And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

torsdag 29. august 2013

A poem for Harold Godwinson

Harold Godwinson is among the most maligned rulers of pre-norman England and his role as antagonist was an important element in the Normans' strategy of legitimisation in the years following 1066. In a sense Harold was the mirror-image of Edward the Confessor, whom the Normans revered as the man who had bequeathed the throne of England upon William of Normandy. For while Edward quickly rose to a prominent position in Anglo-Norman hagiography, Harold were to become a traitor, usurper and a son of a man who displayed Judas-like features. In a future blogpost I hope to expand more upon this treatment of Harold Godwinson, but for the time being I merely put up a short poem written with some sympathy for Harold as a ill-treated figure of Anglo-Norman historiography.

Harold Godwinsson

If, in the likeness of a black hound,
you come to revisit the ground
which gave you death and shelter

while the world was ravaged by winter storms,
come quietly, as in your regal form,
not in the helter-skelter

of the living, who do not yield their land,
or the light of day, by a king's hand
and therefore know not peace,

while you, pressed heavenward by the frost,
whom the living proclaimed as lost,
cast your patient shadow upon the binding seas.
- July 27 2013

The Battle of Hastings, Harold to the right with an arrow in his eye
From MS Ee.3.59, Estoire de Seint Edouard le Rei, England, mid-13th century
Courtesy of Cambridge University Library

mandag 26. august 2013

Souls of thy father's house - Doeg the Edomite

I have been the occasion of the death of all the souls of thy father' s house.
- 1 Samuel 22:22

The beheading of priests, MS. Royal 1 D I, English Bible 3rd quarter of the 13th century
Courtesy of British Library

In the Bible and in much of medieval hagiography there are numerous notable deaths by beheading. St. John the Baptist - who to my knowledge is never depicted as anything but a man of whole body - is of course the most famous example. However, the most vividly depicted beheadings in medieval iconography are most frequently found in hagiography. Saint Dionysus, or St. Denys, was for instance beheaded along with his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, and later legends even claimed that he, upon losing his head, picked it up and walked to the place where he wanted to be buried, which naturally is the site of the famous Abbey dedicated to his honour. There are other saints like this, such as St. Nicasius of Rheims who, according to the Legenda Aurea is reported to have continued reciting a psalm after the top of his head was chopped off. Modern scholarship has invented the term cephalophore for saints who carry their own heads, and the motif is said to be of a Celtic origin. The talking head features also in the martyrdom of St. Edmund, whose iconic shout for help, "her, her", became a well-known element of English folklore.

The martyrdom of St. Albans, MS. Royal 2 B VI, St. Albans psalter, c.1246-60
Courtesy of British Library

These saints listed here are all protagonist victims whose death are imitations of Christ's passion at the hands of humanity, martyrs who confess their faith in God as blood-witnesses. In the Old Testament, more specifically in the 1st Book of Samuel, there are also victims who, if not protagonists, at least sides with the protagonist, namely the priests of Israel during the reign of Saul.

The story is recounted in 1. Samuel 21-22, where Saul and David are at war with each other, and Saul accuses the priests for being on the side of David for failing to tell Saul of his escape. For this he commands of Doeg the Edomite: Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. Doeg obeys his orders and fell upon the priests and slew in that day eighty-five men, performing his misdeed with the very sword with which David earlier had beheaded the giant Goliath. After killing 85 priests he turns to the city of Nobe, which was the city of priests, and smote [it] with the edge of his sword, both men and women, children, and sucklings, and ox and ass, and sheep with the edge of the sword (1. Samuel 22:19).

Doeg beheading the priests, MS. Arundel 157, St. Albans prayerbook, c.1240
Courtesy of British Library

It is a chilling tale of tyrannical trespass, adding to Saul's long list of misdeeds, but to my knowledge it is seldom depicted in medieval art (though I may be corrected on this). However, the above image is quite a treasure, originating as it does from the wonderful scriptorium of St. Albans, and - like the introductory illumination - it is an image and a motif well worth sharing and a story well worth reading.

fredag 23. august 2013

Martyrs of Flesh and Desire - the bloodless martyrdoms of Edward the Confessor and Louis IX

In the previous blogpost I compared the iconographies of Edward the Confessor and Louis IX of France through a liturgical text most likely written for the latter and later adapted for the former. There are many similarities between the two saints, and in this blogpost I aim to highlight one of these similarities, namely that they both were formulated as martyrs by some of their hagiographers, despite the fact that they both died on their sick-beds. It was argued that they had undergone the martyrdom of the flesh, instead of the martyrdom of blood.

Stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr, from MS. Stowe 12, Sarum breviary, between 1322-25
Courtesy of British Library

The Greek word martyr means "witness" and in the early Christian history this became the word for the victims of persecutions against Christians, who by dying became witnesses of their faith in Christ. It was at the graves and for the memory of these witnesses that the cult of saints grew into existence, and in its first centuries this cult revered only martyrs aside from the Biblical figures. As Christianity spread across Europe and became the official religion of the Roman Empire, few new martyrs were added to the early sanctorale. There were of course missionaries who met their brutal deaths deep in the pagan territories, but these were on a far lower scale than the mass-executions commissioned by Nero, Decius or Diocletian. The story of the 11 000 virgins massacred at Cologne by the Huns is a later, 10th century, legend and were not part of the pre-Carolingian adoration of saints (1). Similarly, the story of Amphibalus and his 999 companions - the thousand martyrs of Lichfield - was, in the words of David Farmer, "[p]urely mythical", although it was of course accepted as truth in the Middle Ages (2).

The martyrdom of Amphibalus, MS. Royal B 2 VI, St. Albans, c.1246-60
Courtesy of British Library

As Christendom expanded and the Church grew, new categories of saints came into existence. This was before canonisation of saints became a papal prerogative, a process that gained momentum first in the 12th century and culminated in 1234, so the Papal See had little control with whom Christians revered as saints. The mechanics of the sanctorale's expansion in the Early Middle Ages are numerous and can not easily be summed up here, but lay enthusiasm and missionaries' attempt of bolstering their position are probably two of the most important reasons why so many saints found their way into the liturgies. Another key factor was of course that no fixed criteria or procedure for canonisation had yet been established, which eased the process significantly. In 1031, for instance, Olaf Haraldsson of Norway was declared a saint by Bishop Grimkell one year after the king's death at Stiklestad. The reason for this was that Olaf's body was said to be incorrupt and that his nails and hair had grown in the grave, and the cult was promptly established. It should also be noted that with the establishment of monasticism in the 3rd century and its growing popularity, the paradigm of the hermit-saint also came into being and gained significant popularity in various parts of Europe.

With the expansion of the sanctorale and the emergence of new types of saints, the divisions between categories became somewhat blurred. Even though martyrdom was no longer a prerequisite for sainthood, martyrs were the most eminent of non-biblical saints, and for churches profiting from pilgrims it was of course most beneficial to have relics from martyrs, or for kings to claim a martyr's patronage. Occasionally, therefore, some saints were attempted formulated in a manner which would, at least in the minds of the devotees, portray him or her as a martyr. This began already in the early 7th century with Isidore of Seville's Etymologies. Here he states:

Further there are two kinds of martyr: one in manifest passion, the other in hidden valor of the soul. Indeed, many people, suffering the snares of the enemy and resisting all carnal desires, because they sacrificed themselves in their hearts for almighty God, became martyrs even in times of peace - those indeed who, if a period of persecution had occurred, could have been martyrs.
- Book VII, chapter xi, paragraph 4 (3)

Isidore is here reiterating the idea of the bloodless martyrdom which came into being already in Merovingian times, i.e. the 6th century (4). This idea remained in the medieval mindset into the High Middle Ages, and as the Crusades set its imprint in the mindset of the day, a new saint paradigm emerged. This was the ascetic and apostolic king who - unlike the royal saints of earlier times - did not die at the hands of pagans but lived in accordance with Christ's words and worked to defend the Church and Christ by munificence and - if need be - by feat of arms. The new royal saint was a martyr of the flesh, who mortified his own body and spurned the luxury of the court. The ideal was Alexis of Odessa, a legendary knight who left his family and wealth behind to devote himself to Christ (5).

Edward the Confessor receiving the last rites, MS. Ee.3.59, mid-13th century, England
Courtesy of Cambridge University Library

Edward the Confessor, who had died on his sick-bed and through his way of life rather than way of death confessed his faith in Christ (hence "confessor"), was formulated as a martyr of the flesh after he had been canonised in 1161. Aelred of Rievaulx touched upon this idea in a sermon held at Westminster in Edward's honour (6), while the author of the anonymous Le Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei was the first to expressly refer to Edward as a martyr of the flesh (7). While asceticism, contempt of the secular world and a religious simplicity in things had been well-known characteristics of Edward's literature ever since the mid-eleventh-century, it was not until after his canonisation that the martyrdom of the flesh became an element of his hagiography. Earlier writers had gone to great lengths in depicting his death and life as Christ-like, but not even the zealous Osbert of Clare, Edward's first hagiographer, had gone so far. The reason was probably that Osbert wrote for a papal audience, very influenced by the Cistercian ideal and therefore sufficiently apprehensive of the glory of asceticism to appreciate Edward's life as saintly without playing the martyrdom card. After Edward's canonisation, however, the main audience for hagiographers was the English royal court, which naturally did not have any Cistercian pretention toward asceticism, and which probably needed extra conviction in order to really see Edward as a martyr. This is probably also why the anonymous author of the Estoire, written for the court of Henry III, makes a significant point about this.

The death of Edward the Confessor, MS. Ee.3.59, mid-13th century, England
Courtesy of Cambridge University Library

The Estoire was most likely written around the third quarter of the 13th century. Several decades later, during the canonisation proceedings of Louis IX of France and in the early cult, the idea of a bloodless martyrdom again became an important idea. Louis IX had died from dysentery or fever while crusading in North Africa in 1270 - his second failed crusade - and was canonised as a confessor in 1297. The first steps in the canonisation proceedings were taken already in 1272 upon the accession of Pope Gregory X, and from 1282 to 1283 the proceedings were held with interviews and testimonies of people from all walks of life who had in some way witnessed the saintliness of king Louis. Among these was Charles of Anjou, Louis' brother and king of Sicily, who not only advocated the king's sanctity but also that of his mother and his brothers Robert, count of Artois and Alphonse, count of Poitiers. Interestingly, the latter was referred to as martyr by will - martir voluntate - and possibly also martyr by love - martir affectu - providing Paul Edouard Didier Riant interpreted the text correctly (8).

During the proceedings there were also voiced who called Louis himself a martyr. These voices the archbishops of Reims and Sens and the Dominican friar Jean de Châtillon. These clerics saw in Louis' crusade the palm of martyrdom, a sacrifice for which the king had left his wealth, family and homeland to achieve. This was, however, against canon and Jean de Châtillon conceded as much when noting that Louis had not died at the arms of the enemy (9). Consequently, the attempt to grant France another martyr saint failed.

Louis leaving for his crusade
 MS. Royal 16 G VI, Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Central France, after 1332, before 1350)
Courtesy of British Library

However, in the first decades of his cult, as the liturgy for Louis was being established, various camps of devotees emphasised various aspects of his life and death. The Cistercians were as ever preoccupied with asceticism and religious adherence, and paid little heed to the crusades. The Franciscans, however, considered the crusades as the great renunciation of wealth and the service for Christ which both lay at the heart of the Franciscan ideal - at least the Franciscan ideal as it was cultivated at the turn of the 13th century. The failure of Louis' crusades was a form of passion, the christomimetic suffering in which Franciscan liturgists saw a reflection of Saint Francis' stigmata. As Cecilia Gaposchkin puts it: "[C]rusade, which the Franciscans had been preaching throughout the thirteenth century, was in a sense the defining event of Louis' life that, through the suffering brought on by its failure, identified Louis with Christ (10)". This claim was very expressly stated in the Franciscan liturgy for Saint Louis, which was modelled on the liturgy for Saint Francis himself. In the Magnificat antiphon for second Vespers Louis is, in the manner of Francis, called a martyr by desire, and the antiphon closes by stating that "the passion weakened you, but the fervor and zeal for Christ has made you a martyr (11)".

Louis on his death-bed
MS. Royal 16 G VI, Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Central France, after 1332, before 1350)
Courtesy of British Library

These two non-canonical formulations of martyrdom are interesting for several reasons. First of all they illustrate the diversity in how saintliness was understood in the Middle Ages, even after the Papal See had gained control over canonisation proceedings. This is an important reminder that we can not reduce the past to simplified representations of norm. Secondly, we see another way in which the posthumous lives of Edward the Confessor and Louis IX of France share important aspects. Thirdly, however, we also see that despite a certain similarity, the rationale behind their respective formulations as martyrs differ significantly in each case, Edward being presented as a martyr to the English court, Louis being hailed as a martyr by Franciscans. These three aspects all point to the diversity of the medieval mentality and show how things that overlap at one junction may be separated at another.


1) Farmer 2005: 517-18

2) Farmer 2005: 510

3) Barney 2006: 170

4) Graus 1965: 101

5) Klaniczay 2002: 156-65

6) Raciti 2012 vol. 4: 557, lines 129-35

7) Fenster and Wogan-Browne 2008: 69

8) Gaposchkin 2010: 30, n.61

9) Gaposchkin 2010: 31ff

10) Gaposchkin 2010: 171

11) Gaposchkin 2010: 173; Gaposchkin's translation


Barney, Stephen A., Lewis, W. J., Beach, J. A., Berghof, Oliver, The Etymologies of Isi-dore of Seville, Cambridge University press, 2006

Farmer, David, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford, 2004

Fenster, Thelma S and Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn (ed. and transl.),
The Histo-ry of Saint Edward the King by Matthew Paris, ACMRS, Tempe, Arizona, 2008

Gaposchkin, Cecilia M., The Making of Saint Louis: Kingship, Sanctity and Crusade in the Later Middle Ages, Cornell University Press, 2010

Graus, Frantisek,
Volk, Herrscher und Heiliger im Reich der Merowinger, Tschechoslowakische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Prague, 1965

Klaniczay, Gabor, Holy rulers and blessed princesses: dynastic cults in Central Europe, trans-lated by Éva Pálmai, Cambridge University Press, 2002

Raciti, Gaetano, Aelredi Rievallensis Sermones LXXXV-CLXXXII, Corpus Christianorum Continu-atio Medievalis IIC, Brepols Publishers, 2012 Vol. 4

mandag 19. august 2013

O Decus Ecclesie - comparative iconography on Edward the Confessor and Louis IX of France

The comparative study of the saints Edward the Confessor (d.1066, can.1161) and Louis IX of France (d.1270, can.1297) is an immensely rich field, and the reasons for this are many. First of all they both belong to the same saint-type, being both royal saints and confessors, and this in itself requires much in-depth exploration. Secondly, they are both important figures in the histories of their respective countries, both while living and posthumously. Thirdly, they have both, as saints, engendered a significant repertoire of literary and musical works. What is of course most interesting about this subject, is that the two cults influenced each other throughout the later Middle Ages, meaning - unsurprisingly - that their respective devotees were very much aware of the other cult. A detailed survey of the relationship between the cults of Edward and Louis would require a book of its own (and hopefully such a volume will be written in not too long). In this blogpost, however, I aim to focus on one single text which illustrates the interaction between the cults quite nicely, namely an antiphon found in the MS. Codex Coloniensis, Köln Historisches Arkiv, W. kl. 8o 28.

Louis on his sickbed, vowing to go on crusade
MS. Royal 16 G VI Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Central France, after 1332, before 1350)
Courtesy of British Library

Louis' crusade of 1249, leaving Damietta for Egypt
MS. Royal 16 G VI Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Central France, after 1332, before 1350)
Courtesy of British Library

This manuscript is a collection of chants compiled by a 15th-century Carthusian monk, and its content is very varied, comprising "pieces from ecclesiastical office cycles, singular antiphons, responsories, invitatories" and also fragments of hymns, sequences and non-liturgical items. The collection was edited by Guido Maria Dreves and published as volume XXVIII of Analecta Hymnica in 1898, and he identified the collector as a native of Cologne, and the book as a prayerbook (1). Later, Andrew Hughes has claimed that the book was produced sometime around 1480 (2). This book, henceforth referred to as CCW, contains two antiphons for Edward the Confessor, and the latter of these is the focus of today's post. The translation is my own.

O decus ecclesiae,                                      O glory of the church,
Pie rex Anglorum,                                     Pious king of the English,
Exemplar iustitiae,                                    Example of justice,
Lex et norma morum,                               Law and standard of customs,
Post finem angustiae,                               [Who] upon the end of struggle,
Mortis et laborum                                     Death and suffering
Praesta dono gratiae                                Give your gift of goodwill
Regnum beatorum.                                    From the kingdom of the blessed

As we see, Edward the Confessor is hailed for a number of virtues commonly included in his aretalogy, but the interesting part is that this antiphon was originally written for the liturgy of Saint Louis. The first part, from O decus to morum, features in two antiphons from two different offices written at the turn of the 13th century, both of which were used by the Dominicans, either composed for that order or adapted for secular use. Some confusion still remains concerning the details and we don't know which office was written first or by which of the available candidates (3). The antiphon as it is found in CCW, however, is taken verbatim from the office Ludovicus decus, except, of course, that Francorum is substituted with Anglorum.

Louis receiving the Crown of Thorns
MS. Royal 16 G VI Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Central France, after 1332, before 1350)
Courtesy of British Library

Edward receiving a Papal letter with dispensation from going on pilgrimage
MS Ee.3.59, English, 13th century
Courtesy of Cambridge University Library

Naturally, we will never know whether the French liturgists composed these lines themselves, or borrowed them from an antiphon to Edward now lost to us. Personally, however, I find it more likely that it originated in an environment either Dominican or with Dominican influence. The reason for this is that in the 1290s the Dominicans had had a long-standing relationship with the French court of Louis IX and his son Philip III, and upon canonisation Louis quickly made his way into the Dominican sanctorale (4). Edward the Confessor, however, did not enter Dominican calendars until 1267, despite the fact that Edward by then had been revered as a saint for over hundred years and that the Dominicans had been in England since 1221 (5). It was not the Dominicans, but rather the Cistercians who considered Edward to be the ideal king. I therefore find it more plausible that a Dominican antiphon was disseminated to St. Edward's liturgists than the other way around.

Massacre at Sidon, Louis helps burying the dead
MS. Royal 16 G VI Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Central France, after 1332, before 1350)
Courtesy of British Library

That Louis, the younger of the two saints, should influence Edward is quite fascinating, but it also makes good sense. Both were kings, both were revered as confessors, both were addressed as patrons and guardians of their respective realms, and they shared a great number of features. Louis was hailed for his justice in court cases, while Edward was called a just lawmaker, they were both applauded for their religious life and for spurning the world, they both engaged in the building or refurbishing of churches and they both died in sickness. It is therefore unsurprising that liturgists at Westminster - the centre of Edward's cult - should borrow from their French brethren at Saint Denis, the focal point of the cult of Louis (although challenged by the royal chapel in Paris) (6).

Louis ministering to the poor
MS. Royal 16 G VI Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Central France, after 1332, before 1350)
Courtesy of British Library
Edward the Confessor dreaming of the Seven Sleepers turning in their sleep
MS Ee.3.59, English, 13th century
Courtesy of Cambridge University Library

We do not know how this text was transmitted, and although I suggest that it was taken to England from France, we do not find this text in an English source and can therefore not ascertain that it in fact ever reached England. It may, for instance, have been meant for performance at Fécamp in Normandy instead, where Edward had been included in the liturgy since the 12th century, and where there was put up a cycle of stained glass images with scenes from Edward's life around 1308 (7).

Nor can we say with certainty when it was adapted to Edward's liturgy. The text was certainly available when the glass cycle was finished at Fécamp, or it may have been borrowed during the 1390s when Edward's popularity at the royal court reached its highest peak since the mid-13th century (8). It may also have been adapted for another house, or even another country - it is, after all, found in a German prayerbook - and we simply do not know the answer.

Although we can glean little information from the available sources, this case study pinpoints the interesting comparisons that can be made between Edward and Louis, and also the interchange between the cults. In the future, I hope there will be done more on this particular subject, and perhaps we'll even find more information somewhere.

Louis about to be brought to Heaven by angels
MS. Sloane 2433 (c1410-20), Grandes chroniques de France
Courtesy of British Library


1) Dreves, Guido Maria, Analecta Hymnica Vol. XXVIII, Leipzig, 1898: 6-7

2) Hughes, Andrew, "British Rhymed Offices: A Catalogue and Commentary", printed in Rankin, Susan and Hiley, David (eds.), Music in the Medieval English liturgy: Plainsong & Mediaeval Music Society centennial essays, Oxford University Press, 1993: 281

3) Gaposchkin, Cecilia M., The Making of Saint Louis: Kingship, Sanctity and Crusade in the Later Middle Ages, Cornell University Press, 2010: 79-81

4) Gaposchkin 2010: 77

5) Pfaff, Richard W., The Liturgy in Medieval England, Cambridge University Press, 2009: 311-14

6) Jordan,William Chester, A Tale of Two Monasteries, Princeton University Press, 2009: 48-59

7) Harrison, Madeline, "A Life of St. Edward the Confessor in Early Fourteenth-Century Stained Glass at Fecamp, in Normandy", printed in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 26, no. 1/2, 1963: 23-25

8) For an overview of Edward's popularity at the English court, see Hope, Steffen, The King's Three Images, Trondheim, 2012


Dreves, Guido Maria, Analecta Hymnica Vol. XXVIII, Leipzig, 1898

Gaposchkin, Cecilia M., The Making of Saint Louis: Kingship, Sanctity and Crusade in the Later Middle Ages, Cornell University Press, 2010

Harrison, Madeline, "A Life of St. Edward the Confessor in Early Fourteenth-Century Stained Glass at Fecamp, in Normandy", printed in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 26, no. 1/2, 1963

Hope, Steffen, The King's Three Images, Trondheim, 2012

Hughes, Andrew, "British Rhymed Offices: A Catalogue and Commentary", printed in Rankin, Susan and Hiley, David (eds.), Music in the Medieval English liturgy: Plainsong & Mediaeval Music Society centennial essays, Oxford University Press, 1993

Jordan,William Chester, A Tale of Two Monasteries, Princeton University Press, 2009

Pfaff, Richard W., The Liturgy in Medieval England, Cambridge University Press, 2009

onsdag 14. august 2013

Travels in Tuscany, part 3 - The Way to Dusty Death

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death
- The Tragedy of Macbeth, William Shakespeare

View from my room at Casachianti

During my stay in Tuscany I stayed at a wine farm turned bed & breakfast called Casachianti, situated seven kilometers outside of Certaldo and belonging to the village of Fiano. The B&B is a lovely old building with three very spacious rooms and a restaurant downstairs, and I became very pleased with the venue due to its old-fashioned aesthetics and its spaciousness - so pleased, in fact, that I wasn't too bothered by the lack of Internet access. Its distance from the city of Certaldo lent a mild serenity to the surroundings, and when looking out on the landscape I could see the rolling hills stretch far and wide, covered in grapevine or olive trees, and the air was heavily perfumed by the Italic pines and various roadside plants whose names I don't know. I had missed this perfume sorely ever since my last trip to Italy in 2008, and I spent much time leaning out of the window and breathe in the fragrance. Casachianti, in sum, is a very idyllic location and I enjoyed my time there immensely.

However, nothing on earth can be truly paradisical without some kind of antagonistic element. In the Tuscan countryside this antagonistic element is the traffic. There is, sadly, a large grain of truth to the various jokes and stereotypes pertaining to the Italian way of driving, and during my stay at Casachianti I would become well acquainted with this facet of Italian culture. Although Casachianti's remote location was a balm to the mind after a busy, long conference day, it presented a major obstacle when it came to transport. The B&B is, as stated, situated seven kilometers from Certaldo, and due to the recend economic troubles, the local government had recently decided to reduce the bus schedule to a bare minimum, and I never encountered a bus heading for Certaldo as long as I was there. I did have the phone number to the B&B's regular taxi driver, but if I were to use his services both to and from Certaldo I would spend far more money than I was willing to do. The only logical solution was, of course, to hitch-hike.

Had I been a woman I believe I would have hesitated to hitch-hike through the Italian countryside on my own, but being an elderly-looking man I decided to rely on the kindness of strangers for my transport into town. I had high hopes in this cunning plan, since my stereotypical Italian driver is, among other things, a social creature who likes helping other people. This stereotype proved to be largely incorrect, as I had to walk quite a distance before a kind stranger did at last show me some needed mercy from the scorching sun.

The first day I tried this strategy I was picked up by a truly stereotypical Italian. He was a middle-aged man, he had half-long hair with certain dimly grey streaks, a moustache, sun-glasses and a pink shirt carefully unbuttoned at the top, driving a black cabriolet through the Tuscan landscape to the sound of Italian techno music. It was a spectacularly strange experienced and I savoured every minute of it.

The second day I was aided by another kind man, who was not particularly stereotypical but nonetheless looked the way Italians in their sixties often look in mafia movies. Unlike my first patron, this man spoke perfect English and turned out to be a painter with a studio in Certaldo Alto, and it was envigorating to hear him talk about his business. I was invited to drop by whenever I had the time, but although I did set aside an hour for this purpose, I couldn't find his studio despite directions. I hope I get the chance later.

The third day I tried hitch-hiking (which was the fifth day of my stay), I was picked up by a man at my own age, who kindly drove me all the way to Certaldo even though he lived outside the city centre. Like many Italians his English was a bit lacking, yet it was far better than my Italian, although I had some spirited conversations with my taxi driver, despite the fact that his English vocabulary contained little beyond "okay".

While waiting for the bus, I was visited by a beautiful rose chafer

These experiences lay behind my optimism when I left for the train station the last day. I left Casachianti very early in the morning and ventured into the Tuscan hillscape while the sun was still merely a promise. It was somewhat chilly in the air, yet I recall that the swallows were already chirping wildly in the trees, having taken over the watch from the nightly cicadas. On my previous wanderings in the area I had learned a few important lessons - such as never, ever stand at level with the car when you hear someone coming around a bend - and I threaded the narrow road as the bends demanded, lugging my heavy suitcase with me. Eventually, I noticed a change in the light and saw that the sun was rising behind one of the narrow ridges, and although there were several drivers racing through down the road, none of them were willing to take me on board. Consequently, I was forced to walk through the Tuscan morning on my own while the sun climbed steadily into the air, trying my best to dodge the onslaught of Italian drivers who seemed to care little about any signs urging them to slow down for the sake of the children. About one hour and a half later, however, I arrived at the train station.

It was a very mixed experience to walk seven kilometers through the Tuscan hills like that. On the plus side, I got to see the landscape in a rapidly changing light which few people ever see, and it was a very beautiful scenery that surrounded me all the way from the rugged hilltops of Fiano to the vague suburbia of Certaldo. However, it was also a very demanding journey as I time and again had to keep out of the way for motocars seemingly intent on scissoring the roadside bushes, and I had to cross the road several times in order to keep a clear view when the road became particularly winding. I'm very glad I've done it, if for nothing else than that it was a rather unique experience, but it is very evident that that Tuscan countryside is not very suitable for pedestrians. The roads are narrow, the drivers are fast and - or so it appears - very reckless with what they might run over in the process, and you can't abandon the road in the hope of finding a deer track or walk along the vineyards, for the soil is crumbly and there are thorny bushes stretching along the ground which you rarely see before you stand ankle-deep in them. The beauty of Tuscany should therefore, in other words, be chiefly enjoyed in a car when traversing long distances, and the apostles' horses should only be used when exploring some immediate vicinity.