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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES

The Second Nunís Tale

Summary

There was a young noble Roman woman named Cecilia who unceasingly prayed to Christ to guard her virginity. When she came of age she was married to a young man named Valerian. However on her wedding day she earnestly prayed to God to protect her chastity. On her first night with her husband she told him that a guardian angel protected her body at all times and if he touched her or made carnal love to her the angel would kill him in the act. Valerian asked to see the angel with his own eyes, and agreed to do as she wished, if the angel were real. However he warned that if he found that Cecilia loved another man he would kill both of them. Cecilia told him that he must first convert to Christianity. She directed him to go to the Appian Way and get baptized by St. Urban.

When Valerian arrived at the designated spot and told St. Urban the purpose of his visit, the saint raised his hands in joy and marveled at Ceciliaís power to induce her husband to convert to Christianity. At this moment an old man wearing white clothes appeared in a vision and read out from a golden book that there is one omnipotent God and one faith alone. The man in the vision then asked Valerian whether he believed in this and when Valerian answered in the affirmative the vision disappeared into thin air and St. Urban baptized Valerian.

On his return home Valerian found Cecilia standing beside her angel in his room. The angel carried two crowns of roses and lilies and gave them to Cecilia and Valerian. The garlands had come from Paradise and would never decay. Moreover only the chaste, that do not harbor any unclean thoughts, would be able to see them. The angel then granted Valerian a boon. Valerian wished that his brother whom he loved very much should also be converted to the great faith of Christianity.


However Valerianís brother - Tiburce - objected to being baptized by Pope Urban since he did not wish to be involved with an outlaw and risk being burnt at the stake. Cecilia convinced Tiburce that this earthly life is only a prelude to the next life of the soul entrusted by the Holy Ghost. Tiburce questioned Cecilia about the validity of her assertion that only one God exists when she believes in three gods embodied in the Holy Ghost. Cecilia explained that just as man had the three faculties of imagination, memory and reason, similarly three persons could be incorporated into the one Being of the Deity. Tiburce was finally convinced and allowed himself to be baptized by Pope Urban. Thereafter Tiburce could also see the angel and was blessed with boons.

The Roman legal officers soon arrested them and produced them before Almachius, the magistrate. When Almachius found out that they believed in Christianity, he ordered them to perform sacrifice to Jupiter or risk being beheaded. However Valerian and Tiburce refused to do so and were sentenced to death. Maximus, the magistrateís clerk was so moved by their staunch refusal that he too converted to Christianity. Maximus helped to convert many others and was mercilessly flogged to death by Almachius.

Almachius lost no time in ordering Cecilia to honor the pagan gods. When Cecilia was brought before him in court he questioned her about her faith and religion. Cecilia answered him rudely and denounced him as an ignorant official and worthless judge. She ridicules his belief in the pagan idols. Infuriated, Almachius ordered that Cecilia be burnt to death by being sealed in a boiling hot bath. However the intense heat of the fire had no effect upon her. Then the evil Almachius sent an executioner to murder Cecilia in the bath. This killer struck three times on Ceciliaís neck but failed to behead her. He left her half dead with a slit neck in the bath. Cecilia continued to live for three days and her preaching succeeded in winning more converts to Christianity. She then entrusted the Christians to Pope Urban and died after expressing the wish that her house be turned into a church. Pope Urban secretly buried her corpse at night and named her house St. Ceciliaís Church.

Notes

The Second Nunís Tale is an adaptation of an earlier Latin version. It is believed that Cecilia was martyred in the reign of Severus who ruled from AD 222 - 235. The Second Nunís Tale is the only saintís legend in the entire book. It is also the final story dealing with the Themes of love and marriage. Cecilia submits to marriage but attains Ďmaistrieí by her husbandís consent. But Ceciliaís marriage is on a higher plane of existence. Neither she nor her husband achieves sovereignty over each other. Rather both subjugate themselves to the will of God. She converts him to Christianity. They remain chaste and dedicate their lives to the cause of the Church. Eventually they become martyrs and Cecilia is rewarded with sainthood.

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