Feb. 7th, 2012

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I spent the day wading through the metalwork from the Kilwinning Abbey dig.  It took longer than I thought - the finds were far too dirty to pass my high standards for cleanliness.  So I had to set to with a toothbrush, and wound up getting myself, my clothes, and the work area really, really dirty.

And what for?  A bunch of nails, probably not very old, a cold chisel, some barbed wire, and a handful of coins.  No - don't get excited: so far the only monarch represented is Queen Elizabeth II, AND they've all been post-decimal. 

I thought at one point that I'd found a lead cloth seal, which could potentially be medieval, but when I cleaned it up nicely, I found it was just a circular piece of sheet lead.  Ah well.  But - I DID get a few fragments of lead window kames, which again had the potential of being medieval, and a lovely piece of what appears to be a fragmentary decorated pewter vessel.

Anyway...  I've finally started reading Richard Fawcett's book Scottish Abbeys & Priories.  It's been on my 'To Read' list for quite literally years, and I've only just got round to reading it.  I've seen Richard Fawcett at conferences a couple of times (he'll be appearing at the forthcoming St Andrews medieval weekend) and he's astonishing to behold.  He is, quite literally, a walking architectural encyclopedia: he'll talk you through a building in such detail that you'll be left going 'Wow!  That's incredible!"  He'll find comparisons between sites on a Europe-wide scale, and you suddenly find yourself being shown nuances and subtleties that you never knew were possible.

I wasn't sure if his book would be up there with his lectures, but it is.  I think it helps that I've now visited a number of sites he mentions in his book: when he makes comparisons between Dunferline and Durham, Holyrood and Lincoln, I can see exactly what he's talking about.  It reminds me just how much I don't know about medieval ecclesiastical architecture: I've sussed out my Romanesque, my Gothic and my Perpendicular, but there's all these little design details that further subdivide these periods into early, middle and late.  Like the different ways in which the capitals are carved - if I could only REMEMBER this stuff, perhaps I'd be an expert, too.

You might think this is just a helpful guide to those interested in Scotland's monastic sites. But it's far more besides: it's a useful read for anyone who's interested in medieval monastic archiecture, blending history, archaeology and architectural history.  I've already read a few non-fiction books since I started my 2012 book-reading quota - this one is the best so far, and it will, I think be hard to beat.  It's accessible, and incredibly informative, and since it's designed for the interested amateur or student, it's not even that expensive. 

No medieval bookshelf should be without it.  In fact, anything written by Richard Fawcett should be seized with glee and read with enthusiasm.

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