The Distaff Gospels

The Distaff Gospels (Les Évangiles des Quenouilles), is a 15th century French collection of more than 250 popular beliefs, forming a sort of gospel of late medieval women’s wisdom. A writer and tale-teller (trouvere) named Jean d’Arras attended the daily winter spinning sessions of a group of local neighbourhood women over a period of six days. His task was to record their discussions of beliefs, recipes, remedies, and advice so that they might be preserved for future generations. The result is a rich repository of folk wisdom and lore, often buried under a gloss of the pervasive Christianity of the time period.

Here are some yarn-related excerpts:

“If a woman leaves flax unspun on her distaff on Saturday, the thread that will be spun from it the following Monday will never be any good and the cloth made with it will never be really white.”

“To get rid of warts, you must take a thread that a woman has spun after her lying-in [recovery period after giving birth] and tie it around the warts: they will all fall off instantly without difficulty.”

“A young woman who wishes to know the name of her future husband should stretch out the first thread which she has spun that day at her door and then find out the name of the first man to pass by – she can be certain that this will be the name of her husband.”

Translation I used: The Distaff Gospels. Eds and Trans. Madeleine Jeay and Kathleen Garay. New York: Broadview Editions, 2006. Print.

The Witch of Forest Grove has a great article on the Distaff Gospels on her blog, with some more quotes and pictures, here.

The Wikipedia article on weaving and mythology also provides some facinating historical context.

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4 thoughts on “The Distaff Gospels

  1. Always glad to suggest new books! It’s the librarian in me. For a very old book, it’s a fun read. Who knew 14th century women could have such sass?

  2. Pingback: Why do we knit? « Knitterarian

  3. Pingback: Hi-yah! « Kniterly

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