Power and splendour at the Canadian Museum of History

Published on June 21 2018

I seriously considered dressing up as a minstrel or a princess, but I managed to restrain myself. Still, I was eager to travel back in time to an era that fascinates almost everyone. Going beyond common preconceptions about the Middle Ages, the exhibition Medieval Europe – Power and Splendour, presented at the Canadian Museum of History, shines a new light on this so-called dark period in human history.

Immediately on entering the first room, you’re enveloped in a warm, serene atmosphere. Are we in a church or a castle? I’m not sure, but it has a meditative feel. The red walls, the vaults and arches, the subdued lighting … and countless things to discover.

The first room

Throughout your visit, you can listen to a very pleasant soundtrack that plays in a loop. I learn the next day that it was composed by Martin Léon, which makes me love this artist even more.

I’m surprised at the number and variety of artifacts on display. There are beautifully decorated jewels, everyday objects, architectural elements from many places across Europe. I’m moved to see a piece of embroidered fabric dating back to the 13th century, and a leather shoe recovered from the bottom of the Thames; impressed to be in front of a bible written on vellum, which looks fresh off the printing press (which hadn’t yet been invented!). So many years separate us from the people who used these items!

Mask of the plague doctor. In the beak, aromatic herbs.

The various galleries present different aspects of life in the age of chivalry: the importance of religion, courtly love, royal power, urban life. Each room is fascinating. I’d like to read everything, there’s so much to see!

At the centre of the exhibition is a huge circular room with projections on the walls and touch screens in the middle.

On the screens, you can choose the stories of people who marked that period in history: Joan of Arc, John Lackland, Louis IX. To illustrate each brief biography, a setting related to the character appears on the huge walls around you. I touch the story of Louis IX (a king who greatly improved conditions in his country), and suddenly the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, with its soaring stained-glass windows, rises up before me. Breathtaking.

The Sainte-Chapelle, as if we were there

The last gallery is dedicated to medieval elements that persist in modern-day society. Architecture (the best example is right in front of me: the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are so neo-Gothic!), heraldry (coats of arms), seigneuries, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—clearly, the legacy of this rich era endures to this day.

And hey, when we get home that night, we watch the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Coincidence? I think not!

Did you say 'Ni' ?

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