What better day than St. Patrick’s Day to talk about folklore versus facts?
A receipt checker at Costco noticed the box of Godiva assorted Belgian chocolates in my cart and asked me what I knew about the fabled female adorning the cover.
“All I know about Lady Godiva is that she was infamous for riding through the streets on a dapple-grey steed in nothing but her long hair.”
“That’s all I’d heard, too. Google her. You’ll be surprised.”
I did. And I was.
Funny how I’d never taken the time to search out the matter further, relying only on hearsay and bits and pieces of conversations about her over the years.
History describes the study of past events.
Legend means a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.
Lady G. falls neatly into neither category.
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, she was:
“…a Countess of Mercia. An English noblewoman, the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia.
If she is the same Godiva who appears in the history of Ely Abbey, the Liber Eliensis, written at the end of the 12th century, then she was a widow when Leofric married her. Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses.
The legend of the nude ride is first recorded in the 13th century, in the Flores Historiarum and the adaptations of it by Roger Wendover: despite its considerable age, it is not regarded as plausible by modern historians.
The typical version of the story:
Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband’s oppressive taxation. Lady Godiva appealed again and again to her husband, who obstinately refused to remit the tolls. At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride on a horse through the streets of the town. Lady Godiva took him at his word, and after issuing a proclamation that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Just one person in the town, a tailor ever afterward known as Peeping Tom, disobeyed her proclamation in one of the most famous instances of voyeurism.”
Celebrate or censure?
Maybe you’ve heard of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? In 1976 she wrote a scholarly article about little-studied Puritan funeral services. Perhaps you’ve heard the quote that went viral not long after, or seen it on mugs, t-shirts or decals:
“Well-behaved women seldom made history.”
She went on to write a book using the title which examines ways in which women shaped history using examples from the lives of Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, to name a few.
Whenever I hear or see that famous line, I think of a broad spectrum of women. From world leaders like Golda Meir to another woman with long hair.
You can read all about the latter in the gospel of Luke, chapter 7 verses 36-50.
This story is historical fact and is found in the pages of God’s word, the Bible.
In this account, “When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”
What kind of love would motivate a woman of ill repute to audaciously scorn being scorned by the powerful leaders of her day to offer her most precious gifts–her tears, her expensive ointment, her hair, her time– to the object of that love?
Celebrate or censure?