Introduction

The aim of this work is to provide an edition of The Pylgremage of the Sowle, a work published by William Caxton in 1483. The Pylgremage of the Sowle is a fifteenth-century English rendering of the fourteenth-century French work Le Pčlerinage de l’Âme by Guillaume de Deguileville. Guillaume is known to have written three major works: Le Pčlerinage de la Vie Humaine, Le Pčlerinage de l’Âme, and Le Pčlerinage de Jhesucrist. This latter work has never been translated into English. Of Le Pčlerinage de la Vie Humaine there are a prose translation and a verse translation which is ascribed to John Lydgate. We do not know who the author of the English version of Âme is. John Lydgate and Thomas Hoccleve are two poets who have received some support from scholars, but both seem to have more evidence against them than in favour of them.


I will begin this introduction with the little evidence we have of the life of Guillaume de Deguileville, the author of Le Pčlerinage de l’Ame, the French work on which the English Pilgrimage of the Soul is based. This will be followed by a short description of Guillaume’s works. The next section will give a description of the manuscripts known to us that contain the Middle English Pilgrimage of the Soul or parts of it. The difficulty of identifying the author of the English Soul is the subject of the section that follows, after which a few remarks will be made on what McGerr in her introduction to Soul calls the 'Englishing' of the text. Something is then said about William Caxton, the printer of the 1483 text on which is this edition is based, and the reasons he might have had for publishing this work.  Before a summary of The Pylgremage of the Sowle, a brief list is given of the editions of texts of Soul, or parts of them, that have appeared so far.  The summary of The Pilgrimage of the Soul will conclude this introduction. It is followed by the text of Caxton’s 1483 print, notes to the text and a glossary, and, finally, a bibliography.


Guillaume De Deguileville
We know very little about Guillaume de Deguileville himself. His authorship is shown by one acrostic in Vie, two in Âme, and one in Crist. These acrostics take the form of a series of stanzas, each beginning with a letter of Deguileville's name1. According to indications in Vie his father was called Thomas, he was named after his godfather, and his patron saint was St. William of Chaalis. There is no evidence that his name is connected with a village named Guileville2.

Guillaume entered the Cistercian abbey of Chaalis in 1316, at the age of 21.  This is in agreement with his assertion in the second redaction of Vie, where he states that he has been in the abbey for 39 years. The abbey of Chaalis - or what is left of it, for it is no more than a ruin nowadays - is in the diocese of Senlis, north of Paris, and was founded in the twelfth century. A manuscript of a French prose rendering of Âme states that Guillaume eventually became prior of Chaalis3, but it is not known whether this is true or, if so, when this happened.

Guillaume de Deguileville's Works
According to the second redaction of Vie, Guillaume was 36 years old when he wrote its first redaction in 1330, so he must have been born c. 1294. Âme was written immediately after the second redaction of Vie (1355), and in it he states that he was over 60 years old when writing Âme. He also refers to a passage in Vie which only occurs in the second redaction of the poem, which is another indication that he wrote Âme after 1355. Guillaume wrote this second redaction of Vie, he states in its prologue, because the first redaction had been stolen. This does not mean that this first redaction was lost to posterity, for, according to Clubb, J.J. Stürzinger based his edition of Vie on it.

We can date Deguileville’s poems as follows: The first version of Vie was written between 1330 and 1332; the second version of Vie around 1355; Âme between 1355 and 1358; and Crist about 1358. Some 73 manuscripts of Guillaume’s works, including 46 of Âme, are extant in various libraries in Europe. The only edition of Guillaume’s three poems is that of Stürzinger4, who based his edition of Vie on the first redaction. The second redaction has never been edited.

The Caxton print indicates that the French Âme was translated into English in 1413. Clubb, in the introduction to his edition of  Egerton 615, mentions that two of the manuscripts (BL Add.34193 and Corpus Christi College, MS 237) give no date for the translation; two (Bodleian Library, MS 770 and University College, MS 181) give 1400 as the date. Three manuscripts (Egerton 615, Spencer 19, and Gonville and Caius Colege, MS 124/61) and Caxton give 1413 as the date. Even more specifically the Caxton print and University College MS 181 state that it  'endeth in the vigyle of Seynt Bartholomew’, that is, August 24. The weight of the evidence, therefore , points to 1413, and 1400 is probably a scribal error. But the Caxton print does not state by whom the translation was made. Neither do any of the  manuscripts.

The Manuscripts of The Pilgrimage of the Soul
The Middle English Pilgrimage of the Soul exists complete or in part in at least ten fifteenth century manuscripts and one printed edition.

1. London, British Library, Egerton 615.
Fols. 1r-106r contain The Pilgrimage of the Soul, including a table of contents on
1r-3v and the translator's epilogue on 106r. The hand of Egerton 615 and the style of
its border decorations suggest a date somewhat later than Spencer 19. Probably from
the same workshop. The language, according to the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (LALME) shows characteristics associated with the border area between Norfolk and Ely, and occasional forms associated with Rutland. Produced at the end of the second quarter of the fifteenth century5.

2. London, British Library, Add. 34193.
Fols. 4r-97v contain The Pilgrimage of the Soul, without the translator's epilogue or
a scribal colophon. BL Add. 34193 is an anthology of English and Latin texts with
historical, moral, satirical, and devotional topics. It also contains several charters,
the Rule of Celestine, and a treatise on the Westminster Synod of 1125, which
suggests that the compilation was made by an ecclesiastical community. The
language, according to LALME, shows characteristics of East Leicestershire.

3. Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 237.
Omits words of the translator. This copy of Soul is the youngest and least elaborate of all. The manuscript is an anthology of texts that are mostly of a religious nature. Amongst other texts, it contains two Saints’ Lives and Lydgate’s Dance Macabre. Its language shows a mixture of dialectal forms, which may be the result of repeated copying. The scribe of Soul gives his initials as ‘EC’ on fol 137r, and is probably the Edmund carpenter whose ownership of the manuscript is indicated in a fifteenth-century hand as the first inscription on the front pastedown: ‘iste liber constat Edmondus Carpenter.’

4. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS 770 (2552).
Folios 1r-99v contain a copy of Soul without the translator’s epilogue or scribal
colophon. This manuscript’s inconsistencies and idiosyncratic features indicate that
it is a provincial product of the middle of the fifteenth century. According to LALME, the language of the manuscript shows the characteristics of the border area of Norfolk and Ely. Sir James Ley (1550-1629), the first Earl of Marlborough, donated this manuscript to the Bodleian Library in 1612.

5. Oxford, University College, MS 181.
This manuscript consists of 155 leaves. Fols. 1r-153v contain a copy of Soul without
the translator’s epilogue or a scribal colophon. The language shows characteristics associated by LALME with Northamptonshire. The craftsmanship of the manuscript indicates that it is the work of professional artists working in the middle of the fifteenth century. A partially erased inscription shows that the book was given to Henry Percy, prior of the Augustinian priory of St. Paul in Newham, Bedfordshire by his predecessor John Renhall in 1491.

6. Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, MS 124/61.
This manuscript consists of 130 vellum leaves. Omits 2 quires at the beginning,
the words of the translator, and a scribal colophon. This is one of the earliest known copies of Soul. LALME associates the characteristics of its language with Norfolk, with some features of Ely and Lincolnshire. The manuscript shows a fairly high degree of standardisation and is the work of two professional scribes. It may therefore have been produced at a metropolitan bookshop or by a network of artists.

7. Cambridge, University Library, MS Kk.1.7.
This manuscript originally consisted of 136 leaves, of which 124 are left. fols. 1v-
124v contain Soul, without the translator’s epilogue or scribal colophon. Its language
contains forms associated by LALME with the border between Norfolk and Suffolk, with the occasional use of forms associated with the area between Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. The manuscript contains additions with a doctrinal content that suggests that Kk 1.7 or its exemplar is of or clerical or monastic origin. One fifteenth-century or sixteenth-century owner so strongly identified with the protagonist of the story that he wrote ‘his iaset Tomas Showall’ on the bed in the miniature on fol. 1r, ‘his iaset y' in the right margin of the page, and ‘hic iaseth Tome’ in the right margin of fol. 92r.

8. Hatfield (Hertfordshire), Hatfield House, MS. Cecil 270.
This manuscript consists of 75 leaves. Fols.1r-72v contain Soul, without the
translator’s epilogue. Its language shows characteristics associated by LALME with
Cambridgeshire. It contains numerous fifteenth and sixteenth-century
inscriptions indicating that it was made for a member of the royal court and continued to circulate among families associated with the court until the early seventeenth century. Henry VI is the earliest known owner of Cecil 270: though nothing in the decoration or original contents of the book indicates that it was made for him. ‘Rex Henricus Sextus’ appears on ff 1r, 36v, and 72v, in the same fifteenth-century hand. On paleographical, artistic, and textual grounds, Cecil 270 seems to be the work of professional artists in the 1440s.

9. New York Public Library, Spencer 19 (formerly Petworth 2).
Spencer 19 consists of 136 leaves. The Pilgrimage of the Soul can be found on fols.
1r-133v. It includes a table of contents and a translator’s epilogue but lacks a scribal colophon. It is the work of two scribes who worked in the second quarter of the fifteenth century. Its language shows features associated by LALME with the border area between Norfolk and Lincolnshire. The second scribe also uses forms typical of Rutland or Nottinghamshire and even Kent. On flyleaf Av, a fifteenth-century hand has written ‘Liber domini Thome Comorworth militis’. Sir Thomas Cumberworth was Sheriff and Member of Parliament for Lincolnshire and died in 1451. He mentions the book, which he calls ‘my boke of grasdew of the sow[l]e’ and bequeaths to the priest at chantry of the Virgin Mary at Somerby parish church, in his 1437 will.

10. Melbourne, Victoria State Library, MS *096/G94 (folios 96r-315v).
This manuscript contains 217 leaves. Fols. 1r-95v contain a copy of the prose Life of
the Manhood.
Fols. 96r-215v contain a copy of The Pilgrimage of the Soul. The incipit on fol. 1r gives the title of the whole book as Grace Dieu. The handwriting dates from the second quarter of the fifteenth century and is the work of two, possibly even four, scribes. Most of the work is done Scribe A, who identifies himself as ‘Benet’. LALME identifies the language of scribe A as Lincolnshire. This is the only manuscript known to contain both The Pilgrimage of the Soul and The Pilgrimage of the Life of the Manhood. The first known owner of this manuscript was Sir John Roucliffe of Cowthorpe, South Yorkshire, who died in 1531, whose name appears in the bottom margin of fols. 1r and 215v.

11. Printed edition by William Caxton, dated June 6, 1483.

Parts of  The Pilgrimage of the Soul appear in the following manuscripts:

12. London, British Library, Add. 37049.
Leaves 69b-77 contain ‘The Apple of Solace’, a short prose tract containing
eight poems and four prose parts from Soul. This manuscript’s content and language suggest that it was compiled by the Carthusians in the Northeast Midlands during the middle of the fifteenth century.

13. London, British Library, MS Harley 7333.
Harley 7333 consists of 211 leaves and is an anthology of poetry and prose, primarily
in English, including works by Benedict Burgh, Lydgate, Chaucer, Gower and Hoccleve. Fol. 148v contains book 1, chapter 2 of Soul. The scant linguistic information we can derive from this page shows forms associated by LALME with Leicestershire and Rutland.

14. San Marino, Huntington Library HM 111 (formerly Phillipps 8151).
HM 111 consists of forty-seven leaves. It is a collection of sixteen poems by Thomas
Hoccleve. Fols. 3r-7v contain Hoccleve’s ‘Compleynte of the Virgin’, without the first six stanzas, which appears as ‘The Lament of the Green Tree’ in book 4 of The Pilgrimage of the Soul.


The Translation of Le Pčlerinage de l'Âme into The Pilgrimage of the Soul
The source of the Pilgrimage of the Soul is the verse Âme rather than the prose; but nothing in the English work gives any indication of who the translator may have been, except for one rather cryptic indication in the verba translatoris at the end of MSS Egerton and Spencer:

And I the symple and vnsuffisaunt translatoure of this lytel book pr[ay] and beseke as lowely as I kan to the reder or herer of this processe to for geue it me ţat I haue  translated worde for word as in was in the Frensche, somwhat be cause of ille writyng of myn exampler, somwhat be cause of hard Frensch -- specialy sith I am but litel expert in ţat langage -- somwhat also be cause of somme thinges ţat were diffuse and in som place ouerderk. Wherfore, I haue in dyuers places added and with drawe litel as what me semed needful, no thing chaunging the progresse ne substaunce of the mater, but as it myght be most lusti to the reder or herer of the matier. Also I must excuse me to the reders or herer of the matier in som place, thei it be ouer fantastyk, nought grounded nor foundable in holy scripture, ne in douctoures wordes, for I myght not go from myn auctor. Also in myn addicions, specially in pletyng of mercy and in the sermon of Doctrine of nature of the soule, and her at the ende in the matier of the Trinite, if I haue said owt othir than autentik, I beseche you all to amende it, which ţat haue kunnyng in ţat matier more than haue I, for myn is symple and of litel value. This is the mark at the begynnyng of myn addicion, 'A K' , and this at the ende. 'i z'6.

But whom these letters may refer to, is unknown. In addition to the lack of internal evidence in  Soul, there is no external evidence from any source to indicate the identity if the translator. Nevertheless, two English poets have been put forward as possible translators of the French work, but neither of them convincingly. They are John Lydgate (c.1370-1449) and Thomas Hoccleve (c. 1368-1426).

John Lydgate
Lydgate has been mentioned as a possible translator of Soul since 1744. According to Clubb, the Catalogus Bibliothecae Harleianae (III, 126) says: ‘This is remarkable that the 34th chapter of [Lydgate’s] Life of the Virgin Mary is a digression in praise of Chaucer and that the 34th chapter of the second book of this pilgrimage should be the same poem7.’

Catherine Cust (on Caxton’s text): ‘The translator or at least the author of the additions was in all probability Lydgate, for the 34th chapter of the Lydgate’s Life of the Virgin Mary is literally repeated in the 34th chapter of his Charter of Mercy.’

The trouble is that there is no chapter 34 in the second book of Sowle. The chapters in the first and second books are numbered consecutively 1-39 (book one) and 40-65 (book two) in Caxton. Egerton 615 gives the first chapter of the second book as ‘capitulum primum’ but has it end with chapter 28. There is a chapter 34 in the first book then, and it does consist of a charter of Mercy. but there is nothing in this charter that event hints at a eulogy for Chaucer and there is nothing in the 34th chapter of Lydgate’s Life of the Virgin Mary that points in the direction of this charter.

According to McGerr, W.L. Hare noted in 1931 that unbound copies of both The Pylgremage of the Sowle and Lydgate’s Life of the Virgin Mary must have remained in Caxton’s workshop at the same time, for a quire of Lydgate’s poem was mistakenly put into one copy of The Pylgremage of the Sowle. Lydgate was in all probability the author of the verse Life of the Manhood, but that does not make it more likely that he was the author of the English Pylgremage of the Sowle as well. In fact one could say it makes it even less likely, for why would he have translated Âme before he translated Vie? Besides, Lydgate scarcely would have failed to mention an earlier (1413) rendering of the Soul in the prologue to his translation (1426) of the Life.

Thomas Hoccleve

The suggestion that Hoccleve may be the translator of Sowle rests completely on the authority of Furnivall. The Lamentacion of the Grene Tree appears separately in HM 111 (which also contains a copy of Sowle) in a group of fourteen poems ascribed with good reason to Hoccleve. Furnivall says he cannot distinguish between the seventh poem in this group, the Virgin’s Complaint, which with certainty is Hoccleve’s, and the other 13 poems. Characteristics he mentions are, amongst other ones, hire for their, final -e before a vowel or [h]. Thus associating the Lamentacion with Hoccleve, Furnivall was led to argue that Hoccleve composed all the lyrics in Soul. Based on this belief, it was recently even suggested that Hoccleve composed the whole of The Pylgremage of the Sowle8. But there is hardly any evidence to support such an attribution. First of all, Hoccleve never published any long prose works. There are only three shorter passages in prose known to be by him, and those are part of larger poetic works. Hoccleve also took great pains to collect his own works in order to be circulated. The Pylgremage of the Sowle appears in none of the manuscripts containing collections of his works.

We know that Hoccleve saw himself as a disciple of Chaucer9. He could have tried to model his early career on Chaucer’s by translating a passage from Âme, known as The Compleynte of the Virgin, which appeared in The Pylgremage of the Sowle as The Compleynt of the Drye Tree, for Lady Joan FitzAlan, countess of Hereford (d. 1419), sometime before 1413, just like Chaucer translated a piece from Guillaume’s Vie for Blanche of Lancaster early in his career. In the Verba Translatoris at the end of the Spencer manuscript, the translator addresses the ‘ful worshipeful and gracious ladishipe’ who commaunded [him] to take this occupacioun'.

Adaptation to an English Audience
The translation of Âme into Soul is not an extremely faithful one. Though the translator has remained faithful to much of the original - Âme’s narrative structure and allegorical techniques remain the backbone of the English text - he has made some changes that make Soul more suited for a fifteenth-century English audience. The main change is that of the narrator of the story. In Guillaume’s work the protagonist is clearly a Cistercian monk who can easily be identified with Guillaume himself. In the English Soul, the narrator has become an Everyman with whom the reader can identify himself. The differences can be seen from the beginning of the work on. Guillaume’s Âme is clearly meant as a sequel to his Vie. The English translation is not. The reader can understand the purpose of the work without having read Life the Manhood first. All the references that Guillaume makes in Âme to his previous work become references of the pilgrim’s earthly life in Soul. The pilgrim in Âme, when he needs an advocate to speak for him in the heavenly court, appeals to monastic patrons such as St. Benedict and St. Bernard. Since these saints lose much of their relevance to the English Everyman pilgrim, they are omitted. In the thirtieth chapter of the first book, Guillaume’s discussion of the monastic ideal is replaced with Mercy questioning Justice onGod’s purpose in creating mankind and ordaining laws and about the relationship between earthly law and divine law. She builds a case for the pilgrim’s salvation of the basis of the answers Justice gives her.

Another typically English feature introduced into the English Soul is the occasional use of alliteration for dramatic effect. We find a fine example in chapter thirteen of book one, where the pilgrim is accused of several sins:

He hath iourneyed by the perylous pas of Pryde, by the malycious montayne of Wrethe and Enuye, he hath waltred hym self and wesshen in the lothely lake of cursyd Lechery, he hath ben encombred in the golf of Glotony. Also he hath mysgouerned hym in the contre of Couetyse, and often tyme taken his rest whan tyme was best to trauayle, slepyng and slomeryng in the bed of Slouthe.

McGerr uses the term ‘Englishing’, a term also used by fifteenth-century English writers, rather than ‘translating’. The translator loosed his knowledge of theology and English tradition on Âme to change Guillaume’s courtly poem into a polemical work that implicitly answered the attacks of Lollards and other critics of Roman Catholic doctrine. I think therein lies much of the value the work had for a fifteenth-century English audience, especially a lay one.

The main text that follows after the summary of the Pylgremage is an edition of Caxton’s print. Wherever Caxton’s text is unclear or at fault, I have made use of M. Clubb’s 1954 edition of MS Egerton 615.  I have indicated this in the footnotes. This was the only other text available to me, but it was sufficiently helpful in the instances mentioned above .

William Caxton and The Pilgrimage of the Soul
We are now left with the question why William Caxton printed The Pylgremage of the Sowle. And this is a question which I do not think can ever be answered satisfactorily. There are no records of why Caxton printed the Pylgremage. We do not know if he had been commissioned to print the work or if it was an initiative of his own.

One reason might be that the Pylgremage enjoyed sufficient popularity in the latter half of the fifteenth century to make printing worthwhile. Another reason might be that Caxton, or a wealthy patron of his, had a personal fondness for the work and was interested in its further dissemination. We know from the surviving manuscripts that it did enjoy some popularity among the higher classes - King Henry VI is the earliest known owner of Hatfield House, MS Cecil 270 . We know very few facts from Caxton’s life, apart from a number of dates and what he has to say of himself in the prologues to several of his works. But we know that the nature of his trade, printing and publishing, brought him into contact with circles that could afford to possess books.

In the fifteenth century these circles were still Catholic, and they would no doubt have been interested in a work like the Pylgremage, which strongly defends contemporary Catholic views. Amongst the authors Caxton printed were Lydgate and Hoccleve, who were writers who clearly adhered to the Roman Catholic point of view, Lydgate even a monk and a priest. We know that the Pylgremage enjoyed some popularity among noble families in at least the East Midlands, to which most of the extant manuscripts can be led back. Influential Catholics could well have considered a work like the Pylgremage, which would appeal more to the layman than more expert theological material, could therefore be used to defend the Roman cause against anti-Catholic writings which had been spread among the population since the days of Wycliffe. With the rise of the printing press, the demand for a work like the Pylgremage might have increased, and it might certainly have been lucrative for Caxton to fulfill this particular need. On the other hand, living in London as tradesman, Caxton might have felt surrounded by anti-Catholic sentiments among the common people. This might have provided Caxton with an ideological reason for printing the work.

Yet another reason for Caxton to print The Pylgremage of the Sowle could have been that, like many later scholars, he was under the assumption that John Lydgate was the author of the English Pylgrmage. And Caxton was probably not the only one to make this assumption. Lydgate had, after all, translated Vie into English. We have seen above that a quire of Lydgate’s Life of the Virgin Mary was mistakenly put into a copy of The Pylgremage of the Sowle and that the Pylgremage was bound up together with work by Lydgate in two other manuscripts. And Lydgate was, an author whose work was still popular at the time, so that, based on a general consensus that Lydgate was the translator of Âme, Caxton would consider it quite safe to publish the Pylgremage.

Editions of The Pilgrimage of the Soul
The only editions of the Soul (or parts of it) since Caxton are as follows: Katherine Custs’s 1859 reprint of selected portions of Caxton’s work, Furnivall’s 1892 transcript of the ‘Lamentacion of the Grene Tree’ from MS Phillipps 8151 (now Huntington Library HM 111), Furnivall’s 1897 transcript of the fourteen poems from British Library MS Egerton 615, mother Barry’s 1931 editions of Spencer 1910, Clubb’s 1954 edition of British Library MS Egerton 615, and Rosemarie Potz McGerr’s hitherto partly published critical edition, mainly based on Spencer 19, in two volumes, the first of which, containing the introduction, the first two books and their notes, was published in 1990. She expects to publish the second volume, containing books 3, 4, and 5, their notes, and a glossary, in 2006.


Summary of The Pylgremage of the Sowle

Book 1
The Pylgremage of the Sowle opens with a dream. The pilgrim lies asleep on a St. Lawrence night (eve of 10 August) and dreams that he has died and that his soul is being lifted up towards heaven. As he sees his decaying body become smaller and smaller, he is beset by a devil, who claims his soul for eternal punishment. His guardian angel immediately comes to the rescue, and after some disputation it is decided to let the heavenly assizes, presided by the archangel Michael, decide the matter. The devil agrees to this, even though he thinks that Michael, his arch enemy, will not be impartial.

The pilgrim is taken to the court, where he has to wait outside amongst a multitude of other souls awaiting judgement. As he watches his guardian angel go to the court to speak on his behalf, he has a glimpse of seats of precious stones and souls fully glorified, but almost immediately a curtain is let down and his sight is blocked. The court informs the souls that the cases of the souls who have waited longest and the lighter cases will be dealt with first. While they are waiting their turn, the devils complain that this court is unlike any earthly court, where the counsel for the prosecution is heard first. Michael asks Cherubyn to sit in judgement with him. He agrees to this, provided that St. Peter, Reason, and Truth also be present. He also wants various patron saints to attend as expert witnesses.

As the court is in session, the souls have to wait outside. Their guardian angels will present their cases. After a long wait it is his guardian angel’s turn to present his case. The angel introduces the pilgrim as one who always kept his faith during his life, and deserves to go to heaven. The devil immediately interferes and claims that, even though the pilgrim was baptized and therefore cleansed of original sin, he never valued that baptism and stained himself with sins of his own. He compares the pilgrim with one who has received many gifts from his lord and nevertheless betrays him, which is much worse than betraying a lord who did not give you any gifts.

The pilgrim is then asked to speak in his own defence, or if he is unable to, to have an advocate speak for him. This causes him not a little panic, for he is a poor man, and he knows that earthly lawyers only plea well for those who pay them well. Even though he finds the advocates of this court to be of different mettle, he still despairs, for he has nothing at all to give to any advocate, or served any particular saint during his life, to whom he might turn for his defence. He makes a long complaint in verse, in which he invokes Charity, Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Michael, St. John the Baptist, the Evangelists, the Apostles, the Martyrs, Confessors, Saints, and Virgins to help reconcile him to God.

Lady Justice says that the pilgrim’s complaint goes against this court’s custom. His repentance no longer avails him since he had more than enough time to make this complaint while he was still alive. All that may avail the pilgrim here are his good deeds, which are to be weighed in the balance against his sins. A trumpet is sounded and a voice says that the pilgrim must give an account of himself. He starts by stating that he wants the devil to be disqualified as a party in these proceedings, for he has always been his enemy, ever intent on deceiving him. The devil replies that he cannot be disqualified since he has already been assigned as counsel for the prosecution. But he will call forth Synderesis, the Worm of Conscience, who cannot lie. Synderesis is a hideous creature who has only a head and a long tail. He tells the pilgrim he has always been with him and knows his most secret thoughts. He often tried to warn the pilgrim against sins, but in vain. He has bitten the pilgrim so often and so hard that his teeth are all broken. He reminds the pilgrim that he once paid good money to go and see a monstrous beast, while he should have looked at the far more hideous beast he was breeding in his heart, and run to the priest to have himself shriven.

The pilgrim asks Synderesis who he thinks he is to speak against him and Synderesis reminds him of a time when Lady Penance told him of a worm he was breeding in his heart. He is that very worm. The pilgrim argues that it would be an offence against God that a hideous creature like Synderesis should plea against him, who was created in the likeness of God. Synderesis answers that during his life, this likeness to God was deformed by sin, and that he never did anything to remedy that. It is decided that Synderesis will give an account of the pilgrim’s life, while the devil writes everything down. From time to time the pilgrim is asked to speak in his own defence, but he cannot. All he can say in his own defence is that he never abandoned his bag and staff of faith and hope. He also lays the blame for his sins on man’s natural inclination towards sin, the devil (against whose presence even as Synderesis’s scribe he strongly protests), and the wickedness of the world.

Justice now begins to speak against the pilgrim, asking her sisters Reason and Truth to correct her whenever she is wrong. His excuse that his body caused him to sin is invalid. He should have been the master of his body, and not the other way around. She reminds the court of the time that the pilgrim lay sick in his bed and Grace Dieu sent him an epistle warning him to mend his ways. He never paid heed to that epistle. She produces and reads the letter. The pilgrim said that he never abandoned his scrip and burdon, but Justice believes he would have abandoned those right away if he had lived in the days of persecutors like Nero and Diocletian. If he had used the armour of righteousness that Grace Dieu had provided him with, the devil would never have stood a chance against him. As far as the wickedness of the world is concerned, the pilgrim should have closed his eyes to the world, but instead he willingly took it all in.

Reason and Truth confirm what Justice has said and the devil asks Michael to pass sentence. Then Lady Mercy speaks up, saying that there is no pilgrim, Christ and His mother excepted, that is not bothered by sin. She also argues that this court should follow Christ’s example and show mercy. Justice argues that Jesus did not die on the cross so that man could persist in sin. Mercy engages in a question-and-answer debate with Justice about a lord who has paid dearly for a certain servant. This servant is led astray by some people, but in the end he returns to his master. Though the servant does deserve punishment, he should not be killed, for that would put the master at a disadvantage, and the punishment should not be carried out by those who led him astray in the first place.

Michael orders the balance to be produced in which the pilgrim’s merits will be weighed against his sins. In one scale is laid the list of the pilgrim’s sins which the devil has written down. The pilgrim has nothing to put in the scales but his staff and bag, which to him seem to weigh but very little. The bill of sins is much heavier than the pilgrim’s staff and bag and the devil demands that Michael pass sentence. But Mercy asks Michael to delay his sentence somewhat, while she goes up to heaven to obtain a charter of pardon. She soon after returns with such a charter. Justice says that if this charter benefits the pilgrim, she cannot see what purpose she and her balance serve. The chest with the charter of pardon is put in the scale with the pilgrim’s bag and staff, and it immediately outweighs the pilgrim’s sins. The pilgrim is sentenced to expiate his sins in purgatory.


Book 2
When he has heard his sentence he sees a group of souls who have finished their purgatorial punishment and sing God’s praise. So do their guardian angels. Then a list is given of those souls who will not benefit from the charter of pardon and will suffer eternally in hell. The pilgrim sees souls deformed in different ways and his angel explains to him which sins correspond to the various disfigurements of the souls. As the souls are being led to hell, the angel tells the pilgrim to pick up his bag and staff and come with him to purgatory.

The angel instructs the pilgrim on the nature of purgatorial fire and tells him that Lady Prayer is about to obtain an ointment from heaven that will make his pains more bearable. He explains how prayer can both ease and shorten the pains suffered in purgatory and tells the pilgrim about the make-up of Christ’s mystic body and the worth of indulgences issued by the Church. Lady Prayer returns with the ointment. When his angel anoints the pilgrim, he feels his pains lessen. He also feels his pains decreased by the ointments that other souls receive, and other souls thank him for the relief they feel from the ointment applied to him. The angel explains that he ointment is like light. If one person in a dark room is given light, the other people present in the room will benefit from the light as well.

The pilgrim asks about the nature of hell and the angel compares it to a nut. What we call a nut consists of four parts. The kernel can be compared to hell proper, the peel to the limbo of the Innocent Children, the shell to purgatory, and the husk to the Bosom of Abraham.

Then we are shown some individual instances of punishment. A soul who always indulged in pampering his body is punished in ice. another soul is flogging himself and asking forgiveness of all other souls who pass him by. Yet another soul seems fully purged, but is still punished because his debts have not been paid yet. The pilgrim and the angel come to a valley of bones where the pilgrim spots his own decaying body. He engages in a debate with his body on who is to blame for the fact that the pilgrim hasn’t reached heavenly bliss yet. After some arguing the angel puts an end to the debate.

Book 3
The angel now takes the pilgrim to hell. He assures him that his pains will not be increased by it. They pass through the limbo of the unbaptized, who dwell in constant darkness. In hell he sees a multitude of devils torturing souls and paying homage to Lucifer, who is sitting in a burning chair and is bound with fiery chains. His daughter Pride accuses and curses him. Lucifer in turn curses her and her sister Envy, who he says are the chief cause of his downfall.

Pride is then tormented by devils and Lucifer sits down on her face, defiling her. Along with her, the souls of the proud are punished . Then they come to a place where souls are hung from a beam by various parts of their bodies. A ‘butcher’ tormenting them explains the nature of their sins by the parts of the body they hang by. Among those souls is Judas, who’s tongue is torn out by the throat because it should not touch the lips that kissed Christ.

They come to a huge wheel which is half below ground. The wheel has iron hooks on it, with which two souls are tormented. From a tower nearby the soul of a king curses them. The souls were Chancellor and Treasurer to this king, and they betrayed him. The made a wheel like this one as an engine to move money into the treasury. But, once below ground, the money did not find its way into the treasury, but into their own pockets. They also betrayed all the kings plans to the enemy, and brought ruin to the kingdom.

False judges who always ruled in favour of the most wealthy party should have borne in mind King Cambyses of Persia, who had a false judge flayed alive and used his skin to cover the seat of justice. All who have sinned with their tongues, such as liars, perjurers, and false witnesses, shall be suspended by the tongue. Those who were always ready to listen to those lies will be hanged by the ears. Thieves must hang by the hands.

The angel explains to the soul which sins are punished by the various forms of torture he sees. The avaricious are eaten by wolves. The wrathful are bound together and pierced with spines like those of a porcupine, and then drawn into furnaces with hooks. The slothful are hooked to a huge wheel, and, as the wheel turns, their brains are bashed out against a pole. The gluttonous have their tongues drawn out under their chins and a re laid on tables of burning coal and sulphur. The lecherous are laid in couples on couches with sharp thorns, toads and serpents.

In a great pit full of vermin, pitch, and brimstone, the souls of all the enemies and pursuers of Holy Church are punished. The angel then explains the nature of sin to the pilgrim, who discovers that half his sins have been purged away.


Book 4
The angel and the pilgrim leave hell and come to a plain where they see a multitude of souls playing with an apple between two trees, one verdant and one barren. The angel explains that the souls are playing with the apple to find comfort, and that the apple, which grew on the green tree and was then transferred to the barren one, is Christ. The verdant tree is the Virgin, and she stems from Adam’s line, which grew from the seeds of the apple he ate. The barren tree is a descendant of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and was ultimately made into the cross that bore Christ.

The green tree and the apple are maintained by Lady Virginity. The angel tells how she is approached one day by Lady Justice, who asks her to give up to apple so that it can be restored to the barren tree for mankind’s salvation. Virginity, who is reluctant to give up the apple, wants the two trees to discuss the matter themselves. After a long discussion it is concluded that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost have decided in heaven that only Christ is worthy to pay the price of redemption and that the apple must be given up to the barren tree.

The green tree then makes a long complaint about the fact that the apple is taken from her. The barren tree answers that she should not complain, for a lot of good will come of it . Then the pilgrim and the angel come to a place where the pilgrim sees many people he knows. But they do not see him. The angel explains to him that he is not in his body and that is the reason the others cannot see him. The angel also explains that the fire the pilgrim feels tormenting him only burns within him.

They come to a place where they see Lady doctrine licking a soul into shape, like a she-bear is said to do with her young. Lady doctrine tells the pilgrim something about the nature of the soul and its proportions, or rather the irrelevancy of applying a term like proportion to a soul. The difference between souls lies in their power and virtue and the disposition of the body a soul is joined to. It is the body that impedes the soul.

The angel explains that the soul is immaterial, made solely of God’s will. It does have certain properties or powers, such as fantasy, reason ,and memory. This is followed by a further explanation by the translator of the nature of the soul and that of angels.

The pilgrim and the angel come to a place where they see two statues. One represents a knight in armour, the other a naked man. The latter one reminds the pilgrim of the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream.

The angel explains that the head of the statue is made of gold, which is both tough - a leader must be steadfast - and ductile - a leader must be ready to listen to counsel. The arms and breast, which are made of silver, represent the king’s barons and his counsellors respectively. The brass womb stands for the lower offices of government, such as that of sheriff. The thighs, which are also made of brass, represent the offices of law, such as the justices of the peace, magistrates, lawyers, and bailiffs. The legs are made of iron. The upper legs stand for knights, squires, burgesses, and merchants, while the lower legs represent common soldiers. The feet, which are made of a mixture of iron and earth, stand for the artisans and labourers, who are the foundation of society.

Then the angel tells the pilgrim the story of the other statue. Once there was a king who was renowned throughout the world for his just government. A knight comes to this king’s court, but he finds it deserted. In a garden he finds Lady Liberality (Largesse), who is weeping. She cannot tell the knight the cause of her grief but agrees to take him to the king. The king is accompanied by a foul old hag (Covetousness) who behaves as if she were mistress of the palace. Lady Liberality explains how once the king had her as his chief counsellor, and all was well in the kingdom. But then some treacherous counsellors introduced this old hag to the court and things had a turn for the worse. All the king’s true servants left the court, leaving the evil counsellors to do as they pleased. The knight speaks to the king and offers to be his champion in a joust which is to determine whether Lady Liberality should regain her rightful place. At the day of the joust, none of the party of the evil counsellors shows up, and Lady Liberality is restored to her former position.


Book 5
After this encounter, the pilgrim has to spend a very long time in pain until his sins are purged away. But finally his burden no longer weighs him down and he rises up to heaven.

The angel show him the firmament, whose movements make a sweet melody. The pilgrim sees two spheres. Within the inner sphere are the spheres of the seven planets. In the outer - crystalline - sphere, he sees the heavenly court. This crystalline sphere is what he saw as the dark curtain before his trial. The angel tells him that this is Heavenly Jerusalem, and that God dwells in its centre. The pilgrim is reminded of St. Paul’s words about the third heaven. The angel tells him that the first heaven is that of virginity, the second that of faith, and the third that of hope.

Then the pilgrim asks the angel to tell him something about the eight worlds or mansions of heaven. The first mansion, crowned with roses, is the mansion of the martyrs. The second, crowned with marigolds, is the mansion of preachers, while the third, which is crowned with primroses and lilies belongs to the virgins. The fourth mansion, crowned with carbuncles, is that of the Apostles and Evangelists. The fifth mansion has a crown of emeralds and is the dwelling of the Prophets and Patriarchs. Number six is crowned with crystal and is the abode of hermits and confessors. There are many feasts in these mansions and there is always a lot of coming and going among them, for many saints have a place in more than one mansion.

The seventh mansion is that of the nine orders of angels and is ornamented with sapphires. The angel tells the pilgrim that he belongs to the lowest order of angels. The eight, golden, mansion is the seat of God. The Virgin has a throne there, too. These eight mansions are all part of one heavenly house.

The pilgrim sees three souls being led into the golden mansion and when they come out again they are honoured by a multitude. These are Saint Lawrence, whose feast day it is, and his fellow deacons and martyrs Saints Stephen and Vincent. The angel tells the pilgrim about the calendar of heaven and how every day one or more saints have their feast day.

There are certain feasts that are more important than any other feast. Five feasts are dedicated to the Virgin. The first is that of the Immaculate Conception. The second, the Nativity. The third, the Annunciation. The fourth is the feast of the Purification or Candlemas. The fifth is the Assumption of St Mary.

The circle of heaven, the angel goes on, consists of the signs of the zodiac. There are five ‘contrary’ signs: Aries, Taurus, Leo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn. Taurus stands for King Herod and the slaying of the Innocent Children. Aries stands for Christ’s temptation in the desert. Scorpio indicates the fact that within a week after Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem, the same people that had cheered him, wanted his death. Pilate is represented by Capricorn. Libra stands for the price Christ paid for the redemption of mankind. The arrows of Sagittarius are the words with which the Jews scorned Christ. And finally Leo stands for the mouth of hell, which Christ harrowed after his death.

That leaves us with the five ‘good’ signs: Virgo, Gemini, Cancer, Aquarius, and Pisces. Virgo speaks for itself, Gemini stands for the double nature of Christ. Aquarius represents Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by St. John. Cancer stands for the three returns of Christ: From the mouth of hell and from death (Easter), and back to heaven (Ascension). The sign of Pisces represents the descent of the Holy Spirit into the Disciples at Pentecost.

After this, the pilgrim asks the angel to explain the nature of Holy Trinity to him, which the angel does. He then leaves the pilgrim, who awakes in his own bed and finds out that he has slept for no more than three hours.