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- Edfride 1605
This legend describes the conversion of King Merwaldus by Etfridus presbyter in 660. The original Latin is in rhymed couplets and was probably written in the time of King Edgar and Bishop Dunstan. If you would like to make your own transcription, Harley 2253, 14th C., is now accessible (but see footnote) at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=harley_ms_2253_f049r
In the index click f.132r, BRITISH LIBRARY site
The Poem Edfride created 1605, probably written by John Hackluyt, can be found on the page called Edfride 1605.
The Legend of Saint Etfrid of Leominster
Merwald king of Mercians was a devotee of paganism.
At that time Saint Etfrid the presbyter, an outstanding teacher and greatly respected for his manner of life, was encouraged to come from the regions of the Northumbrians and convert the king by word of heaven. For this oracle, so we are told, got the man of God to cross the country to a place in Mercia called Reodes Mouth, and to convert the pagan King and his people to Christianity, preaching the word of God in that place.
And that is how holy Etfrid received his vocation telling him where to go, although it was someone else, a man skilled in vision craft, who mapped out his exact path, though he had no personal knowledge of the king or of the place. Heaven’s path was made clear to him, and under heaven he was led all the way there.
So at last he reached his destination and the sun had just set; day was being swallowed up in darkness. Without shelter on a hillside there he was, a greenhorn stranger, surprised by nightfall.
But at that moment, so as not to be let down by this unreassuring outcome to his expedition, he was given absolute certainty of the king’s conversion.
ii For when he sat down to supper under the last glimmerings of nightfall (first offering to God the proper psalms for his security that night), a most threatening lion stood there, the hairs of its mane in sinuous locks all round its neck. But when he saw it the holy man, God’s unshakeable standard-bearer,
gave no sign of fear towards it, but assuming it to be sent from heaven held out to it a hunk of bread.
And the beast itself, not a lion now but more tame than a lamb, took the offered bread with mild courtesy. It ate its share at the good man’s feet, tumbling about like a kitten; and when it had eaten well the lion disappeared; but the saint stayed all night in that spot.
The sun came up, a golden day blazed: the man rose from his place, an explorer making his way; he noted every landmark.
He came to where the king he had been searching for was in residence with his entourage; and a household was picked to take Etfrid as a guest, and he was looked after by a soldier in the king’s service.
iii Now, the following night the king had a dream. And when morning came and he had described it word for word to his people, not one of them was able to unfold it for him.
In the end the soldier remembered the guest who was lodging with him, and suggested his name to the king just as the cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh about Joseph as a master of dreams.
‘Lord my King,’ he said, ‘let your Excellency order to be presented to you one particular man
whom this night past I took in as a guest under my roof.
His culture seems alien to our ways, and unless I am mistaken he is an adherent of the Christian faith; for indeed he disparages and misrepresents our gods. Because of our devotion to them he pronounces sentence of unending death upon us and threatens us.
Perhaps if he should hear the vision of my sovereign king he will be its interpreter and I think he will not lie.’
The King said to the soldier, ‘Let him be summoned with due urgency, if there is such a guest.’
iv When Christ’s ambassador was summoned into the presence of His Majesty, the king began to tell his dream like this:
‘Night wore on, with me asleep on my easy bed, when I seemed to see two dogs, monstrous and terrifying, grab me by the throat; but from somewhere a certain person with a venerable appearance, with his hair tonsured from ear to ear in the form of an imperial crown, came to my aid, and with a golden key which he carried in his hand, he plucked me mightily from the teeth of the dogs.
‘As their mouths gaped open, such enormous size, such voracious greed to get me made me afraid; so you see, my lightning rescue from them, and the jolly appearance of my rescuer gave me the sense of being cherished. But whatever sort of threat might such a stinking, ugly vicious brute hold? What significance might so gracious and fine a person as my rescuer (the man with the keys) promise?’
[ on both accounts my commitment is pledged to the worship of One only ]
v The King had no sooner stopped talking than Christ’s humble servant began:
‘Take cheer from your vision, Majesty, for it brings you closer to your eternal salvation. And therefore, your Majesty, recognise and understand what the traumatic appearance of the dogs signified when they lay in wait for your life and wanted to catch you by the throat, and what you are to make of the man with the keys, the bringer of your liberty, such a cheerful sight.
'The terrifying and brutal dogs are the soot-black henchmen of the King of Hell, they are mortal enemies of your life and salvation, into whose jaws you will be given as a reward and a morsel, where the devoured will always be ripe for devouring, to be at the point of dying but never achieving death, in unremitting terror, with sulphurous stench, with the rasping of teeth, with brutal and unendurable punishments. With the wicked in the centre of hell you will be tortured, unless you completely turn away from paganism, and are converted with all your heart, to Christ the son of the living God.’
vi ‘That reverend key-bearer, by whose power you were being set free as it appeared to you from the utterly vicious and ravening monsters, is doorkeeper to the Prince of the Heavenly kingdom, and the representative on earth of Christ the saviour of the world; for his golden key is the heavenly power by which is restrained whatever he restrains, whatever he sets free is set free; and to him you will build in your kingdom a house for giving praise and thanks by day and by night to the King above, believing in him in your heart, confessing his name with your voice, and also clothing yourself in the garment of his baptism of life.
‘You will have given up your heathen cult of demons. You will have abjured your pagan practice of idolatry, so that among the thrones of his heavenly kingdom, you may be ready to take your place,
able to come and go in his kingdom, endowed with a happy joy which does not know death.
‘And you will be the lucky hero down the ages when you have been set free from the fangs of the dogs of death by taking the holy faith of Saint Peter, your rescuer; the very man who by his acclaim of Christ as son of the living God, was handed the keys and the chief place in paradise.’
vii With the simple God-given principles of the faith and in many different ways our sacred hero made Christ thoroughly known to the king; and by his knowledge he managed to bring the king into Christ’s pattern. When the king had assiduously listened to these matters, he said to the mediator of this salvation,
‘Whatever your Christian understanding shall instruct, my vowed obedience is ready to undertake, so long as I escape the jaws of those repulsive monsters.’
And that is how the king encountered the heavenly mercy. Every one of his idols he breaks and grinds in the dust; he puts away the insignia of royalty,
his sceptre, his crimson robe, his diadem. Smeared with ash he puts on a hair shirt; he is in anguish, he groans, and he draws blood to gain forgiveness, he throws himself at the feet of the saint, he abjures paganism, he is made perfect in the worship of God, he is reborn in the sacred font.
The convert, when he had received the chrism, immediately offered public thanksgiving for everything by which his evangelist made him whole.
viii Now, six centuries and six decades had run their course from the time of our Lord’s incarnation when Merwald, King of Mercians, was baptized by St Etfrid the priest. See how the king, represented as the lion up to now, the lion mentioned earlier, is not now fierce as a lion, but meeker than a lamb.
By making clear his condemnation of his own error and his belief in the truth, he escaped from the mire. He adopted the faith of truth, he received from a guest at his own table the bread of life, that is to say the teachings of faith and of life.
The place where the conversion of the king through the agency of a lion, as the Lord, was divinely foretold to the man of God, was chosen as the site for the buildings dedicated to the royal deliverer, the gatekeeper of the kingdom of heaven.
Consequently that very place was afterwards converted into the Monastery of the Lion. Furthermore the building is said to have been built skilfully with materials supplied by the king; and it may be said, richly with royal wealth.
And blessed Etfrid, whose gracious teachings of the True Light shine in the western borders of the Mercian people, and his popular and happy memory is rightly honoured there for his good deeds, unto him be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
'Select' (=swipe blue) + 'copy,' and 'paste' into a WordDocument: =four pages A4.
Download as a document to transcribe your preferred spelling: Etfrid to St Eatfrið (Saxon p.b.) or Etfride (anonymous 1604) or St Edfrith (Edfrith Festival). Merwaldus is often called King Merewald, but Coeng Meruvald is not improbable.
Students may wish to know that the original Latin is rhymed, phrases are rhymed in pairs. Where a rhyme is missing suspect a gloss. see [On both accounts...].
In the last two paragraphs, Monasterium Leonis is a possible translation of Leominster, English, and Llan llieni, the Welsh name; Wondrous Wealth is approximately the equivalent of Merwald, and New Light is more or less Eatfrid, in Anglo-Saxon.
Shortly after the Synod of Whitby all mention of Etfrid was forbidden by Archbishop Theodore due to a theological misunderstanding. Fortunately Much Wenlock had a copy of the legend.
This translation first appeared in The Early Church in Herefordshire ISBN 0 9536314 1 9
Published by Leominster History Study Group for Leominster Historical Society in 2001.
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17 February 2015 from the British Library Blog.
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