Freedom, Feuds & Purgatory: The Middle Ages in the North shares new scientific insights about life in the North during the full and late Middle Ages. At that time, Friesland (Tota Frisia) extended from the present province of Friesland to the Weser River in Ostfriesland, Germany. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, the Frisians governed themselves, elected their own judges, spoke their own language and had their own distinctive clothing style. The idiosyncratic, lost world of Friesland between 1067-1567 is brought to life using the Fries Museum’s wide-ranging archaeological collection of medieval objects, supplemented with (inter)national loans. The exhibition runs until 7 May 2023.
The Fries Museum brings this hitherto underexposed chapter of medieval history to life with glittering coin treasures and jewels, beautiful texts and centuries-old relics. Diana Spiekhout, curator of mound culture and the Middle Ages, compiled this exhibition and the accompanying publication. Spiekhout obtained her PhD on the medieval castle landscape from the University of Groningen in 2020. In her thesis, she analysed the development of bishop’s castles and noble houses in relation to the landscape and society in the north-eastern Netherlands between 1050 and 1450. Spiekhout is a much sought-after expert in the field and earlier this year she appeared in the NPO television series Het verhaal van Nederland, in the episode about the early Middle Ages, Friezen en Franken.
Spiekhout continues the research from her dissertation in this exhibition, resulting in an interdisciplinary approach in which archaeology, landscape, anthropology, architecture and history unite in a reconstruction of Friesland of that time. The exhibition addresses questions such as: What did the society and landscape of medieval Friesland look like? What does that tell us about the customs and habits of its inhabitants? To what extent is our current understanding of the Middle Ages correct?
Freedom, Feuds & Purgatory is not only an opportunity for history buffs to indulge themselves, but is also pre-eminently suitable for the whole family. Children aged from 8 to 12 can independently explore the exhibition with a treasure map and discover the lost world of the Middle Ages behind hatches, in drawers and in other ‘hidden’ places: how heavy is a chainmail tunic? How did monks learn to write? And why did Wybe van Grovestins (Skerne Wiebe) shave only half his head? At the end, they can go home with a replica Frisian coin fibula.
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The Fries Museum is working together with ROC Friese Poort in Sneek on a faithful replica of an enormous medieval catapult, a gladde. It will tower above visitors in the corner of the first large hall, not only as an eye-catcher which introduces the story in an impressive way, but also to make the past even more tangible for visitors.
A similar collaborative project resulted in a life-size Viking ship, based on drawings by Danish ship archaeologists, for the We Vikings exhibition.
Visitors to Freedom, Feuds, Purgatory are guided through six thematically arranged rooms to experience the full and late Middle Ages. The exhibition concept and design was developed by Studio Louter and Opera Amsterdam. Ulco Glimmerveen will also make a 3D impression of the medieval landscape of the Frisian town of Rinsumageest. Rinsumageest was the home of one of the few medieval Frisians we know by sight: the young nobleman Eppo, who had his face depicted on his tombstone.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated publication that draws on the latest scientific insights to reconstruct the fascinating world of medieval Friesland. With contributions by: Rolf H. Bremmer Jr, Casper J. van Dijk, Egge Knol, Grytsje Klijnstra, Sonja König, Stefan Krabath, Bert Looper, Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, Han Nijdam, Jeroen Punt, Antje Sander, Mans Schepers, Theo Spek, Diana Spiekhout and Marvin Wiegand.
Vrijheid, Vetes, Vagevuur. De middeleeuwen in het Noorden (Freedom, Feuds, Purgatory. The Middle Ages in the North) is published in cooperation with Noordboek | HL Books and costs € 29.95. The publication is only in Dutch.