Canterburry Tales: The Second Nun

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 second nun.

canterbury tales the second nun

Canterburry Tales: The Tale of the Second Nun

The Prologue to the Tale of the Second Nun.

The servant and the nurse of vices
called in English "Ydelnesse",
who is the guardian of the door of delights, -
to avoid it, and by its opposite to overwhelm it,
that is to say by lawful industry,
we should put all our efforts,
lest the devil out of idleness take us.

Because he, who with his thousand twisted laces
is always on the lookout to catch us,
10 when he can see an idle man,
he knows how to catch him so quickly,
that as long as he is not gripped by the Basque,
he does not realize that the demon has it in hand;
we should work well and fight idleness.

And although the man was not afraid of dying,
yet he sees very clearly, due,

that idleness is rotten sluggishness,
from whom no good fruit comes out;
and see that laziness keep on a leash
20 so that she can only sleep and eat and drink
and devour the labor of others.

And to keep us from such idleness,
which is the cause of so much confusion,
I give myself here as a faithful task,
following the legend to translate
your glorious life and passion,
you with the garland woven of roses and lilies;
I mean you, virgin and martyr Saint Cecilia.

Invocation to Mary.

And you who are the flower of all virgins,
30 which pleased Bernard write so well,
it is you that I first invoke at my beginning;
O our comfort, poor sinners, give me to write
the death of your servant, who won by her merit
eternal life and victory over the devil,
as we can read below in its history.

You virgin and mother, daughter of your son,
you well of thanks, cure of the sinful soul,
in whom God, out of goodness, wanted to dwell,
you humble, and high above any creature,
40 you have ennobled our nature to such an extent,
that the creator did not have contempt of our generation,
to clothe and wrap his son in blood and flesh.

Inside the cloister blessed with your flanks
received eternal love and peace in human form
which of the triple space is king and guide,
that the earth and the sea and the sky never cease

to rent ; and you, spotless virgin,
you have given birth, and remain a pure virgin,
the creator of all creatures.

50 In you are united the magnificence
and thank you, kindness and pity such
that you, who are the sun of excellence,
not only help those who pray to you,
but many times, in your blessing,
generously, before the man pleads for your help,
you warn him and make yourself the doctor of his life.

Now help, O sweet and blessed virgin kind,
I, poor exile in this desert of gall;
think of the Chanaan woman, who used to say
60 that little dogs eat crumbs
who fell from their masters table ;
and although, unworthy son of Eve,
I am a sinner, yet accept my faith.

And since faith is dead without works,
to work, give me time and knowledge,
may I leave places which are so dark!
O you, who are so beautiful and full of grace,
be my lawyer in this high stay
where endlessly we sing "Hosanna",
70 you mother of Christ, dear daughter of Anne!

With your clarity illuminates my trapped soul,
who is troubled by the contagion
of my body and also by the weight
earthly desires and false affections;
oh harbor of refuge, oh hello
of those who are in pain and distress,
or help me, because I want to put myself in my work.

But please, you who read what I write,
forgive me if i am not diligent
80 to write this story with art;

because I have both the words and the sentences
of the one who out of reverence for the saint
wrote history, and I am his legend,
and beg you to amend my work.

Interpretation of the name of Cécile proposed by brother Jacob de Voragine in the Golden Legend.

First of all I would like to explain the name to you
of Saint Cecilia, as we can read in her story;
he means in English "hevenes lilie",
for the pure chastity of her virginity;
or else, for what had the whiteness of honor,
90 and the greenness of conscience, and of good renown
the sweet smell, "lily" was her name.

Or Cécile means "the way of the blind",
for she was an example by her good doctrine;
or Cécile, as in writing I find,
is formed, by a kind of assembly,
of "sky" and of Lia "; and here, figuratively,
the "sky" is set for her thoughts of a saint,
and "Lia" for its constant activity.

Cécile can also be explained in this way,
100 "Free from blindness" for its great light
of wisdom, and for its clear virtues;
or, here it is! the shining name of this virgin
comes from "sky" and "leos" for what, quite rightly
we could call it "the people's sky",
being the example of all good and wise works.

Because "leos" means "peple" in English,
and just as we can see in the sky
the sun and the moon and the stars on all sides,
likewise, spiritually, in this generous virgin,

110 could we see the magnanimity of faith,
and also the perfect clarity of wisdom,
and various works, brilliant of excellence.

And just as philosophers write
that the sky is swift and round and fiery,
in the same way was this beautiful Cécile la blanche
very fast and active always in good works,
and round and perfect in good perseverance,
and ardent always in very brilliant charity;
or told you what his name was.

Here begins the tale of the Second Nun, on the life of Saint Cecilia.

120 This brilliant virgin Cecile, says her life,
was descended from the Romans, and of noble race,
and from the cradle raised in faith
of Christ, and carried his gospel in the spirit;
it never stopped, as in writing I find,
his prayer, and to love and fear God,
imploring her to keep her virginity.

And when this virgin owed a man
marry, who was very young in age,
and had name Valérien,
130 and that the day had come of her marriage,
she, very devout and humble in her heart,
under her golden dress which fit very nicely,
was against the flesh covered with a haire.

And while the organs made melody,
to God alone in her heart as she sang:
"O Lord, keep my soul and my body too
spotless, lest I be lost ”,
and for the love of the One who died on the cross,
every two or three days she fasted,
140 always praying in his prayers very ardently.

Night came and to bed she had to go
with her husband, as is often the custom,
and privately she soon said to him:
"O sweet dear beloved husband,
it's a secret, if you want to hear it,
that I would gladly tell you,
if you swear you won't betray me. "

Valérien swore firmly to him
that in any case, whatever happens,
150 he would never betray her.
So to start she said to him:
"I have an angel who loves me,
and who with great love, whether I sleep or sleep,
is always ready to keep my body.

And if he can smell (don't doubt it)
that you touch or love me for villainy,
immediately he will kill you in the act
and in your youth thus you will die;
and if you guide me in pure love,
160 he will love you like me, for your purity,
and will show you its joy and its brilliance. "

Valérien, corrected as God wanted,
said: "If you want me to trust you,
let me see this angel and contemplate him;
and if he's a true angel,
then I will do as you prayed to me;
but if you love another man in truth,
with that same sword I will kill you both. "

Cécile immediately replied in this way:
170 "It is up to you to see this angel:
believe in Christ and you baptize.
Go the Appian way (she does)
who from this town is only three miles away,
and, to the poor people who live there,
talk to them just as will tell you.


Tell them that I, Cécile, sent you to them
so that they show you the good old Urban,
for secret necessity and good intention.
And when you have seen Saint Urban,
180 speak to him the words which I spoke to you;
and when he has purged you of sin,
then will you see this angel, before you go. "

Valérien in this place is gone,
and as we had instructed and informed him,
he soon found the holy old man Urbain
mussé among the sepulchres of the Saints.
And he, without staying long,
made his message; and when he said it,
Urban with joy raised his hands to the sky.

190 From his eyes the tears fell:
“Almighty Lord, O Jesus Christ (he said),
sower of chaste counsel, pastor of us all,
the fruit of this seed of chastity
that you sowed in Cecile, gather it!
See ! like a diligent bee, without deceit,
Your servant Cécile always serves you!

Because this husband, whom she once took
just like the proud lion, she sends it here
as gentle as ever was a lamb, towards you! "
200 And at this word here appeared
an old man, dressed in bright white clothes,
who had a book with gold letters in hand,
and stopped standing in front of Valérien.

Valérien fell as if scared to death
when he saw him, and he lifted him up then,
and on his book he proceeded to read the following:
"A lord, a faith, a God without more,
one baptism, one father of all,
who is above all and among all everywhere. "
210 These words were all written gold.


When it was read, then said this old man,
"Do you believe this thing or not? say yes or no. "
"I believe all that (said Valérien)
because something truer than this, I dare say,
no being under heaven can think. "
When the old man fainted, he did not know where,
and Pope Urban baptized him on the spot.

Valérien goes home, and finds Cécile
inside his room with a standing angel;
220 this angel had roses and lilies
two crowns, which he held in his hand.
And first of all to Cécile, as I understand it,
he gave one and then he offered
the other to Valérien, her husband.

"The body pure and unblemished the thought,
always keep these crowns well (he says);
from Heaven have I brought them to you,
and they will never rot,
nor will lose their sweet scent, believe me;
230 and never be will see them with his eyes
let him not be pure and hate villainy.

And you, Valérien, for what very quickly
you agree to good advice too,
say your desire and it will be granted to you. "
"I have a brother (then said Valérien)
that I love more than anyone in the world.
I beg you my brother have mercy
to know the truth, as I do in this place. "

The angel said: "God loves your request,
240 and both, with the palm of martyrdom,
you will come to his blessed feast. "
And with that word his brother Tiburce is coming,
and when he smells the scent
that roses and lilies spread,
in his heart he began to wonder very much.


And said, "I admire at this time of the year
where does this sweet smell come from
of roses and lilies that I can smell here.
Because even if I had them in my two hands,
the scent could not enter me deeper.
250 The sweet smell that in my heart I find
changed me all into another species. "

Valérien said: "Two crowns do we have,
snow-white and rose-red, which shine brightly,
and which your eye has no power to see;
and as you feel them through my prayer,
in the same way you will see them, dear brother,
if you want, without softness,
well believe and know the real truth. "

260 Tiburce replied: "Are you telling me that?
for real, or is it in a dream that I hear it? "
"In dreams (says Valérien), we have been
so far, my brother, for sure.
For the first time in truth is our home. "
“How do you know that (said Tiburce), in what way? "
Said Valérien: "That's what I'm going to tell you.

The angel of god taught me the truth
That you will also see, if you want to deny
idols and being pure, and nothing else. "
270 - And the miracle of these two crowns
Saint Ambrose in his preface was kind enough to speak;
solemnly the noble dear doctor
attests it, and says as follows:

To receive the palm of martyrdom,
Saint Cecilia, filled with the gifts of God,
the world and even his room began to abandon;
witness the confession of Tiburce and Valérien,
to whom God in his goodness wanted to dispense
two wreaths of soft blooming flowers,
280 and caused them to wear these crowns through his angel:

The virgin led these men to heavenly bliss;
the world has known what, in truth, is worth

to love chastity devoutly. -
Then Cécile showed him, clear as day,
that all idols are a vain thing;
because they are silent and, what is more, are deaf,
and summoned him to leave his idols.

"Whoever does not believe this is a beast,
(then said Valérien) if we must not lie. "
290 She caught herself kissing her breast, when she heard it,
and was very happy that he could see the truth.
"On this day I take you for my parent",
said this dear blessed virgin girl;
after which she says what you're going to hear:

"See, as well as the love of Christ (she said),
made me wife of your brother, all the same
on the hour I take you here as a parent,
since you want to despise your idols.
Go with your brother now and baptize yourself
300 and purifies; so that you can contemplate
the face of the angels your brother spoke of. "

Tiburce said in response: “Dear brother,
first tell me where to go and to whom? "
“In front of who? (he says). Come away with a happy face,
I want to lead you to Pope Urban. "
“To Urbain? Valérien, my brother,
(then said Tiburce), is that where you want to lead me?
Seems to me that would be a great wonder.

Don't you mean Urban (then he said),
310 who so many times was condemned to death,
and always remains in hiding here and there,
and dare not show his face?
We would burn it in such a red fire
if it was found or could be seen;
and us too, to keep him company.

And as we seek this deity
which is hidden in the secret of heaven,

we would not be less ardent here below! "
To which Cécile replied proudly:
320 "One could fear with good reason
to lose this life, my dear brother,
if she was the only life without any other.

But there is a better life in another place,
that we will never lose, don't be afraid,
as the Son of God told us by his grace;
the Son of the Father created all things;
and all that was created by reasonable thought,
the Spirit who first proceeded from the Father,
endowed him with a soul, without a doubt.

330 By words and by miracles, the Son of God
when he was in this world, declared here
that there is another life where man can sojourn. "
To which Tiburce replied: “O dear sister,
did you not say earlier in your own words,
that there is only one God, Lord in truth,
and now of three how can you bear witness? "

"That's what I'll tell you (she says), before I leave."
Just as a man has three wisdoms,
memory, gear and intellect too,
340 thus, in one being of divinity,
three people may well be. "
So she began to preach to him very diligently
on the coming of Christ and to teach him his sorrows,

and many points of his passion;
how the Son of God in this world was retained,
for the full redemption of mankind,
who was in chains of sin and cold worries:
all these things she said to Tiburce.
And after that Tiburce, with good intentions,
350 with Valérien went to find Pope Urbain,


who thanked God, and, with a joyful and light heart,
baptized him, and did it in this place
perfect to know, knight of God.
And henceforth Tiburce obtained such grace
that every day he saw, in time and space,
the angel of God; and all kinds of favors
that he asked God, were quickly answered.

It would be very difficult to say in order
how many wonders Jesus did for them;
360 but in the end, to make it short and clear,
the sergeants of the city of Rome fetched them,
and before Almache the prefect led them,
who questioned them, knew all their thoughts,
and to the image of Jupiter sent them,

and said: "Whoever does not want to sacrifice,
let him cut off his head, that's my sentence. "
On the hour these martyrs of which my tale is,
a certain Maxime who was an officer,
of the Prefect and his "corniculaire",
370 grabs them; and when he led away the martyrs,
he himself wept for the pity he felt.

When Maximus had listened to the doctrine of the saints,
he obtained leave of the tormentors,
and brought them to his house without more;
and preached so much that before evening
they had snatched the tormentors
and Maxime and each of his people
to false faith, to believe in God alone.

Cecile came, when it was dark,
380 with priests who baptized them all together,
and then when the light of day came,
Cécile said to them with a very calm face:
“Now, very dear and much loved knights of Christ,
reject all works of darkness
and arm yourself with armor of light.


Verily you have fought a great battle,
have finished your course, have kept your faith;
go to the crown of life which cannot fail;
the righteous judge you served
390 will give it to you as it deserves. "
And when it was said as I tell it,
they were led to make the sacrifice.

But when they were brought to the said place,
to make the conclusion short,
they did not want to incense or sacrifice,
but on their knees they fell to the ground
with humble heart and grave devotion,
and both lost their heads on the spot.
Their souls went to the king of grace.

400 This Maxime, who saw it happen,
with pitiful tears said incontinent
that he saw their souls slide to heaven
with angels full of clarity and light,
and from his word converts more than one;
why Almache made him beat so much
with a lead whip, that he lost his life.

Cécile took him and buried him on the spot
gently near Tiburce and Valérien,
inside their tomb, under the stone.
And then afterwards, Almache in a hurry
410 sent his ministers to publicly seek
Cecile, so that she came in his presence
sacrifice and incense Jupiter.

But they, converted to his wise word,
cried grievously and gave full credence
at his word and cried more and more:
"Christ, Son of God without difference,
is true God, this is all our thinking,
he who has such a good servant to serve him;
420 we believe it with one voice, should we die!

Almache, who hears it does,
had Cecile fetched, so that he could see her,

and first of all, here is what his request was:
"What kind of woman are you? Then he said.
- "I was born a nice woman" she said.
- "I ask you (he said), despite your having some,
your religion and your belief. "

"You started your question foolishly,
(she said), who would like two answers enclosed
430 in one request; it is to inquire while ignoring. "
Almache replied to this judgment:
"How come you answer so harshly?" "
- " From where ? (she said, to that question),
of conscience and in good faith not feigned. "

Almache said: "Don't you care
of my power? She replied:
“Your power (she said) is very little to fear;
because the power of every mortal is not
than like a bladder, full of wind, for sure.
440 Because with a needle point, when it's swollen,
all his swelling can be put down well. "

- "You were at fault when you started (he said),
and now in your fault you persevere;
don't you know that our powerful generous princes
have thus ordered and made a prescription,
that every Christian will suffer penance
if he does not renounce his Christianity,
but will he go away if he wants to deny it? "

- "Your princes wander like your nobility,
450 (said at the time Cécile), and by crazy sentence
you are making us guilty and that is not true;
because you, who know well our innocence,
for what we do bow
to Christ, and that we bear a Christian name,
you impute it to us with crime and blame.

But we who know that name means
virtuous, cannot abjure it. "
Almache replied: “Choose between the two;
sacrifice or deny Christianity

460 so that you can escape through there. "
To what the holy blessed virgin
laughed and said to the judge:

"O judge, confused in your foolishness,
do you want me to deny innocence
to make me a perverse creature? (she says).
See! he hides here in audience,
he has wide eyes and he gets angry when he listens to me. "
To what Almache: "Poor wretch,
don't you know how far my power can extend

470 Have not our mighty princes given me,
yes, and power and authority
to make people die or live?
Why then speak to me so proudly? "
"I only speak firmly (she said),
not proudly, because I say it, as for us,
we mortally hate the vice of pride.

And if you're not afraid to hear the truth,
So I want to show you everything clearly, for reason,
that you have told a very big lie in this.
480 You say your princes gave you power
and to bruise and give life to a creature,
you, who can do nothing but take away life alone;
you have no other power or leave!

It is permissible for you to say that your princes made you
minister of death; if you say more,
you lie, because your power is naked. "
- "Leave this boldness (said Almache then),
and sacrifice to our gods, before leaving;
point do not harm me insults that you address to me,
490 for I can suffer them like a philosopher;

but the insults that I cannot endure
are those you say of our gods ”(he said).
Cécile replied: "O foolish creature,

you haven't said a word since you spoke to me
that I do not recognize your stupidity there;
and that you are, in any way and what you want,
ignorant officer and vain judge.

Nothing is missing in the eyes of your body
so that you are blind cause thing that we all see
500 to be a stone, as it is visible,
this same stone you want to call it God.
I advise you, that your hand rests on it,
and feel it well, you will realize that it is stone,
since you can't see mie with your blind eyes.

It's a shame that the people have to
despise you thus and laugh at your madness;
because we know very commonly and everywhere
that mighty God is in his heaven above,
and these images, you can see it well,
510 neither to you nor to themselves can be of any use,
because indeed they are not worth a crumb. "

She says these words and others like them,
and he got angry and ordered that she be led
at home, "and in her house (he said),
burn her in a bath of red flames ".
And just as he had ordered so was done;
because in a bath they locked him up,
and night and day a great fire below was kindling.

The long night and one more day,
despite all the fire and ardor of the bath,
520 she remained quite cold, felt no pain,
that didn't make her sweat a drop.
But in this bath she was to lose her life;
because he, Almache, with the very wicked design
to bruise her in the bath sent his messenger.

With three blows on the collar he then strikes her,
the tormentor, but no matter what,
he could not cut the collar in two;

and for what there was at that time an ordinance
530 that no man owed a man to inflict penance
to celebrate the quarter blow, soft or grievance,
this executioner dared not do more.

But half-dead, the neck cut,
he left her lying there and went on his way.
The Christians who were around her
with linens captured his beautiful blood.
Three days did she live in this torment
and never ceased to teach them the faith;
to those she had built, she began to preach.

She gave them her furniture and her belongings
540 and to Pope Urban then entrusted them
and said: "I asked the king of heaven
to have three days' respite and no more,
to recommend to you, before I go,
these souls that see and so that I can do
from my home here forever a church. "

Saint Urban with his deacons privately
took the body and buried it at night
among his other saints worthily.
550 His house was called the church of Sainte-Cécile;
Saint Urbain consecrated her as best he could;
and there, still today, in a noble way,
we pay homage to Christ and his saint.

Here ends the tale of the Second Nun.