Fifteen Oes

14. O blessed Jesus, the only begotten son of almighty God the Father, shining likeness of his figural substance, remember how you meekly commended your spirit into the hands of your Father. You lost your bodily life with a great cry, with a torn body and a broken heart, showing us the bowels of mercy for our ransom. Mindful of that precious death, I beseech you, king of blessed souls, comfort me so I may withstand the devil, the world, and the flesh, so that I might be dead to the world but living spiritually toward you. In the last hour of my departure from this world, receive my soul, which in this life is an exile or a pilgrim, as it comes to you. Amen. Our Father. Hail Mary.

-written possibly by “an English Brigittine” or “a writer associate with the Yorkshire hermitages,” but no one really knows

St. Bridget of Sweden did not write The Fifteen Oes, but people used to think she did.
St. Bridget of Sweden did not write The Fifteen Oes, but people used to think she did.

It’s all Easter, all week here at the blog. Here’s a selection from “Fifteen Oes,” translated from Latin to Middle English to Modern English (or some path like that) by Rebecca Krug in Cultures of Piety: Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation. (If ever there were a cautionary tale against getting a graduate degree in English literature, here it is: these are the kinds of books you will own.) Some background information on our featured excerpt:

The Fifteen Oes is a series of devotional prayers [written during the fifteenth century] memorializing Jesus’s Passion. Consisting of fifteen verses, each of which begins with the exclamation “O,” the prayers were composed in Latin and subsequently translated into the vernacular. . . . [This work] reflects the centrality of meditation on the crucifixion to late medieval religious practice. Devotion to the Passion . . . involved imaginative contemplation of Christ’s suffering on the cross. As part of this devotional trend, medieval art and literature offered audiences gruesomely realistic portrayals of specific scenes of torment. . . . By presenting manifestations of physical suffering, works such as The Fifteen Oes sought to elicit affective responses to the human agony of the crucifixion. In developing the crucifixion narrative, the Oes emphasize the physicality of Jesus’s cuts and bruises, describing his wounds in graphic terms that link the excruciating pain of his Passion with his boundless love for humanity.” (p. 107-108)

The excerpt offered above is perhaps the mildest of the fifteen. I recommend reading the whole thing (which is very short) if you have the fortitude.

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3 thoughts on “Fifteen Oes

  1. I also own ‘Cultures of Piety’ – I love the Fifteen Oes, and ‘Hali Meithad’, and ‘The Wohhunge of Ure Lauerd’, and ‘Ancrene Wisse’… *total medieval geek* It’s lovely to read this blog post and realise that there are others in the world who’ve heard of these fascinating sorts of texts. Thank you for posting!

      1. Have a look at Bella Millet and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne’s ‘Medieval English Devotional Prose for Women’; most of the texts I mentioned are there in the original Middle English and in a modern translation. It’s a great book.

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