Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Monks, monuments and mice

Finally, we got out and about and I have started a new season of “Destination” videos. Last year I did absolutely nothing in this regard, being far too busy with the house. This year, we started early, despite the cold weather (it’s been the longest winter for a long time).

“We”, of course, means me and my ever-loyal wife; but this time we were joined by a friend and his colleague, who had just flown in from New York. Literally, “just” flown in: his flight landed at 11 in the morning, and we met up at one. This was his idea, by the way: a trick to combat jet lag. I hope he made it to work the next morning.

So here it is:

I’m not sure I’m completely happy with the edit: it seems a bit too tight. Then again, some people might appreciate the pace. In my defence, I did have three people in tow, and I didn’t want to ask them to hang around twiddling thumbs while I carefully selected shots and such, so I didn’t have as much footage as I’d normally have had.

Incidentally, I was exposed to an unlikely occupational hazard filming in the monastery church. As I was doing so, I saw something in the corner of my eye, falling, and I distinctly heard it land. It was, in fact, a bat, which appeared to have fallen through a crack in the ceiling. Our friend carefully picked it up in his gloved hand and put it out of the way on a ledge, although it clung very tightly to his thumb.

The story of the Mouse Tower of Bingen is one of those wonderful bits of folklore that make researching history such fun. Archbishop Hatto II did really live, although I haven’t been able to find out if he was as cruel as the legend says (probably not). But according to the full version of the legend, he used the tower to extort tolls from passing ships (it was, in real life, a customs post and watchtower, so that part of the legend is not without foundation), firing on them if the refused. He amassed huge amounts of grain and, when famine came, refused to share them with the peasants. When they complained, he appeared to relent: he told them to go into a barn and he would give them grain. Instead he locked them in and set fire to the barn. As they screamed in pain and terror, he said: “Can you hear the mice squeaking?” And so it was poetic justice that he was killed by hungry mice. Here’s a 16th-century depiction of this grisly affair:

In fact, this story is what is known as a “folk etymology”: the tower was called the “Mouse Tower”, and the legend was invented to fit. In fact, it’s a corruption of a much older word meaning something like “to watch”.

And for those architects who think I got my dates horribly wrong: no, the tower as we see it today is not the original 10th-century version, but a much later replacement.

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