St. Nicholas

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 Alle maydenis, for Godes grace

Medieval English carol extolling Saint Nicholas by telling the dowry story.
 

St Nicholas tossing gold through window
Illumination from an Italian Book of Hours, ca. 1376

Fitzwilliam Library, Cambridge University

Alle maydenis, for Godes grace,
Worchepe зe seynt Nicolas.

Seynt Nicholas was of gret poste
for he worchepid maydenis thre
that wer sent in fer cuntre
Common wommen for to be.

Her fader was man in powre aray
onto his dowteris he gan say,
"Dowteris, зe must away;
Non lenger kepe зou I may!

"Dowteris, myn blyssing I зou зeue
for catel wil not with me þryue;
зe must with зowr body leue,
зour wordis зe must dryue."

þe eldest dowter swor be bred of qwete,
"I haue leuere beggyn myn mete
& getyn me good qwer I may gete
þan ledyn myn lyf in lecheri."

þe medil dowter seyde so mote che the
"I hadde leuere hangyd & drawyd be
with wylde hors to or þre
þan ledin myn lyf in lecheri."

þe зonger lechery gan to spyse
& preyid saynt nicholas as che was wise;
"saynt nicholas as he was wyse
Help vs fro lechri!"

Saynt nicholas at þe townys ende
conseylid þo maydenis hom to wynde
& þrow godis grace he xulde hem synde
husbondis þre good & hind.

Translation:

All maidens, for God's grace,
Worship ye Saint Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was of great poste [power]
For he gave help to maidens three
Who were sent into a far country
Common women for to be. [to become prostitutes]

Their father was a man of poor array;
To his daughters he did say,
"Daughters, ye must away;
No longer keep you I may!

"Daughters, my blessing I you give,
But business will not with me thrive;
Ye must by your bodies live,
Your words ye must drive."

The eldest daughter swore by bread of wheat,
"I would rather beg my meat
And find my food where I may it get
Than lead my life in lechery."

The middle daughter said, so mote she thee ('so may she thrive' —an oath)
"I would rather hanged and drawn be
With wild horses two or three
Than lead my life in lechery."

The younger lechery did despise
And prayed to Saint Nicholas, for she was wise;
"Saint Nicholas, as he was wise,
Save us from lechery!"

Saint Nicholas at the town's end
Counselled those maidens home to wend
And through God's grace he would them send
Husbands three, good and hend. [kind]


From Sloane Manuscript 2953, translated by Clerk of Oxford.

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