Memento Mori and the Black Death

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Medieval Doctors called Beaks survived the Black Death by having antibacterial perfumes in their masks.

Art and the Eyam Plague: 1666

When I was a young student of Art History, I had the most amazing teacher, Ellen Kosmer, who took loved the Middle Ages and cemeteries and cathedrals just like me. She taught a 2 semester course called Death in Art in which we studied the art of the Black Plague. This course was a revelation as we studied not just the evoluving attitudes to death in Europe, seen through the art of the various periods, but also explored the attitudes of Eeastern cultures as well.

I don’t know where Dr. Kosmer found some of her examples of this art—I’m sure she took the photos herself in various museums and gravyards of Europe, but I have not been able to find an example of the Memento Mori she showed to us in her classes. The Memento Mori was a work of art inspired by the experience of the Black Death in the Middle Ages, that shows the fleetingness of life through images of skulls, and portraits of people with skeleton companions, Dances of Death and even rosary beads with Death’s Heads as beads.

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What I can’t find but distinctly remember, were the wedding portraits of the couple faced with their own skeletons that was a tradition in the Flemish countries. This is the art I use as a key to the mystery in Memento Mori.

Recognition of the fleetingness of life was meant to encourage piety, for who knew when Le Morte would strike, and an effort to be kind to one’s fellow humans.

My Time Travel novel, Memento Mori, was inspired by my memories of this art and something I discovered while living in England: the Eyam Plague.

Eyam is a small village in the Peak District that, despite its remote location, fell victim to the London Plague of 1665. Eyam was know for its textiles. Trade with London brought a weaver into town with a dreadful bolt of cloth–infected with bubonic plague!

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Swinging 1960s!

I always love the 1960s having grown up in them. Also the year 1966 is such a perfect mirror for 1666, that I couldn’t help setting the modern story at that time.

Simon is a student at the Royal Academy of Art. He excels, he believes, because his beautiful girlfriend, Monica, models ofor him. When she dumps him for another bloke, Simon’s demons come to the fore. He decides to tempt Fate by wandering in the Pennine Mountains where a gost he has dreamed of all of his life, lures him deeper into the wilderness. He stumbles on a house he’d dreamed of, see the girl he’d always dreamed of, and ends his journey in the haunted village of Whynnesmere, named for the flowers, gorse or whin, that had the most powerful, hypnotic effect on me when I wandered the Bristish Isles in 1997.

It is in Whynnesmere that Simon begins to understand himself and why Monica left him. He also learns the truth behind the haunting of his soul, who he really is, and what the ghost wants from him.

His mentor in Whynnesmere, who owns the cabinet that contains the Memento Mori, is a young woman called Lara. I modeled her on the facsinating 1960s witch, Maxine Samders.

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The threads of a lifetime have been woven together to create Memento Mori, story elements from disparate places in my consciousness fitting together to answer a philisophical riddle. The story took ages to mature—-from short story, to novella to this now, completed, novel legnth book.

My research did not end with these areas. If you want to know how rich this story is, the link to buy is here:

http://amzn.to/1fCJfyW

 

 

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