Aspects of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England

by Michiko Ogura (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 134 Pages


This collection of papers is a gift for all the members of the Japan Society for Medieval English Studies, who worked abroad under the direction of British, European and American medievalists or greatly influenced by those scholars as guests of the Society. Six papers in this book tell parts of their special fields of study: Aldred the Northumbrian scribe, Old English glosses, the Exeter Book, source studies of Old English homilies, Old English Boethius and Judgement Day II. As one of their students and a former president of the Society, the editor adds the last paper on Old English syntax.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Aldred among the West Saxons: Bamburgh, and What bebbisca Might Mean
  • Bibliography
  • The Rewards and Perplexities of Old English Glosses
  • References
  • A Context for the Exeter Book: some suggestions but no conclusions
  • References
  • Mapping the Anglo-Saxon Intellectual Landscape: The Risks and Rewards of Source-Study
  • Bibliography
  • The Old English Boethius as a Book of Nature
  • Nature as Examples and Analogies
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Doomsday and Nature in the Old English Poem Judgement Day II
  • Bibliography
  • Two Syntactic Notes on Old English Grammar
  • (1) OE ‘beon/wesan + present participle’ Construction
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Temporal use
  • 3. Descriptive use
  • 4. Lexical choice
  • 5. Stylistic fondness
  • 6. Possible prototypes of MnE be going to
  • 7. Summary
  • (2) OE standan as a Copula
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Data in Dictionaries
  • 3. My Investigation
  • 4. Summary
  • References
  • Dictonaries
  • Studies

| 9 →

Aldred among the West Saxons: Bamburgh, and What bebbisca Might Mean

Eric G. Stanley


The Northumbrian Aldred wrote the interlinear glosses in the Lindisfarne Gospels, and glossed the Durham Collectar. In the Lindisfarne glosses he entered at Luke 18:37 NAZARENUS nazarenisca » ðe bebbisca .i. allsua monn cuoeðas, and bebbisca has never been explained. At the centre of Aldred’s spiritual life is the community of St Cuthbert, close to Bamburgh, a holy place in Northumbria, with Bam- from Bebba, the name of Æthelfrith’s queen. Nazareth is to Jesus as Bamburgh is to Northumbrian Christendom.

Aldred, the scribe who wrote the glosses in Old Northumbrian, the dialect of Old English that was spoken by the Anglo-Saxons in the north of England about a thousand years ago, wrote the following colophon at the end of the Gospel of St John at the end of the Lindisfarne Gospels:1

† Eadfrið biscop/b’ Lindisfearnensis æcclesiæ he ðis boc aurat æt fruma Gode & S[an]c[t]e Cuðberhte & allum ðæm halgum \gimænelice/2 ða ðe in eolonde sint; & Eðiluald Lindisfearne-eolondinga bisc[op] hit uta giðryde & gibelde sua he uel cuðæ; & Billfrið se oncræ he gismioðade ða gihrino ða ðe uta on sint & hit gehrinade mið golde & mið gimmum æc mið suulfre of[er]gylded faconleas feh. & Aldred p[re]sb[yte]r indignus et misserrim[us] mið Godes fultummæ & S[an]c[t]i Cuðberhtes hit of[er]gloesade on Englisc, & hine gihamadi mið ðæm ðriim dælu[m]. Matheus dæl Gode & S[an]c[t]e Cuðberhti, Marc’ dæl ðæm bisc[ope], & Lucas ðæl ðæm hiorode & æhtu ora seo/ulfres mið to inlade, & S[an]c[t]i Ioh[annis] dæl f[ore] hine seolfne \f[or]e his saule/& feouer ora seo/ulfres mið Gode & S[an]c[t]i Cuðberhti þ[æt]te he hæbbe ondfong ðerh Godes milsæ on heofnu[m], seel & sibb on eorðo, forðgeong & giðyngo, uisdom &snyttro ðerh S[an]c[t]i Cuðberhtes earnunga. † Eadfrið, Oeðiluald, Billfrið, Aldred hoc Euange[lium] D[omin]o & Cuðberhto construxer[un]t ɫ ornauerunt.

The words gimænelice ‘jointly’ and f[or]e his saule ‘for his soul’ are written above the line, to make quite clear how we are to understand to whom is ← 9 | 10 → dedicated the pious work of producing the Lindisfarne Gospels, with all the various skills in their production: Bishop Eadfrith who so accurately wrote the text, Bishop Oethilwald impressed and covered the outside of the binding, Billfrith adorned the binding with gold, jewels, and silver, and Aldred, last and least, wrote the gloss. Their collaborative work is dedicated to God, to St Cuthbert, to all the saints and relics that are on the island of Lindisfarne jointly. Especially important is that Aldred glossed the Gospel of St John for himself, that is, f[or]e his saule ‘for his soul’, in the hope of entry into heaven through the grace of God. Aldred adds another note in the margin, in Latin and perhaps rhythmical and rhyming: Ælfredi natus Aldredus uocor, bonæ mulieris filius eximius loquor ‘I am called Aldred, son of Ælfred, I who speak (am) the excellent son of a good mother’. Above mulieris is written .i. tilw’, which used to be expanded id est Tilwyn(n), and interpreted as the name of Aldred’s mother. No such name is recorded, and the superscription is, in more recent scholarship, expanded id est til wif ‘that is a good woman’.3 All this is movingly personal: the glossator’s work on St John is for the good of Aldred’s soul, for his hope that, by the mercy of God, he may, when his time comes, find heaven open to him as his reward for glossing the Latin Gospel texts.

Now the translation of the Colophon:4

† Eadfrith, Bishop of the Lindisfarne Church, originally wrote this book, for God and for St Cuthbert and \jointly/for all the saints whose relics are in the Island. And Æthelwald, Bishop of the Lindisfarne-islanders, impressed it on the outside and covered it – as he well knew how to do. And Billfrith, the anchorite, forged the ornaments which are on it on the outside and adorned it with gold and with gems and also with gilded-over silver – pure metal.5 And Aldred, unworthy and most pitiable priest, glossed it in English between the lines with the help of God and St Cuthbert. And by means of the three ‘sections’, he made a home for himself – the section of Matthew was for God and St Cuthbert, the section of Mark for the Bishop, the section of Luke for the members of the Community (in addition, eight ores of ← 10 | 11 → silver for his induction, and the section of St John is6 for himself \for his soul/(in addition, for ores of silver for God and St Cuthbert), so that, through the grace of God, he may gain acceptance into Heaven; happiness and peace on Earth,7 and through the merits of St Cuthbert advancement and honour, wisdom and sagacity. † Eadfrith, Æthelwald, Billfrith, Aldred made, or, as the case may be, embellished this gospel-book for God and Cuthbert.

The personal and the local are emphasized by Aldred; in the margin his parents, and he himself an excellent son, filius eximius, and above all God and the Community of St Cuthbert. We may wish to see him as someone deeply rooted in the land between Lindisfarne and Chester-le-Street, the home of his Community, and with faith that St Cuthbert, from that same region of Northumberland and Durham,8 has his eyes on his Community, and may when the time comes mediate Aldred’s way through the grace of God to acceptance into heaven.

In fact, we know that Aldhelm’s skilled services were at least once required far away from Chester-le-Street at Woodyates, Dorset,9 now on the road A354 half-way between Salisbury and Blandford (Forum). More precisely, where he was in the South, the place bore the name Aclee, now Oakley Down,10 about a mile south of Woodyates. There he added four collects to St Cuthbert and a colophon in the Durham Cathedral MS A. IV. 19, the Durham Collectar, traditionally called the Durham Ritual. The colophon giving these details reads:11

Be suðan Wudigan Gæte æt Aclee on Westsæxum on Laurentius mæssan daegi, on Wodnes Dægi, Ælfsige ðæm biscope in his getelde, Aldred se P[ro]fast ðas feower collectæ on fif næht aldne mona ær underne awrat.

← 11 | 12 →

[To the south of Woodyates at Oakley Down among the West Saxons on (St) Lawrence’s mass-day, on a Wednesday, for Bishop Ælfsige in his tent, Provost Aldred wrote these four collects before Tierce, the moon (being) five nights (old).]

The word order of my translation, above, follows that of Aldred; the following translation, largely by Ross, is easier:

Alfred the Provost wrote these four collects at Oakley, to the south of Woodyates, among the West Saxons, on Wednesday, Lawrence’s Feast-Day (the moon being five nights old), before Tierce, for Ælfsige the bishop, in his tent.

Of course, we are interested in the fact that the Northumbrian Aldred is among the West Saxons, that he describes himself as ‘the Provost’, no longer p[re]sb[yte]r indignus et misserrim[us]. He appears to have been promoted, and earlier he had prayed for promotion.

These four St Cuthbert collects mattered to Aldred, when he entered them on fol. 84ro of the Durham Collectar.12 He refers to them in his colophon immediately under them. This page is Aldred’s personal page, in what is, unlike the Lindisfarne Gospels, a quite unpretentious book, perhaps compiled for teaching purposes rather than to guide the Community of St Cuthbert in prayer. The collects read as follows, and I am grateful to Mr Colin Leach, formerly of Pembroke College, Oxford, for the translations:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus qui in meritis sancti tui Cuthberhti sacerdotis semper es, et ubique mirabilis13 quesumus clementian tuam ut sicut ei eminentem gloriam contulisti sic Ad consequendam misericordiam tuam eius nos precibus adiuuari, per.

(Colin Leach’s translation:) Almighty and everlasting God, who art forever in the deserts of thy priest St Cuthbert, and art everywhere wonderful, we beseech (thee) for thy mercy so that, just as thou didst confer on him outstanding glory, that thou even so bringest about [facias] that we be helped by his prayers to obtain thy pity, etc.

← 12 | 13 →

Deus qui nos sanctorum tuorum temporali tribues14 commemoratione gaudere. presta quesumus ut beato Cudberhto pontifice intercedente in ea numeramur salutis15 in qua illi sunt gratia tua gloriosi, per…


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
Old English glosses Aldred Boethius Cynewulf West Saxon dialect
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 134 pp.

Biographical notes

Michiko Ogura (Volume editor)

Michiko Ogura is professor of English at Keio University, Tokyo, Japan. Her field of study is medieval English syntax and word study. Her publications include Verbs of Motion in Medieval English (2002) and Words and Expressions of Emotion in Medieval English (2013).


Title: Aspects of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England
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