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!
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.
“And all his pomps.”
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?”
“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.