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The Chaucer Review 37.3 (2003) 265-274

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Lay Women and Sarum Ritual:
a Nuptial Prayer from Morgan Ms M. 861

Mark Jones


Among the twelve devotional texts that constitute New York, Pierpont Morgan Library MS M. 861 is a short nuptial prayer in Middle English, which appears on fols. 6v-7r. The following is a brief description of the manuscript as a whole: 1

Vellum; 33 folios; 17 x 12 cm; 32 ruled lines; written in a lettre batarde; bound in calf. Mid-fifteenth century. Contents: fols. 1r-3v, Treatise on the Ten Commandments; fols. 3v-4r, Ten Vengeaunces of God; fol. 4r, Seven Deadly Sins; fol. 4v, Seven Works of Bodily Mercy; fol. 5r, Seven Works of Ghostly Mercy; fol. 5r-5v, Five Outer Senses; fol. 5v, Five Inner Senses; fol. 5v, Four Cardinal Virtues; fol. 6r, Seven Sacraments; fol. 6r-6v, The Eight Tokens of Good Character; fols. 6v-7r, A Prayer for a Bride [printed below]; fols. 7v-33r, Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God.

At present one can only speculate about the manuscript's original ownership. Jeanne Krochalis has suggested that the nuptial blessing may indicate that the book was originally compiled for a married couple. 2 The inference is reasonable enough, given that the major work of the collection, the devotional epistle Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God, is clearly addressed to a lay readership consisting of both men and women. 3 However, with the exception of a single tantalizing clue—an inscription following the nuptial prayer which bears the initials "E. M."—we have no evidence as to who, specifically, this hypothetical couple might have been.

The earliest printed mention of the manuscript is a notice in a bookseller's catalogue of 1925. 4 Thereafter, it dropped out of sight until the Pierpont Morgan Library purchased it in 1952. 5 In 1954 Curt F. Bühler remarked on the "happy coincidence" of the acquisition and noted that a new edition of the longest tract in the compilation, the Contemplations, at that time stood "high in the list of Middle English desiderata." 6 Since [End Page 265] that time, two full-length studies of the Contemplations have been prepared in light of MS M. 861, 7 and Bühler himself has edited and published fols. 1r-4r in his article concerning the manuscript. But the nuptial prayer, which appears among these works and which may help to answer questions about their intended audience and about lay readership of devotional texts in general, has not as yet been edited, nor has its source been identified previously. 8

The prayer itself is derived from a collect that appears in the nuptial mass; it is most likely a blessing secundum usum Sarum, for the Sarum rite was widely recognized in the greater part of England from the thirteenth through the fifteenth century. 9 In a modern English translation, the entire collect reads as follows:

O God, who by thy mighty power hast made all things out of nothing, who after other things set in order in the world didst create for man, made after thine own image, the inseparable assistance of the woman; that out of man's flesh woman should take her beginning, teaching that what thou hast been pleased to make one, it should never be lawful to put asunder.
O God, who hast consecrated the state of matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified the sacramental and nuptial union betwixt Christ and Church[.]
O God, by whom woman is joined to man, and the union, instituted in the beginning, is gifted with that bless+ing, which alone has not been taken away either through the punishment of original sin, or through the sentence of the deluge, look graciously, we beseech thee, on this thy handmaiden, who now joined in wedlock, seeketh to be guarded by thy protection. May the yoke of love and peace be upon her; may she be a faithful and chaste wife in Christ, and abide a follower of...


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