Thursday, June 30, 2011

The 'Cædmon Manuscript'

Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. An Anglo-Saxon herdsman attached to the double monastery of Streonæshalch (Whitby Abbey) during the abbacy of St. Hilda (657–680), he was originally ignorant of "the art of song" but learned to compose one night in the course of a dream, according to the 8th-century monk Bede. He later became a zealous monk and an accomplished and inspirational religious poet.

It was not until the seventeenth century that any existing poems were attributed to Cædmon. In 1651 Archbishop Ussher presented a unique manuscript of Anglo-Saxon poems from about the year A.D. 1000 to the Dutch scholar Francis Junius. Junius was serving as librarian to the Earl of Arundel, and had devoted himself to the study of Anglo-Saxon. The poems in the manuscript fit Bede's description of Cædmon's work very well -- they included poetic paraphrases of Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel, and a group of poems concerning the Fall of the Angels, Christ's Descent into Hell, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Last Judgment, and the Temptation in the Wilderness. And so after he returned to Holland, Junius published an edition of this manuscript in which he attributed the poems to Cædmon. The manuscript thus became known as the 'Cædmon Manuscript.' It is now in the Bodleian Library, and designated Codex Junius 11. Today most Anglo-Saxon scholars doubt that these poems (in their present form) were in fact written by Cædmon. Instead, they theorize that the poems are the remaining work of a whole school of poets which flourished somewhat later. Nevertheless, there is good reason to suppose that parts of the poems, at least, are the work of Cædmon.

Whether or not these poetic paraphrases contain the work of Cædmon, they are valuable relics of the Anglo-Saxon age. They indicate the manner in which the Bible was popularly known and interpreted at the time, and they continue to be excellent devotional literature. As one scholar concludes, "Bede tells us that many English writers of sacred verse had imitated Cædmon, but that none had equalled him. The literary value of parts of the Cædmonian poems is undoubtedly of a high order. The Bible stories are not merely paraphrased, but have been brooded upon by the poet until developed into a vivid picture, with touches drawn from the English life and landscape about him. The story of the flight of Israel resounds with the tread of armies and the excitement of camp and battle. The Genesis and the Christ and Satan have the glow of dramatic life, and the character of Satan is sharply delineated. The poems, whether we say they are Cædmon's or of the school of Cædmon, mark a worthy beginning of the long and noble line of English sacred poetry."

Below is a small sample of Cædmon's poetic paraphrase of the book of Genesis, followed by a modern English translation.

"Yet the Almighty Father would not take away from Adam and from Eve, at once, all goodly things, though He withdrew His favour from them. But for their comfort He left the sky above them adorned with shining stars, gave them wide-stretching fields, and bade the earth and sea and all their teeming multitudes to bring forth fruits to serve man's earthly need. After their sin they dwelt in a realm more sorrowful, a home and native land less rich in all good things than was their first abode, wherefrom He drove them out after their sin. Then, according to the word of God, Adam and Eve begat children, as God had bidden. To them were born two goodly sons, Abel and Cain: the books tell us how these brothers, first of toilers, gained wealth and goods and store of food."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Ancient Celts

The ancient Celts were not an ethnic unit but a conglomerate of different peoples of Indo/European extraction. Although they were known to have reached Spain and the Atlantic coast sometime in the 6th century BC, the first mention of them in classical literature (as ‘Celts’) comes in Herodotus’ The Histories (c. 440 BC) where he said that the Keltoi (Celts) lived on the Upper Danube and ‘’… beyond the Pillars of Heracles…’’ There was no such thing as a ‘typical’ Celt for they ranged from the small and dark to the tall and blond but what they held in common was their related languages, laws, history and religion. By the 3rd century BC, the Celtic world stretched from Ireland in the west to the Black Sea in the east, from where they traded with China.

They also held territory from the Baltic region of Scandinavia and Russia, down to the Mediterranean coast, and it was only with the advance of the Greek and the Roman world that the Celtic one began to shrink geographically. Although the Celts had kings, Caesar says that the real power lay in the hands of the Celtic priests who were called Druids. Caesar thought that this priesthood originated in Britain before it spread to the continent, and it was their great power over the tribes that the Romans tried to eradicate.

Christianity would have entered Britain with the Romans although archaeological evidence is sparse, and is seen mainly in the form of the chi-rho, which is etched into walls, lamps and other artefacts. The earliest written reference to Christianity in Ireland and Britain comes from Origen of Alexandra (d. c. AD 254) who wrote that those parts of Britain which were not under Roman sway, had been subjected to Christianity i. e. Northwest Scotland, Ireland, Brigantia (parts of northern England), Wales and Cornwall. We also know that 3 British bishops were present at the Synod of Arles in AD 314 – which means that there must have been some sort of Christian organisation by that time. However, there was no such a thing as a ‘unified’ Celtic Church with set beliefs and practices, for it had no centralised authority or hierarchy to tell it what to do (as did the continental Church). Basically, it developed local rules to suit local conditions, and interpreted the Scriptures as it thought best.

Monday, June 27, 2011

11th Century Scottish Peace Prayer

Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you, for ever.

Friday, June 24, 2011

He Supports all Things ~ Patrick

Our God, God of all men,
God of heaven and earth, sea and rivers,
God of sun and moon, of all the stars,
God of high mountains and of lowly valleys,
God over heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.

He has a dwelling
in heaven and earth and sea
and in all things
that arc in them.

He inspires all things,
He quickens all things,
He is over all things,
He supports all things.

He makes the light of the sun to shine,
He surrounds the moon and stars, and
He has made wells in the arid earth, placed dry islands in the sea
and stars for the service of the greater luminaries.

He has a Son coeternal with Himself,
like to Himself;
not junior is Son to Father,
nor Father senior to the Son.

And the Holy Spirit
breathes in them;
not separate are Father
and Son and Holy Spirit.

Patrick ~ 5th Century

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer ~ Irish 11th century

"A good season is summer for long journeys; quiet is the tall fine wood which the whistle of the wind will not stir; green is the plumage of the sheltering wood; eddies swirl in the stream; good is the warmth in the turf." -

Irish eleventh century

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Of Powys, the Paradise of Wales ~ Llywarch Hen

I was formerly fair of limb, I was eloquent in speech:
What is not wonderful will be extolled-
The men of Argoed have ever supported me.

I was formerly fair of limb, I was bold,
I was admitted into the congress-house
Of Powys, the paradise of Wales.

I was formerly fair of limb, I was comely;
Throbbing was concomitant with my spear:
My back (now) curved was first in vigour--I am heavy, I am wretched.

Wooden crook! is it not the time of harvest,
When the fern is brown, and the reeds are yellow?
I have I not once disliked what I now love!

Wooden crook! is not this winter,
When men are noisy over the beverage?
Is not my bedside void of greeting visits!

Llywarch Hen   9th Century

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Talking and Long Stories ~ Irish 8th Century

All alone in my little hut without any human
being in my company, dear has been the
pilgrimage before going to meet death.

Making holy the body with good habits, treading
it boldly down: feeble tearful eyes for forgiveness
of my passions.

Stepping along the paths of the gospel, singing
psalms every hour: an end of talking and long
stories: constant bending of the knee.

My creator to frequent me, my Lord, my King,
my spirit to seek him in the eternal kingdom
where he is.

All alone in my little hut, all alone so, alone I
came into the world, alone I shall go from it.

8th of 9th Century Irish  ~ Author Unknown 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Alone With None but Thee - Columba

"Alone with none but Thee, my God,
I journey on my way; what need I fear when Thou art near, 
Oh King of night and day?
More safe am I within Thy hand than if a host did round me stand."

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Viking Christianity ~ Gareth Williams

The Viking Age was a period of considerable religious change in Scandinavia. Part of the popular image of the Vikings is that they were all pagans, with a hatred of the Christian Church, but this view is very misleading. It is true that almost the entire population of Scandinavia was pagan at the beginning of the Viking Age, but the Vikings had many gods, and it was no problem for them to accept the Christian god alongside their own. Most scholars today believe that Viking attacks on Christian churches had nothing to do with religion, but more to do with the fact that monasteries were typically both wealthy and poorly defended, making them an easy target for plunder.

The Vikings came into contact with Christianity through their raids, and when they settled in lands with a Christian population, they adopted Christianity quite quickly. This was true in Normandy, Ireland, and throughout the British Isles. Although contemporary accounts say little about this, we can see it in the archaeological evidence. Pagans buried their dead with grave goods, but Christians normally didn't, and this makes it relatively easy to spot the change in religion.

As well as conversion abroad, the Viking Age also saw a gradual conversion in Scandinavia itself, as Anglo-Saxon and German missionaries arrived to convert the pagans. By the mid-11th century, Christianity was well established in Denmark and most of Norway. Although there was a temporary conversion in Sweden in the early 11th century, it wasn't until the mid-12th century that Christianity became established there. As part of the process of conversion the Christians took over traditional pagan sites. A good example of this can be seen at Gamle Uppsala in Sweden, where the remains of an early church stand alongside a series of huge pagan burial mounds.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Spirit of Good Hap ~ Bede

Facing that enforced journey, no man can be
More prudent than he has good call to be,
If he consider, before his going hence,
What for his spirit of good hap or of evil
After his day of death shall be determined.

Fore ðæm nedfere nænig wiorðe
ðonc snottora ðon him ðearf siæ
to ymbhycgenne ær his hinionge
hwæt his gastæ godes oððe yfles
æfter deað dæge doemed wiorð

7th Century

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