A Farced Epistle of Saint Stephen in Old Provençal

Polittico del 1476, s. stefano.jpg

Tropes are a genre of liturgical pieces that enjoyed some success in the Middle Ages, and in this genre, the species of farced Epistles and Gospels.[1] These were readings of the Mass in which the text of sacred Scripture is punctuated, verse after verse, by either a Latin paraphrase or a translation into the vernacular. The paraphrase or translation constitutes the farce of the Scripture text. The farce usually takes a musical and verse form.

For the feast of St. Stephen (26 December) many farced epistles of this kind have come down to us: one in langue d’oïl, Oyez trestout, of which there exists a translation in Langue d’oc, Entendes tug, and another known only from various Occitan versions and which we will designate by the incipit of one of them, Sesta lesson.”[2]

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See the rest of the manuscript here (pp. 140 et sqq.).

Leis planchs de Sant Esteve is the rhymed history in old Provençal of the martyrdom of St Stephen. It is taken from the Epistle of his feast day and, since time immemorial, it is sung every year on the feast day, at 7 in the morning, in the Cathedral of Aix-en-Provence at High Mass, which is called the Mass of the People. Attendance is surprisingly great, and the Mass is celebrated in a chapel dedicated to this same saint in the following way. When the time comes for the Epistle, a cleric, dressed in his choir dress, goes up to the preaching pulpit. The subdeacon of the Mass stands in front of it. After saluting each other (which they do again after they have finished), they sing in alternation: the subdeacon sings part of the day’s Epistle in a special tone, and the cleric in the pulpit follows with a couplet from the planchs to the melody of the Veni Creator. M. Raynouard published the planchs as they were written in 1318.”[3]

Translation from the 1318 version.

Sit down, my Lords, and be at peace,
Hearken well to what I will say.
For the lesson is true,
No word therein is falsehood.
Sezes, Senhors, e aias pas,
So que direm ben escoutas:
Car la lisson es de vertat,
Non hy a mot de falssetat.
A Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.

This lesson which we will read
We take from the deeds of the Apostles,
We will recount the sayings of Saint Luke,
We will speak of Saint Stephen.

Lectio Actuum Apostolorum.

Esta lisson que ligirem
Dels fachs dels Apostols trayrem;
Lo dich San Luc recontarem,
De Sant Esteve parlarem.

In those days.

In that time when God was born,
And was resurrected from death,
And then went up into heaven,
Saint Stephen was stoned.

In diebus illis.

En aquel temps que Dieus fom nat
Et fom de mort ressuscitat,
Et pueys el cel el fom puiat,
Sant Esteve fom lapidat.

Stephen, full of grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people.

Hear ye, my Lords, for what reason
The wicked men stoned him,
For they saw that God was in him,
And he performed miracles by His gift.

Stephanus plenus gratia et fortitudine faciebat prodigia et signa magna in populo.

Auias, Senhors, per qual razon
Lo lapideron los fellons;
Car connogron Dieus en el fon,
Et fes miracle per son don.

But there arose some from the synagogue which is called that of the Freedmen, and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians and of those from Cilicia and the province of Asia, disputing with Stephen.

Again him they hasten and go,
The wicked Freedmen,
And the cruel Cilicians,
And the other Alexandrians.

Surrexerunt autem quidam de synagoga, quae appellatur Libertinorum, et Cyrenensium, et Alexandrinorum, et eorum qui erant a Cilicia, et Asia, disputantes cum Stephano.

En contre el corron e van,
Los fellons Losbertinians,
Et los cruels Cilicians,
Els autres Alexandrians.

And they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit Who spoke.

The servant of God in virtue,
Did know their lies.
He rendered silent the most learned,
And overcame all, good and evil.

Et non poterant resistere sapientiae, et Spiritui, qui loquebatur.

Lo ser de Dieu, e la vertut
Los messongies a connogut;
Los plus savis a rendut mutz,
Los bons el malz totz a vencutz.

Now as they heard these things, they were cut to the heart and gnashed their teeth at him.

When they had heard the reason,
They knew that they were defeated.
With wrath they puff up their lungs,
Their teeth they grit like lions.

Audientes autem haec dissecabantur cordibus suis, et stridebant dentibus in eum.

Cant an auzida la razon,
Els connogron que vencutz son;
D’ira lur enflan lo polmon,
Las dens cruysson coma leons.

But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said,

When the Saint saw their will,
He sought not the succor of armed men.
He looked up to heaven;
Hear ye, my Lords, how he spake.

Cum autem esset plenus Spiritu Sancto, intendens in caelum vidit gloriam Dei, et Jesum stantem a dextris Dei. Et ait:

Cant lo Sant vi lur voluntat,
Non quer secors d’ome armat;
Sus en lo cel a regardat,
Auias, Senhors, como a parlat:

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

Now, hear ye, let it not be grief to ye,
Above the open heaven I saw,
And knew there the Son of God,
Whom the Jews did crucify.

Ecce video caelos apertos, et Filium hominis stantem a dextris virtutis Dei.

Or, escoutas, non vos sia grieu,
Que sus el cel ubert vech yeu;
E connost la lo Filh de Dieus,
Que crucifixeron Juzieus.

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed upon him all together. And they cast him out of the city and stoned him.

Wherefore they were sore wroth
The faithless Jews, and they cried:
Let us seize him, who hath spoken too much,
Let us cast him without the city.
Pride can no longer be concealed,
They seize the Saint to torment him.
They shall take him outside,
They begin to stone him.

Exclamantes autem voce magna, continuerunt aures suas, et impetum fecerunt unanimiter in eum, et ejicientes eum extra civitatem, lapidabant.

D’aisso foron fort corrossat
Los fals Juzieux, e en cridat:
Prennam lo, que trop a parlat,
Gittem lo for de la ciutat.
Non se pot plus l’orgueilh celar,
Lo Sant prenon per tormentar;
De foras els lo van menar,
Comensson a lo lapidar.

And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Lo, at the feet of a young man
They place their garments, the better to throw.
Saul did the first ones call him,
Saint Paul those that came last.

Tt testes deposuerunt vestimenta sua secus pedes adolescentis qui vocabatur Saulus.

Vevos qu’es pes d’un bachallier
Pausan lur draps, per miels lancier;
Saul li appelleron li premier,
Sant Paul cels que vengron darrier.

And while they were stoning Stephen he prayed and said:

The Saint saw the stones come.
They are soft to him; he does not try to flee.
For his Lord he suffered martyrdom,
And began to speak thus:

Et lapidabant Stephanum invocantem, et dicentem:

Lo Sant vit la peyras venir,
Doussas li son, non quer fugir;
Per son Senhor suffri martir,
E comensset aysso a dir:

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Lord God, who madest the world,
And tookest us out of the depths of hell,
And gavest us thine hallowed name,
Receive my spirit on high.

Domine Jesu, suscipe spiritum meum.

Senher Dieus, que fezist lo mont;
E nos trayssist d’unfer pregon,
E nos domnest lo tieu Sant nom,
Recep mon esperit amont.

And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, saying

After speaking, he knelt,
Whereof he gives us example.
For he prayed for his enemies,
And what he willed he did.

Positis autem genibus, clamavit voce magna, dicens:

Apres son dich, saginolhet,
Don annos exemple donet;
Car, per sos enemios preguet,
E so que vole el accabet.

Lord, do not lay this sin against them.

Lord God, full of great sweetness:
Thus said the Saint to his Lord,
Forgive them the evil they do,
Let them have neither punishment nor pain.

Domine, ne statuas illis hoc peccatum.

Senher Dieus, plen de gran doussor,
So dis lo Sant a son Senhor,
Lo mal quels fan perdona lor,
Non aian pena ni dolor.

And with these words he fell asleep in the Lord..

When his speech was wholly finished,
Martyrdom was fulfilled.
What he asked for was heard,
And he fell asleep in God’s kingdom.

Et cum hoc dixisset, obdormivit in Domino.

Cant lo sermon fom tot fenir,
El martire fom adymplit;
Do so quel quer et fom auzit,
El regnum Dieus s’es adormit.

 

[1] Edm. Martene, De antiquis ecclesiae ritibus, vol. 1 (1736), p. 281-282.

[2] From Victor Saxer, “L’épÎtre farcie de la Saint-Étienne ‘Sesta Lesson’: Inventaire bibliographique,” Provence historique 93-94 (1973), pp. 318 – 326.

[3] From Les Planchs de Sant Esteve, ed. P. d’Aix.

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