New Latin Contexts for Old English Homilies: Editions and Studies of Ten Sources and Analogues

Stephen Pelle

Studies and Texts 233 • xii, 504 pp. • ISBN 978-0-88844-233-8 • Cloth • $115

This book sheds new light on the Latin background of various Old English homilies, and of certain homilies from related vernacular traditions. The texts and motifs examined here treat two broad themes: the Nativity of Christ and Christian eschatology. Critical editions and translations of five Latin texts dealing with each theme are included. These are equipped with detailed introductions and commentaries and are accompanied by case studies that demonstrate the relevance of each text to one or more homilies written in Old English, and, in a few cases, early Middle English and Old Norse.

The Latin texts edited in the first half of the book include the source of a large part of one of the Christmas homilies of Ælfric of Eynsham (d. ca. 1010), Carolingian lists of the miracles on the night of Christ’s birth that contain analogues to Vercelli Homily 5, and Hiberno-Latin Christmas homilies with links to preaching texts in both Old English and Old Norse. The texts in the second half, mainly on eschatological topics, include new witnesses to the circulation and development of Latin exempla (such as the Three Utterances of the Soul), apocrypha (the Apocalypse of the Seven Heavens, the Visio Pauli), and exegetical traditions (the idea that Doomsday would last for a thousand years) that were popular in Insular circles and appear in Old or early Middle English homilies.

Three appendices contain editions and studies of an analogue to one of the Christmas homilies edited in the main body of the volume; Latin witnesses of a tradition of Nativity miracles previously known only from medieval Irish and German works; and a popular Latin Otherworld vision, which is shown to be the source of at least five Middle English texts.


Stephen Pelle is Assistant Professor in the Centre for Medieval Studies in the University of Toronto, and co-editor of the Dictionary of Old English. The author of numerous essays in various collections and articles in Anglia, Gripla, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Medieval Sermon Studies, and Traditio, among other journals, he is co-editor (with Brigitte Bulitta, Robert Getz, and Katja Schmidt) of a forthcoming collection of essays dealing with Old English and Old High German lexicography, glossography, and related topics.


“Stephen Pelle’s New Latin Contexts for Old English Homilies is a gem. Pelle has written a scholarly resource that will also serve as a very useful textbook. He offers ten editions of Latin homilies, each accompanied by an introduction, English translation, notes, and a relevant case study in the sources of its motifs. Pelle focuses on Carolingian and Irish preaching collections that bear on early medieval English homilies. Old Norse and Middle High German are also represented. Many homilies will be new to scholars of early England. Pelle’s case studies are models of source scholarship well suited for classroom use. Readers will surely agree with Pelle that “the great mass of unedited medieval Latin homiletic material still holds treasures for the study of Old English homilies.” New Latin Contexts is a significant contribution to charting influential intellectual traditions of the early Middle Ages.” — Stephen J. Harris, University of Massachusetts Amherst


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