I'd love to know more about where you encountered the practice of using a
medal of St. Benedict to guard the entrances to a house. This reminded me
irresistibly of a passage in Chaucer's "Miller's Tale" that I always
thought was just poking fun at the superstitions of John the rich, ignorant
carpenter (who is about to be cuckolded by the clever clerk who rents a
room in his house). When John thinks Nicholas the clerk has been bewitched
or possessed by an evil spirit, he makes the sign of the cross over him and
then tries to protect the whole house by saying this "night-spell" on all
four sides of it and also on the threshhold of the outer door:
"Jhesu Crist and Seint Benedight,
Blesse this hous from every wikked wight,
For nyghtes verye [or nerye], the White Pater Noster.
Where wentestow, Seint Petres soster?"
Most editors have concluded that the last two lines degenerate into mere
gibberish, but the first two--with the invocation of Benedict as
protector--are quite clear. Is this just a coincidence, or are the
beliefs of John the carpenter still with us in the 21st century? --And why
St. Benedict in particular? Does anybody have a good theory about this?
Sherry Reames (English Dept., U. Wisconsin, Madison)
At 12:38 PM 12/27/2000 -0800, Chris Laning wrote:
>Turning St. Anthony to face the wall sounds like an example of a
>medieval practice that translates as "humiliating the saint" --
>namely "punishing" the image or relics of the saint as a way of
>"forcing" him/her to come to one's aid. There's an extended treatment
>of this in Patrick J. Geary's _Living With the Dead in the Middle
>Ages_ (ISBN 0-8014-2856-4). I believe burying the St. Joseph statue
>is intended to have the same effect.
>Other such beliefs about religious artifacts are still alive and
>kicking. The most recent one I've encountered is the practice of
>putting a medal of (specifically) St. Benedict on windowsills and
>above doors to keep away evil. I'm curious whether it is the
>protective power of St. Benedict that's being called on, or the
>protection of the cross that is usually on the reverse side of this