The Canterbury Tales: The Second Nun's Tale
Here bigynneth the Seconde Nonnes
Tale of the lyf of Seinte Cecile
This mayden, bright Cecilie, as hir lyf seith,
Was comen of Romayns, and of noble kynde,
And from hir cradel up fostred in the feith
Of Crist, and bar his gospel in hir mynde.
She nevere cessed, as I writen fynde,
Of hir preyere, and God to love and drede,
Bisekynge hym to kepe hir maydenhede.
And whan this mayden sholde unto a man
Ywedded be, that was ful yong of age,
Which that ycleped was Valerian,
And day was comen of hir mariage,
She, ful devout and humble in hir corage,
Under hir robe of gold, that sat ful faire,
Hadde next hir flessh yclad hir in an haire.
And whil the organs maden melodie,
To God allone in herte thus sang she:
"O Lord, my soule and eek my body gye
Unwemmed, lest that I confounded be."
And, for his love that dyde upon a tree,
Every seconde and thridde day she faste,
Ay biddynge in hir orisons ful faste.
The nyght cam, and to bedde moste she gon
With hir housbonde, as ofte is the manere,
And pryvely to hym she seyde anon,
"O sweete and wel biloved spouse deere,
Ther is a conseil, and ye wolde it heere,
Which that right fayn I wolde unto yow seye,
So that ye swere ye shul me nat biwreye."
Valerian gan faste unto hire swere
That for no cas, ne thyng that myghte be,
He sholde nevere mo biwreyen here,
And thanne at erst to hym thus seyde she,
"I have an aungel which that loveth me,
That with greet love, wher so I wake or sleepe,
Is redy ay my body for to kepe.
And if that he may feelen, out of drede
That ye me touche, or love in vileynye,
He right anon wol sle yow with the dede,
And in youre yowthe thus ye sholden dye.
And if that ye in clene love me gye,
He wol yow loven as me for youre clennesse,
And shewen yow his joye and his brightnesse."
Valerian, corrected as God wolde,
Answerde agayn, "If I shal trusten thee,
Lat me that aungel se, and hym biholde,
And if that it a verray aungel bee,
Thanne wol I doon as thou hast prayed me;
And if thou love another man, forsothe
Right with this swerd thanne wol I sle yow bothe."
Cecile answerde anon right in this wise,
"If that yow list, the aungel shul ye see,
So that ye trowe in Crist, and yow baptize.
Gooth forth to Via Apia," quod she,
"That fro this toun ne stant but miles thre;
And to the povre folkes that ther dwelle
Sey hem right thus as that I shal yow telle.
Telle hem, that I Cecile yow to hem sente,
To shewen yow the goode Urban the olde,
For secree thynges and for good entente;
And whan that ye Seint Urban han biholde,
Telle hym the wordes whiche that I to yow tolde,
And whan that he hath purged yow fro synne,
Thanne shul ye se that aungel er ye twynne."
Valerian is to the place ygon,
And right as hym was taught by his lernynge,
He foond this hooly olde Urban anon
Among the seintes buryeles lotynge.
And he anon, withouten tariynge,
Dide his message, and whan that he it tolde,
Urban for joye his handes gan up holde.
The teeris from hise eyen leet he falle.
"Almyghty lord, O Jesu Crist," quod he,
"Sower of chaast conseil, hierde of us alle,
The fruyt of thilke seed of chastitee
That thou hast sowe in Cecile, taak to thee.
Lo, lyk a bisy bee, withouten gile,
Thee serveth ay thyn owene thral Cecile!
For thilke spouse that she took but now
Ful lyk a fiers leoun, she sendeth heere
As meke as evere was any lomb, to yow."
And with that word anon ther gan appeere
An oold man clad in white clothes cleere,
That hadde a book with lettre of gold in honde,
And gan bifore Valerian to stonde.
Valerian as deed fil doun for drede
Whan he hym saugh, and he up hente hym tho,
And on his book right thus he gan to rede,
"O lord, o feith, o God, withouten mo,
O Cristendom, and fader of alle also,
Aboven alle, and over alle, everywhere."
Thise wordes al with gold ywriten were.
Whan this was rad, thanne seyde this olde man,
"Leevestow this thyng or no? sey ye or nay?"
"I leeve al this thyng," quod Valerian,
"For sother thyng than this, I dar wel say,
Under the hevene no wight thynke may."
Tho vanysshed this olde man, he nyste where;
And Pope Urban hym cristned right there.
Valerian gooth hoom, and fynt Cecile
Withinne his chambre with an aungel stonde.
This aungel hadde of roses and of lilie
Corones two, the whiche he bar in honde;
And first to Cecile, as I understonde,
He yaf that oon, and after gan he take
That oother to Valerian hir make.
"With body clene and with unwemmed thoght
Kepeth ay wel thise corones," quod he,
"Fro Paradys to yow have I hem broght,
Ne nevere mo ne shal they roten bee,
Ne lese hir soote savour, trusteth me,
Ne nevere wight shal seen hem with his eye
But he be chaast and hate vileynye.
And thow Valerian, for thow so soone
Assentedest to good conseil also,
Sey what thee list, and thou shalt han thy boone."
"I have a brother," quod Valerian tho,
"That in this world I love no man so.
I pray yow that my brother may han grace,
To knowe the trouthe, as I do in this place."
The aungel seyde, "God liketh thy requeste,
And bothe with the palm of martirdom
Ye shullen com unto his blisful feste."
And with that word Tiburce his brother coom;
And whan that he the savour undernoom,
Which that the roses and the lilies caste,
Withinne his herte he gan to wondre faste,
And seyde, "I wondre, this tyme of the yeer,
Whennes that soote savour cometh so
Of rose and lilies that I smelle heer.
For though I hadde hem in myne handes two,
The savour myghte in me no depper go,
The sweete smel that in myn herte I fynde
Hath chaunged me al in another kynde."
Valerian seyde, "Two corones han we,
Snow white and rose reed that shynen cleere,
Whiche that thyne eyen han no myght to see,
And as thou smellest hem thurgh my preyere,
So shaltow seen hem, leeve brother deere,
If it so be thou wolt, withouten slouthe,
Bileve aright and knowen verray trouthe."
Tiburce answerde, "Seistow this to me?
In soothnesse or in dreem I herkne this?"
"In dremes," quod Valerian, "han we be
Unto this tyme, brother myn, ywes;
But now at erst in trouthe oure dwellyng is."
"How woostow this," quod Tiburce, "in what wyse?"
Quod Valerian, "That shal I thee devyse.
The aungel of God hath me the trouthe ytaught
Which thou shalt seen, if that thou wolt reneye
The ydoles and be clene, and elles naught."
And of the myracle of thise corones tweye
Seint Ambrose in his preface list to seye.
Solempnely this noble doctour deere
Commendeth it, and seith in this manere:
"The palm of martirdom for to receyve
Seinte Cecile, fulfild of Goddes yifte,
The world and eek hire chambre gan she weyve,
Witnesse Tyburces and Valerians shrifte,
To whiche God of his bountee wolde shifte
Corones two, of floures wel smellynge,
And made his aungel hem the corones brynge.
The mayde hath broght thise men to blisse above;
The world hath wist what it is worth, certeyn,
Devocioun of chastitee to love."
Tho shewed hym Cecile, al open and pleyn,
That alle ydoles nys but a thyng in veyn,
For they been dombe and therto they been deve,
And charged hym hise ydoles for to leve.
"Whoso that troweth, nat this, a beest he is,"
Quod tho Tiburce, "if that I shal nat lye."
And she gan kisse his brest, that herde this,
And was ful glad he koude trouthe espye.
"This day I take thee for myn allye,"
Seyde this blisful faire mayde deere,
And after that she seyde as ye may heere.
"Lo, right so as the love of Crist," quod she,
"Made me thy brotheres wyf, right in that wise
Anon for myn allyee heer take I thee,
Syn that thou wolt thyne ydoles despise.
Go with thy brother now, and thee baptise,
And make thee clene, so that thou mowe biholde
The aungels face of which thy brother tolde."
Tiburce answerde and seyde, "Brother deere,
First tel me whider I shal, and to what man?"
"To whom?" quod he, "com forth with right good cheere,
I wol thee lede unto the Pope Urban."
"Til Urban? Brother myn Valerian,"
Quod tho Tiburce, "woltow me thider lede?
Me thynketh that it were a wonder dede."
"Ne menestow nat Urban," quod he tho,
"That is so ofte dampned to be deed,
And woneth in halkes alwey to and fro,
And dar nat ones putte forth his heed;
Men sholde hym brennen in a fyr so reed,
If he were founde, or that men myghte hym spye;
And we also, to bere hym compaignye,
And whil we seken thilke divinitee,
That is yhid in hevene pryvely,
Algate ybrend in this world shul we be!"
To whom Cecile answerde boldely,
"Men myghten dreden wel and skilfully
This lyf to lese, myn owene deere brother,
If this were lyvynge oonly and noon oother.
But ther is bettre lyf in oother place,
That nevere shal be lost, ne drede thee noght,
Which Goddes Sone us tolde thurgh his grace.
That fadres sone hath alle thyng ywroght,
And al that wroght is with a skilful thoght,
The goost, that fro the Fader gan procede,
Hath sowled hem, withouten any drede.
By word and by myracel Goddes Sone,
Whan he was in this world, declared heere
That ther was oother lyf ther men may wone."
To whom answerde Tiburce, "O suster deere,
Ne seydestow right now in this manere,
Ther nys but o God, lord in soothfastnesse,
And now of thre how maystow bere witnesse?"
"That shal I telle," quod she, "er I go.
Right as a man hath sapiences thre,
Memorie, engyn, and intellect also,
So, in o beynge of divinitee
Thre persones may ther right wel bee."
Tho gan she hym ful bisily to preche
Of Cristes come, and of hise peynes teche,
And many pointes of his passioun;
How Goddes Sone in this world was withholde
To doon mankynde pleyn remissioun,
That was ybounde in synne and cares colde;
Al this thyng she unto Tiburce tolde;
And after this, Tiburce in good entente
With Valerian to Pope Urban he wente;
That thanked God, and with glad herte and light
He cristned hym, and made hym in that place
Parfit in his lernynge, Goddes knyght.
And after this Tiburce gat swich grace
That every day he saugh in tyme and space
The aungel of God, and every maner boone
That he God axed, it was sped ful soone.
It were ful hard by ordre for to seyn
How manye wondres Jesu for hem wroghte.
But atte laste, to tellen short and pleyn,
The sergeantz of the toun of Rome hem soghte,
And hem biforn Almache the Prefect broghte,
Which hem apposed, and knew al hire entente,
And to the ymage of Juppiter hem sente,
And seyde, "Whoso wol nat sacrifise,
Swap of his heed, this my sentence heer."
Anon thise martirs that I yow devyse,
Oon Maximus, that was an officer
Of the prefectes, and his corniculer,
Hem hente, and whan he forth the seintes ladde,
Hymself he weep, for pitee that he hadde.
Whan Maximus had herd the seintes loore,
He gat hym of the tormentoures leve,
And ladde hem to his hous withoute moore.
And with hir prechyng, er that it were eve,
They gonnen fro the tormentours to reve,
And fro Maxime, and fro his folk echone
The fals feith, to trowe in God allone.
Cecile cam whan it was woxen nyght,
With preestes that hem cristned alle yfeere,
And afterward, whan day was woxen light,
Cecile hem seyde, with a ful stedefast cheere,
"Now Cristes owene knyghtes, leeve and deere,
Cast alle awey the werkes of derknesse
And armeth yow in armure of brightnesse.
Ye han for sothe ydoon a greet bataille,
Youre cours is doon, youre feith han ye conserved,
Gooth to the corone of lyf that may nat faille.
The rightful juge which that ye han served
Shal yeve it yow as ye han it deserved."
And whan this thyng was seyd as I devyse,
Men ledde hem forth to doon the sacrifise.
But whan they weren to the place broght,
To tellen shortly the conclusioun,
They nolde encense ne sacrifise right noght,
But on hir knees they setten hem adoun
With humble herte and sad devocioun,
And losten bothe hir hevedes in the place.
Hir soules wenten to the kyng of grace.
This Maximus that saugh this thyng bityde,
With pitous teeris tolde it anon-right,
That he hir soules saugh to hevene glyde
With aungels ful of cleernesse and of light;
And with this word converted many a wight;
For which Almachius dide hym so bete
With whippe of leed, til he the lyf gan lete.
Cecile hym took, and buryed hym anon
By Tiburce and Valerian softely,
Withinne hir buriyng place, under the stoon,
And after this Almachius hastily
Bad his ministres fecchen openly
Cecile, so that she myghte in his presence
Doon sacrifice, and Juppiter encense.
But they, converted at hir wise loore,
Wepten ful soore, and yaven ful credence
Unto hire word, and cryden moore and moore,
"Crist, Goddes sone, withouten difference,
Is verray God - this is al oure sentence -
That hath so good a servant hym to serve.
This with o voys we trowen, thogh we sterve."
Almachius, that herde of this doynge,
Bad fecchen Cecile, that he myghte hir see,
And alderfirst, lo, this was his axynge:
"What maner womman artow?" tho quod he.
"I am a gentil womman born," quod she.
"I axe thee," quod he, "though it thee greeve,
Of thy religioun and of thy bileeve."
"Ye han bigonne youre question folily,"
Quod she, "that wolden two answeres conclude
In o demande; ye axed lewedly."
Almache answerde unto that similitude,
"Of whennes comth thyn answeryng so rude?'
"Of whennes?" quod she, whan that she was freyned,
"Of conscience and of good feith unfeyned."
Almachius seyde, "Ne takestow noon heede
Of my power?" And she answerde hym this:
"Youre myght," quod she, "ful litel is to dreede,
For every mortal mannes power nys
But lyke a bladdre ful of wynd, ywys;
For with a nedles poynt, whan it is blowe,
May al the boost of it be leyd ful lowe."
"Ful wrongfully bigonne thow," quod he,
"And yet in wrong is thy perseveraunce;
Wostow nat how oure myghty princes free
Han thus comanded and maad ordinaunce
That every cristen wight shal han penaunce,
But if that he his cristendom withseye-
And goon al quit, if he wole it reneye?"
"Youre princes erren, as youre nobleye dooth,"
Quod tho Cecile, "and with a wood sentence
Ye make us gilty, and it is nat sooth,
For ye, that knowen wel oure innocence,
For as muche as we doon a reverence
To Crist, and for we bere a cristen name,
Ye putte on us a cryme, and eek a blame.
But we that knowen thilke name so
For vertuous, we may it nat withseye."
Almache answerde, "Chees oon of thise two,
Do sacrifise, or cristendom reneye,
That thou mowe now escapen by that weye."
At which the hooly blisful faire mayde
Gan for to laughe, and to the juge sayde,
"O Juge, confus in thy nycetee,
Woltow that I reneye innocence,
To make me a wikked wight," quod shee;
"Lo, he dissymuleth heere in audience,
He stareth, and woodeth in his advertence."
To whom Almachius, "Unsely wrecche,
Ne woostow nat how far my myght may strecche?
Han noght oure myghty princes to me yeven
Ye, bothe power and auctoritee
To maken folk to dyen or to lyven?
Why spekestow so proudly thanne to me?"
"I speke noght but stedfastly," quod she,
"Nat proudly, for I speke as for my syde,
We haten deedly thilke vice of pryde.
And if thou drede nat a sooth to heere,
Thanne wol I shewe al openly by right
That thou hast maad a ful grete lesyng heere,
Thou seyst, thy princes han thee yeven myght
Bothe for to sleen, and for to quyken a wight.
Thou that ne mayst but oonly lyf bireve,
Thou hast noon oother power, ne no leve!
But thou mayst seyn thy princes han thee maked
Ministre of deeth, for if thou speke of mo,
Thou lyest, for thy power is ful naked."
"Do wey thy booldnesse," seyde Almachius tho,
"And sacrifise to oure goddes er thou go.
I recche nat what wrong that thou me profre,
For I can suffre it as a philosophre.
But thilke wronges may I nat endure
That thou spekest of oure goddes heere," quod he.
Cecile answerde, "O nyce creature,
Thou seydest no word, syn thou spak to me,
That I ne knew therwith thy nycetee,
And that thou were in every maner wise
A lewed officer and a veyn justise.
Ther lakketh no thyng to thyne outter yen
That thou nart blynd, for thyng that we seen alle
That it is stoon - that men may wel espyen -
That ilke stoon a god thow wolt it calle.
I rede thee lat thyn hand upon it falle,
And taste it wel, and stoon thou shalt it fynde,
Syn that thou seest nat with thyne eyen blynde.
It is a shame that the peple shal
So scorne thee, and laughe at thy folye;
For communly men woot it wel overal
That myghty God is in hise hevenes hye,
And thise ymages, wel thou mayst espye,
To thee ne to hemself mowen noght profite,
For in effect they been nat worth a myte."
Thise wordes and swiche othere seyde she,
And he weex wrooth, and bad men sholde hir lede
Hom til hir hous, and "in hire hous," quod he,
"Brenne hire right in a bath of flambes rede."
And as he bad, right so was doon in dede,
For in a bath they gonne hire faste shetten,
And nyght and day greet fyre they underbetten.
The longe nyght and eek a day also
For al the fyr and eek the bathes heete
She sat al coold, and feelede no wo;
It made hire nat a drope for to sweete.
But in that bath hir lyf she moste lete,
For he Almachius, with a ful wikke entente,
To sleen hir in the bath his sonde sente.
Thre strokes in the nekke he smoot hir tho,
The tormentour, but for no maner chaunce
He myghte noght smyte al hir nekke atwo.
And for ther was that tyme an ordinaunce
That no man sholde doon men swich penaunce
The ferthe strook to smyten, softe or soore,
This tormentour ne dorste do namoore.
But half deed, with hir nekke ycorven there,
He lefte hir lye, and on his wey is went.
The Cristen folk, which that aboute hir were,
With sheetes han the blood ful faire yhent.
Thre dayes lyved she in this torment,
And nevere cessed hem the feith to teche;
That she hadde fostred, hem she gan to preche.
And hem she yaf hir moebles, and hir thyng,
And to the Pope Urban bitook hem tho,
And seyde, "I axed this at hevene kyng
To han respit thre dayes, and namo,
To recomende to yow er that I go
Thise soules, lo, and that I myghte do werche
Heere of myn hous perpetuelly a chirche."
Seint Urban with hise deknes prively
This body fette, and buryed it by nyghte,
Among hise othere seintes, honestly.
Hir hous the chirche of Seinte Cecilie highte;
Seint Urban halwed it, as he wel myghte,
In which, into this day, in noble wyse
Men doon to Crist and to his seinte servyse.
Heere is ended the Seconde Nonnes Tale
The Second Nun's Prologue | The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue