Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book 2, Ch. 6: The crime of incest

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Concerning the crime of incest, and the abuse of churches by succession and participation

The crime of incest hath so much prevailed, not only among the higher, but among the lower orders of this people, that, not having the fear of God before their eyes, they are not ashamed of intermarrying with their relations, even in the third degree of consanguinity. They generally abuse these dispensations with a view of appeasing those enmities which so often subsist between them, because "their feet are swift to shed blood;" and from their love of high descent, which they so ardently affect and covet, they unite themselves to their own people, refusing to intermarry with strangers, and arrogantly presuming on their own superiority of blood and family. They do not engage in marriage, until they have tried, by previous cohabitation, the disposition, and particularly the fecundity, of the person with whom they are engaged. An ancient custom also prevails of hiring girls from their parents at a certain price, and a stipulated penalty, in case of relinquishing their connection.

Their churches have almost as many parsons and sharers as there are principal men in the parish. The sons, after the decease of their fathers, succeed to the ecclesiastical benefices, not by election, but by hereditary right possessing and polluting the sanctuary of God. And if a prelate should by chance presume to appoint or institute any other person, the people would certainly revenge the injury upon the institutor and the instituted. With respect to these two excesses of incest and succession, which took root formerly in Armorica, and are not yet eradicated, Ildebert, bishop of Le Mans, in one of his epistles, says, "that he was present with a British priest at a council summoned with a view of putting an end to the enormities of this nation:" hence it appears that these vices have for a long time prevailed both in Britany and Britain. The words of the Psalmist may not inaptly be applied to them; "They are corrupt and become abominable in their doings, there is none that doeth good, no, not one: they are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become abominable," etc.

Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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