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Brother Orm of Lincolnshire & the Ormulum Manuscript

Brother Orm of Lincolnshire
An obscure, but once again a nationally important figure from Lincolnshire, and the subject of a wonderful evening at Great Coates Church with Rev. Canon Peter Mullins
Very interesting piece of history this . . .

In 12th century Lincolnshire there was a monk called Brother Orm, or possibly Ormin, and he produced a manuscript known as the Ormulum much of which still survives today in its original form.
The work was probably produced at Bourne Abbey in Lincolnshire during the mid to late 1100s and is especially of interest to scholars of language as it marks the cross-over period from the remnants of Saxon/Norse/Old English to Middle English and the Post Conquest which shaped the language as we see it today.

Only one copy of the Ormulum has survived, in partial form, and it’s housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, it’s on poor quality parchment and comparatively poor text when compared to other manuscripts - this has led scholars to suggest it may have been a draft for conversion later into a fine work, perhaps it simply was what it is – the true importance of the work is as we see it today not as it was at the time.
It is laid out in strict poetic form which is one of the reason it’s so valuable to scholars as it gives an insight into pronunciation at the time.

A piece of the Original Manuscript

The inspiration for this came entirely from Rev. Canon Peter Mullins and a wonderful evening at Great Coates Church looking at the poetry of Brother Orm.
This is the second such evening, previously I enjoyed a wonderful evening dedicated to John Donne and this certainly didn’t disappoint, in fact it was quite tremendous.

Peter had done a great deal of work in preparation for the talk and put together a wonderful evening, including some fascinating interaction which gave the audience chance to translate some of Brother Orm’s work into ‘modern English’

For myself I was struck just by how Germanic Pre-Conquest language was, very much identifiable with modern German.
Peter’s idea of allowing us to ‘get our eye in’ was inspired as it did just that, I’d liken it to looking at modern text language, confusing at first but it actually makes sense and becomes clear once you’re in the groove.

Once again sitting in St Nicolas church with stone archways contemporaneous with Brother Orm you couldn’t help but be transported back. An evening which was inspiring, challenging and genuinely interesting, a tremendous success.
I’d like to thank Rev. Canon Peter Mullins for a great deal of hard work and another very memorable evening – there’s another in 2 months and if you can get there then really you should.

All the best


  1. Barry de Graff said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

    Many thanks again for your positive comments Rod - it’s good to know the evening was appreciated. I really felt we made contact with Brother Orm and his age this evening, on a number of levels, and it was fitting that Peter referred to the arches in the nave at St Nicolas, built around the time Orm was writing his couplets. I particularly liked Peter’s suggestion of the Sunday School meeting in this new church and using Orm’s words as a text.

    I too was struck by the Germanic nature of the language, which I found surprising, in truth, but also found fascinating the contrast between the upper class Norman French & the lower class Anglo-Saxon. Astonishing how language develops.

  2. v said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    It sounds like a brilliant evening and again shows just what is available locally if people can be bothered to look. I am glad you went and I hope it was well supported.

    As I have got older, I have realised just how much I really DON’T know and evenings such as these (on any subject really ) are important not just on an educational level, but a social one also.

    The language difficulties you mention above remind me of days in A level English Lit classes and doing Chaucer ( although he was later ) At first, I got that familiar knot of anxiety when I looked at it, but with an excellent teacher, after a while, it became accessible and quite beautiful.

  3. Rod said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 8:53 am

    it really was a great evening, it’s a real joy not only to be able to attend such an evening but to have it on your doorstep - tremendous!

  4. Rod said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 8:55 am

    it really was a treat, I’m already looking forward to the next one.

    I’m with you on knowledge, in fact the more I learn the greater I think my ignorance is . . .

  5. Rod said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 8:58 am

    03/07/2013 - First World War poetry: 7:30PM to 9:00PM

    Some Sixth Form students from Caistor Grammer School explore what these poems mean to them - an evening with a tour of war graves in the churchyard including stories of an early flying accident and of shell shock

    that’s the next event - do put it in your diary

  6. v said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 9:10 am

    Rod, you also highlight though, exactly what is available free or reasonably priced often within walking distance of our own homes. No or small travelling expenses. You do a great job.

    We have lots of talks and musical evenings and Saturday reflection days round here and it’s great. Always light refreshments and a chance to chat with others.

    Why do people always spell grammAr school grammEr ? Bad gammAr, I would say.

  7. Barry de Graff said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

    For anyone on Facebook, all the material distributed during the evening is available there, just search for St Nicolas Great Coates.

  8. Rod said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

    Further to Barry’s comment, thoughtfully not using links :) , if you’re on Facebook then like the St Nicolas page and you’ll get updates of forthcoming events etc - it’s well worth supporting . . .

    St. Nicolas on Facebook

    Thanks and regards,

  9. Barry de Graff said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

    Thank you for the direct link Rod, it’s appreciated. I deliberately avoided posting it myself knowing & respecting your views on such things… ;-)

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