Back to top

Homily 19, Annunciation


1 The Annunciation of Our Lady. The Gospel according to Luke. In that time

2 Latin rubric (Luke 1:26–38): And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent [from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.]

3 Lines 109–10: That is to say, Gabriel means / “God’s strength” in English

4 Lines 113–14: For that divinity was transmitted to mankind, / in such a way that no man can understand how it was done

5 That he [the knight] regretted the loss of his worldly goods

6 Lines 229–30: For he acted more generously than usual, / He feasted more men and invited them thereto


Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Dictionary; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; NIMEV: The New Index of Middle English Verse, ed. Boffey and Edwards; OF: Old French; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly Before 1500. For manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.

The feast of the Annunciation (March 25) is of Eastern origin, and was introduced at Rome in the late seventh century. The date was chosen in relation to that of Christmas, but also because of an ancient tradition that the creation of the world, the Incarnation, and the Passion of Christ also occurred on that date. Although the Annunciation is, strictly speaking, a feast of Our Lord, the growing veneration of the Virgin in the Middle Ages resulted in its being celebrated as a Marian feast. Different manuscripts of NHC position the feast of the Annunciation differently, owing to the movable date of Easter. Sometimes, as here, it follows the Second Sunday in Lent, while at other times it comes after the Third or Fourth Sunday in Lent, or Palm Sunday, presumably in accordance with the calendar current at the time of each manuscript’s transcription. The homily celebrates the miraculous paradox of Mary’s being both virgin and mother, which leads naturally to an account of one of the many miracles of the Virgin which were so popular in the later Middle Ages.

NIMEV 2084, 1641. Manuscripts: A: fols. 79v–89r; G: (missing); D: fols. 110r–113r; L: fols. 29r–30r.

41 Jacob house here callis he. Compare this line, and those following, to Bede: “Now the house of Jacob refers to the universal Church” (Homilies 1.3, p. 23).

60 Hase gane with childe, this es the sext monethe. Awkward hypermetric line. Compare D: þat þi cosyn Eliʒabeth haþ gon wit chelde / now vi moneþ & sche is of gret elde.

61 yelde. MED (yeld): “of an animal: ? incapable of producing offspring.” The entry for geld, however, gives the meaning that is appropriate for this context: “of a woman: sterile, barren.” Neither entry cites NHC.

73 The maistir sais apon this spell. Gregory does not include a homily for this feast in his collection but Bede’s homily on the Annunciation has some points of similarity to NHC (Homilies 1.3, pp. 19–29).

82 Als fihsse es tane with hoke and baite. See First Sunday in Advent (1.92n).

88 Gromonde. Metathesis of gormond, from OF gormant, “translation.” As an epithet for Satan, Gromonde the gredie has a proverbial ring, but Whiting does not list it.

110 Goddes strenghe. This etymology appears in the writing of the Church Fathers and Bede also reproduces it: “Now Gabriel means ‘strength of God’” (Homilies 1.3, p. 20). The angel Gabriel appears on four occasions in the Bible, each occurrence being linked in some way with the coming of the Messiah.

123 For als the sonne passis thorghe the glasse. According to Breeze, “the image of the sunbeam through glass for Christ’s incarnation is a product of the late Latin culture of North Africa. It expresses the idea that, as light shines through glass, but the glass remains perfect and undamaged, so Mary’s virginity remained perfect and entire after she had conceived her son” (“Blessed Virgin,” p. 19). Originating in a fifth- or sixth-century sermon falsely attributed to Saint Augus­tine, the simile became popular during the later Middle Ages both in Latin and a variety of vernaculars; Breeze provides an extensive listing (“Blessed Virgin,” pp. 19–29). The Sarum Breviary made use of it in the Sixth Lectio of the Third Sunday in Advent, suggesting that the liturgy could well have been the NHC-poet’s source here (Breviarum ad Usum, 1.cvi). Napier gives a fuller listing of ver­sions in Middle English, including the following excerpt from NHC’s near con­temporary, Cursor Mundi (lines 11.28–32): “Right also thou seis the sun beme / Gais thoru the glas and cums again / Wituten brest [breaking], right sua al plain, / Bot flesheliker he com and yede, / Saufand his moder hir maiden hede” (History of the Holy, pp. 81–83). Greene’s more recent Early English Carols records many carols with the image (see especially the note on p. 348). The second half of the fourteenth century saw its incorporation by Bromyard (drawing, no doubt, on verses used by the school of Anselm) into his Summa Predicantium, whence it passed into the sermons of many English preachers. Both the fifteenth-century Wakefield Annunciation (Towneley Plays, p. 87, lines 35–38) and the N-Town play of Christ and the Doctors (N-Town Plays, p. 170, lines 97–100) also make use of the image, showing its incorporation into works of popular culture. I have not seen any other example, in Latin or the vernacular, which includes NHC’s lovely image of the glass lending its color to the light that shines through it as a simile for Christ’s human nature.

127–28 So come the Sonne of rightwisnes / Into oure Ladie clene flehsse. Compare Bede’s similarly punning usage in Homilies 1.3, p. 25: “But that same sun, that is, the divinity of our Redeemer, cloaked itself with the covering of human nature as with a shade, and by this means a virgin’s womb was able to bear him.”

132 stekil. MED: Northern only; perhaps from steken. Compare Early Modern Scottish stekill, “a latch.”

143–44 For Marye will on Ynglihsse mene / Sterne of the se that oft es sene. The image of Mary as stella maris (“star of the sea”) originated in a scribal error: Jerome’s work on the interpretation of Hebrew names explains the Old Testament Miriam’s name as “drop of the sea” (stilla maris). But stilla became stella and the error was widely perpetuated (Dictionary of Biblical Tradition, p. 735). In his homily on the Annun­ciation Bede similarly writes that Mary’s name “has the meaning ‘star of the sea,’ and like an extraordinary heavenly body among the storms of this tottering world she shone brightly with the grace of her special privilege” (Homilies 1.3, p. 21).

171 It was a knight beyonde the se. Tubach 5115: Virgin, Blessed, comes to devil instead of his victim. The probable source for this exemplum is the Legenda Aurea, which includes it in the feast for the Assumption of the Virgin (chapter 119, vol. 2, pp. 85–86). The chief difference between the two versions is the NHC-poet’s greater emphasis on the wife’s devotion to Mary, and the added detail of the husband’s impatience with his wife’s wish to stop and pray on the way to their meeting with the devil. The only other English version, according to Gerould, is found in three of the unprinted manuscripts (MS Harley 2277, fol. 61v; MS Cotton Cleopatra D.9, fol. 148r; and MS Cotton Julius D.9, fol. 302v) of the South English Legendary (NEHC, p. 54).


Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Dictionary; Nevanlinna: Nevanlinna, The Northern Homily Cycle; NHC: Northern Homily Cycle; Small: English Metrical Homiles, ed. Small. for manuscript abbreviations (ED, A, D, G, L, V), see the Introduction.

31 sede. MS: fede. Compare D: for þu schalt conceyven & bere; L: Thu sall consaue sedes bere. The meaning is clear enough but neither A nor L is completely logical in grammatical terms.

41 Jacob house here callis he. MS: Aye to Criste co, canceled, followed by the correct line. Scribe has jumped to line 79: Aye to crist come before realizing his mistake.

98 Whan he saw him on the rode hange. So D. MS: The scribe has left a blank space where this line should be.

104 unloken. MS: loken, canceled, followed by vnloken.

149 yeme. So D. MS: him.

160 might. MS: miʒght.

192 MS: Bot he moght written in lower right hand corner as catch words.

229–30 For more than he was wont to do, / Mo menne he festid and callid thareto. Compare D’s clearer syntax: for mor þan he was wonid to do, / made he feste & callid men þer to.
In Annunciacione Dominica. Evangelium secundum Lucam. In illo tempore:1

Missus est Angelus Gabriel.2



























































   Manne, whilk Adam synne made thrall,
Who made us fre herd have we all;
Bot thou ne wote, lawde man,
How first thi fredome springe began.
Saynte Luke us schewes the beginnynge
Of thi fredome and thi biynge,
In the Gospell of todaye:
I rede ye bere it wele awaie.
He saise that God sent ane awngell,
His name es callid Gabriell,
Into the lande of Galilee;
In message to a cyté.
That hight Nazarethe, in lede
Of Galilé, the Jewes thede.
Thare woned a man that come full right
Of David kynde, and Joseph hight,
And had a maye with him in howse,
That hight Marie and was his spouse.
To Joseph house this aungell went,
Fra God of hevene to hir was sent;
And when he with that mayden mette,
With swete wordis he hir grette:
“Hayle be thou, Marie,” to hir saide he,
“Full of grace and God with thee.”
When scho this herd scho was in floght,
And what he ment scho hir umbthoght.
Than saide the aungel to hir in hye:
“Ne drede thee nathinge, blissid Marie,
For thou hase fonden grace iwisse,
Before God that es kinge of blisse.
For thou sall fange sede and bere
Of thi flehsse, that fendes sall fere.
His name sall tow Jhesus call,
His mikil mercie bese ovre all.
He sall be grete full mani falde,
And Goddes Sonne he sall be callde;
And God sall give him als he gone hete,
Kinge David his fadir sete.
And regnande he bese als kinge hende
In Jacobes howse withouten ende.”
Jacob house here callis he
Jacobe kynde and his menye:
That es to saie, all folc that is
Chosen for to have hevene blisse;
Thare Marie Sonne bese comli kinge,
Of whas kyngerike bese nane endinge.
Thir wordes said Gabriel to Marie,
And of his sawe hir thoght ferlye;
And saide, “Gabriel, how may this be
Sithen ertheli man neghid never me?”
Than answerd Gabriel in haste,
And saide, “Marye, the Hali Gaste
Sall come in thee, and Goddes vertue
Sall thee umlowke for mannes prowe.
For of thee bese borne a birthe
Sinfull men to mensk and mirthe;
That bese named Goddes Sonne, and lo,
I give thee graythe takenynge thareto:
That thine alde nees Elizabethe
Hase gane with childe, this es the sext monethe.
All hir lyfe scho hase gan yelde,
And now a sonne beres in hir elde;
And herebi may thou se full right,
That nathinge es agayne Goddes might;
For God that made all, maie fullfill,
Agaynes kynde all his swete will.”
When mylde Mary thir wordes herd,
To Gabriel scho thus answerd:
“Lo me here Goddes awne handemaydene,
To me be done als thou hase saydene.”
Thir er the wordes of this Gospell
Als Saynte Luke here gon us tell.
   The maistir sais apon this spell,
That Criste toke flehsse oure fo to fell:
He armid him with oure manhede,
To fell the fende stithe on stede;
For stythe he satte on wickidhede,
That wide was spred in ilk a thede,
Aye to Criste come him to fell,
With lare of trouthe and gasteli spell.
He toke the fende that was full taite,
Als fihsse es tane with hoke and baite;
For his Godhede call I that hoke,
That with his manhede the fende toke.
For right als baite the hoke felis,
And so it the gredi kelinge stelis,
So tholid Jesus with flehsse and blude,
Gromonde the gredie him take on rude.
Gromonde the gredie him I call,
That swelows synfull sawles all;
That never es full, bot aie redie
To stroye thaim all he es aie gredie.
Bot he was wiryed on a hoke,
When Goddes Sonne oure flehsse toke.
Wiryinge the bodi slase,
And so did Jhesu Sathanase.
He fondid Jhesus saule to fange,
Whan he saw him on the rode hange;
Bot for he fand in it na synne,
Na chalange he had tharein;
With Godhed occupied he it fand,
That toke him, and so fast him band
That his bandes bese never broken,
Ne his personne bese never unloken.
Now se ye wele a parti whi
Criste toke oure kynde of oure Ladie.
Forthi es gode that I yow tell,
The undoynge of this Gospell:
Als mikel to saie Gabriel is
Als “Goddes strenghe” apon Ynglihsse;3
For mikel strenghe was thare kidde,
Thare Godhed was in manhede hidde;
For that werk past to oure kynde,
That the craft thareof may no man fynde.4
Was never yit clerk so craftye,
That coude ever prove kyndelie,
How a wommane modirhede,
Moght be copplid to maydenhede.
Bot God that made kynde of noght,
Agayne kynde this werk wroght.
Oure kynde was filid thorow Adame plight,
And Criste it clensid thorghe his might.
For als the sonne passis thorghe the glasse,
And leves it hale aie als it wasse,
And whether the glasse be grene or bla
The sonne we se therof hewe ta.
So come the Sonne of rightwisnes
Into oure Ladie clene flehsse,
And toke him thareof oure kynde,
Withouten brekinge of mayden rynde;
And left hir hale withouten wemme,
For may na stekil godhede stemme.
This Godhed thorghe Marie yede
And left all hale hir maydenhede;
For so crafti es Goddes might,
That it passis thorghe and leves all thight.
Forthi es “Gabriel” full right,
Als mikel at saie als “Goddes might.”
That messandger to Marie yede,
To bringe bodworde of mannes nede.
Oure Ladie es wele Mary callde,
Thorghe faire resounes many falde:
For Marye will on Ynglihsse mene
Sterne of the se that oft es sene
Of schippmen that therof hase nede,
For eftir it thaire schippe thai lede;
So ledes manne resoune iwisse,
His saule towarde hevenes blisse,
When he takes yeme to Mary life
That is in Hali Kirk full rife.
For Mary life es sterne bright,
That ledes man the waies right
To blisse, if he thareeftir wirk,
And of gode dedes be noght yrk;
And wele es Marie callid sterne,
Whas life we suld folowe yerne,
For sterne hase of the self na leme,
Bot of the sonne takes it beme.
So toke Marie leme and light,
Grace and godenes of hir Sonne might,
And gives forth grace that scho fanges,
To all that thare eftir langes.
Forthi was scho callid full of grace,
Of the aungel in that place;
Thare he hir mette and saide hir till:
“Haile full of grace and Goddes will.”
Forthi scho helpes to thaim all,
That herteli apon hir will call.
That maie ye se be a ladye,
That was savid thorghe hir mercie.

   It was a knight beyonde the se
That riche man was wont to be;
That ilk a yere was wonte to make
A feste for oure Ladi sake.
Bot he dispendid so largelie,
That in poverté he fell in hye.
A gude wommane he had to wife,
That lufid oure Ladie all hir life.
The fende was att hir full tene,
Als eftirward was wele sene;
For when tyme come this knight suld make
Feste, and noght had of to take,
Durst he noght dwell att hame,
Bot went him to the wode for schame;
And dwellid thare all be his ane,
Aye to the tyme o the daie was gane.
Thus fore the knight many yere,
And made mornynge and ylle chere.
The fende that aie es ylle wylie,
Sawe this knight and thoght in hye,
That he for werldes gode was sarye,5
And wald be vengid on his ladie,
Bot he moght noght come hir nere,
For hali life and gude prayere.
Bot till hir lorde in wildirnes,
He come in a mannes liknes,
And askid him whi he was sarye,
And he saide him the resoune whie:
“I was,” he saide, “a riche mane,
And mikil catell es fra me gane.
A feste was I wont to make —
Now have I noght whareof to take.
Forthi think thou na ferlie,
Thof I be sorowfull and sorie.”
The fende answerd and saide him to:
“And thou will all mi will do,
I suld thee ger wele bettir fare
Than thou before did evere are.
Of ricches plenté I sall thee give,
Whareon thou maie right menskli live.”
This knight him hight to do his will,
And he answerd and saide him till:
“Go swithe and grave thee uppe thare golde,
Thare it lyes helid undir molde;
And come sithen and speke with me,
And bringe hidir thi wife with thee;
And loke that thou bringe hir thee withe,
For with yow bothe I will me kithe.”
This knight wist noght it was the fende,
Bot toke leve and home gon wende.
When he come home gold fande he laide
Thare whare the fende before had saide.
The knight was fayne of that findinge,
And thoght to fullfill his biddinge
That he are hight unto the fende,
Or ellis him thoght he was unhende.
Bot he him did als he him bad,
Thorghe whaim he so mikil gode had;
For more than he was wont to do,
Mo menne he festid and callid thareto.6
When tyme come that the fende had sette
To come to him whare thai first mette,
He bad his wife suld with him wende,
To speke a while with a frende.
His wife for him was all radde,
And did als hir lorde hir badde,
And on thaire palfraies fore thai bathe,
And bi a chapell thai rade full rathe.
This ladi till hir lorde spake,
And saide, “I rede, sir, that we make
In this chapell oure prayere,
Thatt Criste us bringe hale and fere
Home agayne till our menye:
Praie we to Crist that it so be.”
This knight was full of jolyté,
And of prayere na forse made he,
Bot saide, “Wele mote thou byde and praye,
For I will fare forthe on my waie,
And if thou dwell lange, I be wrathe.”
“Sir,” scho saide, “that ware me lathe.”
This ladie lightid noghtforthi,
And made hir praiere inwardeli.
Scho praied so longe scho fell on slepe —
Here mai ye ferli here take kepe —
For oure Ladie als scho thare laie,
Come and lepe on hir palfraie
In hir liknes, and forthe scho rade
Right to this knight thare he abade.
This knight wend witirli scho ware
His awne wife and forthe gon fare,
When thai come thare the fende had sette,
With the fende thare thai mette;
And when the fende sawe oure Ladie,
He knewe hir wele and made a crye
Apon this knight, and saide sone:
“Allas, traytoure, what hase tow done?
“I bad thee bringe thi wife with thee
And Goddis modir here I se.
Hangid be thou bi the hals,
For fikil man thou ert and fals.”
Who was abaiste than bot this knight,
And of his palfraie gon he light,
And fell doune to oure Ladie fete,
And askand mercie, sore gon grete.
Scho reprovid him als knight unhende,
For he this forward made to the fende;
And bad him that he suld be wise,
And be more bisie in hir servise;
And do awaie the fendes gift,
And God with catell suld him lift.
When this was saide scho went awaie,
And he than lepe on his palfraie,
And rade to the chapell and fande
His wife before the awtere slepeand;
And he thankid Mari inwardelie,
That savid him and his ladie.
Be this tale maie we se all
That all that will on Marie call,
Scho helpes thaim in all thaire nede,
And scheldes thaim fra wickidhede.
Praie we hir that scho us spede,
That we maye come to hevene mede.
Amen, amen, I rede we synge,
For of that joye es nane endinge.
whom; slave
[Of him] who
know; ignorant


keep it in mind

in the land
dwelt; directly
lineage; was called
maiden; dwelling

in a flutter

found; certainly

receive a seed; (t-note)
that which; fear
many times over

did promise
The throne of his father King David
ruling; is; gracious
(see note); (t-note)

Where Mary’s; is gracious
whose; there shall be
at his words she was amazed

Since; came near

encompass; advantage

To the honor and joy of sinful men

old kinswoman
(see note)
has been barren; (see note)

Contrary to nature


(see note)
enemy; destroy
human nature
potently everywhere
For he was strongly preeminent in wickedness
every land
Forever until
knowledge; spiritual wisdom
As fish; (see note)

cross; (see note)


brutally killed

Slaughter; kills
so did Satan [kill] Jesus
attempted; seize
cross; (t-note)
But because

will never be
body; set free; (t-note)
in part
human nature from

(see note)

according to human nature

who made the physical world
Against the laws of nature
defiled; sin

(see note)

take its color
(see note)

whole; stain
barrier; stop; (see note)

As much as to say

(see note)
Star of the sea
By sailors
by it; steer
So man’s reason leads

takes heed of Mary’s; (t-note)
well known

the right way
works accordingly
itself; light
her son’s power; (t-note)
who long for it



(see note)
had always been
every year was accustomed
spent; generously


had nothing with which to make it
He dared not

all by himself
Until the time of the feast had passed by

ever is wickedly cunning

And [Satan] wished; (t-note)

On account of

in the likeness of a man

think it no wonder



Where; hidden; earth

make myself known
did go

previously promised
Unless; requested







took no account

I will be angry
that would be disagreeable to me
alighted nevertheless

take note of a miracle

was certain




began to weep

get rid of
goods; exalt

grant us success
heavenly reward


Go To Homily 20, Third Sunday in Lent