Friday, 18 April 2014
My blode, man,
For thee ran,
It may not be naide;
My body blo and wanne,
Beholde me, I pray thee, with all thine whole reson,
And be not hard-herted for this encheson,
That I for thy saule sake was slaine in good seson,
Begylde and betraide by Judas fals treson;
With sharpe corde sore fretid,
The Jewis me thretid,
They mowid, they grynned, they scornyd me,
Condempnyd to deth, as thou maist se,
Thus nakyd am I nailid, O man, for thy sake!
I love thee, then love me; why slepist thou? awake!
Remembir my tendir hart rote for thee brake,
With panys my vaynys constreyned to crake;
Thus toggid to and fro,
Thus wrappid all in woo,
Whereas neuer man was so,
Entretid thus in most cruell wyse,
Was like a lombe offerd in sacrifice,
Of sharpe thorne I haue worne a crowne on my hede,
So paynyd, so straynyd, so rufull, so red;
Thus bobbid, thus robbid, thus for thy loue ded,
Onfaynyd, not deynyd my blod for to shed;
My fete and handes sore
The sturdy nailis bore;
What might I suffir more
Than I haue don, O man, for thee?
Cum when thou list, wellcum to me,
Off record thy good Lord y haue beyn and schal bee;
Y am thyn, thou artt myne, my brother y call thee;
Thee love I enterly; see whatt ys befall me!
Sore bettyng, sore thretyng, too make thee, man, all free;
Why art thou unkynde?
Why hast nott mee yn mynde?
Cum yett, and thou schalt fynde
Myne endlys mercy and race;
See how a spere my hert dyd race,
Deyr brother, noo other thyng y off thee desyre
But gyve me thyne hert fre to rewarde myn hyre;
Y wrought thee, I bowght thee frome eternal fyre;
Y pray thee aray thee tooward my hyght empyre,
Above the oryent,
Wherof y am regent,
Lord God omnypotent,
Wyth me too reyn yn endlys welthe;
Remember, man, thy sawlys helthe.
My blode, man,
For thee ran,
It may not be naide;
My body blo and wanne,
This is a poem from the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century; it survives in a number of manuscripts (listed here) and is attributed to John Skelton. In one manuscript it is accompanied by music by William Cornysh:
The poem derives much of its power (more when read than when sung) from its urgent, insistent rhythm and patterned rhyme scheme, which bears a close relationship to that of another Passion poem, 'Suddenly afraid'. I've tried to preserve it here:
My blood, man,
For thee ran,
It may not be naide; [denied]
My body pale and wan,
Behold me, I pray thee, with all thy whole reason,
And be not hard-hearted for this encheson, [cause]
That I for thy soul's sake was slain in good season,
Beguiled and betrayed by Judas' false treason;
With sharp cords sore fretid, [stung]
The Jews me thretid, [threatened]
They mocked, they grinned, they scorned me,
Condemned to death, as thou mayst see,
Thus naked am I nailed, O man, for thy sake!
I love thee, then love me; why sleepst thou? awake!
Remember my tender heart-root for thee brake,
With pains my veins constrained to crake;
Thus tugged to and fro,
Thus wrapped all in woe,
As never man was so,
Treated thus in most cruel wise,
Was like a lamb offered in sacrifice,
Of sharp thorn I have worn a crown on my head,
So pained, so strained, so rueful, so red;
Thus bobbed, thus robbed, thus for thy love dead,
Unfeigned, not denying my blod for to shed;
My feet and hands sore
The sturdy nails bore;
What might I suffer more
Than I have done, O man, for thee?
Come when thou wilt, welcome to me,
Of record thy good Lord I have been and shall be;
I am thine, thou art mine, my brother I call thee;
Thee love I entirely; see what is befall me!
Sore beating, sore threating, to make thee, man, all free;
Why art thou unkind?
Why hast not me in mind?
Come yet, and thou shalt find
My endless mercy and grace;
See how a spear my heart did race, [pierce]
Dear brother, no other thing I of thee desire
But give me thine heart free to reward my hire; [labour]
I wrought thee, I bought thee from eternal fire;
I pray thee, array thee toward my high empire,
Above the orient,
Whereof I am regent,
Lord God omnipotent,
With me to reign in endless wealth;
Remember, man, thy soul's health.
My blood, man,
For thee ran,
It may not be naide;
My body pale and wan,
There is, as you might expect, a very large body of Middle English poetry about the Passion of Christ, varying widely in style and approach. Here are some examples I've posted in the past:
'Stond wel moder under rode'
'I sigh when I sing'
'O man unkind, print in thy mind'
'O all women that ever were born'
'Unkind man, give heed to me'
Cold winds and Christ's Passion
Wednesday, 16 April 2014
Judas accepting the silver (BL Egerton 2781 f. 133v)
The Wednesday of Holy Week, sometimes called 'Spy Wednesday', is traditionally considered to be the day on which Judas went to betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver. There's a fascinating Middle English poem about Judas' betrayal, dating to the end of the thirteenth century, which gives us an unusual take on the story: Judas is forced into betraying Christ to regain money which has been stolen from him. The poem tells how Judas is sent by Jesus to buy food for the apostles with thirty pieces of silver, but on the way he meets his sister, who berates him for supporting a false prophet. She lulls him to sleep, and when he wakes up the silver has been stolen. Judas, in despair at having lost the money Jesus entrusted to him, is taken before Pilate, who asks him what it will take to make him betray his lord. Judas says he will never betray Christ, except to regain the thirty pieces of silver. The poem doesn't tell us what happens next - a very pregnant pause - but the scene cuts to Christ and the apostles dining together. Christ tells them that one of them has betrayed him, and Judas denies it. Peter speaks up to deny it too, but Christ tells him "Peter, I know you well; you will forsake me three times before the cock crows".
Here's the poem:
Hit wes upon a Scere Þorsdai þat vre louerd aros,
Ful milde were þe wordes he spec to Judas.
"Judas, þu most to Jurselem vre mete for to bugge;
Thritti platen of seluer þu bere vp othi rugge.
Þu comest fer iþe brode stret, fer iþe brode strete,
Summe of þin cunesmen þer þu meist i-mete."
Imette wið is soster, þe swikele wimon:
"Judas, þu were wurþe me stende the wið ston!
Judas, þu were wurþe me stende the wið ston
For þe false prophete þat þu bileuest upon."
"Be stille, leue soster, þin herte the tobreke;
Wiste min louerd Crist, ful wel he wolde be wreke."
"Judas go þu on þe roc, heie vp on þe ston
Lei þin heued i mi barm, slep þu þe anon."
Sone so Judas of slepe was awake
Thritti platen of seluer from hym weren itake.
He drou hym selue bi þe cop þat al it lauede ablode
Þe Jewes out of Jurselem awenden he were wode.
Foret hym com the riche Jeu þat heiste Pilatus:
"Wolte sulle thi louerd þat hette Jesus?"
"I nul sulle my louerd for nones cunnes eiste,
Bote hit ne for þe þritti platen þat he me bitaiste."
"Wolte sulle þi Lord Crist for enes cunnes golde?"
"Nay, bote hit be for þe platen þat he habben wolde."
In him com vr lord gon as is postles seten at mete:
"Wou sitte ye postles ant wi nule ye ete?
Wou sitte ye postles ant wi nule ye ete?
Ic am iboust ant isold to dai for vre mete."
Vp him stod Judas: "Lord, am I þat frec?
I nas neuer othe stude þer me iþe euel spec."
Vp him stod Peter ant spec wið al his mi3te:
"Þau Pilatus him come wid ten hundred cni3tes,
Þau Pilatus him come wid ten hundred cni3tes
Yet ic wolde, Louerd, for thi loue fi3te."
"Still þu be Peter, wel I þe icnowe.
Þu wolt fursake me þrien ar þe coc him crowe."
Judas accepting the silver (BL Yates Thompson 13, f. 116)
And my translation:
It was upon a Sheer Thursday that our Lord arose,
Full mild were the words he spoke to Judas:
"Judas, you must go to Jerusalem to buy our food;
Take thirty coins of silver to carry on your back.
When you come far into the broad street, far into the broad street,
Some of your kinsmen there you may meet."
He met with his sister, a wicked woman:
"Judas, you deserve to be stoned with stones!
Judas, you deserve to be stoned with stones,
For the false prophet you believe in."
"Be quiet, dear sister - may your heart break!
If my Lord Christ knew of this, he would have his revenge."
"Judas, go to the rock [in Jerusalem], up upon the stone,
Lay your head in my lap; go to sleep now."
As soon as Judas awoke from sleep,
Thirty coins of silver were stolen from him.
He tore his hair until his head was covered in blood;
The Jews of Jerusalem thought that he was mad.
To him came the rich Jew who was called Pilate:
"Will you sell your Lord, who is named Jesus?"
"I will not sell my Lord for any sum of money,
Except for the thirty coins which he entrusted to me."
"Will you sell your Lord Christ for any sum of gold?"
"No, except for the coins which he wants to have."
To him came our Lord as his apostles sat at dinner.
"Why do you sit here, apostles, and why won't you eat?
Why do you sit here, apostles, and why won't you eat?
I am bought and sold today for our meat."
Up stood Judas: "Lord, am I that man?
I was never in the place where evil was spoken of you."
Up stood Peter, and spoke with all his might:
"Though Pilate himself come with ten hundred knights,
Though Pilate himself come with ten hundred knights,
Yet would I, Lord, for your love fight!"
"Be quiet, Peter, well I you know:
You will forsake me three times before the cock crows."
The Last Supper (BL Egerton 2781, f. 134v, as above)
The poem survives in one manuscript, Cambridge, Trinity College B.14.39 (323), a miscellany of texts in English, French and Latin which was made in the second half of the thirteenth century, probably in the West Midlands. It gives us a remarkably sympathetic portrayal of Judas, presenting him as a man torn between Christ and his own family, caught by Pilate's questioning in a difficult and paradoxical position: forced into betraying his lord so as not to betray his lord's trust. This sympathy for Judas is striking, but the poem is not just a literary curiosity; the narrative is swift-moving and dramatic, and poor Judas' confusion, anguish and jittery self-justification come across well. Much of the story is told through dialogue, one of the features which has led to this poem being called 'the first ballad in English' (Child included it in his collection of ballads). Particularly important are the speeches of Christ, who appears as an enigmatic figure, distinguished by his gentleness (he is 'full mild') and by his omniscience: he has three speeches in the poem, each of which reveals that he knows exactly what is happening and is going to happen. He sends Judas out knowing full well that he will meet his hostile relatives, he rebukes Peter, and - after we have left Judas poised at the moment of choosing whether to turn traitor - it is Christ's own words which reveal to the audience what Judas has chosen, when he tells the apostles, with understated irony:
"Why sit you, apostles, and why won't you eat?
I am bought and sold this day for our meat."
Meat in Middle English means 'food', not just 'flesh', and there's an unspoken double meaning here. Literally, Christ has been 'sold for our meat' because Judas was going to buy food with the thirty pieces of silver - but a medieval reader would also remember that this meal is the Last Supper, and therefore the institution of the Eucharist, through which Christ himself becomes 'our meat'.
A note on the first line: 'Sheer Thursday' is a common Middle English alternative name for Maundy Thursday (the MED entry for 'Sheer Thursday' can be found here). Sheer comes from ME skere, a loanword from Old Norse meaning 'innocent, pure, bright, cleansed from sin', and the OED speculates that the name "appears to have been applied to Maundy Thursday with allusion to the purification of the soul by confession, and perhaps also to the practice of washing the altars on that day". To which I would add that Maundy Thursday is also the day on which altars are stripped and on which feet are washed, both practices of ritual cleansing which make things skere. But that's for tomorrow.
The arrest of Christ, from Haddon Hall
Friday, 11 April 2014
Today is the feast of the Anglo-Saxon hermit St Guthlac- in fact it's the 1300th anniversary of his death in 714 - and in his honour I thought I'd post about Crowland, the site of his hermitage and of the monastery which guarded the memory of the saint. I visited Crowland last August and took lots of pictures, so join me today on a ramble around Crowland and its beautiful ruined abbey.
Medieval Crowland is one of my particular interests (not only because of Guthlac), and I was about ten times more excited to visit Crowland than anyone has been in the past century, probably - maybe ever. In the Old English poems about Guthlac, the physical landscape in which he lives is crucial to his story: his retreat from the world to a devil-haunted island in the wild Fens makes him the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of a desert hermit. The Fens are no longer a watery wilderness (whether they're devil-haunted or not I couldn't say), but to see Crowland is to understand the place, and Guthlac, much more clearly. Today the town of Crowland, amid the endlessly flat Lincolnshire landscape, is perfectly ordinary and unassuming.
But even the centre of this ordinary town has something extraordinary to offer:
(Spot the abbey in the distance.) This is Trinity Bridge, which was built - according to the helpful plaque it bears - between 1360 and 1390, replacing an earlier structure. It's a beautiful thing, and unique: a three-sided bridge, which originally provided a crossing over the place where a tributary flowed into the River Welland. The rivers have since been redirected, so the bridge crosses nothing - not even the road. It just stands there, stranded.
It's an entirely decorative bridge, but who could resist scrambling up and down it - if only to get a better view of the town, and admire the worn stonework of the steps?
And when we've walked up the bridge and down the bridge and round the bridge, we encounter something even more interesting:
This is a statue, nearly life-size, which probably represents Christ with an orb in his hands:
It presumably came from the abbey, where (as we'll see in a moment) stone-carving and statues are the chief relics of Crowland's monastic past.
And now we can go to the abbey. You can't miss it; it towers over the town and all the surrounding area.
Isn't that the loveliest ruin you ever saw? On the day I visited I took an accidental circuit around the perimeter of the churchyard (because the main gate wouldn't open, and I was looking for another one), so here's a view from the south-east:
What was originally the north aisle of the monastic church is now the parish church, and the ruined area beside it is part of what would have been the nave:
It's now a forest of finely-carved arches and arcades which lead into empty sky.
The chancel of the monastic church would have extended some way beyond this point, and that's where the relics of St Guthlac and Crowland's other saints would have been kept. The late-medieval chronicle of Crowland - a creative work of historical fiction or a nonsensical forgery, depending on your point of view - claims that in the eleventh century Cnut presented Crowland Abbey with the rich gift of twelve white bear-skins to lay before the altars of the church. This may be complete fantasy, but it's fun to imagine nonetheless. (The chronicle also says Cnut gave the abbot of Crowland a silk suit embroidered with eagles; I find that somewhat harder to picture.)
Bear-skins or no bear-skins, the overwhelming impression produced by the ruins of Crowland is of splendour, confidence and skill.
John Clare, who was born not far away in Helpston, described the ruins thus, in his sonnet 'Crowland Abbey':
In sooth, it seems right awful and sublime
To gaze by moonlight on the shattered pile
Of this old Abbey, struggling still with Time,—
The grey owl hooting from its rents the while;
And tottering stones, as wakened by the sound,
Crumbling from arch and battlement around,
Urging dread echoes from the gloomy aisle,
To sink more silent still. — The very ground
In Desolation’s garment doth appear,
The lapse of age and mystery profound.
We gaze on wrecks of ornamented stones,
On tombs whose sculptures half erased appear,
On rank weeds, battening over human bones,
Till even one’s very shadow seems to fear.
'Struggling still with Time' the abbey may be, but on that August day it was hard to see the slightest shadow of Clare's gloomy Gothic imaginings; even in their present state, the ruins are an impressive monument to Crowland's one-time glory.
Best of all is the spectacular frontage:
This would have been the west front of the church, and it's still adorned with statues of saints and patrons of the abbey, a sculpture-gallery in stone.
Of course I looked for Guthlac, and of course he is shown crushing a devil at his feet:
Also depicted is the most controversial of Crowland's patrons (and my real reason for being interested in the abbey), Waltheof, the Anglo-Danish earl who was executed for rebellion against William the Conqueror in 1076. The monks of Crowland believed this anti-Norman insurgent was a martyr and a saint; they recovered his body from the place where it had been ignominiously buried and brought it to Crowland, where it performed miracles and attracted pilgrims. For a time Waltheof replaced Guthlac as the abbey's chief saint, but this statue - in armour, with his dog - is the only sign of that at Crowland now.
I love the apostle with his hand raised to his chin.
And when the sun comes out, what gorgeous golden stone!
Above what would have been the west door is a depiction of scenes from the life of St Guthlac.
The wonderful thing about this is its parallels with the Guthlac Roll, which tells the story of Guthlac's life in a series of roundels, similar but not identical to the scenes above the church door - for instance, here the scene of Guthlac arriving at Crowland (comparable to this) also shows a sow suckling piglets on the island, a propitious sign borrowed from the Aeneid:
It was heartening to see, as this demonstrates, that the modern incumbents of Crowland Abbey are very proud of St Guthlac; when we move inside we find that the church has a detailed display about him which even includes images and description of the Guthlac Roll. It's wonderful when churches are interested in their medieval saints, even more so when they know about the manuscript treasures their forebears produced - and the Guthlac Roll is truly something to be proud of. I was a little disappointed, though not at all surprised, that the church literature had nothing to say about Waltheof, except a note identifying one of the statues as him. Poor Waltheof! Crowland was the only place in England where he was commemorated, and today he's not even commemorated there. But he is buried there - somewhere - and his dust mingles with its stones. The very building recalls him, because it was built from the stone quarried from a place which (Crowland tradition said) Waltheof gave to the abbey.
What first greets you when you enter the church (and God bless them for being open! If I'd gone all that way and the door was locked I would not have been happy) is the elegant soaring lines of the bell-tower:
The Crowland chronicle tells us (as always, not totally trustworthy but immensely interesting) that the medieval bells of the abbey were named Guthlac, Bartholomew, Beccelm, Turketel, Tatwine, Pega and Bega. Bartholomew was Guthlac's patron, Beccelm his servant, Pega his sister; Turketel was a tenth-century abbot of Crowland, about whose life the chronicle tells the most fantastic (in both senses) narratives - that he fought at the Battle of Brunanburh, for instance, and heroically saved the day despite not actually killing anyone. He was supposedly the chancellor of King Eadred, grandson of Alfred the Great, and best friends with St Dunstan, and he retired from the world to be abbot of Crowland because he was so impressed by the hospitality he received there when he visited the abbey, en route to a battle in the north. From his praise of Crowland (says the chronicle) the abbey gained the nickname 'Crowland the courteous', which it still had in the late Middle Ages. There's a medieval rhyme which describes the characteristics of the different Fenland abbeys thus:
Crowland as courteous as courteous as may be,
Thorney the bane of many a good tree,
Ramsey the rich, and Peterborough the proud,
Sawtry by the way that poor abbey,
Gave more alms than all they.
An alternative version:
Ramsey, the rich of gold and of fee;
Thorney, the flower of the fen country,
Crowland, so courteous of meat and of drink,
Peterborough the proud, as all men do think.
And Sawtrey by the way that old abbey
Gave more alms in one day than all they.
Crowland's reputation for hospitality is supported by William of Malmesbury, who tells us in the twelfth century that 'the place cannot be approached from any side except by water, but in front of the monastery door there is, as it were, a public highway for those sailing by. The result is that there is almost never any lack of guests, on their journeys to and fro.'
Here we see the crest of the abbey, which combines the symbols of St Bartholomew (the knife with which he was flayed) and Guthlac (the flail which Bartholomew gave him to fight off demons).
In the fifteenth century the monks of Crowland used to give away souvenir knives to pilgrims who came to the abbey on St Bartholomew's Day - sadly no longer...
Of course I was looking for Guthlac, and he is much in evidence:
St Bartholomew and knife:
(No sign of poor Waltheof!)
This is the chancel of the present-day church:
It has an impressive wooden screen, with some lovely details.
A Green Man up in the roof:
This is perhaps the abbey's most famous non-Guthlac object, the tomb of one of the masons who built this place:
He is William of Wermington, Master of the Works c.1427, and he holds the tools of his trade, a pair of compasses and a 'T' square.
Otherwise, I was surprised by how many bits of unidentified stone were scattered about the church, as if the ruin hasn't stopped falling down yet (the sign warning of unstable stone on the west front was a bit concerning).
The whole place is a memorial to Guthlac and the monks who built it, but the most interesting post-medieval memorial is this:
'Beneath this place in six foot in length against ye clarks pew lyeth the Body of Mr Abrm Baly he dyed ye 3rd of Jan 1704. Also ye Body of Mary his wid[ow] she Dyed ye 21th of May 1705. Also ye Body of Abrm son of ye s[ai]d Abrm and Mary, he dyed ye 13 Jan 1704, also 2 wch Dyed in there Enfantry. Mans life is like unto a winters day. some brak there fast & so departs away. others stay dinner then departs full fed; the longest age but supps & goes to bed. O Reader then behold & see: as wee are now so must you be. 1706.'
The verse is a quotation from a local poet, a seventeenth-century bishop of nearby Peterborough, but Guthlac and Waltheof would certainly have understood the image of life as a feast on a winter's day. Waltheof, as a native of Northumbria who was educated for a monk (so tradition at Crowland said), could have probably have quoted Bede's famous story about the sparrow flying through the lighted hall:
"O king, it seems to me that this present life of man on earth, in comparison to that time which is unknown to us, is as if you were sitting at table in the winter with your ealdormen and thegns, and a fire was kindled and the hall warmed, while it rained and snowed and stormed outside. A sparrow came in, and swiftly flew through the hall; it came in at one door, and went out at the other. Now during the time when he is inside, he is not touched by the winter's storms; but that is the twinkling of an eye and the briefest of moments, and at once he comes again from winter into winter. In such a way the life of man appears for a brief moment; what comes before, and what will follow after, we do not know."
Guthlac would have recognised the idea, though not the text; he and Bede were the same age, and when Guthlac came to Crowland Bede had not yet written his Historia. In the ruins of Crowland, amid John Clare's 'wrecks of ornamented stones', this reflection on the transience of earthly glory seems not unfitting; but nonetheless Guthlac's fame has lasted 13 centuries, and there is much remaining at Crowland to bear witness to the abbey's glorious past.