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Sermon on St. Nobody | Nemo [Sermon]

London, British Library, Additional MS 18720, f. 217 (detail). [Public Domain]

Introduction to the Text

The “Sermon on St. Nobody” is a pseudo-hagiographical text that relies for humorous effect on a simple conceit: it treats the Latin word nemo, meaning no one or nobody, as a name, then quotes the Bible and other prominent texts to give an account of this supposed saint’s extraordinary deeds; for example, from Job 12:14, “If God imprisons a man, it is Nobody who can release him.” 

The many variations of the “Sermon on St. Nobody” are part of a lively tradition of religious parody that flourished across medieval Europe, especially in the later Middle Ages. Medieval education, especially monastic education, fostered a deep familiarity with a relatively consistent textual canon, an environment almost tailor-made for parody. That this account of “St. Nobody” was written in Latin makes the erudition of the intended audience clear, as does the deep familiarity with biblical passages that is required to get the jokes. Other such parody saints also emerged in the later Middle Ages, such as St. One-Another (Invicem), whose veneration Jesus especially promotes with the command to “love one another.” None of these others, however, seems to have achieved such widespread success as St. Nobody: half a dozen separate versions of the “Sermon on St. Nobody” have been identified, from nineteen different manuscripts. Nor did St. Nobody remain popular exclusively among monks; he moved out of the monastery in the early modern period and was referenced in vernacular art and literature, including, as Bayless notes, Shakespeare’s Tempest.

Introduction to the Source

The first iteration of the “Sermon on St. Nobody” was written by one Radulphus in the late thirteenth century. The text was, however, embedded in a much longer tradition of medieval Latin parody, and it would be transformed by that tradition in turn; the iteration of the “Sermon on St. Nobody” presented here for the most part resembles Radulphus’ version only in concept. The Latin text used for this translation is taken from Graz, Universitaetsbibliothek 904, fols. 175r-176v, as edited by Martha Bayless. This particular manuscript dates to c. 1425 and contains a hodgepodge of religious and secular texts, including a selection of verse proverbs in both Latin and German.

Further Reading

Bayless, Martha, ed. Fifteen Medieval Latin Parodies. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto, 2018.

Billy, Dennis J. “Hagiographical parody in the Ysengrimus,” Quidditas, vol. 12 (1991), pp. 1-12

Doležalová, Lucie. “Receptions of Obscurity and Obscurities of Reception: The Case of the Cena Cypriani,” Listy filologické / Folia philologica, vol. 125, no. 3/4 (2002), pp. 187 -197


Based on the edition in Martha Bayless, ed. Fifteen Medieval Latin Parodies. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2018.Translation by Emma GroverEncoded in TEI P5 XML by Nina Du

Suggested citation: Anonymous. "Sermon on St. Nobody." Trans. Emma Grover. Global Medieval Sourcebook. Retrieved on August 04, 2020.