through labyrinths: medieval fullness of life and joy in creativity

labyrinth at Chatres Cathedral

In some cathedrals in medieval France from no later than the twelfth century, clergy on Easter Sunday danced and sang through a labyrinth pattern built into the floor of the cathedral’s nave. As they danced and sang they tossed balls among themselves. One ball perhaps represented the ball of tar that Theseus had stuffed into the mouth of the Minotaur. Another may have represented Ariadne’s ball of thread by which Theseus guided himself out of the labyrinth. Christians needed neither of those two balls. They had Christ, the fully human man who conquered the maze of life and death to save all persons. After this singing, dancing, and ball-tossing, all came together for a feast.[1] Thus they celebrating the joy of Easter.

Christians must be foolish to be one with Christ. Paul of Tarsus, who turned his life upside down, declared in his letter to the Corinthians:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the foolishness of what we preach to save those who believe.

{ Verbum enim crucis pereuntibus quidem stultitia est his autem qui salvi fiunt id est nobis virtus Dei est. … Ubi sapiens ubi scriba ubi conquisitor huius saeculi nonne stultam fecit Deus sapientiam huius mundi. Nam quia in Dei sapientia non cognovit mundus per sapientiam Deum placuit Deo per stultitiam praedicationis salvos facere credentes.

λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν. … ποῦ σοφός ποῦ γραμματεύς ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ κόσμου. ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας. } [2]

Paul described Christians as “fools for the sake of Christ {stulti propter Christum | ἡμεῖς μωροὶ διὰ Χριστόν}.” By today’s standards, medieval Christians were fools in diverse ways.

Though having relatively low official status, subdeacons in some medieval French churches had a feast celebrating their manly goodness. Subdeacons presided at the Feast of the Rod {festum baculi}. That feast typically was celebrated on the first of the year in conjunction with the Feast of the Circumcision. It included an outdoor procession led by a subdeacon “master of the rod {magister baculi}.” There was also a joyous choral dance. A leader of the Feast of the Rod, a subdeacon at the cathedral of Châlon, wrote a poem celebrating it about the year 1170:

The day has come,
friends, the cherished day.
Whatever others
do or want,
we the ring dance
lead with joy.

Before the rod,
the clergy with the people
exult today.

{ Adest dies
optata, socii.
Quidquid agant
et velint alii,
nos choream
ducamus gaudii.

Pro baculo
exsultet hodie
clerus cum populo. } [3]

Not all church officials cherished the subdeacons’ Feast of the Rod. A theologian in Paris, writing about 1162, referred to it informally as a feast of fools {festum stultorum}.[4] Ordinary men celebrating their intrinsic masculine goodness tend to be regarded as fools within gynocentric ideology.

In the twelfth century at the Beauvais cathedral, a feast celebrating the donkey, now known in English as the Feast of the Ass, was part of the evening liturgy the day before the Feast of the Rod. The celebration began with the choir singing at the cathedral’s entrance:

Light today, light of joy, banish from me every sorrow —
wherever it be, be it expelled from our solemnities tomorrow.
Today be envy far, far away from every breast —
all wish to be happy, honoring the donkey’s feast.

{ Lux hodie, lux laetitiae, me iudice tristis
quisquis erit removendus erit sollempnibus istis.
Sint hodie procul invidie, procul omnia mesta,
laeta volunt quicumque colunt asinaria festa. } [5]

The donkey represents the subdeacons and all the unheralded men who get their jobs done:

Out from the Orient
was the donkey sent,
beautiful and very strong was he,
bearing burdens skillfully.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

Here in the hills by Shechem bred,
then under Reuben nourishèd,
the River Jordan traversèd,
into Bethlehem he sped.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

Leaping higher than goats be bound,
discrediting even male roe deer,
he goes like swift Midian dromedaries,
but even speedier.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

While he drags long carriages
loaded down with much baggage,
that jawbone of his
vigorously grinds fodder.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

He eats ears of barley corn,
and wild thistle as well,
and wheat from the chaff
he separates on threshing floor.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

Amen you would say, ass,
now sated with hay-grass,
amen, amen, you say again,
you cast off ancient sin.
Hey ho, hey ho, hey ho hey,
fair you are, sir donkey, for you go all day,
fair your mouth, for your singing bray!

{ Orientis partibus
adventavit asinus,
pulcher et fortissimus,
sarcinis aptissimus.
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Hic in collibus Sichen
iam nutritus sub Ruben
transiit per Iordanem
saliit in Bethlehem
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Saltu vincit hynnulos,
damnas et capreolos,
super dromedarios
velox madianeos.
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Dum trahit vehicula
multa cum sarcinula
illius mandibula
dura terit pabula.
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Cum aristis ordeum
comedit et carduum,
triticum ex palea
segregat in area.
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Amen dicas, asine,
iam satur ex gramine,
amen amen itera,
aspernare vetera.
Hez va hez va hez va hez
biax sire asnes car allez
bele bouche car chantez. } [6]

The male donkey has long been recognized to have impressive masculinity. When the donkey entered the Beauvais cathedral as part of sacred medieval liturgy, no one would have thought of Nigel of Canterbury’s Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum}. The Feast of the Ass would have been a time of joyfully raised self-esteem for the men in the cathedral and the women who love them.

The Feast of the Rod and the Feast of the Ass were official liturgical events that turned the gynocentric world upside-down in celebrating the goodness of men who lack distinguished achievement. Yet church officials didn’t always live up to the gospel’s overturning of worldly values and worldly hierarchies. Medieval money gospels parodied such failures. From no later than the early thirteenth century, the Holy Gospel according to marks of silver {Sanctus evangelium secundum marcas argenti} begins:

At that time the pope said to the Romans: “When the Son of man comes to the seat of our majesty, first say to him: ‘Friend, why have you come?’ If he persists in knocking at the gate without offering you anything, throw him out into the outer darkness.” Now it came to pass that a certain poor cleric came to the Curia of the Lord Pope. The poor cleric cried aloud, saying: “Take pity on me, you who are the pope’s gatekeepers, because the hand of poverty has touched me. I am poor and in need; for this reason I ask you to come to my assistance in my calamity and misfortune.” The gatekeepers, however, when they heard this, were very indignant and said: “Friend, to Hell with you and your poverty. Get you behind me Satan, because you do not smell like money. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will not enter the joy of your master until you have given your last penny.”

{ In illo tempore: dixit papa Romanis: “Cum venerit filius hominis ad sedem maiestatis nostrae, primum dicite: ‘Amice, ad quid venisti?’ At ille si perseveraverit pulsans, nil dans vobis, eicite eum in tenebras exteriores.’ Factum est autem, ut quidam pauper clericus veniret ad Curiam Domini Pape, et exclamavit dicens: “Miseremini mei saltem vos, ostiarii papae, quia manus paupertatis tetigit me. Ego vero egenus et pauper sum; ideo peto ut subveniatis calamitati et miseriae meae.” Illi autem audientes indignati sunt valde et dixerunt: “Amice, paupertas tua tecum sit in perditionae. Vade retro, satanas, quia non sapis ea, quae sapiunt nummi. Amen, amen, dico tibi: non intrabis in gaudium domini tui, donec dederis novissimum quadrantem.” } [7]

In Luke’s Gospel, the parable of the widow and the unjust judge is followed by Jesus’s question, “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” This money gospel suggests that he wouldn’t find faith in the Roman Curia. Jesus taught that for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. That’s not possible without money in the money gospel. “Get behind me Satan” is what Jesus said to Peter when Peter sought to act in a worldly way. The money gospel directs that phrase at a poor man lacking the worldly value of money. In a gospel parable, servants are invited to enter the joy of their master because they have been faithful in small things. Their master promises to put them in charge of great things. In the money gospel, the Roman Curia, in charge of great things, hasn’t been faithful even in small things.[8] Like requiring men to achieve in order to be regarded as virtuous, love of money fundamentally contradicts Jesus’s teachings.

Medieval nonsense centos show learned knowledge of scripture and joy in outrageous acts of creativity. They have none of the serious concerns of the money gospels and Ausonius’s Wedding Cento {Cento nuptialis}. For example, in a medieval nonsense cento two woman prostitutes accused Salomon and a prelate of wronging them. The prelate called out to those in the house for help:

And a person from within responds, saying, “Do not trouble me; the door is now shut and my children aren’t present. Go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And so when they were going to buy, the queen of the south of that end came out to draw water. But a young woman also came out. She was beautiful of face and splendid in appearance. No man had ever ridden her, except a hundred and forty-four thousand out of every nation under heaven. And she kissed him and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses?”

{ Et ille de intus respondit dicens: “Iam hostium meum clausum est et pueri mei non comparent. Ite pocius ad uendentes et emite uobis.” Unde cum irent emere uenit regina austri a finibus illis egresa haurire aquam. Erat autem puella pulchra facie et decora aspectu super quam nullus hominum sedebat nis centum quadraginta milia hominum ex omni natione que sub celo est. Et osculatus est eam et dixit: “Quid adhuc egemus testibus?” } [9]

This short passage is constructed from twelve snippets from the Latin Bible translation known as the Vulgate. It makes nonsense of the Christian teaching that Christians should be known by their love for one another.

Medieval men used biblical texts in unauthorized ways to express their great love for women. A verse of a psalm expresses gratitude for the steadfast love of the Lord:

When the anxieties within me are many, your consolations delight my soul.

{ In multitudine cogitationum mearum quae sunt in me intrinsecus consolationes tuae delectabunt animam meam.

בְּרֹ֣ב שַׂרְעַפַּ֣י בְּקִרְבִּ֑י תַּ֝נְחוּמֶ֗יךָ יְֽשַׁעַשְׁע֥וּ נַפְשִֽׁי }

A medieval men’s prayer “for the feminine sex {pro femineo sexu}” with similar language expressed gratitude to women:

Their delights have given joy to our souls.

{ Delectationes eorum laetificaverunt animos nostros. } [10]

Another verse of a psalm tells of the value of sons within historically entrenched exploitation of men in violence against men:

Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the city gate.

{ Beatus vir qui implevit faretram suam ex ipsis non confundentur cum loquentur inimicis in porta.

אַשְׁרֵ֤י הַגֶּ֗בֶר אֲשֶׁ֤ר מִלֵּ֥א אֶת־אַשְׁפָּתֹ֗ו מֵ֫הֶ֥ם
לֹֽא־יֵבֹ֑שׁוּ כִּֽי־יְדַבְּר֖וּ אֶת־אֹויְבִ֣ים בַּשָּֽׁעַר }

Another medieval men’s prayer “for the feminine sex {pro femineo sexu}” draws upon that psalm verse to declare:

Blessed is the man who has filled his desire with them. He shall not be frustrated eternally.

{ Beatus vir qui implevit desiderium suum ex ipsis non confundentur in eternum. } [11]

Using a similar technique of misapplication, Peter Abelard brazenly wrote to Heloise:

Because we do not follow the Lord’s commandment unless we love one another, we should obey divine Scripture.

{ Quia mandatum domini non observamus, nisi dilectionem ad invicem habeamus, oportet nos divine scripture obedire. } [12]

Abelard misapplied Jesus’s new commandment to imply that Heloise and he should have sex. Actually, what “love one another” means in specific circumstances often isn’t clear.

Some mischievous medieval thinkers interpreted “love one another” very literally. They took that commandment to concern the Christian disciple Invicem (One-Another):

Note that blessed Paul had a certain disciple, very distinguished, whom he wished to give over to religious life. There he might serve God and be saved from the shipwreck of this world. He was called One-Another. Contemplating the fact that he wanted to enter the monastery, the monastic brothers argued to blessed Paul against the ways and deeds of One-Another. They cited Matthew 14: They hated One-Another so they betrayed One-Another. Since in such a monastery iniquity abounded and the charity of many had grown cold, the blessed Paul, hoping nevertheless that they would show him favor out of love for himself, wanted One-Another to be accepted. Blessed Paul wrote the words set forth: Receive One-Another. And that is what is written. And he asked them to be friendly and gentle with him, Ephesians 4: Be friendly and merciful to One-Another. Second, he asked them to give comfort to him, 1 Thessalonians 5: Comfort and build up One-Another. Third, he asked them to show reverence to him, Ephesians 5: Be subject to One-Another in the fear of Christ, and Philippians 2: judging One-Another superior. Fourth, blessed Paul asked them to provide agreeable recreation for him, Philippians 2: Showing hospitality toward One-Another without murmuring. Fifth, he asked them to be courteous with gifts and goods for him, Revelations 4: Send gifts to One-Another. Shortly thereafter blessed Paul left them, but he did not forget One-Another, but rather, whenever he preached he thoughtfully had prayers said for him by the church, James 5: Pray for One-Another that you may be saved. Likewise whenever he sent a message he gave greetings to One-Another, 1 Corinthians 12: Greet One-Another. Likewise he always commended him to his brethren and friends in letters, John 15: I give a commandment unto you, that you love One-Another.

{ Notandum quod beatus Paulus habuit quendam discipulum valde discretum quem tradere voluit religioni, ut ibi deo ministraret et a mundi naufragio servaretur, quique Invicem vocabatur. Considerantes autem fratres monasterii quod monasterium intrare volebat, modum et gestum predicti Invicem desuaserunt beato Paulo, dicentes illud Mathei xiiii: Odio habuerunt Invicem ut Invicem traderent. Et quia in tali monasterio habundavit iniquitas et refriguit caritas multorum, nichilominus sperans beatus Paulus quod amore ipsius gratum eum haberent, volens quod retineretur, scripsit verba proposita: Suscipite Invicem. Quod et scriptum est. Et rogavit eos ut familiares et mansueti sibi essent, ad Ephesios iiii: Estote Invicem mansueti et misericordes. Secundo rogavit eos ut consolacionem ei facerent, 1 ad Tessalonicenses v: Consolamini et edificate Invicem. Tertio rogavit eos ut ei reverentiam exhiberent, ad Ephesios v: Subditi estote Invicem in timore Christi, ad Philippenses ii: Superiorem Invicem arbitrantes. Quarto rogavit eos beatus Paulus ut sibi bonas recreaciones facerent, ad Philippenses ii: Hospitales estote Invicem sine murmuratione. Quinto rogavit eos ut de muneribus et de peculiis sibi curiales essent, Apocalipsis iiii: Munera mittent Invicem. Postmodum decescit ab eis beatus Paulus nec prefatum discipulum suum oblivioni dedit, ymo quandocumque predicabat pro eo orationes fieri ab ecclesia [ad] sollicite procuravit, Iacob v: Orate pro Invicem ut salvemini. Item quandocumque nuntium habebat semper eum salutabat, 1 ad Corinthios xii: Salutate Invicem. Item sepe ipsum fratribus et amicis per litteras commendavit, Iohannis xv: Hec mando vobis, ut diligatis Invicem. } [13]

Even more famous than Paul’s disciple Invicem was the great medieval saint Nemo (Nobody):

This blessed Nobody is contemporaneous with God the Father, and in essence particularly like the Son, as he was neither created nor begotten but proceeds forth in Holy Scripture. That is set forth fully by the psalmist, who says: Days shall be formed, and Nobody shall be in them. Afterward, to him such authority justly accrued, with such great merit, that as if spurning earthly things, he ascended to the heights of heaven in miraculous flight. Thus it is read: Nobody has ascended into heaven. The Lord himself testifies to this, saying: Nobody can come to me. When this most holy Nobody ascended into heaven, as it is said, he saw the pure, complete, and simultaneously threefold Godhead himself, as it is read: Nobody has seen God. That this Nobody has seen God the Gospel gives witness, as it is read: Nobody knows the Son, and elsewhere: Nobody is speaking to the Holy Spirit.

{ Beatus igitur Nemo iste contemporaneus dei patris et in essentia precipue consimilis filio, velut nec creatus nec genitus sed procedens in sacra pagina reperitur, in qua plene dictum est per psalmistam dicentem: Dies formabuntur et Nemo in eis. Cui postea merito tanta crevit auctoritas ut, ac si terrena respuens, ad celorum culmina volatu mirabili pervolavit, sicut legitur: Nemo ascendit in celum. Et hoc idem testatur dominus, dicens: Nemo potest venire ad me. Qui, dum celum ascenderet, ut dictum est, deitatem puram et integram et insimul trinitatem vidit ibidem sanctissimus Nemo, sicut legitur: Nemo deum vidit. Quod deum vidisset iste Nemo, evangelium protestatur, sicut legitur: Nemo novit filium, et alibi: Nemo loquens in spiritu sancto. } [14]

Such has been Nobody’s influence that people around the world still seek to find him and enjoy him. Not surprisingly, when released in 2003, the blockbuster movie Finding Nemo became the high-grossing animated film of all time.

Medieval thinkers had more important concerns than mere theatrical entertainment. They valued logic, reasoning, and men’s welfare as well as women’s welfare. One wrote on the bottom margin of a sermon on Nobody:

This Nobody was, moreover, of such great strength that he bit No-One in the balls, about which the logicians have a saying, namely, No-One and Nobody bite themselves in the balls.

{ Fuit autem tante fortitudinis ille Nemo quod mordebat Nullum in sacco, de quo loyci ponunt exemplum, scilicet Nullus et Nemo mordent se in sacco. } [15]

Violence against men’s genitals, appallingly celebrated in Super Bowl commercials, should be condemned. Meninism is the radical notion that men are human beings. No human being should be subject to sexual violence. Therefore, no man should be subject to sexual violence. It’s logically that simple.

Aspiring to the fullness of life, the human heart restlessly seeks the joy of unlimited creativity. Literary use of nobody is attested as far back as Odysseus calling himself Nobody {Οὖτις} in seeking to escape from the Cyclops Polyphemus in the Odyssey.[16] Nobody would engage in cultural appropriation to challenge gynocentrism today for fear of social mobbing and a chorus of flesh-bots name-calling. To the center of the medieval labyrinth may this broken road lead.

labyrinth in Grace Cathedral

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The first undisputable reference to such a “ball game {ludus pilae}” is by the French liturgist and theologian John Beleth in his Compendium of Church Liturgy {Summa de ecclesiasticis officiis}, written between 1160 and 1164. Honorius of Autun, who lived from about 1080 to 1154, may have referred to such a ball game in his early-twelfth-century work, Gem of the Soul {Gemma animae}. Mews (2009), Harris (2011) Ch. 5. Writing about 1200, Bishop Secard of Cremona in his Orders for Liturgy {Mitralis de officio} referred to bishops and clerics engaging in the “game of circular dance or ball {ludus choreae vel pilae}” as part of “December freedom {decembrica libertate}.” Mews (2009) p. 513. On December freedom, cf. Horace, Carmina 2.7. Clerical dance apparently was performed in the Cathedral of Sens in the thirteenth century. Rievallensis (2019). On the meaning and use of labyrinths on medieval church floors, Mews (2009) pp. 516-22, Harris (2011) p. 59 (which provides the interpretation of the balls above).

Surviving floor labyrinths in French cathedrals date from the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. Theseus and the Minotaur were depicted at the labyrinth center, perhaps representing Christ and the Devil, respectively. Mews (2009) p. 517. The Minotaur-Devil was born of Pasiphae having sex with a bull. Of course, having the public propaganda apparatus widely disseminate “teach women not to have sex with bulls” would be hateful and ridiculous.

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:18, 20-21. The subsequent quote is from 1 Corinthians 4:10. The original languages of the Christian Bible are Hebrew, Greek, and a few words of Aramaic. Almost all clerics in medieval Europe knew the Bible only in Latin, almost wholly through Jerome’s translation (the Vulgate). I have thus included the Vulgate translation above and in subsequent biblical quotes.

[3] Stanza 1 and refrain of poem by Guy of Bazoches, from The Book of the Letter of Guy of Bazoches {Liber epistularum Geuidonis de Basochis} (Adolfsson, 1969) 22 (also printed in Raby, Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, pp. 259-61), Latin text via Harris (2011) p. 70, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The poem has a total of six stanzas, with the “Pro baculo” refrain following each.

The “master of the rod {magister baculi}” took over some of the cantor’s authority during the Feast of the Rod. His cermonial rod was made of wood, painted, and topped with an ivory apple. In Châlons in 1410, this beautiful rod was explicitly described as the rod of the Feast of Fools. Harris (2011) p. 69. The liturgy for the Feast of the Rod probably included Luke 2:23: “Every male who opens the womb will be called sacred to the Lord {omne masculinum adaperiens vulvam sanctum Domino vocabitur}.” On widely differing interpretations of that passage, Huot (1997) p. 67. The Feast of the Rod was an important counterpoint to the medieval Romance of the Rose.

[4] John Beleth, Summa de ecclesiasticis officiis, quoted in Harris (2011) p. 66. The feast of the subdeacons {festum subdiaconorum}, the feast of the Rod {festum baculi} and the feast of fools {festum stultorum} seem to have all referred to the same feast.

[5] Latin text from Harris (2011) p. 76, my English translation, benefiting from that in id. This hymn was performed in a festival of medieval lessons and carols at Saint Christopher’s Episcopal Church (Roseville, Minnesota) on Dec. 8, 2013. But Saint Christiopher’s Church replaced “donkey {asinaria}” in the original hymn with “sanctified {consecratus}.” In Latin, the Feast of the Ass is known as Festum asinorum or Asinaria festa. That might be better translated as the Feast of the Donkey.

[6] Latin text from Harris (2011) pp. 76-7, my English translation, benefiting from that in id. “Orientis partibus” is a twelfth-century conductus attributed to Pierre de Corbeil, Bishop of Sens. It became widely known, particularly in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany. Here’s an adapted modern English version. This conductus survives with a melody. Here’s an excellent performance with the original Latin words. A performance of an adapted English version is also freely accessible. The Feast of the Ass was performed at the thirteenth-century Cathedral at Sens, with “Orientis partibus” used as the conductus. Balbulus (2019).

In addition to relatively liberal freedom of speech, medieval Europe was also relatively liberal with respect to liturgy:

medieval notions of what was proper to corporate cathedral worship differed greatly from our own: until very recently, we were far more restrained.

Harris (2011) p. 62. Id. documents that the Feast of Fools was an authorized, organized, and institutionalized aspect of medieval liturgy. A modern jest: “Question: What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

[7] Carmina Burana 44, “Gospel {Ewangelium}” ll. 1-13, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly to enhance readability for the general reader) from Traill (2018) v. 1, pp. The Carmina Burana was put together about the year 1230. Id. p. ix. For other medieval Latin money gospels, with Engish translation, Bayless (1996) Appendices 8 & 9. Id. also provides another medieval Latin money gospel (text 2) and a money grammar (text 14), both without English translation.

Lehmann (1963) provides 22 parodic medieval Latin texts. However, “Lehmann’s references are frequently both inadequate and unreliable.” Bayless (1996) p. 16. The references in both Bayless (1996) and Bayless (2018) are learned, thorough, and highly specific, including distinguishing variants in particular manuscripts.

[8] Cf. Luke 18:8 (son of man coming), Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9 (knock and the door will be opened), and Matthew 25:23 (enter the joy of the master).

[9] “Nothing is made from nothing… {Ex nichilo nichil fit…}” (medieval nonsense cento) ll. 43-50, Latin text from Bayless (2018) p. 45, my English translation. The manuscript source is Munich, Universitätsbibliothek 8° Cod. ms. 352, fol. 146rv. That manuscript is from the last third of the fifteenth century. Id. p. 42. Jesus commands Christians to testify to being his disciples by showing their love for one another. John 13:35.

[10] “Prayers of the priest’s housekeeper {Preces famulae sacerdotis}” 34, Latin text from Walther (1931) pp. 349-55, via Bayless (1996) p. 174; my English translation benefiting from that of id.

The source verse quoted previously is Psalm 94:19. All my biblical references are with respect to standard, modern bibles. References to Psalms in the Vulgate (Bayless’s references) are usually one less.

[11] “Preces famulae sacerdotis” 60, sourced as previously. The biblical source is Psalm 127:5.

[12] Letters of Two Lovers {Epistolae duorum amantium} 52 (man to woman) excerpt, Latin text of Ewald Könsgen from Mews (1999) p. 258, my English translation benefiting from that of Newman (2016) p. 153. For the commandment to love one another, John 13:34, Romans 13:8. The great twelfth-century rhetor Boncompagno da Signa taught similar use of biblical texts for amorous purposes.

Whether the two lovers of Epistolae duorum amantium were Heloise and Peter Abelard has been the subject of vigorous debate among scholars. See note [3] in my post concerning literary competition between Heloise and Abelard. I think it’s more probable than not that they were the two lovers writing those letters.

[13] “Receive One-Another {Suscipte Invicem}…” (Short Invicem: The Hamburg Recension) ll. 1-24, Latin text from Bayless (1996) p. 316, English translation from id. p. 318, with my changes for ease of reading. The manuscript source is Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek MS Petri 22, fol. 260rv. That manuscript was written in 1435. Id. p. 316.

Other versions of the life of Paul’s disciple Invicem exist. One is the “Long Invicem,” attested in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek MS clm. 10751. That manuscripts was written in 1575. Bayless (1996) pp. 311-5 gives the Latin text and an English translation. Bayless (2018), text 10, is an additional life of Invicem from Besançon, Bibliothèque Municipale 592, written about 1450.

[14] “Here begins the life of the most holy and most glorious Nobody {Incipit vita sanctissimi et gloriosissimi Neminis}…” (Long Nemo, second recension) ll. 14-24, Latin text from Bayless (1996) p. 260, English translation from id. p. 281, with my modifications. Id. provides edited texts and translations of another three Nemo’s. Bayless (2018), texts 8 & 9, includes two additional Nemo’s.

The Long Nemo dates from no later than the thirteenth century. In 1290, a certain Stephen wrote a long work concerning it: The refutation of the abominable sermon put forth by Radulph, about a certain Nobody, heretic and damned, according to Stephen of Saint George, defender of the Christian faith {Reprobatio nefandi sermonis editi per Radulphum de quodam Nemine heretico et dampnato, secundum Stephanum de Sancto Georgio christianefidei defensorem}. Bayless commented:

Stephen’s very peculiar document, much longer than the original Nemo text, first explains that Nemo is not a real person, but goes on to prove that the saint is actually a sinner and heretic, supported by its own army of quotations. The Reprobatio {Refutation} against Nemo is thus either a clumsy piece of satire or the work of an idiot; critics have reached no consensus.

Bayless (2018) p. 61.

[15] Marginal note on bottom of “Short Nemo” Salzburg, Bibliothek der Erzabtei St. Peter MS b.V.15 (Bayless MS S), fol. 231r, Latin text from Bayless (1996) p. 294, English translation from id. p. 302, with my modifications. In particular, I interpret the first nullum as “No-One.”

[16] Odyssey 9.366-460. The Odyssey, attributed to Homer, was written about 2700 years ago.

[images] (1) Persons walking the labyrinth on the floor in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres (Chartres Cathedral), which was build between 1194 and 1220. Source image via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Labyrinth in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. That cathedral was built in stages between 1928 and 1964. Its labyrinth is based on that one at Chartres. Source image by David Clay via Wikimedia Commons. Here’s an image of the labyrinth’s pattern, and one showing its center today.


Balbulus, Notkerus. 2019. “New Years with the Canons of Sens (1).” Canticum Salomonis, online Dec. 31.

Bayless, Martha. 1996. Parody in the Middle Ages: the Latin tradition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Bayless, Martha, ed. 2018. Fifteen Medieval Latin Parodies. Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, 35. Toronto, Canada: Published for the Centre for Medieval Studies by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.

Harris, Max. 2011. Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Huot, Sylvia. 1997. Allegorical Play in the Old French Motet: The Sacred and the Profane in Thirteenth-Century Polyphony. Stanford: Stanford University Press. (review by Alice V. Clark)

Lehmann, Paul. 1963. Die Parodie im Mittelalter. 2nd edition. Stuttgart: Hiersemann. First edition: v. 1 (1922), Die Parodie im Mittelalter; v. 2 (1923), Parodistische Texte: Beispiele zur lateinischen Parodie im Mittelaltersource texts.

Mews, Constant J. 1999. The Lost Love letters of Heloise and Abelard: perceptions of dialogue in twelfth-century France. Houndmills: Macmillan.

Mews, Constant J. 2009. “Liturgists and Dance in the Twelfth Century: The Witness of John Beleth and Sicard of Cremona.” Church History. 78 (3): 512-548.

Newman, Barbara. 2016. Making Love in the Twelfth Century: Letters of two lovers in context. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Rievallensis, Aelredus. 2019. “Ecclesia Saltans (1): A New Document Bearing on Ecclesiastical Dance, by Jacques Chailley.” Online at Canticum Salomonis, Nov. 27.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Walther, Hans. 1931. “Parodistische Gebete der Pfarrköchin in einer Züricher Handschrift.” Studi Medievali. n.s. 4: 344-57.

2 thoughts on “through labyrinths: medieval fullness of life and joy in creativity”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *