Friars’ Tales

Thirteenth-century exempla from the British Isles

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David Jones
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Exempla, the stories with which preachers enlivened their sermons and impressed salutary moral lessons on their hearers, have long been appreciated as a source of key importance for medieval history. They played an important part in popular preaching and yet, for all the work being published on preaching and on the mendicant orders more generally, little of the abundant primary material is available in English translation. This book presents translation material from two collections of exempla assembled in the British Isles in the last quarter of the thirteenth century. One, the Liber Exemplorum (LE), was compiled by an English Franciscan working in Ireland. The other, probably the work of an English Dominican based in Cambridge (DC), is represented by fifty-two stories, about one-sixth of the total. These two collections are important because they are among the earliest to survive from the British Isles. Their short, pithy narratives are not limited to matters of Church doctrine and practice, but touch on a wide range of more mundane matters and provide vivid snapshots of medieval life in the broadest sense. The first part of the collection is chiefly devoted to Christ and the Virgin, the Mass and the saving power of the Cross. The second part has exempla on a wide variety of doctrinal, moral and other topics. These include the vices, the virtues, the sacraments and church practice, and the sins and other failings thought to beset particular professions or groups.

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‘David Jones, with an affordable, accessible, small volume, offers today's audience a chance to read what their ancestors may have heard eight centuries ago...Finally, an up-to-date bibliography allows scholars to learn still more about the wide range of themes and applications employed by those who incorporated sermons and stories into their own efforts to save souls.'
John L. Murphy
New York Journal of Books

 

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