Posted by: kljolly | July 30, 2016

The Horn and the Sword

This last week or so I have been working on a chapter set in 925, when Aldred is seven and is mother is about to send him to Chester-le-Street for schooling.  Two objects that I have woven into the narrative symbolize the two life paths and family lineages that Aldred will later have to choose between, the sword and the horn.

The sword is from his father and represents the thegnly status of his warrior heritage.  The horn was a symbolic gift to his parents from Bishop Cutheard of Chester-le-Street when the community granted the Easington lands to them (Aldred’s Family).

At the Leeds Medieval Congress last month, Mary Blanchard (Ave Maria University, Florida) offered an analysis of high-ranking families in late Saxon England, suggesting two networks, one where ecclesiastical preferment is sought for the sons, and the other a network of secular preferment (Session 1201: Keeping it in the Family?: The Extent of Nepotism among the Late Anglo-Saxon Bishops and Ealdormen).  So I am imagining a tension here between Aldred’s father’s family in the secular network and Tilwif’s family in the ecclesiastical.

Taplow_drinking_horns

Taplow drinking horns, British Museum

As for the two objects, I am relying on the expertise of my colleagues in art history (especially Carol Neuman de Vegvar) and my readers here to help me with their description.  The horn would not be of the highest caliber like those gigantic auroch horns surviving from Sutton Hoo or Taplow (above), but still good metalworking albeit on a smaller cow’s horn.  The sword would need to be a late-ninth century viking implement, similar to these tenth-century ones from Denmark, but I have seen other samples with different inlays and wound silver on the hilt (if you use GoogleImages to search and are not on Pinterest, good luck).

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Viking swords, Hedeby Viking Museum, Denmark

In the scene below, Aldred’s godfather Aldred (here called “Aldest” by his godson), has arrived at the Easington manor to take him back to Chester-le-Street.  The seven-year-old Aldred is fascinated by the sword and horn displayed prominently on the mead hall wall, and loves to trace their designs with his finger, but is not allowed to take them down.  Here he recalls the story of the sword as told to him often by his father’s retainer Swithbert, and then his godfather tells him a story about the horn.  Descriptions of each are intertwined.

   Aldest and Aldred stood in front of the bench looking at the horn and sword.

            Aldred knew the story of the sword from the lamed warrior Swithberht, who over the years had filled his ears with tales of Wrecker to match the heroic stories his mother read from the holy books.  The sword’s exploits in the hands of his father and grandfather grew with each telling.

            Wrecker was named by his grandfather Brihtwulf soon after he took it in battle from a pagan viking on the coast of Cumbria. He named it Wracu, wreaker of vengence, because he had taken it from the hand of the viking and used it to slay this pagan who had raped and pillaged coastal villages with his band of thugs.

            After the battle, Brihtwulf had the sword’s pattern-welded blade honed by a smith, so that its distinctive wavy pattern glowed with an elfin sheen.  Swithbert often removed the sword from its scabbard at this point and showed Aldred how it shimmered in the firelight of the hall.  The sheath’s wood was covered supple leather, dyed red and tooled with serpentine designs, as was its baldric for wearing or hanging the sword, made by Brihtwulf’s craftsmen.

            Brihtwulf also had the smith rework the hilt, damaged in the battle when Brihtwulf’s sword had struck the man’s right hand off and cut into it with such force that his own blade was heavily damaged.  The hilt itself was iron wound with silver cord that the smith easily repaired.  The rounded shape of the weighty iron pommel was covered in silver interlace of undulating snakes twining in endless knots, undamaged and not offensive to Christian tastes. But the oval guard between the hilt and the blade had a circle of now-scarred images of pagan warriors—perhaps even Odin on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir and Thor with a battle axe.  Brihtwulf had the smith replace these with twelve small gold insets stamped with circled crosses, each with a small chip of red garnet at its center.  Grandfather was a wealthy thegn.

            That was also the year of his father Alfred’s birth, 890.  When Brihtwulf left Cumbria on his fateful journey north in 914, he gifted the sword to his twenty-four-year old son with strict instructions to use it for divine vengeance against pagans in defense of their household.  Alfred had stayed true to that oath on the long road over the Pennines, and to the bitter end when he fought against Ragnall at Corbridge.  Swithbert usually went off on an extended description of that battle, demonstrating with swift strokes Alfred’s prowess with the sword, but also along the way including his own sad role as loyal retainer left to hold the sword for his lord’s son.

            In Swithbert’s view, the sword would naturally pass into Aldred’s hands.  But his mother’s stories of saints and bishops described a different path for a young nobleman, exemplified in her bishop brother and symbolized by the horn.

            But Aldred knew less about the horn, so he asked his godfather, “Tell me the story of my father’s horn, and I will tell you of his sword.”

            Aldest carefully removed the horn from its place on the wall and sat on the bench below, holding the horn in his lap.  Aldred sat next to him.

            “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth, the plants and the animals.  One of the animals was the cow.”

            Aldred gave a mock sigh at his godfather’s well-known story mode.  “You don’t have to go that far back to the beginning!”

            Aldest put the horn to the side of Aldred’s head above his ear.  “Ic wæs wæpenwiga,” he chanted, “I was a weaponed warrior, when I was captured and bound with silver.” Then he moved the open end of the horn to Aldred’s mouth, “Men often kissed me, when ladies filled me to the brim, then they left me empty and headless on the table.”  Aldred giggled, though he did not understand the double meaning. 

            Across the hall, his mother shifted uneasily at the casual way Aldest handled the horn, which she never touched, or the sword.

            Aldest went on, “Sometimes I am carried on horseback and do battle,” here the horn trotted away from Aldred, “and other times I hang high on the wall with drunk men below me.”  And Aldest lifted the horn above Aldred, who tilted his head to look at the curved underside. 

            “Frige hwæt ic hatte,” his godfather ended the riddle, “say what I am called.”[1]

            Aldred pouted.  “But I know it is a horn, but I do not know its name or its story!”

            Aldest smiled.  “Some horns might call men to battle, others get them drunk. But this is a cornu-copia.”

            Aldred frowned at the Latin word.  “Cornu… is hornCopia?”  His godfather often strayed into Latin and the study of words when he told stories.

            “Copius, id est, that is, geniht.”

            “A horn of plenty.  A cornucopia,” Aldred said slowly.  “Is that its name?”

            “Indeed,” Aldest went on, “Now Cornucopia,” and here he put the massive horn in Aldred’s lap, “came from a cow at Lindisfarne far in the north.” 

            “Where St. Cuthbert was bishop before he came here,” Aldred said excitedly.  He knew the story of how the saint came to Chester-le-Street after a long pilgrimage through the very lands of his family lineages.

            Bega [Aldred’s 10-year-old sister], who had been listening from across the hall, sidled over and sat down by Aldred to hear this tale, new to her.

            “This Lindisfarne cow, let us call her Copia, gave the community much by the end of her life.  Four calves for parchment to make books.  Her milk for cheese.  Her meat for feasting.  Her hide for leather. And her great horns for storing precious things.”

            Aldred ran his hands over the smooth undecorated part of the horn.  Heavier than he expected, since he had only touched it before as it hung on the wall, the horn was longer than any he had seen on the cows of their manor, which were about a man’s handspan (9 inches).  This one was half again as long. 

            “She must have been a great old thing,” Bega said.  She helped with the milking and had dodged some of those horns.  This one looked like it came from some ancient beast.

            “So,” said Aldest, “since Copia was a good Christian cow, or at least belonged to good Christian people, her horns were hollowed out and bound with silver to hold blessed things—mead for guests, relics of saints, or oil for the sick.” 

            Aldred and Bega examined the metalwork on the horn. Their mother did not let them take it down to play with, so this was the first time they had looked closely at the intricate figures. 

            A narrow coppery band around its lower middle and one at the top each had a ring on the inner curved side.  Attached was the blue and red tablet-woven band used to hold the horn over the shoulder or on the wall. Bega recognized her mother’s design work and guessed she had woven it for the horn when they first came to Easington.

            At its tip, the craftsman had attached a copper-colored terminal ending in a flair.  Bega said, “how much it looks like a young fern leaf before it opens!”  Bega was becoming interested in plants, like her namesake godmother, a renowned herbalist.

            Aldred turned it sideways and said, “No, it is a bird head, see?” and he pointed to what might be an eye. 

            An argument began, but Aldest ended it by saying it was neither and both.  They did not have an answer for that.

            Turning the horn the other way, Aldred and Bega looked at the mouth end.  Copper alloy rim mounts held in place a broad silver collar that extended down the tapering horn in seven pointed triangles.  Each of these seven, they counted them, had a winged figure embossed on it. 

            Aldred exclaimed, “look, birds again!”  But Bega scoffed, “those are angels.”

            “Actually,” Aldest interrupted another argument, “they are archangels.” And he named all seven of them, chanting “Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Sariel, Rumiel, Panchiel.”  The children gaped at him.

            “One for each day of the week,” Aldest explained.  “When you come to Chester-le-Street,” and he turned to Aldred, “I will show them to you on the coffin of St. Cuthbert.”

            Bega looked down at the horn mouth, touching her finger to the solid upper part of the silver collar near the rim.

            “Here, let me show you,” Aldred said to his sister, pushing her hand away, “it never ends.”  And he began tracing the incised knot work.  Bega put her finger in the spot where he started and followed with her eyes her brother’s small finger as it looped around the rim.

            It took several minutes, with the line going in unexpected directions, doubling back on itself, but eventually they sensed the pattern of the dance and were excited when their fingers met at the starting place.

            Bega said, “Look, they form squares and crosses too.”

            Aldred had never noticed that, but did not admit aloud that she was right.  So many shapes to see, how did the craftsman imagine it all?

            Aldest guessed their thoughts and said, “the metalworkers at Lindisfarne studied the arts for many years—the pattern was all around them in stone, on manuscript pages, in metalwork—but all imitating the Master Crafstman, Scippend, the All-Shaper.”

            The mention of God the creator brought Aldred back to the beginning of his godfather’s tale, the cow.  “What happened to her other horn?”

            “The matching horn to Cornucopia is..,” Aldest thought fast, inventing the name like the other, “…Cornu-oleum.”  It is at Chester-le-Street.  Your uncle Bishop Tilred uses it to hold holy oil to anoint the sick.” 

            Aldest remembered, but did not say, that Tilred used oil from it on their father the night he died and Aldred was born.  Into Bega’s mind came the woody smell of olive oil, a vague memory from that long day in the church seven years ago.

            “But Cornucopia,” and here Aldest touched the copper-tipped end, “was given as a token to your father when he took up these lands from the hand of St. Cuthbert’s bishop, Cutheard.”

            “So it is a horn for feasting and drinking?” Aldred asked.  In his short life he had never seen it used.  There had been no great victory feasts in the mead hall since his father’s death, just saint’s days, Christmas, and Easter.  Aldred wondered silently why the horn was not used for those Christian holidays, if it had such a blessed origin.  Deep within, Bega knew why her mother never touched it, but said nothing.

[1] Riddle 14.

Posted by: kljolly | July 15, 2016

Lindisfarne and Leeds

My back-to-back visits to Holy Island and the University of Leeds Medieval Congress in some ways illustrate well the dual life of Anglo-Saxon clergy like Aldred:  the quiet retreat of monastic routine and the busy schedule of secular affairs.  Saint Cuthbert longed to retreat from the busyness but was drawn in by demands for his service as a leader.  Ironically, what made him an attractive abbot and bishop was his preference for the quiet life over the power and prestige of clerical position, but he knew he needed the self-effacement of retreat in order to not get sucked into the politics of it all.  Perhaps all of our leaders should do the same…but that is a different post.

Lindisfarne Museum Cross

Lindisfarne Museum Cross

Half way through my week on Holy Island, I realized what made my retreat so pleasurable:  I could simply receive what was offered to me.  All food was provided at Marygate House, so I did not need to find a restaurant and choose from a menu, but simply eat the delicious meals lovingly served to us retreatants.  Similarly with the religious services, I went to St. Mary’s Parish Church morning prayers at 7:30, communion at 8, and evening prayers at 5:30, as well as Marygate prayers mid-morning, making no effort to create my own spiritual disciplines but accept what I was fed.  That passivity on my part contributed to receptivity and gratefulness.  It also left my mind free to wander as I wandered around the island between times, and wrote down ideas to incorporate into Aldred’s story.

Lindisfarne Museum cross, backside showing warrior attack

Lindisfarne Museum Cross, backside showing warrior attack

ISASlogoOn the other hand, the Leeds Congress was highly enjoyable, filled as it was with thoughtful paper sessions, stimulating conversations with fellow medievalists, and chance meetings that turned out to be very helpful.  But it was non-stop interactions from breakfast to bedtime.  I gathered a very different set of notes to use in Aldred’s story as well as other research.  I was also able to promote ISAS 2017 in Honolulu:  the call for papers is now up and the website under development.

So what can I say about this contrasting experiences?  I enjoy both and need a bit of both.  I like being alone for periods of time, thinking, reading, and writing.

Clover from St. Cuthbert's Isle

Clover from St. Cuthbert’s Isle

But I also enjoy the intellectual stimulation of conversation with other researchers.  I suspect Aldred was similar, or at least I intend to build that duality into my fictional recreation of his life.  On the one hand, he loved books, both reading and writing in them.  But I don’t think he did so in complete isolation.  The colophons he wrote in both the Lindisfarne Gospels and Durham A.IV.19, and his glosses to both, suggest that he was involved in scholarly dialogue with members of his community in ways that enriched and informed what he wrote.   What is hard to recreate is the dialogue taking place with others while he glossed in his native Old English the Latin texts he and they used for meditation and prayer.

 

 

Posted by: kljolly | July 2, 2016

Holy Island

I am just finishing a week’s retreat on Holy Island, at Lindisfarne.  Instead of using my brief time in England to visit as many sites as I can, as I have done in the past, I decided to stay in one spot and soak in the place.

Soak may be an apt word.  As many of you know, Holy Island is accessible only at low tide across a long spit of land, a sandy causeway.  Just south of it is a small islet, St. Cuthbert’s Island where he made his first retreat.  It also is cut off at high tide and accessible only at low tide across a rocky and sandy path strewn with kelp and beds of mussel shells.  I have crossed over to it and tramped around almost every day this week, imagining a 16-year old Aldred on a penitential pilgrimage here in 934.

Cuthbertisle2

St. Cuthbert’s Island (2007)

Signs everywhere on Holy Island warn about the tides and give the safe crossing times for the causeway, mostly for the day tourists.  But there are no signs or tide charts for St. Cuthbert’s Island.  Because it is southward and lower, the tide arrives sooner and faster, and retreats later than the causeway. But by how much?

I did not stop to think about that.  On Thursday, I decided to visit St. Cuthbert’s Island during the evening safe crossing period, to get a sense of what Aldred might experience as the day drew to a close.  At this time of year, the sun is still bright and low in the western sky at 9.  It doesn’t get dark until 11 or later, and the light returns a few hours later, according to the birds who wake me.

010716CuthbertIsleSouth

Looking south (I think!) from St. Cuthbert’s Island.

The safe crossing for the causeway the evening of June 30 would end at 10:15 p.m.  I went out after supper, warned to go quickly by one of my fellow retreat diners who got her feet wet the night before while crossing back.  I got on the island about 8 p.m., figuring I would have about an hour before needing to cross back.  Surely there would be not much more than an hour’s difference between this island’s causeway and the main one.

010716CuthbertIsleS

Looking west from Cuthbert’s Island, setting sun to the right.

I spent my hour contemplating the view facing different directions, as Aldred might have done as he said the Little Hours of prayer during the day.  I went down on the west side rocky shingle where I imagine Aldred might imitate Cuthbert and wade in for prayer.  I took off my boots and socks, rolled up my jeans, and waded up to my calves in the shallow bit, the soft sand nicer than the blocky rocks of the shore, looking at shells.

010716CuthbertIsleW

Looking west from Cuthbert’s Island, the rocky shingle at bottom left.

The tide which would later cover this rocky shingle was still withdrawn.  So I took my time after I got my socks and shoes on, searching in the rocks for a Cuthbert bead (no luck).  Then I circled round the north side of the island, wondering what to make of the spongy uneven hassocks of grass, with their pitfall holes.

010716CuthbertIsleN

Looking northwest from Cuthbert’s Island to the shore of Holy Island.

As I rounded toward the east end I looked up and, you guessed it, I was cut off from Holy Island. The flat sand and rocks over which I had crossed was now submerged by the rising tide.  It was just a few minutes past nine.

I had enjoyed being alone on the island.  Now I knew why.

In that split second as I gazed at the watery crossing, several things passed through my mind.  “What an idiot” being the main one.  I thought about the fact that I had a UK phone on me, but who would I call?  I did not see anyone on shore, and I certainly did not want any locals to see the stupid visitor wading back.  I am from Hawai`i where we have the same problem with silly tourists getting stuck and needing to be rescued.

010716CuthbertIsleEast

Looking east from Cuthbert’s Island, taken soon after I arrived.  The exposed path is visible on the left.  The Farnes and Bamburgh are not visible in the distance.

Since the tide had just come in, it wasn’t deep yet. I thought briefly about removing my boots to keep them dry, but didn’t want to waste any time or be slowed down by bare feet searching for a soft footing.

So, umbrella as walking stick in hand, I strode into the tide, picking my way along roughly the same path I usually used to cross.  The water reached above my knees.  At one point I hesitated in my footing and swayed, but steadied by my umbrella I did not fall. I reached the other side feeling humbled.

It was a wet slog back up to the retreat house, where I confessed my idiocy to fellow residents.  Unbenownst to me, the one who had warned me had been sitting on the beach, saw me on the island, and tried to wave. She watched over me as I slogged back through the water.  So I was not alone.  Thanks, Emma!

And, another confession.  After I reached shore I realized my water bottle was missing from my backpack, probably fallen out on the island when I bent over or swung the pack off or on. Earlier I had despised the thoughtless visitor who had left a plastic soda bottle on the shore.  When I went back the next evening (earlier!), I could not find it.  My apologies to the Collegeville Institute at St. John’s in Minnesota, who gave me the water bottle at a writing workshop last fall on Whidbey Island.  Your name is on it.  I pray no one blames you for my carelessness.

010716CuthbertIsleHeugh

Looking northeast toward Lindisfarne Priory and the Heugh (modern watchtower atop).  The way was still clear to cross when I took this at 8:15 p.m.!

Besides being reminded of my own human frailty, I gained some valuable insights to work into Aldred’s story.

Posted by: kljolly | May 28, 2016

Aldred’s Baptism

With the semester over and marking done, I have finally gotten back to finishing the narrative of newborn Aldred’s baptism, occurring with his father’s funeral at the Easington estate manorial church.

Working through the infant baptism ritual has raised innumerable questions about implements, where people stand, and who does what, when, and how.  I decided to use as the base text the Red Book of Darley ritual rubricated in Old English (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 422, edited by R. I. Page), supplemented with reference to the Leofric Missal and the Missal of Robert of Jumièges.

What follows is a work in progress.  This initial draft endeavors to get all of the people, tools, actions, and words in place. Some Latin prayers are left intact, others translated, some summarized for convenience.  Later I will add more character perspectives and interruptions.  For now, I would greatly appreciate suggestions, especially from those knowledgeable in either early medieval or contemporary Catholic liturgy and baptism, as well as anyone else who has a suggestion on the logistics.

Carol N de V, if you are reading this:  I would love to make one of the vessels out of horn, but which one?  The holy water jug?  The oil cruets?

Sarah K., if online:  You more than anyone can probably envision this and tell me where I have gone wrong!

Winchestercathedralshaftesburybowl

Shaftesbury Abbey glass bowl, late tenth century

Since this is from the middle of a chapter, there may be some confusion of persons.  Here is a list of characters:

  • Bishop Tilred of Chester-le-Street
  • Tilwif, sister of Tilred, widow of Alfred, mother of little Bega and newborn Aldred
  • Deacon Aldred, serves Bishop Tilred, stands as godfather to baby Aldred
  • Abbess Bega, midwife, friend to Tilwif
  • Putta, priest of Easington church (Alfred and Tilwif’s manorial estate)
  • Nothwulf, Putta’s acolyte apprentice
  • Wulfflæd, Nothwulf’s sister assisting with birth and with little Bega
  • little Bega, three-year-old daughter of Tilwif and Alfred, older sister to newborn Aldred
  • baby Aldred, newborn son of Tilwif and recently deceased Alfred

 

Abbess Bega stepped forward last, carrying the infant.  Wulfflæd took little Bega off to the side, lifting her so she could watch the next ritual, the baptism of her brother.  Tilwif remained seated by the body of her husband, just behind Abbess Bega.

It passed through the bishop’s mind, and no doubt others, that the ceremonies he was performing were disordered, as was the world.  Who ever interrupted a funeral to do a baptism before burial in the church yard? Who did a mass before the baptism instead of after?

Standing now in front of the altar, Bishop Tilred asked, “What is this child’s name?” the formal christening required before the baptism could proceed.

He looked directly at his sister Tilwif, seated on her stool, expecting her to say “Alfred,” naming the infant after his dead father.

Instead she answered loudly and distinctly, “his name is Aldred.” A murmur rippled through the congregation.

Tilred stared at his sister, who nodded her head once in affirmation.  Deacon Aldred, standing beside him in front of the altar shifted uneasily.  Only right before the service had Abbess Bega asked him to stand as godfather, conveying the mother’s request.  Aldred was a childhood friend of the family, and like a son to Bishop Tilred.  Now he was to be godfather to his bishop’s nephew.

Tilred understood that his sister had made a choice for this son of hers, to be a spiritual warrior of the church, not to follow in his father’s footsteps.  Aldred, eald-ræd, old counsel, a good name for a priest.

The silence in the church lasted uncomfortably long, as the manorial folk took in the full meaning of this naming.

Then Deacon Aldred came around the altar and stood beside Bega, facing the bishop.  If Aldred stood as godfather, [local manorial] Priest Putta would assist the bishop in the service, along with the acolyte apprentice Nothwulf.

Tilred leaned forward over the child in Bega’s arms and recited the exorcism that must precede the coming of the Holy Spirit, Exi ab eo spiritus inmunde et da locum spiritui sancto paraclito in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti. With each of the Trinitarian names he softly blew in the face of the child.

The devil thus expelled and the breath of God’s Spirit filling the empty space, he sealed the child with the cross, making the rood-sign first on the baby’s forehead, saying “signum sanctae crucis in fronte tuo pono,” and then again on the baby’s breast, saying “signum sanctae crucis saluatoris domini nostri ihesu cristi in pectore tuo pono.”

Placing his hand on the child’s head, Tilred said, “The Lord be with you, and with your spirit.”  Looking up at Abbess Bega and Deacon Aldred, he said “let us pray.”  Glancing to his left at the service book held up to him by young Nothwulf, he recited the Latin prayer for baptismal candidates that finished the page [Leofric 2480].

Each hearer understood the words differently and prayed for the baby boy’s future accordingly.  Bega heard the language of protection and evil expelled, while Aldred heard the call for gospel teaching and wisdom.  Tilred thought about the medicine of baptism healing soul and body.

When Tilred had finished the prayer, Priest Putta stepped forward with the purified salt that he had just exorcised and blessed behind them at the altar, rapidly murmuring the familiar words “I exorcize you creature salt,” and sanctifying it with the sign of the cross even as Tilred was signing the child.

The priest held the small glass bowl out to the bishop, who took a pinch of the salt between thumb and forefinger.

“What is the child’s name,” he asked, not for the last time.

“Aldred,” Bega again replied.

Tilred brought the grains of salt to the baby’s mouth.  Bega fluttered her fingers on the baby’s cheek.  Instinctively, the infant turned his mouth toward the sensation and opened his lips to receive a warm nipple.  Instead, a salty finger touched his tongue. He bleated a small cry, interrupting Tilred’s murmured instruction, “Aldredus, Accipe salem sapientiae propitiatus in vitam aeternam.” But then the baby’s greedy mouth closed around his uncle’s finger and began sucking, thereby accepting the salt of wisdom for eternal life.

Leaving his forefinger’s bent knuckle in the baby’s mouth, Tilred recited from the book Nothwulf continued to hold steadily for him, the prayer for this first salty pablum to feed and regenerate the soul.

When the prayer was done, Tilred gently withdrew his knuckle, although the little mouth continued its suckling movement while Tilred made the sign of the cross on the baby’s head, and chanted a collect from the book, after motioning Nothwulf to turn the page again.  It was a small service book, much used.

Tilred called on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who appeared to his servant Moses on Mount Sinai and led his people out of Egypt, an angel watching over them day and night.  That same God, the bishop asked, send the same angel to watch over and lead this little child.  The devil who might try to thwart this prayer was again cursed by the sign of the cross.

“Amen,” replied the people, accustomed to do so whenever they heard the Latin Trinitarian phrase with which Tilred ended the prayer.

Making the sign of the cross over the infant, Tilred read on the facing page the next prayer for the salvation of a manchild. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you, he instructed the infant.

Tilred flipped the page himself in the book, skipping the alternate prayers for a maidenchild.  Once again he adjured the devil, ending with a strongly worded exorcism, Exorcizo te inmunde spiritus in nomine patries et filii et spiritus sancti, that any unclean spirit would exit and recede from this servant of God, calling on the power of that savior who walked on water and rescued Peter from the waves with his right hand.  Even Nothwulf, who did not know the Latin, felt the force of the words.

Stepping back from the child, Bishop Tilred lifted his voice to speak to the watching but silent congregation the words of gospel truth.  They recited after him the Pater noster, then the Creed, the clergy chanting it in Latin and then leading the faithful in English.

The infant to be baptized had no way to absorb these lessons, but the community that would raise him must ensure that he did as soon as he was able.  Bishop Tilred recited from memory the Gospel of Mark [10:13-16], translating the Latin into English: “They were offering little children to Jesus so that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked those offering them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for of such is the kingdom of God.  Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child, will not enter into it.’  And he embraced them, and putting his hands on them, blessed them.”

In his brief homily explaining the passage in English, the bishop warned the community that children must be brought to the Savior and that the adults should be more like the children themselves in seeking the kingdom of God.

Priest Putta surreptitiously turned the small service book pages in Nothwulf’s hands to the next text the bishop might need.

Returning his attention from the congregation to the infant, Tilred loosened the tightly bound swaddling blanket enough to extract the right hand of little Aldred.  Prying open the balled fist, the bishop made a cross gesture in the palm of the small hand with his right thumb, and read accipe signaculum domini nostri ihesu christi in manu tua dextera ut te signeset de aduersa parte repelles et in fide catholica permaneas et uiuas cum domino semper in secula seculorum.”  May this sign keep him safely in the catholic faith.

The little hand free, baby Aldred began to squirm, and his eyes opened unfocused until they found the midwife’s face.  Taking hold of the blessed palm, Bega gave it a kiss and then turned to hand the baby to the godfather.

“What is the child’s name?”

As Deacon Aldred took the child into his arms, marveling at the lightness of the newborn, he answered, “Aldred,” thereby accepting responsibility for this little life.

Infant Aldred struggled in the unfamiliar arms of his new godfather.  His bishop uncle decided to keep the next prayer short, yet another telling off of the devil [Leofric 2497], and move on to the font ceremonies.

Leading the procession to the back of the church, Bishop Tilred began the litany of saints commemorated at Chester-le-Street.  Deacon Aldred, carrying the infant, followed behind him with Abbess Bega by his side, each taking up the chant.  Behind them walked Priest Putta, the service book tucked under his arm, and Nothhelm, carefully carrying the wide mouthed pitcher of holy water the priest had earlier sanctified.  Wulfflæd, carrying little Bega, trailed behind.

As he passed the coffin, Tilred paused to raise his sister and, taking her by the arm, led her to the font, never breaking the cadence of the chant.

The litany always began with the Greek Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, each of the triune godhead have mercy.  Starting at the top of the heavenly hierarchy, the litany of saints began with the most blessed Virgin Mary, followed by archangels and ranks of angels, patriarchs and prophets, apostles and evangelists, martyrs and saints, foreign and local, their own Cuthbert in the midst of them receiving a double chant.

Bowing to the bishop and lady, the people parted for them as they passed, then turned their backs to the altar and the coffin.  Some thought to cross themselves before doing so, as if they were leaving, but instead they stayed to watch the ceremony beginning at the doorway.

The procession approached the font slowly while finishing the litany with the deprecations against the devil and the appeals for salvation, the forgiveness of sins carried by the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God on the cross still gleaming on the altar behind them where Nothwulf had placed it.

The carved stone font stood on a wooden pedestal in the center of the square west end of the church.  The south door of the church was open to the manor, the doorway of the room where Tilwif had just risen from her childbed visible across the courtyard.  Tilwif’s legs shook as she clung to her brother’s arm, but she refused to give into bodily weakness and return to her bed.  She must see her son cleansed in the sacred waters.

First the font must be hallowed.

Bishop Tilred faced east toward the altar, the font in front of him, his sleeves folded back to bare his forearms for the work ahead.  To his left stood Priest Putta holding the service book open so that Tilred could refer to it as needed.  Nothwulf stood just behind the priest’s left hand, ready to assist.  On the bishop’s right, stood Deacon Aldred rocking his godson, Tilwif next to him, then Bega.

Oremus,” let us pray, the bishop intoned. Tilwif began to sway, so Bega put her arm around her waist, “lean on me,” she whispered.  Tilwif nodded and rested her head on her friend’s breast, allowing the ceremony’s words to wash over her.

Tilred’s prayer was answered by Deacon Aldred and Priest Putta giving the responses, the Lord be with you, and with your spirit.  The preface began, Uere Dignum, calling on the invisible power to sanctify the water.

Pausing, Tilred turned toward Nothwulf, who handed across the book-holding priest the pitcher of holy water he still held. Tilred poured from it into the font’s steaming water the shape of a cross, the cooler holy water dividing the surface into four invisible quadrants.  Bega had made sure that the serving women filled the font with boiling water before the funeral mass began so that it would be nicely warm by the time the infant was submersed in it.

Three times the bishop divided the font water with the holy water cross pattern, each time reciting a prayer of sanctification from the book, Priest Putta turning the pages upside down to him.  Putta knew the book well, since this was his small worn service book the bishop used.

The first prayer made the mixture of waters fecund for regeneration, engendering a spiritual conception in the water itself.  From “the immaculate womb of the divine font,” a heavenly progeny would emerge.  Bega, also understanding the words, thought of the divine conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, and the lesser but still equally mysterious conception of this child and his new birth in this font.

And, in case any unclean spirits might invade, the prayer asked that nothing impure might sully the waters, nothing insidious creep in.  Let this holy and innocent water be free from all evil, let this water of life purge, purify, and wash. Putta thought about the need for clean water, brought up from the deep well in the courtyard.

The second prayer blessed the water calling on the name of God, the one who in the beginning divided water from dry land, whose spirit moved over the waters, and who made the water flow from Paradise in four rivers (here Tilred poured the cross shape again). This same God sated the thirst of his people in the desert, producing water from a rock.

The third prayer moved from Genesis into the Gospels. Jesus walked on water, John baptized in the Jordan river water, Jesus turned water into wine in Chana of Galilee, and water and blood came from his side.  So the Savior commanded his disciples to baptize those who believe in His name and to teach them.

Bega loved the Gospel of John story of water turned into wine at the behest of our Savior’s mother, following so closely on the baptism of our Lord, both transforming the water of life into spiritual birth.  Both stories were carved on the sides of the stone font.

Tilred finished the prayer, signing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which they all copied automatically, even Tilwif, who was sagging against Bega.

Just as they finished signing, Bega was distracted by Priest Putta whispering to Nothwulf, who quickly turned toward the small table behind him against the north wall, where Wulfflæd stood holding a now sleeping Bega.  Setting down on the table the jug of holy water the bishop had returned to him, Nothwulf nodded to his sister as he picked up a beeswax taper, already lit.  The symbols of an acolyte’s role in the liturgy were a candle and a vessel for holding liquid, the two items he must hand to the priest or bishop as needed.  He was to do so quietly and swiftly, unnoticed, something he must still work on if he was to be ordained an acolyte soon.

Abbess Bega returned her attention to the bishop as Tilred’s tone changed from chant to reading.

“Omnipotent merciful God, breathe on this water…” and Tilred blew his own breath across the surface of the font water in a cross shape, thrice.

Finishing that purifying prayer, he moved to the next section in the book Priest Putta held.  The candle.  Tilred glanced left and saw Nothwulf returning to Putta’s side with the lit candle in his hands.  The boy reached across the service book the priest held, a small drop of wax landing on one page corner.

Tilred took the candle from the boy and dribbled five drops of wax on the surface of the water in a cross form, three down, two on each side.  Then three times he lowered the candle carefully upright into the font so that its flame reflected off the wavelets of water, calling on the Spirit to bring its regenerating effect to the water.

Nothwulf took the baptized candle from the bishop’s hand and returned it to the wooden holder on the table, scurrying to return as Putta had instructed him with a shallow silver bowl and sprig of fresh rosemary to hand to the bishop.

Taking the two items, Tilred dipped the bowl into the font and removed some of the sanctified water, chanting “I adjure you creature water that you will wash and purify for regeneration your children.”  Dipping the rosemary sprig in the bowl, he turned to his right and sprinkled each in turn the sleeping infant, the deacon holding the infant, his sister Tilwif, whose eyes opened briefly to meet his, and Bega supporting her.  Then turning to his left, the bishop asperged the boy, the priest, and then himself.  He handed the bowl and sprig back to Nothwulf, who turned once again and placed it on the small wooden table.  Wulfflæd standing there knew that folks departing or entering would cross themselves with the holy water.  Some would be taken to anoint the baby’s home as well.

Nothwulf returned with two small cruets of oil he unstoppered and removed from their carved ivory box on the table.  As he handed them across the book Putta still held open for the bishop, a splash from one overfull cruet landed in the top margin and drizzling downward across the first three lines of the page.

Not the first spill, from the looks of it, Tilred thought.  Anointing the page was a sign also of blessing, a book well used and loved.

Taking both cruets from the trembling hands of the boy, with his left hand Tilred tilted the pale green glass cruet, oil of unction, into the font water.  Oil and water do not mix, Deacon Aldred thought irrelevantly, even as his bishop moved to add the chrism oil in the yellow glass cruet with his right hand while pronouncing the words of sanctification.

A loud sharp word startled Tilwif from her semi-conscious state as she leaned on Bega. She had missed the oils but saw the two small cruets perched on the flat broad edge of the font in front of Tilred.

Effeta,” Tilred commanded, the ancient Hebrew word Jesus used to open the ears and free the tongue of the deaf man.  Like the Savior, Tilred had wet his finger with his own spit and was now marking the infant’s nose on each side, and each ear, saying “Open that which is to be opened, in the smell of sweetness” and with a further command drove the devil away into the last judgment of God.

And now the devil must be firmly renounced.

Looking into Deacon Aldred’s eyes as he held his godson, Bishop Tilred asked again “what is the child’s name?”

“His name is Aldred.”  It sounded so odd in his ears to say his own name in the third person rather than the first person.

Abrenuntio satane.”  Renounce Satan, the bishop asked, still looking directly into his deacon’s eyes.

Abrenuntio.”  I renounce, he replied. No need to use English for this godfather, since he was Latin-literate.

“And all his works,” Tilred added.

Abrenuntio.”

“And all his pomps.”

Abrenuntio.”

Once more asking the infant’s name to be pronounced by the godfather, Aldred answered again while unwrapping the child’s swaddling cloth as he did so to expose the child’s breast.

Tilred took his thumb and dipped it in the curved spout of the unction cruet. With the oily thumb, he made the sign of the cross on the bare chest, saying “I anoint you with the oil of salvation, in Christ Jesus our Lord, in life eternal.”  Tilred thought back to making the same sign with oil on this child’s father’s chest and wounds, just three days before.

A third time he asked for the child’s name and the godfather replied “Aldred.”

Placing his hand on the child’s head, Tilred began the Creed in question format, using Latin even here since he knew the deacon would understand: “Do you believe in the Lord, Father omnipotent, creator of heaven and earth?”

Credo,” Deacon Aldred replied on behalf of his godson.

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried; who descended into hell, on the third day rose from the dead; who ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father Omnipotent, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead?”

Credo.”  I believe.

And in the third part of the Creed formula, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the catholic church, the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, and life eternal?”

Credo.”

“Amen” both said together.

A fourth time, Tilred asked, “what is the child’s name?”

After his godfather answered, Tilred addressed the infant, “Aldred, do you wish to be baptized?”

And his godfather answered for him, “Volo.”  I will.

Bega moved Tilwif to her other side where the mother could lean on the font and watch her son’s immersion.  Bega then helped Aldred unwrap the infant, placing the outer swaddling blanket over the godfather’s shoulder and removing the wet, but thankfully not soiled, loin cloth from the small bottom, exposing the infant’s manhood still enlarged from birth.

In the cool air, the baby startled, his arms jerking above his head.

Tilred took his naked nephew from the godfather, his right hand supporting the head, his left under his bottom, the infant facing him.  He paused then, holding the baby over the water, and looked to his sister, whose eyes were wide open as she gripped the font edge to steady herself, Bega now standing behind her.

Tilred dipped the infant feet first down into the deep basin, saying “I baptize you in the name of the Father,” the small head submerged last and only briefly.  Instinctively, the baby closed his mouth and nose to the water. Brought up from the water swiftly, before he could open his mouth, Tilred dipped him a second time, “and the Son.”  A third time, “and the Holy Spirit.”

All said with the bishop, “Amen.”

Released from the thrice dipping, Aldred let loose a howl.  Everyone in the church smiled.  This was the sign of life one strained to hear from the first birthing room, and now the second birth.

But in that moment, Tilwif saw her husband’s face as it might have looked in battle pain, and she drooped forward, closing her eyes.  Would that this child never held a sword or faced one, unlikely in these dangerous times.

At the same time, the sound of her baby’s cry caused her milk to let down.  The creamy white nourishment had only come in last night, replacing the clear fluid for the newborn.  Now the milk was soaking her shift, fortunately not visible through her outer dress.  It had been almost two hours since the baby had nursed and he would be hungry for the life-giving fluid.

Bega supporting her behind, Tilwif straightened up and watched as Deacon Aldred reached into the font and took her baby from her brother.

Holding him with his left hand in the child’s middle, Aldred tipped the infant gently forward, so the unsteady head rested its chin on chest and the howling momentarily ceased.  His toes still kicking in the water, baby Aldred splashed the priest and the boy with a second aspersion of holy water.

Tilred dipped his finger in the yellow cruet and made the sign of the cross on the infant’s exposed neck, saying once more the Trinitarian formula, “In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti.”

These complicated maneuvers accomplished, Aldred brought the baby to his shoulder and began drying him off with the swaddling blanket, rubbing his head so that his darkly wet hair turned once again a pale red, the oil from the font adding a sheen of gold.  Swiftly and with practiced hands, Bega wrapped a clean cloth around the baby’s bottom.  Comforted by the soft hands and cloth, the infant quieted.

Meanwhile Tilred read the collect from the service book Putta still held. “God Almighty, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who regenerates you out of water and the Holy Spirit, by which is given to you the remission of sins, this same anoints you, Aldred,” and here he again made the sign of the cross in chrism oil on the baby’s head, “this oil of salvation anoints you, in Christ Jesus to eternal life.” [Leofric 2504]

All present said “Amen.”

Tilwif then reached into her belt-bag and brought out the chrismale, unfolded the small square of fine white linen, and held it draped on her palm toward her brother.  He made the sign of the cross with oil on it, thereby sanctifying the baptismal garment.  She placed it then on her baby’s head while Tilred intoned: “Accept this white vestment, pure and immaculate, which you will carry before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ, in eternal life.”

All present said “Amen.”

Turning to Nothwulf, he whispered “candle?”  The boy looked confused.  They had done the candle already.  Putta nudged him, so he went and fetched it out of the candle holder on the table.  Wulfflæd rolled her eyes at her brother.  As if she knew what was supposed to happen next, he thought, just because she had attended her first birth.  This was his first baptism.

The bishop took the taper from his hand and, to the boy’s amazement, put the lit candle in the right hand of the baby.

Aldred had turned the infant in his arms to cradle him, the right hand of the baby free of swaddling. Infant Aldred’s small fist closed around the base of the candle, but his godfather gripped it above to prevent wax from dripping on the soft pink skin.

Tilred recited: “Take this unblemished lamp guarding your baptism, so that when Christ returns for the wedding you will be able to meet him, one with the saints entering the celestial home, so that you will go into life eternal and you will live in secula seculorum.”

All present said “Amen.”

Priest Putta brought out the small box with the reserve host, which Bishop Tilred had instructed him ahead of time to prepare for this unusual circumstance.  Taking it, the bishop held it aloft over the font, facing the altar.

Corpus et sanguis domini nostri iesu christi custodiat te in uitam aeternam.”

Then he gave the post-communion prayer ending the mass that had been interrupted by the baptism, using not the funeral formula but the one in the baptismal liturgy that Priest Putta pointed to in the service book.  [Jumièges, p. 100]

The prayer of regeneration echoed oddly in a church with at one end a dead body at the altar and at the other end an infant newly raised from the font.  Father and son.

Posted by: kljolly | May 2, 2016

Thirsting and Drought

As part of the research for my Leeds IMC paper on “Hunger and Thirst in Anglo-Saxon England,” I began to consider the conceptual range of the two words, hunger and thirst.  Both have a literal, physical meaning–a biological urge to eat and drink when the body signals a lack of food or liquid–as well as associated metaphorical meanings of spiritual, emotional, or other forms of desire for fulfillment.

It struck me, though, that the dyad hunger and thirst is a Biblical one that may have a different valence in Anglo-Saxon experience.  In Biblical lands and other regions with deserts or susceptible to severe drought, thirst signals a very real danger of dehydration in the same way that hunger left unsated can lead to starvation or death from malnutrition.  You can die of thirst before starvation in some places. Add to this lack of access to clean, safe water and thirst becomes dire.

But the likelihood of death from dehydration due to lack of liquid is much less in northern European climes, where drought is less frequent and less severe, perhaps affecting crops and cattle leading to famine, but not contributing to human mortality due to dehydration.  Most northern Europeans could access water from wells, streams and rivers, although with the risk of contamination and illness.  They could also concoct brewed drinks of various kinds, drink animal milk, or get needed liquid from plants in the diet.

So, under what conditions might someone in Anglo-Saxon England be extremely or dangerously thirsty?

A search of OE þurst, þurstig, þyrstan, þyrstig; ungemet-þurst, sin-þyrstende, ge-þyrst, of-þyrsted shows the common dyad hunger and thirst, as well as an even balance of literal and figurative types of thirst, none seemingly deadly in themselves.

Of the literal types of thirst as symptomatic of a dangerous condition, I thought of the following possibilities:

  • illness (Leechbook II.16 where thirst and lack of thirst are cited as symptoms of hot and cold stomachs respectively)
  • thirst while dying of some other cause, as in battle (Christ on the cross is also an example)
  • asceticism, linked with Biblical overtones (Wilfrid, Cuthbert)
  • seafaring, when the water runs out, although I need to find some examples
  • prisoners left to die without food or drink, haven’t found any cases
  • and natural disasters leading to polluted water or drought

Not wanting to exclude the possibility of natural disaster causing a water shortage, I embarked on a search for drought in Anglo-Saxon England and ran into some familiar source problems.  Many of the textual references to drought (OE drūgoþ, Lat. siccĭtas, arĭdĭtas) were to Biblical, homiletic, or glossary texts and not directly referring to conditions in England.  While Anglo-Saxons may have understood the concept of a desert as very dry land, their own experience of waste lands was probably not visualized or experienced as the waterless deserts of Biblical or other Mediterranean stories.

Still, did Anglo-Saxon England experience droughts?  It was easier to find Irish evidence, both textual and archaeological. The Annals of Ulster record a drought in 773, which F. Ludlow has correlated with tree ring data (Tree Ring Chronology of Meteorological Extremes for Ireland, AD425-1650, Irish Meteorological Society 2013, available at Academe.edu).  Later Irish annals mention heat and drought (Annals of Inisfallen, 1129; Annals of Connacht, 1252; see Fergus Kelly, Early Irish Farming, pp. 2, 235).  Would England experience a drought if Ireland did?  I have not yet found a reference to drought in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Not for want of trying, and here I have to share some frustrations with citations that have led to a very different outcome for this post.

One handy resource for Anglo-Saxon foodways is Ann Hagen’s earlier A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food Processing and Consumption (1992) and her later, more comprehensive, Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink : Production, Processing, Distribution and Consumption (2006).  Both were published by Anglo-Saxon Books, a press specializing in readable general audience materials for non-specialists.  For specialists like myself, though, we need to track down the primary sources, and for that the citations in these two books are very misleading.

Hagen’s  Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food Processing and Consumption has a handy Appendix D listing famine years from 439-1099, but alas the primary evidence is poorly documented. In the narrative section earlier–where a number of useful Anglo-Saxon primary sources are quoted and cited–she implied that Appendix D was based on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  (p. 104, with a footnote to Wilfrid Bonser’s 1963 The Medical Background of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 14 which briefly describes the ASC as a source and notes that a pestilence might be recorded in only one local version).  Appendix D has footnotes only on some entries, implying these are from other sources than the ASC.  However, I could not find the unmarked references in ASC but did find a number of them in a book cited for other entries, a compilation by C. Walford, The Famines of the World Past & Present (Statistical Society of London, 1879), who states that the sources he used are too numerous to cite except on occasion (p. 4).  He starts with the Bible and Egypt, 1708 B.C.

So, in searching for drought, the following popped up in Hagen’s list but cannot be adequately traced to Anglo-Saxon primary source evidence:

  • 592 drought 10 January to Sept, traced to Walford, p. 69
  • 605 heat and drought, traced to Walford, p. 47
  • 680 three years drought, traced to Walford, p. 47
  • 737 great drought made land unfruitful, citing Whitelock English Historical Documents I (1955), 259; which I tracked in the 2nd ed. to p. 285, from the “Continuation” of Bede, which relies on 12th century and later manuscripts (see editions by Plummer I: 361-63; Colgrave-Mynor pp. 572-73).
  • not cited by Hagan but also in Walford, p. 47, drought in England 362, 374, 439, 454, Scotland 480, 762, Ireland 772, 775, 988-89.

In Hagen’s  Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink, p. 183, she cites a three year famine in England and Ireland between 695 and 700 leading to cannibalism; a four-year famine in Scotland beginning in 936, also leading to cannibalism; and then cites an account of people eating “horses, dogs, cats, rats and other vermin” after William the Conqueror’s campaigns in 1069.  After only this third sentence does a footnote appear and it is to a 1975 general history of cannibalism by Reay Tannahill, Flesh and Blood:  A History of the Cannibal Complex, which is, I am sorry to say, a good example of very bad comparative religious history, uncritically citing stories of cannibalism from cultures around the world.  Tannahill’s book seems to be the source for some of Hagen’s less reliable citations.

In the next paragraph, she says that “tabooed foods in Anglo-Saxon England included `horses, dogs, cats, rats, and other loathsome and vile vermin,'” with a footnote for the quote to “Harleian Miscellany III, 151.”  I could not find the item in the bibliography under that heading (also cited by Tannahill, who got it from Walford), but I did find it online, The Harleian Miscellany, or, a Collection of Scarce, Curious, and Entertaining Pamphlets and Tracts, as well in Manuscript as in Print, found in the Late Earl of Oxford’s Library, interspersed with Historical, Political, and Critical Notes, Vol. III (London: Robert Dutton, 1809), where p. 151 is a quote from The Life of King William I, presumably in support of the previous paragraph’s example but certainly not a reliable source for Anglo-Saxon views or practices (the Life begins on p. 115 and is written by J. Hayward in 1613). Tannahill (pp. 46-47) uses this example, along with others to survey medieval European famines leading to cannibalism, citing Walford (!).  Tannahill then offers as a reliable story for a late tenth century famine and cannibalism an account from “one of the few authors who was born at a time when it was still possible to hear of it from eyewitnesses,” proceeding to quote Raoul Glaber who, he notes only in the bibliography but rightly “was a gossip rather than a reliable historian” (p. 185). The book is made up of such “evidence.”

Indeed, more recent and scholarly theories about famine and cannibalism in the Middle Ages suggest such references should be used with extreme caution.  See for example:

  • Bonnassie, P. “Consommation d’aliments immondes [et cannibalisme de survie dans l’occident du Haut Moyen Age],” Annales: Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations 44 (1989):1035-56.
  • Christopher Dyer, “Did the Peasants Really Starve in Medieval England?” pp. 54-71 and Julia Marvin, “Cannibalism as an Aspect of Famine in Two English Chronicles,” pp. 73-86 in Food and Eating in Medieval Europe, ed. Martha Carlin and Joel T. Rosenthal (London and Rio Grande, OH: Hambledon Press, 1998).

The views of Walton, Tannahill, and even Hagen reflect a popular view of pre-modern societies as suffering from regular, debilitating famines because they lacked sustainable economies that go beyond subsistence and are therefore subjected to the ravages of nature.  In this view, these early agricultural economies lacked the infrastructure of civilization that the modern world has created to prevent starvation.  But of course we haven’t prevented starvation.  What we have done is create this modern myth of a primitive past of human childhood that we can then impose on the poor today–if only they would grow up and participate in a modern economy, they would not be starving–when it is really modern human systems of economic power that have created the poverty we see around the world today.

 

Posted by: kljolly | January 29, 2016

The Year 918

The chapter on Aldred’s birth and his father’s death, set in 918, is developing in complexity and I now need to determine the time of year for the events.

From the two previous posts, I have expanded the narrative to include his father Alfred’s treatment for wounds and subsequent death at Chester-le-Street, where he was brought seriously wounded after the battle of Corbridge, Aldred’s birth at their Easington estate, the transport of Alfred’s body to Easington, and the funeral as well as baptism that follows in the manor church.

All of these rituals of birth and death I am recounting in gory detail.  One of the things I admired when reading Nicola Griffith’s Hild is the attention to sensory details:  how everyday things outdoors and indoors smelled, felt, sounded, looked in various lights and at different times of year.  I don’t think I can do exactly that.  However, what I do know well and have sources for are medicinal practices, Christian rituals, and spirituality.  As for childbirth, done that three times without much in the way of modern medicine, and coached two grandchildren into the world, so I think I can merge those experiences with information from Anglo-Saxon medical texts.

But to really get the feel of the religious community and its atmosphere, I need to specify the liturgical as well as agricultural seasons.  The battle of Corbridge narrows it down, since battles usually occur in summer rather than winter.  Later medieval war poetry sings about the joys of going to war in the spring, while other indications would suggest stopping warfare for the fall harvest (unless, of course, one wanted to destroy the ripe fields just prior to harvest or steal it right after the harvest).

None of the primary sources for the battle of Corbridge, such as they are, give a time of year (Irish, Scots, and Anglo-Saxon annals and chronicles, the very confused Historia de Sancto Cuthberto which makes it seem like there were two battles).  Even the outcome is uncertain, with some giving the victory to the vikings and others to the coalition of Scots, Strathclyde, and Northumbrian leaders, assisted by the Mercians, who opposed Ragnall coming over from Dublin and settling in at York.  After the death of two of Ragnall’s associates made it seem like they were losing, the vikings pushed back after nightfall and seemed to dominate, although the leadership of the allies did not suffer great losses.

Within the Christian calendar, I would think after Easter and probably after Pentecost would be preferable, although as I noted before Pentecost makes for a nice baptism ritual.  If online calculations serve (or here), Easter in 918 was April 10 and Pentecost seven weeks after on May 29.  Ascension day, preceded by Rogation days for the fields, would have fallen on Thursday May 19.

May seems a bit early for the battle.  Even if Ragnall didn’t care about the Christian calendar, Scots king Constantine would not have come down to pursue Ragnall until after these feasts.  The later Truce of God on the continent specifies severe limits of days of war or fighting, including a complete ban from Advent to the octave of Epiphany, Lent to octave of Easter, and Rogation days to octave of Pentecost.

So the long post-Pentecost season of ordinary days stretches over the summer until Advent in late fall.  Between, of course, are other feastdays tied mostly to the saints.  Let us say, June, July, or early August, with the battle on a non-feast day just prior to one on which the funeral and baptism might take place.

Any interesting saints, universal or local? Here is where being a member of the Henry Bradshaw Society pays off, as I look through Rebecca Rushforth’s Saints in English Calendars Before 1100 (HBS CXVII).

Thoughts?

I am kind of partial to the Seven Sleepers, just because it is a marvelously international tale known in Anglo-Saxon England (AElfric has a sermon on it, Lives of Saints XXIII).   I could try to work it in (one of the sleepers is named Constantine…), but it might be distracting to my narrative unless I can connect some themes of death and resurrection, or should I save it for another chapter?

Help, help, I have fallen down another research rabbit hole!

 

 

 

Posted by: kljolly | January 22, 2016

Death Rituals

Now that I have worked out the basic sequence for an infant baptism, I am turning to the sequence of events for the dying and dead.

The goal here is to figure out how a conscientious early 10th century Northumbrian bishop (Tilred) would approach having to carry out both tasks in the same day for his own family:  the death of his brother-in-law Alfred and the baptism of his newborn nephew Aldred, while blessing and comforting the widow and new mother, his sister Tilwif.  I want to create a liturgical sequence that is disordered and disorienting for the participants, but still plausible.

The difficulties have to do with time and place:  what follows what in the rituals, what can be interrupted, but also what happens if the participants are moving from one location to another, in this case taking the body of Alfred from Chester-le-Street, where he dies after arriving mortally wounded from the Battle of Corbridge (918), to Easington, his estate where Tilwif gives birth to Aldred.

Another timing issue is how soon after death someone was buried versus how soon after birth would a (sickly) newborn be baptized?  Could I delay the burial long enough to make the entrance of a determined mother and her newborn into the manorial church where her husband’s body lay plausible?  Or, although it decreases the drama of it, the birth could take place earlier, during the Battle of Corbridge rather than upon hearing the news of her husband’s injuries.

The penitentials indicate that the basic components of a funeral would include bringing the body to the church, signing the cross on his or her breast, celebrating a mass, then taking the body to the grave with songs, and the closing of the grave (Lee, Feasting the Dead, pp. 104-05, citing Penitentials of Theodore for religious men and Pseudo-Egbert for laymen).  Although certainly services and commemorations for members of a religious community would be more extensive than a layperson’s, Alfred as a protector of the community and relative of the bishop might have had something more elaborate than the ordinary lay ceremonies.

Using the Leofric Missal as a handy guide, the rituals performed by Bishop Tilred, and his deacon Aldred (godfather to infant Aldred) might include:

  1.  Ordo visitandum et unguendum infirmum (Leofric 2507-22).  The first task, today called Last Rites, would be prayers over the dying man, which includes confession, asperging with water, anointing with oil in cross shaped patterns, and communion.  The Missal of Robert of Jumièges (pp. 290-94) has Old English rubrics for this ritual, so I may switch over to it.
  2. Ordo in agenda mortuorum, beginning with Orationes super defunctum (Leofric 2198-08), which Tilred and his community would move into from the previous Ordo somewhat seamlessly with the seven penitential psalms once again, followed by responses and antiphons.  I surmise that this kind of thing probably happened frequently, the need to go from the prayers over the dying to the prayers over the dead.
  3. Orationes quando inciperint corpus lavare (Leofric 2209-11).  For this washing of the body, I am imagining the Chester-le-Street resident clergy (whether classifiably monks or not, this would include novices and all ranks up to priests and the bishop) gather around the room to perform these prayers, while lay women from the community estate enter to wash the body.
  4. The body is then moved to the church with antiphons and responsories sung along the way, and psalms and prayers after arriving in the church (Leofric 2212-14).  Here is where I am having Alfred’s body transported from Chester-le-Street to Easington, a 12 mile journey.  According to GoogleEarth and maps, a bicyclist could do it in just over an hour.  However, an ox-drawn cart is considerably slower, at least according to Civil War buffs and U.S. western expansion wagon-train websites, more like 2-3 miles per hour.  So, it would take half a day for the body to get there, which I am positing as departing at midday if he arrived from the battle the night before, died in the early morning hours, and the above rituals are performed first:  so, arriving at Easington at dusk.  Those on the wagon are chanting the above, including the Greek Kyrie eleison, which I imagine would echo oddly in the English countryside.  Upon arrival at the Easington manor, the local priest and his young assistant would join in to complete the ritual of bringing the body (in a coffin?) into the church.   Manorial estate serving women would add fragrant herbs to the coffin and six remaining men (too young, old, ill to go to the battle and left to guard the estate) would carry it in and stand as honor guard.
  5. Mass; prayers and responses that follow (Leofric 2215-20).  Although presumably this could take place immediately that evening, it seems plausible to conduct it the next morning, followed by burial during daylight hours.  Tricky here is whether the baptism of the infant can take place after the Mass but before the burial. It creates a jarring scene as the congregants turn from the altar and body toward the (possible makeshift) font in the back of the nave, before processing out to the burial site. The problem is that we need another mass after the baptism as “first communion,” which would then have to be done after the burial, returning to the church.
  6. Burial.  The body is carried out of the church and to the place of burial with antiphons and placed in the grave with prayers (Leofric 2221-28), followed by Orationes post sepultum corpus (Leofric 2229-41).  These prayers are said after the body is buried, presumably while everyone is still graveside, and includes the commendation of the soul.
  7. Tilwif and her newborn would not go to the graveside service, but could later return to the church for the baptism first communion mass.  Could the local priest stay to do that second mass while the bishop does the graveside service, or vice versa?

Thoughts and suggestions?

References:

Lee, Christina. Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals (Woodbridge:  Boydell, 2007).

Orchard, Nicholas, ed. The Leofric Missal, 2 vols. London: Henry Bradshaw Society, 2002.

Wilson, H. A., ed.  The Missal of Robert of Jumièges.  London:  Henry Bradshaw Society, 1896; repr. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1994.

 

Posted by: kljolly | January 18, 2016

Infant Baptism

Figuring out an infant’s baptism in tenth-century Northumbria is quite complicated but therefore presents the fiction author with some latitude, since the available service books differ in the sequence of events.

For what follows, I rely on Bedingfield, Gittos, and Keefer, as well as Orchard (editor of Leofric Missal) and Page (editor of the Red Book of Darley excerpts), all noted in the references.  I would like to dedicate this post, though, to the first three, who introduced me to liturgical studies.  So Brad, Helen, and especially Sarah, many thanks!

By the tenth century, baptism had evolved away from an Easter series of events to an ad hoc single event occasioned by the birth of an infant.  As the various Anglo-Saxon laws and canons indicate, this might be performed within the first week of life, or nearer the birth if the child was sickly.  Other sources on baptism include Bede’s Homilies, and the later writings of Ælfric and Wulfstan.

The condensed single ceremony retained elements of the older sequence timed with the events leading up to Easter, but the order varies in the extant service books.  So while the Romano-Germanic Pontifical and Gelasian Sacramentaries give us a certain order found in English service books like the Missal of Robert of Jumièges, some Anglo-Saxon books, notably the Leofric Missal and the Red Book of Darley (which has Old English rubrics!), deviate in a way similar to the bilingual Irish Stowe Missal.  As Seumas pointed out in his comments on the previous post, it is possible that a Northumbrian priest might follow an Irish-tinted ritual.

So, what all goes into the baptism?  Here is a list, with some caveats about the order:

  1. Christening:  the infant is named.
  2. Exorcism:  prayer for expulsion of the devil.  Darley puts here an exsulfation with the priest blowing three times on the child saying Exi ab eo spiritus inmunde et da locum spiritui sancto paraclito in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti while signing on the forehead and breast.  Meanwhile, Leofric skips ahead to the font blessing.
  3. Salt is exorcised, sanctified, and placed in the infant’s mouth.  Darley asks the child’s name at this point, and at several points below.
  4. Prayer follows this but has an unclear relation to the previous exorcism.  In Darley’s preparatory prayers, the priest recites the Pater Noster, Creed, and the Gospel lection (detailed below in the usual order), makes the sign of the cross in the right hand of the child and says Accipe signaculum domini nostri ihesu christi in manu tua dextera ut te singnes [signes] et de aduersa parte repelles et in fide catholica permaneas et uiuas cum domino semper in secular seculorum.
  5. Exposition of the Gospels:  this used to be a quite extensive explanation of all four and reading of each of their introductions, but is usually replaced with a reading from Matthew, although Darley has a Mark passage on Jesus receiving the little children.
  6. Introduction or presentation of the Creed and Pater noster:  again, these used to be explained in some detail to the baptismal candidates, but in the condensed version might be presented with the Credo queries below.
  7. Pre-Abrenuntio prayer in which the devil is told off.  This originates in the longer Easter version because at this point they have returned early on Holy Saturday after a Chrismal Mass on Maundy Thursday.
  8. Effeta (open up!):  infant anointed with spit and oil.  Darley has after the font blessing, with spit placed on the nose.
  9. Abrenuntio:  3 questions are asked about renouncing the devil, his works, and his pomps, to which the sponsor (e.g. the infant’s godparent) each time answers abrenuntio.  At this point the priest anoints the child with the oil of exorcism using a cross sign from head and across the shoulders, just prior to the baptism in the font.  Darley does not have this exorcism, perhaps because of the earlier exsulfation exorcism, and places the Abrenuntio after the font blessing and Effeta.
  10. Font:  they process to the font, sometimes chanting a litany (not sure if the above exorcism takes place before or after this procession); the font is consecrated by pouring chrism into the water in a cross shape.  Leofric has this consecration earlier before all the exorcisms, which makes a real hash of things as Orchard notes.  Darley also has the font blessing right after the Nec te latet prayer, which is usually right before the Abrenuntio and oil business above.
  11. Credo:  these three questions test belief in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to which the sponsor answers, Credo.  Darley also has the sponsor answer a fourth query, vis baptizari (do you wish to be baptized?), to which the godparent answers on the infant’s behalf, volo (I will).
  12. Baptism:  infant is dipped three times for the Trinity and signed with the Chrism.  Darley has the priest here repeat the formula In nomine patris et filii et spirtus sancti while signing on the nape of the infant’s neck.
  13. Water distribution:  in some instructions, the blessed font water is sprinkled on not just the infant but also the people around the font and they are allowed to take some to sprinkle at home, presumably the infant’s home.
  14. Vesting in white:  the baptized infant is dressed in white.  In Darley, the chrismal cloth is laid on the child’s head and a lit candle (!) is placed in its hand while the priest recites Accipe lampadem prayer (a vestige of the Paschal candle?).  The candle shows up in later service books, but Ælfric also mentions it.
  15. Confirmation:  If, or when, a bishop is present, the child is confirmed.

Taking this sequence, I can probably create a plausible baptism of Aldred in 918, maybe even just use the Darley ritual with its Old English rubrics neatly handed to me. Darley also has a second sequence for baptizing a sickly child that might be useful.

The next question (and post) is how Aldred’s baptism might fit into the same day where his uncle Bishop Tilred is also performing rites for his dead father Alfred.

References:

Bedingfield, M. Bradford. The Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2002.  Chapter 7.

Gittos, Helen. “Is There Any Evidence for the Liturgy of Parish Churches in Late Anglo-Saxon England? The Red Book of Darley and the Status of Old English.” In Francesca Tinti, ed., Pastoral Care in Late Anglo-Saxon England. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005, 63-82.

Keefer, Sarah Larratt. “Manuals,” in The Liturgical Books of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Richard W. Pfaff. Old English Newsletter Subsidia 23, 1995, pp.99-109.

Orchard, Nicholas, ed.  The Leofric Missal, 2 vols.  London:  Henry Bradshaw Society, 2002.  See vol. 1, pp. 113-18 and vol. 2 nos 2480-2506.

Page, R. I. “Old English Liturgical Rubrics in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 422.” Anglia 96 (1978): 149-58.

 

Posted by: kljolly | January 12, 2016

Liturgies of birth and death

I am writing an early chapter on Aldred’s birth and family, but am wrestling with recreating the rituals surrounding the events of birth and death.  In this case, I have timed Aldred’s birth with the death of his father Alfred, whom I linked to the Elfred son of Brihtwulf described in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto as fleeing pirates over the Pennines into Northumbria and later dying at the Battle of Corbridge in 918.

So the “grim” scene I wanted to set was after his mother Tilred (that “good woman” of the Lindisfarne colophon) goes into labor on news of her husband Alfred’s death.  Then her brother Tilred, bishop of Chester-le-Street, brings the body to their estate at Easington, where he conducts a funeral, a baptism, and a blessing over his sister.  Getting a dead body, a newborn, and a post-partum woman into one scene in the church at Easington is dramatic but tricky.  Several problems arose as I looked for the appropriate rituals and prayers in Anglo-Saxon liturgies.

The blessing over Tilwif I knew would have to be cobbled together, since the churching of women, usually after a month of rest, was a later phenomenon. Similarly post-partum blessing of a woman in childbed on the eighth day, develops in the 12th century (Franz; Rivard).  However, I can imagine Tilred anticipating these developments by adapting benedictional language to the circumstance.

That she could come into a church, even in the early days after childbirth, is allowed and even commended by Pope Gregory I answering Augustine of Canterbury’s eighth question about pregnant, recently delivered women, and infants receiving baptism, or the newly delivered or menstruating women receiving communion (Bede, Ecclesiastical History 1:27).  I am prepared to have this strong willed woman limp into church for her husband’s funeral and newborn’s baptism.

Infant baptism adds complications, since there is no named rite in Anglo-Saxon liturgies.  The two baptismal ceremonies are for catechumens, presumably including infants, conducted either on the eve of Easter or of Pentecost, and the baptism for the infirm who are presumably so close to death as to not be able to wait for Easter or Pentecost.  Later Aquinas urges  infants to be baptized right away, since they are all in danger of death, but in this period the canons and liturgies seem to support waiting for Easter or Pentecost unless sick (Dudley). So for Aldred to be baptized at his father’s funeral, he would either have to be sickly or it has to be Easter or Pentecost when all this happens.

Add to this locational difficulties.  For the baptism to take place in the Easington manor church, it would need a font, and for the burial, a churchyard.  Not many manorial churches would have both (having a churchyard is a status symbol in Anglo-Saxon law and determines dues).  The usual practice for baptism would be to go on Easter to the larger church, in this case Chester-le-Street.  Plus we have a dead body to accommodate.

So.  I have two scenarios, one at Easington, the other at Chester-le-Street.

1:  The way it is written now, Bishop Tilred brings Alfred’s body from Chester-le-Street (where he arrived from the battle close to death) to Easington for burial, where Tilwif, who went into labor upon hearing the news of her husband’s fatal injuries, has delivered a pre-term Aldred.  This would allow Tilwif and infant Aldred to enter their close manorial church for these ceremonies, albeit against the midwife’s advice for both mother and child.  Tilred may have to use a portable “font” of holy water as a priest might do for the baptism of the infirm.  The dead body takes a day to get there, so the funeral might be on the third day after childbirth.

2.  Tilred, on hearing the news of her husband’s fatal injuries at the Battle of Corbridge, travels the day’s journey to Chester-le-Street, in the eighth month of pregnancy.  She arrives to have him die in her arms, goes into labor, and delivers at Chester-le-Street.  This means the funeral and burial occur in the Chester-le-Street church with all its episcopal furnishings, and the infant baptism and blessing of Tilwif are integrated, perhaps a day or two after Alfred’s death and Aldred’s birth.

In either case, I am trying to preserve my dramatic scene that intentionally stretches the liturgical roles Bishop Tilred must perform in one location:  he does a funeral mass, blesses the newly delivered widow seated there, baptizes a baby, then proceeds to the churchyard burial.

Have I missed any factors?  Any suggestions?

References

Martin R. Dudley, “Sacramental Liturgies in the Middle Ages,” in The Liturgy of the Medieval Church, ed. Thomas J. Heffernan and E. Ann Matter, pp. 215-43 at 220-27.

Adolph Franz, Die kirchlichen Benediktionem im Mittelalter, vol. 2, pp. 210-12 and pp. 224-28.

Derek A. Rivard, Blessing the World:  Ritual and Lay Piety in Medieval Religion, pp. 83, 212-14.

 

 

Posted by: kljolly | November 21, 2015

Whidbey Island

Last summer I went to Iona, tramping around for the day trying to see it through Aldred’s eyes.  And even though it was great to see the stone crosses, experience worship in the church, and survey the sweeping landscape, a day was not enough to really feel the place.  I want to go back for a week.

Instead I came to a week long writing workshop retreat on Whidbey Island in Washington.

Crossing on the ferry reminded me of the ferry to Mull and then Iona.  Only then did I think that perhaps this week might become a second Iona.  The landscape is not all that different, although the latitude is less northerly.  The weather was cold–and making the experience more authentic, a wind storm knocked the power out for more than three days.

While I did get a lot of good writing time and excellent feedback on Aldred’s novel, I also wrote some brief poems reflecting on the landscape, offered here in lieu of a post on Iona.

Awe

When you look up
Your head thrown all the way back
Your mouth opens

AweWhidbey.jpg

And I Begin to Sway

If you stand still long enough
You see the trees move

TreesMove

Path Blocked to the Sanctuary

Whideby 006

Sometimes they break
the wind snapping, wrenching
whole branches, trunks even
Dare I touch the wounded wood?

Whideby 003

***

On the path of the labyrinth,
though,
I could pick up the branches
and throw them out of the circle.

labyrinth

Sound

I can hear water,
I think,
beneath the sound of the generator.
Maybe a stream,
but I cannot see it down among the bushy woods
below me.
Or maybe it is just
the mist of rain prickling on my hood.

Whidbey12

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