The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Prioress's Tale Summary

In a Christian ghetto in a city in Asia Minor, a little boy travels back and forth to school every day by walking through the Jewish part of the city. While at school, he hears a church choir singing the Alma redemptoris, and while he doesn’t know what it means, he swears that he will learn it before Christmas arrives, even if he is beaten three times an hour for neglecting his lessons.

The boy manages to learn the entire Alma redemptoris, but while he is walking through the Jewish portion of the city singing it one day, the Devil runs in and out of the people’s houses, telling them to kill the boy for singing the praise of the Virgin Mary in their neighborhood. They hire a murderer, who slits the boy’s throat and throws his body down an outhouse.

The boy’s mother, a widow, searches all night for her missing child, but no one will help her. However, Jesus inspires her to start singing as she passes the outhouse in which his body has been thrown, and his body begins to sing the Alma redemptoris back to her. The other Christians in the city run to the outhouse in amazement, pull out the child’s body, and call for the abbot. The local abbot sprinkles holy water onto the child’s body and asks him how he can be singing if he’s dead.

The boy replies that the Virgin Mary has placed a grain on his tongue that allows him to speak and sing, and that he will go on singing the Alma redemptoris until the grain is removed. The abbot reaches into the boy’s mouth and takes out the grain, at which point the boy dies and his soul goes to heaven. He is buried in a marble tomb as a martyr.

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