Tag Archives: church

The Chilly Saints

Happy Mamertus’ Day, everybody!

“Mamertus, Pancras, and Gervais were three early Christian saints. Because their feast days, on May 11, 12, and 13, respectively, are traditionally cold, they have come to be known as the Three Chilly Saints.”

On May 14 it’s okay to plant your tomatoes.

https://www.almanac.com/fact/three-chilly-saints-mamertus-pancras-and-gervais-word-definition

Tall & skinny

I may exaggerate slightly, but you get the idea.

The years and centuries toddled on. In the north, a new style of architecture (building design, that is) was replacing the rounded, grounded, low-center-of-gravity basilica which was the Romanesque style of church. The miracle of a basilica had been fitting an enormous circular dome onto a square church without the whole thing collapsing into itself. This new style was entirely different—strictly vertical. If you want to get closer to G-d, you build taller churches, right? You design tall, taller spires that go up and up with pointy arched windows to let in sunlight through stained-glass windows. You keep everything from falling down by attaching more spires—flying buttresses—to relieve the outward pressure and outsmart a building’s biggest enemy: gravity.

So tall and skinny is the new look.

Here’s an excellent article about Romanesque vs Gothic architecture—
https://courses.lumenlearning.com/atd-sac-artappreciation/chapter/reading-romanesque/
https://aleteia.org/2017/10/29/what-is-the-difference-between-a-basilica-and-a-cathedral/
https://study.com/academy/lesson/pendentives-squinches-in-architecture.html

A tip of the hat to the memory of Rolly Ivers, my high school art teacher, who introduced me to church architecture all those years ago.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Alcuin solves the problem

This guy, Alcuin. Not only did he run Charlemagne’s palace school, standardize calligraphy throughout the Holy Roman Empire, invent punctuation (like the question mark), set up the way Latin ought to be pronounced in church—he invented musical notation, too.

It got under Charlemagne’s skin that the Empire’s churches and monasteries sang the same hymns but each church gave a hymn a different tune. Charlemagne was relentless in his campaign to standardize everything. He put Alcuin in charge of making sure every choir sang the same tune. So Alcuin invented musical notation.



Musical notation was meant simply to record the tune of a song. Each note represents a particular pitch, depending on where it sits on a scale. The scale is horizontal lines—it’s a frame of reference. Notes at the top of the scale are sung higher than notes at the bottom of the scale. Thanks to Alcuin, choirs throughout the Empire knew exactly what tune to sing just by looking at the written musical notes.

Here are a couple of quick explanations of how musical notation works:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN41d7Txcq0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFaKNR7eeJk

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Same words, different tune

Charlemagne had a problem. He had an empire full of churches and no two of them sang a hymn the same way. They knew the words, but it was tough to remember the tune for every hymn. Remember, there was often a lot of distance between churches. Communication of words was made easier with the standardization of writing. Tunes you had to memorize. Maybe by the time a monk got from one church to another he might forget the tunes to all the hymns and te Deums and requiems and responsories. So they made ‘em up. One church might sing a hymn to a particular tune:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60euxXvw5aA
And another church would sing the same hymn but with an entirely different tune:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0EN_Hmq534

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.