I was having dinner a week ago with a couple of Australian friends, one who turned out to be a Mediæval historian (as well as all the other things), and I said, “Oh! Check this out!” and pulled Caroline Walker Bynum’s Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond from my bag. “Caroline! Yes, I know her, she’s brilliant!”
Why I’m reading mediæval northern-European history instead of Chinese or Central Asian or Science-Fiction is because of museums. I started about a year ago in the Bode-Museum, which at the time caused anxiousness with all the religious art. Then I was in Bologna and saw a couple of museums—Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna and Museo della Storia di Bologna—which caused me to reappraise what I was seeing here, to have the first glimmerings of conceptualising the Germanic art that was being made at the same time as all the glorious Italian stuff that is so familiar. More museums in Berlin, and a conversation with a friend who somehow teaches history at university, or it’s his field or … anyway, I asked him, “You! History person! What’s some good books on Germanic-ish mediæval history? Preferably written by a woman?” ”Ah!” he replied, “Many, until you get to that last qualifier.”
He proffered one, which I immediately placed on order (this was a few weeks ago), and then talked about Bynum’s, saying it was pretty specific: late-mediæval Christian blood cults in the Brandenburg and Lausitz regions of Germany. Yes, very specific, very meaty. One of those “1/3 of this is footnotes and you will read them because they’re bloody solid!” tomes. She’s the equivalent of Susan Mann or Gail Hershatter, and it’s taking me achingly long to read. What’s even better, is I go to Märkisches Museum, and there are wood carvings of the very type of bloody-splattered blood-gushing Jesus she talks about. Probably going to be one of my books of the year.