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Medieval Sourcebook:
Sacraments: A Confirmation Scene

from Eadmer, Life of St. Anselm (lib. II, c. iv, # 38.)

Although confirmation came to be included among the seven sacraments, it was not necessarily widely available to parishioners, especially in the large dioceses of Northern Europe. Here is an account of Anselm of Canterbury in which his willingness to confirm is seen s a mark of holiness. Coulton adds this note " The medieval bishops had no settled times or places for confirming. It was usual for the people to try to catch them like this on their way through the district. It was frequently complained that maxiy folk died thus unconfirmed. Archbishop Peckham complained in 1281 that there were ` numberless people grown old in evil days who had not yet received the grace of confirmation.'"

ANSELM, therefore, set out from Wissant early on the morrow, and came after certain days to St Omer, where he was received with joy by clergy and monks, and detained for five days; during which time, at the prayer of the canons, he consecrated an altar. After which there came to him certain honourable men of those parts, kneeling at his feet and beseeching him to confirm their children by the laying on of hands and anointing with sacred oil. To whom he made answer forthwith: "Not only will I gladly receive those for whom ye pray in this matter, but others also who present themselves shall not be rejected." They, marvelling at the great man's benignity in so easy a condescension, were rejoiced above measure and gave him thanks; and, when their children had been confirmed, they forthwith filled the whole city with the words which they had received from his lips. Then might ye see men and women, great and small, pouring forth from their houses and outrunning each other in their haste to reach bur lodging and share in so great a sacrament; for it was now many years since any bishop had suffered himself to be employed in any such office among them. At last, on the sixth day, when he had already confirmed an innumerable multitude, and we were on the point of setting forth, and the long journey of this day compelled us to hasten, behold! a maiden came into the house as we were leaving it to mount our horses, and besought with lamentable affection of piety that she might be confirmed. Some of our companions, hearing this, were grievously troubled, and beat her down with contradictions, as folk who were already wearied with such matters. In short, though the holy man would have condescended to the maiden's prayers, yet t6ese held him back and persuaded him to turn a deaf ear unto her, objecting the length of that day's journey, and the many perils which commonly threaten travellers by night, especially in a strange country; and showing that very many stood at the door intent upon this same matter, ready to burst in if he granted this one request. But when he had gone a little forward, then the father bethought himself what reasons he had followed and what he had done; whereupon, accusing himself grievous impiety, he was so cut to the heart with that, for all the rest of his life on earth (as he often confessed) repentance for that deed n I ever departed from his mind.

From C.G. Coulton, ed, Life in the Middle Ages, (New York: Macmillan, c.1910), Vol 1, 14-15

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall August 1996
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