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Art. 5. De seint Johan le Baptist: Introduction

ABBREVIATIONS: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); BnF: Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris); CUL: Cambridge University Library; MED: Middle English Dictionary; NLW: National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth); PL: Patrologiae cursus completus . . . series latina (Migne).

Of the four Anglo-Norman saints’ legends in booklet 2 of Harley 2253, The Life of Saint John the Baptist is the one most based in biblical paraphrase. Within the contents of Harley 2253, John the Baptist holds a special status. As the prophet who lived in Christ’s lifetime, who was implicitly linked to Elijah of the Old Testament and to Christ, he was a saint with his own story of an improbable birth, and destined to be harbinger of Christ’s coming.

In Harley 2253, this legend hearkens backwards and forwards. The backward glance is directed to the Descent into Hell section of The Gospel of Nicodemus (art. 3): “When the company of saints heard this, they rejoiced still more. Then John cried out, and said: ‘I am the voice and prophet of God the Most High. I went before him to prepare his way, in order to deliver an understanding of salvation’”(lines 489–91). The forward glance is toward the Middle English Harrowing of Hell (art. 21), copied by the Ludlow scribe, where John the Baptist cries out: “‘Lord Christ, I am John, / Who followed you in the River Jordan. / Twelve months have passed / Since I suffered martyrdom. / You sent me on the right way / Into hell, in order to prophesy / That you, Christ, God’s Son, / Soon would come to hell / To release from hell-pain / All whom you consider yours” (lines 207–16). See the explanatory notes below for more resonances in the Ludlow scribe’s portion of the manuscript, especially in Pilgrimages in the Holy Land (art. 38).

[Fols. 43vb–45vb. ANL 546 (2). Scribe: A, with title inserted by B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 4. Initials: Unfilled space for opening initial A (four lines high). Layout: Two columns. Editions: D. Russell 1989, pp. 79–91. Other MSS: Paris, BnF MS français 19525, fols. 36rb–38vb (ed. D. Russell 1989, pp. 78–90); Manchester, John Rylands Library MS French 6, fol. 5r–v. Picard Version: Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal 3516, fols. 64r–65r. Latin Analogue: Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. Ryan, 1:328–36, 2:132–40. Translations: None.]

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