Bede on Anglo-Saxon Spinning

“And her fingers,” it says, “have taken hold of the spindle.” (Proverbs 31:19) Women are accustomed to holding the spindle in the right hand, and to hold the distaff in the left. For the wool is wrapped around the distaff, guiding a thread away from it, so that it lets it cross over onto the spindle when being spun. But often in the Scriptures, the right hand signifies everlasting life, and the left the gifts of God in the present: wealth in business, of course; temporal peace; bodily safety; as well as knowledge of the Scriptures and learning of the heavenly sacraments. When we gain these and similar good things from God, giving them bountifully, we carry them in the left hand like wool wrapped onto a distaff. But on the other hand, when we begin to practice in these things in a wholesome way, for love of heavenly things, then we pull the wool of the Spotless Lamb across from the distaff onto the spindle, from the left hand to the right. For from the gifts of Our Redeemer, from the pattern of His works, we make a “robe” [“stolam”] (Mk. 16:5) of heavenly glory for ourselves, and a “wedding garment” (Mt. 22:11-12) of charity.

For also, the “fingers” which are said to take hold “of the spindle” insinuate that same intention of discretion by which everything is to be done. Doubtless on this account — because none of the many members of our bodies are as pulled in different directions by the joints, or as suitable for bending, as the “fingers.” Therefore, everyone can say truthfully with the apostle, “But our turning [conversatio] is toward heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:20) Certainly her right hand’s “fingers” are to take hold “of the spindle” because she has learned to labor for eternal goods with attentive discretion. And “have taken hold” is well said, so that the more energetic one is commended; we must take the prizes with the Lord, for the sake of what is certain in this uncertain life, with as much eagerness and as much speed [as we can]. But what the “valiant woman” — that is, Holy Church, or any perfected soul — may have worked with the intellectual spindle, will be disclosed subsequently.

More stuff from Bede’s commentary on the Book of Proverbs, and specifically from the section called The Little Book of the Valiant Woman.

The words used here are “fusus” (spindle), “colus” (distaff), and “filea” (thread, yarn).


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