Sainte Marye Virgine, Moder Jesu Christes Nazarene
The mediaeval period
The mediaeval period is generally considered as the time when the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary reached its climax in England.
Our Lady of Walsingham
During the Anglo-Saxon period before the Norman Conquest (1066) a noblewoman, the Lady Richeldis de Faverches, who lived in the manor of Walsingham, told people she had experienced a vision of the Blessed Virgin, in obedience to which she built a chapel. (1)
Gaef (1965:3) states that as the Middle Ages advanced, Walsingham became "the most important Marian centre of pilgrimage since the eleventh century".
But it was not the only Marian pilgrimage centre in England, asserts Litten (1994:1-2); there were many others besides - inter alia at Ipswich, Canterbury, Westminster, York, London, Doncaster, Glastonbury, Willesden, Islington, Caversham, Barking, Winchester, Thetford, Evesham, Egmanton and Pen Rhys "to name but a few".
Our Lady's Dowry
According to Litten, nowhere in Europe was Mary of Nazareth held in greater honour during the Middle Ages than in England:
indeed, England itself was regarded as 'Our Lady's Dowry',
such being the devotion held by the populace towards the
Mother of God.
Tweflth Century and St Bernard of Clairvaux
In the first quarter of the twelfth century, a movement to give more honour to God sprang up in England.
Its adherents praised God and lauded the Virgin Mary for providing the world with a Redeemer in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christians had traditionally placed faith in Mary's love and mercy.
Now the belief in her powers of intercession with God took root.
Indeed, St Bernard of Clairvaux - who established the Cult of the Virgin Mary - expressed the principle of intercession: 'She will listen to thee, the Son will listen to her, the Father to him. And the natural appeal of this gentle yet powerful woman was such that her 'cult' spread throughout the Christian world. People referred to her as 'Our Lady', a name first recorded about 1175. The Ave Maria became common i the late twelfth century and some bishops - Grosseteste of Lincoln being one - insisted on all the faithful in their diocese being able to recite it.
Since literature was similarly affected by this upsurge in the veneration of the Virgin Mary, mediaeval times in England saw an unprecedented increase in Marian poetry.
Rosemary Woolf (1968:115) divides the corpus of mediaeval Marian verse into three separate types;
those praising Mary and begging her mercy (e.g. A Cry to Mary: Sainte Marye Virgine), (2)
the five-joy poems (e.g. A Song of the Five Joys: Haile be þu mari) (3) and the Virgin-Christ Child dialogues, which are mostly variations on translations based on the Latin hymn "Stabat Mater Dolorosa luxta crucem" [the sorrowful mother stood at the cross], (e.g. The Blessed Virgin to her Son on the Cross: A Sone! tak hede to me whas sone þu was) (4)
(1) The Lay of Walsingham
(2) St Godric
A Cry to Mary
Sainte Marye Virgine,
Moder Jesu Christes Nazarene,
Onfo, schild, help thin Godric,
Onfang, bring heyilich with thee in Godes Riche.
Sainte Marye, Christes bur, 5
Maidenes clenhad, moderes flur,
Dilie min sinne, rix in min mod,
Bring me to winne with the self God.
St Mary, the Virgin,
Mother of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
Receive, defend and help your Godric,
(and) Having received (him), bring (him) on high with you in the Kingdom of God.
St Mary, chamber of Christ,
Virgin among maidens, flower of motherhood,
Blot out my sin, reign in my heart,
Bring me to bliss with that selfsame God.
(3) Hail be thou Mary maiden bright / Thou teach me the ways right
A Song of the Five Joys of the Virgin Mary, found in one MS of the Cursor Mundi (lines 25619-83) — 58 lines in stanzas of varying length
(4) A son take heed to me whose Son thou was