From MI6: Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to see Magna Carta before it leaves Houston

Editor’s Note: This document has been intercepted from MI6. We have taken it upon ourselves to charge you with 007’s mission (he’s on summer vacation).

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to visit the famed 800-year-old document now on display at HMNS. This special document (Magna Carta) is on borrowed time… and is soon leaving Houston forever (August 17), after which it returns to its original home at Hereford Cathedral.

The Magna Carta serves as the basis for Common Law as we know it. Besides creating limited royal authority for the first time in history, this document has provided inspiration to millions, including the founding fathers of the United States of America. 

Your task is to gain admittance to the exhibit, explore life in the Middle Ages and then finally, gaze reverently on this rare piece of history. Once your mission is complete, feel free to check out the rest of the museum (we’ve got some pretty neat stuff here).

As 007’s replacement, you must maintain a very low profile for this mission. First go to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and pre-order a ticket for the exhibit (they’ll never see that coming). 

After entering the exhibition, you’ll first pass through a medieval village. At the kiosk, there is an interactive station where you’ll be assigned a medieval profession — you’ll need this to blend in. 

Proceed through the village in your new guise to the area filled with medieval weaponry, including a jousting spear, suit of armor and swords. Take note that should you be intercepted by the enemy, they will be using these against you, so observe the mechanics of them well. 

Proceed into the next chamber. A family tree will greet you here. Take time to peruse the historical players who were instrumental in the creation of the Magna Carta — be on the lookout for King John.

Next you’ll find a quilted tapestry (this doesn’t have much to do with your mission, but it’s still awesome.

Get back on track. The final portion of your quest is nigh. At the rear of the illuminated chamber lies the Magna Carta and a copy of the King’s Writ… observe and marvel for as long as you need to. Remember this special moment, because after August 17 this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Magna Carta in Houston will be gone for good.

This message will now self destruct.

 

Educator How-To: Be your own knight in shining armor with homemade chain maille

When people think of knights, they generally think of armor, too. The plate armor most associated with knights was actually a fairly recent invention. Armor started as quilted shirts and thick leather pieces to cover arms and legs (if you were fortunate enough to afford it!).

Chain maille was a pretty fantastic innovation for the time, but it had its drawbacks, too. It was heavy and cumbersome and only as strong as each individual link. Because the links were made of steel or iron, they rusted quite readily, and those rusty links were the proverbial “chinks in the armor.” They were points of weakness that might allow a sword point or arrow to penetrate. 

The job of armor maintenance was given to young boys that might otherwise be underfoot. To start, the armor was placed in a barrel of sand and sealed up. The boys would then roll the barrels back and forth across the yard and the sand would scour the blood and sweat and rust off the links. Even a well-maintained chain maille shirt would need repairs quite often and the color on even the best of days would be a dull dark gray.

Further innovations led to the plate armor that we know today, but even then, it wasn’t always so shining. Here is a suit of armor that belonged to Henry VIII. 

Youth Ed Armor 2Youth Ed Armor 1 

 

Beautiful? Yes. Well-crafted? Yes. Shining? Not so much.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that body armor like this was a strictly European invention.  Most cultures that engage in warfare have some sort of armor to counteract the weapons. Some of the armor is ceremonial, but more often than not, it is clever and particular to the local environment. 

The Maya and Aztec, for example, wore knee-length jackets of tightly-woven quilted cotton called ichcahuipilli. The jackets were soaked in salt water and then the water was allowed to evaporate. The salt left behind would crystalize between the quilted portions of the jacket, creating small, thick, sturdy plates of protection which were effective against arrows, atlatl darts, obsidian swords and batons.

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They didn’t have cotton in Micronesia, so on the islands of Kiribati, they used what they did have: coconuts. Helmets, leg coverings, shirts and chest protection were made from tightly-woven coconut fibers as protection against another natural resource: sharks (or more accurately, shark teeth). The teeth of the sharks were drilled in the roots and then attached to the base with bits from the veins of the coconut leaf or human hair. The shark-tooth swords were intended to disembowel an enemy or open a major artery so he would bleed out. Yikes!

Want in on all this exciting armor action? You’ve got two options!

Option 1: Bring your crew down to see Magna Carta before it leaves on August 17th.  You have three short weeks! If you want to bring a school group or day care, be sure to contact fieldtrips@hmns.org to get the school rate. You will also want to consider coming on a Friday mornings at around 11.

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Option 2: Can’t make it to us? Then try your hand at making your own armor. Sort of.  Here’s a pretty easy chain maille bracelet you can make at home. It won’t offer you much protection but it will allow you to practice your technique before trying something a little more complicated.

Materials:

-Jump rings or chain maille rings (The bigger they are, the less work for you.)
-The clasp of your choice or a piece of leather or ribbon to tie the bracelet ends together
-2 pairs of jewelers pliers (or needle-nosed pliers if you are in a pinch)
-A tape measure or piece of paper to measure your wrist

Procedure:

  1. Measure how long you want your bracelet to be using a tape measure (or even a piece of paper). The standard size for women is about 7 inches and the standard size for men is about 8.
  2. Open several of your jump rings. To open them, you DON’T want to pull them apart.  Instead you want to twist them open. If the individual rings start off as an “O” shape, you don’t want to make them into a wide-mouthed “C”. Instead, you want to slide the ends away from each other, one towards you and one away from you. Because of the way the rings are made, they naturally take that shape, so that should help you get started. If your rings lay flat when opened (rather than in a twisty shape), you will need to try again! Once you have a pile of open rings, things get a little trickier. You can keep up though. I believe in you.

    Youth Ed Armor 7

  3. The next step is to put four closed rings on an open ring and then slide the open ring back into the closed position. Then repeat this step over and over. You will need probably 10 of these 4-in-1 sets for a 7-inch bracelet.

    Youth Ed Armor 8Youth Ed Armor 9

  4. Once you have the 4-in-1 sets made, you will need to use your pliers to separate out two rings from the four. The set should hang from your pliers as two rings, with one ring in the middle and two more rings at the bottom. You are then going to feed an open ring through the top two rings. Shift your pliers around so that you are now holding onto that open ring.

    Youth Ed Armor 10Youth Ed Armor 11

  5. Using your other set of pliers, pick up two rings on another 4-in-1 set. Loop those two rings through the open ring (effectively creating a new 4-in-1 set) and then close the open ring. You should have created a small chain at this point. Great job!

    Youth Ed Armor 12

  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have 4 or 5 small chains. I am doing 4, but I have pretty small wrists.

    Youth Ed Armor 13

  7. Getting close to being done! You will need to link these small chains in exactly the same way you did the sets. Take two rings from the top of one small chain and put them on an open ring with two rings from the top of another small chain.
  8. Now, repeat step seven with your longer chains!
  9. Finish up by adding a single jump ring to each end. This will let you tie the two ends together, or you can add a clasp to that last ring before you close it up. You’re done!

    Youth Ed Armor 14

Distinguished Lecture: Quilting history with Pam Holland’s replica of the Bayeux Tapestry

Editor’s Note: The Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered textile 230 feet long, visually recounts the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066. Professional quilter Pam Holland of Australia has nearly completed a full-scale quilted replica of the Bayeux Tapestry. In the process of her work and research, she has become one of the leading experts on the original piece, which is on display in Normandy, France. The replica quilted panel on display in the HMNS Magna Carta exhibition is an example of Holland’s work. This blog post is written by Holland.

Last year, I was approached by the Houston Museum of Natural Science to display a sample piece of my “Bayeux Tapestry – To Quilt” project in their upcoming Magna Carta exhibition. I was thrilled, as you can imagine, while a little taken aback at the same time. However, during the Houston Quilt Festival, we met and I agreed they could have it for the duration of the exhibition.

I made the arrangement thinking I wouldn’t get to Houston to see it on display, but an opportunity came my way and I found myself in Houston this past March, only a short while after Magna Carta had opened! Blessings. And my, what an experience it was to see the exhibit.

The entrance to the exhibition is imposing and continues through several distinct spaces. The first room covers really interesting information about the day-to-day lives of people who lived in Medieval England.

Of course, I was drawn to the section with products used to dye fabric and thread. There was so much information I could barely take it all in. I’ve been studying these subjects for years, and here it was, all in one place: dyeing, weaving, daily chores and tasks. I was amazed.

I walked down a corridor and into the next room.

It was beautiful; it looked forever like a cathedral. The light was low. Facsimiles of stained glass windows and the sounds of Gregorian chanting adding to the ambiance.

And there, in the center, was my quilt. I almost burst. I just thought it would be pinned to the wall. Never did I imagine my piece would have its own beautiful display.

Bayeux Magna

The more I looked at it, the more I thought, “It’s fitting.” I have a small inkling now of how the entire quilt will look on display — all 263 feet of it.

My spirit soared. I’m so thrilled. I was absolutely delighted to play a small part in this collection.

Serendipitously, I am making my way back to Houston on Tuesday, July 22, and will give a lecture at HMNS on the Bayeux Tapestry in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:30 p.m. I couldn’t be more excited!

HMNS Distinguished Lecture
The Bayeux Tapestry: The Story-Telling Textile of the Norman Conquest
Pam Holland, Author and Artist
Tuesday, July 22, 6:30 p.m.
Sponsored by the Favrot Fund
The Museum’s Magna Carta programs are sponsored by the British Council.
Click here for advance tickets.

The Magna Carta exhibit is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science until August 17, 2014. Click here for tickets and information.

See below for details of Pam Holland’s quilted replica of the Bayeux Tapestry:

Home is where Hereford is: My trip to Magna Carta’s British stomping grounds

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to go to the United Kingdom and visit the home of the Magna Carta, which is currently on display at HMNS.

IMG_0461 - CopyLocated in the town of Hereford (which may sound familiar because of the Hereford breed of cattle that comes from the same area) this 1217 Magna Carta was discovered in the library of Hereford Cathedral. I was excited to see its chained library and another of Hereford Cathedral’s historical documents, the Mappa Mundi.

The Cathedral is quite large, so it was easy to spot as I entered the city. I had some free time to explore all the chapels and prayer rooms of the Cathedral before I met with the Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, Reverend Chris Pullin. Luckily, he offered to take me on a tour of the Cathedral to see the Mappa Mundi, the chained library and the cloisters.

First stop, Mappa Mundi, the largest medieval map in existence. Created on calf skin, this map references large cities of the late 13th and early 14th centuries, from Jerusalem to Rome to the current home of the Mappa Mundi, Hereford. The map also depicts mythological creatures and biblical events. Although the Mappa Mundi only measures 5 feet 2 inches by 4 feet 4 inches, it contains most of the known world at the time, including Europe, Asia and Northern Africa — an impressive feat for the medieval cartographers. 

Just beyond the doors to the Mappa Mundi lies the chained library, which was the next stop on our tour. I was looking forward to seeing the real one after having seen the mock-up created for our exhibit at HMNS. The library was designed with chains to prevent people from walking away with the handwritten books, which were costly and time-consuming to make.

Although the chained library in Hereford looks like an exhibition, it is still a functional library. Visitors can look at illuminated manuscripts from the 12th century or even more recent additions to their collection.

IMG_0482 - CopyThe last stop on the tour was a visit to the college cloisters. Although these areas are not open to the general public, the education department at the Cathedral uses them for educational tours to show what life was like during Tudor England. Although many of these cloisters have been remodeled, there is a section that shows how the cloisters would have looked in the original wattle and daub. This method involved creating latticework out of reeds and sticks and covering the woven frame with mud. The result is a sturdy wall that was used to build homes like the cloisters in Hereford.

My trip to Hereford was short and sweet, and definitely worth the trek to see the official home of the Magna Carta of 1217 — not to mention the Mappa Mundi and chained library! 

Bummed that Hereford is so far away? Me too, friend. Luckily the Magna Carta is now at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. From stained glass to the chained library, we’ve captured the feeling of Hereford in H-Town. Don’t miss out!

For more information about the Magna Carta or to plan your visit to HMNS, click here.  

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