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.


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


And I Begin to Sway

If you stand still long enough
You see the trees move


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,
I could pick up the branches
and throw them out of the circle.



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.


Posted by: kljolly | September 22, 2015

Cuthbert’s Coffin

I have spent the last hour or so over lunch trying in vain to answer a question that should be simple, that I should know the answer to, or at least be able to find in the books, articles, and online resources I have within reach:

Which end is which of the reconstructed Cuthbert coffin?

If the apostle’s side is facing me and the five archangel side is opposite, which way is Christ in Majesty (with the four evangelists) on the lid, head to my left or right?  And which end of the coffin has the Virgin and Child and the other the two archangels, Michael and Gabriel?

Cuthbert's Coffin (World Heritage)

Cuthbert’s Coffin (World Heritage)

I have BEEN there and can’t find any online pictures that indicate which is which or that show enough of an angle to guess.

Posted by: kljolly | August 1, 2015

Govan Stones


Tom Manley Photography from Senchus

I just arrived in Glasgow for ISAS a bit jetlagged, especially after spending an extra three hours in Newark. But before even settling into the hotel, I hightailed it over to the tenth-eleventh century Govan Stones on exhibit at the old Govan Church, as urged by Tim Clarkson of Senchus, whose books were on prominent display in the entry area.

Many thanks, Tim:  it was well worth the visit.  I am just sorry that the limited hours of 1-4 in the afternoon prevent ISAS conferees from visiting during the week, although some may skive off.

First of all, I took no pictures because any camera I have could not compete with the professional ones posted by Tom Manley, so I will use those.  Also, the lighting is a bit wonky, floor bulbs pointing upward.  At one point, a tour guide put her foot over the light in order to point out a feature.

Speaking of which, the two volunteer guides on duty today were excellent, knowledgeable about the historical contexts and various interpretations, as well as open to suggestions from visitors about what they see.  I am sorry I did not get their names.

Tom Manley Photography

Tom Manley Photography

Several things caught my attention in the exhibit.  Everyone notices the snake themed interlace, some very distinctive (one guide aptly called the fat round scrollwork “intestiinal”).  The “sun stone” above has the unusual central boss with snake figures emerging outward.

But I was also looking at the beasties, animals that it is best to call horse-like, dog-like, etc rather than commit oneself to a particular critter, a problem I am pointing out in my ISAS paper on vermin.

Constantine sarcophagus

Constantine sarcophagus

The Constantine sarcophagus has a curious set of horse-like or deer-like animals on both of the long sides.  On the side with the horseback rider (presumably Constantine), two are in front of his horse, and two on the panel behind.  But on the other side, four animals form a square, two upright on top and two upside down below (no picture).  The guide suggested four subkingdoms.  I wondered if the two below were “dead” and the two above living, but they don’t appear to be trampling those below.

Tom Manley Photography

Tom Manley Photography

Behind the wonderful hogstones are two upright slabs along the wall.  The one on the right has along its left narrow face, upside down, a man seated with something in front of him, hard to see while craning one’s neck to see the edge looking upside down.  Apparently it is considered to be David’s coronation, possibly with harp.

Many of the stones lining the walls of the church have been “reused” by seventeenth century gentry who had their names carved on the front of the slabs.  But one slab, on the right side of the church, appears to be unfinished in its tenth-eleventh century state (no picture).  The scrollwork consists of regular deep carved slashes and triangles, which seems to give a hint about how the stone carvers went about turning a flat surface into a textured scroll of intertwining snakes or vines:  one has to visualize the scrollwork like a negative, series of holes that once chipped out in a pattern will create the positive image.

Altogether, a fascinating exhibit.  I had my older sister in tow, who found the exhibit surprisingly interesting considering her interests lie elsewhere.  In a sort of Gimli and Legolas bargain, we will later visit the Morgan car factory (her passion) to see which is a more worthy tourist experience.

Posted by: kljolly | June 24, 2015

azimus: unleavened

In somewhat of a break from vermin (that paper for ISAS 2015 is coming along nicely), I returned to transcribing Aldred’s gloss of the Durham Collectar, mostly to keep my mind active with his as well as continue experimenting with ways of digitizing the Latin and Old English.  I ran across another curiosity, this time in a gloss of lections from 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 that wrestles with leaven (fermentum) vs unleavened (azimus).  It appears that Aldred may have stumbled over azimus, which raised questions about whether the Eucharist bread was leavened or unleavened (or not an issue).   I don’t think the rodents nibbling on the bread cared.

1Corinthians 5:7-8 (Bible Gateway):


7 expurgate vetus fermentum ut sitis nova consparsio sicut estis azymi [not in Durham] et enim pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus
8 itaque epulemur non in fermento veteri neque in fermento malitiae et nequitiae sed in azymis sinceritatis et veritatis
7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.[a] 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Aldred in Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 fol. 12r20-v2 has:

bro’ giclænsað gie ða alde dærsta[o] þ/te gie sie niwvnge
20 [F]ratres; expurgate uetus fermentum ut sitis noua con-
gistrogdnisse & æc f’ðon eastro vsra agefen is crist
21 sparsio et enim pascha nostrum immolatus est christus.
bro’ gi[h]riordiga ve no in daerstv’ aldv’ ne æc in daerstv
22 Fratres. epulemur non in fermento ueteri neque in fermento

yfelgiornisse & vnwisnise ah on dærstv’ ł on ðearfv’ bilvitnisses &
1 mailitiæ et nequitiæ sed in azymis sinceritatis et
2 ueritatis.

Aldred glosses Latin fermentum with Old English dærstum. In non-Aldredian texts dærste refers to sediment or dregs (as in wine), and by extension it can mean impurities.  Aldred may have had this sense in mind when glossing the yeast of the Pharisees in the Gospels and in this passage as primarily impurities, rather than necessarily thinking of fermentum as a rising agent.  The Dictionary of Old English assumes his use of dærste to translate fermentum indicates a Northumbrian meaning of yeast.  The non-Northumbrian Farman in the MacRegol Gospels also uses dærste to gloss fermentum while Northumbrian Owun, usually copying Aldred, uses beorma.  Northumbrian Owun, following Aldred’s gloss, uses variants of dærst- to gloss fermentum in Mark and Luke, while non-Northumbrian Farman uses beorma in Matthew. So whether dærste means specifically yeast or just some added impurity remains unclear in passages referring to the yeast of the Pharisees and the like (see Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:21 for a clearer reference to adding leaven in bread).

But on the page turn Aldred encounters its opposite, azymis, unleavened, found throughout the Old Testament in reference to unleavened bread (and presumably a Greek word entering Latin from the Septuagint).  It is also found throughout the New Testament primarily in reference to Passover.  In two such Gospel passages (Mark 14:12, Luke 22:1) referring to the days of Passover (die azymorum or dies festus azymorum), Aldred glossed azymorum with dærstana (as does MacRegol in the Luke passage).  Does he take it to mean days of (purification from) impurities or leavening?

In the 1 Corinthians 5:8 passage, Aldred pauses, and not just because the original collectar scribe has erased something in the middle of azymis (between the “z” and the “y”).  He glosses in azymis with on dærstum but then had second thoughts and added above ł on ðearfum, which is a well-attested Old English word for unleavened.  Confusingly, in Matthew 16:6 and 11, Aldred glossed fermentum with ðærfe rather than in addition to dærste (perhaps in error?).

All this leads me to wonder if Aldred is not a bread baker.  Bread in Anglo-Saxon England could be either leavened or unleavened depending on the baking method, with a preference for higher status lighter wheat bread over heavier barley or rye.  Even the Eucharist bread, made from the “white” wheat flour, is not specified as needing to be unleavened (leave that for later controversies between the eastern and western churches).  Since the presence of leaven is a non-issue, perhaps Aldred understood these New Testament passages more in terms of impurities than a rising agent, a reading that essentially works out the meaning pretty well in most cases even if it leaves the meaning of Passover unclear.

That is as far as I have gotten following several threads simultaneously.


Seumas MacRath has pointed out in an email that ðearfum (ðearfo) could also reflect ðærf-, need or necessity, so that Aldred might have thought of unleavened Passover bread as the bread of necessity or hardship.  I might also add OE compounds þeorf-dæg and þeorf-hláf, and later English “Therf Cake,” identified in an old series of Notes as meaning “in want of yeast” (Notes and Queries 5th Series IX April 6, 1878: 273-74). But one could also take it to mean bread eaten under necessity, in a hurry, as the Passover bread was baked without waiting for it to rise.

In any case, Aldred’s glosses suggest less of an interest in the mechanics of bread rising and more an interest in the Old Testament Passover idea of azymus as bread of necessity or poverty and the New Testament concept of fermentum as impurity.  As evident in his glosses to the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Nunc) Aldred has deep concerns about poverty and purity, both chief values in a monastic environment.

Posted by: kljolly | April 18, 2015

Post-post-modern: A Parable

I had an interesting conversation this last week following a master’s thesis defense–a very good thesis and defense, on an early 19th century tract translating the Genesis story of Joseph into Hawaiian.  A fellow member of the audience raised the question about the selection of that story for translation, commenting that the Joseph narrative is very “modern” because it has no mention of God (speaking) until the end.  One of the Hawaiian experts pointed out that Hawaiian traditional stories (mo`o `olelo) have plenty of gods speaking, so the absence of God’s voice would not be a notable attraction.

I just wondered to myself whether anyone other than a modern interpreter would remark on the absence of an audible voice of God in the story amid the very clear references to God being with Joseph and God as the source of the dream interpretations, even if the story does not record Joseph hearing the voice of God (or wrestling with him) as his fathers had experienced. The original questioner pointed to Walter Brueggemann for this understanding of the Joseph story’s modernity, a condition in which we learned to live without God according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Nonetheless, I confess my historian’s hackles were raised by a modern sensibility being read back onto an ancient text.  Seeing the Joseph story as modern because of the absence of God’s voice says more about us moderns than the text or its range of meanings, which a post-modernist would point out immediately.  But post-modernism itself does not escape the modernist trap in devaluing the text because it focuses instead on the reader’s context and response.

So I wrote a parable.

A modernist was walking down the road and saw a tattered book in the gutter.  Making out the title, he said, “that book is out-of-date and of no value.  We have progressed beyond it with newer texts, while its views have been discredited.”

A postmodernist was standing nearby listening to the modernist.  She said, “That is just your point of view from your modern stance.  The text has no meaning in itself, there is only your response to it from your perspective.  The book is immaterial.”

A post-postmodernist (a medievalist?), ignoring both the modernist and the postmodernist, walks over, picks up the book, and begins to read it with great interest.

What does post-postmodernism offer?  Although Wikipedia’s entry on post-postmodernism is oriented primarily to philosophy of the arts, my sense is derived from two sources:  on the theological side, the radical orthodoxy movement, and on the historical side, a postcolonial deconstruction of the medieval/modern divide.

The philosophers/theologians of Radical Orthodoxy (John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward) seek a return to a fundamentally NeoPlatonic and Augustinian base of knowledge lost in modernity’s bifurcated thinking (philosophy vs theology, religion vs science, etc).  They draw our attention to a pre-Duns Scotus worldview to suggest a medieval modern theology of knowledge.  Beyond that basic understanding, I found their prose impenetrable.

However, escaping the modern/medieval divide is what Kathleen Davis addressed in her Periodization and Sovereignty:  How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time (2008).  I love that book because it allows us not only to get out of the modern box but throw it away.  More important for medievalists, it suggests that if we stop treating our field of study as not-modern we might have something to say to contemporary society about epistemology.

As for the story of Joseph, the medieval “four senses” of Scripture offer a richly multivalent reading (see Derek Olsen’s “Drifting Thoughts on the allegorical as play) that goes well beyond a modern Joseph’s struggle with a silent God.

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.

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