A Fifteenth–Century Revelation of a Cistercian Nun:

A Middle English Rubric in C.U.L. MS. Ii.6.43

Edited and translated by Marta Powell Harley1

A brief Middle English vision, a “reuelacion þat was schewid to a religyous woman of þe Norye of Hampull,” is found on fols. 80v–81v in Cambridge University Library MS. Ii.6.43, a fifteenth–century vellum miscellany of prayers and devotional writings in Latin and English.2 The Middle English text is a rubric to a projected series of six Latin prayers, each to be preceded by a psalm. The folios measure 80-120 mm, and the writing space is 55-75 mm, with 21 ruled lines per page. The rubric, its initial capital not filled in, ends on line 17 of fol. 81v; following on fols. 81v-82r are two of the six psalms and prayers, written in black ink, with initial capitals not filled in: the beginning of Psalm 22 (“Deus, Deus meus respice”) precedes an eight–line prayer, and the opening of Psalm 30 “In te, Domine, speraui; non confundar in eternum; in iusticia tua libera me”) preceds a six–line prayer. The last eight lines of fol. 82r are blank. The following text on fols. 82v–85v is similar in structure: a rubric recounting Saint John's vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary introduces a series of five prayers to Mary.

The revelation granted to this religious woman of Hampole takes the form of a dialogue between the visionary and her brother, a squire of Yorkshire mortally wounded in the Battle of Shrewsbury. According to the account, “þis holy woman, þis nunne” prays to God for information concerning the state of her brother's soul and on the following night “as sche was in here prayers & þyn<k>kyng vp–on hyr broþer,” her brother appears with a document containing the six psalms and prayers that, when repeated one hundred and fifty times, will ensure his release from purgatorial pains within twenty days.

The localisation and dating of the vision provide an historical context. The visionary, described as a nun of Hampole, was evidently a Cistercian, for Hampole Priory in Yorkshire, a house of Cistercian nuns, was the only religious house situated in Hampole.3 Founded “c.1170”,4 Hampole was one of twelve Cistercian nunneries in Yorkshire, a number representing more than a third of the Cistercian nunneries in England and Wales. Records show that the Prioress from 1392–1414 was named Elizabeth,5 but there seems little hope that the identity of the visionary will ever be known. the death of the visionary's brother in the Battle of Shrewsbury enables a precise internal date for the vision, for the battle was fought on 21 July 1403. While the brief vision gives no indication of the brother's allegiance in the battle, his Yorkshire roots suggest he fought on the side of the disaffected Percies.6 The support of the clergy in the conflict and the physical horror of the battle itself7 make the wounded, tormented soldier an apt subject of a purgatorial revelation.

The revelation's historical grounding, as well as the simplicity of its expression, contributes to a sense of authenticity, but the vision is not without conventional elements. The visionary nun of Hampole Priory joins a well–established tradition of female visionaries.8 The revelation is, in fact, a concise example of what Petroff has recently termed “the second stage of visionary activity, the psychic,” in which the visionary “has revelations of the spiritual states of others and how she may help them resolve their spiritual dilemmas.”9 As such, the brief revelation bears similarity to another early fifteenth–century Middle English vision, A Revelation of Purgatory, in which a nun of St. Mary's Abbey (Nunnaminster) in Winchester is enjoined by the purgatorial spirit Margaret to deliver to six priests her specific requests for thirteen masses.10 Though the series of Latin psalms and prayers is incomplete in C.U.L. MS. Ii.6.43, the revelation of the Cisterican nun of Hampole nevertheless effectively endorses the intercession of the living for the souls in purgatory and provides a vivid example of late mediaeval popular piety.

In the text that follows, capitalisation and punctuation are editorial. Letters supplied in the expansion of contractions and suspensions are italicised. The letters u, v, þ, and 3 are unaltered; the thorn is distinct from y, though the latter will at times represent the same sound. Suprascript letters are recorded on line, and where the manuscript separates words now commonly written as one, I join the words with a hyphen. Diamond brackets enclose partially effaced letters; square brackets signal emendation.

[fol. 80v]

A reuelacion þat was schewid to a religyous woman of þe Norye of Hampull, the wheche had a broþer, a squyer of 3oorkschyr, the wheche squyer was woundyd to þe deþat þe Bateyll of Schrowysbery and alyue caryed hoom, and in schort tyme after he dyed.

And þan þis holy woman, þis nunne, prayed to God þat He wolde vouchesaf to schewe to hyre how yt stood with hyr broþer sowle.

And in þe ny3t sewyng, as sche was in here prayers & þyn<k>yng vp–on hyr broþer, a–non apperyd to hyr here broþer, holdyng in hys ¦ [fol. 81r] honde a greet letter, wretyn conteynyng vj psalmes & orysons þat ben wreten hereafter, and seyde to hys systyr, “O swete sistyr, blyssyd be þe fadyr and þe modyr þat þe brou3t for[r_]11 to þis worlde. Ffor mercyfull God, for loue of þi prayers, haþ for3eue me all my synnes.”

Than sche loked vpon hym a<nd> sy3e þe woundys þat were vpon hys body whan he was buryed. But hys face was blak and all brennyng afyr.

And þys woman was aferde & syede, “O dere broþyr, how my3tyst þou haue enye ioye þat art þus dyspytously tormentyd?”

Than answeryd he & seyde, “Ffor þi deuoute praers, God haþ for3eue me my synnes.”

And þan he took here þees vj psalmes and orysons & seyde, “With þ vj psalmes & orysons, withynne þ [fol. 81v] xx dayes þu schalt delyuer me fro all maner of paynes. Whye schulde not Y þan be glad, for Y scholde a–byden in peyne in–to þe worldys ende, haddyst þu not prayed for me.

And God of hys goodnes, þat wyllyþ all men to be sauyd, scheweþ þees prayers to þe not only for me, but for innumerable þat schull be sauyd þere–by. And þees be þe salmes þat schull be seyde stondyng wyth 'Gloria Patri,' and þe orysons knelyng, and þees salmes with þe orysons must be seyde an C syþys and fyftye.”

[fol. 80v]

A revelation was shown to a religious woman of the North of Hampole; the woman had a brother, a squire of Yorkshire, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Shrewsbury, dying shortly after he was carried home.

Then this holy woman, this nun, prayed to God that He would show her the state of her brother's soul.

And on the following night, as she prayed and thought about her brother, immediately her brother appeared to her, holding in his ¦ [fol. 81r] hand a large letter, on which were written the six psalms and prayers that are recorded below. He said to his sister, “O sweet sister, blessed be the father and mother who brought you into this world, because God, for love of your prayers, has forgiven all my sins.”

Then she looked at him and saw the wounds that had marked his body when he was buried, but his face was now black and consumed in fire.

This woman was terrified and said, “O dear brother, how might you, you are so pitilessly tormented, have any joy?”

Then he answered, “Because of your devout prayers, God has forgiven my sins.”

Then he entrusted to her these six psalms and prayers and said, “With these six psalms and prayers, within þ [fol. 81v] twenty days you will certainly deliver me from all pains. Why should I not then be glad, for had you not prayed for me, I would have remained in pain until the world's end.

In His goodness, God, who wishes all men to be saved, shows these prayers to you, not only for me, but for innumerable others who will surely be saved by them. These are the psalms which must be said standing (with 'Gloria Patri') and the prayers kneeling. These psalms and the accompanying prayers must be said one hundred and fifty times.”