The Saga of Mary

Translated excerpt from the Old Icelandic Saga of Mary.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland

In order to practice my Old Norse, I decided to write up a thorough translation of a short excerpt from the Icelandic Saga of Mary. I’ve given the original text underneath, which comes from A New Introduction to Old Norse edited by Anthony Faulkes. Please let me know if you have any corrections or suggestions! If I post more translations here, I will try to choose longer and more interesting passages.


There was a monastery in that mountain which is called Tumba. There at the monastery stood a church of Michael. In the temple was a likeness of Mary, and it was made such that the Lord sat at her knees, and there was a long silk garment over its head. There came often great thunder and lightning, and a loose bolt hit the church so that it all burned down, but the likeness of Mary was unscathed, as was the pedestal on which it stood. Nowhere was the silk garment that was on the likeness damaged! The monks proclaimed this a miracle, and everyone who heard praised God. We have to pray to God that he free us from evil fire like he did the likeness from this fire-heat.


Munklífi eitt var í fjalli því, er Tumba heitir. Þar stóð Mikjáls kirkja hjá munklífinu. Í musterinu var Maríu líkneskja, ok svá ger sem Dróttinn sæti í knjám henni, ok var silkidúkr breiddr yfir höfuð þeim. Þar kómu opt reiðar stórar ok eldingar, ok laust eitt sinn svá kirkjuna, at hon brand öll, en líkneskja Maríu var heil, ok svá stallrinn, er hon stóð á. Hvergi var á silkidúkinn runnit, er á líkneskjunni var. Munkar lýstu þessi jartegn, ok lofuðu allir Guð, þeir er heyrðu. Vér eigum þess Guð at biðja, at hann leysi oss svá frá eilífum eldi sem líkneskit frá þessum eldshita.


The passage describes a miracle in which a statue of Mary struck by lightning does not burn. This event is meant as an allegory for the fate of Christian souls after death: the statue’s unburned state represents God’s ability to spare mankind from hellfire.

One odd thing I noticed is that feminine “líkneskja” in the description of the miracle becomes neuter “líkneskit” in the final sentence that injects the allegorical interpretation. I can’t think of any rhetorical significance that this could have though.

Will Merrill
Ph.D. Student

NLP, deep learning, and formal languages