Ælfric of Eynsham (~955 – ~1010) was an abbot, scholar and translator, who composed two series of English homilies, which explained and expounded upon Biblical events in the Anglo-Saxon language. In a fitting example for the upcoming holiday, the homily for Christmas day describes the story of the birth of Jesus, and his subsequent laying in a manger, (or, a ‘binne’ as it is in Old English, which adds a layer of grunge for the modern reader). Ælfric then continues to discuss how Jesus could be both human and divine, and the implications for Christian believers.
The Parker Library holds a number of manuscripts that contain the homilies in whole or in part: MSS 367, 419, 421, 178, 162, 302, 188, 198, and 303. In the illustration above is the beginning of the Christmas homily from CCCC MS 178, which dates from the 11th century but was later annotated in the 13th c. by the famous ‘Worcester Tremulous Hand’. This characteristically shaky handwriting is found in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts that are known to have been at Worcester, where the monk with the increasingly trembling hand studied these older texts and added small glosses and translations into Latin or Middle English. Here, we can see him provide a translation for ‘acennednysse‘ as ‘nativitate‘, both meaning birth.
Matthew Parker’s interests in Biblical translation, the vernacular church, and Anglo-Saxon theological teachings are all present in Ælfric’s Homilies, which no doubt spurred Parker’s collection of the manuscripts. From the original scribe, through the monk of the Tremulous Hand, Parker himself, and on to our modern-day researchers, this interpretation of the Christmas story has been inspiring scholars for 1,000 years.