Sunday 1 December 2013

More Medieval Annunciations

BL Arundel 302, f. 139v (15th century)

Last year on the first Sunday of Advent I posted a collection of medieval depictions of the Annunciation, seeking out the stillness of these images as an antidote to noisy internet chatter. Medieval Breviaries, opening with the First Sunday of Advent at the start of the new liturgical year, often begin with an illustration of the angel appearing to Mary (here's a nice example), and medieval poetry of the Annunciation tends to emphasise the quiet, private, gentle nature of this encounter, and the moment when the Virgin conceived her child; it's thus a good way to start a month which can be, for all its joys, busy and tiring and clamorous. So this is an expanded version of last year's post, interspersing the images with extracts from Middle English poems about the Annunciation and Incarnation.

BL Royal 15 D II, f. 3 (14th century)

"Ecce ancilla domini,"
Said the virgin without vice,
When Gabriel her greeted graciously,
That holy pinnacle of proven price,
"From thee shall spring a full sweet spice."
Then said the maiden full mildly,
"Then since I am so little of price,
Ecce ancilla domini."

"Hail be thou, gracious without guilt,
Of all maids born the very best!
Within thy body shall be fulfilled
What all the prophets have preached so preste; [eagerly]
God will be born within thy breast."
Then said the maiden full mildly,
"To me he shall be a welcome guest;
Ecce ancilla domini."

But when she saw an angel bright,
She was afraid in all her thought,
And of his speech well wonder she might.
Then said the angel, "Dread thee nought!
A blessed tiding I have thee brought."
Then said the maiden full mildly,
"As God wills, so be it wrought;
Ecce ancilla domini."

That angel said, "Conceive thou shalt
Within thy body bright
A child that Jesu shall be called,
That is great God's own son of might.
Thou art his tabernacle idight." [prepared]
Then said the maiden full mildly,
"Since he said never else but right,
Ecce ancilla domini."

"Call him Jesu of Nazareth,
God and man in one degree;
He as a man shall suffer death
And reign in David's dignity.
A blessed word he sends to thee."
Then said the maiden full mildly,
"He shall be dearly welcome to me;
Ecce ancilla domini."

"But with man's dealings never I met;
Now, lord, how shall I go with child?"
Then said the angel that her gret, [greeted]
"With nothing such shalt thou be defiled:
The Holy Ghost will in thee abide."
Then said the maiden full mildly,
"As God wills, so be it done,
Ecce ancilla domini."

When the angel was vanished away,
She stood all in her thought,
And to herself she then did say,
"All God's will shall be wrought;
For he is well of all witte, [the source of all wisdom]
As witnesses well his story."
At that word the knot was knit:
"Ecce ancilla domini."

('Ecce ancilla domini')

When Gabriel this maiden met,
With "Ave, Maria," he her gret,
Between them two this flower was set,
And kept was, no man should wit,
Until on a day
In Bethlehem, it did spread and spray.

('There is a flower')

The angel came from heaven's tower,
To greet Mary with great honour,
And said she would bear the flower
That would break the fiend's bonds.

The flower sprung in high Bethlem,
It is both bright and sheen: [fair]
The rose is Mary, heavenly queen,
Out of her bosom the blossom sprung.

('Of a rose, a lovely rose')

Under a tree,
In sporting me
Alone by a wood-side,
I heard a maid
Who sweetly said,
"I am with child this tide.

Conceived have I
The Son of God so sweet;
His gracious will
I put me till,
As mother Him to keep...

This ghostly case
Doth me embrace,
Without despite or mock,
With my darling,
Lullay to sing,
And lovingly Him to rock.

('Under a tree')

BL Royal 2 A XXII, f. 12v (c. 1200)

For Truthe telleth that love is triacle of hevene:
May no synne be on hym seene that that spice useth.
And alle his werkes he wroughte with love as hym liste,
And lered it Moyses for the leveste thyng and moost lik to hevene,
And also the plante of pees, moost precious of vertues:
For hevene myghte nat holden it, so was it hevy of hymself,
Til it hadde of the erthe eten his fille.
And whan it hadde of this fold flessh and blood taken,
Was nevere leef upon lynde lighter therafter,
And portatif and persaunt as the point of a nedle,
That myghte noon armure it lette ne none heighe walles.

(Piers Plowman, 1.148-158: For Truth tells that love is the medicine of heaven: no sin may be seen on him who uses that physic. And he wrought his works with love, as it pleased him, and he taught it to Moses as the dearest thing and the thing most like to heaven. And the plant of peace, most precious of vertues: because heaven could not hold it, it was so heavy with its own sap, until it had eaten its fill of the earth; when it had taken flesh and blood from this world, there was never leaf upon a linden-tree lighter than it was, weightless and piercing as the point of a needle, so that no armour could stop it, nor no high walls.)

As the sun shineth through the glass,
So Jesu in her body was;
Then him to serve God give us grace,
O lux beata Trinitas.

('In Bethlehem, that fair city')

BL Royal 6 E VI, f. 55 (14th century)

Maiden she was with childe and maiden was beforn
And maiden ever since that her child was born;
Maiden and mother was never no woman but she:
Well might she bearer of God's Son be.

Blessed be that sweet child and the mother ek [also]
And the sweet breast that her son sec; [sucked]
Praised be the time that such child was born,
That freed all from pain that before were forlorn.

('Nu these fules singet')

To thank and bless him we are bound
With all the mirth that man may minne: [make]
For all the world in woe was wound
Until he crept into our kin, -
A lovely girl he lit within,
The worthiest that ever was,
And shed his blood for our sin:
And therefore, Deo Gracias.

('In a church where I did kneel')

BL Egerton 2781, f. 53 (14th century)

I sing of a maiden
That is makeles:
King of alle kinges
To her son she ches.

He cam also stille
Ther his moder was
As dewe in Aprille
That falleth on the gras.

He cam also stille
To his modres bowr
As dewe in Aprille
That falleth on the flowr.

He cam also stille
Ther his moder lay
As dewe in Aprille
That falleth on the spray.

Moder and maiden
Was nevere noon but she:
Wel may swich a lady
Godes moder be.


emikap said...

Just discovered your blog -- thank you for sharing all these rich writings and images!

Clerk of Oxford said...

It's always nice to meet a new reader! Thanks for commenting.