The Second Nun's Tale Notes from The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales The Second Nun's Tale

The Second Nun begins a tale telling of the life of Saint Cecilia, born of noble blood in Rome. She was constantly praying to Christ and lived a reverent and virginal life of worship. When she was of age to marry a man named Valerian, she placed a shirt of hair under her garments to protect herself. After her marriage, she told Valerian of a guardian angel who looks over her:

"I have an Aungel which that loveth me,
That with greet love, wher so I wake or sleepe,
Is redy ay my body for to kepe.
And if that he may feelen out of drede
That ye me touche, or love in vileynye,
He right anon wol sle yow with the dede,
And in youre yowthe thus ye sholden dye.
And if that ye in clene love me gye,
He wol yow loven as me for youre clennesse,
And shewen yow his joye and his brightnesse."
Second Nun's Tale, l.33-42

Valerian replied that he would abide by those rules if it were truly an angel of whom she was speaking. However, if it is another man who prevents them from intimacy, he will slay them both. Valerian plans to see this angel with his own eyes and proceeds to journey to Via Appia to request the old man, Urban, whom Cecilia claims will show him what he wants. When he is purged of his sin, as a pure Christian, he will see the angel.

Topic Tracking: Sexuality 11

Once purged of his sins, Valerian returns home to find Cecilia with the angel. He has a crown of flowers that supposedly only the pure and chaste can see. Cecilia's brother, Tibertius, is summoned and views the floral crown. The angel gives it to Valerian and Tibertius and they proceed to see Urban once more. Before they left, the angel urges Tibertius to cease his idol worshipping.

The two men meet with Urban once again and wonder how Cecilia can worship three gods, to which he responds that they are the Trinity - each a part of the one Christian god. The two men are Christened and then sent off to the prefect, Almachius, for execution. One of the sergeants, Maximus, claimed that he saw their spirits ascending to heaven during their executions, and he was then beaten to death. Cecilia buried him with her two men and was therefore summoned by Almachius. She appeared collected and presentable, without fear, and condemned his worship of idols. Almachius planned to have her executed by boiling, however, she suffered no burns. He then planned to have her executed by swordplay; however, again, after three slashes she suffered no mortal wounds. She was left to die by the executioner as Christians attempt to save her. She eventually dies and is declared a saint by Pope Urban.

Topic Tracking: Christianity 12
Topic Tracking: Violence 15

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