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Medieval Religious Ribaldry

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Here is an amusing tale from Kristin Lavransdatter (The Wreath), which has undertones of the Canterbury Tales. Medieval man might have tended to be pious, but that didn't stop him mocking silly priests, bishops and monks!

[Bother Aasgaut] said, “You shouldn’t forget, Sira Sigurd, that our worthy Father Ingjald is your prelate too; we know all about you in Hamar. You revel in all that is good at Sundbu, and give little thought to the fact that you are dedicated to other work than acting as Trond’s eye-servant, helping him do everything that is unjust so that he endangers his own soul and diminishes the power of the Church. Haven’t you ever heard about what happens to those disobedient and unfaithful priests who contravene their own spiritual fathers and superiors? Don’t you know about the time when the angels led Saint Thomas of Canterbury to the gates of Hell and let him peek inside? He was greatly surprised not to see any of those who had opposed him as you oppose your bishop. He was just about to praise God’s mercy, for the holy man wished all sinners to be saved, when the angel asked the Devil to lift his tail. With a tremendous roar and a horrid stench of sulfur, out spewed all the priests and learned men who had betrayed the interests of the Church. And then he saw where all of them had ended up.”

“You’re lying, monk,” said the priest. “I’ve heard that story too, but it was friars, not priests, who were spewed out of the Devil’s behind like wasps from a wasp’s nest.”

Old Jon laughed louder than all the servants and cried, “No doubt it was both, I’ll bet it was. . . .”

“Then the Devil must have a very wide tail,” said Bjørn Gunnarsøn.

And Fru Aashild smiled and said, “Yes, haven’t you heard it said that everything bad has a long rump dragging behind?”

“You be quiet, Fru Aashild,” shouted Sira Sigurd. “You shouldn’t talk about the long rump that bad people drag behind them. Here you sit as if you were the mistress of the house instead of Ragnfrid. But it’s odd that you haven’t been able to cure her child—don’t you have any more of that powerful water you used to use? The water that could make a dismembered sheep whole again in the soup pot and turn a woman into a maiden in the bridal bed? I know all about that wedding here in the village when you prepared the bath for the despoiled bride. . . .”

Sira Eirik jumped up, grabbed the other priest by the shoulder and flank, and threw him right across the table so that pitchers and cups toppled and food and drink spilled onto the table-cloths and floor. Sira Sigurd landed flat on his back, his clothing torn.

Eirik leaped over the table and was about to strike him again, bellowing over the din, “Shut your filthy trap, you damned priest!”

Kristin Lavransdatter, translated by Tiina Nunnally; pp. 57-58.

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