Saturday, 28 August 2010
Men in mink
I spent part of the day as a steward at the exhibition of vestments and brass rubbings at the Oxford Oratory - which is on until Monday, and well worth going to see if you are within reach of Oxford.
This afternoon I had a learned discussion with Fr Jerome Bertram, C.O., who made virtually all the brass rubbings on display, and Dr Masha Upanskaya, a Russian-born historian and member of the congregation. The subject of our conversation was the origin of the fur used to make almuces in the medieval period. For those of you who do not know, and shame upon you for not knowing, what almuces are, look here and here.
Almuces were grey - that we know from pictorial representation and the use of lead to indicate the fur on some brasses. But what was the fur? Not squirrel, as there was only the red squirrel, and not the grey varmints that have taken over from them - though using them to make almuces would be a very good idea. Arctic hare, a type of stoat, even pole-cat were considered, but rejected by us. Ordinary rabbit was a possibility, but what about the tails, which are long and very un-rabbit like?
It was Masha who came up with what we think is the answer. She based this on the depiction of the shape of the tails which are a feature of the almuce, forming a pendant fringe. She thinks they look like the tails of the European Mink. So we think medieval canons wore mink to keep warm during the Offices.