Friday, 16 August 2013

Two Medieval Prayers to Christ

Following on from a post back in June, here are two more prayers from the collection of the Chester nun, Margery Byrkenhed.  In the manuscript each one has the heading 'a good prayer' - perhaps an aide memoire, or a recommendation to future readers like you and me. As before, the text can be found here.

O the moste swetest spouse of my sowle criste Jhu desyryng heretely euer more for to be with the in mynde and wyll, and to lett noo erthly thyng be soo nygh myn hertt as the criste Jhu. And that I dreede nott for to dye for to goo to the criste Jhu. And that I may euer more say to the wt a gladd cheere, my Lord my godd my souereigne Sauyoure crist Jhu. I beseche ye hertely take me Synnar vnto thy greate mercy and grace. For I loue the with all myn hertt wt all my mynde and wh all my myght, and nothyng so myche in erthe nor aboue the erthe as I doo the my swete Lord crist Jhu. And for yt I haue nott loued the, nor worshipped the aboue all thyngs as my lord my god and my Sauyoure criste Jhu I beseche the with mekenes and hert contrite of mercy and of forgevenes of my greate vnkyndenes for the great loue that thowe shewdest for me and all mankynd what tyme thow offredest thy glorious body god and man vnto the crosse ther to be crucified ande wounded, and vnto thy glorious hertt a sharp spere, there rennyng oute plentuously blode and water for the redempcion and saluacion of me and all mankynde. And thus hauyng remembraunce stedfastly in my hert of the my sauyour cryste Jhu I dowtt not but thow wylt be full nyghe me and comfort me both bodely and gostely wt thy glorious presens. And at the last, bryng me vnto thyn euerlastyng blysse the whiche shall neuer haue ende. Amen.

O most sweetest spouse of my soul, Christ Jesu, desiring heartily ever more to be with thee in mind and will, and to let no earthly thing be so nigh to my heart as thee, Christ Jesu, that I may not dread to die for to go to thee, Christ Jesu, and that I may ever more say to thee with a glad spirit, my Lord, my God, my sovereign Saviour Christ Jesu, I beseech thee heartily, take me, a sinner, unto thy great mercy and grace. For I love thee with all my heart, with all my mind and with all my might, and love nothing so much in earth nor above the earth as I do thee, my sweet Lord Christ Jesu. And for the times when I have not loved thee nor worshipped thee above all things as my Lord, my God and my Saviour Christ Jesu, I beseech thee with meekness and a contrite heart for mercy and forgiveness of my great ingratitude for the great love that thou showdest for me and all mankind when thou offeredest thy glorious body, God and Man, unto the cross, there to be crucified and wounded, and unto thy glorious heart a sharp spear, there running out plenteously blood and water for the redemption and salvation of me and all mankind. And thus having remembrance steadfastly in my heart of thee, my Saviour Christ Jesu, I doubt not but that thou wilt be full nigh me and comfort me both bodily and spiritually with thy glorious presence. And at the last, bring me unto thine everlasting bliss which shall never have an end. Amen.

O Jhu lett me neuer forgett thy bytter passion
That thou suffred for my transgression.
For in thy blessyd wondes is the verey scole
That must teche me wt the worlde to be called a ffole.
O Jhu ihu ihu grauntt that I may loue the soo
Yt the wysdom of the worlde be cleene fro me A goo.
And brennyngly to desyre to come to see thy face
In whome is all my comford my ioy and my solace.
Amen – Jhesus – Maria – Johannes.

O Jesu, let me never forget thy bitter Passion
That thou suffered for my transgression.
For in thy blessed wounds is the true school
That must teach me by the world to be called a fool.
O Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, grant that I may love thee so
That the wisdom of the world may clean from me go.
And burningly to desire to come to see thy face
In whom is all my comfort, my joy and my solace.
Amen – Jesus – Maria – John.

It's not great poetry, nor is the other great prose; but there's a kind of yearning in these prayers which makes them moving for me - a depth of feeling which finds ordinary language inadequate, and spills beyond the bounds of such things as grammar and logical syntax.  For those of us who strive to produce 'good' writing, there's always a danger of choosing a neat phrase over one which is messy or clumsily expressed, yet more accurate; I like to imagine that the person who wrote the first prayer chose, in the service of humility, 'by the world to be called a fool' (or a bad writer) rather than turn an elegant phrase with less feeling in it.

It's worth noting that the uses of the name 'Jesu' are quite typical of prayers of this period - in the first the phrase 'Christ Jesu' serves as a kind of punctuation, like a breath between petitions, and in the second the repetition of the name evokes a fervour of desire and devotion.  The end of the fifteenth century saw the institution of the Feast of the Holy Name, so Margery Byrkenhed was a woman of her time.


pritchard said...

Love your blog!
'O swete Angell that keepithe me
Bryng me to blysse I pray the.'
and of course,
'Qui creavit celum, Lully, lully lu'

Clerk of Oxford said...

Glad to hear it! Thanks for commenting.