In his masterpiece Canterbury tales, Geoffrey Chaucer tells about some pilgrims that, deciding to go to Canterbury to visit the town where the famous Thomas Becket died, during their journey together tell some stories, in order to make it more pleasant. This subject is not new: it in fact reminds what Boccaccio did in his Decameron.
One of the most important characters described among the pilgrims is a nun – a Prioress -, a young and pretty woman.
She’s very nice, her way of smiling is simple and shy. She’s also very polite, in fact she studied French at the school of Stratford-Atte-Bowe and her biggest oath was “By St. Loy!”
She is known as Madam Eglantyne. She often sings religious songs with a nasal voice (that in Chaucer’s times was regarded as a very beautiful characteristic).
She’s very polite also for what concerns table manners. In fact at table her manners are very well taught: she never dips her fingers inside the sauce too deeply, she never lets a morsel fall from her mouth onto her breast, she usually wipes her upper lip so that she never leaves a trace of grease on her cup when she drinks, and she’s always careful not her dress to get dirty.
Her disposition is friendly and sensitive. She’s so tenderhearted that she starts crying if she only sees a mouse in a trap.
She’s got some little dogs with her, that she feeds with the best food: milk and meat. They are very attached to her, and she hates if someone, by chance, happens to hurt them or beat them with a stick.
She wears a very elegant veil, her mouth is little, red and soft, her forehead large, her nose little and her eyes shines like two stars. She’s tall too and she likes having beautiful dresses: she has a beautiful cloak, a coral bracelet on her arm and a wonderful rosary, from which a golden brooch hangs. On it there’s written in Latin: “Amor vincit omnia”.
With her there are another nun, a chaplain and three priests.
Among the pilgrims there’s also a pardoner, described by Chaucer as a young man.
A Pardoner was an ecclesiastic man that used to travel a lot to sell the so called “pardons”, very common during the Middle Ages.
He has a long hair, as yellow as wax, hung as a hank of flax. His locks are spread on his shoulders. He doesn’t have a hood, but keeps it inside his big bag. Except for his cap, his head is completely bare. His big bag is like a wallet.
His eyes shines. He is witty and bold.
He wants to look elegant, so his clothes must always be clean. All these things give him a female appearance.
On his cap a Veronica is sewn. His skin is like a child’s, in fact he’s beardless.
Although his childish look, he is very clever and noone can beat him in his work.
He’s not very honest: his bag is full of pardons that he usually sells during his journeys.
He has a veil with him, that, according to him, belonged to Our Lady, and a piece of the sail St. Peter used in Galilee when Jesus Christ chose him, and some pig’s bones that he sells as holy relics.
He travels very much, and when he happens to find a poor village parson grubbing his ground, he cheats him and sells him those fake relics he carries along, thus earning a lot of money.
Using his flattery and lies, he manages to fool not only poor parsons, but also all the persons from the villages.
But even though he’s a cheater, we mustn’t forget he’s a man belonging to the clergy: he’s able to read the Gospel out, and, when he sings, he’s full of emotion: a good occasion to preach and get some silver.
Among the pilgrims there’s also an astute and witty physician. He’s a fantastic doctor: no one is like him to make a conversation about the art of medicine or surgery, in fact he’s not only a doctor, but also a very good surgeon.
He usually keeps his patient in a long observation before giving his the right medication, because is also grounded in astrology. He always looks at the stars to decide the best hour to heal his patient.
During the Middle Ages people often thought that the position of planets and stars could have a big influence on persons and illnesses.
This doctor could understand the cause of every diseases just looking at the stars, and find the best cure.