Irish monk's prayer to God upon seeing the northmen land
Subveni, Domine, et miserere hic peccatorum.
Vidi diabolos ut egrediuntur naves longae.
Transporta mihi caelum ob metuo pecora
Praestant cum dolore fatum impius pavito.
In nomine Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
Come to my aid, O Lord, and have mercy on this sinner.
I see the demons as they disembark from their long ships.
Transport me to Heaven, for I fear the cattle
Display with their pain that unholy fate I greatly dread.
In the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The source for this poem-prayer is the long-standing tradition that Irish monks used to pray to God for aid during the Vikings’ constant raids throughout northern Europe. The monks are said to have prayed: “Deliver us from the fury of the Northmen, O Lord!”
However, there is no evidence that such a prayer existed in those exact words. One similar sentence exists in a specific antiphony: “ "Our supreme and holy Grace, protecting us and ours, deliver us, God, from the savage race of Northmen which lays waste our realms."1 Despite the fact that the original phrase seems more a generalization than a specific quote, it exudes a sentiment that was surely possessed by monks of the time. It was likely that prayers crying out for protection from the Vikings did indeed exist in many forms – just not with that wording.
This poem then provides the common emotion of the monks witnessing the arrival of the Vikings to their monastery and its surrounding lands before said lands were razed. In addition, the uncouth Vikings could indeed be so excited by their razing that they might desire the local cattle. The narrator’s fright then comes from his abhorrence of the molestation he sees (and fears will happen to him next).
The structure of the poem is fairly loose, focused more on presenting the thoughts of the prayer than a fixed form or meter. Indeed, this is a fairly “blank” metrical poem – it was written with the intent that its recitation would be in a repetitive chant pattern favored by the early medieval church for vocalized prayer, known as “common tone.” The common tone is a recitation that relies on a single pitch for most of the chant that has some small alterations in said pitch throughout the piece.2
1 Magnusson, Magnus. Vikings! New York: E.P. Dutton. 1980.
2 Seay, Albert. Music in the Medieval World. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland, 1975. p. 36.