‘Þis worde of þe apostil longiþ to ȝow men & wymen of cristis Relygyon’: the translation of Edmund of Abingdon’s Mirror in BL MS Add 10053

Paper to be given at IES/Keio university conference on Old and Middle English Studies: Texts and Sources, 3-5th September


The Mirror of Holy Church is a Middle English translation of Edmund of Abingdon’s Speculum religiosorum/ecclesie, a work intended as a guide to the perfect life for members of a religious order, but which is also an important text in the development of vernacular theology in Britain. Very little recent work has been done on it,  one exception being a 2009 article by Atsushi Iguchi in which he discusses the concept of ‘faithfulness’ in translation. This focus on ‘faithful translation’, however, can be misleading: the ‘Mirror of Holy Church’ was a rewriting for a new readership in a changed cultural and linguistic environment, and bears witness to the devotional practices and ideals of people – monastic, clerical, lay; male and female – and to their relationships with the text as readers and audiences. In this paper I want to analyse the text contained in the fifteenth century manuscript, BL Add 10053, which also contains works by Walter Hilton and which was made for John Pery, a canon at the Augustinian priory in Aldgate, London. This text claims to be particularly suitable for men and women ‘of Cristes relygyon’: a phrase which is not a literal translation of the Latin ‘religiosis’, which suggests men belonging to a religious order, but implies a widening of what it means to be ‘religious’. Reading this text, not just as translation, but in its manuscript context will throw new light on the development of vernacularisation in theology and pastoral care, and the widening of literacy.

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