Monday, May 12, 2014

The Other Dame Julian: The Mother of Fly Fishing was a 15th Century English Nun

I first read about Dame Juliana Berners a few weeks ago, and I am still enthralled with this quaint little fact from "A Brief History of Fly Fishing":

"The first English book on fly fishing was written by Dame Juliana Berners in 1496: Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, which contained a wealth of practical angling advice and details on equipment. As the Abbess of the Sopwell Priory, Berners cast flies and wrote between prayers. She described the rod as having two parts: a ‘staffe’ or butt, and a ‘croppe’ or top. The butt was made of hazel or rowan, cut between Michaelmas and Candlemas (that is, in the winter), and was six feet long or more."

She also contributed a middle-ages how-to book on hunting, in "The Book of Saint Albans".  For a letterpress printer, it gets better, because the second edition of her Treatise was published by none other than Wynken De Worde, and has never been out of print in 450 years! Here is a link to the full "Treatise on Fishing With An Angle".

Those crazy Medieval nuns! I have always been fond of the eminently quotable  Dame Juliana of Norwich, whose record of her Visions of Divine Love in 1373 remains a breathtaking work of faith in Jesus Christ that inspires to this day. By happenstance, or perhaps the Grace of God, it is also the earliest surviving book written by a woman in English.  I have read her in several translations, and once even started a translation of my own, working from the original Old English.

And now to read about another ordinary soul who surprises and upends our assumptions and the "expert" guesses about the lives of Religious in those so-called dark ages following the Black Death. Something tells me their lives were quite livelier - and perhaps much more like ours - than we have been taught.

Isn't it interesting how different history looks when you let the facts speak for themselves, unpainted with fictional anachronisms or modernised disclaimers.

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