Thursday, May 13, 2010
HISTORICAL MYTHBUSTERS ARISE! Myth #1: Short People
Last month I showed you a doorway in Haddon Hall that was barely over five feet high, with my friend Margo standing in it to corroborate its height. But I also told you the other doorways there were all about the height of modern doorway. And I promised to show you evidence I found in England that people in medieval times weren't always short.
So this month I'll take you with me to Bakewell in Derbyshire and the parish church where I made my discovery.
It's a commonly held belief people in the Middle Ages were very small, presumably because times were so tough and so many of them starved. Historical records don't offer much, but we know William the Conqueror was probably somewhere around six feet tall. His wife was exceedingly short, though, apparently not much over four feet in height. Of his four sons, William was exceptionally short, and Robert was nicknamed Curthose- a pun referring to both his short legs (short hose) and his foolish habit of giving away everything to his friends, leaving him "short of" hose. Nobody mentions the height of the others, so probably they weren't exceptional.
But what about ordinary people, those that weren't descended from braw Vikings, and who maybe didn't always have everything to eat when they wanted it?
The Bakewell Parish Church is an ancient place of worship, sitting on a steep hill, with an Anglo-Saxon cross in the cemetery dating back to the 8th Century. All along the walks to the main doors are rows of plaques similar to grave markers, but without graves. These date from the mid to late 19th Century, and may memorialize people who died abroad. But it was not until we saw a strange stone sarcophagus that something seemed out of proportion. We knew what they were, having seen Roman sarcophagi in Bath the week before. The hole in the bottom is creepy, but the rest of it is obviously made to contain corpses. And they appear to have been re-used.
I eyed my son, all hefty-bodied 6'2" of him. (He's skinnier now, and would never forgive me if I didn't mention that.)
"Andy," I said, "Go stand by that tall sarcophagus so I can get a picture of it."
"Okay, but I'm not getting in it."
And here I thought the kid would love to do something creepy. What did he do, grow up while I wasn't looking? But anyway, here's the picture.
Now, tell me, why would anyone carve something that big out of stone if there weren't people big enough to need it?