10-Month Blog Hiatus and What Have I Got…?

So, I finished the first chapter of my dissertation last November (right before my last blog post on a mini publication I’d been asked to write for SMART), and in January, my meeting on said chapter went exceedingly well. Sure, revisions need to be made, but that’s what “later” is for. Today, and supposedly over the last 8 months, I’ve been working towards my second chapter of the dissertation. In reality, I’ve been teaching subjects outside of my area of specialty and, therefore, have written nothing new (other than some repetitive notes in journals).

What I have been able to accomplish, aside from adding three more courses (two of which were stand-alone) to my C.V., is one conference presentation at K’zoo 2013 and one almost finished article taken from my first chapter.

The tentative title for the article is “Marian Devotion in the Ormulum: The Sæsteorrne in the Third Sermon on Luke,” and it concentrates on the vernacularization of the stella maris epithet in 11th- and 12th-century England. This move to make the “star of the sea” accessible to the laity in written form (surely, it had been around before it was physically translated onto vellum, no?) seems to precede other Western European vernaculars by at least a century. I’ve looked for any signs of it in the Anglo-Norman Online Hub and have come up relatively empty. The earliest sign of Anglo-Norman use of the l’estreille de la mer comes from c.1300 (please let me know if you have found earlier examples–I would love to know!). My friend Stephen Pelle was kind enough to share with me some of his work on an Old Norse manuscript (AM 655 XXVII 4to – c.1300) that contains a similar passage to what we find in the Ormulum (as well as his sources/influences, such as Bede, Hrabanus Maurus, and possibly Fulbert of Chartres): 

“Maria is interpreted ‘star of the sea,’ because just as the star is a guide to sailors on the sea and shows them the right way to harbor, so is the holy virgin Mary a trustworthy guide to the heavenly harbor and to the repose of paradise for all those who are tossed about in the billows and waves of this world and who desire to look to her and follow her example, that is, the way of humility and the path of chastity.” (translated by Stephen Pelle)

It’s common knowledge that the Norse were more difficult to convert to Christianity than other Western European peoples, which could explain the later date for such an explanation for this epithet for the Virgin Mary. However, this does not explain why it doesn’t appear in Anglo-Norman until roughly the same time period, especially when we consider the manuscript evidence for the English translation of the stella maris comes from as early as the third quarter of the 11th century.

Here is a really terrible map with dots that I created to help me visualize what I’m going to address next:

 Sea-Star MSS Map

Yeah, it’s bad, but I only made it to help me figure something out: where were the earliest productions of the stella maris in English done? It appears that they were produced in the Midlands, and, unsurprisingly, the three Old English translations of The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which includes an added Prologue in which we find the “star of the sea” passage, comes from the West Midlands. The Ormulum (i.e., “Junius 1” above), per usual, is the odd manuscript out, hanging out in the East Midlands by itself. What makes this better? A dot that I didn’t add to the manuscript because I forgot might have been a nice orange for the Trinity Homilies, in which the third instance of the stella maris in English exists (Homily 27 on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary). The Trinity Homilies may date to the end of the 12th century, possibly c.1190, which puts them roughly contemporaneous to the Ormulum (c.1160-1180). And where were they compiled? Middlesex… well, London or south Cambridgeshire, as Elaine Treharne explains for the entry of the manuscript (Cambridge, Trinity College, B. 14. 52) on the website for The Production and Use of English Manuscripts 1060 to 1220. Thus, we have two of the most prolific areas of England at the time producing manuscripts containing English translations of the stella maris. Once again, the only anomaly is the Ormulum in Bourn, Lincolnshire.

What does this evidence suggest then? To me, it indicates Orm’s own deep devotion, or at least high regard, for the Virgin Mary. Not only does he write this in relation to the stella maris:

7 ure deore laffdi3 wass         þurrh Drihhtin nemmnedd Mar3e,
Forr þatt tatt name shollde wel         bitacnenn hire seollþe;
Forr hire name tacneþþ uss         sæsteorrne onn Ennglissh spæche,
7 3ho beoþ æfre, 7 was, 7 iss         sæsteorrne inn hali3 bisne;
Forr all swa summ þe steoressmann         a33 lokeþþ till an steorrne,
Þatt stannt a33 still upp o þe lifft         7 swiþe brihhte shineþþ,
Forr þatt he wile foll3henn a33         þatt illke steorrness lade,
Swa þatt he mu3he lenden rihht         to lande wiþþ hiss wille,
All swa birrþ all Crisstene follc         till Sannte Mar3e lokenn,
Þatt stannt wiþþ hire sune i stall         þær he3hesst iss inn heoffne. (2131-46)

But he also adds a very brief look at her title as “Laffdi3” beginning at line 2155: “And hire name nemmnedd iss Laffdi3 on Ennglissh spæche, / And tatt bilimmpeþþ swiþe wel Till hire miccle seollþe, / For 3ho iss allre shaffte cwen And laffdi3 full off mahhte” (2155-2160, my emphasis). In The Dream of the Rood, we find something similar, but instead of the queen of all creation, Mary is the queen of all women: “Swylce swa he his modor eac, Marian sylfe, / ælmihtig god for ealle menn / geweorðode ofer eall wifa cynn” (92-4: “Just as he, all-mighty God, for all men, honored his mother also, Mary herself, above all woman kind.”). Moreover, Orm does not simply place Mary near her son in heaven, but rather, he explains that Mary “stannt wiþþ hire sune i stall þær he3hesst iss inn heoffne.” Mary is greatest of all creation, and she is equal to her savior son, in Orm’s eyes. This makes him radically different not only from his sources and influences, but also his contemporaries.

Perhaps this immense love of Mary is what prompts him to seek sources not within Bourn (I have no proof–this is just conjecture), as well as participate in a vernacularization of the stella maris in England that seems to mostly occur where we’d expect: the West Midlands and the London area. Sure, Orm’s work can be boring and more than tedious to read, but look at the absolute passion we find when we actually pay attention.

It’s beautiful.

About carlamthomas

I'm an Assistant Professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, and I earned my PhD from New York University and my BA and MA from Florida State University. It's good to be a Floridian again. My concentration is Early Middle English literature, language, and manuscript culture although this stretches from Old English influences to later Middle English iterations of developments in my period. I'm also an intersectional feminist, trying to inject such theory into some of my newer work as well as my activist work with the Medievalist of Color.
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2 Responses to 10-Month Blog Hiatus and What Have I Got…?

  1. Dorothy Kim says:

    Ahhh, he’s not boring, he’s just complicated and was thinking about sound feedback loops. Query Carla: do you think the Ormulum needs to be translated?

    • carlamthomas says:

      I like that, Dorothy. Complicated, not boring. It’s so Orm. And, like I’ve already mentioned to you, yes, absolutely. A full translation would make the Ormulum so much more accessible (particularly to novice medievalists and students)!

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