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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Second Nun's Tale
Modern english adjacent to middle english

About The Canterbury Tales:
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.

About The Second Nun's Prologue and Tale:
The prologue to The Second Nun's Tale begins with a general warning for the devil and all his tricks. Work hard and don't be lazy, etc.. The Second Nun announces a tale about St. Cecilia to elaborate the previous. What follows is an invocation of Holy Virgin Mary and some pondering and contemplation about the meaning of the name "Cecilia". Is it "heaven's lily" and is the lily because of its white colour a symbol of Cecilia's chastity and virginity? Well, we don't know. The path of symbolism is slippery. Lets get to the tale.

A woman named Cecilia (not being a saint yet) was a Roman and a devoted Christian. After seven lines we know that she wants to stay a virgin and most of all fears to lose her virginity (line 126). But she has to marry a man called Valerian, who is a pagan. Supposedly she is forced to marry, but the story does not provide details. On the day of her wedding, she prays to God to help her to remain a virgin. When the newly weds are in the marital bedroom, she tells her husband Valerian that she has a secret lover. The secret lover is an angel that protects her virginity. If Valerian dares to touch her, the angel will kill him (lines 152-158). Valerian asks if he can see the angel. "Sure," Cecilia replies, "but to be able to see the angel, first you have to be baptized and converted by (pope) Urban. Its only three miles from here" (lines 170-182).

Valerian goes and finds Urban, who reads from the Bible. Another old man dressed in white clothes appears and asks if Valerian believes Cecilia. "Say 'yes' or 'no' (and don't ask questions)," the white-clothed man says (line 212). Valerian says 'yes', gets baptized by Urban, returns home to Cecilia and meets the angel. The angel gives both spouses an everlasting crown of flowers from paradise, but only the pure and chaste can see the crowns. Valerian asks the angel to purify and bless his brother Tibertius (lines 235-238). Tibertius comes and smells but does not see the crowns of flowers. Valerian explains his new Christian faith and tries to persuade his brother to conversion. After some hesitation and deliberation ("do not fear death, better life after death, Holy Trinity" and some other Christian cliches) Tibertius is baptized and converted too. The three perfect Christians live happily for some time. Of course, perfect Christians don't have sex, not even when married. Or maybe they have, the story does not tell.

For some reason the brothers are apprehended and brought before prefect Almachius. Refusing to worship Jupiter (as good Christians should), the brothers are executed. Also the executioner, called Maximus, is executed because he says he saw the spirits of the brothers ascend to heaven (line 402). Everything turns into a bloody mess, but that is no problem to Christians. Cecilia is summoned and interrogated, but she too refuses to worship Roman gods. A discussion with Almacius is predictably useless and Almachius orders that she has to be boiled to death. So they put Cecilia in a cauldron with red flames underneath, but the boiling fails because the cauldron remains cold (lines 515-522). "Chop off her head" Almachius orders, but the decapitation also fails. Three strokes in the neck is not enough and more strokes are not allowed (lines 530-531). There are rules about decapitation, didn't you know? So Cecilia lies half-dead for three days bleeding in miserable agony. But she has some energy left and teaches and preaches the Christian faith. After her death she is brought to pope Urban, who buries her among the other saints. Cecilia becomes St. Cecilia.

The Second Nun's Tale follows the structure of a conventional religious biography of a saint. All ingredients are there. So, beware of the dangers of the devil. Worship Jesus and God instead of so called idols or pagan gods or whatever. Be chaste and refuse sex because sex is dirty. Endure your fate and keep your faith. Meanwhile try to convert others to Christianity, even while you are tortured. Death is not so bad as long as you keep your Christian faith. Godly power and rules are more important than wordly power and rules. Death is only a passthrough to another life. At the end your reward is a nice place in heaven. The persuasiveness of martyrdom is compelling. Christianity was founded on it. The Second Nun's Tale is only one example. Oh, and questions about plausibility are only distractions that come from the devil, Satan. So don't think, don't ask, just believe if you want to go to heaven. And irony and sarcasm are devilish. Yours sincerely, S.

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