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Dear everybody,

 I am working on a letter written in the 1140’s by Nicholas of Clairvaux (PL 196, ep. 43) to comfort his former fellow-monk Rualenus, who had just succeeded Eugenius III as abbot of S. Anasthasius (near Rome) and who was feeling homesick. To cheer him up, Nicholas sends him an Irish knife, ‘cultellum Hiberniticum’, with a magical handle, which, he says, ‘I have extorted with great difficulty from the hands of You-Know-Who’ (I take it he is referring to St Bernard, not to the lord Voldemort). This handle is said to have been fashioned from a tree planted by a saint and to have the magical property of averting poison. The 17th century editor gives a reference to a passage in Gerald of Wales’ Topography of Ireland (II. 61 in the Penguin translation) where St Kevin heals a sick boy with fruit from a willow growing near his church at Glendalough; Gerald says that this tree and its offsprings still have a healing power. However, we are not told that St Kevin has actually planted this willow, nor is poison mentioned, though Gerald elsewhere associates Ireland and Irish objects (boot thongs) with antidotal powers. Do you think the Glendalough tree is the one I am after and are there any better references? Any Celtic scholars out there who could help? I’d be ever so grateful.

 

Lena Wahlgren-Smith

 

 

 

PS. The second thought that strikes me is, why should he want an antidote knife handle? Did the Italians already have a bit of a reputation?