The Wayward Hermit

Not all traditional representations of the Hermit have been heroic or holy! The wayward Hermit features in the Smithfield Decretals.
“Decretals (epistolae decretales) are letters of the pope that formulate decisions in ecclesiastical law of the Catholic Church. They are generally given in answer to consultations but are sometimes given due to the initiative of the pope himself. These furnish, with the canons of the councils, the chief source of the legislation of the church, and formed the greater part of the Corpus Iuris Canonici before they were formally replaced by the Codex Iuris Canonici of 1917.”

The Smithfield Decretals (British Library, Royal MS. 10 E.iv) is an exceptionally large (c.450 x 285mm.) and lavish (including more than 600 narrative bas-de-page scenes) copy of the Decretals of Gregory IX with the gloss of Bernard of Parma, thought to have been written in southern France c.1300, with decoration and an extra prefatory quire added in England some decades later.

“The images are varied and whimsical: there are anthropomorphic animals, grotesques, crimes and misdemeanors, amorous encounters, and a very bad hermit, who, enticed by the devil, leaves his hermitage for the tavern, and becomes (in succession) a drunkard, fornicator, murderer, and wild man (surely an occupational hazard for any hermit), before he is ultimately redeemed in the end.”
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The Hermit and the Devil
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The Hermit drinking outside a tavern
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The drunk Hermit fornicates with the Miller’s wife
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The Hermit clubbing the Miller to death
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Hermit Confessing
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The sinful hermit is redeemed by the monk

For the Wayward Hermit and the Smithfield Decretals see

See further on the Smithfield Decretals:


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