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Meditations on the Supper of Our Lord and the Hours of the Passion

Profile author: Allan F. Westphall
Revision date: June 1st, 2010

Approximate Date, Sources, Provenance

Meditations on the Supper (Meds) is a vernacular verse adaptation of the Supper and Passion sequence of the pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditationes vitae Christi. It is the only surviving full-scale verse adaptation in the corpus of Middle English pseudo-Bonaventuran writing.

Whatever little scholarship exists on this Middle English adaptation conventionally dates it to c. 1320-30 on the basis of a hypothetical attribution to Robert Mannyng (c.1275-c.1338). This early dating was suggested by the text’s first editor J. Meadows Cowper in the edition of 1875 (see bibliographical details below). Meds follows Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne (1303) in 3 of the 8 extant manuscripts and shares important theological themes with Mannyng’s text, notably regarding the Sacrament of Penance, contrition and conformity to Christ as a way to a penitential awareness for further discussion, see the section 'Theology and Textual Authority' below).

Meds was traditionally thought to be one of the earliest Middle English versions of the Passion sequence of the Meditationes vitae Christi (known as the Meditationes de passione Christi) because of this association with Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne. It is an association which has been used in the past to provide us with a terminus ante quem for the vastly influential Meditationes vitae Christi. However, there seems to be nothing in the extant manuscript evidence to support such an early date for the composition of Meds, which appears to have circulated in manuscript form concurrently with other vernacular versions of the Latin Meditationes from around the last quarter of the fourteenth century and throughout the fifteenth century (further consideration of dating and provenance/dialect can be found in the codicological descriptions by Ryan Perry that accompany this textual profile. See also his article '"Thynk on God"'). Medieval manuscript compilers probably saw ways in which Meds and Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne could productively complement each other. Meds, with its intense affective appeals, imagined dialogue and exuberant use of the apostrophic mode, might have facilitated the experiential motivation to the kind of contrition and conformity to Christ recommended in a more schematic work such as Mannyng’s manual. In this respect, it is interesting to note that emotive apostrophe and exclamation occur regularly throughout Meds, and sometimes where there is no parallel in the Latin source. (Some examples are listed under ‘exclamation and apostrophe’ in the section ‘Textual rhetoric and ‘manere’ of exposition’ below.)


As a vernacular verse treatment of the events of the Supper and Crucifixion of Christ, Meds aims to facilitate the meditative technique of visual evocation and frequently exhorts the reader to form mental images of the Supper and Passion events. It follows the source text in providing gospel accounts and meditations designed for the reader to enter into the Passion narrative with total mental absorption (with what the Latin source termed toto mentis intuitu) and to imagine and recollect events in the mind’s eye (in oculis mentis).

Meds is a slightly abridged verse adaptation of the pseudo-Bonaventuran Passion account of the Meditationes vitae Christi. When the author follows his Latin source he does so as closely as the exigencies of verse form allow, particularly in the Supper sequence with its listing of the four points of the Supper and the five moral lessons to be derived from them. The division, found in the Latin text, of meditations according to the hours is replicated precisely in the vernacular adaptation, but the words of Christ on the cross and the sorrows of Mary are set apart for special meditation and have their own headings. Occasionally, additional material is provided. This is particularly the case with imagined dialogue, which is occasionally expanded, with its affective appeal intensified. Similarly, the direct appeals to the reader to behold the events of the Passion and to suffer with Christ are more frequent in the English Meds.


Meds is a verse treatment of the Supper and Passion of Christ. 1142 lines in rhyming couplets (mostly octosyllabic).

It is structured as a series of meditations on the Supper and Passion events organised according to the canonical hours, but with some further sub-division in the form of separate chapters on Christ's words of the Cross and the lamentations of Mary. The division below is consistent in all manuscripts of Meds and follows closely the same division in the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi.

1-22 - Prologue, introductory communal prayer to the Trinity; affective exhortation to the individual reader; note on textual authorities used

23-42 - 'Now of þe soper of oure lorde Ihesu' - the Incarnation of Christ; brief introduction to the Last Supper, 'a memorand þyng to haue yn mynde.' (32)

43-128 - 'The fyrst poynt of þe soper'- the Supper prepared by 72 disciples (reference to 'Seynt Martyal's legende'); the table can be seen in Rome; disciples eat standing up; Christ cuts the lamb; Christ predicts the Betrayal; Christ reveals the name of the betrayer to John; Christ holds John to his chest; a model of love

129-178 - 'The secunde poynt of þe soper' - Christ washes disciples' feet; Christ's exemplary meekeness, the washing of Judas' feet; reader take lesson from Christ's meekness

179-218 - 'The þrydde poynt of þe soper' - The institution of the Eucharist; the holiness and efficacy of the Eucharist; reader to receive and revere the Eucharist as administered by priests

219-296 - 'The fourþe poynt of þe soper' - Christ's sermon following the Supper; the five principal points of the sermon: 'Y go and come to 3ow a3en' (231), 'Thys y 3ow hote, þat 3e loue yn fere' (240), 'Kepeþ my commandementys, 3yf 3e me loue' (247), '3e shul here haue sorowes some' (251), 'Fadyr, kepe hem whyche þou 3aue me' (259); Christ and disciples cross the Cedron; the Arrest

297-474 - 'Here begynne þe passyun' - Christ's prayer to Father; Michael offers Christ's words and blood to the Father; Judas' Betrayal, the Arrest and mocking by Jews; Mary prays to the Father to spare her Son

475-538 - 'The medytacyun of þe oure of pryme' Christ before Pilate, Herod and Caiphas; the Scourging

539-604 - 'The medytacyun of þe þredde oure' - Christ crowned king; the road to Calvary; Mary's swooning

605-706 - 'The medytacyun of syxte oure of none' - Crucifixion; Christ climbs a ladder to the upright Cross; the Nailing; the ladders are removed; the nails carry the weight of Christ's body and the joints break; Mary crucified in her heart; Christ and Mary pray to the Father

707-776 - 'The medytacyun of the wurdys þat cryst spak hangyng vpp on þe cros' - Christ's words on the Cross; words between Christ and Father; Christ's cry can be heard in Hell; the words of the Centurion

777-900 - 'The medytacyun of þe sorowe þat oure Lady had for þe wunde yn here sone syde' - The lamentation of Mary; Longinus pierces Christ's side; Mary's martyrdom; John sees Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus

901-984 - 'The medytacyun of þe oure of euensong' Deposition from the Cross; Mary wishes to be buried with Christ; the Annointing; carrying Christ's body to the sepulchre

985-1120 - 'The medytacyun of þe oure of cumplyn' - the Burial; Mary's lamentation; Mary as widow; the disciples make confession; John narrates Christ's sermon to Mary

1121-1142 - 'The medytacyun how cryst 3ede to helle' - We ought to thank the Father 'as fadyr, as former, socoure and sauyoure' (1132); closing prayer by Zacharias.

Rhetoric and Manner of Exposition


The Middle English author imagines a congregational setting:

Alle my3ty god yn trynyte,

Now & euer wyþ us be;

For þy sones passyun

Saue alle þys congregacyun (1-4)

Consistently the appeal in the text is intimate and to the individual Christian reader, with the repeated injunctions ‘beholde now, man, a ruly sy3t’.

Notably, the author is imagining an involved congregation and he structures his meditations to accommodate a common and collective prayer:

‘Saue alle þys congregacyun’ (4)

‘þank we now oure sayoure, þat salue vs haþ bro3t,

Oure syke soules to saue, whan synne haþ hem so3t.

Of hys grete godenes gyn we hym grete,

Seyyng þe wurde of sakarye þe holy prophete’ (1133-36)

The following are some of the notable rhetorical features and discourse types found in the text.


Direct exhortation and imperative to the reader is the most characteristic rhetorical feature of Meditations on the Supper. With 38 injunctions to ‘beholde’, ‘se’, or ‘loke’, these occur with a frequency higher than in any other Middle English Pseudo-Bonaventuran life of Christ. When compared with the corresponding passages in the Latin Meditationes vitae Christi it is clear that the Middle English adaptor reiterates very closely what he finds in his source. Below are some examples:

‘thou crysten creature, by goddes grace,

Opone þyn herte and hyde þy face;

For þou shalt chaunge þy chere a none,

Or elles þyn herte ys harder þan stone’ (9-12)

‘byholde now, man, and þou shalt se’ (61)

‘Beþenke, and holde þys weyl in þy mende’ (127)

‘Behold þe dyscyplys, yn here wendyng,

As chekenes crepyn vndyr þe dame wyng’ (285-86)

‘þenk, man, of þe dyscyplys doyng!

þey wepe, þey weyle, here handys þey wryng,

Here mayster ys take, þat shulde hem kepe;

þey renne aboute as herdles shepe’ (449-52)

‘Now crystyn creature, take goode hede

And do þyn herten for pyte to blede’ (297-98)

‘Beholde now, man, a ruly sy3t!

þe cumly kyng stant bounde vpry3t,

Alle forwounded for þe yn mode’ 517-19)

‘Beholde now, man, with wepyng herte,

And late nat þy þo3t ly3tly a sterte’ (569-70)

‘Beholde þe peynes of þy sauyour,

And crucyfye þyn herte wiþ grete dolour’ (607-8)

Exclamation and apostrophe

Exclamation occurs throughout the text, and particularly in the Passion sequence and Mary’s lamentation. This feature retains rather precisely what is found in the Latin, but there are instances, some of which are noted below, in which the English adaptor adds emotive exclamations to heighten the affective appeal of his writing. Most often, exhortation to the reader and exclamation operate together and reinforce one another, so that an injunction to “beholde” a particular aspect of Christ’s suffering elicits an emotional response conveyed by the immediacy of the recurring exclamation and apostrophe:

· ‘Beholde, þese nayles beren alle hys lemes,

Loke, alle aboute hym renne blody stremes.

He suffred sorowes byttyr and fele,

Mo þan any tunge may rede or telle.

Betwene þeues tweyn þey hange hym yn samen,

A, what wrong, what peyne, & also what shamen!’ (668-72)

· ‘A! How tendyrly þey loued in fere’ (119)

The following passage from Chapter 80 of the Latin Meditationes relates the piercing of Christ’s side by Longinus, and it provides an important instance where the English adaptor inserts additional emotional appeal and exclamation:

latus Domini Jesu dextrum vulnere grandi aperuit, et exivit sanguis et aqua. Tunc mater semimortua cecidit inter brachia Magdalenae. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. Peltier, p. 608)

In the English this is significantly expanded with emotive outbursts at the magnitude of Mary’s pain, and the motif of Mary’s martyrdom:

þurgh hys herte he prened hym with mode,

and anone ran downe watyr and blode.

AA, wrong! Aa, wo! Aa, wykkednes!

To martyre here for here mekenes.

Þe sone was dede he felt no smerte,

But certes hyt perced þe modrys hert.

Þey wounded here, and heped harm vp on harmes;

She fyl, as for dede, yn maudeleyns armys.

A! Ihesu, þys dede ys wundyr to me,

Þat þou suffrest þy modyr to be martyred for þe. (859-68, italics mine)

Apostrophe and affective exclamation are generally an important feature of the meditations in this adaptation. Some further examples are these:

Apostrophe to Christ (ubiquitous):

‘A, lorde Ihesu! How may þys be?

Ho was so hardy þat spoyled þe?

Ho more hardy þat þe bounden?

Ho moste hardy þat þe wounden?’ (525-28)

Apostrophe by Christ to Father (extensive 311-54; as in the Latin)

‘My swete fadyr, y prey to þe,

Ryse vp redyly yn helpe of me’ (337-38)

Apostrophe to Judas:

‘O Iudas, sore a shamed þou be may,

So meke and so myþe a mayster to tray’ (155-56)

Apstrophe to Justice:

‘Ha, fals Iustyce! Where fynst þou þat resun,

So for to dampne an ynnocent man?’ (557-58)

Apostrophe to Mary

‘A, Mary, modyr, þy wo wexyþ newe!

Se man, here martyrdom, and þeron rewe’ (825-26)

Apostrophe by Mary to Christ (frequent):

‘A, my sone! My socour! Now wo ys me:

Ho shal graunte me to deye wyþ þe?’ (789-90)

extensive (1019-1050)

Imagined speech and dialogue

There is extensive use of imagined speech and dialogue throughout; the Middle English author here follows and occasionally expands on the tendency in the Latin source text. Of the text’s 1142 lines, 363 lines consist of direct and imagined speech: this somewhat changes the proportions found in the Latin source and makes direct speech and appeal a particularly prominent feature of the English rendition.

As the author of the Latin Meditationes, the English author clearly finds the actual words in the gospel account too sparse for his meditative purposes. He occasionally elaborates these in accordance with his source, providing some hypothetical extension of dialogue. E.g. ll. 739-54, which follow the Latin closely, but also briefly reiterates with characteristic economy of expression the various tortures endured, and asserts the salvific implications of the Passion (‘þy soules to saue’):

The syxte wurde anone he spellede,

And seyd, ‘alle þyng ys now fulfylled.’

As who seyþ, ‘fadyr, fulfylled y haue

Alle þyn hestes, þy soules to saue:

Y haue be skurged, scorned, dyffyed,

Wounded, angred, and crucyfyed;

Fulfylled y haue þat wrytyn ys of me,

þerfore, dere fadyr, take me to þe.’ (739-46)

Sextum verbum fuit: Consummatum est; quasi diceret: Pater, obedientiam quam mihi dedisti, perfecte complevi. Adhuc, Pater, etiam quidquid vis, mihi filio tuo praecipe: paratus sum quidquid restat ulterius adimplere. Ego enim in flagella paratus sum. Sed totum quod de me scriptum est, consummatum est: si tibi placet, Pater, revoca me modo tibi. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. Peltier, p. 607)

Notable and sustained examples of direct speech include the following instance which all retain what is in the Latin:

  • Christ’s sermon during the Last Supper and words to disciples (220-90)
  • Christ’s prayer to Father (311-54)
  • Words between St Michael and Christ (378-406) This exchange includes a speech within a speech, as St Michael conveys to Christ the words of God regarding the sacrifice. St. Michael uses first the pronoun of respect and subservience “3ow” in his address to Christ (382), but then continues to use only “þe” to convey intimacy and love.
  • The mocking speech of the Jews (428-38)
  • Mary’s plea to the Father (455-72) Mary consistently uses the respectful pronoun “3ow” with plural verbs.
  • Exchange between Jews and Pilate (549-54)
  • The prayer of Christ and Mary to God (690-702)
  • Dialogue between Christ on the Cross and Father (741-54)
  • Prayer of souls languishing in Hell (773-74)
  • Mary’s lamentation to other women and to Christ (809-18, 829-35)

Narratorial voice

The narratorial ‘I’ voice is not used to chart a series of personal emotional responses in Meds as is the case for instance in many Crucifixion lyrics and the Pseudo-Bonaventuran The Prickynge of Love. It operates as a strong guiding and didactic presence, outlining normative, exemplary responses to the Passion narrative. The ‘I’ voice manifests itself through imperatives addressed to the reader, through instructions on reading, and various formulaic phrases (‘Y wyl þe lere a medytacyun/Compyled of crystys passyun’ (13-14), ‘þenk þys was y do at þe oure of pryme:/þe dowyng of þred now wyl y ryme’ (537-38)

Visual evocation

This occurs throughout the text. Typically prefaced by the imperatives ‘behold’ and ‘loke’. The reader is constantly reminded to form mental pictures of the gospel events and to see Christ directly and vividly with the eye of the mind. However, there are no prolonged or elaqborated passages of visual focus, for instance, on the instruments of the Passion or Christ’s blood, as is found in other meditations (e.g. Prickynge of Love, Michigan MS 1).

glossatory, contextualising exposition

Very limited. The English author follows his source in including the explanatory commentary (here abbreviated) on the table of the Supper:

Here table was brode and foure square,

The maner of þat cuntre was swych þare...

Thys table at rome men haue seyn,

Yn seynt Iohne chyrche latereyn (63-64, 73-74)

Moral exposition

The English adaptor follows his Latin model in extracting specific moral lessons from the events of the Supper. Especially notable is how the relation between Christ and John is offered as a model of love and humility (105-20).

The text concentrates especially on the exemplary responses of the disciples to the news of the Passion of Christ. These responses are offered as behavioural models of meekness, love and humility to be emulated by the reader.

The reader is to take lesson from Christ’s meekness that he displays in washing the disciples’ feet and from his exemplary obedience to his Father (163-78)

The reader is urged to be mindful of the sacrality and efficacy of the Eucharist, as well as to receive the holy sacrament with sincerity and purity of intent: ‘With clene hert þou hym receyue/For elles þy soule þou wylt deceyue’ (217-18).

Reading instructions

The text strives for maximum effect of visual evocation and empathetic involvement. Interpolations and various imaginings of a single event are provided to offer scope and some freedom for individual imaginative meditation.

In the description of the table, for instance, the reader is given a choice on how to imagine the table scene at the Last Supper with the disciples as either sitting or standing (also found in the Meditationes vitae Christi). The author finally decides on the manner most efficacious for meditative purposes:

Whan þe soper was made redy,

Cryst sette hym down, and þey hym by...

A nouþer maner mayst þou vndyrstande,

þat þey stonde with staues yn honde...

Cryst lete hem sytte, so semeþ best,

For elles ne had Ione slept one hys brest. (53-54, 75-76, 79-80)

It is conventional for other Middle English adaptations of the Meditationes to offer two possible meditations of the Crucifixion event, with either the Crucifixion itself upright on the Cross, or on the Cross lying on the ground.

The Middle English author of Meds does not follow this convention (and hence deviates from his source) and offers only the meditation on the upright Crucifixion.

The author occasionally addresses the reader to prepare him/her for the transition from descriptive/narrative passages to the affective meditation that follows; thus, for example, in the meditation following the description of the crossing of the brook Cedron:

Now crysten creature, take goode hede,

And do þyn herte for pyte to blede;

Loþe þou nat hys sorowes to se,

þe whych hym loþed nat to suffre for þe. (297-300)

There is some instruction on prayer. Prayer is described as arising in direct continuity with the meditative discipline and with affective immersion in the gospel account, and the meditator is exhorted to pursue the activity with concentration and steadfastness:

Man, take ensample here at goddes sone,

Whan þou shalt pray of god any bone,

Prey so stedfastly tyl þat þou be herde,

For cryst preyd þryes ar þat he were herd (371-74)

Textual Authority and Theological Position



Textual authority

The ascription to Bonaventura is found appended to the Middle English title only in Harley 1701, Bodley 415.

Here bygynneþ medytacyuns of þe soper of oure lord Ihesu. And also of hys passyun. And eke of þe peynes of hys swete modyr, Mayden marye. Þe whyche made yn latyn Bonaventure Cardynall

The Middle English author repeats the point made in the source text:

Take hede, for y wyl no þyng seye

But þat ys preued by crystes feye,

By holy wryt, or seyntes sermons,

Or by dyuers holy opynyons (17-20)

Augustine’s ‘Sermon’ is invoked as the authority that Christ revealed the imminent Betrayal and Passion to John but not to Peter (113-14; the authority for this reference is probably the Legenda Aurea, 99, rather than any work by Augustine, and this repeats exactly what is in the Latin).

Affectivity and incarnational theology

Meds suggests a particular concern with exploring the interrelation between affectivity and incarnational theology. Whenever the Latin source demonstrates this interest, the English author always makes the choice to keep this material in his own adaptation. He repeats, for instance, the point made in his source that Christ suffers in his ‘manhede’, not in ‘Godhede’ (411-12). The reader is reminded of Christ’s dual nature, yet the constant emphasis remains on Christ’s humanity and on the details of his corporeal suffering.

To underscore the aspect of human suffering, historical accuracy takes second place to meditative efficacy and the stirring to love and compunction. Thus in the meditation of the Last Supper (75-80), the listener/reader is given a choice between meditation on the disciples as either standing or sitting at the table, in order to be able to choose the type of visual imagining most beneficial in stirring devotion.

Verisimilitude and vivid, graphic evocation are the primary techniques used by the Middle English author, who follows his Latin source closely in this respect. There is careful attention to detail and to the physicality of events and specific objects – e.g. the table of the Last Supper can still be seen in Rome and ought to serve as a visual memorial of the Passion (73-74).

Scriptural scenes are frequently amplified in accordance with the Latin Meditationes, with non-biblical additions to provide specific detail on the physical torment and to underscore the point about Christ’s humanity. It is a particular feature of the Middle English reworking that the points of Christ’s human suffering and his human fear of the Crucifixion are made more pointedly than in the Latin source. There is physically explicit treatment that creates a frame of narrative verisimilitude and seems designed to elicit emotional responses to the individual events of the Passion. Christ’s extraordinary suffering is described in lingering physical detail (some of it not occurring in the Latin source) to convey emphatically the message of Christ’s human nature. The following passage serves as an example of both the detail with which the suffering is related, as well as of the skill of the author in employing a variety of tenses (past tense, present tense) to provide an engaging account of activity, agency and the actuality of Christ’s waning of power in the present before the meditator’s gaze:

Anone he traueyled as men done þat dyen,

Now shyttyng [shutting], now kastyng vpward, hys yen,

þrowyng hys hede, now here, now þore,

For bodely strengþe haþ he no more (755-58)

This translates and adapts the following from the Latin:

Et ex tunc languere coepit more morientum, modo claudendo oculos, modo aperiendo, et caput inclinare, modo in unam partem, modo in aliam, deficientibus omnibus viribus.

Such vivid corporeal depictions are often refracted through the paradigmatic emotional responses and extravagant co-suffering of Mary. While the aspect of exemplary female compassion receives no elaboration in Meds beyond what is already in the source (unlike, for instance, in Privity of the Passion and the unique reworking of Meditationes found in Michigan MS 1), the Middle English author incorporates the conventional Marian lament and the stabat mater motif:

Þe sone was dede he felt no smerte,

But certes hyt perced þe modrys hert.

þey wounded here, and heped harm vp on harmes;

She fyl, as for dede, yn maudeleyns armys. (863-66)

Contrition and the sacrament of penance

Central to the didactic intent of Meds is the point that meditative work and affective involvement in the gospel story ought to bring with them an appropriate and immediate penitential awareness. The importance of this is underscored explicitly by the author, as well as embodied in the structure of the text through meditations that proceed from sustained imaginative absorption to remorse over past sins.

As is well known, penance seems to have acquired particular theological and institutional significance in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, following the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which made yearly confession to a priest obligatory. This conciliar initiative created a need for penitential handbooks such as Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne with its focus on the self-examination proper to penance and confession. The affective meditations of Meds could serve as an apt companion piece to the schematic layout, concern with practical pastoral goals and instruction through exemplary narratives found in Handlyng Synne. Meds contains a lesson about an everyday ethical awareness in the Christian life and it teaches how an affective response is also a contritional response, facilitating an appropriate spirit of humility and penitence. The text offers the reader/listener an imaginative and meditative grasp of the centrality of contrition in the scheme of salvation. Central to the devotional utility of Meds is thus the inculcation of an internal awareness of sin and guilt, while the text itself illustrates the sacramental grace inherent in contrition, compassion and conformity to Christ.

Meds displays the influence, as noted by Denise Despres (see below), of key ideas promulgated by the Franciscans concerning sacramental theology and the penitential state. It teaches and incorporates a theology of contrition, centring on meditative disciplines to be rehearsed regularly by the individual Christian in order to effect a penitential, remorseful temper. In Meds the emphasis is on the two first states of progression and moral reform in the Franciscan tripartite model of compassion/conformity – contrition – contemplation. And, as in much Franciscan meditative and penitential literature, it skilfully mobilises a repertoire of rhetorical techniques to arouse affective, empathetic responses.

Heartfelt contrition and sacramental efficacy

The key theological emphasis of Meds is on the centrality of sincere, heart-felt contrition and the Sacrament of Penance in various liturgical contexts. The Middle English writer adapts selections from the Meditationes vitae Christi to produce an exemplary didacticism that concentrates on the disciples’ responses to Christ’s Passion, and brings out the efficacy of heart-felt affective penitential devotion. Whereas the disciples, who abandoned Christ at the crucial hour, are told of the death of Christ and immediately make their confession (1085). This particular section of narrative becomes a model of sincere confession and may even be said to invoke the act of effective absolution. Notably, the sincerity of the disciples’ contrition and devotion is emphasised in the Middle English adaptation, that also provides direct penitent exclamation and an emphasis on confession that is absent from the Latin (e.g. 1081-86):

“Wo me,” seyd Petyr, “me shame þy soules to saue to loke,

For þat y my swete lorde and mayster forsoke,

Wheche loued and chersed me to tenderly:

“We me, a, wreche, mercy, y cry.”

Also þe dyscyplys here confessyun

Maden and weptyn with lamentacyun.

This adapts the following from the Latin:

Ego verecundor in meipso, nec debedrem in conspectus vestro loqui, vel hominibus apparere, quia Dominum meum, qui me tantum diligebat, sic reliqui et negavi. Similiter et alii cum percussione palmarum, lacrymarumque effusione, seipsos redarguebant, quia Dominum suum dulcissimum sic reliquerant. (Meditationes vitae Christi, ed. Peltier, p. 612)

The disciples display an appropriate contritional awareness immediately after their act of meditating on the Crucifixion, in what is offered as a model penitential response for the readers/listeners to internalise and act out within Church ritual. The exemplary responses outlined in Meds are thus suggestive of the formation of an ideal religious consciousness manifest both at individual and congregational levels. Contrition signifies at one and the same time a personal discipline in an ongoing devotional life, and a model of social and liturgical participation.

The Last Supper is presented as a ‘memorand thyng’ (32), etched into the mind of the Christian. This suggests the significance of being moved and ‘inscribed’ communally, with the memory of the Supper and the disciples’ reactions as the crucial transformative memorial. The unique structural divisions of Meds, which separate the points of the Supper and then extrapolate their moral content, might serve as a convenient mnemonic device for internalising and reflecting on the significance of the Last Supper and the Eucharistic sacrifice. Specific emphasis on the sacrality and efficacy of the Eucharist occurs ll. 212-17.

In continuation of the theme of sacramental observance, the text stresses the efficacy of priestly speech within pastoral and liturgical contexts. This serves to underscore both the efficacy of Passion meditation in the context of the institutionalised Church, and the power of penance and the institution of confession. Interestingly, when the disciples return after the Crucifixion, John narrates to them the events of Christ’s suffering. He speaks, in effect, as a priest narrating the story of the Passion and delivering a sermon intended to elicit specific penitential responses such as that articulated by Peter:

‘Wo me,’ seyd petyr, ‘me shameþ to loke,

For þat y my swete lorde and mayster forsoke,

Wheche loued and chersed me so tenderly:

Wo me, a, wreche, mercy, y cry.’

Also þe dyscyplys here confessyun

Maden and weptyn with lamentacyun. (1081-86)

In response, it is Mary who reacts to the disciples’ sincere contrition and in effect offers absolution. Her speech fuses authority (one may say that she speaks as a figure representing Holy Church) with the intimacy of a loving mother:

‘Certes y am sory for hys grete passyun,

But truly y glade for soules saluacyun;…

3e weten weyl how benygne my dere sone was,

Ly3tly to for3yue al maner of trespass’ (1099-1100, 1003-4)

Although the Latin Meditationes is followed closely here, such emphasis on, and direct mention of, confession and absolution are particular to the Middle English Meds and reflect its own, very specific, theological emphasis. The concept of efficacy is central to this narrative in which an ideal state of contrition leads to effective absolution. By means of this gospel harmony, the reader/listener is presented with a paradigm for an effective merger of sacramentality, ecclesia and liturgical participation.

There is evidence internal to the text which suggests that the meditations may have been orally delivered in a congregational setting. Listeners are asked initially to respond with ‘amen’. (8) While the affective meditations are addressed to the individual, they are introduced and concluded by prayers of communal response, using the first-person plural.

The closing of Meds offers clarification of the persons of the Trinity, and underscores the significance of directing prayer to the Father: we ought to thank Father ‘As fadyr, as former, socoure and sauyoure’ (1132). This is a closing exhortation with no parallel in the Latin.




Dissemination and Reception Contexts

[Co-written with Ryan Perry]

There is a distinct version of the Meditations on the Supper preserved in British Library MSS Harley 2338 and Harley 218. This version lacks the 22 line prologue to the text where there is an appeal to a congregational audience, although, as will be discussed below, the text in Harley 2338 and 218 often refers to a listening audience in a more explicit manner than the version with the prologue. This version is primarily characterised by Latin rubrics interspersed throughout the chapters, which tend to parallel the meaning of the English lines immediately following (and occasionally, immediately before) the Latin text. e.g., between lines 150 and 151 in the Cowper edition:

    A forn his seruauntes feete washing
    Lauit pedes discipulorum suorum
    Wt his hondes her feete he wassheth (Harley MS 218, fol. 85r)


These Latin lines are sometimes less concerned with translating the English material than drawing attention to a significant issue, such as in the section dealing with Mary's suffering at the Sepulchre (Cowper lines 1072 ff):

    But sighed & sorowed and sore wepte
    Amore Langueo
    And euer she seid my derworthe son
    ffor loue I anguysh til thou comme (Harley MS 218, fol. 100v)


In fact, the section dealing with Mary at the Sepulchre is specially marked out in both MSS containing this version, with the heading, Lamentacione de Marie ad Sepulcrum. Chapter headings are always given in Latin, eg "Capitulum sextum de hora tercia".

There are some interesting additions to the English text (which may, or may not be relics from an earlier version that predates the text in the other six manuscripts containing the Meditations on the Supper). Some of these additional lines serve to emphasise the Meditations on the Supper as being a work created for oral recital to a group of listeners, usually at the beginning of a chapter:

    Now herkynniþ alle wt deuocoun/ Sumwhat more of crists passioun" (Harley MS 2338, fol. 16r).


On occasion where the text in Cowper's edition invokes the inward eye of the audience, "Se now þe maner of crucyfyyng" (l. 628), this version appeals to listeners, "Here now the maner of crucifiyng" (Harley 218, fol. 93r).

There are some additional couplets, such as Mary's prayer to God in anticipation of the Passion (inserted between lines 454 and 455 in Cowper's edition):

    Our lady went her self a lone
    To the fadir of heven she made her mone
    Nare kneis she kneled doun
    And mad here preyours wt good deuocion (Harley 218, fol. 91r).


Or at the beginning of chapter 9 (Christ's words from the cross):

    Lord iheesu moche is thi charite
    That preyest for frende & foo in euery degre
    ffor whiles he heng vp on the croys wt myld voys (Harley 218, fol. 94v).


There are also a number of occasions where the text in Harley MSS 218 and 2338 omits lines that occur in the Cowper edition. One significant omission is the failure to include ll. 75-78, where the reader/listener is offered an alternative manner of imagining the Last Supper, with the assembly standing around the table rather than sitting (in accordance with the law of Moses).

On many occasions lines have been altered significantly whilst retaining essentially the same meaning, "At crystys wurde beholde a none / Þey etyn no more but madyn here mone", becomes in Harley 218, "ffor cristis word of hem eete ther non / But sat stille & mad gret moon"; a more substantive change occurs a few lines later when, "To a logher place þey gunne þan to go" (in Cowper's edition) becomes in the Harley 218 version, "In to an Inner hous thei gun al tee". The former reading would appear to agree better with the original Latin text of the MPC.

There are also examples of lines within couplets being reversed, such as lines 459 and 460.

Many of the differences in the truncated version of the Meditations on the Supper serve to create a clearer, more logical reading, and frequently names are inserted to make the subject/object of a sentence clearer than it is in the version that contains the prologue. Whether this is an original feature, or the work of a subsequent editor is uncertain. Indeed, throughout both versions of the Meditations on the Supper there are occasions were either text might hold what appears to be a superior reading, in terms of rhyme, structure, or faithfulness to the Latin MPC.

In the truncated text, the chapter for Terce ends at a point around l. 558 in Cowper's edition, some twenty lines after the beginning of the chapter in the longer Meditations on the Supper. Thus the humiliation of Christ by dressing him in purple, adorning him with the Crown of Thorns, and the mob baying 'crucify, crucify', forms part of the chapter for Prime in the Harley MSS version, whereas they are part of the chapter for Terce in the more common version of the Meditations on the Supper. It is thus true that the structural division of the chapters between Prime and Terce appear to be mapped exactly in accordance with the Latin MPC in the Harley 218/2338 version, whilst this is not the case in the version edited by Cowper.

Bibliographical Materials

J. Meadows Cowper, ed. Meditations on the Supper of the Lord, and the Hours of the Passion. EETS OS 60 (1875).

A.C. Peltier, ed, Meditationes vitae Christi, in S. Bonaventurae Opera Omnia, vol. 12 (Paris, 1868), pp. 509-630.

Denise Despres, "Exemplary Penance: The Franciscan Meditations on the Supper of Our Lord", Franciscan Studies, 47 (1987): 123-37.

(Discusses Meditations on the Supper in relation to the Franciscan evangelical programme. Despres consider the scriptural embellishment and visual evocation found in Meds as having resulted naturally from imaginative penitential exercises taught to the laity by the Franciscans, 124-25)

David L. Jeffrey. The Early English Lyric and Franciscan Spirituality (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974).

James Morey. Book and Verse: A Guide to Middle English Biblical Literature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000) pp. 276-80.

Ryan Perry. '"Thynk on God, as we doon, men that swynke": The Cultural Locations of Meditations on the Supper of Our Lord and the Middle English Pseudo-Bonaventuran Tradition', Speculum, 86 (2011) 419-54.


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