From my diary

I’m working on translating material associated with the council of Hippo in 393.  Not just the Breviarium of the canons, prepared for the council of Carthage in 397; but also a handful of canons that survived in more complete form, more or less by accident, outside of the main flow of canon law transmission.  To do so I work with various tools, including my own QuickLatin tool which I am continuously enhancing with small bits of syntactical information.  But yesterday I had to stop and do some real work on the code base.  I had never implemented code to handle “quidem” and the like, not least because I always know what it means.  But finally this absence annoyed me enough to do something about it.  Two days of hard work later, it is now functioning.

Tomorrow I will get back to working on five canons discovered by Charles Munier in Codex Vercellensi 165, fol. 199, and published in 1968 in the Revue de Droit canonique 12, p.16-29.  This does not seem to be accessible, but he printed the text in his edition of the African canons which I have.  I’m working through the first of these, which restrains clergy from ordaining minors without the permission of their fathers.

The manuscript is at the Biblioteca capitolare in Vercelli; which sounds like the chapter library of the cathedral.  Sadly these do not seem to be online yet; but no doubt they will be one day!


Canons “37b, 38 and 39” of the Breviarium of the Council of Hippo (393)

In Mansi’s edition of the Breviarium, canon 37 is longer than it is in Munier; and there are two more canons given.  Thankfully Munier does explain this, and in the interests of completeness, I think it’s worth giving the material here, to tie up a loose end.

Around 500 AD Dionysius Exiguus compiled a collection of church canons, which included a good slab of material from Africa.  He gave the canons of the council of 419 and then inserted after them a digest of earlier African canons, which is referred to today as the “Register ecclesiae Carthaginensis“.  The canons are numbered sequentially as if a continuation of the canons of 419.

All this material was translated by the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collection, so there is no need for me to do so.  But let’s give the Latin from Munier and NPNF English.

The extra material in canon 37 of the Breviarium is in fact from the Register, where it is canon 47.  The Register states that it is from the Council of Carthage on 13 August in 397, the same council at which the Breviarium was compiled.  So this is a little odd.

(“37”) De Donatistis placuit ut consulamus fratres et consacerdotes nostros Siricium et Simplicianum de solis infantibus qui baptizantur penes eosdem, ne quod suo non fecerunt judicio, cum ad ecclesiam Dei salubri proposito fuerint conuersi, parentum illos error impediat ne promoveantur sacri altaris ministri. (Munier, p.186)

Concerning the Donatists it seemed good that we should hold counsel with our brethren and fellow priests Siricius and Simplician concerning those infants alone who are baptized by Donatists: lest what they did not do of their own will, when they should be converted to the Church of God with a salutary determination, the error of their parents might prevent their promotion to the ministry of the holy altar.

From which we may infer that someone in that situation was indeed seeking to be ordained.

The “canon 38” is in fact canons 49 and 50 of the material from the Register, which also assigns it to the Council of Carthage in 397, but to a second session on 28 August.

(38) Honoratus et Urbanus dixerunt : Et illud nobis mandatum est, ut quia proxime fratres nostri Numidiae duo episcopi ordinare praesumpserunt pontificem, nonnisi a duodecim censeatis celebrari episcoporum ordinationes.

Aurelius episcopus dixit: Forma antiqua servabitur, ut non minus quam tres sufficiant, qui fuerint destinati, ad episcopum ordinandum. Praeterea, quia in Tripoli forte et in Arzuge interiacere videntur barbarae gentes – nam in Tripoli, ut asseritur, episcopi sunt quinque. tantummodo, et possunt forte de ipso numero vel duo necessitate aliqua occupari; difficile est enim ut de quolibet numero omnes possint occurrrere – numquid debet hoc ipsum impedimento esse ecclesiasticae utilitati? Nam et in hac ecclesia, ad quam dignata est vestra sanctitas convenire, crebro ac paene per diem dominicam ordinandos habemus; numquidnam frequenter potero duodecim vel decem vel non multo minus advocare episcopos? Sed facile est mihi duos adiungere meae parvitati vicinos. Quapropter cernit mecum caritas vestra hoc ipsum observari non posse.

Sed illud est statuendum, ut quando ad eligendum convenerimus, si qua contradictio fuerit oborta, quia talia tractata sunt apud nos, non praesumant ad purgandum eum qui ordinandus est tres iam, sed postuletur ad numerum supradictorum unus vel duo, et in eadem plebe cui ordinandus est discutiantur primo personae contradicentium, postremo etiam illa quae obiciuntur pertractentur; et cum purgatus fuerit sub conspectu publico, ita demum ordinetur. Si hoc cum vestrae sanctitatis animo concordat, roboretur vestrae dignationis responsione.
Ab universis episcopis dictum est: Satis placet.

Honoratus and Urbanus, the bishops, said: We have issued this command, that (because lately two of our brethren, bishops of Numidia, presumed to ordain a pontiff,) only by the concurrence of twelve bishops the ordination of bishops be celebrated.

Aurelius, the bishop, said: The ancient form shall be preserved, that not less than three suffice who shall have been designated for ordaining the bishop. Moreover, because in Tripoli, and in Arzug the barbarians are so near, for it is asserted that in Tripoli there are but five bishops, and out of that number two may be occupied by some necessity; but it is difficult that all of the number should come together at any place whatever; ought this circumstance to be an impediment to the doing of what is of utility to the Church? For in this Church, to which your holiness has deigned to assemble we frequently have ordinations and nearly every Lord’s day; could I frequently summon twelve, or ten, or about that number of bishops? But it is an easy thing for me to join a couple of neighbours to my littleness. Wherefore your charity will agree with me that this cannot be observed.

But this should be decreed, that when we shall have met together to choose a bishop, if any opposition shall arise, because such things have been treated by us, the three shall not presume to purge him who was to be ordained, but one or two more shall be asked to be added to the aforesaid number, and the persons of those objecting shall first be discussed in the same place (plebe) for which he was to be ordained. And last of all the objections shall be considered; and only after he has been cleared in the public sight shall he at last be ordained. If this agrees with the mind of your holiness, let it be confirmed by the answer of your worthiness.

All the bishops said, We are well pleased.

It is shocking to read that “in Arzug the barbarians are so near”… and that Aurelius does not seem to consider this a more pressing concern than these legal minutiae.

The next item, “canon 39” is in fact from the council of 13 September, 401.  It appears as canon 72 in the Dionysius Exiguus’ Register.

(39)  Item placuit de infantibus, quoties inveniuntur certissimi testes, qui eos baptizatos esse sine dubitatione testentur, ne que ipsi sunt per aetatem de traditis sacramentis idonei respondere, absque ullo scrupulo eos esse baptizandos, ne ista trepidatio eos faciat sacramentorum purgatione privari. Hinc etiam legati Maurorum, fratres nostri, consuluerunt, quia multos tales a barbaris redimunt.  – Munier p.201

Likewise it seemed good that whenever there were not found reliable witnesses who could testify that without any doubt they were baptized and when the children themselves were not, on account of their tender age, able to answer concerning the giving of the sacraments to them, all such children should be baptized without scruple, lest a hesitation should deprive them of the cleansing of the sacraments. This was urged by the Moorish Legates, our brethren, since they redeem many such from the barbarians.

Sobering stuff to witness.


From my diary

I’ve now returned working on the letter of Aurelius and Mizonius, to which the breviarium or summary of the canons of the council of Hippo was attached, and with which it is usually transmitted.  This is basically done, although I’ve had to look up a few phrases.  It was much easier to do, after spending so much time with the canons, than I remembered.  The more Latin we do, the better we get; if, that is, we don’t cheat and gloss over difficulties with a paraphrase.  I’ll post that next week.  I’ll also look at whatever material survives about the Council of Carthage in 397, where the breviarium was compiled.

I’ve continued to work on the Tertullian Project Technical Update.  At the moment that means finding broken links and fixing them as best I can.  Some of these broken links are more than 20 years old.  In many cases all that can be done is to remove them.

One lesson that I have found is never, ever, to rely on images on another site.  There is one page which relies on a photograph of the first page of a manuscript at a famous library.  That photograph was paid for by me.  I commissioned that library, long ago, to make a photograph for me.   This was before digital cameras, so I got a colour slide for my money.  Later they placed an image on their website.  But … it has vanished.  It is no longer there.  Fortunately I kept a copy.

When I created the Roman Cult of Mithras pages, back in 2011 or 2012, one of my motives was to build a directory of images of Mithras online.  There were and are very many such photos, taken by tourists, in high resolution and full-colour.  These are far better than the reference photographs.  So it helps to be able to identify them.  I took a decision when I did so to hold local copies of all the images.  I knew that newspapers sometimes publish good photographs of finds.  I also knew that newspapers do not tend to keep articles online for very long!  Images appear and vanish.  The only solution is to keep the image locally.  The Tertullian Project Technical Update is proving the wisdom of that policy.

Identifying broken links is a chore.  There are various online sites, all of which limit you to a small number of pages unless you pay them.  I had some difficulty finding scripts online, until I thought to add “Github” to the search terms.  Indeed I adapted one PHP script to run locally for my own purposes.  But of course something like the Linkchecker python script is far better, even if it takes ages to run.

I’ve still got quite a few links to fix. That can happen in slow time, as I feel like it.


Canons 37 of the breviarium of the Council of Hippo (393)

The final canon, 37, in the summary of the canons of the council of Hippo is as follows.  I did get rather stuck at one point, so comments are very welcome.

37.  Placuit etiam ut, quoniam praecedentibus conciliis statutum est ne quis Donatistarum cum honore suo recipiatur a nobis, sed in numero laicorum, propter salutem quae nulli deneganda est — tantum autem inopia clericorum ordinandorum in Africa patiuntur ecclesiae, ut quaedam loca omnino deserta sint — servetur quidem in istis quod iam ante decretum est, sed exceptis his quos, aut non rebaptizasse constiterit, aut qui cum suis plebibus ad communionem catholicam transire voluerint. Si enim scriptum est quod duobus si convenerit Christianis, quidquid petierint, impetrabunt, non oportet dubitare quod, remoto scandalo dissensionis, universae plebis, in unitate [pacis]** redacta concordia, idonea sit impetrare de misericordia Domini, ut ipsius pacis compensatione et sacrificio caritatis aboleantur quae, maiorum suorum auctoritatem sequentes, repetitione baptismi commiserunt.

Sed hanc rem placuit non confirmari, priusquam inde transmarina ecclesia consulatur.

Note that “pacis” is found in Mansi’s text, but not in Munier.

Here’s my attempt to translate this:

37.  It was also agreed that, seeing that it was ordained by preceding councils that a Donatist shall be received by us, not with honour, but among the number of the laity; on account of the salvation which must not be refused to any, – for the churches suffer so much from the lack of ordained clergy in Africa, so that some places have been entirely deserted –  it [the rule] shall be maintained even in those who already [crossed over] before it was decreed, but excepting those who either did not wait to be rebaptised, or who wished to cross over to the Catholic communion with their congregation. For if it was written “that if two Christians shall agree,** whatever they ask, they shall obtain”, [then] it is not right to doubt that, having been freed from the scandal of dissention, the concord of the whole laity in [the] unity [of peace] having been restored**, it shall be proper to procure from the mercy of God, that, in a return** of his peace with the return of peace and by the sacrifice of charity, those people shall be abolished who, following the authority of their forefathers, have committed** the repetition of baptism, in exchange for peace itself and by the sacrifice of charity [i.e. thanks to this sacrifice of charity], those things [sc. sins] that following the authority of their ancestors, they committed by the repetition of baptism, may be abolished.

But it was agreed that these things are not to be confirmed, until after the church overseas has been** consulted.

The bit in Italics is an allusion to Mt. 18:19, which in the Vulgate and Douai is:

Iterum dico vobis, quia si duo ex vobis consenserint super terram, de omni re quamcumque petierint, fiet illis a Patre meo, qui in caelis est.

Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven.

“duobus si convenerit Christianis” – I have assumed this is an impersonal verb plus dative.

“redacta concordia” – I’m reading this as an ablative absolute, “concord having been restored”.

The bit that I am unsure about is “ut ipsius pacis compensatione et sacrificio caritatis aboleantur”.  I don’t see how the dative [update: or not!] fits with the verb, to be honest.  Anybody got any ideas?  And … “compensation”?  [Update: see comment below by Alexander Macaulay – thank you!]

This is the last of the canons in the Breviarium.  Mansi gives a couple more, followed by the signatures of the bishops, but these are not part of the Breviarium, but rather material from the Council of Carthage in 397, in which the Breviarium was put together.  We’ll have a look at this context material in a bit.


Canons 29-36 of the breviarium of the Council of Hippo (393)

Let’s have a few more canons.

29.  Ut nulli episcopi vel clerici in ecclesia conviventur; nisi forte transeuntes hospitiorum necessitate illic reficiant; populi etiam ab huiusmodi conviviis, quantum potest fieri, prohibeantur.

That none of the bishops or clergy shall dine together in the church; except perhaps those travelling may refresh themselves in that place through the necessity of being guests**; the people shall also be prohibited from meals of this sort, as much as possible.

“hospitiorum”, literally “of hospitalities”?

30.  Ut paenitentibus secundum differentiam peccatorum episcopi arbitrio paenitentiae tempora decernantur.  Et ut presbyteri inconsulto episcopo non reconcilient paenitentes; nisi absentia episcopi, & necessitate cogente.  Cuiuscumque autem paenitentis publicum et vulgatissimum crimen est, quod universam ecclesiam commoverit**, ante apsidam manus ei imponatur.

That, for penitents, the durations of the penitences shall be decided by the decision of the bishop according to the different kinds of sins/sinners.  And that presbyters shall not reconcile penitents without consulting the bishop; except in the absence of the bishop (and) from urgent necessity.**  But wherever the offence of the penitent is public and very widely known, so that it affronted the whole church, hands shall be laid on him in front of the apse (of the church).**

“commoverit” is “noverit” in Mansi, “known.”  “from urgent necessity” is an ablative absolute present, lit. “when necessity is compelling”.  “in front of the apse”, i.e. in full view of everyone.

31. Ut virgines sacrae, cum parentibus a quibus custodiebantur privatae fuerint, episcopi vel presbyteri, ubi episcopus absens est, providentia gravioribus feminis commendentur; aut simul habitantes invicem se custodiant: ne passim vagando ecclesiae laedant existimationem.

That the holy consecrated virgins, when they have been separated from the parents by whom they used to be watched over, [then] bishops or presbyters, where the bishop is absent, shall be entrusted with providing** for these important women shall be entrusted by the providence of the bishop (or presbyter, if the bishop is absent) to more dignified women; or likewise the inhabitants in turn shall watch over themselves: lest by wandering in many places they may injure the reputation of the church.

Treating “providentia” as an accusative present participle of “provideo”, taking the dative.

32.  Ut aegrotantes, si pro se respondere non possint, cum voluntatis eorum testimonium sui** periculo proprio dixerint, baptizentur.

That the sick shall be baptised, if they are unable to answer for themselves, when their own people declare** (that there is), in particular danger, evidence of their wish.

Mansi gives “possunt” rather than “possint.”

“sui” gave me quite a bit of trouble, but all the variants seem to understand it as a nominative.  So I treat it as a nominative plural “their own [people]”, and the subject of “dixerint”, treated as subjunctive here “shall say”, because of “cum” meaning “when”.  This understanding is supported by Mansi’s text variant here, “hi qui sui sunt”, “those who are of them”.  Then I assume that some part of “esse” should be understood, followed by “testimonium”, “evidence”.  I’m not quite sure about why “periculo proprio”, either dative or ablative.

33. Ut scenicis vel apostaticis conversis vel reversis ad Dominum gratia vel reconciliatio non negetur.

That grace or reconciliation shall not be denied to actors or apostates converted or reverted to God.

Actors enjoy a poor reputation, I see.

34.  Ut presbyter non consulto episcopo virgines non consecret; crisma vero numquam conficiat.

That a presbyter shall not consecrate virgins without consulting the bishop; indeed he shall never sanctify** the chrism.**

“conficio” is used by Niemeyer “to accomplish the sacrifice of the mass”; Blaise as “consecrate”.  Usually it would be “prepare”.  Chrism is consecrated oil used for anointing during baptism.

35. Ut clerici in aliena civitate non immorentur, nisi causas eorum justas episcopus loci vel presbyteri locorum perviderint.

That clergy shall not linger in a strange town, unless the bishop of the place or the presbyters of the places have been overseeing** their justified lawsuits.

“perviderint” is future perfect active indicative, “shall have overseen”, so a paraphrase seems right here.

The next canon gets quoted a lot.

36.  Ut praeter scripturas canonicas nihil in ecclesia legatur sub nomine divinarum scripturarum.

Sunt autem canonicae scripturae: Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numeri. Deuteronomium. Jesu Nave. Judicum. Ruth. Regnorum libri iiii. Paralipomenon libri ii. Job. Psalterium. Salomonis libri v. liber xii Prophetarum Minorum. Item Isaias. Hieremias. Ezechiel. Danihel. Tobias. Judith. Esther. Esdrae libri ii. Machabeorum libri ii.

Novi autem testamenti: Evangelia libri iiii. Actus Apostolorum liber i. Pauli apostoli epistolae xiiii. Petri ii. Johannis iii. Jude i. Jacobi i. Apocalipsis Johannis.

Ita ut de confirmando isto canone transmarina ecclesia consulatur.

Liceat etiam legi passiones martyrum, cum anniversarii dies eorum celebrantur.

That, other than the canonical scriptures, nothing shall be read in church under the name of the divine scriptures.

Moreover these are the canonical scriptures: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kings, Chronicles 2 books, Job, Psalms, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of minor prophets.  Likewise Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Ezra, 2 books of Maccabees.

Moreover of the New Testament: Gospels 4 books, Acts of the Apostles 1 book, Letters of the Apostle Paul 14, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of Jude, 1 of James, the Apocalypse of John.

Thus that the overseas church shall be consulted concerning confirming** this canon.

“confirmando” is a gerundive, requiring to be confirmed, “concerning this canon that needs to be confirmed”.

Only one more (long) canon to go.


Rutilius Namatianus, the Jews, and some notes on the fate of the unique manuscript

In 1493 a manuscript of the 7-8th century was discovered at the Irish monastery of St. Columbanus at Bobbio in north Italy, which contained some previously unknown ancient works.  One of these was a poem, De reditu suo – On his return – by Rutilius Namatianus, who was Urban Prefect in Rome in 414 AD.  The poem describes his return to Gaul by sea around 416 AD.  It is incomplete, but it lambasts the policy of Stilicho that brought the Goths over the Alps.

The text and English translation of the poem may be found at Bill Thayer’s site Lacus Curtius here, which is now back online.  The text is out of date, tho, as we shall see in a moment.

The poem also contains a passage recounting how Rutilius and his company were harassed by a Jew when they put in to land.  Rutilius does not hold back his feelings about the man and his race.

This I learned of thanks to a link back from an article at a fringe blog named History Reviewed, here.  Here’s the text, overparagraphed by me.

The neighbouring Faleria​ checks our weary course, though Phoebus scarce had reached his mid career. That day it happened merry village-bands along the country cross-roads soothed their jaded hearts with festal observances; it was in truth the day when, after long time restored, Osiris wakes the happy seeds to yield fresh produce. Landing, we seek lodging,​ and stroll within a wood; we like the ponds which charm with their shallow enclosed basin. The spacious waters of the imprisoned flood permit the playful fish to sport inside these preserves.

But we were made to pay dear for the repose of this delightful halting-place by a lessee who was harsher than Antiphates as host!​ For a crabbed Jew was in charge of the spot — a creature that quarrels with sound human food.​ He charges in our bill for damaging his bushes and hitting the seaweed, and bawls about his enormous loss in water we had sipped.

We pay the abuse due to the filthy race that infamously practises circumcision: a root of silliness they are: chill Sabbaths are after their own heart, yet their heart is chillier than their creed. Each seventh day is condemned to ignoble sloth, as ’twere an effeminate picture of a god fatigued.​ The other wild ravings from their lying bazaar methinks not even a child in his sleep could believe.

And would that Judaea had never been subdued by Pompey’s wars and Titus’ military power. The infection of this plague, though excised, still creeps abroad the more: and ’tis their own conquerors that a conquered race keeps down.

Against us rises a North wind; but we too strive with oars to rise, while daylight shrouds the stars. Close at hand Populonia opens up her safe coast, where she draws her natural bay well inland. …

Readers of Horatius, in Lord Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome will be reminded of Lars Porsenna gathering his Etruscans,

From lordly Volaterræ,
Where scowls the far-famed hold
Piled by the hands of giants
For godlike kings of old;
From seagirt Populonia,
Whose sentinels descry
Sardinia’s snowy mountain-tops
Fringing the southern sky;

Rutilius’ unnamed Jew is an unattractive figure.  It is interesting that a man who had held such a high office, and must have travelled with his clients, could be abused like this.  The Urban Prefect was the emperor’s strong-arm boy in the City, after all.  Possibly this suggests that the episode is a literary fiction; or else it testifies to the disturbed state of Italy, only a few years after the Gothic sack of Rome.

But it does provide a vehicle to criticise the Christians, now fully in the saddle in the Roman empire.  The ruinous effects of the rise of superstition and dogma, of heresy trials and smelling-out of dissenters, upon that fragile state, were obvious to anybody.  It is telling that so senior an aristocrat feels quite powerless to do anything about any of these disasters.  A little later he says:

As we advance at sea, Capraria now rears itself — an ill-kept isle full of men who shun the light. Their own name​ for themselves is a Greek one, “monachoi” (monks), because they wish to dwell alone with none to see. They fear Fortune’s boons, as they dread her outrages: would anyone, to escape misery, live of his own choice in misery? What silly fanaticism of a distorted brain is it to be unable to endure even blessings because of your terror of ills? Whether they are like prisoners​ who demand the appropriate penalties for their deeds, or whether their melancholy hearts are swollen with black bile, it was even so that Homer assigned the ailment of excessive bile as cause of Bellerophon’s troubled soul;​ for it was after the wounds of a cruel sorrow that men say the stricken youth conceived his loathing for human kind.

The monks of the late fourth century could be a very rubbishy crew.  In Egypt they were gangs of illiterates, used as muscle by bishops like Theophilus of Alexandria, in their struggles with their personal enemies.  Rutilius has no respect for them.

The text of Rutilius Namatianus reached us in a single manuscript at Bobbio.  Fortunately it was copied.  For in 1706 a French adventurer stole the ancient volume from the abbey.  His name was Comte Claude Alexandre de Bonnival, a successful French military man who had entered Austrian service that year, and was a Major-General in the service of Prince Eugene, campaigning near Turin.

This we learn from a handwritten note by Michel-Ange Carisio, Abbot of Bobbio in 1792, printed in M. Tulli Ciceronis, Orationum pro Scauro, pro Tullio, et in Clodium, fragmenta inedita, ed. Amedeus Peyron, 1824 (online here), p.xx:

Sadly the manuscript was never seen again.  In 1973 a reseacher found a fragment of a leaf of the manuscript, which had become separated from the rest, in a binding from Bobbio.  This restored the endings of a number of lines in book 2.

De Bonneval led a rackety life.  He was a very capable French army officer.  But he was his own worst enemy, and he could never stay out of trouble.  He quarreled with the war minister, the Duc de Vendôme, was condemned to death, after an exchange of insulting letters, in the pleasant manner of the time, and was therefore obliged to flee to Germany.  Prince Eugene took him on, and he was very effective in Austrian service, first against the French and then against the Ottoman Turks.  His reputation increased so much so that he became famous in France, and, his enemies being dead, was pardoned and allowed to return.  But he went back to Austrian service in Italy, where he became notorious for duelling, and then circulated insults about Prince Eugene, despite the warnings of his wife.  Prince Eugene sent him to the Low Countries where he got into more trouble and was condemned to death again, although in fact he only served a year in prison.  In disgrace in Vienna, he then “went Turk”, offered his services to the Ottoman empire, became a Muslim, joined their army and fought against the Austrians and the Russians with distinction.  He was made governor of Chios, but once again fell out with his employers and was banished to the Black Sea.  He died in Constantinople in 1747, apparently without having been condemned to death yet again.  I have read that his “Memoirs” are fakes, however.

If only he had stayed away from Bobbio!


Canons 25-28 of the breviarium of the Council of Hippo (393)

Let’s have some more of the canons of Hippo.  Dull as they are, they provide context as to what we can expect of a set of canons.

25. Ut primae sedis episcopus non appelletur princeps sacerdotum, aut summus sacerdos, aut aliquid huiusmodi, sed tantum primae sedis episcopus.

That the bishop of the first see shall not be called “chief of the priests” or “highest priest” or something of this sort, but only bishop of the first see.

This also reappears as canon 39 in the Register of canons in the council of Carthage of 419.

26.  Ut clerici edendi vel bibendi causa tabernas non ingrediantur, nisi peregrinationis necessitate.

That clergy shall not enter taverns for the purpose of eating or drinking except from the necessity of a journey.

So does this; canon 40.

27.  Ut episcopi trans mare non proficiscantur, nisi consulto primae sedis episcopo suae cuiusque provinciae, ut ab eo praecipue possint formatas accipere. Hinc etiam dirigendae litterae concilii ad transmarinos episcopos.

That bishops shall not travel overseas, except after consulting the bishop of the first see of his own province**, so that from him they shall chiefly be able to receive letters of recommendation**.  From now on also the letters of the council (sing) that need to be sent (gerundive) to overseas bishops.

The “cuiusque” bit is a bit of a guess.  It means “of each”, and is singular, so must line up with suae provinciae.  The “formata” is from Niemeyer, who gives this meaning based on … a canon from an African council!  A bit circular, but the idea of a letter of authorisation is probably right.  Another canon then says that clergy who turn up overseas without such a letter should be shown the door.  Clearly Aurelius of Carthage did not intend to let people bypass him; and other archbishops thought the same.

28.  Ut sacramenta altaris nonnisi a jejunis hominibus celebrentur, excepto uno die anniversario quo Cena Domini celebratur. Nam si aliquorum postmeridiano tempore defunctorum sive episcoporum sive clericorum sive ceterorum commendatio facienda est, solis orationibus fiat, si illi qui faciunt iam pransi inveniantur.

That the sacraments of the altar shall not be celebrated except by men fasting, except on the one anniversary day** on which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.  For if a service of commendation of some of the dead, whether bishops or clergy, is to be made in the afternoon, let it be with prayers only, if those who shall be available** have already had breakfast.**

“excepto… anniversario” seems to be an ablative absolute.  “inveniantur” is present subjunctive, so we’re rendering all these subjunctives as “shall”, with an eye to a future action.  “faciunt” is present indicative, but refers to a time before the time when people are available to officiate at the service.  I hope that’s right!

There’s a definite air in some of these canons of an exasperated archbishop saying, “OK you bums, listen up and listen gooood….”  It’s noticeable how almost everything is about the clergy, and the laity are almost invisible.  We are not really in the early church any more, but well on our way to the medieval church.


The “Matronae Austriahenae” and a supposed link to “Eostre”

In the Rhineland, there are over a thousand inscriptions and reliefs dedicated to the “Matronae”.  All of these are Roman, and date to the second-third centuries AD.  There is some kind of close relationship with a particular German tribe, the Ubians.  The reliefs show three women; two older, either side of a younger woman.  In a 2016 thesis available online here, Kevin Worram states:[1]

Despite similarities to certain Celtic goddesses, like the Gallic Matres, the Matronae appear to be particular to this region based on their iconography.2 When depicted artistically, rather than just named on a votive, the Matronae come in a group of three with two older women flanking a younger maiden in the center (See Figure 1). They wear Ubian dresses and hairstyles, suggesting that the Ubians either brought the Matronae with them across the Rhine or adopted them after settling in the Celtic area west of the river.1 Often they have an epithet that ties them to a specific place or to the clan lineage of the devotee. Based on the votives, the Matronae cult seems to have been closely tied to this area and the Ubian population who lived there.

The figure referred to is the altar of Q. Vettius Severus (image via Wikimedia here):

The altar of Q. Vettius Severus. Via Wikimedia.

This is dedicated to the “Matronae Aufaniae”.  The Matronae usually seem to have an epithet like this.  The meanings of these are unknown, but seem to be locations – the “Mothers of Aufania” or something like this.

This leads us straight into the most important fact about the cult of the Matronae.  The fact is that we know nothing about it.

It seems that this Roman cult – presumably a version of a pre-existing Germanic cult – is not referenced in any literary source.  No ancient writer ever mentions such a thing.  Consequently everything that is written on the subject is derived – or not derived – from the inscriptions and reliefs.  These say very little.  For instance, the inscription above reads:

Matronis / Aufaniabus / Q(uintus) Vettius Severus / quaestor c(oloniae) C(laudiae) A(rae) A(grippinensium) / votum solvit l(ibens) m(erito) / Macrino et Celso co(n)s(ulibus)

To the Mothers of Aufania, Q. Vettius Severis, quaestor of the colony of Cologne, freely and deservedly fulfills his vow, Macrinus and Celsus being consuls.

VLSM is just a formula.  The date is 164 AD, the year when those two were consuls.  So … it tells us nothing.  Vettius Severus set up this item, dedicated to the Matronae, to fulfil a vow of some sort.

In 1958 there was a substantial find of inscriptions of this sort, during quarrying at a place named Morken-Harff in the Rheinland.  A dam was found, which had been built out of reused stones.  Over a thousand stones proved to come from 250-300 separate monuments, all fragmentary.[2]  The find was published by Hans-Georg Kolbe, “Die neuen Matroneninschriften von Morken-Harff”, Bonner Jahrbücher 160, (1960), 50-124, plates 10-25.  Unfortunately this is not online.

All the monuments are dedicated to the “Matronae Austriahenae”, with the exception of a dedication to Mercury; no dedications to the Matronae Austriahenae are known from elsewhere.  This must be a local cult.  The meaning of “Austriahenae” is unknown.  Maybe it is a place.  Nobody knows.

I was able to find online this image of one of the finds, an altar:


Matronis / Austriahe/nabus / Q(uintus) Lucretius / Patro pro se / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)

To the Matronae Austriahenae, Q. Lucretius Patro for himself freely and deservedly fulfills his vow.

Useful.  A search in the Clauss-Slaby database here for “austriahenibus” brings up 34 inscriptions, with pictures, mostly of fragments.

About this cult we know nothing.  It is perhaps unfortunate, but when we know nothing, it is very important to acknowledge this.  Failure to do so invariably results in the production of nonsense.

Since 1962, there has been a considerable literature on what this might mean.  Speculation has run rife, for evidence there is none.  In an evil hour the philologists were let loose, and some of these managed to infer from “austria-” a link – presumably based on what they think these words must have sounded like – to the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre mentioned by Bede in 725 AD in De ratione temporum.  Bede gives Eostre as the origin of the old English month named Eosturmonath.  The ancient Christian festival of Pasch falls in that month, and so arises the English word “Easter”, familiar to us today.

All this would be very much a fringe interest.  Sadly in the last two years there has been a massive upsurge in social media posts making the extraordinary claim “Easter is pagan! ha ha!”, usually at Christian holidays.  Much of this seems to come from the professional online army of Democrat party, presumably as part of the horrible politics of our day in order to spite their political foes.

These stormtroopers have no idea how this claim could be so, nor do they care.  The object is mockery, not information.  But others have come to their aid.  They claim that Eostre predates Easter.

Sane people point out that Eostre is only recorded once, in 725 AD, while Easter is recorded in the 2nd century AD.  The early Christians did not possess time-machines.  Sadly such obvious responses have little effect.

Lately I have seen the reply that Eostre is recorded as the Matronae Austriahenae.  It seems that one of these people has edited the dreadful Wikipedia article on Eostre to insert material which will infallibly be taken that way.  The reference given has been carefully and selectively quoted to suggest that the name “must be cognate to Eostre”, which is enough for the purpose.  But it leaves a sane man wondering how anybody could know this.

It is curious to learn that people are so certain of the sounds of these words, which they know only from a written form.  They know the origin of words whose sound has not been heard by any man, and  whose meaning is unknown to any man, living, or who have lived, for more than a thousand years.  How odd to be certain that history may be discovered based on nothing more than a supposed sound and a supposed similarity.  Sometimes you wonder whether the humanities is really, as the scientists think, just a game rather than a discipline.

The truth is that nothing whatever is known of the Matronae Austriahenae, except that some Romans dedicated a stone to them in fulfillment of vows between 150-250 AD.  There is no link with Anglo-Saxon goddess five centuries and hundreds of miles further away.  The rest is imaginary.


Canons 21-24 of the breviarium of the Council of Hippo (393)

Let’s try translating a few more of the canons, in the summary of the canons of Hippo made for the council of Carthage in 397.

21. Ut nemo in precibus vel Patrem pro Filio, vel Filium pro Patre nominet; et cum altari assistitur semper ad Patrem dirigatur oratio. Et quicumque sibi preces aliunde describit, non eis utatur, nisi prius eas cum instructioribus fratribus contulerit.

That no-one in the prayers shall name the Father for the Son, or the Son for the Father; and when he is officiating at the altar, let the prayer be directed always to the father.  And anyone who transcribes the prayers for him from elsewhere, he shall not use them,** unless he has discussed them first with the better-educated brothers.

** “utor” is deponent, and takes the ablative.

22.  Ut nullus clericorum amplius recipiat, quam cuiquam commodaverit, sive pecuniam det, sive quamlibet speciem.

That none of the clergy shall receive more than he lent to anyone, whether he gives money, or in kind,** however much.

** “species” in late Latin is goods, wares, the annona.

23.  Ut in sacramentis corporis et sanguinis Domini, nihil amplius offeratur, quam ipse Dominus tradidit, hoc est panem et vinum aquae mixtum. Primitiae vero seu lac et mel, quod uno die solemnissimo pro infantum mysterio solet offerri, quamvis in altari offerantur, suam tamen habent propriam benedictionem, ut a sacramento dominici corporis et sanguinis distinguantur. Nec amplius in primitiis offeratur quam de uvis et frumentis.

That nothing else shall be offered in the sacraments of the body and blood of the Lord, than the Lord himself handed down, that is bread and wine mixed with water.  But the first-fruits, whether milk or honey, which are accustomed to be offered on one most solemn day for the service of the infants, however much they shall be offered on the altar, they shall have however their own blessing, so that they may be distinguished from the sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood.  Nor shall more in the first fruits be offered than that from grapes and corn.

This is repeated as canon 37 of the Register of canons issued in 419.

24. Ut clerici continentes ad viduas, vel virgines, nisi ex jussu vel permissu episcoporum vel presbyterorum, non accedant; et hoc non soli faciant, sed cum clericis, aut cum his cum quibus episcopus aut presbyter jusserit.  Sed nec ipsi episcopi aut presbyteri soli habeant accessum ad huiusmodi feminas, sed aut ubi clerici praesentes sunt, aut graves aliqui christiani.

That celibate clergy shall not approach widows or virgins, except by order or permission of the bishops of presbyters; and they shall not do so alone, but with clergy, or with those with whom the bishop or presbyter ordered.  But the bishops or presbyters themselves shall not have access to women of this kind, except where either some clergy are present or some respectable Christians.

This is repeated as canon 38 of the Register of canons issued in 419.


The “medieval legend” of the appearance of St Michael at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall: a modern myth

Reading the charming website of St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, there is the following statement:

From as far back as 495AD, tales tell of seafarers lured by mermaids onto the rocks, or guided to safety by an apparition of St Michael. The patron saint of fishermen, it’s said the Archangel Michael appeared on the western side of the island – below where the entrance to the castle is today – to ward fishermen from certain peril. It’s a legend which has brought pilgrims, monks and people of faith to the island ever since, to pray, to praise and to celebrate.[1]

The phrase “tales tell” is indicative of no certain knowledge.  But in fact no such legend exists in any source before modern times. A jumble of manuscript notes by a 15th century traveller, which really related to the appearance of St Michael at Mont-Saint-Michel in France in 1710, were misunderstood as applying to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.  Milton himself then repeats the legend.  The date of 495 appears only in 1806 by Daniel Lysons.  There is no legend of an appearance of St Michael in Cornwall.

Nor is this unknown to scholarship.  The facts were thoroughly analysed in 1874 by Max Müller.  In 1953 A.H. D. Bivar repeated the process, seemingly unaware of Müller’s article.  But here we are in 2021, and the process has been done once more.  Let us hope that the power of the internet will do what the scholarly journals could not.

St Michael’s Mount appears in history only with the Norman conquest, when a series of charters document its existence from the time of Edward the Confessor.  A priory of Benedictine monks came into being atop the mount, and this was given to the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy.  It was an “alien priory” in England – essentially a farm which remitted revenue to the mother house.  While Normandy was under the English crown this was not a problem; but once Normandy became part of France, with whom English kings were frequently at war, such enterprises were often seized by the crown.  In the end the priory became attached to Sion Abbey in London, and then passed into private hands with the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 under Henry VIII.  There it has remained every since.

But what about these “tales”?   A Google Search certainly reveals such stories today.  Worryingly they are never referenced to any source.

Here’s what I have been able to find about the apparition of St Michael at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.  It starts with Mirk’s Festial, a collection of sermons.

John Mirk’s Festial (ca. 1400)

In John Mirk’s Festial (online here) we read De festo Sancti Michaelis , and on p.258 of the edition (slightly modernised by me):

He appeared also to another bishop at a place that is called now Michael in the mount in Corneweyle, and bade him go to a hill top that is there, and there he found a bull tent with thewes, there he bade make a church in the worship of him. But for there were two rocks, won on either side the church, that the werke might not vp for him, Saint Michaell bade a man in a night go there and put away these rocks, and dread nothing. …

This was, in fact, taken from the narrative from the Golden Legend (online here), as Mirk so often did.[2]  This gives us more details:

The apparition of this angel is manifold. The first is when he appeared in the Mount of Gargan. This mountain is in Naples, which is named Gargan and is by the city named Syponte. And in the year of our Lord three hundred and ninety, was in the same city of Syponte a man which was named Garganus, …

The second apparition was in the year of our Lord seven hundred and ten, in a place which was named Tumba, by the seaside, six miles from the city of Apricens. S. Michael appeared to the bishop of that city and commanded him to do make a church in the foresaid place, like as it was made in the mount of Gargan, and in like wise should hallow the memory of S. Michael there. And the bishop doubted in what place it should be made. And S. Michael said to him in the place where he should find a bull hid of thieves. And yet he doubted of the largeness of the place, and S. Michael appeared to him, and said that he should make it of the brede that he should find that the bull had trodden and traced with his feet. And there were two rocks which no man’s power might remove. Then S. Michael appeared to a man and commanded him that he should go to that same place and take away the two rocks. And when he came, he removed the two rocks as lightly as they had weighed nothing. And when the church was edified there, Michael set a piece of stone of marble there, upon which he stood, and a part of the pall that he had laid on the altar of that other church he brought thither to this church. And because they had great penury and need of water, they made, by the admonishment of the angel, a hole in a stone of marble, and anon there flowed out so much water that unto this day they be sustained by the benefit thereof. And this apparition is solemnly hallowed the seventeenth kalends of November in that place.  ….

The third apparition happed in the time of Gregory the pope. For when the said pope had established the litanies for the pestilence that was that time, and prayed devoutly for the people, he saw upon the castle which was said sometime: The memory of Adrian, the angel of God, which wiped and made clean a bloody sword, and put it into a sheath. And thereby he understood that his prayers were heard. …

The fourth apparition is that which is in the Gerarchy of the same angels.

So we have an apparition of St Michael in 710, rather than 495.  But this apparition is actually from the foundation legend of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy.  Mirk has merely transferred the appearance to Cornwall.  This seems to be both the first record of an apparition of St Michael in Cornwall at St Michael’s Mount, and also the first indication that it was borrowed directly from accounts of the apparition at Mont-Saint-Michel.

William of Worcestre’s Itinerary (1478-80)

The next reference is in William of Worcestre.  Between 1478 and 1480 he travelled through the west country, making notes.  His autograph is preserved as 349 slim pages in the Parker library as MS Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 210 (online here).  There have been two editions of these “Itineraria” but neither of them seem to be online.[3] The “Itineraria” are rough notes, copied from whatever sources he found wherever he was.

William’s text is quoted directly in A. D. H. Bivar, “Lyonnesse: The Evolution of a fable”, in: Modern Philology 50 (1953), pp. 162-170 (JSTOR); p.164, although without identifying the folio:

Apparicio Sancti Michaelis in monte Tumba, antea vocata le Hore Rok in the Wodd; et fuerunt tam boscus quam prata inter dictum montem et insulas Syllye, et fuerunt 140 ecclesiae parochiales inter istum montem et Sylly submersae.

Prima apparicio Sancti Michaelis in Monte Gorgon in regno Apuliae fuit anno Christi 391.

Secunda apparicio fuit circa annum domini 710 in Tumba in Cornubia iuxta mare.

Tertia apparicio Romae fuit, tempore Gregorii Papae legitur accidisse, nam tempore magnae pestilentiae etc.

Quarta apparicio fuit in hierarchiis nostrorum angelorum. Spatium loci montis Sancti Michaelis est ducentorum cubitorum undique oceano cinctum, et religiosi monachi dicti loci, Abrincensis antistes Aubertus nomine, ut in honore Sancti Michaelis construeret… ; Praedictus locus opacissima primo claudebatur silva, ab oceano miliaribus distans sex, aptissima praebens latebram ferarum in quo loco olim comperimus monachos Domino servientes.


Apparition of St Michael on Mount “Tumba”, before called the “hoar rock in the wood”: and there was both woodland and meadows between the said mount and the isles of Scilly, and there were 140 parish churches submerged between that mount and Scilly.

The first apparition of St. Michael on Mount Gargano in the kingdome of Apulia was in AD 391.

The second apparition was ca. AD 710 on “Tumba” in Cornwall next to the sea.

The third apparition was at Rome, in the time of Pope Gregory it is read that it happened, for in that time of great pestilence etc.

The fourth apparition was in the hierarchies of our angels.  The area of St Michael’s Mount is 200 cubits surrounded on all sides by the ocean, and of the most religious monk of the said place, the abbot Aubert of Avranches by name, that he constructed it in honour of St Michael…; the aforesaid place was at first enclosed by a dark wood, six miles distant from the ocean, offering most suitably a hiding-place of wild beasts, in which place formerly we have learned of monks serving God.

How very familiar this is, from the Golden Legend.  Again the apparition at St Michael’s Mount would appear to be in 710, not in 495.

Once again we have a connection with Mont-Saint-Michel.  Dr Bivar tells us that the words after the “fourth apparition” appear to be verbally identical with a passage in the Romance of Mont-Saint-Michel, the Old French medieval romance which records the appearance of St Michael to St Aubert or Albert, in 708 AD at “Mount Tumba” in Normandy, which first caused him to build the abbey there.[4]  This in turn is based on the 9th century Revelatio Sancti Michaelis in Monte Tumba, (BHL 5951) to be found in the PL96, cols. 1389-94, and the Acta Sanctorum Sept. VIII, 76-78.[5]  These texts also record a woodland around that island also, now drowned by the sea.

Again “Cornubia” definitely means “Cornwall”.  But we now have additional information: the local name for St Michael’s Mount, the “hoar rock in the wood”, does appear to reflect a name in the Cornish language.  This appears in other sources, as we shall see.

William Camden: Britannia (1586 onwards)

Starting in 1586, with five more editions to 1607, William Camden published his Britannia.  This was in Latin, but an English translation appeared in 1610.  This reads[6]:

9. As the shore fetcheth a compasse by little and little from hence Southward, it letteth in a bay or creeke of the Sea, in maner of a Crescent, which they call Mounts-bay, … And in the very angle and corner of it selfe S. Michaels Mount, which gave name unto the foresaid Bay, sometime called Donsol, as we find in the booke of Landaffe: the inhabitants name it Careg Cowse , that is, The hoary Crag or Rock, the Saxons Michel-stow , that is, Michaels place, as Master Laurence Noel, a man of good note for his singular learning, and who was the first in our age that brought into ure [use] againe and revived the language of our ancestours the Saxons, which through disuse lay forlet and buried in oblivion, hath well observed.

This Rocke is of a good height and craggy, compassed round abut with water so oft as it is floud, but at every ebbe joined to the main-land, so that they say of it, it is land and iland twice a day. For which cause John Earle of Oxford not many yeeres ago, presuming upon the strength of the place, chose it for his cheefest defense when he raised war against King Edward the Fourth, and valiantly held the same, but with no good successe. For, his souldiers being assailed by the Kings forces, straightwaies yeelded.

In the very top heereof within the Fortresse there was a Chapell consecrated to S. Michael the Archangel, where William Earle of Cornwall and Moriton, who by the bounteous gift of King William the First had great lands and large possessions in this tract, built a Cell for one or two monks; who avouched that S. Michael appeered in that mount: which apparition, or the like, the Italians challenge to their hill Garganus, and the Frenchmen likewise to their Michaels mount in Normandie. At the foote of this mountaine within the memorie of our Fathers, whiles men were digging up of tin they found Spear-heads, axes, and swords of brasse wrapped in linnen, such as were sometimes found within the forest Hercinia in Germanie, and not long since in our Wales.

This records the idea of the apparition at St Michael’s Mount, although no date is attached.  The reference to Mount Garganus, and Mont-Saint-Michel, indicates how free-floating this material is.  (It should be added that the Latin Life of St Cadoc also gives the local name of St Michael’s Mount as “Dinsol”.)

Richard Carew’s Survey of Cornwall (1602)

Richard Carew in his The Survey of Cornwall, (1602)[7] also has information.  His book is foliated rather than paginated.  On folio 3r he writes:

Moreover, vntill Athelstanes time, the Cornish-men bare equal sway in Excester with the English: for hee it was who hemmed them within their present limits. Lastly, the encroaching Sea hath rauined from it, the whole Countrie of Lionnesse, together with diuers other parcels of no little circuite: and that such a Lionnesse there was, these proofes are yet remaining. The space between the lands end, and the Iles of Scilley, being about thirtie miles, to this day retaineth that name, in Cornish Lethowsow, and carrieth continually an equall depth of fortie or sixtie fathom (a thing not vsuall in the Seas proper Dominion) saue that about the midway, there lieth a Rocke, which at low water discouereth his head. They terme it the Gulfe, suiting thereby the other name of Scilla. Fishermen also casting their hookes thereabouts, haue drawn vp peeces of doores and windowes. Moreouer, the ancient name of Saint Michaels Mount, was Caraclowse in Cowse, in English, The hoare Rocke in the Wood: which now is at euerie floud incompassed by the Sea, and yet at some low ebbes, rootes of mightie trees are discryed in the sands about it. The like ouerflowing hath happened in Plymmouth Hauen, and diuers other places. ….

Continuing on f.153v:

Stepping ouer to the South-sea, (for the distaunce is incomparison, but a step) S. Michaels mount looketh so aloft, as it brooketh no concurrent, for the highest place.  Ptolomey termeth it Ocrinum, the Cornish men, Cara Cowz in Clowze, that is, The hoare rocke in the wood.  The same is sundred from the mayne land, by a sandy playne, of a slight shoot in breadth, passable, at the ebbe, on foote; with boat, on the flood.  Your arriuall on the farther side, is entertayned by an open greene, of some largenesse, which finishing where the hill beginneth, leaues you to the conduction of a winding and craggy path; and that at the top, deliuereth you into a little plaine, occupied, for the greatest part, by a fort of the olde making. It compriseth lodgings for the Captayne and his garrison, and a Chappell for deuotion. This latter, builded by Will. Earle of Morton, to whom William the Conquerour his vncle, gaue much lands in those quarters, and greatly haunted, while folke endured their merits, by farre trauailing.  They haue a tye pit, not so much satisfying vse, as relieuing necessitie.  A little without the Castle, there is a bad seat in a craggy place, called S. Michaels Chaire, some what daungerous, for accesse, and therefore holy for the aduenture.

This does not state that St Michael appeared on the mount, thankfully, but it does give some of the other elements as other sources of his time.

John Milton, Lycidas (1637)

Our next source is none other than Milton, whose poem Lycidas references St Michael’s Mount.

Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold:
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth;
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.

It may not be obvious to us that the “guarded mount” is St Michael’s Mount, but commentators seem to have had no doubts – indeed even modern editions include it.[8].  To choose one instance of many, in the Gentleman’s Magazine vol. 68 (1798), p.322 here, we find this explicitly stated in a footnote:

“The great vision of the guarded mount” Milton’s Lycidas. “The great vision is the apparition of St Michael.  The guarded mount is, simply, the fortified mount.  See Wharton’s edition of Milton’s poems.”

We will discuss Wharton in a moment.

This tradition embedded in a great English classic is undoubtedly responsible for some of our myth. Artists have depicted the scene, including Turner.

Google Books gives me nothing of interest for the remainder of the 17th and 18th centuries.  That may be because there is nothing, or more likely because Google Books does not contain much of what we want.  I suspect the next milestone is in 1778, therefore.

Publication of William of Worcestre’s Itineraria (1778)

We’ve already dealt with William of Worcester, but his work remained in manuscript, and therefore was perhaps little-known.  In 1769 even an antiquary such as William Borlase knew nothing of it, as appears from the account in his Antiquities, Historical and Monumental, of the County of Cornwall. On p.385 here this discusses St Michael’s Mount, St Keyne and St Cadoc.  But he makes no suggestion that St Michael appeared there.

However in 1778 the Itineraria of William of Worcestre was printed, and thereby became much more widely available.  The effect was not instant, as we can see, but the legend of the appearance of St Michael starts to spread rapidly.

The Modern Universal British Traveller (1779)

This traveller’s handbook, The Modern Universal British Traveller: Or, A New, Complete, and Accurate Tour Through England, Wales, Scotland, and the Neighbouring Islands … The Articles Respecting England, by Charles Burlington… from 1779 gives nothing of our legend.  This we can see from p.501 here:

Near Market Jew is St Michael’s Mount, so called from a monastery erected on it by a Lady, the daughter of a British lord, who was converted by one of St Patrick’s disciples about the middle of the sixth century. In the reign of Edward the Confessor the old monastery was pulled down, and a new one erected at the king’s own expence, and set apart for the residence of Benedictine monks, who were brought thither from Caen in Normandy. Their lands, which lay partly in England and partly in Normandy, were confirmed by a grant from the pope Adrian IV. 1155, who was himself a native of St. Alban’s in Hertfordshire. …

No mention of the legend here, in an entry of some length.

Thomas Wharton’s edition of John Milton, “Poems on Several Occasions” (1785)

But in 1785 Thomas Wharton published an edition and commentary of these poems by Milton, including Lycidas.  It is online, here, p.28, where he writes:

Tradition, or rather superstition, reports that it was antiently connected by a large tract of land full of churches with the isles of Scilly.

This sounds like William of Worcestre’s Itineraria.  Further down the page we find this:

There is a tradition that a vision of St Michael, seated on this crag, or St Michael’s chair, appeared to a hermit, and that this circumstance occasioned the foundation of the monastery dedicated to St Michael.”

These words were quoted by our commentator on Milton above.

Yet nothing in the William of Worcestre justifies Wharton’s “hermit”.  This appears to be his own embroidery of the Itineraria.

This demonstrates the tendency of writers, found in every age, to suppose that, if something is uncertain or possibly legendary then there is no need to trouble to recount it accurately, nor to refrain from embroidering it.

William Lisle Bowles (1798)

But we have already seen that commentators on Milton like Wharton in 1791 show knowledge of the legend.  The trailing years of the 18th century seem to mark a turning point.  This otherwise forgotten poet issued a poem in that year:

Marked ye the Angel-spectre that appeared?
By other hands the holy fane is reared
High on the point, where, gazing o’er the flood,
Confessed, the glittering apparition stood.
And now the sailor, on his watch of night,
Sees, like a glimmering star, the far-off light;
Or, homeward bound, hears on the twilight bay
The slowly-chanted vespers die away!

We may note the mention of the sailor, as well as the archangel.

Daniel Lysons, Magna Britannia 3: Cornwall (1806)

But undoubtedly the most influential figure in the development of the legend as we have it was Daniel Lysons.  Lysons is quoted quite a bit in the 19th century, and is clearly the source of most mentions in that period.  Online here, and in the 1814 reprint here, in a footnote on p.136, we find:

Some of the British monkish historians say that St Michael, the archangel, appeared about the year 495 on St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall; the Italians say that it was on Mount Garganus in Italy; and the French writers that it was on Mount St Michael in Normandy.

Here for the first time we see the date of 495 AD for an apparition at St Michael’s Mount.  Lysons has read Camden, and picked up his reference to the triad of Mount Garganus, Mont-Saint-Michel and St Michael’s Mount.  It looks as if he has looked up the first of these somewhere, found a date of 495 AD for the apparition at Mount Garganus, and casually assumed that all three were on the same date.

Davies Gilbert and the Life of St Keyne (1838)

By 1838 the legend was developing fast.  I find in Davies Gilbert, The Parochial History of Cornwall, vol. 2, on p.206 here, the claim that the archangel appeared to St Keyne (St Kenna) at the Mount:

The earliest definite tradition of a Christian establishment dates with the pilgrimage of St. Kenna, in consequence of the appearance of the Arch-angel at that place. No particular circumstances are ever related of this extraordinary vision, neither as to the occasion nor as to the persons so eminently favoured as to behold the celestial glory, nor as to the time, nor of the exact spot, since it could not have taken place on the top of the tower, that building having been constructed in honour of the vision itself. …

Saint Kenna is believed to have imparted the same identical virtue to the chair which overhangs the tower, as she bestowed on the celebrated well near Liskeard, and since no one obtains a seat in this chair without much resolution and steadiness of head, one may be inclined to anticipate the supposed effect with greater certainty from the achievement of sitting in St. Michael’s chair, than from drinking water from St. Kenna’s well. The time of St. Kenna’s visitation is not accurately known. She is supposed to be the same St. Keyna, daughter of a prince of Brecknockshire, who lived a recluse life for many years near a town situated midway between Bristol and Bath, since called Cainsbarn, after her name, where she founded a monastery in the beginning of the sixth century, and cleaned the neighbourhood from snakes and vipers by converting them all into Cornua Ammonis, which have abounded there ever since, in testimony of her sanctity and of the fervour of her prayers.

In fact a look at the Life here shows that it was an unspecified angel caused her to leave the island, and no mention of any “chair”:

Now after many years had passed, when the fame of the holy virgin had been everywhere spread abroad, and she had visited, and also built, many oratories, Saint Cadocus, visiting Saint Michael’s Mount on a pilgrimage, found his aunt Saint Keyna there, and filled with great joy desired to bring her back to her own land, but the people of the land would not permit it. At last, warned by an angel, the holy virgin returned to her native land …

Once again we find legend reinforced by misstatement.

Later References

The embroidery of the tale continues with John Thomas in Ancient and Modern History of Mount’s Bay, (1831) p.12 here, who vaguely suggests that other angels also visited, and describes how the “credulous monks” did this or that, although I have found no other source than Mr Thomas for this.

The pilgrims in those days had a tradition that these hills were occasionally visited by the inhabitants of the celestial regions; among the rest Michael the arch-angel was presumed to be very fond of perching among these rocks and rendering himself visible to the credulous monks who were ever ready to substitute imagination for fact . The monks who first inhabited the Cornish Mount laid claim to this angelic vision and even pretended to shew the spot on which the angel sat on an awful pile of rocks that seemed most difficult of access and which thenceforth obtained the honorable name of St Michael’s Chair. It was from the circumstance of this supposed angelic visit that the ancient Cornish name of this Mount which designated its situation was abandoned and that of St Michael became substituted in its stead.

Davies Gilbert, The Parochial History of Cornwall, vol. 2 (1838), p. 172 here, simply states the appearance in 495, and others copied him.  Popular handbooks had no doubt of a legend that St Michael appeared on the mount in 495.  My own search found Henry Besley, The route book of Cornwall, (1853), p.127; Richard Peacock, Physical and historical evidences of vast sinkings of Land on the North and West Coasts of France, and South Western Coasts of England (1868), p.137; The Western Antiquary (1884), p.68; The Art Journal 60 (1898), p.61; and no doubt there are many others.

Rather more wary was William Pengelly in “On the Insulation of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall” in: Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution, vol 5 (1869), p.131 here:

History, however, affords some evidence on the question. St. Keyna is said to have made a pilgrimage to the Mount, and there to have met St Cadoc, another pilgrim, about the year 490. An apparition of St. Michael was seen on the Mount in 495, or, as some assert, in 710. It is of no avail to object that, at least, the latter event is improbable. The well-established fact that its occurrence was taught and believed, warrants the opinion that the monkish chroniclers carefully recorded every great event connected with a spot so sacred, and that they would have certainly mentioned so important an occurrence as its severance from the mainland. Nor was the belief in this sanctity of brief duration. In 1044, Edward the Confessor granted a charter to a body of monks already established there, …

This drew a response from no less than Max Müller, Chips from a German Workshop: Essays on literature, biography, and antiquities (1874), p.316 f. here, and on the apparition p.325 here. Müller goes through the whole body of evidence for the legend of the appearance of St Michael at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.  He states:

Under these circumstances we can well understand how in the minds of the monks, who spent their lives partly in the mother-house, partly in its dependencies, there was no very clear perception of any difference between the founders, benefactors, and patrons of these twin establishments. A monk brought up at Mont St. Michel would repeat as an old man the legends he had heard about St. Michel and Bishop Autbert, even though he was ending his days in the priory of the Cornish Mount. Relics and books would likewise travel from one place to the other, and a charter originally belonging to the one might afterwards form part of the archives of another house.

After these preliminary remarks, let us look again at the memoranda which William of Worcester made at St. Michael’s Mount, and it will appear that what we anticipated has actually happened, and that a book originally belonging to Mont St. Michel in Normandy, and containing the early history of that monastery, was transferred (either in the original or in a copy) to Cornwall, and there used by William of Worcester in the belief that it contained the early history of the Cornish Mount and the Cornish priory. …

The only way to explain this jumble is to suppose that William of Worcester made these entries in his diary while walking up and down in the Church of St. Michael’s Mount, and listening to one of the monks, reading to him from a MS. which had been brought from Normandy, and referred in reality to the early history of the Norman, but not of the Cornish Mount. The first line, “Apparicio Sancti Michaelis in monte Tumba,” was probably the title or the heading of the MS. Then William himself added, “antea vocata le Hore-rok in the wodd,” a name which he evidently heard on the spot, and which no doubt conveyed to him the impression that the rock had formerly stood in the midst of a wood. …

This seems to be correct, and indeed is quoted in other publications soon after.  But sadly it has made little impact on the popular tradition.

In 1878, W.S. Lach-Szyrma in his widely-quoted A Short History of Penzance, S. Michael’s Mount, S. Ives, and the Land’s End, p.91 here happily repeats Lysons: “The date of the apparition of S. Michael is given as A.D. 496.”

There are many 20th century sources which repeat the same story.

    *    *    *    *

So we find ourselves at the end.  There is no medieval legend of an apparition of St Michael at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.  There never was.

  1. [1]St Michael’s Mount – History and Legends.
  2. [2]So also Graham Jones, “The Cult of Michael the Archangel in Britain”, in: Culto e santuari di san Michele nell’Europa medievale, (2007) p.161.
  3. [3]The Itineraria Sym. Simeonis et Willelmi de Worcestre, ed. J. Nasmith (Cambridge, 1778) is in the commercial “Eighteenth Century Collections Online”, but this is inaccessible to me.  The other is J.H. Harvey, William Worcestre: Itineraries, Oxford (1969).
  4. [4]There is a useful blog post at the British Library on this text here:
  5. [5]A more modern edition exists: Thomas Le Roy. Les curieuses recherches du Mont-Saint-Michel, 2 vols., ed. Eugène de Robillard de Beaurepaire (Caen, 1878, I: 407-19)
  6. [6]Online here.
  7. [7]On here in PDF and here as typed out by Gutenberg.
  8. [8]See for instance A Rudrum &c. (edd.), The Broadview Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Verse and Prose (2001), p.197 here: “the great vision of the guarded mount  St. Michael, the guardian angel who was said to have appeared to fishermen on St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall in 495 C.E.; Namancos and Bayona’s hold a region in north-west Spain and a Spanish fortress respectively.”