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.


  1. It is unfortunate that scribe O’s omission of ‘sicut estis azymi’ disguises the dichotomy of leavened as opposed to unleavened bread. Instead, the dichotomy of these 2 verses in Durham is between old and new.
    To start the fermenting process in bread making you can either use a bit of dough kept back from an earlier batch (old) or use a fresh rising agent, typically yeast (new). Could this be what Aldred had in mind?
    Aldred’s yeast would either be the by-product of beer making that we now call barm (Farmon’s ‘beorma’ Mt16,6), the scum that floats on the top of naturally fermenting liquor, or the sediment you refer to (Leechdoms’ ‘beordræste’, Aldred’s and Owun’s ‘dærste’), resulting from the yeast settling towards the end of the fermentation. I imagine both would be good for use regardless of how much vermin had drowned in the original beer!
    In glossing Lindisfarne Aldred does not seem to have been aware of the distinction between leavened and unleavened bread, either, as you demonstrate in this post, hence the confusion between ‘dærste’ and ‘ðærf’.
    Furthermore, on one occasion he misreads ‘fermentum’ for ‘frumentum’, corn (‘huuete’) [f21va21] and twice he adds ‘gecnoeden’ (kneaded) as an alternative to ‘gedærsted’ [f53va21; f175va22].
    So, as far as Aldred being a bread maker is concerned, I would say he understood the process but not the science.

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