A Poem Worthy of a Champion

This was an excellent weekend, as far as my Latin epigraphy geekiness goes.

On Friday and Saturday, I had the immense pleasure of preparing and leading a Study Day on Latin inscriptions for the Study Centre of St. Albans Cathedral – a delightful experience, about which I will blog for a different forum soon and which I hope will lead to future collaboration regarding the abundance of astonishing Latin texts in this extraordinary church.

Saturday night, I was invited to a party that took place in St. Margaret’s church in Stanford-le-Hope (Essex) – a church that boasts a history of 800+ years. Naturally, I could just have enjoyed the party – but me in a historical church without looking for traces of Latin? That is just not going to happen! (Sad, I know!)

Thus it turned out that there are (at least) two monuments in this beautiful historical building of interest to me – both related to a once local family called Champion.

One of the inscriptions, on an east-facing wall of the north aisle of the north nave, is a monument commemorating one Richard Champion Esq. (d. 1599). It contains an (otherwise undocumented) poem. The monument is visible high up on the wall in this historical photo –

 

SLH

Unfortunately, the view is now blocked by a screen, and I was unable to make out much of the text at all (with old age comes fading eyesight – who knew!); the following photo was my best attempt, and thus at least some words can be detected by those who have a keen enough eye:

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Monument for Richard Champion Esq. (d. 1599). – Photo: PK, 2016.

The second monument of interest to me – also with an inscribed poem – belongs to a man of the same name (but of an earlier generation): Sir Richard Champion (d. 1568), draper and Lord Mayor of London in 1565-6. The monument is mounted to the blocked north door of the church, in close proximity to the former monument:

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Memorial of Sir Richard Champion (d. 1568). – Photo: PK, 2016.

Its inscription is somewhat difficult to make out:

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Inscription for Sir Richard Champion. – Image: PK, 2016.

The text, neatly composed as a poem consisting of three elegiac distichs, reads as follows:

CHAMPION excelsus victor de morte triumphat:
Nobilis Athletes nomine req(ue) fuit.
Im(m)undas mundi merces mercator abhorret,
Mundus de mundo vult dare lucra deo.
Ordinis en praeses dignissimus Armiger almus
Arma gerit Christo, fert pia lucra deo.

In English:

Champion, a sublime winner, triumphs over death:
He was a noble athlete by name and in actual fact.
A merchant, he abhors the world’s foul goods,
Pure (himself), he wishes to bestow the gains of this world upon God.
Behold, the council’s most worthy president, an esquire, propitious,
He bears arms for the benefit of Christ and gives pious gains to God.

Impossible to bring out in a translation, the poem abounds with puns and word plays:

  • The name Champion is the basis for a reference to his being an athletes (‘athlete’) in line 2 as well as his being an excelsus victor (‘sublime winner’) already in line 1 – someone who triumphat (‘triumphs’) even over death (de morte).
  • He is a nobleman – thus a nobilis athletes, a dignified dignitary (Ordinis … praeses dignissimus, line 5), an esquire (Armiger) – and in fact his right to use a coat of arms (armi-ger ~ ‘arms-bearer’) is metaphorically put to good use when he is described as someone who bears arms (arma gerit, line 6) for Christ.
  • Champion, a draper and thus a merchant (mercator, line 3), does not enjoy merces (‘goods’ – i. e. those of trade), if they are foul: immundas … merces, immundus being an adjective derived from the word mundus which, like Greek kosmos, covers a spectrum of meaning from ‘order’ to ‘the order that is this world’ to ‘the/this world’.  This world’s (mundi, line 3 still) goods are, of course, immundas and thus worthy of contempt – yet, being pure himself (mundus, now an adjective denoting the opposite of immundas), he desires to bestow gains (lucra) upon God – made in this world (de mundo, if that is, in fact, what this phrase is supposed to mean).

Sir Richard Champion, alderman, sheriff, and Lord Mayor of London, once owner of Hassenbrook Hall, died without issue and was buried in the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East, London.

Several records document his being a generous benefactor during his lifetime. His will contains a contribution for the benefit of the church and the poor of Stanford:

champion

It is reasonable to assume that it was this generous contribution in particular that is more than richly alluded to in the remarkable little composition at St. Margaret’s church, Stanford-le-Hope.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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