Posted by: kljolly | March 9, 2015


Coming to the next beatitude, “blessed are the merciful” (the mildhearted in Old English), Aldred eschews commentary but seems to have some grammatical hangups with the second half of the verse, “because they will receive mercy.”


The first line is fairly straightforward, with Beati misericordes glossed eadge biðon miltheorte, the gnomic “blessed be” being his preference throughout the beatitudes, here applied to the mildhearted.  The next line should be easy since he has glossed quoniam pretty consistently with f’ðon (forðon) and ipsi with ða, or in one case ða ilco, those or those same ones.   But here he has first hiora, the third person genitive plural that he used appropriately in the first beatitude to gloss ipsorum, of them, followed by a vel (or) ða, without any correction mark to indicate hiora as in error, or, as Seumas points out in the comments below, hiora is more likely the possessive adjective “their,” and miltheortnise is properly accusative, so I have emended this post accordingly.

The third one-word line should presents no difficulties, with the accusative object misericordiam but it is glossed as miltheortnise, accusative mildheartedness, declining a feminine weak noun (heorte) in the nominative, subject position.

This grammatical change alternative makes sense given the fourth line, where he glosses the Latin deponent verb consequentur (future tense, [ipsi]they will receive back”) with him gefylges, [mildheartedness] “will follow them.”  At first I thought Aldred’s Latin grammar was terribly sloppy, but then I wondered if he was offering alternative grammatical constructions (NB:  I now realize my Old English grammar is terribly sloppy!).

If you read the Old English straight through without any gloss on ipsi, you have a perfectly sensible meaning:  eadge biðon miltheorte forðon miltheortnise him gefylges, blessed be the mildhearted because mildheartedness will follow after them.

Lacking a gloss to ipsi, and perhaps mindful of the need to offer a translation of the Latin, he gave both the genitive plural from above, possessive hiora and the nominative plural ða to emphasize the flow of mercy.  Or perhaps he put hiora first while thinking ahead to their mildheartedness of those ones, then added the vel ða later.

In any case, the meaning of the verse seemed to overtake the grammatical lesson at this point, and a well-known psalm popped into my head a bit more belatedly than it probably did for Aldred.  Psalm 22 (23): 6, “surely your mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”  Both the Vespasian and Stowe Psalters handy on my shelf show misericordia glossed in West Saxon with mildheortnesse and subsequetur (will follow) with æfterfylgeð.

So it might be natural for Aldred to think of mercy as a divine quality acting upon the blessed person.  I don’t think he is denying that receiving mercy is a consequence of  having been merciful, but chooses to put the emphasis on mercy as the agent of the verb, follow after, and the merciful person as the recipient of that mercy.

In the circumstances in which I have placed Aldred, mercy is a bit hard to put into practice:  late fall of 952, lawless viking warbands devastating the countryside, a cold bleak winter looms.

A group of us were talking about these ideals juxtaposed with the realities of contemporary atrocities like slave trafficking (see International Justice Mission, whose Just Prayer devotional pairs beatitudes with stories of rescued persons, accompanied by some uncomfortably jarring questions).   One person in our discussion raised the intriguing question:  if the opposite of this verse is also true, that the unmerciful will not be shown mercy, does that mean we should not show mercy to unmerciful persons?  But such thinking leads to a chicken-egg conundrum of who will show mercy first.  A later warning in the Sermon on the Mount, following the “Lord’s Prayer,” asserts that those who do not forgive those who sin against them, the Father will not forgive their sins (Matt. 6:14-15).  In Christian theology, it is God who initiates mercy, starting what apparently Jesus hoped in this beatitude was a chain reaction of mercifulness and forgiveness.

Still, I doubt Aldred or his community found it easy to put that kind of “mildheartedness” into practice with the vikings, but apparently they tried.

Posted by: kljolly | February 16, 2015

hungering and thirsting

Samantha1mo2Hard to believe two months since my last post, but the holidays, birth of our second grandchild, and the start of a new semester have kept me busy.

Yet I have continued my slow paleographic way through Aldred’s gloss to the Beatitudes in the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Another mystery presented itself after the added “nunc.”

Beati qui esuriunt et sitiunt iustitiam quoniam ipsi saturabuntur

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness because they will be filled.

which Aldred glossed:

eadge biðon ða ðe hyncgrað 7 ðyrstas soðfæstnisse forðon ða ilco gefylled biðon ł geriorded

and then added in the margin:

eadge biðon ða ðe ðyrstas 7 hyncgras æfter soðfæstnisse f[or]ðon ða gefylled biðon in ece lif


Three things caught my attention:  the erasure of a letter near the beginning of the second line; the -að ending to hyncgrað rather than -as in the other verbs; and the reversal of hunger and thirst to thirst and hunger in the marginal commentary.

Zooming into that second line (thank you, British Library online digital images!) and playing with my calligraphy pen led me to conclude that Aldred had made an insular “x” above and slightly after the Latin “et” that begins the line.


No other letter could have left behind the lower left extender flourish plus the upper right extender.  Note the original scribe’s letter “x” in the canon numbers to the left.  Although insular majuscule, it is not that different from a presumed insular minuscule “x” that Aldred might do (I have not found a letter “x” from him yet, since the letter does not occur is not common in Old English, but see Seumus’ comment below for examples).

The question is why he initially thought to add an “x” to the Latin text, since it is unlikely to be an Old English word.  I can only guess, in my fictional world, that he expected to read a word beginning “exs…” and not “et sitiunt,” but exsitiunt is not a Latin word unless he wished to coin it for thirst, and his erasure indicates he changed his mind about the need for “x” once he looked at it properly. But perhaps he was getting ahead in the verse to saturabuntur and wanting it to be exsaturabuntur, to be overfilled (which he subsequently double-glossed, see below).  Either it is a case of line/eye skip or he was thinking of the shorter version in Luke where there is no thirsting, just hungering and being filled.

So, he could have erased the “x,” started over with the “7” ond abbreviation before it, then glossed sitiunt with ðyrstas and went on.  I should note that the other side of the manuscript (34v) has a wet looking blotch suspiciously close to the erased “x” on the recto, but slightly below.  I can’t tell if the two are related, unless his wet knife scraping on 34r caused ink bleeding on the verso (although the ink at the 34v blotch and on facing page 35r do not look smeared).


Second is the -að ending to hyncgrað where he normally would have -as for third person plural:  with gemænas, those who mourn above, ðyrstas, those who thirst in the next line, and  more remarkably ðyrstas 7 hyncgras to the right in the marginal translation commentary.

Solving this anomalous -að took some sleuthing among the grammatical arguments surrounding Aldred’s Northumbrian dialect and its import for later changes in Middle English.  The short answer is that Northumbrians began using -as instead of -að, perhaps due to Norse influence and/or ease of pronunciation, but also involving the syntax of a plural noun subject plus a relative clause. Marcelle Cole discusses these possibilities in Old Northumbrian Verbal Morphosyntax and the (Northern) Subject Rule (John Benjamins, 2014), fragments of which are visible in GoogleBooks (cf. pp. 26-33), but I await the full volume from InterLibraryLoan.

That Aldred slipped into the older or Southumbrian spelling could mean that his is a transitional phase and that the pronunciation was for him the same either way.  The possibility I explore in my fictional narrative is that he has the MacRegol Gospels there, in which the Mercian Farman has already added his Old English gloss to Matthew, and he had written the non-Northumbrian hyngriþ.

I have placed Owun, Farman’s Northumbrian companion from Harewood, at Chester-le-Street.  Owun is the scribe who continued the gloss to the other three MacRegol Gospels by copying Aldred’s gloss from the Lindisfarne Gospels.  So I have Owun bringing the MacRegol Gospels to Chester-le-Street after Farman did Matthew.  Aldred doesn’t copy Farman’s work, but it certainly might influence him on occasion, as it suits me.

This brings the third item, the marginal comment where Aldred translates the beatitude freely into Old English.

eadge biðon ða ðe ðyrstas 7 hyncgras æfter soðfæstnisse f[or]ðon ða gefylled biðon in ece lif

Two things vary here.  Aldred puts thirst first, perhaps because he wrote the comment while reflecting on that initially neglected line where he erased the “x.”  Or maybe he wanted to revert to his Northumbrian verb endings, -as.

But he also adds the notion that the filling of that thirst and hunger will be in eternal life (ece lif).  This addition is similar to his spiritual interpretations in the other beatitudes (explored by Cavill in my nunc post).  In this case it also builds on his double gloss in the main text of saturabuntur with gefylled biðon ł geriorded.  Not just filled, but feasted, or filled to overflowing, seems to be his intention.

I have set this glossing work on a cold fall day after a bitter summer and autumn of viking attacks (952).  The beatitudes are assigned to All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and Aldred is supposed to preach on the text.  For that, I may borrow from Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies (1:  XXXVI), following Derek Olsen‘s explication in his forthcoming Reading Matthew with Monks:  Liturgical Interpretation in Anglo-Saxon England (Michael Glazier Books at Liturgical Press).  But that is a different post.



Posted by: kljolly | December 15, 2014


952 has to be the worst year to try and figure out what is happening in Northumbria.

We know some kind of major raid or battle took place involving Scots, Britons (Cumbrians?), and English (Northumbrians?  Southumbrians?) against “foreigners” (as the Annals of Ulster put it), presumably some variety of vikings (York-based?).

Then StrathclydeClarksonthere are the names:  which Erik, is there more than one, not to mention the  Olafs (Anlaf).  And what role did the Wessex King Eadred play?  Where did the battle take place, that the alliance lost and the viking foreigners won?

I was pulling my hair out as I perused the secondary sources that have tried to disentangle this mess. Then I got Tim Clarkson’s latest, Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age. There on pp. 113-16 I found a succinct run down of the possible scenarios for 952.

So Tim, this summary from the vantage point of Aldred at Chester-le-Street, writing mid-winter 952-53, is for you to judge how well I capture the chaos:

To the south at York, one viking drove out another, Erik Bloodaxe Haraldson replacing Anlaf (Cuaran) Sigtryggsson, whose brief tenure in York had apparently been acceptable to the Wessex King Eadred but less so to the other factions competing for control in Northumbria. It was Olaf’s uncontrolled followers who had ravaged Crayke when Aldred was priest there two years ago, causing him to flee to Chester-le-Street, only to meet the opposing forces from the north, Malcolm King of Scots raiding Northumbria as far as the River Tees (949-950). Now two years later, the fickle York Anglo-Danes had accepted Erik over Anlaf, which undoubtedly annoyed Wessex King Eadred enough to intervene in Northumbria, yet again. Word had it that he had taken Archbishop Wulfstan of York captive for his part in the overthrow. Meanwhile, a coalition of Scots King Malcolm, Strathclyde King Dyfnwal, and Oswulf lord of Bamburgh came south to oppose Erik for control of Northumbria. The armies met head on just north of Chester-le-Street, so the victorious York viking forces pillaged their region both coming and going on the main road on which their community was strategically located.
All this turmoil left Chester-le-Street, grateful recipients of Wessex royal largesse, an island amidst factions warring for control of Northumbria, with a viking king at York, the Scots and Cumbrians trying to ward off further incursions from overseas and local vikings, and the English West Saxons prepared to make Northumbria their own, if they could first get past a viking-controlled York.

The last bit here hints at events in 954, but Aldred is no prophet seeing the future, so I will have to catch him up later.  For now, I am just trying to get the story straight in my head, and edit this later to make it more novelistic.

Posted by: kljolly | November 4, 2014


I have turned to an examination of Aldred’s gloss to the Matthew 5-7 Sermon on the Mount in the Lindisfarne Gospels, specifically the Beatitudes.  My attention was drawn to this passage because of a paper, soon to be published, by Paul Cavill examining the marginal commentary by Aldred.

Shameless plug:  Cavill’s essay, “Maxims in Aldred’s Marginalia to the Lindisfarne Gospels,” will appear in a forthcoming volume resulting from the Workshop on the Old English Gloss to the Lindisfarne Gospels at the University of Westminster, in London April 2012,  edited by the organizers Sara Pons-Sanz and Julia Fernández Cuesta, The Old English Gloss to the Lindisfarne Gospels:  Language, Author and Context, in which I also have an essay.

And yes, this is the same Paul Cavill at Nottingham who wrote so expertly on the Battle of Brunanburh in the Casebook edited by Michael Livingston and that stirred up so much “interest” on my blog.  Apparently he also has a forthcoming book on the battle which should prove to be equally instructive, especially if he tackles some of the keenness with which so many pursue their pet theories, like Michael Wood (as I reported at Leeds 2013).

But my interest here is in Aldred’s gloss on the Beatitudes, because, for some reason, he chose to write some marginal comments expounding on them that Cavill has analyzed in the context of maxims.  I will not steal his thunder by reproducing his arguments but do want to focus on one paleographic mystery, among several that I am pursuing on this page of the Lindisfarne Gospels (fol. 34r), right column.


Beside line 7, the third beatitude for those who mourn (reversed here from other versions where mourning is the second beatitude), someone has emended the Latin text with the addition of “nunc” in the right margin.  Those who mourn now is in the Luke version and occurs in the West Saxon Gospels of Matthew 5 as well as in other versions of the Vulgate from the mid-eighth century.

The “nunc” is glossed by Aldred (“nu”) but thought more likely to be added before him  than by him, although I would like to here support that remote possibility on paleographic grounds.

Whoever added the “nunc” did so in imitation of the half-uncial style of the main Latin Vulgate text but using a smaller nib and a lighter brown ink similar to that used by Aldred in his gloss (at least in the high resolution photographs put up by the British Library, it looks very close).

jollyLGNunc003However, what drew my attention when I artlessly attempted a calligraphic copy of the text is the nib angle.  Majuscule and this half-uncial here use a relatively flat (90°) nib.  This means a down-stroke vertical minim gives you the width of the nib.

But when you look at the added “nunc” it is clear from the “c” in particular that the scribe has his nib at closer to 45° or so, similar to the insular minuscule of the Old English gloss.

And, if you turn to Aldred’s attempt at insular majuscule in Durham A.IV.19, fol. 66r, you will see that he uses a similarly angled (and not quite wide enough) nib to do this less familiar style than he is used to, eventually giving it up and returning to his minuscule on subsequent pages.

So, I would like to suggest that Aldred did add the “nunc” as part of the same writing stint as his gloss and marginal comments.  You will need to wait for Cavill’s essay to appear to find out why this is significant, while I turn to other aspects of Aldred’s commentary on the Beatitudes.

In related news:

  • DigiPal has added Durham A.IV.19 pages in a collection of Durham Cathedral Library manuscript images.
  • Newly published by Henry Bradshaw Society and of inestimable use:  Jesse D. Billet, The Divine Office in Anglo-Saxon England, 596-c. 1000 (Woodbridge:  Boydell, 2014).



Posted by: kljolly | October 30, 2014

cow vs ewe

The long gap in posts reflects the term-time slow down, exacerbated by a higher than usual number of evaluative tasks (dissertations, personnel, awards, conference abstracts, etc).

However, I have been reading several interesting books simultaneously that have caused me to rethink some aspects of my storyline.  In this post, my reflections on material culture are stimulated by reading Matilda Holmes, Animals in Saxon & Scandinavian England: Backbones of Economy and Society (Sidestone Press, 2014 available as an ebook).  Someone else posted or recommended it (thanks whoever it was!).

HolmesbookShe compiles all of the available data on animal bones in early, middle, and late Saxon England to develop a picture of what kinds of domestic animals were in use and for what, where and when.  What struck me was the higher incidence of milk from sheep rather than cows (see pp. 70-75).  Apparently cows are expensive to over-winter, so most folks did not develop dairy products from cows, although there is some evidence for small herds or small dairy farms.

This affects my story because I had written a scene where Aldred investigates a cow stolen from a widow by some viking boys.  I had imagined the widow as depending on this cow for milk and cheese to sell, along with some chickens for eggs.  But it is unlikely a poor widow would overwinter a milk cow due to the expense.  She might have an ewe, though, for both milk/cheese and wool.  So I have rewritten it accordingly.

Bede's World sheep

Bede’s World sheep

Bishop Ælfsige had called him aside after chapter meeting. “Aldred, I need to send you out into the fields to solve a dispute. You have experience in the vills, and people trust you.”

Aldred and Ælfsige had been friends since their novice days, despite serving in different churches since then. Aldred knew enough of his friend, now his superior, to not respond to the compliment, even to show appropriate humility. He waited for the details.

“Wihtred the Reeve came this morning with a tale of night walkers taking a ewe sheep right from the byre of widow Osgyth, even as she slept in the next room. He claims when this happened last year to old man Eata, the sheep was found on the lands of the Scandinavian family at Lumley. I don’t want trouble. You have enough experience on the vills to sort it out and soothe tempers.”

“On your authority?” Aldred queried. He knew it would take some careful investigating and negotiating to get the rights of the matter.

“In St. Cuthbert’s name,” the bishop replied. Same thing, thought Aldred to himself, and he knows it.

So Aldred had gone off to to the widow’s house, one of a row of small homes on the southern edge of the Chester-le-Street estate lands, where the River Wear makes a big loop. The woman had no men left to work the fields of grain, but she received a loaf of bread weekly from the church to supplement the vegetables she grew in her small garden, along with the sheep’s milk and a few chicken eggs that were her main source of protein and barter for other goods. In fact, she was long known for the excellent cheese she made, as well as her carded wool, small though it was. The ewe was allowed to graze on the common, but in the winter she, like most villagers, brought the animal indoors for the night for warmth—hers and the ewe’s.

Osgyth was old enough to be mostly toothless and almost entirely deaf. With some difficulty, Aldred ascertained that the ewe had been taken from the animal side of the house while she slept on the other side of the thin wall in the main room. She must not have heard the sheep bleating or clucking chickens disturbed by the intruder. Gesturing to the chicken roosts, she indicated that perhaps some eggs were missing as well, but hard to know.

Aldred searched around the grounds, looking for recent hoof and foot prints. It had frosted overnight, so the tracks should be sharp-lined compared to the mushy prints made in the mud yesterday. At the edge of the widow’s garden, he found a confusion of footprints, but some clear sheep tracks. He bent down to look at them more closely. Someone had dripped wax into the hoof indentations. Osgyth smiled and pulled a candle from her bag, gesturing the sign of the cross with it.

Aldred sighed. One of the finding aids for lost or stolen animals included dripping wax either on the bridle or into the hoof tracks, while saying a galdor formula beginning “may the cross of Christ lead it back.” Sometimes the prayer included references to St. Helen’s finding of the true cross—just so, may this animal be found. He sent a quick prayer via Helen, under his breath.

Finding and losing the trail, he searched along the river bank. If Wihtred was right about the vikings, the thief would have to cross the river to get the ewe to Lumley, land settled by a sprawling Scandinavian family fourteen years ago under a York viking chief named Wulf. Clever man, he had bargained with King Eadred after the Wessex monarch had expelled the viking king Erik from York. Wulf agreed to baptism for himself and all his kindred, in exchange for land to peacefully cultivate further north. But they were not quite friendly neighbors, yet, at least in the eyes of St. Cuthbert’s folk.

Eventually he found a strip of bare ground at a relatively narrow place in the river that showed recent evidence of trampling. How the thief or thieves managed to get the ewe to ford the river was hard to imagine, unless they carried it. Aldred was not about to wade into the freezing water, but doubled back to Wihtred’s house on the river to borrow a small punt. Once across the Wear, he searched along the edge for a track leading toward Lumley.

He didn’t have to go far along a path between fields before he was noticed by some boys who immediately hustled back to their houses. His belted robe marked him as a member of the clergy, so they could guess he came from St. Cuthbert’s church.

As he approached the village, lo and behold a lost sheep was meandering down the path toward him, no one holding its halter. Her matted winter wool was pretty filthy—as if she had waded across a muddy river—but as Aldred caught hold of the rope, he saw that her teats were clean and she had undoubtedly been milked.

Aldred looked around at a scattering of women with toddlers and boys keeping their distance, all of them looking ill-clothed and underfed. None of them made eye contact, although one woman sort of shrugged her shoulders at his glance. Hmm. He paused reflectively, looking up at the sun nearing its wintery zenith. He would certainly miss midday prayers. Oh well, here goes, he thought. Let’s see if Cuthbert’s name has power with this group.

Turning the ewe sideways to the path and facing the sun, he made the sign of the cross over her forehead, and said in the vernacular, clearly audible to his oddly intent audience, “Holy Cuthbert, God’s thegn, take this ewe home, and never let it go astray again.” Then he released the halter and stood back off the path.

The ewe swung her head one direction and the other, tail swishing, then she turned and started to trot up the path toward Chester-le-Street. Aldred trailed behind her for some ways, finally taking hold of the rope once they were some distance from the watchers. They got the message: don’t mess with St. Cuthbert’s property because he goes after his lost sheep. He assumed the community would take care of the thief. Meanwhile he planned to use his newly granted powers as provost to investigate whether the Lumley viking families were in need of food assistance. The infants on the hips of some of the women had that large-eyed, blank and hungry look.

Getting the ewe back across the Wear took time. He wasn’t going to try and get her on the punt, or wade across with her, so eventually he had to lead the beast further along the riverside path to the bridge, then double back down the other side to the widow’s house.

Osgyth was pleased with his success, but did not ask any questions about where she had been. Instead, she pressed a wheel of cheese into his hands, and asked in her loud voice, “if you please, Cuthbert’s priest, say a galdor to keep my ewe safe.”

Feeling that he had done enough with vernacular formulas, Aldred prayed a Latin house blessing over the home and byre. Fortunately, he had taken the precaution of bringing his portable kit with him that included a small vial of holy water, so he was able to asperge the house, making the sign of the cross and enjoining the Lord to send his angels to protect the small building and all who lived in it. He remembered this particular prayer well from the collectar, although he had not glossed it yet, because its margin had an amusing drawing of a man with hand raised, drawn as decoration beside a large hole in the parchment, around which the scribe had written this prayer.

Exaudi nos Domine sancte pater omnipotens aeterne Deus et mittere dignare angelum tuum sanctum de celis qui custodiat foueat protegat uisitat et defendat omnes habitantes in hoc habitaculo. Per Dominum….

He closed the prayer in a louder voice invoking Saints Cuthbert, Mary, and Helen, just so Osgyth would hear those familiar and comforting names. Aldred left her currying the ewe’s matted fur, the invisible cross marking her forehead.

Posted by: kljolly | September 18, 2014

Vermin: Sherry Mice

This just in, courtesy of a colleague in the Botany department (thanks, Don Drake):

Mice nibbling on sherry casks, the boss wants to bring in a cat, the workers defend the mice, and set up their own sherry-drinking stations for the mice, complete with ladder.

This suggests a completely different way of reading those prohibitions on drinking beverages into which a rodent has fallen and the prayers to cleanse casks into which something foul has fallen (see Panchiel short story and background).  Did rodents nibble holes in wooden casks and other containers?  Would some monks take a kindly view, like these workers, and supply an alternative food source?  I think of stories of St. Cuthbert bargaining with birds stealing his thatch and whimsical animal pictures in manuscripts to remind me that not everyone in the past is as dead serious and pragmatic as we imagine them.


Posted by: kljolly | September 5, 2014


Thinking of Aldred’s cat got me thinking of vermin, as in the rodent Panchiel caught in the ale cask.  That, and the ISAS 2015 Glasgow conference theme of everyday life inspired me this week to look into what kind of vermin troubled the Anglo-Saxons.  Previous work on medical texts and prayerbooks addressing afflictions of the human body, their animals, and their fields gave me a general sense of the kinds of critters that provoked a remedy or protective prayer:  worms, flying things, and rodents.

I spent the day trying to track down vocabulary for rodents and other small mammals, using a combination of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the Corpus of Old English texts, the Old English dictionaries, as well as Latin dictionaries, and even the UK Natural History Museum index (which gloriously has Welsh and Gaelic as well as English!) to figure out what critters might be there.

The main issue I struck was the relative rarity of OE ræt, with only one instance and that in a glossary translating Lat. raturus.  Is there another Old English word for rat, or was it included under another generic term for rodent, like mus?


black rat

Certainly the black rat (Rattus rattus, of plague fame) was in the British Isles by at least the third century C.E., based on archaeological findings, and perhaps earlier (credit the Romans).  Oliver Rackham (The Illustrated History of the Countryside, p. 23) notes that the brown Norwegian rat came later.  The black rat is slimmer and has a longer tail, so while it might seem long at 13-18 inches, more than half of that is tail.  It comes in various shades of black and brown with a lighter underside.  [Confession: I chose this cuter picture because I had a pet rat, of the white lab variety, when I was a child].

In modern (Linnaeus) taxonomy, rattus rattus is in order rodentia, family muridae.   In classical Latin (Lewis and Short), mus (pl. mures) can refer to either a mouse or a rat, as well as a sable, marten, or ermine.  The same may be true for Old English mus, a more commonly attested word in the Old English corpus.

OE mus shows up, along with wesle (weasel), in the penitentials as unclean contact for which penance must be done:  eating the communion bread, soiling the hands, or fallen (dead) into one’s drink.  Animal blood of various kinds, unwashed off, is offensive, although mouse blood does show up in a Leechbook  remedy (III.25) for warts, combined with dog piss.

I also investigated shrew, mole, and vole, as well as hedgehog.

Shrew is an Old English rooted word (scréawa), used to gloss mus araneus or musiranus (although in Linnaeus, the shrew is sorex araneus, order insectivora, family soricidae).  Curiously, scréawa has no counterparts in other Germanic languages, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, although it could be related to a root word meaning “cut,” sceorfan. OE scirfe-mús glosses Lat. sorex.  So while modern taxonomy differentiates rodentia muridae from insectivora soricidae, the Anglo-Saxons probably saw the shrew, rat, and mouse as more closely related, if not interchangeable pests.



Vole (another rodentia muridae) is not attested in Old English that I can find, although tantalizingly the word does derive from Norwegian vollmus or Icelandic vallamus, according to the OED.  Unfortunately, the earliest instance of vole in English occurs in an 1804 history of the Orkneys.  Note, however, the generic use of mus with modifiers, suggesting that mus functioned as a generic category.  I am not sure when mouse became limited to just the varieties of rodentia muridae (common, field,  and other mice) we think of as different from a rat, shrew, or mole.

Mole (genus talpa, order insectivora, family talpidae): like vole, the word mole is not attested in Old English, although it is found in other Germanic languages [it perhaps shows up in some English place and person names (Moll-)].   Apparently the Anglo-Saxons did have another word for the critters, wand (wond) or wandeweorp, glossing Lat. talpa or palpo.  But that is all we know, unless you care to speculate ab0ut the meaning of wand (cf. ge-wand, ge-windan) and weorp (turning and tossing, digging up dirt?).

The danger of all this speculation, of course, is that the classical Latin terms found in our ancient and medieval sources combined with the modern taxonomy using said Latin give us the false impression that we are talking about the same animals then and now.  Add to that an Old English translation, often done by a glossator trying to find an English equivalent to a Latin term for an animal he thinks is the same thing…and you have a mess.

European hedgehog

European hedgehog

Last, but not least, what about the hedgehog, another insectivora?  Was it in Anglo-Saxon England?  What did they call it?  Hedgehog is not attested, alas, until 1450 and the alternative name urchin cannot be traced much earlier (OED).  If they had them, did they think they were cute or a pest, or both?

Which brings me back to the opening question, of what kinds of animals were deemed pests–nibbling on seeds, crops, foodstores, and the eucharist?  We think more of the destructive capacity of rodentia than the insectivora (at least they eat other pests), but how did the Anglo-Saxons classify them?  By what they looked like or by what they did?

In a religious house, and undoubtedly elsewhere, they knew the teaching of Jesus:  “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where rust and moth destroy, and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  And I haven’t even gotten to the moths, gnats, fleas, spiders, and flying things (birds as well as insects) that annoy and destroy.


Posted by: kljolly | September 1, 2014


In the process of transcribing Aldred’s gloss to Durham A.IV.19, slowly but surely, I have found another “Aldredism,” if not Northumbrianism, in an unusual compound word:  stancarr glossing Latin petram.  What follows is my process of discovery, aided and abetted by Northumbrian expert and blog commentator Seumas MacRath.

On fol. 9v, glossing a verse from Isaiah 50:7, Aldred has:

    drih[t]’   god    helpend    min    7 f’eðon nam ic   sceomigende
5 Dominus deus auxiliator meus. et ideo non sum confu

        f’ðon ic [gi]sette ondwlioto mino soelce stancarr heard
6 sus ideo   posui       faciem     meam  ut        petram   durissimam

    7 ic wat f’ðon       ne biom ic sceomigende
7 et scio    quoniam non confundar.

“The Lord God [is] my helper, and therefore I will not be confused; therefore I have set my face like hard rock, and I know that I will not be confounded.”

For Latin and Greek petra, Old English stan is a perfectly reasonable translation, one that Aldred has used elsewhere in his gloss of the Lindisfarne Gospels, but as an alternative to carr, a borrowing from Cumbrian or Old Welsh, carrecc.

In the Lindisfarne glosses of petra, Aldred puts carr as an unusual (loan) word first then stan as the more broadly understood or common word (as in Mark 15:46 and Matthew 7:24, carr ł stan).  When petra is repeated in close proximity, he uses only carr (Luke 6:48), and by the time he glosses John, he uses only carr (1:42, the naming of Peter).  In the gloss to the gospel prefaces discussing Matt. 7:24, he also uses carr ł but does not complete the alternative with stan.

So when we come to the Durham A.IV.19 gloss of Isaiah, we find a surprising collocation of stancarr, the reverse order of his vel glosses and combined into one word, the only instance of such a word so presumably an Aldredism.

Once we look into carr, though, some interesting possibilities occur.

For Tolkien fans, yes this is the Carrock of Beorn, in a collocation of carr + rocc, although in Old English vocabulary glossaries, one finds stan + rocc. Carrock appears to be a northern (Cumbric) phenomenon, found for example in Carrock Fell in Cumbria, just northwest of Penrith.  [To make things even more interesting, look up “crag” in the Oxford English Dictionary to try and figure out how it is related to carr!]


To explain why carr would need clarification with stan or rocc, though, Seumas points out that modern Northumbrian usage of carr in place names can mean either rocky place (more common as derived from Cumbric) or marshland in one instance derived from Old Norse kjarr.

So it is entirely possible that Aldred knows the possible confusion among Viking-era Northumbrians between carr as rock and carr as marsh.  He wants to make sure that his readers, who might include Scandinavians, know that Isaiah sets his face like a rock and not like a marshy place!  Of course, he could have used stan alone, but he shows a distinct preference for using local (Northumbrian) vocabulary and then clarifying with a more widely used Old English word when necessary.

What does this tell us about Aldred?  Well, he is not glossing alone.  He has an audience in mind, a local northern one of mixed linguistic backgrounds, and perhaps a larger imagined audience of English speakers who might, like us, want to know that the Northumbrians say carr for stone.

Posted by: kljolly | August 8, 2014

Background to Aldred’s Cat

The first hurricane seems to have broken up after running into the volcano on the Big Island of Hawai`i and is passing south of us, so no loss of power.  The second storm is on its heels but we have a couple of days before it passes north of us.   So I have a space of calm to give some background on my short interlude on Aldred’s Cat, Panchiel.

British short hair (wikipedia)

British short hair (wikipedia)

First, the cat’s name, shortened to Pan, which I blogged about earlier (see also more cats on coloring).  It comes from the archangel name Panchiel used in the field prayers Aldred copied and glossed in the additions to Durham Cathedral A.IV.19.  These five prayers for clearing vermin and other evils from the fields are written in a red majuscule (that deteriorates into minuscule over the next pages) and glossed in black, the opposite of Aldred’s usual style of red gloss on black, so they must have meant something to him.  These prayers caught my eye early on, starting my adventures with Durham A.IV.19 and Aldred (in addition to my book, I wrote an earlier article chronicling my search to source these prayers, but see also addenda and corrigenda 1).

Anyway, Panchiel is an Irish spelling of Paniel, a slightly unorthodox archangelic name meaning face of God (see Peniel, the place where Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32:30).  In a fiction chapter on the field prayers set earlier at Crayke but not posted here, young priest Aldred finds a kitten with a dead mouse it has caught in a field devastated by the Vikings.  He prays some of the field prayers there and names the cat Panchiel, taking her with him to Chester-le-Street.  She and her progeny are excellent mousers for the scriptorium and elsewhere.

As for the prayer over a vat fouled by rodents, that is found in the original collectar of Durham A.IV.19 (fol. 56v4-14).  Scribe O copied it somewhat badly and gave it a title in Old English.  It looks as follows:

4     scal reda ofer ða feta de ful infalleð

driht’ hælga faeder alm’ ece god ðv ðe worhtest
5 Domine sancte pater omnipotens aeterne deus qui fecisti cae

heofon 7 earðe sae 7 alle ða ðe in ðæm sindon
6 lum et terram mare et omnia que in eis sunt. ro

ic bidde ðec 7 ic giwiga on nome hæl’ crist’ ancend’ bearnes ðin’
7 go te et peto in nomine Ihesu Christi uni[geni]ti filii tui

þ’te gihælgia gimeadoma ðv 7 bloetsiga gihriord
8 ut sanctificare digneris et benedicere epulam

ðas’ svæ gibloedsadest þ’ gihriord hab
9 istam sicut benedixisti epulationem habra

is’ ia’ 7 svæ gibloetsadest sex stænen fato væt’s
10 he isaac iacob et sicut benedi[xi]sti sex hydrias in

in can’ galili’ wætres on wine godv’ ymbvoendedo
11 chanan galileae aqu[ae] in uinum bonum conuerse

aron of vætre svæ giwoende gimeodvma ðv æfne
12 sunt de aqua ita conuertere digneris mate

ðiss alðes on svoetnisse 7 bliðnisse
13 riam istam ceruise in suauitatem et hilaritatem

esnv’ ðinv’ ðæm ða ðe in lvfv rehtlefend [vel…] gilefdon
14 seruis tuis his qui in fide catholica crediderunt.;

Of the errors made by Scribe O, he corrects two himself and Aldred corrects two (sort of), as well as glosses it all.  The corrections and gloss are explored in another part of my fictional narrative not posted here, a modern scholar studying the text and Aldred.  In some ways, Aldred is paying closer attention to this prayer than the original scribe.

What I will note here is the curious title and previous comments about this prayer.  Although Scribe O has labeled it as something to be “read over a vat that [something] foul fell in,” the language of the prayer suggests it was written for blessing beer at a feast, with “just as” clauses invoking the way God blessed feasts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the six water jars turned into wine by Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana.  Of course, one can always turn a blessing into an exorcism.

Christopher Hohler, in a witty and sardonic reference to this prayer, says the following:

And among the few apparently indisputable contributions of England to the Latin liturgy is the formula, to be read over the cask by the priest, to improve the quality of beer in which mice or weasels have got drowned. It was not that the English were alone in wishing, for gastronomic or economical reasons, to drink such beer; the penitential embedded in the Romano-Germanic pontifical expects the priest specifically to ask at confession whether his German penitent has drunk beer flavoured in this way. Admission of the offence involved forty days penance. But in England the view was different; and, by calling in the priest first, it was possible to indulge in this recondite vice with impunity. [Christopher Hohler, “Some Service Books of the Later Saxon Church,” in Tenth Century Studies, ed. David Parsons (London: Phillimore, 1975), 71–72.]

Now Scribe O’s Old English title just says something “foul” and does not mention rodents, although it clearly could include such a thing if you know about the penitential rule as Hohler does.

In addition to adding a reference to this penitential practice as the men argued in my story, I also included two hagiographic tales.  In the Life of Liutbirga, the devil accuses the saintly woman of a girlhood sin, finishing her drink after laughingly pulling a dead mouse out of her cup by its tail [Frederick S. Paxton, trans., Anchoress and Abbess in Ninth-Century Saxony: The Lives of Liutbirga of Wendhausen and Hathumoda of Gandersheim (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 104].

The devil doesn’t win this argument against her, but it is a different outcome for the wretched nun in Gregory the Great’s Dialogues who eats a lettuce from the garden without blessing it with the sign of the cross.  A little demon on the leaf “innocently” swallowed complains that it is not his fault she got sick and needed to be exorcised.

All this goes to show that

  1. food and drink are precious and not to be wasted;
  2. alcohol is safer than water;
  3. some illness-causing vermin are visible and others invisible;
  4. for the visible ones, keep a cat; but
  5. for the invisible ones, blessings and exorcisms add some protection in an already dangerous world.




Posted by: kljolly | August 7, 2014

Aldred’s Cat Panchiel

This brief draft story was inspired by a comment from Seumas MacRath on my Boethius and Brunanburh chapter post.  I am still playing with it, and will post something else about the prayer over a vat into which something foul has fallen.  However, two back to back hurricanes are arriving this weekend, so there might be some delay….

Interlude (955)

She kept her body low, green eyes fixed unwavering on his back as he balanced above her on the curved lip of wood. He did not see her gray-clad form melted in the shadows. Good. Noiselessly shifting her feet back and forth three times (for good luck), she sprang forward and pounced, bringing him down under her.

Ah, her lawful prey. But what was this odor about him? Even as he struggled in her grasp, he shivered like a dog shaking water from his fur. Why was he soaking wet? A quick bite to the neck, a bitter taste in her mouth, and he was dead.

Pan carried him to the master. It was somewhat of a journey to get from the dark cool place filled with crocks and barrels to the sun-lit room where men scratched with featherless bird quills on the dead skins of cows, sheep, and goats, she knew their smell.

She went through the place of many tastes—hot, dry, cold, and wet flavors filled her nose, but she did not stop to steal or beg any, skulking through the edge of the room unseen, an obligation to fulfill first.

Once she reached the master, she sat respectfully and dropped the body at his feet.

“Mew.” This was her only address to the man who worshiped her, and she him. Insofar as she thought about it, Pan knew that the man loved her—he fed her treats, stroked her head, and gave her a warm place to sleep—and that she must therefore be his goddess. Nonetheless, it was he who rescued her, young and motherless, from the field of screaming men. And so, she offered him gifts in return, as is right between a lady and her lord.

He did not deign to pay her attention right away—a game she and he played, pretending not to see or hear each other. But Pan was better at the game, sneaking up so quietly he did not know she was there. She always knew where he was, by her ears and nose.

The scratching continued for a bit longer as she waited. Then he looked down at her and made those comforting noises in his own language, not hers. Although she heard the sounds, she could only guess at their meaning from the pitch and tone of his voice.

“Hwæt, Panchiel, my archangel, such a gift! But what is that smell?” The man stroked her head, but in bending down his nose came close to the fur heap at her feet.

“Now where did you find this rascal?” he asked. “It seems he has been in the cellar drinking ale.” He pushed the little body into a small bin that smelled of trees, and she looked after it hungrily when he carried it away.

Pan led him to the place where she had caught the criminal. The master seemed very disturbed by the scene she had left. Were their more thieves in the cask? She saw that the lid was still askew, and her scratch marks along the side.

The master went and fetched the older man who seemed to be her master’s master. Pan followed.

“Provost Bearnhard, someone has been in the ale again and left it open! Look what my virtuous Panchiel has found, drenched in it.”

The other man peered into the bin and sniffed. Their noses were not as good as hers, but certainly they knew the smell of their own drink.

Now there was some discussion between them.

More men came in, the younger ones. Some shuffling of their feet and loud exclamations, followed by stern words from the master’s master. No one answered.

Pan moved among their legs, sniffing. She came to one young one and smelled that mixture of ale and wood. She raised up and pawed the hand of the young man. Her master smiled.

The master’s master turned to the one she had marked and asked, “Was it you, Osfrith?” That young one looked down at Pan and said “Are you my accuser, sent from God or the devil?”

Pan meowed and backed down from the young man. Her master stroked her. She purred.

Now the men all returned to the room with the crocks and barrels. Pan followed, keeping her nose and eyes checking the room for more culprits.

The men stood around the cask, one stirring it with a long piece of wood. Perhaps there was another rat?

Their voices sounded like bleating sheep and dogs barking as they spoke over and under each other:

“We’ll have to dump the whole thing out.”

“What a waste.”

“I won’t drink it.”

“What, water is safer?”

“It is not Lent, why should we not drink the ale.”

“Canon law forbids drinking from a vat fouled by rodents.”

“Forty days penance for us all, so we have a second Lent!”

“Yes, but don’t you remember the story of that saintly nun who pulled a mouse out of her cup, then drank the rest?”

“Hah, that was the devil who reminded her that she sinned as a girl doing that.”

“Oh, I only remember the bit where she laughed when she pulled the mouse out by the tail.”

“Then there was that nun who ate a demon on a stolen lettuce leaf without blessing it, and look what happened to her.”

“Why is it always a nun?”

“Women are greedy and never waste anything.”

“At least they don’t leave the lid off the cask, like some do.”

“Surely there is some blessing we can use over it!”

Her master said nothing and in the middle of all this caterwauling, strode out. Panchiel trotted behind him, back to the room of animal skins. He rummaged in a cupboard, muttering something. “I saw it somewhere, some folio at the back…”

Pan jumped up into the cupboard and began sniffing. It smelled mostly like sheep and goats. She scratched at the back, smelling cow, and something caught her claw. She dragged it out.

“Aha, here it is, thank you Panchiel.” He gave her another pet.

Moving into the sunlight she loved, he started moving the thin cow skins, shuffling through them, stopping on one of them toward the bottom, and then spoke words while his eyes were looking down at the thing, “this a man shall read over a vat into which something foul has fallen.”

Then he went back quickly to the other place, where she had started her hunt. Pan was not tired with all of this coming and going, just curious.

Her master showed the animal skin to his master. The arguing men were silent, as this master spoke with his voice of authority, “Osfrith, as the exorcist and guilty party, you will now cleanse the ale with this benedictio.”

The young one nervously began to recite in an uneven and high pitched voice that other language they spoke in a sing-song voice. The men listened:

Domine sancte pater omnipotens aeterne deus qui fecisti caelum et terram mare et omnia que in eis sunt. rogo te et peto in nomine Ihesu Christi uni[geni]ti filii tui ut sanctificare digneris et benedicere epulam istam sicut benedixisti epulationem habrahe isaac iacob et sicut benedi[xi]sti sex hydrias in chanan galileae aque in uinum bonum conuerse sunt de aqua ita conuertere digneris materiam istam ceruise in suauitatem et hilaritatem seruis tuis his qui in fide catholica crediderunt.;

She watched one of the older men who always shooed her away in the animal skin room and used a heavy voice with her master. He kept raising one of his eyebrows while the young one recited, and after they had all said with one voice,

“Amen,” that one turned to her master:

“Where did you find that feast blessing! I hardly think it is appropriate.”

Her master looked thoughtful. “The Wessex collectar the bishop brought back, it has some extra blessings at the end.”

The other replied, “That worthless thing? We need better service books than that.”

But her master thought otherwise and answered him with his mild voice, “Who knows what might prove useful. All parchment is precious.”

As he marched off, Panchiel sniffed and went with him, tail held high.

While he walked, her master continued to look at the animal skin collection she had found for him. He often moved his lips while walking, and sometimes stumbled, once tripping right over Pan as she wove in front of his feet trying to warn him.

But this time as they moved through the place of many tastes, he did not forget to reward his Pan. A bowl of creamy milk, and later he returned the rat.


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