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Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, [1899], at

Nails of Crucifixion.

Du Cange's last passage is by far the most interesting:--'Anonymus de Passione Domini: "And when they arrive at the place, the komodromos coming to crucify him," etc.' 'Why so interesting? there does not seem much in that,' my readers may exclaim. Why? because there is a widely-spread superstition that a Gypsy forged the nails for the crucifixion, and that henceforth his race has been accursed of heaven. That superstition was first recorded in an article by Dr. B. Bogisic on 'Die slavisirten Zigeuner in Montenegro' (Das Ausland, 25th May 1874); and in Le Folklore de Lesbos, by G. Georgeakis and Léon Pineau (Paris, 1891, pp. 273-8), is this 'Chant du Vendredi Saint,' this plaint of Our Lady:

'Our Lady was in a grotto
And made her prayer.
She hears rolling of thunder,
She sees lightnings,
She hears a great noise.
She goes to the window:
She sees the heaven all black
And the stars veiled:
The bright moon was bathed in blood.
She looks to right, she looks to left:
She perceives St. John;
She sees John coming
In tears and dejection:
He holds a handkerchief spotted with blood.
"Good-day, John. Wherefore
These tears and this dejection?
Has thy Master beaten thee,
Or hast thou lost the Psalter?"
"The Master has not beaten me,
And I have not lost the Psalter.
I have no mouth to tell it thee,
Nor tongue to speak to thee:
And thine heart will be unable to hear me.
These miserable Jews have arrested my Master,
They have arrested him like a thief,
And they are leading him away like a murderer." p. xxviii
Our Lady, when she heard it,
Fell and swooned.
They sprinkle her from a pitcher of water,
From three bottles of musk,
And from four bottles of rose-water,
Until she comes to herself.
When she was come to herself, she says,
"All you who love Christ and adore him,
Come with me to find him,
Before they kill him,
And before they nail him,
And before they put him to death.
Let Martha, Magdalene, and Mary come,
And the mother of the Forerunner."
These words were still on her lips,
Lo! five thousand marching in front,
And four thousand following after.
They take the road, the path of the Jews.
No one went near the Jews except the unhappy mother.
The path led them in front of the door of a nail-maker.
She finds the nail-maker with his children,
The nail-maker with his wife.
"Good-day, workman, what art making there?"
"The Jews have ordered nails of me;
They have ordered four of me;
But I, I am making them five."
"Tell me, tell me, workman,
What they will do with them."
"They will put two nails in his feet,
Two others in his hands;
And the other, the sharpest,
Will pierce his lung."
Our Lady, when she heard it,
Fell and swooned.
They sprinkle her from a pitcher of water
From three bottles of musk,
And from four bottles of rose;
Until she comes to herself.
When she had come to herself, she says:
"Be accursed, O Tziganes!
May there never be a cinder in your forges,
May there never be bread on your bread-pans,
Nor buttons to your shirts!"
They take the road,' etc.

[paragraph continues] And M. Georgeakis adds in a footnote, The Tziganes whom one sees in the island of Mitylene are all smiths.' It is a far cry from the Greek Archipelago to the Highlands of Scotland, but in the

p. xxix

[paragraph continues] Gypsy Lore Journal (iii. 1892, p. 190), is this brief unsigned note: 'I should be pleased to know if you have the tradition in the South [of Scotland], that the tinkers are descendants of the one who made the nails for the Cross, and are condemned to wander continually without rest.' No answer appeared; and I know of no other hint of the currency of this belief in Western Europe, unless it be the couplet:

'A whistling maid and a crowing hen
Are hateful alike to God and men,'

[paragraph continues] 'because,' according to Lieut.--Col. A. Fergusson (Notes and Queries, August 1879, p. 93), though he gives no authorities, 'a woman stood by and whistled while she watched the nails for the Cross being forged.' 1

On the other hand, the Gypsies of Alsace have a legend of their own, opposed to, and probably devised expressly to refute, the gaújo or Gentile version. How there were two Jew brothers, Schmul and Rom-Schmul. The first of them exulted at the Crucifixion; the other would gladly have saved Our Lord from death, and, finding that impossible, did what he could--pilfered one of the four nails. So it came about that Christ's feet must be placed one over the other, and fastened with a single nail. And Schmul remained a Jew, but Rom-Schmul turned Christian, and was the founder of the Rómani race ('Die Zigeuner in Elsass and in Deutschlothringen,' by Dr. G. Mühl, in Der Salon, 1874). In a letter of 16th December 1880, M. Bataillard wrote: 'An Alsatian Gypsy woman, one of the Reinhart family, has been at me for some time past to procure a remission of sentence for one of her relations who has been in gaol since ad October. "The Manousch" [Gypsies], she urges, "are not bad; they do not murder." And on my answering with a smile that unluckily they are only too prone to take what doesn't belong to them, and that the judges, knowing this, are extra severe towards them, her answer is, "It is true, it's in the blood. Besides, you surely know, you who know all about the Manousch, they have leave to steal once in seven years." "How so?" "It's a story you surely must know. They were just going to crucify Jesus. One of our women passed by, and she whipped up one of the nails they were going to use. She would have liked to steal all four nails, but couldn't. Anyhow, it was always one, and that's why Jesus was crucified with only three nails, a single one for the two feet. And that's why Jesus

p. xxx

gave the Manousch leave to steal once every seven years."' 1 The Lithuanian Gypsies say, likewise, that 'stealing has been permitted in their favour by the crucified Jesus, because the Gypsies, being present at the Crucifixion, stole one of the four nails. Hence when the hands had been nailed, there was but one nail left for the feet; and therefore God allowed them to steal, and it is not accounted a sin to them.' ('The Lithuanian Gypsies and their Language,' by Mieczyslaw Dowojno-Sylwestrowicz, in Gypsy Lore Journal, i. 1889, p. 253.)

This Gypsy counter-legend offers a possible explanation of the hitherto-unexplained transition from four nails to three in crucifixes during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The change must at first have been hardly less startling than a crucifix now would be in which both hands should be pierced with one nail. Dr. R. Morris discusses it in his Introduction to Legends of the Holy Rood (Early Eng. Text Soc., 1875). There it appears that while St. Gregory Nazianzen, Nonnus, and the author of the Ancren Riwle speak of three nails only, SS. Cyprian, Augustine, and Gregory of Tours, Pope Innocent 555., Rufinus, Theodoret, and Ælfric speak of four; and that the earliest known crucifix with three nails only is a copper one, of probably Byzantine workmanship, dating from the end of the twelfth century. Now, if the Byzantine Gypsies possessed at that date a metallurgical monopoly, this crucifix must of course have been fashioned by Gypsy hands, when the three nails would be an easily intelligible protest against the calumny that those nails were forged by the founder of the Gypsy race.

I give the suggestion just for what it is worth; but the occurrence of the legend and the counter-legend in regions so far apart as Lesbos and Scotland, Alsace and Lithuania, strongly argues their antiquity, and corroborates the idea that the komodromos was a Gypsy who figures in 'Anonymus de Passione Domini.' One would like to know the date of that Greek manuscript; but Professor R. Bensly, in a long letter of 28th May 5879, could only conjecturally identify it with 'S. Joannis Theologi Commentarius Apocryphus MS. de J. C.' (? No. 929 or 5005, Colbert Coll. Paris Cat. MSS. 2). Probably there are many allusions to komodromoi in Byzantine writers, if one had leisure and scholarship to hunt them up; certainly it is strange that of Du Cange's six quotations for komodromoi four should seem unmistakably to point to Gypsies. I myself have

p. xxxi

little doubt of their identity. From which it would follow that more than a thousand years ago south-eastern Europe had its Gypsies, and that not as new-comers, but as recognised strollers, like the Boswells and Stanleys of our old grassy lanes. The verb kōmodromein occurs in Pollux Archæologus (flo. 583 A.D.); and the classic authors present many hints of the possible presence of Gypsies in their midst. Rómani Chals, or Gypsies, would often fit admirably for Chaldæi; and the fact that the water-wagtail is the 'Gypsy bird' of both German and English Gypsies reminds one that the Greeks had a saying, as old at least as the fifth century B.C., 'Poorer than a kinklos' (κίγκλος = water-wagtail), and that peasants in the third century A.D. called homeless wanderers kinkloi. One need not, with Erasmus and Pierius, derive Cingarus (Zingaro, Tchinghiané, Zigeuner, etc.) from kinklos; the words in all likelihood were as distinct originally as Gypsies (Egyptians) and vipseys or gipseys (eruptions of water in the East Riding of Yorkshire; cf. William of Newburgh's twelfth century Chronicle). But the Gypsies may have been led, by the resemblance of its name to theirs, to adopt the water-wagtail as their bird; and Theognis and Menander may have applied to the water-wagtail the epithets 'much-wandering' and 'poor,' because the bird was associated in their minds with some poor wandering race.

I do not build on this guesswork, as neither even on the ingenious theories of M. Bataillard, according to which prehistoric Europe gained from the Gypsies its knowledge of metallurgy, and which may be studied in his L’Ancienneté des Tsiganes (1877) and other monographs, or in my summaries of them in the articles 'Gipsies' (Encycl. Britannica, vol. x. 1879, p. 658), and 'Gypsies' (Chambers's Encycl., vol. v. 5890, p. 487). All that I hold for certain is our absolute uncertainty at present whether Gypsies first set foot in Europe a thousand years after or a thousand years before the Christian era. We have no certitude even for western Europe. In 1866 a large band of English ball-giving Gypsies paid a visit to Edinburgh; Scottish newspapers of that date wrote as though Gypsies had never till then been seen to the north of the Border. That was ridiculous: a similar mistake may have been made by the German, Swiss, Italian, and French chroniclers of 1417-34. As it is, M. Bataillard has established the presence, before 1400, of 'foreigners called Bemische' in the bishopric of Würzburg, who may have been Gypsies, as almost indubitably were certain Bemische at Frankfort-on-Main in 1495 (Gypsy Lore Journal, i. 207-50). 1

p. xxxii

[paragraph continues] Then 'A Charter of Edward III. confirming the Privileges of St. Giles' Fair, Winchester, A.D. 1349 (ed. by Dean Kitchin, 1886), contains this passage:--'And the Justiciaries and the Treasurer of the Bishop of Wolvesey for the time being, and the Clerk of the Pleas, shall yearly receive four basons and ewers, by way of fee (as they have received them of old time) from those traders from foreign parts, called Dynamitters, who sell brazen vessels in the fair.' On which passage Dean Kitchin has this note: 'These foreigners were sellers, we are told, of brazen vessels of all kinds. The word may be connected with Dinant near Namur, where there was a great manufacture of Dinanderie, i.e. metal-work (chiefly in copper). A friend suggests Dinant-batteurs as the origin. Batteur was the proper title of these workers in metal. See Commines, II. i., 'une marchandise de ces œuvres de cuivre, qu’on appelle Dinanderie, qui sont en effet pots et pesles."'


xxix:1 It is just worth noting that St. Columbanus (543-615) was accustomed to celebrate the Eucharist in vessels of bronze (aeris), alleging as a reason for so doing that Our Lord was affixed to the cross by brazen nails.--Smith's Dict. Christ. Antiqs., s.v. CHALICE.

xxx:1 Cf. supra, p. xi., line 13.

xxx:2 Information supplied by M. Omont of the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris, and by Prof, von Dobschütz of Jena, shows that the komodromos passage is to be found in neither of these two mss. It has still to be sought for, then.

xxxi:1 In his Beiträge zur Kenntniss der deutschen Zigeuner (Halle, 1894) pp. 5-6), Herr Richard Pischel maintains, as it seems to me, successfully, that the 'Bemische p. xxxii lute' (Boehmische Leute) at Würzburg between 1372 and 1400 were real Bohemians and not Gypsies.

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