St Arild's Hymn

by Tristan Gray Hulse & Wendy Maddox

     Jane Bradshaw's article seems to be the most comprehensive account of St Arild and her cultus which has appeared to date. Even the Bollandists were unable to uncover much of the evidence presented here (cf. Victor de Buck, 'De S. Arilda', Acta Sanctorum, Octobris, tomus xiii, Parisiis 1883, pp. 450-1). The only additional witness to the cult we have been able to discover is a few lines of verse from a late-medieval English poem on Gloucester Abbey (quoted by S. Baring-Gould and John Fisher, Lives of the British Saints, vol. i, London 1907, p. 169), but this simply reiterates the information contained in the hymn and in Leland. This poem refers to the 'Legion' or Legendary of the saint; which is presumably a now-lost Life which Leland was able to consult at Gloucester - probably no more substantial than the lessons read in the cathedral at Matins on the feast of St Arild. If we were to permit ourselves a few speculations about St Arild and her well, in addition to those made by Jane Bradshaw, we could say that - comparing Arild's residual legend with other fuller and better-known ones - when the saint's tradition was still intact; it said that her holy well sprang up where her head fell at the time of her martyrdom. This was of course a widely popular hagiographical motif. If however the present Oldbury on Severn tradition, as reported by Mrs Bradshaw, has faithfully preserved the content of the medieval original, to the effect that Arild lived by the well during her life, and its waters flowed with her blood (the alga) after her decapitation, then this is a rare variant of martyrdom well traditions; indeed, in that the clotted 'blood' of the saint is actually present in the form of the alga, as opposed to the more usual blood-staining caused by chalybeate waters, in either instance St Arild's Well may actually be unique. (It might also be as well to note the possibility that the alga itself was responsible for Arild being culted as a martyr, its presence in the water suggesting the violent death of a woman who in reality may simply have been a hermit who resided by the well, and who was culted locally after her death.)

     By a similar analogy we might suggest that the three temptations to sin are in some way comparable to the motif of the three trials, or tests, or sanctions, which are found in a variety of forms in the legends of numbers of 'Celtic' saints, such as Eiliwedd / Almedha and Dwynwen (Baring-Gould and Fisher, op. cit., vol. ii, London 1908, pp. 419-20, 388). Lastly we could suggest that St Arild's cult declined into obscurity at Gloucester following the burial there of the murdered Edward II, who was popularly venerated as a martyr. This would be a contributing reason why so little is now known of St Arild.

     The medieval Latin poem In Arildis memoria is not strictly a 'hymn' (note that the rhythm and line-length varies from stanza to stanza), but an oratio rythmica, a prayer in verse followed by a collect, a type of private devotion common in the middle ages (though it is also just possible that it was originally written or subsequently used as the sequence for the Mass for St Arild's feast). The Latin text was first printed in the Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Transactions 1904, pp. 208- 9. As the Oldbury hymn is a paraphrase rather than a strict translation, we print here the original Latin text with a new translation by Wendy Maddox. This permits us, for instance, to see that stanza 4 contains a specific reference to Arild defending her chastity under attack. (Other such 'martyrs for chastity', dying for what we now perceive as a woman's rights over her own body, are encountered in British traditions - St Winifred, for instance. Stripped of later cultic and traditional accretions, such as miraculously-appearing wells and permanent bloodstains, and taking into account social conditions at the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions and settlement, seen in this light these stories of 'martyrdoms' are only too likely to have been reflections of factual events.) We would like to thank Mrs Maddox for permitting us to publish her work, which appears in print here for the first time.


In Arildis memoria

Plaude, mater ecclesia,

Nos ad eius preconia

Vocum demus officia.


Hec se Christum dedicavit

In quo trinum hostem stravit

Hec se prorsus abnegavit

Et cum Deo ambulavit.


Virgo prudens, sponsa Christi,

Per quem mundo illusisti,

Et decorem induisti

Iam amicta lumine.


Came munda, mente pura,

Certans contra carnis iura

Nunquam sponso caritura

In celesti culmine.


Gentem finesque Gloucestre

Illustrant tue relique.

Succurre nostre miserie.

Ut per te vivamus in requie.


O Arildis, O huius cenobii,

Advocatrix et spes solatii,

Ad te, mater, clamamus filii

Fac nos consortes materni gaudii.


Christo tuo pro nobis loquere

Fac in eius odore currere,

Fac nos sponsum tuum agnoscere

In quem delectant angeli prospicere. Amen.


Deus, qui virginitatem beate Arildis dignitate martyrii decorasti, quique locum istum sacris eiusdem reliquie illustrasti; precibus ipsius da nobis indulgentiam, et loco isti perpetuam securitatem, per Dominum [nostrum lesum Christum, qui tecum vivat et regnat per omnia saecula saeculorum]. Amen.


Acclaim, O Mother Church,

Our voices raised in duteous salute,

Hymning at last

Arildis' memory.


Avowed to Christ,

The three-fold foe o'erthrown,

Self set at nought

She walked with God.


Wise virgin, Christ's betrothed,

Holding the world in scorn

You put on grace

Enrobed in light.


With body chaste and pure in mind,

Struggling 'gainst fleshly laws,

Never in human love to be held dear,

In highest heaven.


Gloucester, its people and its lands

Are lighted by thy bones.

Succour our misery, that we through thee

May live in peace.


O Arildis, of our monastery the advocate

And hope of balm,

Mother, to thee thy children cry to share

Maternal joy.


Speak to thy Christ on our behalf.

Make us in His sweet aura

Acknowledge thy betrothed, through whom

the chosen Angels look down.


God, who hast adorned virginity by the blessed honour of Arildis' martyrdom, and hast illumined that region with her sacred remains, grant to us pardon through her prayers, and to that place eternal safety: through Our Lord...Amen.


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Text Tristan Gray Hulse (1998) | Translation Wendy Maddox (1998)

Designed & Maintained by Richard L. Pederick ( 1999) | Created 03/12/99