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  • Of Judges and Jewelers:Pearl and the Life of Saint John

In the middle english poem Pearl, a swooning, grief-stricken Jeweler experiences a gem-studded vision wherein precious stone becomes richly symbolic of heavenly wealth. The Jeweler first apprehends himself to be in a bejeweled landscape, then he perceives a glistening Pearl-Maiden, and ultimately he beholds the Heavenly City walled in diverse precious stones and gated with pearl, wherein gleaming citizens follow Christ “ϸat gay Juelle” (line 1124) in procession. The twelve gems of the city’s foundation and walls conform to the architectural model spelled out in Revelation, which itself stands as the record of a spectacular vision experienced by an earlier, deeply blessed visionary. By medieval tradition, Saint John the Evangelist, the Divine Apostle, was the author of both the Gospel of John and the Book of the Apocalypse. He was also popularly known as Jesus’ good friend. Christ had tenderly permitted him to nap on his breast at the Last Supper, a privilege that led John to have extraordinary insight into the ways of God.1 He was the apostle who had stood with Mary at the Crucifixion and the one to whom the crucified Lord had entrusted his own mother.

Because Saint John, being privy to God’s wonders, had witnessed the New Jerusalem, naming its precious stones in his Apocalypse, he also [End Page 41] held honorific status as a gemologist—a reputation much strengthened by lapidarian metaphors, exempla, and moral teachings attached to his hagiography. Traditional episodes in the apocryphal Life of Saint John underscored the apostle’s wisdom regarding rocks, gems, and the right valuation of earthly substance as accorded by the Creator. Three of his most famous miracles center on jewels being transformed or exchanged. One of these episodes introduces the apostle into the life of Edward the Confessor, wherein a precious gem comes to symbolize a “Prince’s pay.” Ultimately, Saint John’s narrative becomes entwined with a core national myth of English monarchic privilege—a myth materially invested in the Confessor’s shrine at Westminster and the royal crown. Expressed in worldly terms, the contours of Saint John’s medieval legend exalt the Divine Apostle as peerless among jewelers.

I offer here a hitherto unexplored perspective by which to understand the trope of the Jeweler in Pearl. As the Jeweler’s dream unfolds in ineffable splendor, a good deal of its credibility borrows from sanctified authority: Saint John and the vision recorded in Apocalypse. When the narrating “I” exhibits his skill in appraisal and eventually is called a “juelere,” this professional identity serves as a crucial marker of similitude to Saint John, the Divine Jeweler of earthly matter and spiritual worth. The narrating “I” performs a role in the poem consistent with his named occupation: he is an expert appraiser of physical substance. A jeweler evaluates things by size, dimension, symmetry, color, and purity. Medieval science and theology held that precious stones and metals possess virtues—magical, God-given properties—that hold potency when in a pure, unalloyed state. By his own introduction, the Jeweler is a creature who by trained discernment deals in quality assessment:

Oute of oryent, I hardyly saye,Ne proued I neuer her precios pere.So rounde, so reken in vche araye, …Queresoeuer I jugged gemmez gayeI sette hyr sengeley in synglure.

(lines 3–5, 7–8; emphasis added)2 [End Page 42]

As a judge of gems, the Jeweler is drawn to objects of refinement, for singular beauty enhances worth, and his now-lost pearl was his most valuable treasure.

Playing a prominent role later in Pearl, deep within the vision, is the saint whose own devysement—dreaming, narrating, assessing—becomes the spiritualized, extrasensory exemplar for the sensory acumen of the Jeweler. The medieval lapidary tradition, recorded for many centuries in many languages—Latin, French, Old English, Middle English, and so on—promoted John as the authority who reigned supreme among other divine experts in stone, such as Moses and Solomon. The apostle’s Revelation held the position of highest honor because it closes the Holy Book. Rather than constructing temples on earth, John saw the truths of heaven itself figured in stone (Fig. 1). As the North Midland Lapidary author explains, translating from French, John was God’s expert gemologist: “Ye Apocalyps beres wyttnes yt god louyd so well saynt Iohn Euangelist yt he was sent by A aungell to se ye priuytes of paradyse, as it ware by a vysyon; & he saw paradys huge as a cyte, & he saw xi[i] stones, ye whyche saynte Iohn named.”3

Important work by Tony Spearing, Barbara Nolan, Muriel Whitaker, Rosalind Field, Sarah Stanbury, and others has led us to understand how the Pearl-poet borrowed from the tradition of the great illustrated Apocalypses made in France and especially in England, c. 1200–1350.4 We have grown accustomed to linking the Jeweler’s final vision of the [End Page 43]

Fig 1. Saint John’s apocalyptic vision of the twelve gems and twelve gates of pearl of the New Jerusalem. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.16.2), fol. 25v.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.
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Fig 1.

Saint John’s apocalyptic vision of the twelve gems and twelve gates of pearl of the New Jerusalem. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.16.2), fol. 25v.

Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.

[End Page 44]

Heavenly City and its procession of virgins led by the Lamb, with Saint John’s witnessing of heavenly sights as recorded in Revelation and as fixed in the iconography of the Apocalypse manuscripts. John usually appears in these images, often standing to the side, where he mediates for the reader the exotic, fantastic sights of the Final Judgment.5 What has been neglected in this assessment, however, is the full context for Apocalypse imagery, that is, its traditional setting within Saint John hagiography. What most drew readers to illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts were, of course, the mesmerizing images of Revelation, which extended over many pages. But it was standard practice for scenes from the saint’s life to be part of the overall pictorial sequence.6 The artist of the great English Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MSR.16.2) presents these episodes in colorful panels. Figure 2 shows, for example, John being put on the ship to Rome (top); his coming before the Emperor Domitian (middle); and his torture in a vat of boiling oil (bottom)—events that occurred before John’s exile to Patmos, where he received his Revelation. Likewise, the magnificent late fourteenth-century mural painted on the walls of the Westminster Abbey Chapter House preserves similar opening scenes of John’s travel by boat.7 The [End Page 45] final panels can no longer be made out, but, to judge by spatial dimensions, the post-Revelation miracles of John were probably included there.

On another front, numerous critics—in particular, Ad Putter, Felicity Riddy, John Bowers, Helen Barr, and Tony Davenport—have advanced richly nuanced readings of the trope of the Jeweler in Pearl.8 Amidst this valuable body of scholarship, which represents many different approaches and potential meanings, materialist to moral, I offer here some new territory for our thinking on the matter. Recovering Pearl’s relationship to Saint John’s vita brings within the poem’s immediate ambit a contemporary, clerically sanctioned set of exempla on earthly wealth and heavenly treasure. The Pearl-poet develops a series of parallels—some direct, some oblique—between the Jeweler’s experiences and Saint John’s actions and teachings. For example, when the Jeweler approaches his last vision, he stands like John on a hill near a river—“Tyl on a hyl ϸat I asspyed / And blusched on ϸe burghe, as I forth dreued, / Byᵹonde ϸe brok” (lines 979–81)—from which vantage-point he envisions paradise as a well-proportioned city of twelve gems. His account is both verified by his own dream-fortified eyes and dependent on John’s master narrative. As he himself states, he is reenacting the saint’s sublime experience: “As John ϸe apostel hit syᵹ with syᵹt, / I syᵹe [End Page 46]

Fig 2. The Life of Saint John: (top) John put on the ship to Rome; (middle) John before the Emperor Domitian; (bottom) John placed in the vat of boiling oil. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.16.2), fol. 1v.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.
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Fig 2.

The Life of Saint John: (top) John put on the ship to Rome; (middle) John before the Emperor Domitian; (bottom) John placed in the vat of boiling oil. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.16.2), fol. 1v.

Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.

[End Page 47]

ϸat cyty of gret renoun” (lines 985–86). Later, upon awakening, the Jeweler has absorbed a Johannist comfort as Christ’s friend: “For I haf founden Hym, boÞe day and naᵹte, / A God, a Lorde, a frende ful fyin” (lines 1203–4).9 By such gradual markers, the poet allows the reader to see the Jeweler as following, however insufficiently, John’s profound example. One may compare the method to how Dante fashioned his abashed, alter-ego pilgrim as both a second Paul and a second Aeneas. It may be too much to say that the Jeweler becomes a second John, but despite his mortal frailty and lesser insight, it is Saint John whom he most definitively imitates.

The Pearl-poet’s device of designating the narrating “I” as Jeweler prepares, therefore, for an unfolding of dreamed revelations that gain spiritual credibility by their modeled likeness to John the Evangelist’s visionary experience. Indeed, Saint John eventually becomes the poem’s third speaker when the Pearl-Maiden quotes his words for three entire stanzas (73–75; lines 867–900). In the following sections of this article, I will situate the distinctive Jeweler trope of Pearl beside the events and lessons of the Life of Saint John, presenting here several strands of evidence. I initially focus on some analogous texts in Middle English that gain moral traction by yoking practitioners of professional appraisal (goldsmiths, jewelers) to themes of judgment. The article’s central section then examines the Life of Saint John. I demonstrate how this vita—from its most widely known version in The Golden Legend to its various glosses by English poets and preachers—is at its core an extensive lesson on the pearl of great price (Mt 13:45–46). My discussion of the Life divides its jewel-related episodes into three types: first, the miracles of gemstones; second, other miracles that expound John’s gemlike purity and philosophy on wealth; third, the saint’s posthumous miracle with a jeweled ring that ushers Edward the Confessor’s soul into bliss. I will conclude this article by examining how the Jeweler/John analogy enlarges meanings embedded in Pearl, particularly as regards its treatment of the parable about the pearl of great price. The Life of Saint John depicts an apostle who trades in jewels as he seeks a man willing to sell his most precious gem to gain the Kingdom of Heaven. In this way, its status as a likely influence upon the Pearl-poet warrants close attention. [End Page 48]

Jewelers in Medieval English Literature

A trained capacity to judge substance and appraise worth defines the Jeweler trope of Pearl. In the fourteenth century, situated in the powerful London Goldsmiths’ Company, or at least near its periphery, was the trade of jeweler, which had no London guild of its own. Many prominent London goldsmiths identified themselves as both “goldsmith and jeweler.”10 A rule from the Goldsmiths’ Book of Ordinances illustrates how regulation and measurement—including the quantification of labor and payment—were integral to the goldsmith craft:

If any workman or labourer asks or receives more than he has worked for: as, for example, if a whole day is allowed for half a day’s work, or two or three days for one and a half days’ work, or anything else comes to your knowledge that is prejudicial or harmful to the Company, you shall inform the wardens so that they may provide a remedy.11

In this ordinance one might hear the Jeweler’s practical grounds for resisting the message of the parable of the laborers (Mt 20:1–16) when the Maiden paraphrases it near the center of Pearl. In the regulated practices of goldsmiths, this rule of workplace vigilance was part of an oath taken by all laborers belonging to the fellowship.

By eye and instrument, jewelers or goldsmiths measured labor and product, skill and workmanship, chemical purity and perfect beauty in terms of color and light—that is, they judged aesthetic form and execution as a calibrated thing. Literary usages borrowed from real-life practice, wherein goldsmiths reigned as masters in the business of valuation. As authoritative appraisers in the marketplace, goldsmiths were sworn to adhere to rigorous standards. The designated wardens of the Company regulated in London and elsewhere the quality of silver and gold metalwork—including coin, which was assayed on a regular basis for fraudulent levels of alloys. The knowledge of valuation was called a privitee, [End Page 49] that is, a secret craft.12 In medieval literature goldsmiths and jewelers are routinely the offstage, go-to characters who verify values. To recall an instance from Chaucer’s Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale: to dupe the priest, the swindler-alchemist canon suggests that the gold he has seemingly produced from a lesser metal be tested, so “unto the goldsmyth” they go, where the rods are put “in assay” and proved to be “as hem oghte be” (VIII.1337–40).13 As shall be seen, in the Life of Saint John, goldsmiths and jewelers are asked to provide this service.

In countless saints’ legends an unjust judge, invariably a pagan worshiper of idols, comes to symbolize the fallibility of the faithless person who lacks spiritual vision, the one who believes only in what can be seen, touched, tasted, or heard. The emperor in the prose Life of Saint Katherine is such a figure who thinks he can tempt the saint into error by promising to erect a statue of her for others to worship. Katherine archly taunts him for his false faith:

Than ϸe virgyn began a lytel to smyle and sayde vnto the tiraunt, O how blessed am I ϸat am worthy so gret priuilege of worschep ϸat an ymage schold be sette vp for me to be reuerensed and worscheped of men. O hou blessed schall I say I am and I myght deserue to be maad of gold. And ᵹeet I schold not be al vnblessed and I myght be of seluer. Bot ϸan schal ϸer be stryf bytwene Þe jowelers for Þe price weyght & value Þat I am of.14

Katherine mocks the tyrant’s love of gold and silver by pointing out the strife that would erupt amongst those jewelers who would then evaluate her. The saint deftly equates their materiality with her inquisitor’s values. In Pearl the Pearl-Maiden’s stern corrections of the Jeweler are not, in their way, very far from this tradition of virgin saints boldly facing judges who deem wrongly through sense perception what cannot be rationally known.

Divine justice—and also humans’ frail comprehension of it—seems [End Page 50] to preoccupy many alliterative poets. All four Cotton Nero poems share this concern, and in Pearl it is insistent, couched in the monitory, even legalistic, speech of the Pearl-Maiden.15 In the alliterative Morte Arthure Arthur’s greatness as guardian of justice ultimately resides in his humility before God, not in his pride of earthly conquest.16 In Saint Erkenwald divine justice and heavenly reward come to the virtuous pagan judge who lived before Christ; he judged righteously in unrighteous times, and so is he judged. The alliterative “Four Leaves of the Truelove” is likewise a poem about judgment, contrasting the false judgments of Herod at the Nativity, Pilate at the Crucifixion, and Satan at the Harrowing to the final, eternal judgment of Christ, who appears in a chilling courtroom drama of Doomsday.17 In its scene of Apocalypse, the poet catalogues a range of powerful men who find themselves before the supreme Judge. The stanza reads:

He wil schew us His woundes blody and bare,As He has sufferd for owre sake, wytter and wyd.Kynges and kasors before Hym bus fare;Byschoppes and barons and all bus abyd;Erles and emperours, nane wyll He spare;Prestes ne prelates nor persons of pride;Thar justes and juellarse of lawe or of lare,That now ar full ryall to ryn and to ryd    In land.  Thar dome sall thai take thare.  Ryght as thai demed are,  When thay ware of myghtes mare,  And domes had in hand. (emphasis added)

(lines 443–55;)

These powerful men must receive their everlasting dooms, in an ironic reversal of how they apportioned judgments to others in life.

This little-known poem also provides, outside the opening lines of [End Page 51] Pearl, one of the clearest semantic and alliterative links between judges and jewelers. The pertinent reading occurs in the stanza’s seventh line: “justes and juellarse of lawe or of lare.” For the reading “iuellarse” found in the London Thornton copy (London, British Library, MS Additional 31042), early editors read instead the word “mellarse,” “meddlers.”18 Etymologies were duly sought and found. Magdalene M. Weale derived the word from Old English maÞelian, maeÞlan, “to speak, discourse,” and translated it “discoursers, disputers.”19 C. L. Wrenn suggested instead that it came from Middle English medlen, mellen (Old French mesler, meller), “to meddle,” and defined the meaning as “those who meddle with law.”20 The word mellarse has thus entered the MED as a nonce form of medlers, “practitioners” or “meddlers, nuisances.”21 None of this speculation is correct, however, for it is based on misread minims. The phrase reads “justyce & iuellarse” in the manuscript, with the initial i of “iuellarse” clearly dotted (Fig. 3). Alliteration with justyce verifies the reading, as does the presence of similarly formed initial iu for ju elsewhere in Robert Thornton’s script.22 The b-verse completes the sense of the a-verse: “justices of the law” and “jewelers of learning.” The line contrasts those who judge things on ground to God who judges them.23 [End Page 52]

Fig 3. Detail from “The Four Leaves of the Truelove.” London Thornton manuscript (British Library, MS Add. 31042), fol. 101r.<br/><br/>Courtesy of The British Library.
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Fig 3.

Detail from “The Four Leaves of the Truelove.” London Thornton manuscript (British Library, MS Add. 31042), fol. 101r.

Courtesy of The British Library.

The relevance of this collocation to Pearl is worth pursuing.24 The term juelere denotes an activity representative of humanity’s reasoning capacity, based on empirical observation, measurement, and practiced experience. Hence, the Jeweler’s expert lapidary knowledge, his skill in appraising “gemmez gaye” (line 7), complements the poet’s play on ideas of evaluation and value, the key paradox in the parable of the vineyard being how differently man and God assess degree.25 The linkwords [End Page 53] of amount—“more and more,” “more,” “gret inoghe,” “makellez,” “neuer ϸe les” (stanza-groups 3, 10, 11, 13, 15)—expound not just theological doctrines of God’s ineffable bounty and perfection; they also reveal the Jeweler’s propensity to describe spiritual effects in terms of accessible quantity, of one value measured in reference to another.

A polar opposition in perception marks the mid-point of Pearl, where the link-words shift from “more” to “inoghe.” The tenth stanza-group ends with the Jeweler asserting, as in the Goldsmiths’ oath for laborers, the principle of entitlement to payment according to length of work:

Now he ϸat stod ϸe long day stableAnd ϸou to payment com hym byfore,Ϸenne ϸe lasse in werke to take more able,And euer the lenger ϸe lasse ϸe more.

(lines 597–600)

At the head of the eleventh stanza-group, the Maiden counters by expounding the boundless grace of God:

“Of more and lasse in Godez ryche,”Ϸat gentyl sayde, “lys no joparde,For ϸer is vch mon payed inlyche,Wheϸer lyttel oϸer much be hys reward.” (emphasis added)

(lines 601–4;)

Terms of quantity, more and lasse, transform semantically according to perspective, material or spiritual. As the Maiden instructs in this stanza-group: “the grace of God is gret inoghe” (line 612). The crossover in perspective is brilliantly underscored by a pun in line 601, the poem’s central line, the turning-point. Here “Godez ryche” means both “God’s kingdom” and “God’s treasury.”26 In naming the divine realm, the Pearl-Maiden embeds a monetary metaphor. What the wordplay exquisitely denotes is the same unified perspective on wealth persistently [End Page 54] preached by the Divine Apostle in the stories of his vita. According to Saint John’s teachings, all created matter—from simple sticks and stones to human souls—constitutes God’s treasure, which exists in gradated forms. Souls hold a special value, however, for each one saved will be deposited in and thereby “increase” the treasury of heaven.

The Miracles of the Life of Saint John

Saint John’s Miracles of Gemstones

In two major episodes of Saint John’s vita, the apostle’s acts of conversion involve transformed jewels.27 One miracle provides a lesson on false wealth by means of rocks turned into gems and then back again into rocks. The second involves the smashing of gems and their later restoration to wholeness. When performed by the saint who envisioned the twelve gems of the New Jerusalem, these lapidarian miracles construct a kind of trademark insignia. In the realm of earthly/spiritual valuation, from dross dust to priceless jewels, John is the supreme expert. In Pearl the Jeweler acknowledges the quality of the saint’s expertise when he addresses the naming of the twelve stones of the New Jerusalem:

John ϸise stonez in writ con nemme,I knew ϸe name after his tale. …I knew hit by his deuysementIn ϸe Apocalyppez, ϸe apostel John.

(lines 997–98, 1019–20)

Obviously familiar with John’s devysement in the Apocalypse, the clerical Pearl-poet and his audience would also have known the Life of Saint John. The slightly later author of the alliterative John Evangelist Hymn calls on his readers’ engaged knowledge when he alludes passingly to a well-known miracle of gem transformation. Addressing the saint directly, he declares:

Thow made golde full gude and gafe ϸam, I wene.Smale stanes of ϸe see saynede ϸou ϸare, [End Page 55] And ϸay warre saphirs, for-sothe, was nane swylke sene.Sene swylke was ϸare noneFor fine precyouse stone.The wandes when ϸou baddeϷay ware gold ylkone.Ϸou gafe thaym welthe mare woneϷan ϸay euer hadde.28

These lines recall John’s conversion of sticks and stones to gold and jewels, a miracle frequently recounted in sermons drawing upon the apocryphal events of John’s life.

The standard source for the Life of Saint John for English authors, Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend, strings together stories cobbled from numerous sources (Jacobus names Mellitus, Jerome, Isidore, and Clement, among others), all basically indebted to the ancient, apocryphal Acts of John.29 Glosses added by preachers and hagiographers helped to illuminate for medieval English worshipers the full arc and import of John’s legend. Consistently expounded are John’s intimacy with God and his talent for distinguishing false wealth from true.30 His [End Page 56] is the appraiser’s eye whose powers go beyond material surfaces. To his closest apostle, God revealed his own privetee, that is, both the divinity of the Word and the apocalyptic vision.31 In reference to Pearl, what become very intriguing are John’s two miracles that use jewels as symbolic props. And in one of them miracle-worked treasure is sent to goldsmiths and jewelers—the worldly practitioners—for appraisal.

John’s vita in the Golden Legend opens with a list of his four definitive privileges. These are: (1) Christ held a special love for John; (2) John was a chaste virgin, free from fleshly corruption; (3) God’s secrets were revealed to the apostle when he laid his head on Christ’s breast at the Last Supper (an English writer explains that he slept softly there; thus the event was a dream-vision);32 and (4) Jesus entrusted Mary to John’s care. After enumerating these special graces, Jacobus tells of John’s acts after the descent of the Holy Spirit. He travels to Asia and founds churches, but soon he is summoned to Rome, where Emperor Domitian sentences him to boil in a vat of oil (Fig. 2, bottom). English sermonizer John Mirk calls this experience an “assaye” of John’s virtue, as if his exterior mettle is being tested.33 John’s flesh remains untouched, so the angry emperor exiles him to the island of Patmos, where the apostle writes the Apocalypse. When the emperor later dies, John returns to Ephesus and works his next miracle: the raising from death of Drusiana, a virtuous woman.34 [End Page 57]

The succeeding episode introduces the gems concept that runs like a rich vein through Saint John’s legend. A philosopher named Craton teaches that people should despise the world. In exuberant response, two youths sell their patrimonies, convert them to jewels, and then smash the jewels to bits before an audience.35 In both the Trinity Apocalypse (Fig. 4) and the magnificent Saint John Window at Chartres Cathedral (Fig. 5),36 one can see how an iconography developed for this episode, wherein the youths dramatically raise hammers over the gem-stones, a sign of their being smashed to bits. Witnessing this display, John denounces it for three reasons: because it wins men’s praise but is condemned by divine judgment; because it cures no vices; and because contempt of riches is meritorious only when wealth is given to the poor. John restores the gems to wholeness, and all three men—youths and philosopher—convert. The proceeds of the sold jewels go to the poor. This miracle causes things of innate value—material gems—to be restored to their natural state for the sake of doing worldly good, and it brings three men to God.

Observing this example, two other rich youths sell all they have, give to the poor, and become followers of John. They would seem to have paid good attention to John’s lesson. Later, however, they come to regret their actions when they see their own former servants flaunting costly clothes while they themselves have but one cloak between them. Seeing their sorrow, John asks them to fetch sticks and pebbles, which he converts before their eyes to gold wands and precious jewels (Fig. 6, top). John then sends the youths to goldsmiths and jewelers to have the treasures appraised. In a Middle English version, John “bad ϸam vnto goldsmithes go / And vnto Jewelers, ϸat knew / To luke if ϸai war gude & trew.”37 The two return to report that the experts claim never to have seen gold so pure nor gems so magnificent. John now tells the youths to buy back their former goods, but he warns them that, while [End Page 58]

Fig 4. The Life of Saint John: (top) Craton preaches against riches and orders the jewels destroyed, a command that the youths carry out with raised hammers; (middle) John converts and baptizes Craton and his disciples; (bottom) Craton and the two youths give money to the poor obtained from the sale of jewels, the two youths become John’s disciples, and others are converted. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MSR.16.2), fol. 28v.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.
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Fig 4.

The Life of Saint John: (top) Craton preaches against riches and orders the jewels destroyed, a command that the youths carry out with raised hammers; (middle) John converts and baptizes Craton and his disciples; (bottom) Craton and the two youths give money to the poor obtained from the sale of jewels, the two youths become John’s disciples, and others are converted. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MSR.16.2), fol. 28v.

Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.

[End Page 59]

Fig 5. Listening to the philosopher Craton, the youths raise hammers to smash the jewels. The Saint John Window, Chartres Cathedral.<br/><br/>© Dr. Stuart Whatling, Corpus of Medieval Narrative Art.
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Fig 5.

Listening to the philosopher Craton, the youths raise hammers to smash the jewels. The Saint John Window, Chartres Cathedral.

© Dr. Stuart Whatling, Corpus of Medieval Narrative Art.

[End Page 60]

Fig 6. The Life of Saint John: (top) John converts sticks and stones to gold and gems; (middle) John raises a dead youth, who tells of the treasures of heaven; (bottom) John preaches a sermon, and the youths repent. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.16.2), fol. 29r.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.
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Fig 6.

The Life of Saint John: (top) John converts sticks and stones to gold and gems; (middle) John raises a dead youth, who tells of the treasures of heaven; (bottom) John preaches a sermon, and the youths repent. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.16.2), fol. 29r.

Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.

[End Page 61]

they can be rich for a time, they shall be beggars for eternity. The Evangelist then pauses to preach a pithy sermon that gives six reasons why one should be deterred from inordinate wealth: (1) because of Scripture (story of Lazarus and Dives); (2) because of Nature (man is born naked and dies without wealth); (3) because of Creation (like the sun, moon, and air, all should be held in common); (4) because of Fortune (a rich man is slave to his money, and he shall be the devil’s slave); (5) because of care and worry (one ponders how to get more and how to keep what one has); and (6) because it involves the risk of loss (creating swollen pride, it leads to damnation).

Next comes vivid testimony to show how destructive worldly wealth is, for its price is the loss of paradise. Hearing of a third young man, recently dead, John revives him and asks the youth to tell his two followers what he witnessed in death (Fig. 6, middle). The boy describes the glories of paradise and the pains of hell. He saw the men’s angels weeping while their demons gloated, because they had lost, as Jacobus writes, “eternal palaces built of shining gems, filled with banquets, abounding in delights and lasting joys.”38 As in Pearl and the Apocalypse, heaven’s spiritual wealth is expressed through a witnessing of its jewels. In one version found in the South English Legendary, the boy calls the men out for having made a foolish purchase:

“Allas,” he sayd, “wricches vnwise!ᵹe haue made ful euil marchandise!I saw yowre angels wepeand soreAnd deuils laghand ful fast ϸarfore.I saw a palais of grete costϷat ᵹe haue for ᵹowre foly lost.”39

In most versions the boy then recounts the eight pains of hell, and in the face of this harrowing reality, all three youths implore John for mercy. John tells them to do penance and pray that the newly fashioned gold and gems may revert back to their natural states. This reverse miracle occurs (Fig. 7, top), and “[t]hereupon,” according to Jacobus, “the young men received the grace of all the virtues that had been theirs.”40 This miracle exchanges lapidary virtues for the virtues of souls. [End Page 62]

Fig 7. The Life of Saint John: (top) John comforts the youths, and they return the sticks and stones to the woods; (middle) John destroys the temple of Diana; (bottom) the high priest of the temple challenges John to drink poison, and then he asks the governor of the city for two condemned criminals. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.16.2), fol. 29v.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.
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Fig 7.

The Life of Saint John: (top) John comforts the youths, and they return the sticks and stones to the woods; (middle) John destroys the temple of Diana; (bottom) the high priest of the temple challenges John to drink poison, and then he asks the governor of the city for two condemned criminals. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.16.2), fol. 29v.

Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.

[End Page 63]

Intriguingly, it is by undoing a miracle that John delivers his graphic lesson: possession of wealth denotes, in truth, spiritual poverty. Thus do common sticks and stones become a reason to rejoice: forfeited gold and jewels signify that the men’s souls are again secure.

The miracles of gems thus progress in meaning. In the first, real gems are smashed and then restored: natural riches should be shared with the poor. In the second, seemingly worthless rocks become superior gems, better than nature, as assessed by jewelers. The true second miracle happens, however, when the rocks revert to nature and the youths reclaim their own virtues, which will bring them to bejeweled castles of paradise. In accord with John’s sermon, men possess an inner gemlike treasure bequeathed by neither Nature nor Fortune but by God, namely, their immortal souls. The levels of vision required to see through to these truths seem to be gradated, first from natural vision to miraculous vision, as when the Jeweler in Pearl sees the wondrous pearl upon the Maiden’s breast: its quality exceeds anything he has ever before appraised, “So watz hit clene and cler and pure” (line 227). But the next stage takes one to sublime insight, as when John glimpses God’s privetee and the Pearl Jeweler receives sights he cannot describe without recourse to John’s language, most particularly, the breast-jewel now become the enthroned Lamb shining pure and gemlike in the midst of the Heavenly City (line 836).

Saint John’s Miracles of Dust and Treasure

The Evangelist’s next few miracles in his vita bring about conversions with variations on the lapidarian motif. By invoking Christ, John causes a heathen temple to collapse, and Diana’s statue then shatters to dust (Fig. 7, middle). A false idol is now crushed stone, devoid of any virtue. Soon after, John erects stone churches. And in this section of the legend, John undergoes another physical assay, this one testing his insides, not his flesh, as did the boiling oil. John is made to drink poison, and he survives, according to one English exegete, because he is a virgin and therefore clean inside.41 The pagan high priest first tests the drug by [End Page 64] poisoning two prisoners (Fig. 7, bottom). Then John has to imbibe the same substance, but it has no effect. Questioning John’s power, the priest challenges the apostle to resurrect the two poisoned men. John asks the priest to spread his cloak over them. He does so, and the men revive. Those who witness this miracle convert. John’s survival of two bodily assays—his outsides boiled in oil, his insides poisoned—serves to confirm his own gemlike purity.42

The legend now introduces one of its most intriguing episodes: the tale of a young man regarded by John as his treasure (Fig. 8). John converts a headstrong youth and places him under a bishop’s care. Poorly supervised, however, the youth leaves the bishop and becomes a chief outlaw. John, now a very old man, is distraught because the bishop has lost what John calls his “deposit.” Jacobus records here a verbal misunderstanding: the bishop thinks John refers to money, but John means the boy’s soul. Despite his age, John mounts a horse and rides full tilt after the boy, who is ashamed and runs away (Fig. 8, middle). But John is determined and overtakes him. The apostle gains the youth’s repentance and eventually ordains him as a worthy bishop. English versions gloss this tale in ways that moralize on themes of spiritual wealth. The over-complacent bishop must make account, while John mourns the boy’s soul as a lost tresour. The lesson is about vigilantly guarding spiritual capital. Without proper guidance, the boy has turned toward material things, becoming a robber. John, however, proves to be a fiercely possessive depositor. Praying to God, John confesses that “A feble tresour ich ches and ϸoru is [i.e., the bishop’s] feble lore / Mi deoworÞe tresour ich habbe ilore.”43 John calls the young man his “son” and himself a “feeble father,” delineating a parental relationship to the boy. The old man chases the youth in a scene that is well nigh comic; one English hagiographer stresses that John rode as fast as a young man. The tale is figured as a parent’s need to restore a dead child, a treasure inadvertently lost. The young man is at once John’s child, John’s treasure, and the Church as John’s legacy. The episode provides an interesting parallel to Pearl, especially as it is set within a [End Page 65]

Fig 8. The Life of Saint John: (top) the bishop tells John that the youth has become a robber, and the robbers in the woods; (middle) John rides to the woods to find the youth, and the youth runs away from him; (bottom) John kisses the arm of the youth, baptizes him, and leads him to church. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MSR.16.2), fol. 30v.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.
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Fig 8.

The Life of Saint John: (top) the bishop tells John that the youth has become a robber, and the robbers in the woods; (middle) John rides to the woods to find the youth, and the youth runs away from him; (bottom) John kisses the arm of the youth, baptizes him, and leads him to church. Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College, MSR.16.2), fol. 30v.

Courtesy of Trinity College, Cambridge.

[End Page 66]

fertile matrix of gemological tales. The saint who abjures wealth strives desperately here to retrieve his treasure. In Jacobus’s version, John declares himself, as alter Christi, ready to sacrifice himself to save his son: “I will gladly die for you, as Christ died for all of us. Come back, my son, come back!”44 John is made God’s treasure-seeker, a guardian and banker of souls.

John’s other adventures in old age continue to develop the saint’s reputation for sublime wisdom. The next one affectionately merges the saint’s tolerance for human frailty with his extraordinary power of discernment. Now extremely old, the Evangelist plays with a partridge, and a little boy laughs at his foolishness. John’s explanation is that humans must relax and seek solace in order to have the strength for contemplation. The human spirit is like a soaring eagle that rests on the ground after looking straight into the sun.45 As the author of the South English Legendary comments, John’s own symbol is the eagle, the bird that soars highest, with vision so acute it can detect the smallest worm on the ground. When John lay his head on Jesus’ breast, God’s privetees were revealed to him, and by such inspiration his Gospel is the most sublime of the four.46 The Life then records how the aged apostle died on a Sunday as he preached from a grave dug in the church floor. When he departed to heaven, the congregants could find no body, only manna, which was like fine particles of sand, filling his grave. It did not rain down but instead seemed to spring like a well from the ground. This rich manna becomes the closing instance of stone-based particulates in John’s legend: crushed gems, gravelly stones, shattered idols, and now fine manna emanating like powdery sand from the ground.

Saint John’s Miracle of the Confessor’s Ring

To conclude, Jacobus inserts one last miraculous adventure of Saint John: a posthumous sighting of the Divine Apostle in England, in the tale of King Edward’s ring, a legend not depicted in the Apocalypses but richly illustrated in the sole manuscript of the Anglo-Norman Life of Saint Edward the Confessor (Cambridge University Library, MS [End Page 67] Ee.III.59). Edward never refuses a favor asked on behalf of Saint John, so when a pilgrim begs alms in the saint’s name, the king, lacking his pursebearer, gives the pilgrim a large jewel from his own finger (Fig. 9; fol. 26r). The pilgrim is actually Saint John in disguise, a fact discovered when English soldiers later return the jewel to Edward (fol. 27r), having received it abroad from the same pilgrim (fol. 26v) with the message “He for whose love you gave this ring sends it back to you.”47 By acting as he does, Edward gains the Kingdom of Heaven. Concomitantly, in the context of John’s legend, the apostle concludes his search for a man who already knows his treasure on earth. In the illustrations of CUL, MS Ee.III.59, the exchange comes full circle with a scene of Christ receiving Edward in heaven (fol. 29r).48 The Evangelist finds at last a man—indeed, an English monarch—who knows the lesson of true wealth without having to have it preached to him. The jewel given away in charity returns to Edward as God’s grace.

The lives of Saint John and the Confessor are thus fully wedded in hagiography, their union sealed by a symbolism of ring and jewel. After the apostle’s two gem-involved miracles, the ring-exchange with Edward expresses the motif for a third time. The bejeweled ring features in the iconography of portraits of King Edward the Confessor (as in the Wilton Diptych, for example). In the Middle Ages the reputed original ring was revered as a relic at Westminster.49 And the tale of the ring-exchange [End Page 68]

Fig 9. Edward the Confessor gives his ring to the pilgrim who is Saint John in disguise. The Anglo-Norman Life of Edward the Confessor, Cambridge University Library, MS Ee.III.59, fol. 26r.<br/><br/>Courtesy of Cambridge University Library.
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Fig 9.

Edward the Confessor gives his ring to the pilgrim who is Saint John in disguise. The Anglo-Norman Life of Edward the Confessor, Cambridge University Library, MS Ee.III.59, fol. 26r.

Courtesy of Cambridge University Library.

[End Page 69]

still flourishes as a patriotic legend by which to assert the divine authentication of successive English monarchs. Every coronation, down to Elizabeth II’s, has featured placement of Saint Edward’s Crown (a commemoration of the ring) on the new monarch’s head.50 Edward the Confessor’s spiritual goodness and regal identity are perpetually conveyed, therefore, by means of an iconography of the jewel: his magnificent stone is both his salvation and his kingship, given him by God through an exchange with the Divine Jeweler, Saint John.

Given the degree of Saint John’s authority in Pearl’s visionary makeup, it becomes a real possibility, one worth remarking upon here, that the poem’s key framing phrase—“prynces paye” (lines 1, 1201)—is meant as an allusion to the apostle’s posthumous English adventure. If Edward the Confessor’s ring-exchange is to be recalled in this phrase (set as it is in a poem about jewels, Saint John’s apocalyptic vision, and souls purchased for heaven), then fourteenth-century associations with Westminster Abbey, site of Edward’s tomb and shrine, would seem to be inescapable. In the Pearl-poet’s time (whether that was late in Edward’s III’s reign or during Richard II’s),51 the abbey itself was saturated with a standard image of Edward extending his ring to the pilgrim. The iconography exists, or formerly existed, in (1) the floor tiles of the Chapter House; (2) the paintings on the oak sedilia near the altar; (3) the bas-relief carved above the shrine; and (4) a pair of statues once placed near the shrine.52 [End Page 70]

Aside from its special status in English sacred history and national identity, this last apocryphal story in the Life of Saint John completes the profile of John as a trader in gems material and spiritual, a jeweler with a surpassing eye of discernment for true value. The tale itself, like the other stories of relinquished gems in John’s vita, is a thinly veiled variant of the parable in Matthew: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (13:45–46).

The Jeweler’s Pearl of Great Price

The parable is overt in the ancient Acts of John, and, as we have seen, it surfaces in the English version of the Golden Legend that has the revived boy testify about the greedy youths’ “euil marchandise” in heaven—a term that signifies how John’s miracle of sticks and stones had created material wealth but exposed their souls to damnation.53 Earlier in that same story, John had sent those youths to goldsmiths and jewelers to have their miraculous but poorly conceived treasure appraised. This very scene was chosen for illustration in the Saint John Window of Chartres Cathedral (Fig. 10). In it, Saint John and the jeweler are parallel figures. On the left, God’s Divine Jeweler works the miracle of sticks and stones; on the right, a jeweler expertly appraises the new gold and jewels. Saint and jeweler are exactly matched in how they tilt their heads, gesture with their right arms, and occupy the left-hand space of their respective stained-glass compartments. Mimicry of gesture and stance underscores the analogy. In the Chartres window, as well as in the reading I give here of the Life of Saint John, the Divine Apostle is the Divine Jeweler, a discerning knower of real worth. He does not repudiate the world so much as know its exact virtues, which exist along a continuum that extends from earth to heaven. The saint teaches others how to apprehend God’s Creation by this true light.

The parable of the pearl of great price appears in Pearl with a twist. The biblical merchant is here called a “joueler”:

This makellez perle ϸat boᵹt is dere,Ϸe joueler gef fore alle hys god, [End Page 71] Is lyke ϸe reme of heuenesse clere—So sayde ϸe Fader of folde and flode. (emphasis added)

(lines 733–36;)

Fig 10. Guided by Saint John (left), the youths take the miraculous gold and gems to the jeweler (right) to be appraised. The Saint John Window, Chartres Cathedral.<br/><br/>© Dr. Stuart Whatling, Corpus of Medieval Narrative Art.
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Fig 10.

Guided by Saint John (left), the youths take the miraculous gold and gems to the jeweler (right) to be appraised. The Saint John Window, Chartres Cathedral.

© Dr. Stuart Whatling, Corpus of Medieval Narrative Art.

The poet conflates jeweler and merchant so that the one who sells his matchless pearl will need no outside expert to know its value. He himself is the judge, like the narrating Jeweler. The Jeweler’s occupational identity makes for pointed irony when, early in the poem, he finds himself the object of evaluation, the Maiden questioning in the fifth stanza-group (concatenating on “jueler”) whether or not he is a “kynde” jeweler, a “gentyl” jeweler, a “joyfol” jeweler, and, finally, in the sixth, judging him to be full of flaws, “lyttel to prayse” and “much to blame.” Thus the poem moves steadily toward the narrator’s self-evaluation: having superior discernment of surface appearance and inner purity, the Jeweler learns to use that wisdom to see within himself, as the Maiden commands in the sixth stanza-group: “Deme now ϸyself” (line 313).

In response, in the seventh stanza-group, the Jeweler demurs politely that [End Page 72]

We meten so selden by stok oÞer ston.Ϸaᵹ cortaysly ᵹe carpe con,I am bot mol and manerez mysse;Bot Crystes mersy and Mary and Jon,Ϸise arn ϸe grounde of alle my blysse. (emphasis added)

(lines 380–84;)

Spoken in the first half of the poem, these words carry an air of conventional courtly humility, that is, good social manners, not serious religion. The Jeweler, trying to gain his footing as he speaks to this surprising apparition, evaluates himself by a term—“mol” (dust)—that is the antithesis of a gem dug from the ground. At the same time, he summons the perpetually latent lapidarian pun on “grounde”—both “basis, foundation” and “earthly ground”—that runs throughout Pearl. The Jeweler’s words here also serve a subtle literary purpose: they introduce the apostle John very quietly into the poem, a good while before he becomes the potent authority for the Jeweler’s sublime vision. The Jeweler’s mention of Mary, John, and Christ’s mercy evokes, furthermore, a brief flash of the Passion scene, where mother and apostle stood together at the foot of the cross, and where Jesus committed Mary to John’s care. Just before this brief naming of John, the Jeweler’s exclamation “by stok oϸer ston” seems a simple, idiomatic way to say “anywhere,” but if one allows that its literal sense may be heard—“stock [of wood]” and “stone”—the phrase may latently recall the apostle’s well-known miracle of sticks and stones transformed to gold and jewels.54 And still more, by further metaphorical association, packed tightly in these five lines, stock-and-stone-made-precious might be the cross on Calvary, grounde of the Jeweler’s bliss.

Later in Pearl, when stanza-groups 14 through 17 reverberate with j-alliteration (the New Jerusalem and the apostle John), the Jeweler seems to have acquired a more mature knowledge of himself, confessing earnestly and penitentially “I am bot mokke and mul among” (line 905). His capacity to judge himself has deepened, his sharp eye now rightly gauging his own mortal substance. As elsewhere in Pearl, the poet’s instinct for diptych structuring is exact here. Parallels signal how the poem builds upon a figural analogy between the Jeweler and Saint [End Page 73] John.55 As in the diptych image of the Saint John Window at Chartres, scenes of the Jeweler appraising and being appraised in the first half of the poem, and of the apostle John devysing in the second half, are balanced against each other. The stanzas that characterize the Jeweler come at the poem’s one-quarter point (stanza-group 5; that is, stanzas 21–25); they are juxtaposed at the poem’s three-quarter point by Saint John’s vision of the New Jerusalem, in which the Pearl-Maiden relays John’s own speech (stanza-group 15; that is, stanzas 71–75). The meaning of the Jeweler most fully unfolds when his visionary experience is revealed to be in shadow likeness to the apostle’s crystalline sight. When the Jeweler finds himself incapable of expressing what he envisions, John enters as his holy double, able to devyse in the sublime language of Revelation.

Though merely an ordinary man beside the sanctified John, the Jeweler ought not be seen as shallowly materialist in his every response, particularly by the end of the poem. His vision is a gift; he is the privileged seer of secrets. As Beatrice did for Dante, the Maiden made prior request that the Jeweler have this sight of the heavenly Jerusalem (line 965), and, as he witnesses the final procession, the Jeweler exclaims that the experience is greater than any that a waking man could bear:

Hade bodyly burne abiden ϸat bone,Ϸaᵹ alle clerkez hym hade in cureHis lyf wer loste anvnder mone.

(lines 1090–92)

The eyes that see these sights are ghostly, not bodily. Dazzling splendor overpowers his critical faculties, “So watz [he] rauyste wyth glymme pure” (line 1088). The Jeweler, now beholding the Divine Radiance of “Godez Lombe, as trwe as ston” (line 822), experiences the apotheosis of his craft. He envisions a “hundreth ϸowsandez” pearly souls flocking in legions to sing praise to Christ, “ϸat gay Juelle” (lines 1107, 1124). He seems wholly, humbly ready to embrace the mystical sense of Jesus’ parable, as was expounded by John’s devysement in his vita. Like King Edward with his ring, the Jeweler is ready to relinquish his pearl to [End Page 74] enter God’s ryche. The Jeweler who judged has become the Jewel subject to judgment. In the end, he wishes to pay the Prince his virtuous treasure.

Thus do the apocryphal Life of Saint John and its popular exegesis in England and on the Continent profoundly inform the poetics of judgment and treasure in Pearl. The use of jewels to denote appraisable treasure—both material wealth and, by spiritual metaphor, heaven’s bounty—aligns the Middle English poem with the legend’s core philosophy. Illustrated Apocalypses made in late medieval England, already well recognized as inspiring the Pearl-poet, very often also depicted scenes of the saint working miracles of gem and more. Keen-sighted and generously humane, the Divine Apostle knew how to assess every substance and detect every virtue. He avidly sought to deposit souls where proper valuation would set them: in heaven’s treasury. Gifted with blessed insight, John displayed an uncanny aptitude for attributing right worth to all of Creation, from the natural to the sublime, from pebbles to eternal souls. The portrait given to Saint John the Evangelist in his vita implicitly casts him as Divine Jeweler and as master-explicator of the pearl of great price. Knowing this rich hagiographical tradition, the Pearl-poet draws upon it to invoke the apostle as the sanctified model for the Jeweler-turned-visionary who narrates Pearl.


My conclusions here add to the consensus view of the Pearl-poet as a clerk or chaplain for aristocratic patrons. He hones a high poetic style in the vernacular in order to instill a biblical lesson. The parable of the pearl of great price inspires the poem’s main conceit—the lost pearl—and informs how a narrator stricken by loss comes eventually to exchange worldly values for spiritual ones, that is, how he transcends an attachment to material things and learns to strive for his treasure in heaven. In exploiting all the poetic possibilities of this homiletic theme, the author certainly recognized the parable’s prominent status in Saint John hagiography. Consequently, the apostle is brilliantly planted in Pearl not just as the Divine who beheld the Apocalypse, but also as the keen-eyed Evangelist who actively preached about true valuation, being himself the supreme appraiser of the virtues set by God in all matter. The narrator is made a Dreamer because he, like the Evangelist, will ultimately have a vision of the New Jerusalem, made expressible only [End Page 75] by recourse to the saint’s sublime words. And just as importantly, the narrator is made a Jeweler because he, like the Evangelist, knows all about gems and can judge earthly worth. In both arenas of the saint’s expertise, the narrator in his frail humanity projects a shadow likeness of the holy apostle.

The poet’s method for drawing the analogies is essentially diptych, with the Dreamer/Jeweler’s incomprehension made evident in the poem’s first half, to be superseded by the growing power of his vision (tutored by John’s insights) in the second half. At the central turning-point, a wordplay on Godes ryche—kingdom and treasure—marks how the Dreamer/Jeweler’s evaluative sensibilities inch forward from a sense-based surface materialism to a transformative sense of spiritual wonderment. While the Dreamer/Jeweler is not Saint John, he has by the end of the poem imbibed the saint’s guiding spirit, now feeling himself to be Christ’s frende and wanting to pay the Prince, that is, yield his pearl rather than grieve and complain. He becomes like the comprehending merchant-jeweler of the parable, or like the many confused followers of John’s teaching in the legend, of whom only Edward the Confessor understood the core message immediately and instinctively. The Divine Apostle’s Christian lesson on appreciating earthly wealth mainly as a means for charity, and on valuing one’s soul as heavenly treasure, rests at the heart of a poem that, like the rich Apocalypses of the period, projects a luxurious aesthetic surface designed to please aristocratic sensibilities. [End Page 76]

Susanna Fein
Kent State University


Early versions of this essay were presented at the 2010 LOMERS Conference on Cotton Nero A.x, University College London, at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and at the University of Notre Dame. I am grateful to many who offered comments at those forums, as well as to the anonymous reviewers for Studies in the Age of Chaucer.

1. See Jeffrey F. Hamburger, St. John the Divine: The Deified Evangelist in Medieval Art and Theology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), who notes that John “provided, together with Paul, the foundations of a theology of vision. … John’s Gospel made him the first and foremost theologian of the Incarnation and the Trinity. The Book of Revelation, in turn, cast him as the preeminent witness to eternal and eschato-logical truth” (18).

2. All quotations from Pearl (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A.x, fols. 39r–55v) are drawn from The Poems of the “Pearl” Manuscript, ed. Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron, 5th ed. (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007). I have also consulted Pearl, ed. E. V. Gordon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1953); and Pearl, ed. Sarah Stanbury (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2001). The poem’s 101 stanzas divide into twenty internally linked stanza-groups. In each group, link-words are echoed at the beginning and end of stanzas. The numbering of these stanza-groups is supplied in the Andrew–Waldron edition.

3. English Mediaeval Lapidaries, ed. Joan Evans and Mary S. Serjeantson, EETS o.s. 190 (1933; repr. London: Oxford University Press, 1990), 39; see also 17. The text appears in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Add. A.106, fol. 45r. I have emended the manuscript reading xi to the biblical xii (Rv 21:12–21).

4. A. C. Spearing calls the Apocalypse of Saint John the “main source” for Pearl (The “Gawain”-Poet: A Critical Study [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970], 13; see also 108–17); for Spearing’s latest views on the Pearl narrator, which substantially revise his earlier statements, see Textual Subjectivity: The Encoding of Subjectivity in Medieval Narratives and Lyrics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 137–73. Key additional studies of the influence are by Barbara Nolan, The Gothic Visionary Perspective (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 157–204, esp. 198–200; Muriel A. Whitaker, “Pearl and Some Illustrated Apocalypse Manuscripts,” Viator 12 (1981): 183–96; Rosalind Field, “The Heavenly Jerusalem in Pearl,” MLR 81 (1986): 7–17; and Sarah Stanbury, Seeing the “Gawain”-Poet: Description and the Act of Perception (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 21–33. See also Theodore Bogdanos, “Pearl”: Image of the Ineffable: A Study in Medieval Poetic Symbolism (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983), 99–142; and Ann R. Meyer, Medieval Allegory and the Building of the New Jerusalem (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003), 137–86, esp. 180.

5. A good example can be seen in the Douce Apocalypse (c. 1270), 78, available at (accessed July 21, 2013); and see Nigel J. Morgan, The Douce Apocalypse: Picturing the End of the World (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2006). More examples may be seen in Nigel J. Morgan, Illuminating the End of Time: The Getty Apocalypse Manuscript (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011); and The Trinity Apocalypse (Trinity College Cambridge, MS R.16.2), ed. David McKitterick (London: British Library, 2005), plates 3(a) and 3(b) (from fol. 4r–v), and Fig. 45 (from the Metz Apocalypse, c. 1250–55, fol. 6r). On the “remarkable outpouring” of illustrated Apocalypses in England, c. 1240–1350, see Whitaker, “Pearl and Some Illustrated Apocalypse Manuscripts,” 183–84. For a census of English Apocalypses, see Suzanne Lewis, Reading Images: Narrative Discourse and Reception in the Thirteenth-Century Illuminated Apocalypse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 340–44.

6. The Trinity Apocalypse (c. 1235–50) is the earliest extant English Apocalypse with a pictorial series on the Life of John. See McKitterick, The Trinity Apocalypse, Plate 2; and David R. Cartlidge and J. Keith Elliott, Art and the Christian Apocrypha (London: Routledge, 2001), 192–93 (Fig. 6.6); Lewis, Reading Images, 19–39; and Richard K. Emmerson, “Framing the Apocalypse: The Performance of John’s Life in the Trinity Apocalypse,” in Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts, ed. Elina Gertsman (New York: Ashgate, 2008), 33–56. The Trinity Apocalypse has been made newly accessible by online color facsimile: (accessed July 21, 2013). Cartlidge and Elliott remark that “[d]uring the twelfth and thirteenth centuries John was arguably the most popular of the apostles; no other apostle has such a volume of stories and images” (182).

7. Warwick Rodwell and Richard Mortimer, eds., Westminster Abbey Chapter House: The History, Art and Architecture of “a Chapter House beyond Compare” (London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 2010); and Tony Trowles, Treasures of Westminster Abbey (London: Scala, 2008), 150, 152–54. The wall paintings date from around 1395; see Paul Binski, Westminster Abbey and the Plantagenets: Kingship and the Representation of Power, 12001400 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 187–93. The image of John boarding the ship may be viewed at (accessed July 21, 2013).

8. Ad Putter, An Introduction to the “Gawain”-Poet (London: Longman, 1996), 151–76; Felicity Riddy, “Jewels in Pearl,” in A Companion to the “Gawain” Poet, ed. Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1997), 143–55; John M. Bowers, The Politics of “Pearl”: Court Poetry in the Age of Richard II (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001), 57, 65, 102–3, 157, and his more recent An Introduction to the “Gawain” Poet (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012), 110–12; Helen Barr, “Pearl—or ‘The Jeweller’s Tale,’” 69 (2000): 59–79 (revised and reprinted in her Socioliterary Practice in Late Medieval England [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001], 40–62); and Tony Davenport, “Jewels and Jewellers in Pearl,” RES n.s. 59 (2008): 508–20. In addition, Mary J. Carruthers examines the poem as “the product of a master jeweler” and stresses the likeness of craftsmanship to thinking and memory (“Invention, Mnemonics, and Stylistic Ornament in Psychomachia and Pearl,” in The Endless Knot: Essays on Old and Middle English in Honor of Marie Borroff, ed. M. Teresa Tavormina and R. F. Yeager [Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1995], 201–13 [201]). See also Elizabeth Harper, “Pearl in the Context of Fourteenth-Century Gift Economies,” ChauR 44 (2010): 421–39; Lynn Staley, “Pearl and the Contingencies of Love and Piety,” in Medieval Literature and Historical Inquiry: Essays in Honor of Derek Pearsall, ed. David Aers (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000), 83–114; and Spearing, Textual Subjectivity, 137–73, esp. 162–70.

9. On this passage, compare Spearing, Textual Subjectivity, 165–66.

10. T. F. Reddaway and Lorna E. M. Walker, The Early History of the Goldsmiths’ Company 13271509, including “The Book of Ordinances 1478–83” (London: The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths [Edward Arnold], 1975), 206–7 n. 131, 300 (John Paddesley), 304 (William Russe), 309 (Richard Stacy). See also John Cherry, Goldsmiths (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 23–24, 52–64.

11. “Appendix I: The Book of Ordinances,” in Reddaway and Walker, The Early History of the Goldsmiths’ Company, 209–74 (219).

12. Ibid., 270 (Ordinance F.90), 278.

13. The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 280. An oblique analogy occurs when Griselda is dressed up and then piecemeal-stripped of everything Walter has given her, including jewels (IV.869), while the marquis—as a type of goldsmith or jeweler—relentlessly assays her actual worth. When at last she is proven true, Griselda is adorned in a “clooth of gold that brighte shoon, / With a coroune of many a riche stoon” (IV.1117–18).

14. The Life and Martyrdom of Saint Katherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr, ed. Henry Hucks Gibbs, Roxburghe Club 112 (London: Nichols and Sons, 1884), 1–67 (43; emphasis added).

15. Bogdanos, “Pearl”: Image of the Ineffable, 87–98.

16. See George R. Keiser, “The Theme of Justice in the Alliterative Morte Arthure,” Annuale Mediaevale 16 (1975): 94–109.

17. “When we ar cald to that courte, behoves us to here; / All sall be thar seyn, bothe bondmen and free; / … / We sall seke theder in symple atyre, / Tremland and schakand, as lefe on a tree” (lines 404–5, 417–18). Quotations from “The Four Leaves of the True-love” are from Susanna Greer Fein, ed., Moral Love Songs and Laments (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1998), 161–254, in which i/j orthography is modernized.

18.The Quatrefoil of Love: An Alliterative Religious Lyric, Now First Edited from Add. MS. British Museum 31042, with Collations from Add. MS. A. 106 Bodleian Library,” ed. Israel Gollancz, in An English Miscellany, Presented to Dr. Furnivall in Honour of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday, ed. N. R. Ker, A. S. Napier, and W. W. Skeat (1901; repr. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1969), 112–32 (130); and The Quatrefoil of Love, ed. Israel Gollancz and Magdalene M. Weale, EETS o.s. 195 (1935; repr. London: Milford, Oxford University Press, 1971), 1–18 (15).

19. The Quatrefoil of Love, ed. Gollancz and Weale, p. 32.

20. C. L. Wrenn, review of The Quatrefoil of Love, ed. Gollancz and Weale, RES 13 (1937): 374–77.

21. MED, s.v. medlere (n.), def. (a). Compare Richard the Redeless, III.335: “And ho-so pleyned to the prince that pees shulde kepe, / Of these mystirmen, medlers of wrongis” (“Richard the Redeless” and “Mum and the Sothsegger,” ed. James M. Dean [Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000], 45).

22. See, for example, “justices & iugges” (dotted “iu-”) in the alliterative Morte Arthure, line 246, visible at the base of fol. 55v in the facsimile of the Lincoln Thornton manuscript: The Thornton Manuscript (Lincoln Cathedral MS. 91), intro. D. S. Brewer and A. E. B. Owen (London: Scolar Press, 1975). In the line above, Thornton writes “iolily” (“i-” undotted) for “jolily.” (I choose these examples because the Lincoln manuscript is readily accessible in facsimile.) On Thornton’s minims, see Mary Hamel, “Scribal Self-Corrections in the Thornton Morte Arthure,” SB 36 (1983): 119–37 (125).

23. Of interest, too, are the variants found in other copies of Truelove. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Add. A.106, fols. 6r–14r (c. 1425–50), has the metrically defective “domes-men,” meaning “men of judgment, discriminators of worth,” a gloss for Thornton’s “iuellarse.” The third copy, a late printing by Wynkyn de Worde (STC, 15345, c. 1510), reads “juges,” a synonym that supports the presence of a more difficult alliterating original. A similar misreading of “iuele” as “mele” features in the editorial history of Pearl, line 23. See Pearl, ed. Gordon, 47; and Pearl, ed. Stanbury, 72. Variants of molere (“woman”) in Piers Plowman, A II.83 (“Mede is molere”) include “muliere,” “medeler,” “medlere,” “mulyer,” and “Iuweler”; Skeat printed “Meede is a Iuweler” (“wealthy person”) (William Langland, The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman, ed. W. W. Skeat, Vol. 1, EETS o.s. 28 [1867; repr. London: Oxford University Press, 1990], 21 [numbered A II.87]). Compare also the emended line “For oure ioye, oure [iu]ele, Iesu Crist of heuene,” in Piers Plowman, B XI.184 (William Langland, Piers Plowman: A Parallel Text Edition of the A, B, C and Z Versions, ed. A. V. C. Schmidt, 3 vols. [Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2011], 1:462).

24. The line in Truelove might even allude to Pearl itself. In Fein, Moral Love Songs, 161–67, I demonstrate how the Truelove-poet frames the poem with a grieving maiden under a tree because she figuratively resembles Mary at the cross. The Pearl-poet’s use of the Jeweler/John analogy might possibly have spurred the Truelove-poet’s creation of a framing conceit based on a holy person’s iconography. The transference of the technique to Mary would have been a natural choice given how she is John’s counterpart in Passion imagery.

25. On the Jeweler’s problems with “deeming,” see Putter, An Introduction, 162–77. For some editors’ definitions of the Jeweler as a judge of value, see The Poems, ed. Andrew and Waldron, 65–66 (note to lines 241–300); and “The Pearl”: A New Translation and Critical Edition, ed. Sr. Mary Vincent Hillman (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1961), 75–76, 84–85. Cherry discusses the looseness of the term jeweler in common parlance: “The exact meaning of the term jeweller in the late Middle Ages is unclear, and it may well have been applied to a variety of activities. It might mean a retailer of gemstones or a retailer of goldsmiths’ work; it might, however, mean an appraiser of gemstones or simply the craftsmen who cut or set the stones” (Goldsmiths, 23).

26. This pun has been generally passed over by editors. It is partially captured in William Vantuono’s translation, “God’s realm rich,” in The “Pearl” Poems: An Omnibus Edition, Vol. 1, “Pearl” and “Cleanness” (New York: Garland, 1984), 51. For the primary meaning “kingdom,” see MED, s.v. riche (n.[1]), def. 2. The meaning “wealth, treasury” is easily construed, though: svv. riche (adj.), def. 1–3, and richesse (n.), def. 1–2.

27. Jacobus de Voragine, “Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist,” in The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. William Granger Ryan, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 2:50–55.

28. The alliterative Of Sayne Johne Þe Euangelist, lines 174–82, in Three Alliterative Saints’ Hymns: Late Middle English Stanzaic Poems, ed. Ruth Kennedy, EETS o.s. 321 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 10–23, 68–86 (15). In this poem John is introduced with similes to jewels (lines 15–16) before the poet gives this abbreviated account of the miracle of sticks and stones. Ignoring the direct references to jewels in the vita, John Scattergood suggests that the allusions derive solely from the gems described in Revelation (“Alliterative Poetry: Religion and Morality,” in A Companion to Medieval Poetry, ed. Corinne Saunders [Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010], 329–48 [335]).

29. Cartlidge and Elliott, Art and the Christian Apocrypha, 175–208.

30. In addition to the alliterative poem cited in note 28 above, the Middle English lives of Saint John consulted for this study are: the verse De sancto Johanne euangelista (from the Northern Homily Cycle), in Altenglische Legenden: Neue Folge, ed. C. Horstmann (Heilbronn: Von Gebr. Henninger, 1881), 35–42; the verse Iohan ap., in The Early South-English Legendary; or, Lives of Saints, ed. Carl Horstmann, EETS o.s. 87 (1887; repr. London: N. Trübner, 1975), 402–17; the verse De sancto Iohanne ewangelista, in The South English Legendary, ed. Charlotte D’Evelyn and Anna J. Mill, EETS o.s. 236 (1956; repr. London: Oxford University Press, 1967), 3:594–610; the prose sermon De sancto Iohanne euangelista (c. late 1380s), in John Mirk’s “Festial,” Edited from British Library MS Cotton Claudius A.II, ed. Susan Powell, Vol. 1, Part 1, EETS o.s. 334 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 31–35; Speculum sacerdotale, Edited from British Museum MS. Additional 36791, ed. Edward H. Weatherly, EETS o.s. 200 (London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1936), 11–12; the prose Saint Iohn Euangelist, in Virgins and Scholars: A Fifteenth-Century Compilation of the Lives of John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Jerome, and Katherine of Alexandria, ed. and trans. Claire Waters (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), 1–177, 436–49; and the prose Life of Seynt Iohn Euangelist, in Cambridge University Library, MS Add. 2604, fols. 11v–21v (transcription kindly supplied by Veronica O’Mara). I have also consulted the late thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman vita found in British Library, MS Harley 2253, fols. 41v–43v, and the Old French vita of similar date in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 19525, fols. 31r–36r: see Delbert W. Russell, ed., Légendier apostolique anglo-normand (Montreal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1989), 50–76; and the translation by Ian Short found on the CD accompanying Morgan, The Trinity Apocalypse, CD81-CD94.

31. The intimacy of the term privetee, standard for the John story, held a differently shaded valence among goldsmiths, where it connoted secret skill in assessing monetary worth. In Pearl the term evokes the deep mourning of the Jeweler who has lost his “priuy perle” (lines 12, 24), a state that brings him to his vision. In all instances, the word denotes a special kind of access.

32. “Sein Ion lenede op is brest & and wel softe aslepe lay” (The South English Legendary, ed. D’Evelyn and Mill, 3:594 [line 26]). Medieval images of the Last Supper very frequently show John asleep on Christ’s breast. For two English examples that predate Pearl, see Lewis, Reading Images, 28–29 (figs. 13, 15). The Corpus Apocalypse offers a meaningful juxtaposition of this image with John’s arrival at Patmos. This illumination may be viewed at (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 20, fol. 1r; accessed October 1, 2013).

33. Mirk, Festial, ed. Powell, 32 (line 22). The Anglo-Norman prose life of Saint John (c. 1300) attributes John’s survival to his virginity and carnal purity (Russell, Légendier, 53 [lines 54–55]).

34. Whitaker proposes that the Drusiana story contributed to the poet’s conception of the Pearl-Maiden (“Pearl and Some Illustrated Apocalypse Manuscripts,” 186–87). See also The “Pearl” Poems, ed. Vantuono, 177.

35. Smashing substandard gems was a prescribed way for jewelers to regulate their craft. See Reddaway and Walker, The Early History of the Goldsmiths’ Company, 227–28 (Ordinance C.8).

36. For the early thirteenth-century Saint John Window of Chartres Cathedral in its entirety, see (accessed July 21, 2013). The scene of gems being smashed also appears in a medieval stained-glass window at Lincoln Cathedral: (accessed July 21, 2013). See also Cartlidge and Elliott, Art and the Christian Apocrypha, 185–86.

37. Altenglische Legenden, 37 (lines 224–26).

38. Jacobus, “Saint John,” 52.

39. Altenglische Legenden, 39 (lines 363–68; emphasis added).

40. Jacobus, “Saint John,” 53.

41. A variant line in a sermon by Mirk credits John’s survival to his freedom from the venom of lechery: “[For as clene as he was wythout venym of lechery], so clene he was of Ϸat poyson, aftur he hadde dronk hyt” (Mirk, Festial, ed. Powell, 32 [lines 35–36]). The bracketed phrase comes from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gough Eccl. Top. 4, fol. 18v (Mirk’s Festial, ed. Theodor Erbe, EETS e.s. 96 [London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1905], 31 [lines 32–33]). In the Northern Homily Cycle De sancto Johanne euangelista, “assay” is the verb used to describe the taking of the poison (Altenglische Legenden, 40 [line 454]).

42. The poet of the alliterative Middle English hymn addresses the virgin Saint John as a “gem dere and gente” and as “jasper, Ϸe jowell of gentill perry” (Three Alliterative Saints’ Hymns, 10 [lines 15–16]).

43. The South English Legendary, ed. D’Evelyn and Mill, 3:606–7 (lines 411–12).

44. Jacobus, “Saint John,” 54. On John as alter Christi and divine, see Hamburger, St. John the Divine, esp. 203–4.

45. Jacobus, “Saint John,” 54; The Early South-English Legendary, ed. Horstmann, 412–13 (lines 337–52); and The South English Legendary, ed. D’Evelyn and Mill, 3:604 (lines 327–54).

46. The Early South-English Legendary, ed. Horstmann, 406–7 (lines 150–66); and The South English Legendary, ed. D’Evelyn and Mill, 3:598–99 (lines 151–68).

47. Jacobus, “Saint John,” 55. The legend of Edward the Confessor’s ring first appears in Aelred of Rievaulx’s Life of Saint Edward (c. 1162–63): Aelred of Rievaulx: The Historical Works, ed. Marsha L. Dutton, trans. Jane Patricia Freeland (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2005), 20–24, 125–243.

48. The Anglo-Norman Life of Saint Edward in Cambridge University Library, MS Ee.III.59 is the only extant copy of the life having extensive illustrations. It was composed in England in the late 1230s or early 1240s, perhaps by Matthew Paris, and the manuscript was executed around 1250–60. The full codex may be viewed at the Cambridge University Digital Library: (accessed July 21, 2013). This book is stylistically linked with the thirteenth-century Apocalypses that have come to be known as the Westminster Group. See Morgan, Illuminating the End of Time, 14–21. It is edited and translated by Henry Richards Luard, Lives of Edward the Confessor, Rolls Series 3 (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1858), 1–311. For versions in Middle English, see Grace Edna Moore, The Middle English Verse Life of Edward the Confessor (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1942).

49. On Edward’s ring and the role of the legend in the history of Westminster Abbey, see Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey (London: John Murray, 1911), 12–29. On the Pearl-poet and Westminster Abbey saints, see Ann Astell, Political Allegory in Late Medieval England (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999), 132–36; Bowers, The Politics of “Pearl,” 29–30, 86–88, and An Introduction, 120–21; and also my discussion in note 52 below.

50. An ancient crown was used continuously until the crowning of Charles I. It was sold during the Commonwealth and replaced with a copy for the coronation of Charles II. In the fifteenth century, the Palmers Guild of Ludlow commemorated in stained glass the ancillary legend of their own founding by charter of the Confessor. They claimed that those who had conveyed the ring from John to Edward were Ludlow palmers. Edward in these windows bears a prominent jewel at the center of his crown. See Edwin Willliam Ganderon and Jean Lafond, Ludlow Stained and Painted Glass (London: Adams Bros. and Shardlow, 1961), 47–52, esp. 50.

51. See Susanna Greer Fein, “Twelve-Line Stanza Forms in Middle English and the Date of Pearl,” Speculum 72 (1997): 367–98; as well as Bowers, The Politics of “Pearl.”

52. For reproductions of these items, see (1) G. B. Gordon, “The Floor Tiles of Westminster Abbey Chapter House,” The Museum Journal (University of Pennsylvania) 14, no. 4 (December 1923): 288–309 (303); (2) (accessed July 21, 2013); also described by E. W. Tristram, English Wall Painting of the Fourteenth Century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1955), 41, 198; (3) Stanley, Historical Memorials, 12; and (4) Cambridge University Library, MS Ee.III.59, fol. 30r (website supplied in note 48 above). The Edward/John iconography was also painted opposite Henry III’s bed in the Palace of Westminster (Paul Binski, The Painted Chamber at Westminster [London: Society of Antiquities of London, 1986], 40, plates 4, 5). On its appearances elsewhere in England, see Tristram, English Wall Painting, 172–73 and Fig. 25.

53. Cartlidge and Elliott, Art and the Christian Apocrypha, 186; and Altenglische Legenden, 39 (line 364).

54. MED, s.v. stok (n.(1)), def. 1a. and 3a.

55. For details of Pearl’s symmetrical structure, see Britton J. Harwood, “Pearl as Diptych,” in Text and Matter: New Critical Perspectives of the “Pearl”-Poet, ed. Robert J. Blanch, Miriam Youngerman Miller, and Julian N. Wasserman (Troy, N.Y.: Whitson, 1991), 61–78; and Meyer, Medieval Allegory, 167.

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