Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences/Cives Coelestis Patriae

Mediæval Hymns and Sequences  (1867)  edited by John Mason Neale
Cives Cœlestis Patriæ by Marbodius of Rennes, translated by John Mason Neale

Cives Cœlestis Patriæ.

The ruggedness of the translation is merely a copy of that of the original in the following poem of Marbodus, successively Archdeacon of Angers and Bishop of Rennes, who died in 1125. Its title,—a Prose, clearly proves it to have been intended, if not used, as a sequence in the Mass of some high festival, probably a dedication. The mystical explanation of precious stones is the subject of the good Bishop's poem de Gemmis, which seems, in its time, to have obtained a high reputation. The Prose which I here give is certainly not without its beauty; and is a good key to mediaeval allusions of a similar kind.

Ye of the heavenly country, sing
The praise and honour of your King,
The raiser to its glorious height
Of that celestial City bright,
In whose fair building stand displayed
The gems for twelve foundations laid.

The deep green hue of Jasper[1] saith
How flourishing the estate of faith
Which, in them all that perfect be
Shall never wither utterly,
In whose firm keeping safe we fight
With Satan's wile and Satan's might.

The azure light of Sapphire[2] stone
Resembles that Celestial Throne:
A symbol of each simple heart
That grasps in hope the better part:
Whose life each holy deed combines,
And in the light of virtue shines.

Like fire, though pale in outward show,
Chalcedony[3] at length shall glow;
Carried abroad, its radiance streams:
At home, in shade it hides its gleams:
It marks their holiness and grace
Who do good deeds in secret place.

The Emerald[4] burns, intensely bright,
With radiance of an olive light:
This is the faith that highest shines,
No deed of charity declines,
And seeks no rest, and shuns no strife,
In working out a holy life.

Sardonyx,[5] with its threefold hue,
Sets forth the inner man to view;
Where dark humility is seen,
And chastity with snow-white sheen,
And scarlet marks his joy to bleed
In Martyrdom, if faith shall need.

The Sardius,[6] with its purple red
Sets forth their merits who have bled:
The Martyr band, now blest above,
That agonised for Jesu's Love:
The sixth foundation, not in vain,
The Cross's Mystery to explain.[7]

The golden coloured Chrysolite[8]
Flashes forth sparkles on the night:
Its mystic hues the life reflect
Of men with perfect wisdom decked,
Who shine, in this dark world, like gold,
Through that Blest Spirit Sevenfold.

The sunshine on the sea displays
The watery Beryl's[9] fainter rays:
Of those in this world's wisdom wise
The thoughts and hopes it signifies:
Who long to live more fully blest
With mystic peace of endless rest.

Beyond all gems the Topaz[10] rare
Hath value therefore past compare;
It shines, albeit of colour grey,
Clear as a fair ethereal ray:
And notes the part of them that live
The solid life contemplative.

Some Council, decked in purple state
The Chrysoprase[11] doth imitate:
In the fair tint its face that decks
'Tis intertinged with golden specks:
This is the perfect love, that knows
Kindest return to sternest foes.

The azure Jacinth[12] comes between
The brighter and the dimmer sheen:
The ardour of whose varied ray
Is changed with every changing day:
The Angelic Life it brings to view
Attempered with discretion due.

Last in the Holy City set
With hue of glorious violet,
Forth from the Amethyst[13] are rolled
Sparks crimson-bright, and flames of gold:
The humble heart it signifies
That with its dying Master dies.

These stones, arrayed in goodly row
Set forth the deeds of men below:
The various tints that there have place
The multiplicity of grace.
Who in himself such grace displays
May shine with these in endless rays.

Jerusalem, dear peaceful land!
These for thy twelve foundations stand;
Blessed and nigh to God is he
Who shall be counted worthy thee!
That guardian slumbereth not, nor sleeps,
Who in his charge thy turrets keeps.

King of the Heavenly City blest!
Grant that Thy servants may have rest,
This changeful life for ever past,
And consort with Thy Saints at last;
That we, with all the choir above,
May sing Thy power and praise Thy Love!


  1. ​ The twelve foundation stones of the Apocalypse gave rise, as might be expected, to an infinite variety of mystical interpretations. Marbodus wrote a short commentary on the Prose that we are considering, which will serve at a good explanation of it. His treatment of the foundation stones is topological;—a more usual one is allegorical, which I will give from the Commentary of Michael Ayguan on the Psalms. "Jasper," says the comment of Marbodus, "is the first foundation of the Church of God, and is of a green colour. Whoever hath it upon him, no phantasm can hurt him. It signifies those who always hold the faith of God, and never depart from it,—or wither,—but are always flourishing therein, and fear not the assaults of the devil." Allegorically, the Jasper, the first foundation-stone, which promotes fecundity and causes unity, symbolizes the first Article of the Creed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth."
  2. ​ "The Sapphire," says Marbodus, "is of the colour of the sky. It signifies them that, while they be yet on earth, set their affections on things above, and despise things terrestrial: according to that saying, Our conversation is in Heaven." The reason why, in the Prose, it is compared to the Throne of God, is clearly that verse in Exodus: "They saw the God of Heaven: and under His feet was at it were the paved work of a Sapphire stone." "The Sapphire," says Ayguan, "which reconciles, heals, consoles, gives sight, and is the King of Stones, symbolises the second Article of the Creed: And in Jesus Christ His Only Son our Lord."
  3. ​ "The Chalcedony," Marbodus continues, "while it is in a house, doth not shine: when under the open air it glitters brightly: it resists those that would cut it or scratch it: when heated, either by the sun, or by rubbing with the finger, it attracts straws. By this they are signified who do their good deeds in secret, as fasting, alms, and the like: according to that saying, But thou, when thou fattest, &c. But when such men are compelled to go abroad into the world, then their good works shine before men. Bat if any seek to flatter them, which is as it were to paint or engrave them, they receive not their vain praises, but manfully resist, and acquiesce not in them. And when heated, either by the Sun, which is Christ, or by the fingers, that is by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, they by word and example, draw straws, that is, sinners, to themselves: and cause them to persevere in good works." "The Chalcedony," says Ayguan, "which is pale, sets forth humility; and so the third Article of the Creed: Who was conceived of the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary."
  4. ​ "The emerald," is the comment of Marbodus, "is exceeding green, surpassing all gems and herbs in greenness. It is found only in a dry and uninhabitable country. Through the bitterness of its cold, nothing can dwell there but griffins, and one-eyed arimasps that fight with them. By the emerald we understand those who excel others in the vigour of their faith, and dwell among infidels, who be frigid and arid in love. The griffins, that keep watch over them, be devils, who envy them that have this precious gem of faith; and do their diligence to deprive them thereof. Against these fight the one-eyed arimasps, that is, those who go not two ways, nor have a double heart: nor serve two Lords." Ayguan again: "The Emerald which heals, gives eloquence, riches, conquest, clears sight, fortifies memory, banishes luxury and sorrow, typifies the Passion of our Lord, which spiritually doth all these things; and therefore that Article of the Creed; Suffered under Pontius Pilate." The beryl of the New Jerusalem is described in two of the most beautiful lines ever written by Prudentius.

    "Has inter species smaragdina gramine verno
    Prata virent, volvitque vagos lux herbida fluctus."

  5. ​ "The Sardonyx," says Marbodus, "hath three colours: the lowest black, the middle white, the upmost red. And it signifies those who sustain grief of heart for the name of Christ: and are white, that is without guile, within: and yet to themselves appear contemptible, and as it were black,—that is, sinners." Ayguan, after the same description, proceeds: "The lower part, which is black, typifies the sorrow of Good Friday;—the middle part, which is white, the rest of Easter Eve;—and the upmost, which is red, the glory of Easter day." Thus the whole symbolises the fifth Article (as he reckons it) of the Creed: Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into Hell: the third day He rose again from the dead.
  6. ​ "The Sardius," continues our poet, "which is wholly red, signifies the Martyrs, who pour forth their blood for Christ." "The Sardius," says Ayguan, "as being a bright stone, setteth forth the joy of the sixth article of the Creed: He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty."
  7. ​ Because the number six is symbolical of our Lord's Passion: since He was crucified at the sixth hour of the sixth day.
  8. ​ "The Chrysolite," Marbodus teaches, "shines as gold, and emits fiery sparkles: it signifies the wise and charitable, who impart to others that which they possess themselves. For wisdom and charity excel other virtues, as gold other metals." Ayguan is more ingenious: "The Chrysolite shines as gold in the day: as fire in the night. By the day, the good; by the gold, their crown, are represented: by the night the wicked, and by the fire their punishment. Hence the stone typifies their final separation, and thus the seventh Article of the Creed: From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead."
  9. ​ "The Beryl," according to our author, "shines as water that reflects the sun, and warms the hand that holds it. It signifies those who are frail by nature: but, being enlightened by the Sun of Righteousness, shine with good works, and warm others by the example of their love." Ayguan says: "The Beryl, whose virtue is to cause love, to bestow power, and confer healing, sets forth the eighth Article: I believe in the Holy Ghost."
  10. ​ "The Topaz," says Marbodus, whose commentary in this case does not well agree with his text, "is rare, and therefore precious. It has two colours: one like gold, the other clearer. In clearness it surpasses all gems; and nothing is more beautiful. It signifies those who love God and their neighbour." According to Ayguan, the Topaz, which receives as in a vessel the light of the sun, symbolises that which thus stores up the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, the Holy Catholic Church.
  11. ​ Marbodus: "The Chrysoprasus, which is purple, with drops of gold, signifies those who pass their life in tribulation and passion, yet constantly abide in charity." According to Ayguan, this stone (a) shines like fire: and (b) communicates its virtues without diminishing them: and thus typifies (a) The Communion of Saints: (b) The Forgiveness of Sins.
  12. ​ "The Jacinth," says Marbodus, "changes its appearance with that of the sky. It therefore represents those who, like the Apostle, can preach wisdom among them that are perfect, and yet have milk for babes in Christ. Thus," he observes, "S. Paul was a Jacinth: for he became all things to all men." Ayguan teaches that the Jacinth has the virtue of invigorating; and therefore is a type of the Resurrection of the Body.
  13. ​ The Amethyst, according to Marbodus, is entirely red, and shoots out rosy flames. Its colour signifies earthly suffering; its emissions prayers for those that cause it. For he says, "it is the virtue of virtues to pray for persecutors. And we read of few that have done so: yet there are two in the Old Testament,—Moses and Samuel; and two in the New,—the Lord Christ and Stephen." Ayguan, affirming the Amethyst to give a clear sight, makes it symbolical of the Beatific Vision—and thus of the Life Everlasting. I add the French verses of Marbodus on the same subject, with one or two corrections for the sake of the rhythm:—

    Ici sunt nomme les duze pieres,
    Ki sunt tenues les plus cheres,
    Jaspe, Saphir, Calcedoine,
    Smaragde, Sarde, e Sardoine,
    Chrisolit, Beril, e Topase,
    Ametiste, Jacint, e Chrysopras:
    De saintes âmes portent figure,
    Ki Deu servent sen poûre.
    Ki Deu voudra servir,
    Cum des pieres cintes clairzur,
    En la Cité Deu sera posé
    E el fundamente bien alloé,
    En vision de paz reposera.
    En laquel sen fin joïr pourra.