The Fell Gard Codices

History Is Always Being Made

December 22nd, 2012

Earlier tonight I watched a copy of an episode of the PBS TV show Nova about the building of medieval cathedrals. Some fascinating material in there, and solid information, though I felt it was jazzed up a bit more than needed (architectural surveyors use LASERS! Also, medieval masons may have incorporated references to the Bible in the geometrical structures of their cathedrals! It’s like the Da Vinci code!). But I learned a couple of things. Which I will note here.

The first is that some people in France are building a castle. This is the castle of Guédelon, which a team of workers is putting together stone by stone using only medieval technology and medieval methods. They’ve even imagined the 13th-century nobleman who commissioned the castle, and planned it according to his likes and dislikes. Construction started in 1995, and is expected to be done in the 2020s. I think it’s an incredible idea, and a great project.

The second was something mentioned in the course of talking about Guédelon. And that is this: the mortar used in medieval construction is incredibly slow-drying. Packed in by the weight of the stones, it may take (according to the show) as much as a thousand years to dry completely. Which means that Guédelon aside, there are castles and cathedrals in Europe built during the Middle Ages which are, in a sense, still in the process of construction, their mortar still damp, not to dry until long after we and everyone we know is dead.

To quote Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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