Thought for the Day – 16 November – The Memorial of St Edmund Rich of Abingdon (1175-1240) Archbishop of Canterbury
St Edmund’s best-known work in the Middle Ages was his Speculum Ecclesie. It’s a work on the contemplative life, offering (among other things) meditations on different moments in the life of Christ, aiming to help the reader to enter imaginatively into the scenes of His Passion and feel intense compassion for His sufferings. I don’t know whether people read the Speculum Ecclesie today, but most students of Middle English will have read a poem which survives as part of it. This is one of the earliest, shortest and most popular devotional poems in Middle English:
Nou goth sonne under wod,
Me reweth, Marie, thi faire rode.
Nou goth sonne under tre,
Me reweth, Marie, thi sone and thee.
Now goes the sun under the wood,
I grieve, Mary, for your fair face.
Now goes the sun under the tree,
I grieve, Mary, for thy son and thee.
This short poem is designed to be a spur to meditation on the Crucifixion, perhaps at the appropriate hour of the day when the sun begins to set. Apparently very simple, the poem is dense with meaningful wordplay – as the sun sets behind the wood, so Christ the Son is shrouded in darkness on the wood of the cross, the tree; that is, the ‘rode’, which means both ‘face’ and ‘rood’ (cross). And here we have another pair of a mother and her son, and their strong emotional bond (like St Edmund himself and his mother). The poem encourages the reader to meditate and dwell on Christ’s Crucifixion by approaching the Son through the Mother, to feel compassion for His suffering as it is reflected in her grief (underlined by that wordplay on ‘rode’ – (His cross and her face). How wonderful it is that this poem should be associated with a saint whose mother was such an important presence in his life.
Back in Abingdon, the Catholic church is dedicated to him and to the Virgin Mary, the mother and bride who was so constant a presence in his spiritual life.