Back to top

Mary Magdalen, from Speculum Sacerdotale


1 In syche a day, On such and such a day [to be inserted by the speaker]; whiche, who.

2 servyd to, was obedient to.

3 gafe, gave; servyd, deserved.

5 aspiracion, inspiration.

6 covenable, suitable (fitting).

7 yede, went.

9 yghen, eyes.

11 seeynge Crist, when Christ saw; Pharasye, Pharisee.

12 nye, near; sethen, since.

16 myche, great.

18 for, because.

19 safe, delivered from sin, saved.

20 Joseph, Josephus (see note).

20-21 that sche loved, with which she loved.

22 yede into deserte, went into the wilderness.

23-24 ete mete of man ne dronke drynke, consumed human food or drink.

24 houre, canonical hour (see note).

26 eyre, air.

28 mayster . . . bretherhede, superior of a certain monastery or other religious community.

28-29 tyme of the Quadragesime, season of Lent (see note).

30 fro, apart from; in a tyme, on a certain occasion.

31 a thynge, something; bare, lifted.

33 coste, borderland.

34 ivisit with, visited by; excitacion, instigation.

35 denne iclosid, secluded lair or cave.

36 conjure, solemnly call upon; vertu, the power.

37 what, whatever.

47 anone after, immediately after.

49 houre, canonical hour (see note to line 24).

51 the blisse, Paradise (the place of perfect joy).

53 covetyd . . . man, desired human food or drink.

55 nye, near.

56 scilicet, namely.

57 hens, from now (hence); wyndynge clothe, shroud [to wrap her body for burial].

58 ende, die.

61 where . . . wold, that, wherever he chose, [so] that.

62 was comonyd, received the sacrament of Holy Communion.

64 passid the spirit, she died (the soul departed).

65 savoure, fragrance.

66 felyd . . . after, perceived for five days afterward; worschipfully, honorably.

67 hym, himself.

68 Lazar, Lazarus; rerede, raised (see note).

69 mynystracion, service (see explanatory note to lines 69-71).

70 sete, sat.

72 Paske, Easter.

74 Letanie, Litany (see note).

77 syche a myracle, the following miracle; flode, river.

78 Flumen Ligeris, the Loire River [in France]; chargyd, loaded.

79 perischid, was destroyed.

80 isonkyn, sunk.

81 trowbulyd, disturbed (troubled); triste, trust.

82 behotynge, promise (vow); mayny, company.

82-83 in drenchynge, being drowned.

83 sterde, came suddenly.

84 hye, loud.

85 with, by.

88 a man, a male child.

89 gentel schap, noble appearance.

89-90 put hire hande unto, reached out to.

92 alle . . . ychone, every one of the others died.

93 avised, aware.

96 slawe, slain.

98 beere, bier; wrothe to, angry toward.

99 seide why that, asked why.

100-101 in grete mervayle to, to the great amazement of.

102 confessid hym, made his confession; Goddis body, the Eucharist.

103 siche a multitude, a great multitude.

104 usid, practiced; that good was, what was good.

105 yit, even.

106 worschepid hire feste, honored her feast day; in a tyme, once.

107 devocion, act of worship; slomerynge, scilicet, a light sleep, that is.

108 as hym thought, as it seemed to him.

109 semely schape, comely appearance.

110 dost, behave.

111 merites . . . thee, spiritual benefits that I confer on you (see note).

112 grete instaunce, urgent entreaties; stere, vigorously move.

113 perischid, lost, destroyed.

115 reconselyd, reconciled.

117 religion, a religious order (see note); passynge parfite, surpassingly perfect.

119 beere, bier; dowve, dove (see note); lovyng, praise.


Abbreviation: Ad = British Library MS Addit. 36791, fols. 96r-98r [base text].

1 In. Initial capital never added to Ad.

ye schull. Ad: ye ye schull.

4 Symon the Leprous. Although the Pharisee's name is derived from Matthew 26:6, the ensuing lines here retell just part of the story from Luke 7:36-50, omitting both the apostles' reaction (from Matthew and John) and the parable in Luke about the money-lender and his two debtors.

20 Joseph. The ascription to the Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during the first century of the Christian era, is traditional but spurious. The story of Mary Magdalen's thirty years in the desert was actually borrowed many centuries later from the legend of Mary of Egypt.

24 houre. There were seven canonical hours of prayer, traditionally observed in monastic communities: Matins, Prime, Sext, Terce, Nones, Vespers, and Compline.

29 Quadragesime. The Latin term for Lent, the forty-day season of fasting and self-discipline before Easter, was derived from the adjective meaning "forty."

55-67 Compare this account of her death with the more complicated and wonder-filled narrative given by the early SEL account and Mirk. One noteworthy difference is that the same anonymous priest discovers her secret abode and presides over the final events that welcome her back into the human community of the church: giving her the last sacraments, taking charge of her burial, and arranging for his own eventual burial next to her tomb. Bishop Maximinus, whose role was so prominent at the end of the other accounts and so useful as publicity for Mary's shrine at the Abbey of St. Maximin in Aix, is conspicuously missing.

60 some. Ad: somee.

65 syche a smelle and a savoure. This sign of her sanctity is mentioned also in the early SEL account, lines 618-19 and 638-39; see explanatory note to lines 618-19.

68 Lazar, that Crist rerede fro his sepulcre. See explanatory note to lines 45-46 of Mirk's account.

69 did. Ad: omits.

69-71 The story of Martha, who busied herself with the practical work of hospitality when Jesus came to visit while her sister Mary just sat at his feet and listened to his words, is found in Luke 10:38-42.

72-73 Mary Magdalen's visit to Christ's tomb on Easter morning is mentioned in all four gospels, but her individual role receives the most emphasis in John 20.

74 oure Letanie. The Litany of saints, a long prayer that was chanted in procession on Rogation Days and other solemn occasions, included petitions for assistance from the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and a large number of martyrs, confessors, and virgins, all invoked by name. Although both the order and selection of names varied somewhat from place to place, the Virgin Mary always preceded all the other saints and Mary Magdalen headed the list of virgins.

87-95 It was common in the early Middle Ages for monastic communities to include child oblates - children given as an offering by their parents, to be brought up as monks or nuns. In the twelfth century, however, the laws of the church were changed to stipulate that no one could be permanently committed to the monastic life without freely taking the necessary vows for themselves after reaching the age of adulthood (usually 18). The custom of child oblation died out almost completely after this time.

93 conceyved. Presumably this is an error; since the woman is already pregnant, one would expect "given birth" or "been delivered" [of the child].

96-97 hadde used . . . Marie Magdalen. That is, the knight had made an annual pilgrimage to one of the shrines that claimed to house the relics of the saint.

99-100 to dye . . . contricion. The risk of damnation, or at least a prolonged period in Purgatory, was believed to be greatly increased if one died suddenly, without time to repent and be absolved of all one's sins. Hence the mercy of the saints was frequently illustrated with stories, like this one, in which a deceased person was restored to life just long enough to complete the recommended spiritual preparations for death.

110 Stevene. The clerk's name.

111 the merites that I make for thee. The underlying idea is that Mary and other saints could vicariously bestow on their needy followers some of the spiritual benefits that were due to the saints themselves because of their great virtues, or merits.

116-17 forsoke the world and enteryd into religion. That is, he abandoned secular life and its temptations for the more austere and disciplined life of a monk or a friar.

119 like a white dowve to heven. Like the presence of the patron saint and a company of angels, the image of the soul ascending to Heaven like a white dove, amid songs of praise and thanksgiving to God, is part of the standard iconography for a holy death.

120 et cetera. At this point a preacher using this text would insert one of the standard closing formulas and a blessing. See for example the endings of Mirk's sermons in this collection.
    In syche a day ye schull have the feste of Seynt Marye Magdalene, whiche was
the synneful womman and servyd to hure fleschely desires, and to whome God
afterward gafe siche grace that sche servyd forgevenes of here synnes.
    For when Crist was in the hous of Symon the Leprous, as sone as Marye herde
telle of Hym, sche thought in hireself by dyvyne aspiracion and grace that it were
then covenable tyme for to converte and make sorowe and penaunce of hure lyf
that sche hadde ladde afore. And sche toke an oynement in a vessel and yede into
the hous of Symon where Jhesu was and yede to the feet of Jhesu and wasshid
hem with here teris of hure yghen and then dide wipe hem with the heeres of hire
heed and anoyntyd hem then with hire oynement.
    And seeynge Crist that the Pharasye Symon hadde indignacion that Crist lete
siche a synful womman come so nye hym, he seide to hym thus: "Symon, sethen
I come into thyn hows thou nether kyssid my feet ne wasshid hem ne anoyntid
hem, but this womman hath done al this sethen sche come." And therefore seide
Crist to Symon, "Propterea dimittuntur ei peccata multa quoniam dilexit multum.
Therfore for hure myche love is the multitude of hure synnes forgeven." And then
he seide to the womman, "Remittuntur tibi peccata tua quoniam dilexisti me.
Woman, for thou hast shewyd to me love, thi synnes are forgeven. Vade, fides tua
te salvam fecit. Go, thi feith hath made thee safe."
    Joseph telleth us that Marie Magdalein for the grete brennyng love that sche
loved God wold never have housbonde ne se man with hire yghen after the ascen-
sion of Crist. But sche yede into deserte and there sche dwellyd the space of
thirty yere unknowyn to alle maner of men, ne never ete mete of man ne dronke
drynke. But in yche tyme and in yche houre when that men worschipid here God,
then the aungels of Hevene come to hyre and reysed hure up betwene hem into
the eyre, and there sche made hire prayer with hem to God.
    So it happened after the space of the thirty yere that there was an holy preste,
mayster of a serteyne bretherhede. And this preste usyd in yche tyme of the
Quadragesime for to go and dwelle in the deserte in prayingis and fastyngis by
hymself fro his bretheren. And in a tyme he sawe with his yghen howe the angels
of God come downe fro Hevene and there toke a thynge and bare it up betwene
hem and after brought it ageyn and left it where they toke it. At the laste this
preste thought in hymself that there was some seynt in that coste that was so often
tyme ivisit with angels. And atte the excitacion of the Holy Gost he yede to the
place where the angels went to, and there he fonde a denne iclosid, and there he
knelyd and cryed, seyinge, "I conjure thee by vertu of the Fader and Sone and the
Holy Goste that whether thou be man or what creature that thou be that is in this
place, that thou speke with me, and yif thou be a spirit that thou answere to me."
    And then a voyce spake unto hym out of the denne and seide, "For that thou
haste so conjured me by the holy Trinité, therfore I shall answere and speke to
thee and schewe to thee what I am. Ne herdest thou never in the Gospel ne redde
never of Marie the grete synner, that wateryd the feet of hire Savyoure and wypid
hem with here heeres and deserved so to have forgevenes of hire synnes?"
    And he answerd and seid, "Yis, I have herde it and redde it, and nowe it is the
holy Gospel over alle the world."
    And then Marie seide to hym ageyn, "Sire, I am the same Marie; and for the
grete love that I have to my Lord, I may se no man. And therfore anone after His
ascencion I come into this wyldernes and have dwellyd here thirty yere, and in al
this tyme I sawe never man ne herde man but thee nowe. And in yche houre
commeth to me angels of my Lord God and ledeth me to my prayinge place to-
ward Hevene. And there they schewe to me swetnes of the blisse, and then they
brynge me ageyn unto this denne. And for this swetnes of Hevene and fayrenes of
angels, I never covetyd mete ne drynke of man ne hunguryd ne thyrstid this thirty
yere. And, sire, nowe I knowe well that the day of my passynge out of this world
commeth nye, that I may dwelle in the sight of my Lord for evermore. And therfore
I praye thee, do nowe at my prayere, as I have done at thyne: scilicet, go home
and come ageyn at the seventhe day hens, and brynge with thee a wyndynge clothe.
For I wol ende in the same maner as othir men doth."
    And then the preste yede and brought afterward syche a clothe and cast it at the
dore of the denne. And then Marie prayed hym that he schuld brynge hire to some
place of men, where that hymself wold, that sche myght ende ther hire lyf. And he
brought hire home to his bretheren, and there Marie was comonyd with the body
and blode of oure Lord Jhesu Crist. And sche then lyfte up hire yghen and hire
handes to God, and so passid the spirit.
    And after tyme of hire passynge there was ther syche a smelle and a savoure
that it was felyd by five dayes after. And then the preste beriede worschipfully
hire holy body, and after his deth he made hym to be beriede with hire.
    And this Marie was the suster of Lazar, that Crist rerede fro his sepulcre, and
also sustre of Martha, the whiche did myche mynystracion to Crist, as is redde in
the Gospel. But the Marie aforesaid chese the beste parte, for sche sete by the
feete of oure Lord and herde his holy wordes, and sche folowyd hym to the
crosse, and sche yede in the day of Paske to his sepulcre for to anoynte hym. And
after that he was up resyn, sche was the firste that sawe hym. And therfore in
oure Letanie we take hure before alle virgines except the moder of God, the whiche
noght onely is set and prayede afore virgines, but also afore alle other seyntis
after hire Sone.
    And oure Lord hath shewyd for Marie aforeseide syche a myracle. In the flode
that is callyd Flumen Ligeris was a schip chargyd with men and wymmen. So it
happenyd that there rose up a wynde and siche a storme that the schip perischid
and was fillyd with the water and isonkyn. And then alle that were in the schipp
were so trowbulyd with the drede of deth that they nolde triste in no prayere ne
behotynge to God or to eny other good seyntis. But as the mayny were in
drenchynge, it sterde into the mynde of a certeyn womman of hem that sche schuld
crie and speke with as hye a voyce as she myght, in these wordes: "O Seynt Marie
Magdalen, so wele beloved with Crist, I praye thee by thy byttre terys that thou
wettest Cristis feet with, for to delyver me fro this peril of deth."
    And this same womman was grete with childe, and she made a vowe to God for
to geve hure childe, yif that he schuld be a man, to be made a monke in an abbey
therebeside. And anone there aperyd to hire a womman of gentel schap, and put
hire hande unto the womman, and toke hire by the chynne, and brought hire up
saf and sownde unto the banke. And so was the womman delyvered through help
of God and of Mary Magdaleyn, and alle the tother pereschid ychone. So after-
ward when the womman hadde conceyved and was avised of hire vowe that sche
hadde made, sche offrid the childe to God and to Seynt Marie Magdaleyn, and he
evermore in alle his lyf was here servaunt.
    Also ther was a knyght slawe in a batell, the whiche hadde used every yere to
come to the sepulcre of Marie Magdalen. And as his frendis wepte and sorowed
for hym, beholdyng hym on the beere, they were wrothe to Marie Magdaleyn and
seide why that sche suffred hire servant for to dye sodeynly withoute confession,
doynge of penaunce, and contricion. And sodeynly the dede body in grete mervayle
to alle men rose fro deth and made a preste to come to hym. And anoon when he
hadde confessid hym and receyvyd Goddis body, he passyd ageyn to reste.
    Also there was a clerk of Flaundres and felle into siche a multitude of crymes,
and so he usid syche grete vicis and crymes that he wolde nether do that good was
ne yit heere it. Nevertheles he hadde in Marie Magdaleyn grete devocion, and
worschepid hire feste and fastid for hire devoutly. So in a tyme as he had visit hire
sepulcre, as he lay in his devocion and hadde fallen into a slomerynge, scilicet,
half slepyng, half wakyng, Marie Magdaleyn come to hym, havynge as hym thought
sterne yghen, and in a faire semely schape and borne betwene two aungels, and
seide to hym, "Stevene, answere nowe to me. Why and wherfore dost thou so
wickydly ageinst the prayers and the merites that I make for thee? I make for thee
grete instaunce and stere my lippes for thee to my Lord, that thou schuldest noght
be perischid, and thou wolt noght amende; for I have evermore prayede for thee
to God, for the grete devocion that thou haste hadde for me. And therefore ryse
and amende it, and I shal nevere leve thee til thou be reconselyd to God." And
anone this clerke felid this grace of God and Marie Magdaleyn, that he forsoke
the world and enteryd into religion and was of a passynge parfite lyf. And in the
tyme of his deth, Marie Magdaleyn was seen stondyng with angels beside his
beere, takyng and berynge up his sowle like a white dowve to heven, with lovyng
and songes, et cetera.