St Mary’s (Scarborough, UK)

Untitled

Transcription
AEDEM B[EATAE] MARIAE / ANTIQVITVS CISTERCIENSIVM AEVI / INIVRIA CORRVPTAM PLERIQVE TAM / CIVES QVAM EXTERI CONLATA PECVNIA / OPERE ET CVLTV SPECTABILI / RESTITVERVNT ANNO MDCCCL.

Translation
A church of the Blessed Mary, which long before belonged to the Cistercians, and had deteriorated with age; and which many people, both citizens and foreigners ―having gathered together money for the task― restored with notable handiwork and adornment, in the year 1850.

Commentary
One of the words here with a long and interesting history is Aedes.  The word has a variety of meanings: it can mean House or Dwelling-place, and also (esp. in a pagan context) Temple.  Hence Virgil speaks poetically of the “[apes] clausis cunctatur in aedibus” (“[bees] lingering in closed-up dwelling-places [i.e. hives]”); and Varro describes the Aedilis (Aedile) as “qui aedis sacras et privatas procuraret” (“the one who looked after Aedes, both sacred and private”; De Lingua Latina V.81).

More specifically, it can refer to the shrine as an inner part of a temple; Pliny the Elder, for instance, makes mention of a much-admired sculpture of Hecate “in templo Dianae post aedem” (“in the temple of Diana, behind the shrine”; Naturalis Historia XXXVI.32).

Later on, however, the term came to mean Church, as it does in the inscription above.  I am still looking for evidence of its use in this way among early Christian writers.  Leonard Palmer (pp.186ff) remarks that early Christians preferred to borrow Greek terms such as Ecclesia (Eκκλησία) to describe churches, rather than to use terms like Templum and Fanum, which were laden with pagan connotations.  Perhaps later on, when paganism was not such a going concern, use of Aedes was revived.  I tentatively submit that this might have been due, as often seems to be the case, to the poets: even Avitus of Vienne (ca. A.D. 470-519) uses Vates (SeerSoothsayer) to mean Prophet, where earlier Christian writers (especially prose writers) would have opted for Propheta.  But I should emphasise that this is merely a guess.

Further Reading/Sources
Avitus’ The Fall of Man (De Spiritalis historiae gestis; note that this work had a significant influence on John Milton).
Palmer, Leonard. The Latin Language. London: Faber & Faber, 1954.
Pliny’s (mammoth!) Naturalis Historia.
Varro’s De Lingua Latina.
Virgil’s Georgics.

 

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