Saturday, May 12, 2012

Once Upon a Sermon.

"in the time of Valencia there was a lovely maiden named Thais [sounds like a fairy tale doesn't it? In a second it will go horribly wrong] whose mother put her out to be a prostitute at a young age."
Marginal prostitution scene, Psalter (Ghent, c.1320-1330), Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 6, fol. 160v (detail)
Medieval sermons are starting to scare me, they all start out nice a cherry and then go horribly wrong but the author never acknowledges it, and continues talking in the same sing song voice (or at least that's the voice I use in my head when reading those sermons). And by the end of the sermon I end up sitting and staring at the page thinking 

 Maybe its because I am used to contemporary literary genres that the medieval sermons come across as completely random and unpredictable. for example there is one where a pilgrim asks in for a night and while sitting by the fire with his host and son he randomly throws the kid in to the fire where he is burnt alive. It turns out that the pilgrim was the devil.

Another one, though understandable when considering the medieval concerns of chastity sounds extremely misogynistic to the 21st century reader. In the sermon the father locks his son away and when the boy grew up he sees women for the first time:
"And when young women and maidens came before him and he saw them, he asked eagerly what they were. And those who were there answered and said, "These are the devils that beguile men."" 
In the end we find out that the fathers plan to keep the son chaste miserably failed and he probably raised a womanizer, the sermon concludes with the kid saying:
"father, truly nothing  else but the devils that deceive men, for on them above all others is my heart set."
Of course there are multiple sermons about the females staying chaste thought they are more politically correct and more about suicide and self mutilation.

For example one sermon tells about a nun who had beautiful eyes and a nobleman fell in love with her because of her eyes to keep herself chaste she tore her eyes out and gave them to him.
Eyeless in Col Alto, 1994, Sally Mann
But my favorite one is The Virgin Defends a Matron against the Devil [ a story so wrong that the Devil comes across as having a moral high ground]
And here is the story in full:

p.s. As for the girl Thais everything ended well for her.

Book of the day: J.Y.Gregg, Devils, Women and Jews: Reflections of the Other in Medieval Sermon Stories, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997). Sermons which appeared in this post are sermons W31, D5, W23, W29, W35.

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