Sequence of Saint Eulalia

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Manuscript of the Sequence of Saint Eulalia, Valenciennes Municipal Library

The Sequence of Saint Eulalia, also known as the Canticle of Saint Eulalia (French: Séquence/Cantilène de sainte Eulalie) is the earliest surviving piece of French hagiography and one of the earliest extant texts in the vernacular langues d'oïl (Old French). It dates from around 880.

Eulalia of Mérida was an early Christian martyr from Mérida, Spain, who was killed during the Persecution of Diocletian around 304. Her legend is recounted in the 29 verses of the Sequence, in which she resists pagan threats, bribery and torture from the pagan emperor Maximian. She miraculously survives being burned at the stake, but is finally decapitated. She then ascends to heaven in the form of a dove.

The Sequence was composed in verse around 880, soon after the rediscovery of the relics of a saint of the same name, Eulalia of Barcelona, in 878.


The manuscript containing the Sequence is a collection of sermons by Gregory of Nazianzus. It is first mentioned in a 12th-century catalog of the library of Saint-Amand Abbey, although the production of the manuscript has been dated to the early 9th century. It is not known with certainty where it was produced. B. Bischoff suggests that it came from a scriptorium in (Lower) Lotharingia, but not from Saint-Amand itself, given its style of construction and the handwriting, which cannot be matched to other manuscripts produced there during the same period.[1]

The manuscript is less significant for its original content, however, than for the empty pages at the end that later scribes filled in with additional texts. These include:

  • the top half of f141: a 14-line Latin poem about Saint Eulalia (Cantica uirginis eulalie)
  • the top half of f141v: the Sequence of Saint Eulalia in vernacular Romance
  • from the bottom of f141v to the top of f143: the Ludwigslied (Rithmus teutonicus), written in a variety of Old High German.

The Sequence and the Ludwigslied are written in the same hand, and since the preamble of the Ludwigslied mentions the death of Louis III, both additions to the manuscript are dated to 882 or soon thereafter. Again, it cannot be established with certainty where these additions were made, whether at Saint-Amand or elsewhere.

When Jean Mabillon visited Saint-Amand Abbey in 1672, he made a hasty copy of the Ludwigslied, but neither he nor his hosts seem to have recognized the significance of the Sequence immediately preceding it. When Mabillon and the historian Johannes Schilter attempted to obtain a better transcription of the Ludwigslied in 1693, the monks of the abbey were unable to locate the manuscript. It remained lost throughout the 18th century, until the entire contents of the abbey library were confiscated and transferred to Valenciennes in 1792, by order of the revolutionary government. In September 1837, Hoffmann von Fallersleben visited the library of Valenciennes with the intention of unearthing the lost text of the Ludwigslied. According to his account, it only took him one afternoon to find the manuscript and to realize that it contained another important text, the Sequence of Saint Eulalia.[2]


The Eulalia text is a sequence or "prose" consisting of 14 assonant couplets, each written on one line and separated by a punctus, followed by a final unpaired coda verse. The Sequence follows no strict meter. Most of the couplets consist of two ten-syllable verses, although some have 11, 12, or 13 syllables.

Both the vernacular Sequence and the Latin poem that precedes it show similarities with the hymn to Eulalia in the Peristephanon, by the 4th-century Christian poet Prudentius.

A transcription of the original text is provided below (with abbreviations expanded and some word boundaries inserted),[3] along with an English translation.[4]

English Original text Modern French

"Eulalia was a good girl,
She had a beautiful body, a soul more beautiful still.
The enemies of God wanted to overcome her,
they wanted to make her serve the devil.
She does not listen to the evil counsellors,
(who want her) to deny God, who lives up in heaven.
Not for gold, nor silver, nor jewels,
not for the king's threats or entreaties,
nothing could ever persuade the girl
not to love continually the service of God.
And for this reason she was brought before Maximian,
who was king in those days over the pagans.
He exhorts her — but she does not care —
to abandon the name of Christian;
She gathers up her strength." / "And subsequently worship his god.[5]
She would rather undergo persecution
Than lose her spiritual purity.
For these reasons she died in great honor.
They threw her into the fire so that she would burn quickly.
She had no sins, for this reason she did not burn.
The pagan king did not want to give in to this;
He ordered her head to be cut off with a sword.
The girl did not oppose that idea:
She wants to abandon earthly life, and she calls upon Christ.
In the form of a dove she flew to heaven.
Let us all pray that she will deign to pray for us
That Christ may have mercy on us
And may allow us to come to Him after death
Through His grace."







Buona pulcella fut eulalia.
Bel auret corps bellezour anima
Voldrent la veintre li deo Inimi.
Voldrent la faire diaule seruir
Elle no'nt eskoltet les mals conselliers.
Qu'elle deo raneiet chi maent sus en ciel.
Ne por or ned argent ne paramenz.
Por manatce regiel ne preiement.
Niule cose non la pouret omque pleier.
La polle sempre non amast lo deo menestier.
E por o fut presentede maximiien.
Chi rex eret a cels dis soure pagiens
Il li enortet dont lei nonque chielt.
Qued elle fuiet lo nom christiien.
Ell'ent adunet lo suon element.
Melz sostendreiet les empedementz
Qu'elle perdesse sa virginitet.
Por o's furet morte a grand honestet
Enz enl fou lo getterent com arde tost.
Elle colpes non auret, por o no's coist.
A czo no's voldret concreidre li rex pagiens.
Ad une spede li roveret tolir lo chieef.
La domnizelle celle kose non contredist.
Volt lo seule lazsier si ruovet Krist.
In figure de colomb volat a ciel.
Tuit oram que por nos degnet preier.
Qued avuisset de nos Christus mercit
Post la mort et a lui nos laist venir
Par souue clementia.







Bonne pucelle fut Eulalie.
Beau avait le corps, belle l’âme.
Voulurent la vaincre les ennemis de Dieu,
Voulurent la faire diable servir.
Elle, n’écoute pas les mauvais conseillers
Qu’elle renie Dieu qui demeure au ciel
Ni pour or, ni argent ni parure,
Pour menace royale ni prière
Nulle chose ne la put jamais plier
À ce la fille toujours n’aimât le ministère de Dieu.
Et pour cela fut présentée à Maximien,
Qui était en ces jours roi sur les païens.
Il l’exhorte, ce dont ne lui chaut,
À ce qu’elle fuie le nom de chrétien.
Qu’elle réunit son élément [sa force],
Mieux soutiendrait les chaînes
Qu’elle perdît sa virginité.
Pour cela fut morte en grande honnêteté.
En le feu la jetèrent, pour que brûle tôt
Elle, coulpe n’avait pour cela ne cuit pas.
Mais cela ne voulut pas croire le roi païen.
Avec une épée il ordonna lui ôter le chef
La demoiselle cette chose ne contredit pas,
Veut le siècle laisser, si l’ordonne Christ.
En figure de colombe, vole au ciel.
Tous implorons que pour nous daigne prier,
Qu’ait de nous Christ merci
Après la mort, et qu’à lui nous laisse venir,
Par sa clémence.



The language of the Sequence presents characteristics of Walloon, Champenois, and Picard. At the time, these three Oïl varieties shared a common scripta, or written literary koiné.[6] The evidence points to a geographic origin for the text in modern-day Wallonia or an adjacent region of north-east France.[7]

Some northern/northeastern dialectal features of the texts are:[8]

  • the stressed form lei of the feminine singular dative pronoun (line 13)
  • the 1st person plural imperative ending -am in oram (line 26)
  • the unpalatalized initial k in the forms cose and kose (< Latin causa), contrasting with t͡ʃ in Francien dialect to the south (mod. Fr. chose)
  • vocalization of b before l in diaule (line 4, < diabolem)
  • lowering of pre-tonic [en] to [an] in raneiet (line 6, < *reneget) and manatce (line 8, < mĭnacia).

In contrast, the epenthetic d indicated by the forms voldrent (lines 3, 4, < uoluerunt), voldret (line 21, < uoluerat) and sostendreiet (line 16, < sustinerebat) is more characteristic of central French dialects.

The pronoun lo that appears in line 19 (instead of the expected feminine form la) has been variously explained as a dialectal feature, a pejorative neuter ("they threw it into the fire"), or simply a scribal error.[9]

Line 15[edit]

Line 15 of the Sequence is "one of the most vexed lines of Old French literature".[10] The identity of the verb is debated: early editors read adunet, but a reexamination of the manuscript by Learned (1941) revealed that the copyist originally wrote aduret. Scholars disagree about whether the line turning the ⟨r⟩ into an ⟨n⟩ was an inadvertent ink smudge or a deliberate correction by the copyist. Several interpretations have been proposed for both readings, including:[11]

  • adunet: "reunites, assembles", "affirms"
  • aduret: "hardens", "adores", "endures"

Scholars further disagree about whether the possessive adjective in lo suon element refers to Eulalia or to Maximian, and about the nature of this "element".[12] Questions also surround the syntactic construction of the line, as well as the interpretation of the verse within the context of the Sequence.

The following examples illustrate the variety of translations suggested for this verse:

  • "Elle n'en devint que plus forte dans ces principes religieux"[13]
  • "she steeled her soul (she strengthened herself inwardly)"[14]
  • "that she worship his false god"[15]
  • "elle endure le feu [= son élément]"[16]
  • "Elle réplique en affirmant « l'élément » qui est sien [= sa virginité]"[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cited by Berger & Brasseur (2004, p. 58f) and by Simeray (1990, p. 54).
  2. ^ Hoffmann & Willems (1837, p. 3); Simeray (1990, p. 56ff)
  3. ^ For a closer transcription, see e.g. Foerster and Koschwitz (1902, cols. 48–51). The first published transcription of the Sequence can be found in Hoffmann & Willems (1837, p. 6). For images of the manuscript, see the website Archived 2013-01-30 at the Wayback Machine of the Bibliothèque de Valenciennes.
  4. ^ The first half of the translation is taken from Ayres-Bennett (1996, p. 32). The second half is taken from Bauer & Slocum (Old French Online).
  5. ^ See below for the interpretation of line 15.
  6. ^ "L'Eulalie réunit dans sa langue certains traits picards, wallons et champenois qui ensemble impliquent la pratique d'une scripta poétique romane commune aux trois régions" (Delbouille 1977, p. 104). "The second existing text in Old French (with Picard and Walloon features) is a rendering of a short sequence by Prudentius on the life of St. Eulalia, precisely dated (AD 880–882)" Encyclopædia Britannica on Line.
  7. ^ "N'est-ce pas en région picarde ou wallonne que ces lettres [les lettres françaises] ont poussé leur premier cri avec la Cantilène de Sainte Eulalie ?" (Genicot 1973, p. 170); see also Avalle (1966).
  8. ^ Fought (1979, p. 846); Ayres-Bennett (1996, p. 34)
  9. ^ Berger & Boucher (2004, p. 142)
  10. ^ Atkinson (1968, p. 599)
  11. ^ Price (1990, p. 84–87)
  12. ^ Some authors suggest that the manuscript has the wrong word, and propose that element should be emended to mentem, alimentum, alia mente, or linamentum (Price 1990, p. 85).
  13. ^ Hoffmann & Willems (1845, p. 34)
  14. ^ Hatcher (1949)
  15. ^ Barnett (1961)
  16. ^ Hilty (1990, p. 73)
  17. ^ Berger & Brasseur (2004, pp. 62, 72f)


  • Atkinson, James C. (1968). "Eulalia's "Element" or Maximian's?". Studies in Philology. 65 (4): 599–611. JSTOR 4173608.
  • Avalle, D'Arco Silvio (1966). Alle origini della letteratura francese: I Giuramenti di Strasburgo e la Sequenza di santa Eulalia. Turin: G. Giappichelli.
  • Barnett, F. J. "Some Notes to the Sequence of St. Eulalia". Studies in Medieval French, presented to Alfred Ewert in honour of his seventieth birthday. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 1–25.
  • Ayres-Bennett, Wendy (1996). A History of the French Language Through Texts. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-09999-4.
  • Berger, Roger; Brasseur, Annette (2004). Les Séquences de Sainte Eulalie (in French). Geneva: Droz. ISBN 978-2-600-00880-8.
  • Delbouille, Maurice (1977). "Romanité d'oïl. Les origines : la langue - les plus anciens textes". In Lejeune, Rita; Stiennon, Jacques (eds.). La Wallonie, le pays et les hommes. Arts, Lettres, Cultures (in French). 1. Brussels: La Renaissance du Livre. pp. 99–107.
  • Foerster, Werner; Koschwitz, Eduard (1902). Altfranzösisches Übungsbuch, zum Gebrauch bei Vorlesungen und Seminarübungen. Erster Teil: die Ältesten Sprachdenkmäler (in German) (2nd ed.). Leipzig: O. R. Reisland.
  • Fought, John (1979). "The 'Medieval Sibilants' of the Eulalia-Ludwigslied Manuscript and Their Development in Early Old French". Language. 55 (4): 842–858. doi:10.2307/412747. JSTOR 412747.
  • Genicot, Léopold. "Entre l'Empire et la France". In Genicot, Léopold (ed.). Histoire de la Wallonie. Toulouse: Privat. pp. 124–185.
  • Hatcher, Anna Granville (1949). "Eulalie, lines 15–17". Romanic Review. XL: 241–49.
  • Hilty, Gérold (1990). "La Cantilène de sainte Eulalie: analyse linguistique et stylistique". In Marie-Pierre Dion (ed.). La Cantilène de sainte Eulalie. Actes du colloque de Valenciennes, 21 mars 1989 (in French). Lille: ACCES. pp. 73–79. ISBN 2-902133-02-2.
  • Hoffmann de Fallersleben, August Heinrich; J. F. Willems (1837). Elnonensia: Monuments des langues romane et tudesque dans le IXe siècle, contenus dans un manuscrit de l'abbaye de Saint-Amand, conservé à la Bibliothèque publique de Valenciennes, avec une traduction et des remarques par J. F. Willems (in French). F. & E. Gyselynck.
  • Hoffmann de Fallersleben, August Heinrich; J. F. Willems (1845). Elnonensia: Monuments de la langue romane et de la langue tudesque du IXe siècle, contenus dans un manuscrit de l'abbaye de Saint-Amand, conservé à la Bibliothèque publique de Valenciennes, découverts par Hoffmann de Fallersleben et publiés avec une traduction et des remarques par J. F. Willems (in French) (2nd ed.). F. & E. Gyselynck.
  • Learned, Henry Dexter (1941). "The Eulalia Ms. at Line 15 Reads Aduret, not `Adunet'". Speculum. 16 (3): 334–335. doi:10.2307/2852710. JSTOR 2852710.
  • Price, Glanville (1990). "La Cantilène de sainte Eulalie et le problème du vers 15". In Marie-Pierre Dion (ed.). La Cantilène de sainte Eulalie. Actes du colloque de Valenciennes, 21 mars 1989 (in French). Lille: ACCES. pp. 81–88. ISBN 2-902133-02-2.
  • Simeray, Françoise (1990). Marie-Pierre Dion (ed.). La Cantilène de sainte Eulalie. Actes du colloque de Valenciennes, 21 mars 1989 (in French). Lille: ACCES. pp. 53–60. ISBN 2-902133-02-2.

Further reading[edit]

  • Jeanette M. A. Beer (1989). "Eulalie, La Séquence de Ste.". Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Vol. 4. ISBN 0-684-17024-8
  • Cazelles, Brigitte (1991). "The Ninth-Century Sequence of Saint Eulalia". The Lady as Saint: A Collection of French Hagiographic Romances of the Thirteenth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 313–4. ISBN 0-8122-1380-7.

External links[edit]