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The Bible in Classical Nahuatl

Since the first time I heard the Nahuatl language spoken in a country church in San Luis Potosi, Mexico when I was a teenager, I have been fascinated by this language. Despite all odds, Nahuatl has held its own for over 500 years since the Spanish conquest, and continues to be spoken in many parts of Mexico to this day.

In modern times, American missionaries have translated the New Testament (as well as the Old Testament in a handful of cases) into a number of modern dialects of Nahuatl. However, until up to a few years ago, I was unaware that the Scriptures had already been translated into Nahuatl centuries before, during a time when the Catholic Church was a bit more tolerant towards native languages than it later became.

This translation is known as the Evangeliarium, and it was compiled in the mid 16th century. It is worth mentioning that it is not a complete translation of the Bible—in fact, it could be more accurately described as a lectionary, a book containing readings of Scripture organised according to the liturgical calendar. I don’t know whether or not the Nahuatl Evangeliarium was actually used in Catholic mass in times past, but that was clearly its original purpose. It is attributed to Bernardino de Sahagรบn, a Franciscan friar who took a great interest in Aztec language and culture, although it is very likely that he worked with a number of Nahuatl speakers to produce this book.

Despite the fact that the Evangeliarium does not contain the complete Bible, the more I looked at it the more I thought it would be worthwhile to reorganise the scriptures into books, chapters, and verses as in conventional Bibles. I took an edited version of the Evangeliarium which was published in 1858, and over the span of almost a year (15 minutes a day!) I copied, pasted, and proof-read the text verse-by-verse using Google Books and I used the Bibledit software to compile the text, and I am happy to report that the final result may be browsed and searched at this website:

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Photos from Liรจge, Belgium

My European home was in the Belgian province of Liรจge, the capital city of which bears the same name. We visited this city in our early travels, and I took the following pictures there in Saint Bartholomew’s cathedral. The tombs in the walls intrigued me with their worn Latin inscriptions, and even though I had studied Latin for two years, I was only able to read the words Hic jacet, which signify “Here lies…”

Aquรฆ Sulis

Curse tablet

The goddess worshipped at the ancient Roman-British resort Aquรฆ Sulis was none other than Sulis Minerva, an entity based on the Roman goddess Minerva but having characteristics of the Celtic goddess Sulis. When the Romans happened upon the hot springs there, they naturally thought of Minerva as the one who made hot water bubble forth from the ground, and when they found that the natives regarded Sulis as the keeper of the spring, they saw a chance for religious unity.

Travelers from all over the Roman Empire visited the magnificent baths and the settlement that grew up around them, and many took part in a unique method of prayer to the goddess. Instead of voicing their prayers aloud, they scratched the words upon a flattened piece of lead or pewter, then folding it up and throwing it into the Sacred Spring. Although one has been found written in the British Celtic language, most were in Latin. I found this very interesting, but I was shocked when I began reading the prayers themselves. Instead of addressing their goddess with reverence, the prayers were stated in a very straightforward way, in a language that was almost commanding. And more striking than this was that nearly every prayer was a curse. โ€œI curse him who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether man or woman, whether slave or free, that…the goddess Sulis inflict death upon…and not allow him sleepโ€ฆnow and in the future,โ€ such were the inscriptions on these petitions to the goddess.

How could these people be so bold, and so cruel? Perhaps the boldness had to do with the privacy that this medium afforded them. They could be confident that no human eyes would ever read those words (so they thought), and they trusted that Sulis Minerva would read them and deliver the vengeance that they sought. But why such cruelty? We may never know, but I dare say that while we might never dream of praying to our God to curse other people, thoughts of ill-will do cross our minds at times.

Sheet Music – Voces Tacitae

Picture 1I have begun a personal project to digitally type-set all of the music I’ve written using Lilypond, a music engraving program that prints very elegant music.

This is my first offering: “Voces Tacitae,” the first true song I wrote. I had fiddled around with Music Ace, but those compositions could hardly be called melodic. This song, on the contrary, I wrote for soprano and bass (so that my sister and I could sing it), and is a minor version of a tune that had been floating in my mind for some time before I wrote it down. The lyrics are in Latin, and based on the refrain of a bilingual poem I had written (you can read the original poem on my Spanish blog).

Although this song is simple, it means a lot to me. It expresses the emotion one feels when looking at ruins left behind by ancient peoples, and thinking of how they lived and how their previous grandeur has diminished.

Here is the music, in PDF: Voces Tacitae
You can listen a decent recording of it here

Hymn of the Week – Peace, Perfect Peace

Poetry by Edยญward Bickยญerยญsteth, Jr. (1875)
Music by George Caldยญbeck and Charles Vinยญcent (1876)

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesusโ€™ bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesusโ€™ keeping we are safe, and they.

Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.

Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

It is enough: earthโ€™s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to Heavenโ€™s perfect peace.

Peace, perfect peace, โ€™mid sufferingโ€™s sharpest throes?
The sympathy of Jesus breathes repose.

Cyber Hymnal entry

Today you get two for the price of one. Some time back I translated this song into Latin (and I say translated in quite a loose way, since translating a song involves taking many liberties). The tune is called “Pax Tecum,” but to my knowledge no Latin version of the hymn has existed until now.

Pax tecum, ambula cum Domino,
Et ipse diriget gressus tuos.

Pax vobiscum perfecta Domini,
In sanguine Jesu purgamini.

Satis erat, transibimus brevi,
Ita quales oportet nos esse?