Wednesday, 2 October 2013

'My keeper so sweet': More Medieval Prayers to a Guardian Angel

In the past on this blog I've posted and discussed five different medieval English prayers addressed to a guardian angel - three in this post, and two in 'A nun's prayer to her guardian angel'. Not surprisingly, given the popularity of this devotion in medieval England, there are more to be found! This post contains two: 'Hail, holy spirit' and 'I pray thee, spirit, that angel art'. I found both in Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century, ed. Carleton Brown (Oxford, 1939), pp. 202-5.

The first is from British Library, Additional MS. 31042, a fifteenth-century compilation of texts on religious and other subjects, put together by a Yorkshire landowner named Robert Thornton.

Haile! holy spyritt, & Ioy be vn-to the!
My keper so swete, myne Aungelle so fre,
In-to thi handis I pray the to take
My fastyng, my penance, my prayers þat I make,
My ympnys, my psalmys, my syngyng for syne,
My knelynge, my louynge, my charite þat I ame ine,
My wakynge, my wepynge & my deuocyoun,
My pacience, my angyrs & my tribulacioun,
My werkes of mercy & my almus dede,
And offere þame to Ihu, & gete me some mede.
And all my gude dedis, gyffe þay littill be,
I pray þe to presente þame bifore þe trynyte,
And to my lorde, Ihu, þu me recomende,
& thanke hym of alle gudnesse þat he hase me sende.
And if I haue seruede & worthy be to payne,
3itt some drope of his mercy þu brynge me agayne,
His pite & his gudnesse in me for to schawe,
þe wrethe of myne enemy þat I may with-drawe.
And alle þat me sekis to angyre & to ill,
To lufe & to charyte þu conuerte þaire will;
And my gastely enemys, all þat fandys me ay,
Dystrowe þu þaire myghtis by nyghte & by day.
And so þat all spirittes, þat me will assaile
In fandynge, be feble & of strenghe faile,
With þe blyssynge of his righte hande he me defende,
þat regnys god in trynyte, in worlde withowtene ende. Amen.


I actually found this poem when searching for hymns to the Holy Spirit, and realising after the first line that this was an address to an angel took me by surprise; but since the usual Middle English term for the third person of the Trinity is 'Holy Ghost', I assume there would have been no confusion for the original audience. There's something enjoyable about the pace of these couplets - they just rattle along. Compared to some of the other prayers to a guardian angel, this is fairly pragmatic and unsentimental: a description of the things an angel can do, and a petition to one's angel to do them, if he would be so kind. Something like 'O sweet angel, to me so dear' is notably more affectionate, almost caressing, in tone.

Here's a modernised version:

Hail, holy spirit, and joy be unto thee,
My keeper so sweet, my angel so free, [noble, gracious]
Into thy hands I pray thee to take
My fasting, my penance, my prayers that I make,
My hymns, my psalms, my singing, for my sin,
My kneeling, my praising, my charity that I am in,
My waking, my weeping and my devotion,
My patience, my troubles and my tribulation,
My works of mercy and my alms deeds,
And offer them to Jesu, and gain me some mede; [reward]
And all my good deeds, though little they be,
I pray thee to present them before the Trinity,
And to my Lord Jesu thou me recommend,
And thank him for all goodness that he hath me sent.
And if I have served and worthy be of pay, [reward]
Some drop yet of his mercy thou bring me again,
His pity and his goodness to me for to show,
The wrath of mine enemy that I may withdraw. [escape]
And all who seek me in anger and for ill,
To love and to charity convert thou their will;
And my ghostly enemies, all which tempt me ay,
Destroy thou their might by night and by day;
And so that all spirits which me would assail
In tempting, be feeble, and of their strength fail,
With the blessing of his right hand may he me defend,
Who reigns, God in Trinity, world without end. Amen.

The archangel Raphael and Tobias (British Library, Stowe 12, f.128)

The second prayer:

I pray þe, spirit, þat angell arte
To whom y ame be-take,
That þu me kepe in clene lyf,
Wheþer y slepe or wake.

God of hys grace haþ me þe sende,
To kepe me boþe daye & ny3t,
Tyde and tyme me to defende,
And with þe fende for me to fy3t.

Louely angell, counforte me
In what desese þat y be ynne,
Helpe with grace þat y maye flee
In wyll and dede & deedly synne.

All temptacions þu put me
ffro þe fendes þat wyll me drede.
Where-euer y goo my fere þu be
That y maye knowe þy helpe at nede.

þow y haue be to þe vnkynde,
To þe mercyfull kynge for me þu praye,
þat no gylt in me be founde,
Whan y schall ryse at domesdaye.

Whanne þu seest me goon with wronge,
ffor hym þat haþ me wro3t,
To hym a-3ey þu me wysse,
Ellys y lese my blys for no3t.

What sorow or what desese,
Helpe me with þy prayere,
My lordes face þat y may see
At domys daye with-outen fere.

Also y praye þe, myn angell swete,
3yf yt maye be by anye waye,
þat þu do me to wete
Of my lyuyng or þe last daye.

Suffre not the fende blake,
With [s]cornis ne with wanhope,
Neyþer my mynde fro me to take,
My sowle to see.

Whan y schall owte of þys worlde goo,
ffor-sake my no3t tyll þu brynge
Me hym to that my sowle came fro,
Euer in ioye with angeles to synge. Amen.

This is from Cambridge University MS. Ii.6.43, a fifteenth-century collection of prayers and spiritual material (you can see a list of the manuscript's contents here). Here's my version of the poem:

I pray thee, spirit, that angel art
To whom I am betake, [entrusted]
That thou me keep in clean life,
Whether I sleep or wake.

God of his grace did me thee send,
To keep me both day and night,
Tide and time me to defend,
Against the fiend for me to fight.

Lovely angel, comfort me
Whatever trouble I may be in,
Help with grace that I may flee
In will and deed from deadly sin.

All temptations thou put [from?] me,
From the fiends who will me drede. [who want to frighten me]
Wherever I go, my companion be
That I may know thy help at need.

Though I have been to thee unkind,
To the merciful King for me thou pray,
That no guilt in me be found,
When I shall rise at doomsday.

When thou seest me go with wrong,
For him that hath me wrought,
To him away thou me guide,
Else I lose my bliss for nought.

Whatever sorrow or trouble come,
Help me with thy prayer,
My Lord's face that I may see
At doomsday without fear.

Also I pray thee, my angel sweet,
If it may be by any way,
That thou cause me to know
Of my life before the last day.

Suffer not the fiend black
Neither with scorn nor with despair
My mind from me to take,
My soul to save.

When I must out of this world go,
Forsake me not until thou bring
Me to him that my soul came from,
Ever in joy with angels to sing. Amen.

In the second verse, 'tide and time' means 'at all times'; the OED says this phrase was in origin either "an alliterative reduplication, in which the two words were more or less synonyms" or meant "time and (or) season". The Middle English Dictionary has a list of ME citations under 8i. In case you were wondering, the proverb which has kept the phrase alive - although perhaps in a misunderstood version, since people tend to think it refers to the sea - is first recorded in the fifteenth century, in the form 'the tide abideth for no manner of man'.


This illustration is from an English Book of Hours (BL Royal 2 B XV) which was made in c.1500 for the family of Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond. It shows a man with his guardian angel guiding him at prayer, and on the rest of the page is a Latin prayer to the guardian angel:


The text (from a different source, but almost identical) and a translation can be found here. It's useful to have a reminder that devotion to guardian angels could be found at varied levels of society: with this image we've moved from Robert Thornton, a member of the Yorkshire minor gentry, to one of the wealthiest noblemen in the country. Similarly, the owners of the manuscripts with guardian angel prayers in my previous posts included a London merchant, a Chester nun, and the grandmother of Henry VII.

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