Jan. 26th, 2018

ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
A while back, I was writing up sites that are assumed to have been parchment production places. Some have pretty solid evidence, others are more towards speculation. The only site in Sweden, Alvastra, is a bit inbetween. There is a stone building a kilometre away from the Cistercian Abbey of Alvastra that may be a parchmenters' workshop (previously believed to be a burial chapel, thereof the name Sverker's Chapel). The main evidence seem to be a combination of a stone trough (where hides could have been soaked in lime for de-hairing) in the building and the remains of an oven (for lime-burning?) outside. Not as good evidence as the early Medieval monastery at Portmahomack where they found tools, but you could find alternative explanations to the trough and oven.

One popular booklet about the site states: "During excavations of a grange [monastic farm/workshop] in England, a stone trough was found, similar to the one at Sverker's Chapel. This trough has preliminarily been interpreted as a tank for temporarily keeping fish, before they were to be cooked." And as this is a popular booklet, the author never mentioned the name of that English grange... To add to my irritation, said author died just as I was beginning my PhD, so I couldn't even ask her if she remembered what site it was.

Have you any idea how many monastic sites/sites vaguely related to monasteries have been excavated in the UK up to the year that booklet was published? Quite a few... (understatement). So I did some googling, and it couldn't be Meara, and was probably not Byland. And being not in the UK with easy availability of site reports etc, I more or less gave up finding this mystery site.

And then, the other day, I read an article about food production at monastic sites in England, and the author* wrote "Excavation at Abingdon Abbey's Dean Court grange revealed two stone-lined tanks built within the kitchen in the late fourteenth century, apparently for the temporary storage of fish prior to cooking (Allen at al. 1994, 289-301)." and my eyes popped! This must be my mystery site!

Luckily, the reference was published in the Oxfordshire archaeology journal Oxoniensia, which has all but the most recent volumes online (unfortunately some of the scans are very pale, so they can be a bit hard to read), and I quickly checked it out. So now my question is: was the Sverker Chapel intended for cooking or for (leather-related?) crafts? I need to think a bit more on that one.

*: Unfortunately called "James Bond" and I can't find out any contact information/work place/anything about him, as any search word combination I can come up with also tags the movies and books. Did you know that at least one James Bond movie is filmed in a monastery? (I just wish he used a middle initial or something...)

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