1391 Four and twenty blackbirds

There are several eye witness accounts of the canonization of Brigit that have survived. One of the most detailed is that by Lars Romares in which he describes the feasting in celebration of the canonization. Lars noted the seniority of Adam amongst the cardinals and it is interesting to note that this is not the only source that implies Adam was the most senior cardinal at the curia of Boniface IX in the early 1390's.

He then goes on to tell a story that sounds unusual (although it does become more common in later mediaeval times and appears to have been a genuine practise) if familiar as a source of a wellknown nursery rhyme. As Adam presents a gift of "golden dishes" probably pies, the finest of all is opened up to reveal song birds inside. Naturally this is seen by his fellow diners (and in the context of the canonization) as something of a miracle and they remark on the favour and esteem in which Adam must be held by the Almighty:

Ultimo cardinali utpote digniori ac seniori, qui erat dominus Adamus cardinalis de Anglia, ingentes et ex auro pretiosae scutellae apponebantur, inter quas erat una cum apposita artocrea elegantissime de foris adornata, quae cum coram ipso discinderetur, eminensque eiusdem pars superior aperiretur, repertum est ab intus plenam esse uiuis auiculis, quae, ut mox aduerterent libertati locum esse, hilariter euolabant, unde assidentes haud parum recreati unus alteri dicebat: Quod de Anglia esset, angelis bene notum esse, cum in ipsius ferculo apparere voluerint et euolare in auicularum figura antequam id ei constaret. Apertis demum salae fenestris etiam ab illinc se libere subdexerunt, cum longe praeplacuisset ipsis aurea sub coelo libertas, quam stridula inter convivia hilaritas.

Taken from MS Vat Lat 12229 in the Vatican Archive ff 309-321


Approximate translation (with thanks again to David Oliver for his suggestions)

In front of the last (cardinal) the most elevated and senior cardinal, who was Lord Adam, the cardinal of England, were placed large, precious, golden salvers. On one of them was placed a meat pie, elegantly decorated with a chequered pattern. When this pie was cut in his (Lord Adam’s) presence and the upper crust was opened, it was found that inside it was full of little birds. When these birds quickly realised that they were free, they joyfully flew out. At this the fellow diners were much amused and one said to another “that he's from England was well known to the angels since they wanted to appear in his dish and fly out in the form of little birds before he knew what was happening.” When the windows of the room were opened, the birds escaped outside, since they greatly preferred golden liberty under the sky to the noisy hilarity of the banquet.