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08 September 2017

Gossiping monks

Miracle of the Week

The Arnamagnæan Summer School is more than fun and games with medieval manuscripts. The students come out of their two weeks at the summer school having made real contributions to scholarship, and nowhere is this more clear than in the Master Class. Every Friday, we will bring you the fruits of their labour in a series we call Miracle of the Week.

Maria hjalpaði múnkum (Mary helped monks) marks the beginning of this week's miracle. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

 The Master Class of the Arnamagnæan Summer School in Manuscript Studies this year has been looking at a collection of Marian miracles preserved in the manuscript AM 634-635 4to, an early 18th-century copy by the clergyman Eyjólfur Björnsson (1666-1746) of a 14th-century manuscript which is no longer extant.

Sr. Eyjólfur copied over a dozen manuscripts for Árni Magnússon and it is likely that this one was also commissioned by him. The two volumes contain 230 legends in all, making this the largest single collection of miracles in Scandinavia and among the largest in any European vernacular; a number of the legends are not found in any other Icelandic miracle collections.

One of those unique to this manuscript is our miracle of the week, which is found on pp. 472-473 of the first volume. Known internationally as “Gossiping monks”, in our manuscript it has the rubric “María hjálpaði munkum”.

The Master Class encoded the text using TEI-conformant XML, which can be displayed in a variety of ways, for example as a facsimile transcription (see it here), i.e. a letter-by-letter transcription of the text in the manuscript with no changes, a diplomatic transcription (see it here), i.e. a letter-by-letter transcription of the text with a few palaeographic features and the expansion of abbreviations, and finally a normalized transcription, i.e. a transcription in which the orthography has been normalized with no scribal errors or abbreviations. The normalized version is as follows:

Munkar nokkrir stóðu við á eina fyrir dag, ok skemmtu sér talandi heimulligar sǫgur, ok marga þarflausliga hluti. Þeim heyrist sem menn rói með miklu háreysti ok gný yfir ána. Munkarnir spyrja: “Hverjir eruð þér?” Þeir segja: “Vér erum djǫflar, ok fœrum með oss ǫnd til helvitis Ebronii hǫfðingja Frakka konungs hirðar, því at hann kastaði munkalifnaði þeim, sem hann tók í munklífi hins helga Galli, ok snerist aptr til veraldarinnar.” Sem munkarnir heyra þetta óttast þeir ákafliga, ok kalla hátt: “Heilug María, hjálp þú oss!” Djǫflarnir mæltu: “Nú hjálpaði yðr þat, er þér kǫlluðuð Maríam, því at nú hǫfðum vér ætlað at slíta yðr kvika í sundr, ok drekkja yðr síðan, því at vér fundum yðr farandi með lausung, ok talandi á þeim tíma, sem eigi er skipað.” Munkarnir þakka nú guði ok hans móður sína miskunn, ok fara aptr til klaustursins. En djǫflarnir skunda til helvitis.

Which in a fairly literal English translation would be:

Some monks were standing by a river one day, amusing themselves talking of clandestine matters and many unprofitable things. It seemed to them they heard men rowing over the river with great noise and commotion. The monks ask: “Who are you?” They say: “We are devils, and we convey the soul of Ebronius, the head of the Franks’ king’s court, down to hell; for he discarded the monastic life he had taken up at the monastery of Saint Gallus, and turned back to the world.” As soon as the monks hear this they are filled with great dread and cry aloud: “Holy Mary, help us!” The devils said: “Now it has come to your aid that you have called upon Mary, for we had intended to tear you apart alive and drown you afterwards, because we found you idle, and talking while it is not permitted.” The monks thank God and his mother for their mercy and return to their cloister, but the devils scurry back to hell.

There is an English version of this story in William Caxton’s Golden Legend, first printed in 1483. Although Caxton’s book is (mostly) a translation of the Legenda aurea of Jacobus de Voragine, this particular story doesn’t seem to appear in any of the Latin versions of that work.

Caxton’s text (which is part of a long section the rubric of which reads “Here followeth the Assumption of the Glorious Virgin our Lady St. Mary”) goes like this:

There were certain monks tofore day standing by a river, and talked and jangled there of fables and idle words. And they heard a great rowing and oars beating the water coming hastily. And the monks asked, “Who be ye?” And they said: “We be devils that bear to hell the soul of Ebronien, provost of the house of the king of France, which was apostate in the monastery of St. Gall.” And when the monks heard that they doubted strongly, and cried high: “St. Mary, pray for us!” And the devils said: “Well have ye called Mary, for we would have disjoined you and have drowned you because of your dissolute and out of time jangling.” And then the monks returned to their convent, and the devils went in to hell. 

"skunda til helvitis" (scurry back to hell), the final line of the miracle is found on the following leaf before the beginning of a new miracle. We suggest you scurry back here next week to see what that miracle holds. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)