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Oldest Example of Written English Discovered in Church

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  • Heterodoxus
    What is believed to be the first ever example of English in a British church has been discovered. The writing was carefully painted onto a wall at Salisbury
    Message 1 of 5 , Mar 1, 2010
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      "What is believed to be the first ever example of English in a British church has been discovered.

      Oldest example of written English discovered in church
      The writing was carefully painted onto a wall at Salisbury Cathedral (
      Photo: APEX)

          "It was written half a millennia ago and its message was serious enough to be painted carefully on the wall of England's finest cathedral. But now it seems no one can quite decipher exactly what the inscription on the wall of Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire actually says.

          "It was hidden for 350 years behind a monument to a local aristocrat who was 'martyred' in the English Civil War for his support of King Charles I but rediscovered in January by astonished conservators.

          "And baffled experts have resorted to asking members of the public with a keen eye for deciphering puzzles to have a look at the text, and a computer-enhanced version, to see if they can help out.

      Tim Tatton Brown, the cathedral's consultant archaeologist, explained: 'The Cathedral's conservators quite unexpectedly found some beautifully written English text behind the Henry Hyde Monument on the cathedral's south aisle wall when the monument was temporarily removed as part of the on-going schedule of work.

           "'I had originally surmised the text date from the 16th century, bearing in mind that the monument was erected soon after 1660. However, our researchers now suggest it was written a century earlier and therefore pre-dates the Reformation. My colleague, Dr. John Crook, has made a comprehensive detailed photographic record of the script and subsequently enhanced the letter forms on his computer,' he added.

           "And what the experts now think is that this could be the first example of English written in a church context - scholars were executed for translating the bible into English at that tune.

           "Study of this by specialist academics is leaning towards the text being written in the 15th century, a period when English was, for the very first time, being used just occasionally in preference to Latin, which was then 'the norm'," added Mr Tatton-Brown.

           "Dr. Crook said he was equally fascinated by the writing and what it says. 'There are clearly several lines of a large textual inscription. There seems to be a phrase but so far we have not been able to work out more.

           "'If anyone thinks they can identify any further letters from the enhanced photographs, please contact us via the Salisbury Cathedral website and I can trace them in,' he added.

           "So far now the basic questions of what exactly the words are and why the text was written on the cathedral wall remain unanswered.

           "'It would be wonderful for us to solve the mystery.'

           "The real thing has been covered back up by the Henry Hyde Monument where conservators say it will be better protected in the long run."


      Source: The Telegraph, 2010March01


    • bucksburg
      ... Tim Tatton Brown, the cathedral s consultant archaeologist, explained: The Cathedral s conservators quite unexpectedly found some beautifully written
      Message 2 of 5 , Mar 2, 2010
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        --- In textualcriticism@yahoogroups.com, Heterodoxus wrote:
        >
        > "What is believed to be the first ever example of English in a British church has been discovered.
        >
        Tim Tatton Brown, the cathedral's consultant archaeologist, explained: 'The Cathedral's conservators quite unexpectedly found some beautifully written English text behind the Henry Hyde Monument on the cathedral's south aisle wall when the monument was temporarily removed as part of the on-going schedule of work.
        >
        "And what the experts now think is that this could be the first example of English written in a church context - scholars were executed for translating the bible into English at that tune.

        Source: The Telegraph, 2010 March01<<

        It's puzzling what they could mean by "English written in a church context." The Bible had a long history of being translated into English, going all the way back to Bede--a scholar and a churchman if there ever was one. Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use. English emerged as a written language a couple of centuries after the Norman Conquest, and there is plenty of manuscript evidence that among its first uses was writing glosses in several different versions of the Latin Psalter. This was followed about the middle of the 14th century with an Enlglish translation of the Anglo-Norman Apocalpse with commentary by Berengaudus.

        It wasn't until Wycliffe's time, toward the end of the century, that there was any apporbation attached to translating the Bible into English. And even Wycliffe wasn't burned at the stake until many years after he'd been dead and buried.

        Daniel Buck
      • Larry Swain
        Before responding to the below, I have some information on your previous remarks about Nerses to type up: in the end it won t change the practical nature of
        Message 3 of 5 , Mar 3, 2010
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          Before responding to the below, I have some information on your previous remarks about Nerses to type up: in the end it won't change the practical nature of your assumption, but it was fun for me to think and find information outside my geographical place and beyond the languages I usually work in.



          --- In textualcriticism@yahoogroups.com, Heterodoxus wrote:
          >
          > "What is believed to be the first ever example of English in a British church has been discovered.
          >
          Tim Tatton Brown, the cathedral's consultant archaeologist, explained: 'The Cathedral's conservators quite unexpectedly found some beautifully written English text behind the Henry Hyde Monument on the cathedral's south aisle wall when the monument was temporarily removed as part of the on-going schedule of work.
          >
          "And what the experts now think is that this could be the first example of English written in a church context - scholars were executed for translating the bible into English at that tune.

          Source: The Telegraph, 2010 March01<<

          >>It's puzzling what they could mean by "English written in a church context." The Bible had a long history of being translated into English, going all the way back to Bede--a scholar and a churchman if there ever was one. Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use.<<

          I too have been puzzled by that remark. Certainly even if we are restricting the comment to only inscriptional evidence in English churches, we have the Bewcastle and Ruthwell crosses, the inscription on the Brussels Cross, or the Old English inscription on the wall of a church in Breamore, among several others that could be pointed to. If we are only looking to Middle English or early Modern there's the English inscription at Newland from circa 1457, and another almost a century earlier from Cawston. That leaves aside the large number of homilies in both Old and Middle English that would have been written and preached in a "church context" and so on, much less other kinds of texts in Old, Middle, and early Modern English in church contexts of various kinds.

          Re: Bede: Bede seems to have written largely in Latin. The only evidence of anything in English we have from him is Cuthbert's statement that Bede was translating John's gospel into Old English. Cuthbert also records Bede's Death Song, but there is question as to whether this was Bede's composition or a pre-existing hymn/song that Bede quoted in the context of quoting certain Scriptural passages. So one could claim Bede as a writer of things in English in a church context.

          I suppose I should query just what is meant about the statement that "Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use." It is the same language, just at a different stage in history. Yes, it has changed significantly in the intervening 1400 years or so, but is still recognizably the same language.


          >>English emerged as a written language a couple of centuries after the Norman Conquest, and there is plenty of manuscript evidence that among its first uses was writing glosses in several different versions of the Latin Psalter.<<

          English emerged as a written language long before that! I mentioned above the runic inscriptions on the crosses...the language is English, as well as the Franks Casket. The Northumbrian version of Bede's Death Song and of Caedmon's Hymn are both eighth century, and it is agreed generally that Genesis A and Beowulf are both likely eighth century works and at least in the case of the former was written down. There are other literary works in English from before the Conquest, both prose and poetry, but too many to go into here.

          As for Middle English after the Conquest, the earliest Middle English is simply a continuation of Old English practices. Poems such as "The Grave" and the last entries in the Peterborough Chronicle, Proverbs of Alfred and the like are examples. As for specifically Biblical materials, there glosses on Psalters come into play, but so do other things such as paraphrases, homilies, harmonies, and the like, much less Biblical lyrics, Richard Rolle's psalms translation, and the like.

          >>This was followed about the middle of the 14th century with an Enlglish translation of the Anglo-Norman Apocalpse with commentary by Berengaudus.<<

          Berengaudus wrote in Latin; further he's earlier than the 14th century. The standard opinion is that he was an eleventh century writer on the continent and his commentary became very popular in the late 11th and 12th century and was often quoted from and used as gloss on the Apocalypse thereafter. Derk Visser wrote a book on early medieval Apocalypse commentaries in the mid-90s published with Brill that argued, I think fairly convincingly, that Berengaudus was a late Carolingian writer and not an 11th century writer.

          >>It wasn't until Wycliffe's time, toward the end of the century, that there was any apporbation attached to translating the Bible into English.<<

          And not even then. As with the earlier Peter Waldo and the Waldensians the issue as relating to Biblical translation was the issue of "control." Both Waldo, not a cleric, and Wycliffe who was decried the secularization of the church and the involvement of churchmen in secular affairs with the attendant corrupting wealth. According to his detractors, Wycliffe's "translation" (and he likely only did the four gospels and perhaps the epistles) (and Waldo's preaching---Waldo had paid a priest to translate the Bible into French for him, and developed his theology out of that translation--) was inaccurate and and wrong and was done to support his views on the poverty of the church, royal power, predestination and the like rather than being an accurate translation. Remember that almost every homily contained passages of the Bible in the vernacular, and there were vernacular sections of the Bible aplenty...the psalms and the gospels being the most popular portions. Most nobles in Wycliffe's day had a Bible or at least parts of it in French.

          Thus, it wasn't the fact of the Bible being in the vernacular, but the how and why it was in the vernacular--to undermine church authority.

          >> And even Wycliffe wasn't burned at the stake until many years after he'd been dead and buried.<<

          Yes, but not for his Bible translation.

          Larry Swain


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        • james_snapp_jr
          Mr. Brown doesn t seem to have been overly concerned with historical accuracy. This sort of statement may have been intended to grab a headline (and the
          Message 4 of 5 , Mar 3, 2010
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            Mr. Brown doesn't seem to have been overly concerned with historical accuracy. This sort of statement may have been intended to grab a headline (and the press-writer apparently took the bait hook, line, and sinker).

            Meanwhile: for a very informative and well-written study of the earliest uses of English texts in churches, you may want to download J. I. Mombert's book "Handbook of the English Versions of the Bible" from Google Books. It includes, among other things, a translation of the Ruthwell Cross runic inscription.

            Yours in Christ,

            James Snapp, Jr.
          • bucksburg
            ... I beg to differ. Old English--and there are several distinct literary dialects thereof--is not any more recognizable as being the same language as English
            Message 5 of 5 , Mar 8, 2010
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              --- In textualcriticism@yahoogroups.com, "Larry Swain" wrote:
              >> Before responding to the below, I have some information on your previous remarks about Nerses to type up: in the end it won't change the practical nature of your assumption, but it was fun for me to think and find information outside my geographical place and beyond the languages I usually work in.<<

              ??? I don't know of any mention of Nerses on this forum since 2005.

              >It's puzzling what they could mean by "English written in a church context." The Bible had a long history of being translated into English, going all the way back to Bede--a scholar and a churchman if there ever was one. Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use.<

              >> I suppose I should query just what is meant about the statement that "Except that the "English" of his day was not the same language as what we now use." It is the same language, just at a different stage in history. Yes, it has changed significantly in the intervening 1400 years or so, but is still recognizably the same language.<<

              I beg to differ. Old English--and there are several distinct literary dialects thereof--is not any more recognizable as being the same language as English than is Medieval Dutch. The conflagration of the Norman invasion killed Old English as a living language, and what finally emerged from its ashes was a language that owed as much to Norman French as it did to Old English. For convention, we refer to it by the old name, but it is in fact an entirely different language. It would be like calling Latin Old Italian. Old English is no more intelligible to us than any modern Teutonic language, and less so than modern Romance languages, due to the shared Latin heritage of the French half of our language.

              >> English emerged as a written language long before that! I mentioned above the runic inscriptions on the crosses...the language is English, as well as the Franks Casket. The Northumbrian version of Bede's Death Song and of Caedmon's Hymn are both eighth century, and it is agreed generally that Genesis A and Beowulf are both likely eighth century works and at least in the case of the former was written down. There are other literary works in English from before the Conquest, both prose and poetry, but too many to go into here. <<

              I don't agree on a post-invasion date for the composition of Beowulf, but that's quite beside the point. You refer to Old English; I refer to Middle English, which I can read with little difficulty because it is only an early version of my native language. In fact, the earliest. As far as I know, the oldest extant mss containing Middle English date to a century after the Conquest, about the time of the last Old Enlish document. Middle English, which of course was the Modern English of the time, was first used officially in England in 1258, in connexion with the Provisions of Oxford. It was another century after that before English came into widespread literary use, and it had changed enough in that century that the English used in the English Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence is not materially different, even in spelling. Only in recent centuries have we decided that what we use now should get the name Modern English, and that mostly because the development of the printing press, and the distribution of the Bible, have fixed literary English more than any previous events.

              >> As for Middle English after the Conquest, the earliest Middle English is simply a continuation of Old English practices. Poems such as "The Grave" and the last entries in the Peterborough Chronicle, Proverbs of Alfred and the like are examples. As for specifically Biblical materials, there glosses on Psalters come into play, but so do other things such as paraphrases, homilies, harmonies, and the like, much less Biblical lyrics, Richard Rolle's psalms translation, and the like.<<

              Definitely the earliest Middle English documents show more Old English influence than later ones; one of the last Old English words to fall out of use was 'cleppid'. Dictionaries still list its root 'clepe' as an archaic word, and its form 'yclept' continues to this century in some literary usages.

              > Berengaudus wrote in Latin; further he's earlier than the 14th century. The standard opinion is that he was an eleventh century writer on the continent and his commentary became very popular in the late 11th and 12th century and was often quoted from and used as gloss on the Apocalypse thereafter. Derk Visser wrote a book on early medieval Apocalypse commentaries in the mid-90s published with Brill that argued, I think fairly convincingly, that Berengaudus was a late Carolingian writer and not an 11th century writer.<

              The English Apocalypse to which I refer was but a translation of the Anglo-Norman Apocalypse, which, naturally, was a translation of the Latin.

              The earliest use of literary French, especially for ecclesiastically related uses, was in England, where it was the native language of the nobility. In France itself, the ruling class continued to use Latin until French was falling out of favour in England.

              >>It wasn't until Wycliffe's time, toward the end of the century, that there was any apporbation attached to translating the Bible into English. And even Wycliffe wasn't burned at the stake until many years after he'd been dead and buried.<<

              > Thus, it wasn't the fact of the Bible being in the vernacular, but the how and why it was in the vernacular--to undermine church authority.<

              Indeed, this has long been the contention of the Church of Rome, which even authorizes vernacular translations done by Protestants if under the supervision and input of Church authority.

              Daniel
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