Prophetic Raven Banner

BL Add. MS 33241, f.37v.

Now they had a banner of wonderfully strange nature, which though I believe that it may be incredible to the reader, yet since it is true, I will introduce the matter into my true history. For while it was woven of the plainest and whitest silk, and the representation of no figure was inserted into it, in time of war a raven was always seen as if embroidered on it, in the hour of its owners’ victory opening its beak, flapping its wings, and restive on its feet, but very subdued and drooping with its whole body when they were defeated. Looking out for this, Thorkell, who had fought the first battle, said: “Let us fight manfully, comrades, for no danger threatens us: for to this the restive raven of the prophetic banner bears witness.” When the Danes heard this, they were rendered bolder, and clad with suits of mail, encountered the enemy in the place called Aesceneduno, a word which we Latinists can explain as ‘mons fraxinorum’.

Encomium Emmæ Reginæ.

Corsnǽd

Rochester Cathedral Library MS A. 3. 5 (Textus Roffensis), folio 1v. (opening page of the 7th century Law of Æthelberht); now held in the Medway Studies Centre.
Rochester Cathedral Library MS A. 3. 5 (Textus Roffensis), folio 1v. (opening page of the 7th century Law of Æthelberht); now held in the Medway Studies Centre.

A fifth form of the ordeal was the test of eating consecrated bread and cheese. This was known as the corsned, or morsel of execration. The priest wrote the Lord’s Prayer on the bread, of which he then weighed out a certain quantity—ten pennyweights—and so likewise with the cheese. Under the right foot of the accused he set a cross of poplar wood, and holding another cross of the same material over the man’s head, threw over his head the theft written on a tablet. He placed the bread and cheese at the same moment in the mouth of the accused, and, on doing so, recited the conjuration:

I conjure thee, O man, by the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost and by the four-and-twenty elders, who daily sound praises before God, and by the twelve patriarchs, the twelve prophets, the twelve apostles, the evangelists, martyrs, confessors, and virgins, by all the saints and by our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our salvation and for our sins did suffer His hands to be affixed to the cross; that if thou wast a partner in this theft or didst know of it, or hadst any fault, that bread and cheese may not pass thy gullet and throat, but that thou mayest tremble like an aspen-leaf, Amen; and not have rest, O man, until thou dost vomit it forth with blood, if thou hast committed aught in the matter of the aforesaid theft. Through Him who liveth.

The following prayer and exorcism were also used and ordered to be repeated three times:

Holy Father, omnipotent, eternal God, maker of all things visible, and of all things spiritual, who dost look into secret places, and dost know all things, who dost search the hearts of men, and dost rule as God, I pray Thee, hear the words of my prayer; that whoever has committed or carried out or consented to that theft, that bread and cheese may not be able to pass through his throat.

I exorcize thee, most unclean dragon, ancient serpent, dark night, by the word of truth, and the sign of light, by our Lord Jesus Christ, the immaculate Lamb generated by the Most High, conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary—Whose coming Gabriel the archangel did announce; Whom seeing, John did call out: This is the living and true Son of God—that in no wise mayest thou permit that man to eat this bread and cheese, who has committed this theft or consented to it or advised it. Adjured by Him who is to come to judge the quick and the dead, so thou close his throat with a band—not, however, unto death.

— F.J. Snell, The Customs of Old England, London: Methuen & Co., 1911.

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Blount (Tenures, ut supra 663) cites the laws of King Canute, chapter 6 (but the reference does not apply) for the following: “Si quis altari ministrantium accusetur, et amicis destitutus sit, cum sacramentales non habeat, vadat ad judicium quod Anglice dicitur ‘Corsned’ et fiat sicut Deus velit, nisi super sanctum Corpus Domini permittatur ut se purget.” This law is found in the Ordinances of Æthelred, A.D. 1014, art. 22; Anc. Laws and Inst. i. 345.