Canterbury Tales: The Prioress

Geoffrey Chaucer is an English writer and poet who was born in London in the 1340s and died in 1400 in that same city. His most famous work is Canterbury Tales. The Canterbury Tales are, with Sire Gauvain and the Green Knight (from an anonymous person) and Peter the Plowman (by William Langland), the very first great works of English literature. Here is the first tale: the prioress.

canterbury tales the prioress

Canterbury Tales: The Prioress's Tale

Hear the joyful words of the Host at Le Marinier, then to Madame la Prioress.

"Well said, by the corpus dominus ! (the host shouted 😉
and may you long sail by our coasts,
Monsieur the nice master, and a nice sailor!
God yawn at the spindle cartloads of misfortunes!
Ah! companion, beware of such tricks!
1630 This monk put a monkey in the man's cap,
and his wife too, from Saint Augustine!
Don't bring any more monks to your hostel!
But let's move on now, and search
who can be the first of all this gang
tell us another tale. And speaking on this
as courteously as a young girl would have done:
"Madam Prioress, with your leave,
if I was sure that it should not bother you,
I would be of the opinion that you tell us
1640 the next tale, unless you don't like it.
Now, would you do me this favor, madame?
- "Very willingly", she said, and said what you hear.


Here follows the Prologue to the tale of the Prioress.

Dominates, dominus noster.

“O Lord our God, how marvelously
your name is widespread in our wide world!

(she said 😉 we don't see your precious praise
accomplished only by people of dignity,
but by the mouth of children themselves your kindness
is consumed; still suckling their mother,
they sometimes bear witness to your great glory.

1650 That's why in praise, as far as I know and then,
of you and the very white flower of this lily
who once carried you and always remained a virgin,
I want to try to tell a story here;
not that I can thus increase his honor,
for she herself is all honor, all root
of goodness - for her son - and all salvation of souls.

O mother, always a virgin! O virgin good mother!
Burning bush unconscious before Moses!
You who delight in the Divinity,
1660through your humility, the Holy Spirit who came into you;
whose virtue, when he came to set your heart ablaze,
thus conceived the Wisdom of the Father,
help me speak here in your honor!

O Lady! your goodness and your magnificence,
your virtue and your great humility cannot
in no language to express oneself, by no science;
because sometimes, Our Lady, before we pray to you,
you warn us in your benignity,
and give us, praying yourself, the light
1670who should bring us to your beloved Son.

My knowledge is so weak, O blessed Queen!
to declare your great dignity,
that I can in no way bear the weight;
but as a child of twelve months, or less still,
who hardly knows how to express a word,
so I behave, and therefore I beg you,
guide this song that of you I mean! "


Here begins the tale of Lady the Prioress.

He was in Asia, in a big city,
among Christian people, some Jewry
1680that a lord supported from the said country,
for sordid usury and villainy for profit,
whom Christ and his Church hate greatly;
you could walk or ride through the street,
for it was open and free at each end.

There was a little school of Christians,
at the far end of the street; and came there
crowds of children born of Christian blood,
who from year to year learned at school
such doctrines which of use were given there,
1690it is to know: sing and read,
as do children at a young age.

Now among these children was a widow's son
little clergeon, being seven years old,
who usually came to school every day;
and also, whenever he saw a picture
of the mother of Christ, used to
as instructed, to kneel there,
then say Ave Marie, going her way.

So the widow had learned from her young son
1700to always honor the Blessed Lady,
dear mother of Christ, and he did not forget -
because good child quickly learns -
and whenever he remembers the material,
seems to me to see Saint Nicholas in my presence,
who also young, bowed to Christ.

Now this little child, in front of his little book
sitting in this school, learning the abc,
suddenly heard singing Alma redemptoris
that other children read their antiphonary;
1710and emboldened to come near and nearer,

and listened to the words and the notes too,
as long as he knew the entire first verse by heart.

No one knew what Latin means,
for he was very young and tender in age;
but one day he prayed to one of his comrades
to say this song to him in his own language,
and to explain to him what was its use;
to translate it and enlighten it begged it
many times on his bare knees.

1720His companion who was older than him
answered him thus: "This song, did I say yes,
was made of our happy and generous Lady,
so that we salute her, and so that the prayers
to be our help and deliverance when we die;
can not explain anything more in the matter;
i am learning singing, but know little grammar. "

"And is this song done in reverence
of the mother of Christ? (then said this innocent).
But of course I will do all my diligence
1730to all learn it, before Christmas is,
when i get reprimanded for the abc,
and when I was beaten three times in an hour,
because I want to know it for the honor of Notre Dame! "

His friend secretly taught it every day,
as they returned, as long as he knew it by heart,
and now he sang it very boldly,
word for word, and following each note.
Twice a day the song in her throat passed,
as he was going to school or to his house;
1740he was so devoted to the mother of Christ.

In this Jewry as I said
as our little child came and went,
happily sang and shouted
Alma Redemptoris Mater ;
so much has pierced his heart the very great sweetness
of the mother of Christ, that in order to pray to her,
could not help singing along the way.

Our great enemy, the serpent Satanas
which in the hearts of the Jews always has its nest.
1750suddenly swelled and said: “Alas! Hebrew people,
is it in accordance with your honor
may such a child go as he pleases,
to your chagrin, singing such stories
which are contrary to compliance with your law? "

And since that time the Jews conspired
to get this innocent out of the world.
And to do this they hired a homicide,
who went to hide in a certain alley;
as soon as the child came to pass through this place,
1760that damned Jew took it and held it tight,
then cuts his throat and throws him into a hole.

I say he was thrown into a closet
where these Jews there were getting drunk to purge their bowels.
O cursed nation! O new Herods!
What will your bad plot do to you?
Murder is published early; it will not be necessary;
the honor of God will be propagated thereby.
On your cursed act, the blood cries out for vengeance!

Martyr thus dedicated to virginity,
1770or you can sing, following forever
the white Celestial Lamb! (thus says the prioress);
you are one of those including John the great evangelist
wrote in Patmos, saying that those who go
before the Lamb, singing a new song,
there are those who have not known a woman fleshly.

And this poor widow waits all night
his little child, but he does not come back;
1780and as soon as the light of day appears,
all pale with fear and worry
she goes to school and elsewhere to look for him;
until at the end it comes to him new
that we saw him last in the rue de Juiverie.

With mother's pity in her enclosed breast,
she goes, as if she was out of mind,
wherever she can guess
that his child will probably find;
and always to the gentle and good mother of Christ,
she goes crying out; and finally did so well
that she went to seek him from the accursed people.

1790And very pitifully, she asks and prays
each Jew residing in the aforesaid place
to admit if her child ever passed there.
They were saying "no". But Jesus by his grace,
after a little while gave him the thought
to go and cry after his son in this place
where the Jews had thrown him aside in the pit.

O great God who sometimes established praise
by mouths of innocent people, here is your power!
This gem of chastity, this emerald,
1800and from martyrdom also this very brilliant ruby,
here he is lying with his throat cut,
began to sing again Alma redemptoris,
so loudly that the whole place echoed.

And the Christian people who passed in the street
approached and the fact was greatly astonished
and sent for the provost in haste,
which soon, without delay, arrived,
and worshiped Christ, who is the king of heaven,
and then his mother too, honor of humanity,
1810and then after that put the Jews in irons.

And this child with pitiful lament
was reassembled, still singing his song,
and then with honor and great process,
was taken to the next abbey.
Her mother fainted near her coffin lying;
and people who were there had great difficulty
to remove the new Rachel from there.

Each one in great torment and shameful death,
the Jews were put to death by this provost,

1820those who knew of this murder - and quickly was done;
showed no consideration for these cursed villains.
"Those will go to evil who badly deserve"
and therefore had them pulled by wild horses,
and then hang as the law commanded.

And the innocent was still lying on his beer,
in front of the high altar, as long as mass lasted;
and then the abbot came with his convent
without delay to bury him quickly;
and as holy water was cast upon him,
1830the child was still talking, while he was being sprinkled,
and sang O Alma Redemptoris mater!

This abbot was precisely a very holy man,
(as well as monks are, or at least should be 😉
so began to conjure this young child,
saying: “O dear child! I beg you,
in the name of the Most Holy Trinity,
tell me by what cause so you can sing,
since you have cut throat as it seems? "

"- Yes, my throat is cut down to the neck bone,
1840(said this child,) and certainly by nature
I would have passed away a long time ago;
but Jesus Christ, as you can see in Books,
wants his glory to last and be remembered,
and therefore for the honor of his dear Mother,
I can still sing O Alma! high and clear.

For this well of mercy, sweet mother of Christ,
have I always loved, as much as I could,
and just as I was going to lose my life,
she came to me, and ordered me to sing
1850just this antiphon when dying,
as have heard; and when I sang it,
I seemed to put a grain of wheat on my tongue.

And that's why I sing and sing in truth
for the honor of the good and blessed Virgin,
until my tongue lost that seed.
And then after that she said to me again:

"O my little child, now I am going to look for you,
when this seed is taken from your tongue;
do not be afraid; will not abandon you. "

18060This holy monk (it's the abbot I mean)
So stuck out his tongue and took that seed
and this child quietly returned the spirit.
And when the abbot had seen this great wonder,
her bitter tears dripped like rain,
and he fell flat, forward to the ground,
and without moving, as if bound, remained there.

The convent also lay down on the ground,
weeping, and of Christ praising the dear mother;
and then getting up, they went away,
1870and removed this martyr from his coffin;
and inside a tomb of light marble,
they locked up this sweet little body;
and he is where God wants us to unite!

Young Hugh of Lincoln O you who was also
slain by accursed Jews, as is notorious,
because it is only a very small time spent,
therefore pray also for us fickle sinners,
so that in his mercy, pitiful God
multiply his great pity on us,
1880for the greatest honor of his mother Marie.

Amen. "

Here ends the tale of the Prioress.