Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Feast of St. Thomas a Becket

"And specially from every shires ende*
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That them hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
(And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury do wend,
The holy blessed martyr for to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.)"

Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400) from the beginning of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Students of Chaucer prefer the original version. For anyone unfamiliar with Middle English, the trick is to enunciate sounds omitted in modern English.

And specially from every shirez enduh
Of Enguhlond to Caunterb(u)ry they wenduh
The hooly blisful martir for to sekuh
That them hath holpen whan that they were seekuh.

Better. Scans and with greater econony of words than the modern version.

I love that phrase 'hooly blisful martir'. Even more do I love St. Thomas himself. Would that Chaucer's words were still true and we all made the pilgrimage to Canterbury at lease once in our lives. I suggest we need the prayers of St. Thomas a Becket, just as much, if not more so, than did our medieval ancestors.

Almost time to go shopping. This afternoon must make a pork pie. When it's in the oven I'll return here and do the post on Vatican statements since Christmas Eve.

St. Thomas a Becket, Holy 'blisful martir' of Canterbury, pray for England and for us who are born of her.


Thomas Tallis - Miserere nostri. Clangat pastor in tuba - Responsory & Prose for the feast of St. Thomas à Becket. Gabrieli Consort & Players. Dir. Paul McCressh.


Patricius said...

Please excuse my curiosity but I thought he was St Thomas Becket. Where did this "a" creep in from?

Jane said...


The 'a' should have a grave accent. Can't do on my keyboard. Something to do with the time he spent in France, and the obvious influence of French on English after the Conquest. Chaucer himself is heavy with it.

Even as late as the mid 1950s that is how I was taught to say his name!

Btw, still haven't forgotten the 'Roman' business! Will get round to it eventually!

Have a good St. Thomas' day.

pelerin said...

I always thought it was St Thomas a (with accent grave) Becket until I noticed that the 'a' gets left off now. St Thomas a Becket seems to flow better and sounds so much more dignified.

Am ashamed to say I have never visited Canterbury though have whizzed past in the Eurostar. I may make a visit there a New Year's resolution. Had intended to make it to Mass this morning but still suffering from the after effects of my weekend travelling!

Jane said...

The 'a grave' still seems to be in use. It appears in the description of the Tallis post above.

Sorry the Christmas travelling took its toll. Hope you make it to Canterbury in April! Please Remember me and Chaucer there of course!

pelerin said...

April? must look up why April. Did the Pardoner's tale at school but of course from a protestant point of view.

Jane said...


It's a reference to the first line of the Prologue:
"When that aprill with his shoures soote...."

And then Chaucer goes on to say that it's at the time of those sweet April showers when everything in nature comes to life after the winter, and people start longing to go on pilgrimages, particularly as in the few lines I posted, to Canterbury from every shire in England.

The Pardoner is an absolute beast from a Catholic point of view. But Chaucer treats both he and the Summoner with gentle humour, albeit of a rather 'basic' kind. Many people don't realise that our Geoff was criticising the abuses in the Church of his day. Throughout the Tales he makes his point with a light touch. I loved teaching him to kids and they always responded with unmalicious delight. I suppose that last phrase describes Geoff's approach quite well. Anyway, I found the kids had no probem once they got over the unfamiliarity of Middle English.

pelerin said...

Mystery solved! Thanks Jane. And I was looking up St Thomas to try and find a significant date in April in his life!! Silly me.

I am normally in Reims the first weekend in April but because of the date of Easter next year this visit will be at the end of March, so will indeed make my way to Canterbury at the earliest opportunity in April. I like that idea - and I do like your referring to 'our Geoff!' Owing to the way we were taught, I never developed a love for Chaucer - it was just a chore and very hard work!

Interesting to learn that Chaucer was actually criticising the abuses of the day whereas we learnt that he was criticising the Church itself - full stop.

Jane said...

Thanks Pelerin:

I've always loved the sound of Chaucer. My father used to recite the Middle English to me in a light south Yorkshire accent. It fascinated me and I loved it even before he explained what it meant. (He was an English teacher too and his own teacher had been a student of Q's.) In a sense it was a very early lesson in how to present so-called 'difficult' literature to young people. First you must attract them to the 'music' of the words, both its tune and rhythm. Even Nursery Rhymes are a case in point. In 'our Geoff's case, if you cant't present the kids with a robustly dramatic, and confident, rendition of the Middle English, then don't bother. It will remain opaque, academic and dead.

At school, we did the Knight and so the emphasis was more on Christian chivalry than on religious abuses, which in your case seem to have been given the 'Protestant' slant. Only after I became a Catholic and was studying at undergraduate level, did I begin 'to see the light', in more ways than one.

The best teachers of Eng. LIt. are good actors who know, and when necessary will present, the TENETS of the Catholic faith without bias, whether or not they subscribe to the Faith themselves.

Lord, you've got me started! I'd better get over to the SMP blog and say something about today's General Audience and its relevance to the Priesthood!