Vita sancti Nicholai

Life of St. Nicholas

St Nicholas giving gold
13th century illustration from a French version of The Golden Legend
British Library, MS Royal 20 D VI
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license

The earliest known English account of St. Nicholas is found in manuscript MS Laud 108, believed to have been written about 1280-90. It is held in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. The manuscript was compiled shortly before or at the same time as Jacobus a Voragine's Golden Legend (1275), though they are completely independent. Neither was the source for the other. The Golden Legend wasn't translated into English until 1483.

The Laud manuscript is the work of many decades and poets. Gloucester Abbey is most likely responsible for bringing it all together, utilizing the work of other abbeys. The later manuscript, MS Harleian 2277, has the complete collection found in MS Laud 108 and dates from around 1300.

MS Laud 108 was edited and published as The Early South English Legendary or Lives of the Saints by Dr. Carl Horstmann in 1887. He incorporated some of MS Harl. 2277 to fill in for a missing folio in the Laud manuscript.

The modern English summary of the Vita sancti Nicholai, below, is by W. Boyne of St. Andrews University in Scotland. It includes Horstmann's  numerical line identifications. The complete Middle English PDF is available beneath.

Life of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas was born of high parentage 240 in the city of Patras (2).
He was religious, even in his boyhood, and quick at learning (5, 16).
On one occasion he gave money to a family of poor girls who had been forced into a sinful life (33).
When the Bishop of Mirre died Nicholas was appointed his successor (84).
In his office he was humble and helpful, a priest to all men (86).
The crew of a ship were miraculously saved by him during a storm (108).
During a time of famine he secured sufficient corn for the people through a miracle (122).
Some pilgrims to the church of Mirre had brought ointment with them, which they had received from the devil in the shape of a woman, to smear to ill intent on the holy walls, but the saint exposed the trick (135, 189).
A war between the emperor of Rome and his enemies was brought to an end through St. Nicholas convincing the invaders of their error (211).
He conciliated three princes and their foes, and rescued the princes when falsely accused (232, 246).
Angels appeared to him before his death (303).
Many miracles are recorded of him. A Christian who cheated a Jew was crushed to death by a cart through the saint's anger (326, 356).
A man who had failed to give the saint a cup he had promised lost his son by drowning (373);
but the father having repented, St. Nicholas restored the boy to life (424).
A child who was strangled by a devil was restored to life by the saint (508).

PDF of the MS Laud 108 manuscript, Vita sancti Nicholai. The text is in Middle English, with modern English summary statements and page headings inserted from The Early South English Legendary or Lives of the Saints. As the written style is in couplets, the PDF is in couplets.


Middle English Dictionary

"Vita sancti Nicholai" from The Early South English Legendary or Lives of Saints, Dr. Carl Horstmann, editor. First published for The Early English Text Society byi Trubner & Co., London, 1887.

Online text available from the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, University of Michigan Library.

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