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  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).


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?


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.


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?


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.


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.

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