery of the New World”

One key reason that may have been overlooked in understanding the notorious “currency scarcity” of the late Middle Ages is the significant drop in the velocity of money circulation,214 that even a gradual switch from demurrage to normal currency would have provoked. For obvious reasons, demurrage money would circulate more rapidly in comparison with the normal coinage, that would tend to hoarded215. So the “coinage scarcity” phenomenon of the later Middle Ages, well-known to the Medievalists, is likely to be as much due to a drop in velocity than to exclusively to the physical availability of silver and gold metal. However, it was not until Gesell (1891) and Fisher (1930s) that the importance of money velocity was formally understood.

The resulting “metallic shortage” would become permanent in Europe over the next centuries. The vast increase of gold mining from 1320 onward in Hungary and Transylvania would never be able to quench the European thirst for gold.216

It even motivated the “Discovery of the New World” and its subsequent exploitation.

Christopher Columbus’ travel diary mentions gold at least 65 times. And the log entry of October 13, 1492, when he first arrived in the Bahamas, is quite explicit in this respect: “Y yo estava atento y trabajava de saber si avía oro”217 (“And I took great care and effort to find out whether there was any gold.”)

Guns quickly became the ultimate Royal tax collectors, and the centralization of power grew as larger and larger armies got involved. From the 14th century until World War II inclusive, every major war invariably involved larger armies than the previous one. The net result was that the smaller kingdoms and other small independent states were absorbed into larger and larger empires all the way to the 20th century. With them disappeared the period of small-scale monetary systems that had enabled demurrage to operate under the then prevailing technologies.

Interestingly, we can even trace this shift towards royal centralizing currency power in France through the changes of the mechanism of financing cathedrals. From the second half of the 15th century onwards, a systematic modification appeared in the process of financing cathedrals. Instead of voluntary gifts by the local population, for the first time the kings in France would intervene significantly in such financing.218 “But the funds did not originate from the ordinary income of the kingdom, but from new taxes on the general population. “The “crues sur la gabelle du sel” – a tax on salt – provided the necessary funding for the continuation or embellishment of the cathedrals of Troyes, Bourges and Sens.”219

The psychological effects of this 14-15th century imprint would deeply shape the Western emotional worldview, in fact all the way to today as will be shown later (chapter 8).

How Money Scarcity was created

Photo 5.31 (1/3 page)

Mining for precious metals in Renaissance Hungary. All the new and larger-scale mines in Bohemia and Hungary would still not suffice to produce the precious metals needed, and the push to discover new sources, including in the “New World”, would become irresistible.

The disappearance of demurrage created money scarcity in two cumulative ways:

  • it reduced the speed with which the money circulated (see sidebar on “money velocity”);
  • and it would concentrate wealth in the cities and in the hand of the elite (sidebar on “cities versus countryside” on the next page).

The concentration of wealth at the top of the social echelon – royalty, nobility – would gradually increase the flamboyance of their life styles. The roots of the economics of what made the 15th-16th century Renaissance possible can be found here.

For the common people, in contrast, the disappearance of demurrage-charged currencies showed up as a sudden, continuous and growing scarcity of the medium of exchange. For them, the Golden Age was gone forever. That same cash scarcity creation process that started at the end of the Middle Ages is still with us today. It has now become an issue of ghetto versus suburb on a regional level, and a developing country versus developed one on a global one. But they all are ultimately the same process that Peter Spufford describes as city versus countryside at the end of the Middle Ages (see sidebar). The means have become more sophisticated, but the same mechanism is still operational.

Money Scarcity Creation Process: City versus Countryside (14-16th century)

“Saving did not necessarily mean the hoarding of coin, but it frequently did so. […] Sometimes the system [of seasonal inflow of cash into the countryside] was partially short-circuited by landlords, and much less money entered the countryside. This happened when certain landlords arranged for collection of local produce, grain, wool or cattle, and they transported it to a distant major city, where it could command a higher price than at a local fair or market. The seller or his agents then frequently spent the bulk of the money on the spot and returned with luxury goods for the landlord, and with only a relatively small amount of coin to distribute in the countryside from the balance of sales, less rent and charges of transport. This sort of practice can be found in various parts of Europe from the thirteenth century onward.[…]

Within weeks of being filled with good silver the purses of all but the richest were almost empty of money and remained so for the rest of the year. Some of the money had already returned to the city, in the purses of urban casual labor who had come out for the harvest, in the purses of the urban money-lenders, in the purses of those who sold urban produce at the fairs, or in the coffers of tax- collectors. Some of it was in the hands of clergy, some remained with the richest peasants, but most had been paid to nobility or their stewards. This, too, was returned to the city in due course, since so many noblemen came to be resident in the city, for all or part of the year and had their revenues remitted to them there by their stewards. Some of the hotels, alberghi, and inns in the capitals built from the thirteenth century onwards still survive (e.g. the palace of the Bishops of Winchester in England and the hotel of the abbots of Cluny in Paris,France).

It was in the capital cities that these absentees spent the money received from the country, on urban goods and services. It was in the capitals that they bought their luxury requirements not only for consumption in their city houses, but also equally for their consumption in the country. Lesser landlords similarly spent their money on a narrower range of luxuries in the principal towns of their region. […]By and large the countryside was denuded of all but the smallest of small change from one ‘harvest’ to the next.[…]It has been suggested that this seasonal pattern of ebb and flow between city and country, established in the long thirteenth century, continued throughout the pre-industrial period.”220

By the 17th century concentration of wealth in the biggest cities had become a general phenomenon in the Western World. A more sophisticated money

concentration system – but with the same overall effects – is still operational today, where the “cities” have become the financial centers of the “developed countries”, and the “country” the rest of the world including the “Third World”.

Conclusion on An Unconscious Monetary Experiment

The whole episode of demurrage-charged currencies in the central Middle Ages came and went without anybody at the time being aware of its role in inducing the investment patterns that had created a Golden Age.

The experiment was not going to be repeated, at least not in an increasingly male- dominated modern world.

From an archetypal monetary viewpoint, the unglamorous local Yin demurrage-charged currencies had simply been abandoned, and a monopoly of scarce Yang currencies became permanently established.

However, if it was not reproduced afterwards, there is one other intriguing precedent in the even more distant past. In Egypt the experiment lasted longer – probably between fifteen and twenty centuries – with the same impressive results, as far as we can ascertain.


Table of Contents | INTRODUCTION











  1. Birnbaum, Lucia Chiavola Black Madonna: Feminism, Religion and Politics in Italy (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993)
  2. Quotable Women (London: Running Press, 1991).
  3. See Gesell, Silvio Gesammelte Werke (Münden: Gauke GMBH – Verlag, 1988-1997) 18 Volumes (reprint of Original editions from 1891-1928)
  4. As explained in Chapter 5 of The Future of Money 
  5. The Future of Money, specifically the chapter on the Global Reference Currency (chapter 7).
  6. “The degree of control over the coinage after Charlemagne’s reform of it, was reflected in the uniformity of the coinage throughout the empire. This was in marked contrast to the diversity that existed at the beginning of his reign. The earlier deniers, although acknowledging the king’s authority, were crudely made, and give the impression to have been designed locally, according to the taste of the individual involved, and the skill of the smiths they could find to cut the dies. The reformed, heavy deniersare of careful design. The dies were obviously cut centrally, and differ from mint to mint in the mint name, and the use of the additional title of “king of the Lombards” on deniers struck in Arles or in Italy. At one stage the idea was even entertained of centralizing further by producing all the necessary coin at a single palatine mint at Aachen.” See Spuffard, Peter Money and its use in Medieval Europe Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) pg 43 and Grierson, Philip “Money and coinage under Charlemagne” in Braunfels, W. (Ed.) Karl der Grosse: Lebenswerk und Nachleben (Dusseldorf, 1965) pg 525.
  7. The original text of 1220 in the Saxenspiegel says explicitly “Penninge schall me neuyen, als ein neye Herre kumpft” (Pennies shall be renewed whenever a new Lord is coming in power)
  8. Spuffard, Peter Money and its use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) pg 57.
  9. Petersen H. & Bertil A. Anglo Saxon Currency: King Edward’s Reform to the Norman Conquest (Lund, 1969).
  10. Hooke, Della editor Anglo-Saxon settlements (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988) pg 207.
  11. Spuffard, Peter Ibid. Pg 302.
  12. It is important that while the currencies had a demurrage-charge, they were not debased. We will see that it was the inflationary debasement policies of Philip IV in France during the last years of the 13th and the early 14th century that precipitated the end of the “good centuries” of the Middle Ages in France.
  13. Jacob von Mellen from Lübeck already used the word “bracteat” in the first systematic study on such currencies, published in 1678.
  14. Berger, Frank Die Mittelaterlichen Brakteaten im Kestner-Museum, Hannover 2. Teil (Hannover, 1996) pg. 9.
  15. Preisigke, Friedrich, Girowesen im Griechischen Ägypten enthaltend Korngiro, Geldgiro, Girobanknotariat mit Einschluß des Archivwesens, (Strassburg: Verlag von Schlesier & Schweikhardt, 1910; reprinted: by Hildesheim (New York: Georg Olms, 1971).
  16. In the Dynastic village of Medinet, currently in the Egyptian desert, no less than 1.6 million ostraka have been gathered. Almost all are still untranslated to this day.
  17. Three types of flaws are relevant here. The arbitrariness of the frequency and size of the demurrage charges are the first two, as they would lead to abuses described at the end of this chapter in “How the Music Stopped”. The third flaw is that the metal used for the coinage of the Renovatio Monetae or the bracteaten was silver, a metal which is hoardable and could also be used as long-distance trading currency (i.e. a Yang currency). It is only by regulation that hoarding the Central Medieval currencies was discouraged, making them thereby a Yin currency. Some people would predictably try to circumvent these regulations and taxation, and still hoard this currency as bullion, which is what happened for instance with some of the “bracteaten Funds”. This explains that, while relatively rare, some hoards of bracteaten have actually been found.

    In contrast, the Egyptian ostraca were intrinsically valueless, and as the demurrage fee was tied in with actual storage costs, arbitrariness in the frequency and size of the demurrage charge was avoided. So the Egyptian system was from a theoretical viewpoint a significantly “better” Yin currency than the Central Medieval one, as there was no incentive at all to hoard this currency, even by breaking a law.

    Notwithstanding its flaws, the Medieval regulatory system still provided apparently a sufficiently strong incentive to not hoard the currency that would result in the dramatic economic impact shown later in this chapter. The best study on the detailed regulations applying to Central Medieval currencies is by Hävernick, Walter Der Kölner Pfennig im 12. Und 13. Jahrhunderd – Periode der territorialen Pfennigmünze (Stuttgart: Verlag von W. Kohlhammer, 1930)

  18. Graves, Robert Mammon and the Great Goddess (London, 1964) quoted by Begg, Ean Ibid. Pg 126
  19. Galland, China Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna (New York: Penguin Books, 1990) pg 51.
  20. Pagels, Elaine The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage Books, 1981) pg xvi.
  21. Begg, Ean:The Cult of the Black Virgin (London:Routledge,1985) pg 25-26.
  22. Louis Charpentier notes the surprise of the priest Vacandard on discovering Hebraic scholars in Citeaux between 1108 and 1115, under the supervision of Etienne Harding. See Charpentier, Louis Les Mystères Templiers (Paris: Laffont, 1967) pg. 15
  23. See Huynen, Jacques: L’énigme des Vierges Noires (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1972) pg 116-117.
  24. At their height, it is estimated that 500,000 people traveled the pilgrimage routes every year. See Marks, Claude: Pilgrims, Heretics and Lovers (New York: Macmillan, 1975) pg 111.
  25. Reported by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum in an interview with Willow LaMonte in Godessing Regenerated Issue #6 pg. 5.
  26. Exoterism refers etymologically to “exterior, public” teachings; Esoterism in contrast is “interior, hidden” knowledge.
  27. See Riffard, Pierre A. L’Ésotérisme: Anthologie de l’Ésoterisme Occidental (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1990).
  28. A curious and humorous incident provides us with what is, to my knowledge, a unique case of actual historical evidence of the name of the artist who carved this Late Gothic replacement statue. According to the town records of Burgheim (as reported in the Rollwagenbüchlein” by Jörg Wickram of Kolmar in 1555), a man was judged for blasphemy after he had boasted in a tavern that “the Maria at Einsiedeln is my sister and what is still more – the Devil at Konstance and the Great God of Schaffhausen are my brothers!” In court he explained that “I have spoken justly, for my father was sculptor and did make these [three statues] – besides also me; therefore, we are all four brothers and sister!”
  29. Gustavson, Fred The Black Madonna(Boston: Sigo Press, 1990) pg. 25-30.
  30. Kamper, Dietmar Im Souterain der Bilder: Die Schwarze Madonna (Bodenheim: Philo, 1997) pg. 60.
  31. Bonvin, Jacques Vierges Noires: La réponse vient de la Terre” (Paris: Dervy Livres, 1988) pg. 75.
  32. Huynen, Jacques L’énigme des Vierges Noires (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1972). When not annotated differently all references in this sidebar are to that author.
  33. Bonvin, Jacques Vierges Noires: La réponse vient de la Terre” (Paris: Dervy Livres, 1988) Pg 56.
  34. See also Van Cronenburg, Petra pg 21.
  35. Among the reasons for the use of crypts (literally the “hidden part”), is a hint to the initiatic caves of the Great Mother in Paleolithic time. Bonvin, Jacques in Vierges Noires, proposes additional reasons: La Réponse vient de la terre. (Paris: Dervy-Livres , 1988).
  36. Van Cronenburg, Petra Schwarze Madonnen: Das Mysterium einer Kultfigur (München: Hugendubel Verlag, 1999) pg. 23.
  37. Van Cronenburg, Petra Schwarze Madonnen: Das Mysterium einer Kultfigur (München: Hugendubel Verlag, 1999) pg 184.
  38. Icher, Francois Les Oeuvriers des Cathédrales (Paris: Editions de la Martinière, 1998) pg 14.
  39. Begg,Ean : The Cult of the Black Virgin (London:Routledge, 1985) pg 6.
  40. Huynen, Jacques L’énigme des Vierges Noires (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1972).
  41. Bonvin, Jacques Vierges Noires: la reponse vient de la terre (Paris: Dervy, 1988) pg. 37 ff.
  42. See Kröll, Ursula Das Geheimnis der Schwarze Madonnen. Endeckungsreisen zu Orten der Kraft (Stuttgart: Kreuz Verlag, 1998). For the sake of completeness, I should also mention some (rarer) cases of the reverse process: white Madonnas that were repainted black to make them “more popular”. For instance, the parish priest of Chastreix decided in 1892 to repaint his conventional white Madonna in black, in order to attract more pilgrims, and thereby improve the financial position of his parish church; something in which he was actually successful. Similarly Petra van Cronenburg claims that the current 16th century statue of Einsiedeln was repainted black only over the past century to match the original Romanesque Black Madonna which had been venerated for centuries earlier at the same place. (See Petra van Cronenburg: Schwarze Madonnen: Das Mysterium einer Kultfigur (Munchen: Hugendubel, 1999) pg 15 and 16.)
  43. See Monaghan, Patricia The book of Goddesses and Heroines (St Paul, Minnesota: Llewellin Publications, 1990) for all three examples.
  44. Tao Te Ching #1, translated by Stephen Mitchell (New York: Harper & Row, 1988) number 1.
  45. Neumann, Erich The Great Mother: An Analysis of an Archetype translated by Ralph Manheim (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974) pg 321. Italics added.
  46. de Rougemont, Denis L’Amour et l’Occident (Paris, 1979)
  47. Williamson, John The Oak King, the Holly King and the Unicorn. The Myths and Symbolism of the Unicorn Tapistries (New York: Harper and Row, 1986) The author is the designer of the medieval gardens at The Cloisters, New York.
  48. See a.o. C.G. Jung Psychologie und Alchemie (Zurich, 1946)
  49. Aurofontina Chymica (London 1680) from site Alchemy on Line (
  50. Binswanger, Hans Christoph Geld und Magie: Deutung und Kritik der modernen Wirtschaft anhand von Goethe’s ‘Faust’ (Stuttgart: Weinbrecht Verlag, 1985). Pg 20-21.
  51. This all the way to the 18th century. For instance, several of the alchemical “classics” were written by dom Pernety, a Benedictine monk of the community of Saint Maur, near Paris. See a.o Pernety, Antoine-Joseph Dictionnaire Alchimique and Les Fables Egyptiennes et Grecques Dévoilées et Réduites au même Principe (Paris: Delalain l’Ainé, 1706).
  52. Jung, C.G.: Collected Works Volume 14 par 44, note 72.
  53. See for instance Dürer’s famous engraving entitled Melancholia. The Greek word Melas means black.
  54. “Spirit of the Age” The Economist (December 19, 1998 – January 1 1999) pg 115.
  55. Data based on ages 26 to 64 see Journal of American Medical Association (vol 276, number 4).
  56. The idea that the feminine path toward initiation, in alchemy called the “wet path”, involves a despoliation of all ego- based attributes as a necessary first step is well demonstrated in Brinton Perera, Sylvia Descent of the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women (Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1981).
  57. Cycle of conferences on the topic of “Depression” in Santa Barbara, California, 1997.
  58. Hillman, James Revisioning Psychology (San Francisco: Harper Perennial, 1992) pg 98.
  59. see Moyers, Bill Healing and the Mind (New York: Doubleday, 1995) and the companion Public Broadcasting System TV series.
  60. Begg, Ean The Cult of the Black Virgin (London: Penguin Books, 19985) pg 20.
  61. See Herder: Lexicon der Christliche Ikonografie Volume 3 pg 156
  62. de Voragine, Jacques: Legenda Aurea (Golden Legends)
  63. de Pisans, Christine Les Cent Histoires de Troyes (1499/1500) in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute II, 68.
  64. Witt, R.E. Isis in the Ancient World (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1971) respectively pg 276 and pg. 32.
  65. Rosher, W. H. Ausführliches Lexikon für griechische und römishe Mythologie (Leipzig: 1882-1921) keyword “Isis”
  66. His extensive alphabetical listing of honorary titles of Mary was originally published in Cologne in 1710.
  67. Witt, R.E. Isis in the Ancient World (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1971) respectively pg 272-273.
  68. De Voragine, Jacques The Golden Legend (New York: Arno Press, 1969) pg 66.
  69. See Plutarch De Iside et Osiride 68. And Fontes Historiae Religiones Egyptiacae (ed. Hopfner, 1922) 254, 19.
  70. Plutarch De Iside et Osiride 39
  71. Gustavson, Fred: The Black Madonna (Boston: Sigo Press, 1990) pg. 90
  72. Witt, R.E. Isis in the Ancient World (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1971) pg. 193-194.
  73. Müller, H.W. in Münchener Jahrhundert Bild Kunst, 1963 pg 35 cites the original passage documenting this episode from Histoire Généalogique de la Maison des Briçonnet, 1620. Witt, R.E. also mentions the same episode in Isis in the Ancient World (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1971) pg 274. Dr. Witt conjectures that this Isis statue was also a Black Madonna.
  74. Faujas de Saint-Fons’ study entitled Recherches sur les volcans éteints du Vivarais et du Velay is primarily a geological report, but it also contains the notes on his investigations on the Black Madonna of Le Puy. See also Bonvin, Jacques Ibid. pg 205-212, and van Cronenburg, Petra Ibid. pg 35-38.
  75. The engraved “Table of Isis” (“Mensa Isaica”), dating back to the first century AD, had been discovered in 1720, and was exhibited in 1775 in the Royal Archives in the Egyptian Museum of Turin. So Faujas de Saint-Fons could indeed have had first-hand exposure to these hieroglyphs making his testimony more valid.
  76. Ifrah, Georges: Histoire Universelle des Chiffres (Paris, Laffont, 1995) Tome II, pg. 361-367.
  77. The best synthesis of these cosmologies is provided by Wetherbee, Winthrop: “Philosophy, Cosmology and the Twelfth Century Renaissance” in Dronke, Peter, ed. Twelfth –Century Western Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). In this same study fifteen scholars provide a.o. extensive monographies on each of the philosophers mentioned.
  78. Ifrah, Georges: Ibid. Tome II. pg. 342
  79. Montaigne Essais Livre II.
  80. Ifrah, Georges: Histoire Universelle des Chiffres (Paris, Laffont, 1995) Tome II, pg 360.
  81. see a.o. Tuchman, Barbara: A Distant Mirror for a remarkably graphic description of this extraordinary violent period in history. Huizinga, Johannes The Autumn of the Middle Ages provides a similar picture, and will be used extensively later in chapter 8.
  82. The German literature refers to it most accurately as the Hochmittelalter,literally the “High Middle Ages”.
  83. The first identification of the Central Middle Ages as a “Renaissance” dates back to Haskins, C.H. classic book Studies in the History of Mediaeval Science (Cambridge, Mass. 1927, 2d edition New York, 1960. This recognition has been vindicated recently in more and more specialized aspects of society. They range from technology [e.g. Gies, J. Cathedral, Forges and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995)] to philosophy [e.g. Dronke, Peter, ed. Twelfth –Century Western Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)].
  84. Bayard, Jean-Pierre La Tradition Cachée des Cathédrales (Paris: Dangles, 1990) pg. 39.
  85. Werner, Alex editor: London Bodies: The Changing Shape of Londoners from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day (London: Museum of London, 1998) pg. 108.
  86. The sizes of the bodies are based on bone lengths and are therefore subject to error. “But where large samples are involved as here, the error is a constant that can be ignored for the purposes of comparison” Ibid. footnote pg 108.
  87. Lacey, Robert and Danzinger, Danny The Year 1000: What life was like at the turn of the first Millennium (London: Little Brown & Co., 1999) pg 9.
  88. Fourquin, Guy Histoire Économique de l’Occident Médiéval (Paris: Armand Collin 1969) pg 215 italics added.
  89. Icher, Francois Les Oeuvriers des Cathédrales (Paris: Editions de la Martinière, 1998) pg 20.
  90. Damaschke, D. History of the National Economy.
  91. Bois, G. Ibid pg. 11.
  92. The origin of this recoinage tradition can be traced back to the Carolingian law that would require recoinage when sovereigns would change. But by the 10th century, one would start to see cyclical recoinage with a periodicity of 5-6 years – without waiting for the death of the sovereign or the local lord. The first systematic recoinage cycle seems to have been inaugurated by Aethelred II in England in 979. It spread from England to the continent soon thereafter. See Spufford Peter Money and its use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) and Petersen H. & Bertil A. Anglo Saxon Currency: King Edward’s Reform to the Norman Conquest (Lund, 1969).
  93. Fourquin, Guy: Histoire Économique de l’Occident Médiéval (Paria: Armand Collin 1969) p. 192, italics added.
  94. The best known Byzantine gold coin was the solidus – initially issued by Constantine (306-337 AD) – better known as the bezant. It was issued at the same weight (4.55 grams of gold) and purity (98% pure gold) for a record 700 years ! It also circulated widely all over Europe and the Middle East, way beyond the borders of the Byzantine Empire.
  95. The name to describe such ransoms, Danegeld, (literally “Danish or Viking money”), describes this function. Notice that many of the medieval “treasure” findings would logically have a predominance of Yang currencies, more so than actual currencies in use, given that such treasures would by definition be accumulations of stored value. That is why the use of such “treasure” troves as an indication of the actual currency mix in circulation may be misleading.
  96. Bois, G. Ibid pg 53.
  97. Fourquin, Guy Histoire Économique de l’Occident Médiéval (Paria: Armand Collin 1969) pg 192 italics added.
  98. All three labels to describing this period are quoted from Bois, Guy: : La Grande Dépression Médiévale – le XIV – XV eme siècle : le Précédent d’une crise systémique (Paris: PUF, 2000) pg. 11.
  99. There were obviously unequal geographical developments in Europe during that period. The economic and social diagnostics that will be made in this chapter concerns particularly the central axis of European development going broadly from London to Florence, and including Southern England, most of France, , the Low Countries, Northern Italy, the Rhine areas of Germany and Catalunia in Spain.
  100. Bayard, Jean-Pierre: La Tradition Cachée des Cathédrales (Paris: Dangles, 1990) p. 39.
  101. Bois, G. Ibid pg 11 Bois, G. Ibid. pg 16.
  102. Icher, Francois: Les Oeuvriers des Cathédrales (Paris: Editions de la Martinière, 1998) p. 20.
  103. Damaschke, D.: History of the National Economy.
  104. Bois, G. Ibid pg 52.
  105. reproduced from Otto von Simson Das Mittelaltern Vol II (Propylaean Kunstgeschichte)
  106. quoted in Bois, G. Ibid pg 15
  107. Fourquin, Guy: Histoire Économique de l’Occident Médiéval (Paria: Armand Collin 1969) p. 215.
  108. Bois, G. pg 21.
  109. Reynolds, Robert: Europe Emerges: Transition Toward an Industrial Word-wide Society, 600-1750 (Madison, Wisconsin, 1967) pp. 185-186.
  110. Bayard, Jean-Pierre: La Tradition Cachée des Cathédrales (Paris: Dangles, 1990) p. 42.
  111. Moulin, Leo: LaVie quotidienne des religieux au Moyen Age (Paris: Hachette, 1978) pp. 267 and 270.
  112. Delort, Robert: La Vie au Moyen Age (Lausanne: Editta, 1982).
  113. Philippe, R. L’énergie au Moyen Age: l’exemple des pays d’entre Seine et Loire de la fin du Xieme siècle à la fin du Xveme siècle (Paris, 1980).
  114. Gies, Joseph: Cathedral, Forges and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995) pp. 148-153.
  115. Reynolds, Robert Europe Emerges: Transition Toward an lndustrial Word-wide Society, 600-1750 (Madison, Wisconsin,1967).185-186
  116. Gies, J. Cathedral, Forges and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995) pg 119 for looms, pg 176 for carding equipment, pg 177 for toothed warper.
  117. Bayard, Jean-Pierre La Tradition Cachée des Cathédrales (Paris: Dangles, 1990) pg. 42.
  118. Moulin, Léo La Vie quotidienne des religieux au Moyen Age (Paris: Hachette, 1978) pg.267, 270.
  119. Moulin, Léo La Vie quotidienne des religieux au Moyen Age (Paris: Hachette, 1978) pg 272.
  120. Fourquin, Guy Ibid pg 215.
  121. Moulin, Léo La Vie quotidienne des religieux au Moyen Age (Paris: Hachette, 1978) pg 270.
  122. Delort, Robert op. Cit. Pg 45.
  123. Lacey, Robert and Danzinger, Danny The Year 1000: What life was like at the turn of the first Millennium (London: Little Brown & Co., 1999) pg 87.
  124. Gies, Joseph Cathedral, Forges and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995) pg 107.
  125. Arès, Phillips: History of Private Life:, Vol II, (Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1988) pg 581.
  126. Delort, Robert La Vie au Moyen Age (Lausanne: Editta, 1982) pg 36.
  127. Yalom, Marilyn A History of the Breast (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997) pg. 161.
  128. Montaigne The Complete Essays translated by Donald Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965) Vol I, pg. 41.
  129. Delort, Robert La Vie au Moyen Age (Lausanne: Editta, 1982) pg 36-37.
  130. Huizinga, Johan The Autumn of the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) pg. 301-302.
  131. Arès, Philippe: History of Private Life: Vol II (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988) pg 582.
  132. Jardine, Lisa: Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance (New York: Macmillan, 1996) pg 12.
  133. Fritz Schwartz, Sechs Stunden-Tag im Mittelalter” part of the book Vorwärts zur felten Kaufkraft des Geldes und zur Zinsfreien Wirtschaft, 1993
  134. Dr. Friedrich von Lippmann Zeichnungen von Albrecht Dürer (Berlin Verlag, 1888) # 138. See also “six women in a bathhouse (# 101).
  135. Bayard, Jean-Pierre La Tradition Cachée des Cathédrales (Paris: Dangles, 1990) pg. 47.
  136. quoted by Pack, Hugo R. The Gothic 1150-1450 (San Antonio: Free Economy Publishing). Italics added.
  137. Herliby, David Women, Family and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978-1991(Oxford: Bergham Books, 1995) pg 33.
  138. Kelly-Gadol, Joan “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” in Bridendahl R. & Koonz C.(ed.) Becoming Visible: Women in European History (Boston, 1977) formally destroying Jacob Burckhardt’s classic assessment of women’s progress in The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy (NewYork, 1929) book five, Chapter 5.
  139. Uitz, Erica The Legend of Good Women: The Liberation of Women in Medieval Cities (London and Wakefield, Rhode Island: Myer Bell, 1994) pg 9.
  140. This saying has later become popular in German: “Stadtluft macht frei.”
  141. Haeberle, Erwin J. The Sex Atlas (New York: Seabury Press, 1978) pg. 159.
  142. Uitz Ibidem pg 10.
  143. Herlihy Ibid. Pg 68.
  144. Turgot The Ancient Guild Statutes of France (1776).
  145. Uitz Ibidem pg 45.
  146. Uitz, Erica Ibidem pg 10.
  147. Herlihy Ibidem pg 71.
  148. Herlihy Ibidem pg 61.
  149. Herlihy , David: Women, Family and Society in Medieval Europe (Providence & Oxford: Berghalm Books, 1995) pg 51. This rule was even officially part of the “rule book” written by Hincmar of Reims “De Ordine Palatii” (882 A.D.)
  150. Fell, Christine Women in Anglo-Saxon England (London: British Museum, 1984) pg. 57.
  151. Lacey, Robert and Danzinger, D he turn of the first Millennium (London: Little Brown & Co., 1999) pg. 164.
  152. Pernoud, Régine La Femme au Temps des Cathédrales (Paris: Stock , 1980) pg 84.
  153. Dhuoda Manuel pour mon Fils (translated by Bernard de Vregille et Claude Mondésert) (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1975).
  154. de Rougemont, Denis L’Amour et l’Occident.
  155. Pernoud, Ibidem title of Chapter 7 pg 134
  156. Marks, Claude: Pilgrims, Heretics and Lovers (New York: Macmillan, 1975) pg x.
  157. Lewis, C.S. The Allegory of Love (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965) pg 101.
  158. Bogin, Mel Ibidem pg 12.
  159. Bogin, Meg The Women Troubadours (New York, London: Norton & Company, 1980)
  160. Bogin, Meg The Women Troubadours (New York, London: Norton & Company, 1980) pg 65.
  161. Bogin, Mel Ibidem pg 74.
  162. Bogin, Mel Ibidem pg 75.
  163. Bogin, Mel Ibidem pg 133.
  164. Bogin, Meg The Women Troubadours (New York, London: Norton & Company, 1980) The work by women troubadours was completely forgotten until Oscar Schultz-Gora discovered them and published a small monograph at the end of last century Die Provenzalischen Dichterinnen (Leipzig, 1878). Meg Bogin provides the only other complete translation of their work. The best interpretation of their music is Chansons des Troubadours: Lieder und Spielmusik dem 12. Jahrhundert, performed by the Studio der Frühen Musik on Telefunken Das Altes Werk (SAWT 95673). A compact disc provides another good example of music and songs of Amour Courtois from the Montpelier Codex of the 13th century entitled “Love’s Illusion.” It is interpreted by the Anonymous 4 and produced by Harmonia Mundi (HMU 907109)
  165. de Rougemont, Denis L’amour et l’Occident (Paris, 1969)
  166. Chebel, Malek Dictionnaire des Symboles Musulmans: Rites, mystique et civilisation (Paris: Perrin, 1995) keywords: Sufisme, Nuit, Marie.
  167. Van Cronenburg, Petra 172.
  168. Van Cronenburg, Petra 154.
  169. Pernoud, Régine Aliénor d’Aquitaine (Paris Albin Michel, 1965).
  170. Pernoud, Régine La Femme au temps des Cathédrales (Paris: Stock, 1980).
  171. Sr. Mary P. Heinrich The Canonnesses and Education in the Early Middle Ages (Washington DC: Catholic University, 1924) pg 82-83.
  172. Fell, Christine Women in Anglo-Saxon England (London: British Museum, 1984) pg. 109.
  173. Herliby) pg 61.
  174. Sitwell, Sachaverell Study of Medieval Life, Art and Thought.
  175. Quoted by Le Goff, Jacques: Die Zeit des Hochmittelalters (Frankfurt: Fischers Weltgeschichte, 1965) pg.16.
  176. Charpentier, Louis Les Mystères Templiers (Paris: Laffont, 1967) pg 62.
  177. Delort, Robert La vie au Moyen Age (Lausanne: Edita, 1982) pg 211-212.
  178. Schock-Werner, Barbara “Le Chantier de la cathédrale de Strasbourg” in Chantiers Mediavaux (Editions du Zodiaque, DDB, 1995).
  179. Cailleaux, Denis “Les Deniers des cathedrals” Les Cahiers de Science et Vie: Sciences et techniques des bâtisseurs de cathedrales. (# 69, June 2002) pg 78.
  180. Accounting is performed typically in “cash books” by separating income and expenses by type, in a format that has been maintained in some cases all the way to the XXth century . Favier, J. Finance et fiscalité au bas Moyen-Age (Paris: SEDES, 1971) pg 288-289.
  181. Kraus H. A Prix d’Or: le Financement des Cathédrales (Paris: Cerf, 1991).
  182. It should be noted that abbeys do not fit into this general rule: they were built and owned by the order who lived there. The bulk of the financing for abbeys would come from donations of land or other endowments by nobility.
  183. Delort, Robert La vie au Moyen Age (Lausanne: Edita, 1982) pg. 212
  184. Bayard, Jean-Pierre La Tradition Cachée des Cathédrales (Paris: Dangles, 1990)
  185. Cailleaux, Denis “Les Deniers des cathedrals” Les Cahiers de Science et Vie: Sciences et techniques des bâtisseurs de cathedrales .(# 69, June 2002) pg 80. Also, “Le financement de la construction aux XlII-XVIeme siècles.” Colloque on 27-29 June 2002 at the Centre culturel Georges Pompidou of Vincennes.
  186. Biget J-L “Recherches sur le financement des cathedrals du Midi au XIIIeme siecle” Cahiers de Fanjeaux #9, Toulouse 1974 (pg 129-164); Chapelot O. Du Projet au Chantier: Maitres d’ouvrage et maitres d’oeuvre au XIVeme siècle Paris: Editions EHESS, 2001.
  187. Cailleaux, Denis La Cathedrale en chantier. La construction du transept de Saint-Etienne de Sens d’apres les comptes de la fabrique 1490-1517. (Paris: Editions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 1999).
  188. Icher, Francois Les Oeuvriers des Cathédrales (Paris: Editions de La Martinière, 1998) pg 50 and pg. 150.
  189. An important exception in France was the Royal Cathedral of Saint-Denis which was officially the King’s own project. We have a lot of information about this specific cathedral because Suger’s But this was one in over 300 sanctuaries built at the time. Another exception was the more active role of the Plantagenet dynasty in England.
  190. Caillaux, Denis: text box “Des siècles de labeur?” in Les Cahiers de Science et Vie: Sciences et techniques des bâtisseurs de cathedrales .(# 69, June 2002) pg 80
  191. Dyer, Christopher: Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England 1200-1520 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) pg 101 italics added
  192. Morris R.: Cathedrals and Abbeys of England and Wales (London, 1979) pg 180
  193. See Lerner, Gerda: The Origins of Patriarchy analyzed earlier in chapter 10 on the repression of the Great Mother in Mesopotamia.
  194. Van Cronenburg, Petra Schwarze Madonnen: Das Mysterium einer Kultfigur (München: Hugendubel Verlag, 1999) pg. 143-144, 146.
  195. Ibid pg 147, 149.
  196. Ibid. pg 149.
  197. Yalom Marilyn A History of the Breast (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1997) pg. 51.
  198. Yalom Marilyn Ibid. pg 51-52.
  199. Hollander, Anne Seeing through Clothes (New York: Viking Press, 1978) pg. 187.
  200. Herlihy Ibid. Pg 20.
  201. Keen, Maurice: The Pelican History of Medieval England (London: Penguin Books, 1969) pg 82.
  202. Dyer Christopher Standards of Living in the later Middle Ages: Social Change in England circa 1200-1520 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) Figure 1 on pg 4. The data includes the estimates of J. Hatcher, E.A. Wrigley and R.S. Schofield assembled by C. Dyer.
  203. There had been an earlier outbreak of the Pest in Wales and Cornwall in 547 AD and in 550 A.D. the pest exploded, later in the eastern part of England. But it had for all practical purposes disappeared in Western Europe after the 8th century; until its reappearance in England on a much larger scale in 1347.
  204. Fourquin, Guy Histoire Économique de l’Occident Médiéval. (Paris: Armand Collin, 1969) pg 175.
  205. Lucas, H. S. “The Great European Famine of 1315-1316” Speculum 15 (1930)
  206. Werner, Alex London Bodies: the changing shape of Londoners from prehistoric times to the present day (London: Museum of London, 1998) pg. 62.
  207. Harvey, Barbara “The crisis of the early fourteenth century” in Campbell, Bruce M.S. Before the Black Death: Studies in the ‘crisis’ of the early Fourteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992) pg 2.
  208. Duby G. Quoted by Fourquin G. Ibid pg 176.
  209. Spufford, Peter Ibid. Pg 93.
  210. This process has even been identified as a general rule much later, called Gresham’s Law.
  211. This logic should not be pushed to an extreme; obviously, during the Middle Ages, gold coins were used more than today, although mostly for relatively rare and expensive exchanges such as dowries, bridal moneys and land purchases. These large single payments would be one of the reasons for which the coins had specifically been hoarded in the first place. One other reason to use gold coins was the so-called Danegeld, the ransoms paid to Vikings and other warriors who took hostages to be exchanged for precious metals.
  212. To be precise, the development of carriage systems for the iron cannon which made them transportable was the innovation that was taken advantage of by Charles VIII.
  213. Davidson, James Dale & Rees-Mogg, William: The Great Reckoning (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1992) pg 74.
  214. “Velocity of money circulation” is the number of times that a particular currency circulates per year. Irving Fisher in the 1930’s discovered the simple but very important relationship between the Quantity of money (Q), the Velocity of circulation (V) and economic activity (E) as follows E = Q x V . In simple terms, the volume of economic activity depends just as much on the quantity of money in circulation as on the speed at which it circulates.
  215. Gresham would make a law of that process: Currencies that people don’t want to hoard circulates faster than the hoardable ones. Significantly, however, he would express it in terms as “bad money displaces the good,” “good” being identified with its saving function rather than its medium of exchange function.
  216. Spufford, Peter Money and its use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) pg 267
  217. Cristóbal Colon: Textos y Documentos Completos (Madrid: ed. C. Varela. 1982) pg 32
  218. Until the middle of the 15th century, royal patronage in the construction of cathedrals in cities was virtually non-existent in France – with the one obvious and notorious exception of the royal cathedral of Saint Denis, built by Abbot Suger in the 11th century who was directly financed by the king.
  219. Cailleaux, Denis La Cathedrale en chantier. La construction du transept de Saint-Etienne de Sens d’apres les comptes de la fabrique 1490-1517. (Paris: Editions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 1999). See also “Les Deniers des cathédrales” Les Cahiers de Science et Vie: Sciences et techniques des bâtisseurs de cathedrales .(# 69, June 2002) pg 80.
  220. Spufford, Peter, Ibid pg 389