Wednesday, June 4, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #11: The Apprentice's Masterpiece

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #11:
"Teen Life in the Inquisition"

Subject: World History
Age Range: 12-17
Grade Level: 7-12

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"Teen Life in the Inquisition"
an excerpt from the book
A Story of Medieval Spain

by Melanie Little
Published by Annick Press.
Reprinted here with permission.

Editor's Note: This reading contains the forward from the book, placing the story in context, and two poems from the book, "Break" and "The Apprentice's Masterpiece."

Spain has always been a place of stories. In fact, the first great novel, Don Quixote, came from Spain. Medieval Spaniards were enchanted by tales of knights and ladies, and even the kings and nobles loved the rather far-fetched story of their origin from the Greek demigod Hercules. But sometimes this fondness for storytelling had a dangerous side.

In the years leading up to what history books call the Golden Age of Spain, the country was divided into three separate kingdoms: Christian Castile in the center, Christian Aragon to the east, and the small but important Granada, ruled by the Muslim dynasty of the Nazrids, at the southern tip. On October 19, 1469, Prince Fernando, heir to the throne of Aragon, married Princess Isabella, heiress to the throne of Castile. The first stone on the road to the great dream of "One Spain" had been set.

But Spain had already had a Golden Age. From 711 A.D. until the twelfth century, it was known as the kingdom of al-Andalus, ruled by Muslims who had come from Damascus in Syria. The Muslim's holy book, the Koran, taught them to respect other religions -- particularly those of the other "peoples of the book," Christians and Jews. The conquered Christians of al-Andalus were allowed to practice their own faith and speak their own language; so, too, were the Jews, who had been settled in Spain since Roman times. Yet many chose to learn Arabic, and a great society of culture, learning, and coexistence (often called "convivencia") flourished.

For more than hundred years, the Spanish city of Cordoba was the seat of the caliphs -- the supreme leaders of the Muslim world. Because of them, important books on medicine, science, and philosophy were brought to Europe. Cordoba's libraries grew to contain nearly half a million volumes.

With the gradual Christian "reconquest" of Spain, Muslims and Jews were at first treated with similar respect. The three cultures continued to live side by side. Muslims and Jews were still relatively free to practice their faiths. But they were subject to heavy taxes unless they converted to Christianity.

Both Mudejares -- Muslims living under Christian rule -- and Jews were encouraged, and often forced, to remain in sections of cities enclosed by walls and guarded gates. New laws barred them from certain kinds of work, from marrying or employing Christians, from wearing fine clothes, and even from leaving their quarters on Christian holy days. They had to wear badges -- in Castile, yellow for Jews, red for Muslims -- so Christians would know "what" they were and be warned. The Crown and the Church claimed that Jews were constantly trying to convert Christians to Judaism, though there is no historical evidence to support this. In 1483, Jews were expelled from Southern Spain.

Cordoba became a place of fear. It was now home to large populations of conversos: Jews who had converted to Christianity. Many had been forced to convert against their will -- some upon pain of death. Others had chosen to convert for their own reasons, especially to stay in Spain. Spain -- called "Sepharhad" in Ladino, the Spanish-Jewish language -- was their new Jerusalem, their beloved home.

Encouraged by the Church, people began to turn against the coversos. A wild story spread that a coverso girl had poured urine from a window onto an image of Holy Mary in the street below. In supposed retaliation, hundreds of conversos were massacred. After that, the lives of the remaining Spanish conversos got much worse. They faced discrimination in their business and professions, in church, and in their everyday lives. They were often harassed or assaulted in the street.

Increasingly, the remaining Jews, conversos, and Mudejares were considered non-Spanish. The Crown and the Church, once seemingly motivated by a genuine desire to spread the Christian faith, now became obsessed with what they called "pure" Christian blood.

In 1481, the Holy Office of the Spanish Inquisition was born. Its purpose? To ferret out heresy against the Catholic faith. (Heresy is defined as a practice, or even an opinion, that doesn't conform to orthodox teachings.) Its practice? To arrest, torture and punish every Spanish Christian even suspected of such heresy. It seemed the converted Jews had fallen into a trap. Now that they were legally Christians, the Inquisition could put them on trial them for not being Christian enough.

"Edicts of Faith" encouraged people to accuse their friends, relatives, and neighbors of heresy. "Familiars" were chosen from the populace and appointed to spy and report on their fellow citizens. "Transgressions" as simple as refusing to eat pork (a Jewish dietary restriction) could get a person -- and especially a converso -- arrested. Thousands of people were burned at the stake at huge spectacles called "autos-da-fe." And the Office's judges did not usually require proof. Those who held grudges could denounce their enemies for offenses that may never have happened.

So far, the Mudejar subjects had not suffered the same persecutions, perhaps because there were powerful Muslim kingdoms to the south and east that might rush to the Spanish Muslims' defense. But the Inquisition, which confiscated the wealth of its prisoners, had made Castile rich. It could now afford to attack Muslim Grenada, the third kingdom of the Spanish peninsula. It was the final piece of the puzzle in Isabella and Fernando's quest for a unified Christian Spain under their rule. The "Spain of the three cultures" was over. The war of the Holy Reconquest, as they called, held the day.

~ The Apprentice's Masterpiece ~
by Ramon the Scribe (Cordoba, 1485)

Papa wanted to keep the line going.
He had only one child, one son -- what else
should he be but a scribe?

Most families send out their sons
when they're seven or eight.
They live and apprentice with other
men, in other trades.
In exchange, the boy's parents
get a good little sum.

Well, I stayed home. I was glad.
What better teacher is there than Papa?

From every successful apprentice
a master is made.
To prove his mettle, the new master
must create -- well, what else?
A masterpiece.

Papa wouldn't exempt me.
But he found me a book
that he knew I would love.

"The Twelve Works of Hercules."
The stories are full of adventure
and places that I've never been.
Best of all, Enrique de Villena,
the man who composed it,
is Cordoba's very own son.

Each day, after closing the shop,
I copied till Mama insisted I stop
to eat dinner. It was always too soon.
The words seemed to fly from my fingers.
The work wasn't work.

At the end of a year, I had my
masterpiece. Its pages were perfect.
My quill never slipped.

I was so proud.
I couldn't stop turning its pages.
Admiring the slant of my letters,
the fine, feathered strokes
of the ink.

And now it's been almost
two years since I've touched it.

What if I sold "Hercules?"

Here it sits, worthless, under my bed.
Shouldn't it feed my family
instead of just fleas and rats?

~ Break ~
by Amir the Slave (Cordoba, 1485)

You're not supposed to speak up.

For centuries the emirs of Grenada
-- Muslim kings -- kept their bitter mouths shut.

They paid for the privilege of staying
in al-Andalus, the land they once proudly
called theirs.

When the collectors came calling from up in Castile,
the proud southern Muslims paid up.

But every such story must end
with a change.

Our break in the chain was Abu al-Hassan.
When the King's envoy came to him for the tax,
al-Hassan sent him away.

"We do have a mint here," smiled the emir.
"But the weaklings who used it
to make coins for Christians are all dead and gone.
Today our mint makes only
scimitars' blades."

Since then, war's been brewing.
The Christian army --
led by Fernando, the King --
has many new toys and is eager to play.

I bet, were I the emir,
I'd have paid peace's price.

Watch how I'll be with Ramon, in a day:
all too glad to forgive and make nice.

# # #

Copyright 2008 by Melanie Little. Excerpted from the book, THE APPRENTICE'S MASTERPIECE: A Story of Medieval Spain, by Melanie Little. Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781554511174 (library binding). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit Thank you.


Making a Masterpiece

You can get in trouble in school for copying someone else's work, but there was a time when copying *was* school: Children like Ramon learned to read and write by copying from documents or books in their own hand.

Until Gutenberg's clever printing press (invented in 1436) spread throughout Europe, the only way to make a copy of a book was to copy it yourself or hire a scribe like Ramon to copy it for you.

In The Apprentice's Masterpiece, Ramon describes what today we call an "illuminated manuscript," a hand-made book often found in museums:

I've heard of a Bible, in Latin,
taking fifty-three masters a winter
to make it. (It was for the Queen.)

Ten illuminators
just to draw and ink in
the gold-covered letters
beginning each page.

Your assignment is to create an Illuminated Manuscript. Break the class into teams and split up the tasks or each student can produce their own masterpiece. Here are the tasks.

1. Find a passage to use for your Illuminated Manuscript. It should be at least four lines long, but no longer than one paragraph. Take any favorite passage from a favorite book. It doesn't have to be a poem. You can use the lyrics of a song you like or part of a famous speech or even dialogue from a play or movie.

2. Once you settle on a passage, next try to break the lines. One team member should try to write the passage out by hand and see how the lines naturally break.

Have you noticed
just by breaking lines
words take on new meaning?

How does it change the look and sound of the passage when you break the lines differently? If you want, each team member can try their hand at breaking the lines and you can all choose the version you like best.

3. Next, pick one team member to be the scribe, one to be the artist, and one to be the colorist. If you have enough team members, you can have several scribes, artists, and colorists who all work together. At this point you can all discuss the layout of your Illuminated Manuscript, or you can just get started and see what happens.

4. The scribes on your team use their finest handwriting to write out the passage with the line breaks the team liked best. The hardest part is to remember to *leave off the first letter* for the artists to draw ("the gold colored letters/at the beginning of each page"). You can white-out or erase the first letter if you forget, but a true scribe would start over.

5. The artists then add the initial letter -- usually an ornate, jumbo-sized capital. The artists add other touches to the manuscript -- a little symbol at the end, or borders on the sides.

6. Finally, the colorists fill in the initial capital letter and add color to whatever borders or symbols the artists have drawn. Many Illuminated Manuscripts were colored with gold leaf but you may use paints, markers, or crayons.

When you are finished, share your masterpiece with the rest of the class. You might want to ask a team member to read your team's Illuminated Manuscript out loud so people can hear the breaks.

See if you can guess the source of each other's passages: a book, a movie, a song? Note the interesting ways the artists and colorists accomplish their tasks. Does the way each manuscript look affect the meaning of the words?


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from Quiz answers will be revealed during the LIVEbrary chats and made a part of chat transcripts.

1) Multiple Choice: What is a "Mudejar?"

A. A Jew who has converted to Christianity
B. A Christian who has converted to Islam
C. A Muslim living under Christian rule
D. A Christian who harbors unconverted Jews or Muslims

2) Multiple Choice: What is a "converso"?

A. A Muslim who has converted to Christianity
B. A Christian who has converted to Judaism
C. A Jew who has converted to Christianity
D. A Christian who has converted to Islam

3) Multiple Choice: Pick the best definition for the word, "convivencia"

A. A friendly conversation
B. A jail where female prisoners are held
C. A place where girls study to become nuns
D. A time of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians

4) Multiple Choice: What is a "scimitar"?

A. A stringed instrument from India
B. A curved dagger from the Middle East
C. A Spanish dish of rice and meat
D. A Jewish candelabra used during Hanukkah

5) Multiple Choice: What is best definition for The Inquisition?

A. Period in history when the Catholic Church in Spain waged a war against non-believers in its territories
B. Period at the end of the school year when teachers torment their students with exams
B. Period after you get home late when parents or guardians assess your reasons for not being on time
D. This quiz

  • Have you ever been an apprentice? Do you know how to fix your own bike? How did you learn? Do you know how to wash clothes? Who taught you? Have you changed a diaper? Not the most fun thing to learn. Who taught you how to use a computer? Have you been a volunteer apprentice or a paid apprentice?

  • In Medieval times, teens didn't go to school -- they went to work, often as apprentices. How would your life be different if instead of high school teens were assigned to employers and became apprentices? Do you think it would be better to skip high school and go to work instead? What are the benefits and drawbacks of spending your teenage years either way, in school or at work?

  • The Apprentice's Masterpiece is written in verse. How is writing in verse different from standard narrative writing? Does writing in verse make books harder or easier for you to read? How does writing in verse affect the meaning of the words? Do you like this style of story telling? Why or why not?

  • During The Apprentice's Masterpiece, Ramon is tempted to trade his illuminated manuscript of Hercules for food for his starving family. Later in the book he considers giving it to his girlfriend or using it to get a job with the Inquisitors to protect his family from persecution. Do you have something that is very precious to you? What would you trade it for? Are their circumstances where you would give up your precious thing to help someone else?

  • In The Apprentice's Masterpiece, Ramon's life is upset when the family is given Amir, a boy his age, as a slave. Ramon must now share his room, his food, and his parents' attention with this strange kid. How would you feel if your parents or guardians suddenly adopted someone your age and made you share your room and everything else with him or her? What if the newcomer had to obey you and you could make them pick up your room or help you with your homework? How would that make you feel?

Copyright 2008 by Annick Press. All rights reserved. Printed here with permission of the publisher. Please request permission from before posting this lesson plan in any public place. Thank you.

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