25 February 2013


I have been doing a little bit of sewing, but my camera is officially dead now so I can't show you any photos. Instead, I thought I'd mention my other current medieval project: lent.

Several years ago, I did a cursory bit of reading about medieval fast foods and came across this post. Ever since, I've wondered whether I could actually stick doing the same experiment. Some years I've forgotten, other years I've had too much else on my plate. This year I thought I'd finally try it, so asked my husband (the chef of the house) and (to my surprise) he agreed.

So, the challenge is, put simply and in modern terms, vegan plus fish 6 days a week for Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday inclusive. No meat, no eggs, no dairy. Sundays are 'anything goes'. I'm not completely sure whether this is correct - Sunday definitely shouldn't be a fast day, but I'm not sure whether that means only eggs and dairy are ok or whether meat is too.

Of course, in 1370 this would not be the only restriction occurring during lent. There also appears to have been a restriction on the number and timing of meals, as mentioned here (my husband vetoed this - apparently I get too cranky if I skip meals). Other than meals, there were restrictions on behaviour, e.g. sex (as shown in the wonderful Medieval Sex Pentitential Flowchart) and dress (the St. Birgitta cap article in 'Medieval Clothing & Textiles 4' mentions a woman who was rich enough that she had fine veils for every day of the week except Friday, implying that even the weekly fast day was also associated with more sombre dress).

So far it is the start of week three and it is quite hard going. I find, even without restricting the number of meals or the quantity of food per meal, I'm hungry a lot - I typically get hungry 2 hours earlier than normal. I think it is both harder and easier than it would have been in 1370 - easier, of course, because of the wide variety of permissible foods now available (both exotic produce and modern creations) that make the variety so much greater, the lack of any actual shortage of food and the fact that I'm doing this as a personal challenge, not due to fear of social, moral or religious punishment. Harder mainly because it's only my husband and I - I have to avoid non-lenten foods all the time (e.g. the three different kinds of cake someone brought in to work today!) whereas in 1370 no one would think to offer you non-lenten food during lent and (other than those with exemptions) no one would eat it in front of you either!

Anyway, wish me luck for the next four weeks. (I'm already planning my meals for Easter Sunday...)

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