PART TWO: The Land of Cokaygne, by Friar Michael of Kildare

Land of Cokagyne

Land of Cokagyne-c.1305 The first poem, a satire, written in English in Ireland.

Yesterday I posted the first part of my introduction to the “Land of Cokaygne”.
Herewith and hereunder, please find Part Two. And do let me know if you have any questions or observations.

“The contagious ‘poverty’ conflict quickly spread to Ireland, where it
took on an added nationalistic (Irish v. English) flavor. In the most severe
instance –though historian F.J. Cotter O.F.M. is right to question it– it is
recorded that in 1291 violence broke out at the Cork Friary and sixteen of
the local friars were killed. The ideological split was further
demonstrated when Pope John XXII despatched his protege, the Franciscan
Friar Richard Ledrede, from his notorious court at Avignon, to Ireland,
to Kilkenny –literally, just a few miles down the road from Kildare & Friar Michael.

Ledrede would become famous on two accounts. Firstly, he composed a
book of Latin hymns –“The Red Book of Ossory”– expressly for his friars, so that
“their throats and mouths, consecrated to God, may not be polluted by songs
which are lewd, secular, and associated with revelry.” The Puritan intensity of
Ledrede’s language would have fitted in fine in Salem, Massachusetts.

In the second, the zealous Ledrede personally prosecuted Ireland’s first
and most infamous case of “witch burning, following the long trial of Alice
Kyteler and others for “heresy and consorting with devils”. On November
3rd, 1324, In Kilkenny’s town square, Kyteler’s maid Petronella was burned to
death at the stake by Ledrede. Possibly he had been at the Marseilles burnings
in 1322: there can be little doubt that he both knew of and supported them.

Clearly, Friar Michael was on the other side of the Franciscan Divide
from Friar Bishop Ledrede, and when in his poem “Sweet Jesus” he writes the
line, “This world, its love is gone away,” we sense some personal resonances.

A close reading of Harley 913 plainly shows the good Friar Michael to be a
fine poet. And he was also a man of powerful spirituality, a traveling
Franciscan preacher animated by a strong sense of justice and a need to
speak truth to power. His humor and satire –too often lacking in men of
religion– was in turn subtle and very broad. (In one of the pieces in Harley
913, an outlandish Latin parody entitled “The Drinker’s Mass” the
Latin word for ‘all-powerful’ –which is ‘omnipotenti’– is changed cleverly and
somewhat outrageously to ‘omnepotanti’ which means ‘all-drinking’.)

[End of Part2: Tune in to Part3 tomorrow]


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