Every year brings a host of new discoveries, research and issues about the history of the Middle Ages. We alone reported over 150 news stories in 2019. What were the most important news stories for medievalists from the past 12 months? Here is our list.
1. Fire severely damages Notre-Dame Cathedral
Indeed, one of the major news stories from 2019 in general, the fire that struck Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris made international headlines. It started in the early evening of April 15th when a fire broke out in the attic beneath the cathedral’s roof. It is believed the fire was the result of an accident during renovations to the roof.
Over 400 firefighters were dispatched to the scene, and for hours they battled to save the medieval structure, while millions of people watched – many major news networks devoted live coverage to the fire. While the spire and much of the roof collapsed during the fire, the stone walls and towers remained standing.
In the days following the fire, much attention was paid to how the cathedral would be rebuilt, and the money being raised to pay for the reconstruction. Even today officials are uncertain if the remaining parts of the cathedral can still be saved.
2. Painting of Cimabue discovered, sells for €24 million
Earlier this year it was announced that a previously unknown work by the 13th century artist Cimabue had been discovered in France. It has been sold at auction for €24 million – a record for artwork made before the year 1500 – but it now seems the piece will remain in France and be bought by the Louvre. The discovery and sale reveals how valuable art work from the Middle Ages is now becoming.
The most controversial topic within the medieval studies academic community in 2019 was the debate over the term Anglo-Saxon. Often used as term to describe the era of England’s history from the fifth to eleventh centuries, many have also noted its use among racists and neo-Nazis as a code word for white supremacy.
While there have been calls in the past for medievalists to remove the term Anglo-Saxon, the issue sprung to life in September when Mary Rambaran-Olm, one of the leading scholars in the field, called on the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS) to change their name and resigned from the organization. The move kicked off a lot of debate, with Rambaran-Olm and others writing about why the term should no longer be used, while other historians have come to the defence of using the term.
The events also rocked the ISAS, with much of the academic organization’s leadership resigning. The organization did have a vote to change their name, and it is now known as the International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England. It remains to be seen if the society itself will survive over the long term.
Meanwhile, the fate of the term Anglo-Saxon is also unknown. While this debate has been reported in mass media, it has mostly been talked about in academic circles. For those who want to abolish the term, the challenge will be to convince the wider history community and general public that it should be relegated to the dust-bin.
4. The woman artist and her blue teeth
A team of researchers examining the remains of a woman buried around the year 1100 AD have – to their surprise – discovered dozens of tiny bits of blue stone in her teeth. They soon realized that she was likely a painter of illuminated medieval manuscripts.
5. Lewis Chessman piece discovered
The 94th surviving piece of the Lewis Chessmen collection came to light this year. It had been revealed that a family had owned it since 1964, after paying £5 to an antiques dealer. It sold at auction for £735,000.
6. 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci, one of the great Renaissance artists, died in the year 1519. Historians and art lovers have ever since been fascinated by the man and his work, and it is not surprising that on the 500th anniversary of his death there was renewed attention about da Vinci. Several new stories came out this year, including research that he may have had nerve damage in his right hand.
The Louvre also opened a major exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci, bringing in dozens of his works from around the world. There even was some controversy about bringing some of his works from Italy.
7. Finding Viking ships without digging
Archaeologists in Norway announced in March they had discovered the remains of a Viking ship using ground penetrating radar. They then found another one in November. The ability of this technology to uncover items buried hundreds of years ago is being heralded as a great potential improvement for archaeological work.
8. The Bayeux Tapestry was made for Bayeux Cathedral
New evidence has confirmed that the Bayeux Tapestry was designed specifically to fit a specific area of Bayeux’s cathedral.
9. Genetic map of Scotland revealed
The DNA of Scottish people still contains signs of the country’s ancient kingdoms, with many apparently living in the same areas as their ancestors did more than a millennium ago, a study shows.
10. The King on Netflix
The most noteworthy depiction of the Middle Ages in the wider public was the release of the film The King on Netflix. Starring Timothée Chalamet as England’s King Henry V, the movie is loosely based on the Shakespearean plays that tell of the medieval monarch and the Battle of Agincourt. Here is our review.
Top Photo: Marind / Wikimedia Commons