Imagine each day wrapping your hair up in a lovely bun and then slipping a very tiny bible into your chignon? Odd? Well, there was a day when many young Christian women hid their bibles this way! In September 1685, in France, all Bible reading was forbidden and Christian homes were subject to search. French Protestants known as Huguenots were forced to keep their scriptures hidden and to worship in secret. I was privileged to get a little glimpse into the lives of this courageous minority on a recent visit to Provence, France while visiting with ICCP of Aix-en-Provence. While staying there with a gracious 93 year-old Huguenot gentleman, a Monsieur D’Cazenove, we were able to visit the Musée du Désert, where this fascinating and inspiring history is kept alive. And indeed it’s true that Huguenot women hid their very tiny bibles in their chignons!
The Huguenots were the fruit of the tide of the Reformation coming to France in the mid 16th century, and were devoted to reforming the church and the political institutions of their times. Many noble and highly intellectual families joined this movement, but in a majority Catholic country where the Church was all powerful, persecution was inevitable. The most notorious incident occurred on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were in Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henry of Navarre (a Huguenot) to Marguerite de Valois (a Catholic). The young King Charles IX, under the sway of his powerful mother, Catherine d’ Medici, ordered the massacre of all Huguenots. Thousands died in Paris that day and tens of thousands all across France.
When Henry IV, a Huguenot known as Le Bon Roi–the Good King, came to the throne, he passed the Edict of Nantes (1598) granting religious freedom to Huguenots–one of Europe’s first documents to protect this fundamental right. However, 80 years later, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, and Huguenots were harassed out of all educated professions, arrested, tortured and imprisoned, their lands and properties confiscated. Louis XIV issued countless warrants for the arrest of Huguenots who refused to convert to Catholicism. At left are just a few of King Louis’s numerous warrants persecuting Huguenots. In these samples, agents of the King are instructed to destroy all the Huguenot churches, extinguish and suppress their colleges, arrest their midwives, and to obtain their declarations as to whether they will convert or die as Protestants.
It was particularly during this period that Huguenots became very creative in finding ways to worship in secret. As a large majority lived in the Provence region, where there are thick forested areas and many caves and grottoes, the Huguenots often met secretly in caves to worship. A home church or a church meeting in a factory might have a convertible pulpit, that when not in use looked like an ordinary wooden barrel, but converted quite ingeniously into a pulpit by a clever system of levers. Goblets for communion wine could be converted to appear as ordinary looking candlesticks, and picture frames were designed so that bibles could be hidden between the mirror and the back of the frame.
Despite these subterfuges, countless Huguenots were arrested, tortured and put to death. Over 5000 men were forced to slave on the galleys of the King, choosing that grim fate over giving up their faith. Marie Durand was arrested at age 19 and spent 38 years imprisoned because she refused to violate her conscience.
Remarkably, despite these tremendous hardships, the Huguenot people were known as the “people who sing.” Their secret worship services were marked by their joyful singing of the scriptures set to music, particularly the psalms. When I question our host, Monsieur d’Casenove, about this fact, he slips quietly into his centuries-old chateau and reemerges quickly holding an ancient book in his hand. It is a psalmer, a very old book of the psalms set to music. When I ask him how old it is, he turns to the copyright page, and the book had been printed in the 1550s.
The history of the Huguenot people is a rich, varied, and inspiring history of a people who fought, suffered, and died for freedom of conscience. It is a history that has some bearing on American history too. In my next post I will explore what Huguenot history has to do with Paul Revere, George Washington, and the Marquis de Lafayette!
In Part IV of our series BFB Fundamentals, we are exploring the question of whether or not Beautiful Feet Books is classical in nature. As we noted in the previous post, until the definition of classical is clarified, the question can become one of semantics and may lead to simplistic conclusions. Because classical is currently the homeschool paradigm de jour, examining some of its well-accepted tenets should prove helpful as you determine which path is right for you and the students you serve.
What does contemporary classical homeschooling mean?
Classical education as a home schooling model first became popular as the 20th century gave way to the 21st and has remained so since. For those of us who began home schooling in the 1980s, classical education was the new kid on the block. As with any fad, it swept many in its wake and provided some folks with solutions to the failing standards they saw in public education as well as in the more relaxed homeschooling model. Its emphasis on a rigorous academic approach seemed to guarantee the creation of scholars who would take positions of leadership in law, medicine, government and so forth. This would be achieved through implementing the trivium as we noted in our previous post.
Stage One: The Grammar Stage
Modern classical proponents ascribe to the notion that learning takes place in three distinct 4-year phases of a student’s life. While these phases may seem to correlate to the physical and intellectual development of the child, the bland acceptance of them can prove problematic. In the grammar stage of the classical approach (also known as the poll-parrot stage), emphasis is placed on pouring into the student facts (indeed “masses of information”-as one promoter put it) as children are supposedly sponges ready and willing to soak up facts of every kind, and can easily memorize these facts. Theoretically, later on, in the logic stage, these facts will be drawn upon as the child begins to reason. While this approach fits some students well, especially those gifted in memorization, other students, particularly those not gifted with the ability to retain masses of disparate facts, flounder. The focus on pouring information into a young child is based on the notion that in the grammar stage children will unquestioningly accept what is offered.
But is this 4-year cycle based upon a truly classical approach to education? Did the ancients view education through this 12-year paradigm to which modern classical proponents ascribe? As Diane Lockman points out in her helpful article “Classical Education Made Easier“, the ancient Greeks did not separate the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. Students became proficient in reading, reasoning and speaking as they studied the classic texts of Greek literature with an emphasis on copy work and reading and reciting aloud.
An authentic classical Christian education, as developed during the ancient Greco-Roman world and later refined by the Western Europeans and American colonists, involved mastering three fundamental skills so that the student could then explore the deeper meaning of abstract ideas for the purpose of influencing society. Three chronological stages were never part of the original interpretation.
The Charlotte Mason approach asserts that all children, regardless of age, are capable of reason, delight, appreciation of beauty, and that “Education should aim at giving knowledge touched with emotion” (For the Children’s Sake). Pouring information into a child for the mere goal of “filling the brain with facts” defies the essential nature of classical education–the desire to teach children to think. True education cannot ignore the spirit of the child, his basic need to feel connected in some way to the studies at hand. At Beautiful Feet we believe this is done through literature’s emotional connection–the ability to identify with others through the power of stories of literary beauty and historical import. A quick narrative read of historical facts (standard fare in most classical approaches) that offers no literary beauty and no connection to the great questions of the human condition, fails to meet the standards of a truly classical education.
Begin at the beginning: the four-year cycle of history study?
Additionally, the current classical notion that history studies must begin at the beginning (with ancient history in first grade) is another layer of artificial construction upon an already artificial 12-year model. Classical education’s promotion of a four-year cycle of history instruction seems reasonable and the repetition (“what we don’t get the first time around, we’ll be sure to pick up next time!”) provides reassurance. While the four-year cycle approach does provide that revisiting, it doesn’t consider the question of age and developmental appropriateness for subject matter. This concern is dismissed by promoting the notion that while studying ancient history with your first grader, one can just focus on mummification, gladiators, and chariot races; in effect this belies the basic notion that ancient history can be taught to a first grader. The resultant “classical” studies are cultural in nature, not historical. Indeed, Oxford Reference defines history as “the study of past events, particularly in human affairs”–the study of history necessitates the focus on events.
History, taught classically . . .
So how does one approach historical studies with a truly classical view to nurturing in young students reading, reasoning, and speaking skills? In essence, this can be accomplished in much the same way as the ancient Greeks did it–by exposing children to the best age-appropriate literature which is relevant to their times and culture. For a young American child this means the best children’s books on the early saga of America’s great story, much as the Greeks read Homer and studied Plato–the stories of their ancestors, the history of their nation. A child gifted with the knowledge and appreciation of his own historical heritage better understands his or her place in the world and from that foundation can embrace the beauty and the heritage of other nations and cultures.
So, how does this answer our question, “Is Beautiful Feet Books classical?” If one looks at some contemporary notions of classical, then the answer would be, “No.” On the other hand, if one perceives classical as incorporating Socratic reasoning and discussion, engaging with timeless literature (age appropriate), eschewing the use of textbooks and bland narrative works, and involving students in the Great Conversation about the important issues of the human heart, then yes, Beautiful Feet Books is classical.
Dear Readers, Many of you know that in just 2 short weeks, my daughters and I will be flying to Paris to visit our oldest daughter, where she is living with her husband for the year. I will be spending a month there, and in preparation I wanted to share with you the literature we’ve been reading and enjoying! Our theme this year has been “all things French” so we’ve been studying French architecture, language, art, music, literature and cuisine! Found out a lot about the last one and some references too, like this one – https://www.foodora.fr/foodpedia/restaurants/6-meilleurs-burgers-de-lyon/. It has been wonderful!
So the first entry will be on French architecture, as my youngest daughter has just completed a research project on Notre Dame de Paris–one of the premier examples of Gothic architecture in Europe. Of course, Notre Dame plays such an important part in Parisian history and literature, and is famously the setting for the Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. I’ll be posting about that in a day or so.But Notre Dame itself is seated at the very heart of France (all distances from Paris are measured from this central point) and being that it is built upon an island–Île de la Cité, it is beautifully surrounded by the waters of the Seine River. In my view, this makes Notre Dame extraordinarily picturesque, particularly when viewed from a Paris bateaux, as you boat by gazing up at its marvelous gargoyles, flying buttresses, and soaring vaulted arches.
In researching Gothic architecture, we thoroughly enjoyed a number of excellent resources. We were pleased to find a PBS (NOVA) documentary entitled Building the Great Cathedrals. This introduced us to the fascinating fact that many Gothic churches were built using “sacred numbers” from the scriptures. Notre Dame’s dimensions were replicas of the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament.
A long time favorite of our family was dusted off and revisited for this study. Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction by David Macaulay presents a fictionalized account (Chutreaux Cathedral) of the intricate step-by-step process of building one of these heavenly structures. Macaulay’s genius is in his detailed pen and ink drawings that take the reader inside the rustic huts of the master quarryman, the stonecutter, the master sculptor, mortar maker, masons, carpenters and so forth. In this way, readers see the world through the simple lives of those who spent their entire lives working on cathedrals, in many cases not living long enough to see its completion. Additionally, Macaulay studied architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, and this architectural background gives richness to the drawings of the floor plans, wall elevations, and elaborate pulley systems that made these remarkable structures possible. After reading this title, families may want to obtain a copy of the animated PBS film made of this book. Both titles are recommended in my Medieval History Through Literature study.
You Wouldn’t Want to Work on a Medieval Cathedral: A Difficult Job that Never Ends! by Fiona Macdonald offers a humorous and whimsical approach to learning Gothic architecture. This book enables children (and adults) to understand how monotonous and tedious most of the work that took place on the cathedrals really was. Most of the peasants and manual laborers that did the heavy lifting were poorly paid, poorly housed, underfed and overworked. Their legacy is realized in our ability centuries later to visit these structures dedicated to the glory of God.
Studying medieval history using a literature approach offers a rich opportunity to mine some fabulous treasures of classic and historic works. The “terms “Middle Ages” and “medieval” were first used by Italian Renaissance historians “as they sought to separate their own rapidly advancing era from what was often referred to as the “Dark Ages.”1 While no one living during the period generally accepted as the Middle Ages (400-1500), considered they were living in a dark age, in contrast to the rapidly advancing, emerging, and awakening world of the Renaissance, the difference was dramatic. This article will present a brief collection of those works that have status in the Western canon, or have achieved noteworthy awards in the world of children’s literature.
Just as no study of the ancient cultures would be complete without its greatest epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, so too the medieval period opens with the first Anglo-Saxon epic–Beowulf. Based upon a Norse myth set in the year 500 AD, the Geat hero Beowulf saves the Danes from the man-eating monster Grendel. There are many excellent editions for children, but one that can be used across many levels is Michael Morpurgo’s, with its lyrical alliteration and vigorous illustrations by award-winning artist Michael Foreman. For junior high students, Ian Serrallier evokes the sparse beauty of the original in his simple straightforward verse in Beowulf the Warrior. For high school students desiring to do the full epic, Seamus Heaney’s Beowulfincludes the original Anglo-Saxon opposite his translation and is notable for winning the UK’s prestigious Whitbread Book Award.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is based upon the legendary Arthur of the late fifth and early sixth century, who seeks to push back the evil and injustice of corrupt lords and Saxon invaders. Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Holy Grail, Merlin, the beautiful Queen Guinevere and the tragic Lady Elaine all continue to capture modern readers. Lady Elaine’s heart-rending story is immortalized in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 19th century poem, “The Lady of Shalot” and would make a rewarding follow up to the study. A popular edition for middle grade students is by Roger Lancelyn Green–a classicist himself and student of C.S. Lewis. Older students will enjoy Howard Pyle‘s edition of this work, with his beautiful line drawings, or The Boy’s King Arthur; the original Scribner’s edition has incomparable illustrations by N. C. Wyeth.
The Viking discovery in North America around the year 1000 is engagingly told in the children’s classic, Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire. The D’Aulaire’s lavish stone lithographs feature beautiful Norse runes, majestic fjords, and the muscular beauty of Viking life amidst Northern expanses. Leif Erickson’s North American discovery comprises an important component of the movement of Christianity westward as Leif was converted to Christianity in the courts of the Norwegian King Olav Trygvason; he then carried the gospel to Greenland. This well-researched text has been popular since its original publication in 1940.
The Adventures of Robin Hood reflects the enmity that existed in England subsequent to the Norman Conquest (1066) and which was still a factor over a hundred years later, when Richard the Lionheart came to the throne. Robert Fitzhooth, Earl of Huntington, is unjustly stripped of his lands and must resort to the life of an outlaw, under the assumed name of Robin Hood. Robin and his merry men of Sherwood Forest resist the corrupt civil and religious leaders, and set things aright by “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.” Roger Lancelyn Green and Howard Pyle have both written wonderful editions for middle grade students (and up) and Marcia Williams has a lavishly illustrated edition for primary. N.C.Wyeth’s illustrations for the Scribner’s edition by Paul Creswick captures the romance and adventure of this enduring story.
If any historical drama fulfills Ben Franklin’s adage, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God,” it is surely the saga of the Great Charter so beautifully told in James Daugherty’s The Magna Charta. The noble Archbishop Stephen Langton, along with his “Army of God”, present heroes for our day, as these brave men stood up to wicked King John and demanded he restore the ancient laws he had so unabashedly trampled underfoot.
Thirteenth and fourteenth-century English life are the subjects, respectively of Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, which was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1943, and Avi’s Crispin: the Cross of Lead (2003), which won the same distinction sixty years later. Book-ending over half a century of works devoted to Medieval Europe for young readers, these two works echo surprisingly congruent notions of childhood, morality, faith, courage, civil freedoms, and what constitutes rollicking adventure stories for juvenile readers.
Adam Quartermayne, the protagonist of Adam of the Road, is the son of the traveling minstrel, Roger, and together they have some hair-raising and delightful adventures against a colorful swath of medieval life. Crispin and the Cross of Lead, is set just after the Black Death, the plague that wiped out 20 million Europeans between 1347 and 1350. Crispin is orphaned as a result, and in his travels passes through whole villages decimated by the Great Death. A major consequence of the plague was the labor shortage that resulted in the Peasant Revolt of 1381 and contributed to agitation to end the manorial system. Avi incorporates these features into an adventure story, setting the protagonist in the midst of events that furthered the progress of human liberty.
Marguerite De Angeli won the Newbery Medal in 1950 for her novel A Door in the Wall by breaking new ground in highlighting the challenges of physical disabilities. Set during the reign of Edward III (1312-1317), spoiled young Robin is struck by a mysterious disease that leaves him lame–a tragic fate for the son of a knight. After the household servants succumb to the plague, Robin is taken to a monastery by kind Brother Luke, whose gentle lessons impart the courage Robin needs to face his disability. Students who enjoy this read may appreciate Howard Pyle’s beautiful and darkly moving tale, Otto of the Silver Hand, whose protagonist faces physical hardship during the Germanic feudal era of the thirteenth century. Otto’s story is the story of a little boy “who lived and suffered in those dark middle ages, of how he saw both the good and bad of men, and of how, by gentleness and love, and not by strife and hatred, he came at last to stand above other men and to be looked up to by all.”
Geraldine McCaughrean won the Whitbread Award in 1987 for her depiction of a troupe of fourteenth century Mystery Players in A Little Lower Than the Angels. Young Gabriel plays an angel in a traveling play dramatizing gospel stories for the mostly illiterate peasants. Unlike the lighthearted minstrels in Adam of the Road, these traveling players are often run out of town by irate burghers or masters of guilds and have a hard go earning a meager subsistence, keeping out of jail, and traveling unmolested. Young Gabriel’s struggles and moment of awakening provide a satisfying read for middle and upper grade students.
McCaughrean has done an accessible edition of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer suitable for intermediate students. The importance of Chaucer’s tales and their impact on the progress of civil and religious liberty cannot be overstated. Chaucer’s subtle irony exposes the hypocrisy and corruption of the powerful; his humor sheds light upon common human foibles of pride, vanity, greed, and deceit–helping us see ourselves better. Barbara Cohen’s translation combined with the gloriously authentic drawings of Trina Schart Hyman makes a wonderful introduction for all ages. For primary students, Marcia Williams has abridged and edited the tales and enriched them with her whimsical illustrations. Those who enjoy Trina Schart Hyman’s work will appreciate her Caldecott Medal winner, Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges.
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz won the Newbery Medal for 2008, and deservedly so. Schlitz created monologues students could perform that realistically depict the lives of children from the runaway villein, to the village half-wit, to the Lord’s daughter. This is no sanitized depiction, but one full of the pathos of real human voices speaking across the centuries.
The story of the maiden soldier–Joan of Arc, is one of history’s remarkable enigmas, involving as it does, an illiterate peasant girl leading the army of France to victory during the Hundred Year’s War between England and France. Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc is the undisputed classic for high school students. In The Story of Joan of Arc the French artist/author, Maurice Boutet de Monvel, has created a lavish and moving panorama of scenes from a life both tragic and sublime.
Though this brief article cannot do justice to the wealth of literary gems available for this period, students fortunate enough to have the opportunity to read even a handful of these timeless works will find, in the words of Matthew Arnold, “instruction and delight.”
1. Hanawalt, Barbara. A., The Middle Ages: An Illustrated History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. p.7.
As many of you know, I also write for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (TOS) on topics related to history, literature and the Charlotte Mason Approach. For the first time, TOS is offering a free digital link to their magazine, so that you can read the entire issue online! So I am posting this by way of providing the link to you to read my latest article on “Teaching Medieval History Through Literature.” This is great timing for those of you planning to teach this historical period in the fall! Here is the link.
I have two additional postings on Medieval History that might be of interest. For those interested in Shakespeare’s Hamlet I’ve provided some background notes which you may find helpful here. Also, some insight into King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Tablehere. Study of the Medieval period should offer each and every student and teacher/parent a delightful journey into the past full of character lessons, adventure, pathos and insight into our cultural heritage.
Rea Berg is passionate about children's books and has been republishing classic and historical children's literature for the last 30 years through her company Beautiful Feet Books. She also designs guides for teaching elementary and secondary students history using award-winning classic and historic literature. She holds both an undergraduate degree in English from Simmons College, Boston as well as a graduate degree in children's literature.