And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

tirsdag 1. april 2014

Edward the Confessor as King David

So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. And as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
- 2 Samuel 6: 15-15 (KJV)

David humbling himself before God
The Morgan Bible, Paris, 1240s
Picture courtesy of this website

The story of the ark of the covenant's return to Jerusalem is a famous episode in the life of King David, and it shows the man of royal dignity humbling himself before God and rejoicing in the Lord's work. In the medieval hagiography this scene became an important source for hagiographers who wished to contrast the arrogance of the world - so frequently found in kings who challenged the so-called liberties of the church. The struggle between the temporal and the spiritual powers is a common theme in much of medieval history, and King David was often held up as an example of good kingship for the admonition of contemporary princes.

One such example comes from the mid-12th century in Aelred of Rievaulx's Vita Sancti Ædwardi, the hagiography of Edward the Confessor written in 1163 and prepared for the saint-king's translation of October 13 that year. This vita was dedicated to King Henry II and in the dedication Aelred expresses his hopes that the king might follow the example of St. Edward in the performance of his office. This was the year before the council of Clarendon where Thomas Becket and the king had a falling out over the constitutions which was said to encroach upon the liberties of the church. The struggle between Henry and the English church was at that point already long-standing, and it is likely that the Cistercian hagiographer Aelred - commissioned to write the vita by Abbot Laurence of Westminster, his kinsman - saw this as an opportunity to persuade the king off his current path.

In one anecdote from Aelred's work, Edward the Confessor is explicitly likened to King David in the healing of the crippled Gillemichel, an Irishman. This man has been told that he will receive a cure for his illness if King Edward will carry him on his back all the way to Westminster Abbey. This task was given to the king by St. Peter himself, who thus becomes a co-worker of miracles who commission his favourite on earth, Edward the Confessor, to complete the task. The king is told about this and agrees to help Gillemichel, thus humbling himself for the glory of God. The elaborate comparison with David should be seen in light of King Henry's politics against the church, and Edward provides for the king a model of emulation, strengthened by the comparison to the Old Testament exemplar.

The excerpt is translated by Jane Patricia Freeland and is taken from
Aelred of Rievaulx: The Historical Works, edited by Marsha L. Dutton, 2005: 163-64.

Meanwhile not a few of those standing by were laughing. Some teased the king about being fooled by the poor man, while others interpreted the righteous man's simplicity and gentleness as foolishness. See there a new David leaping and dancing; see a new Michal contemptuous and laughing! Yet their view was sounder who jduged the king happier under such a burden than under a golden crown. You, Christ Jesus, you yourself were being carried in the poor man, you who once were clothed as a poor man whom Martin clothed. But you made that known then by an oracle, this now by a miracle.

And so as the king moved forward little by little, burdened by this noble burdn, the tendons that the longstanding illness had contracted were suddenly extended, the passag of blood that his stiffened veins had restricted resumed, his bones became firm, and his withered flesh became warm again. His joints emerged out of his flesh and his feet were separated from the buttocks. The knees, which were now flexible and flowing with healthy blood. The royal clothing was adorned rather than defiled.

They all shout that the sick man has been healed enough now and that the king should now lay down his burden because of his filthy sores. The king, mindful of the command he had received, refused to listen to these siren songs. He entered the church and before the holy altar he resigned the offering he had been bearing to God and to blessed Peter.

[B]efore the holy altar he resigned the offering he had been bearing to God and to blessed Peter.
MS. Egerton 745, French collection of saints, 14th century
Courtesy of British Library

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