Posted by: kljolly | February 1, 2012

Mary, Helen, and Cuthbert

Looking again at the memorandum in Durham A.IV.19, with its odd script changes looking Roman and “Greek,” I have another theory regarding Aldred’s purposes.

Harley Psalter

In other texts Aldred added to the manuscript, he shows considerable interest in the three sacred languages common in Irish tradition:  Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the three languages of Pilate’s inscription affixed to the cross (see McNally article on the Tres Linguae Sacrae).  The so-called educational additions in Quire XI after the colophon (I call them encyclopedic) include lists of Hebrew and Roman titles, the Old Testament origins of ecclesiastical grades, and explanations of Greek ecclesiastical ranks, among other items.  To these Hebrew, Greek, and Latin terms he has added an Old English gloss, providing a fourth “translation” of the three sacred languages.

Is it possible, then, to see this three plus one pattern (evident in the Lindisfarne colophon) also in the Durham memorandum?  After God (Deus omnipotens), we have Mary, either the Blessed Virgin or Magdalene.  Either way, both are “Hebrew.”   In  John 20:16, Mary Magdalene cries out to the resurrected Jesus “rabboni” in Aramaic, which Aldred would have understood to be Hebrew (I need to check his gloss to that passage in John).  Helen could easily be associated with the Greek East, hence the somewhat curious lettering Aldred employs may reflect his (and most literate Anglo-Saxon’s) weak knowledge of Greek script.  Cuthbert would represent the Latin tradition transplanted to England.  Then Aldred adds himself, the worker in Old English, as the fourth speaker receiving the three linguistic traditions.

Update:  I checked Aldred’s gloss to John 20:16 in the Lindisfarne Gospels (Skeat’s edition).  The Vulgate does not specify the language she used as do modern translations (“conuersa illa dicit ei rabboni quod dicitur magister”). Curiously, Aldred glosses rabboni in Latin with id est bonus doctor and magister with Old English laruu.  Over in John 19:21, Pilate’s sign over the cross is written in hebraice (on ebresc), graece (on cregisc), et latinae (on laeddin vel laedinisc).  Not sure why the alternatives over Latin, but these are the three terms he uses for these languages (usually abbreviated) in the encyclopedic additions to Durham A.IV.19.


Robert E. McNally, “The ‘Tres Linguae Sacrae’ in Early Irish Bible Exegesis,” Theological Studies 19 (1958): 395–403.

W. W. Skeat, ed. The Holy Gospels in Anglo-Saxon, Northumbrian, and Old Mercian Versions, vol. 4 [John] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1878; reprint Darmstadt, 1970).


  1. Re: why the alternatives over Latin
    I see this double gloss as a comment on the scribal error in the Lindisfarne original: ‘latinae’ for the Vulgate’s ‘latine’. Aldred knows this was meant to be an adverb (latine), but Eadfrith has written a feminine adjectival form by mistake.

    • Good point! I had not thought of the OE gloss alternatives being a correction to or comment on the grammar of the Latin.

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