Posted by: kljolly | May 1, 2018

Æcerbot Ritual IV: People

In theory, one person could perform everything specified in the field remedy.  That person would need to be a priest in order to say the four masses, as well as have the clerical literacy to know the Latin formulas specified.  That priest could do everything:  collect the sods, prepare the required materials, bake the bread, and drive the plough, as well as perform the masses and prayers.  In theory.

In practice, the field remedy’s instructions imply several persons involved in the proceedings, particularly evident in the verbal commands.  So first some parsing, for those who want it.  Otherwise, skip down to the cast of characters.

Or for your amusement, listen to Michael Drout reading the field remedy aloud (although not the full texts of the litanies and prayers specified, or it would be a lot longer than six minutes!).


*Most of the instructions in the field remedy are in the singular imperative, implying a second person recipient of the command.

  • While weak verb single imperatives end in –e or –a (drype, gemearca), strong verb single imperatives have no ending (nim, cweð).  But the field remedy has a number of strong verbs with an –e ending: bere, awrite, and most frequently, cweþe. In strong verbs, an –e ending could indicated 1st person singular present, 2nd person preterite, or subjunctive singular. However, it can indicate imperative when a subject pronoun follows, although that is not the case here.  For now, I am reading most of these as imperative, with a question mark as to why, for example, the scribe switches from using cweþe to cweð at 176v19, at 177r16, and after, until reverting to cweþe at fol. 178r14 and back to cweð at line 21.  If cweþe was taken as subjunctive, it introduces some uncertainty into the proceedings (“then you might say these words…”) at odds with the overall tone of instruction and the assertive nature of the formulas themselves.
  • The imperative does not require that the reader/hearer carry out the actions themselves, since they could order others to do the actual manual labor.  For example, the initial instructions to cut, mark, and carry sods to the church could be done by field workers.

*A few of the instructions are specifically addressed to a second person singular, ðu.

  • The opening says it is a remedy for how “you” might better “your” fields (fol. 176r1-2), a common phrasing for setting up a remedy in a medical text prior to copying the actual instructions.  The subsequent imperative commands might be addressed to that landowner to perform the actions and words specified, but that person would of necessity have to be Latin literate, therefore a cleric.  Plus, at the end of the sod portion, the remedy tangentially refers in the third person to a landowner and those under him (fol. 177r21-22), whose benefit the speaker is addressing.  More than likely, then, the opening “you” is addressed generically to whoever is reading or hearing this, and the subsequent recipient of the imperatives is the literate clergy who have a dominant speaking role.
  • The sod ceremony also twice uses the second person pronoun to describe the action of turning eastward and then sunward.  These instructions to turn yourself around (wende þe) frame the opening and closing of the Old English formula, itself spoken in the first person (ic).

*In a number of key places, the imperative mode of address changes briefly to introduce third parties using a passive structure with man (Old English has no passive voice, except for hatte).

  • Early on in the sod ceremony (fol. 176v3-4), the remedy specifies that a masspriest sing four masses (mæssepreost asinge feower mæssan) and that a man (generic person) is supposed to turn (wende) the sods green side to the altar and take (gebringe) the sods back to the field.  This seems to be two different third parties, a masspriest and at least one other person. Presumably, this latter generic person then makes the quickbeam crosses in the next sentence, since it says to have him construct (hæbbe him gæworht).
  • But the subsequent instruction to awrite the names of the evangelists on the four ends of the cross is not, like geworht, in the preterite and therefore not referring back to hæbbe him. Instead, if read as another strong verb imperative ending in –e, it suggests we are back in the second person singular, followed by the instruction to lay (lege) the crosses in the sod hole and to say (cweðe) certain words.

*The plough blessing (starting at fol. 177v1-2 with the “when…then” transition) alternates between the active imperative “you” and the passive 3rd party.

  • At the outset, the passive command is for the anonymous third party to exchange seed with almsmen, and continues with having presumably this same person gather his plough gear and bore a hole in the beam (a verb may be missing here, about putting the listed ingredients in the hole).
  •  The next instructions revert back to the singular active imperative to take (nim) the seed, set (sete) it on the plough, and say (cweð) the Erce formula (which itself uses the imperative and ic to command).  When the plough is driven forth to cut the first furrow, it is the third person passive “man” who does so (þonne man þa sulh forð drife, ond þa forman furh onsceote), but the OE words of the formula spoken over these proceedings are ordered with the imperative cweþ.
  •  The alternation continues, with the imperative to take (nim) each kind of milk, but have a person bake (abacæ man) a loaf of bread with it.  Presumably this same baker did the kneading (gecned) to incorporate the milk and holy water.  But we are clearly back to the active imperative with the instruction to lay (lecge) the loaf in the furrow and then say (cweþe) the Old English formula and cweð the closing Latin prayers.

So at the very least, we have three persons needed to carry out the instructions:  the main speaker who follows the active singular imperative commands, a masspriest to perform four masses over the sods, and an unspecified third person carrying out the manual labor with the sods, the cross construction, the plough, and the bread making.  This third person could be several different people, male or female: a fieldhand, a woodcarver, a ploughman, a bread baker, and others in the community helping with the gathering of materials.  Then, of course, we also have the references to the unspecified number of almsmen, the landowner, and those under him.

Since the field remedy instructions may be shifting modes of address without a clear agenda, the remedy probably does not require a particular number of people, just those who could carry out the jobs specified.  It could very well be that some of these roles overlap:  the speaker might be the priest, the sod carriers might be the ploughman, or, in theory, one person could do it all.

But it seems more likely that the community would want as many people involved and participating as possible, along the same principle as the remedy’s specification for plant, tree, and animal products from throughout the property.   What follows is a cast of characters for the script, if you wanted to involve as many as possible.


London, British Library, Cotton Julius A.VI, fol. 3r

Cast of Characters

[verbs in italics imperative; bold passive; * -e ending strong verb]

Sod Ceremony:

§Landowner and those under him

  • 1-4 [male?] fieldworkers to take the sods before dawn and mark the locations; carry* them into the church, turn the sods green side to the altar, and return them to the fields before sunset; lay crosses in four sod holes; set sods in the holes on top of crosses.
  •  1+ [female?] community members to take oil, honey, yeast, milk of each animal, tree and plant bits, to bring to sod ceremony outside church.
  • A woodcarver to have made four quickbeam crosses.

§1-3 Clerical person(s):

  • Take hallowed water, salt, and “sape” to add to the mixture, and to drip it on the sods.
  • At least one masspriest to sing four masses.
  • Write/carve* the evangelists’ names on the four crosses.
  • Say* bilingual Crescite formula and Pater noster over the four sods outside the church, perhaps antiphonally, and leading laypersons in the Pater noster.
  • Say* over crosses in holes: Crux formula
  • Say* over turf replaced in hole:  9xs Crescite formula and PN.
  • Turn yourself eastward, bow 9xs, say Eastward formula.
  • Turn yourself 3xs, stretch out, recite litany, say sanctus, sing Benedicite, Magnificat; Pater noster 3xs, commend land.

Plough Ceremony:

§1-3 (lay) workers

  •  A person of authority (landowner or someone in charge of the fields) to take and give seed with almsmen; gather his plough tools, bore hole in beam; take seed and set on plough.
  • A second person to assist by supplying the materials, boring the hole.
  • One of the above to drive forth the plough, cut first furrow.
  • Someone (female?) take flour types, bake loaf, knead with milk and holy water (ahead of time)
  •  Someone (the baker? the clergy speaker?) to lay loaf in furrow


§1+ Clerical persons:

  • Say  OE “Erce” formula; say OE “hal wes” formula as man drives forth plough
  • Say* OE “ful æcer” formula over bread laid in furrow,
  •  Say Crescite 3xs, Pater noster 3xs.

Keeping in mind that this field remedy re-creation project is aimed at a Leeds session honoring Debby Banham, it seems suitable to include a picture of her efforts at Anglo-Saxon bread baking.


Assuming that the same people were involved in both the sod and the plough ceremonies, possibly over two days, the proceedings might normally involve a dozen or so people, clerical and lay.

I imagine at minimum two clergy persons, a masspriest and another high level cleric speaking the formulas and ordering the other actions.  But I am guessing that some of the clerical tasks could be assigned to lower ranks if this were a collegiate or monastic church.  For example:

  • a doorwarden supervising sods outside the church and their transportation into the church
  • a lector or reader for texts
  • exorcist to perform the hallowing of materials
  • acolyte to assist the priest
  • subdeacon or deacon as speaker of Old English and Latin formulas

I imagine a rural community of at minimum eight households, perhaps 40+ adults, in addition to the manor household and the clerical staff of the church.  But I am guessing it may well be a much larger site.

  • If the landowner was a secular lord, those “under him” could include a bailiff of some kind acting in his absence, those who work in the fields (their own and the owner’s), crafts-persons, household servants, and women involved in gardening, dairying, and baking.
  • Even if the landowner is an ecclesiastical institution, which seems likely if it is a church with multiple clergy, most of the manual labor would probably be carried out by a similar community of lay workers in the fields, gardens, and kitchens.

Next up:  the materials involved.  I will get to the script eventually!


  1. Reblogged this on pmayhew53.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: