Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Peter of Bramham's Account of a Chaplain's Vision of Purgatory (C.1343?)

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Peter of Bramham's Account of a Chaplain's Vision of Purgatory (C.1343?)

Article excerpt

The text edited here is an account of the apparition to a Yorkshire chaplain of the purgatorial spirit of his dead father, who explains the cause of his current pains and when he will be freed, shows his son a vision of purgatory and details the meaning of what he sees, and answers questions about the state of the chaplain's mother's soul. The account involves stories of sexual transgression, and the chaplain is given information on where souls suffer purgatorial pains, the efficacy of alms and oblations for the dead, and what the dead know of the activities of the living.

This tale has been printed once before, by V. H. Galbraith, from a copy of the St Albans Chronicle in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 462, fols 14Iv-143'.- Despite this publication and despite the widespread scholarly interest in recent decades in medieval otherworld vision literature, the tale has gone virtually unnoticed; it is not listed, for instance, by Dinzelbacher or Gardiner3 or referred to by Schmitt.' The only printed reference to the tale that I know is a brief mention by Boase.'

The text printed below is taken from another manuscript, Oxford, Balliol College, MS 228, fols 284--285-. Unlike the Bodley text (hereafter A), which recounts the story in the third person, the Balliol version (hereafter B) gives the account in the first person. Whether this means that B is closer to the original written form than A is uncertain, but quite probable, as I shall discuss below.

In B the vision is part of 'a large collection of Narraciones and Lives of Saints, without order or general title.'6 R. A. B. Mynors was not able to identify a source for the vision. In the collection it follows several other tales which are also concerned with the dangers of sexual temptation. Immediately preceding (fol. 283") is the story of the priest who castrates himself in order to foil the demon who tempts him with a young girl ('Qualiter sacerdos viriliter resistebat temptacionibus inimici'. This comes from the collection of tales at the end of the long text of the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patric.7 Before that (fol. 8 3v), B has two short items dealing with lust and its remedies: one recommends thoughts of torment after death (`Memoria pene future tollit peccatum'), the other, obedience and hard work ('Obedientia et laboris exercicium tollit carnis tentacionem'). The vision is followed by the story of the appearance to St Edmund of Abingdon, archbishop of Canterbury, of Christ as a beautiful boy with the saving inscription Jesus na.annus on his forehead. Earlier in the manuscript is a copy of the Sancti Pauli, Redaction Iv (fol. z68'-'.


In A the story is included as part of the St Albans Chronicle. It is incorporated following a copy of the letter of King Edward III to Pope Clement against Provisors, dated 1343.' The text of the vision begins: `Circa presens tempus contigere que sequuntur in Anglia'.9 This is the only hint we have of an approximate date. The item in the chronicle which follows the vision is dated 1 27. B gives no date at all, merely saying that the story was recounted by the visionary recently, nuper (6). Place

A ends `Hec autem contigerunt iuxta villam de Braham consututa in comitatu de.', followed by a blank at the end of the line. The Bodleian Summary Catalogue (no. 2454) suggests as the completion of the last line '[Cantabrigia?]'. There is a Braham Farm in Cambridgeshire, and there are also Braham Halls in Essex, Suffolk and North Yorkshire, but I have found nothing to connect the text with any of these sites. The index in Galbraith (p. 154) gives `Bramham, Yorks?'. Bramham is the only other place-name that approximates Braham and could readily have been changed into Braham by the omission of a letter or, more likely, the omission of a mark of contraction.

B, the version printed here, starts rather than ends with an indication of provenance: 'Narratur quod Petrus de Branham, persona venerabilis, uir spiritualis [. …

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