Another Easter, another round of confessions. The Medieval Monk explores five (or six) food related sins that he doesn't want you confessing next Easter...
I do hope, blessed readers, that you have been enjoying a spiritually uplifting time over the Easter period, and that you haven't just stuffed your face with chocolate bunnies and eggs – do you know how heathen that is?
Alright, you chocolate devotees, I know technically that a medieval monk shouldn’t know anything about chocolate confectionary – it wasn’t until 1847 that the chocolate bar was invented in England – but I get to hear about these things. I have my sources!
Well, since we’re on the subject of food, and since, no doubt, you have just confessed all your sins, including those related to improper eating (we won’t mention your more salacious deeds), I thought I would offer my spiritual services by enlightening you on this most important of matters.
After all, it gets a bit tiresome for your confessor to hear you grovelling with the same old, Oh, Father, I must confess that I ate a loaf/stew/steak/cheesecake that was consecrated to a devil. So please, beloved, pay attention to my Top 5 (or 6) Things Not to Eat – ever again!
All information is based upon my reading of the Anglo-Saxon penitentials – those little books of enlightenment for the confessor.
1. Whichever man eats food that has been consecrated to devils and afterwards confesses to the priest, the priest is to discern what rank the man has, or what age, or how skilled the man is, and then he is to judge as he thinks is wisest. (From Scriftboc)
So I’ll start with the one I just mentioned: eating food sacrificed to pagan gods! For goodness sake, blessed ones, watch your company. We don’t allow sorcerers and witches in eleventh-century England. We drive them out! So you must be going out of your way to find these devil worshipers, and then compounding your sin by sitting down with them for a bit of light refreshment!
2. If a pig or a chicken or any sort of creature [should] eat someone's body or drink his blood, one is to slay that creature and give it to the dogs. (From Old English Penitential)
Really, this is more a reminder to you to keep your livestock under control. For chickens are vicious little devils if you don’t keep your eye on them – and never, never turn your back on a pig!
I have to confess, however, that it does depend on which penitential your confessor is using when it comes to abstaining from eating murderous chickens. So, if you’re a bit tight for food, ask for the Sciftboc version, which reads:
If a hen [should] drink man's blood, one is allowed to eat it three months later; but for this we do not have ancient authority.
Mind you, if your hen’s already an old fowl at the time she goes for your throat, then she may well be just a bit too tough another three months down the line. So you might be better off throwing her to the dogs after all.
3. Whoever eats any blood in half-cooked meat, if he did not know it, he is to fast seven days. [Later correction: he is to fast three days or sing the Psalter; if he knows it, he is to fast seven days] (From Scriftboc)
Well, rumour has it that some of you, blessed readers, like your steaks done rare or even blue. Well, frankly, I’m shocked! All Christians should know that meat should always be killed twice!
As you can see from this example, quite often penitentials include the clause ‘if he did not know it’; and so I hope you can also see, beloved, that ignorance is not bliss. For there will always be a good friend or family member to point out to you – and to the priest – the error of your ways. And, remember, you have the very same responsibility to dob in your friends and family. Just be nice about it.
4. [Concerning] whoever gives to another drink in which there is a mouse or a weasel drowned: if he is a layman he is to fast three nights; if a monk he is to sing three hundred psalms. If he did not know it before and knows it afterwards, he is to sing the Psalter. (From Old English Penitential)
My goodness me! If you are this careless in your habits then you deserve all the fasting and psalm-singing that’s coming to you, beloved. Don’t try to tell me you didn’t see the mouse floating in that flagon of mead you offered your neighbour. As for the weasel? Well, words defy me!
5. Whoever eats the scabs of his body or worms, or drinks urine or eats feces, if he is a child or a young man, let him be flogged; if it is an adult man, he is to fast one year or the three fasting periods; either (punishment) is under the bishop's hand. (From Scriftboc)
Well, I expect the more delicate ones among you have been put right off your left-over chocolate bunny.
And please note: children and adolescent boys obviously don’t understand the spiritual excoriating that constitutes fasting, so a good flogging should sort them out nicely. And if you are an adult man, or woman, engaging in such disgusting behaviour, well, it’s off to the bishop for you!
Now, I did say my top five things not to eat, but I just have to include a sixth, if only because it was referred to in a recent audio drama which some incredibly talented and versatile monk I know recently produced – did I say incredibly talented?
6. A woman who mixes a man's seed in her food and then eats it so she be more agreeable to the male is to fast for 3 winters. (From Scriftboc)
If you don’t quite get the meaning of ‘seed’ here, let me just say that it isn’t a reference to a farmer’s oat sowing. Well, it could be if you’re into euphemism. But, anyway, if I were to elaborate further, I would be accused by the bishop of planting a seed of curiosity into your delicate minds. And I wouldn’t want to do that now, would I?
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Please note: at the time this blog was originally posted all the images were available as 'public domain'.