Under the heading “Hours of the Cross” the Index of Middle English Verse gathers a group of lyrics related to a devotion, particularly successful in the late Middle Ages, which connects one or more episodes of the passion narrative with the seven canonical hours of the Church office. The devotion was formalized in a Latin hymn, Patris sapientia, veritas divina, composed in the first quarter of the 14th century, in which the events occurring in the last day of Jesus’ life were encapsulated in seven quatrains, followed by a final stanza in the form of a prayer. The hymn became immensely popular,
especially for being included in a widely circulated Book of Hours known in England as Prymer. The article analyses all the Middle English poems devoted to the Hours of the Cross, the majority of them being some form of “translation” of the Latin hymn. The extraordinary variety of responses to the original text, besides providing further evidence of what medieval translation was meant to be, illustrates an important aspect of medieval poetry, especially in the religious field: that more often than not the literary “creation” is in fact an “art of variation” within a well established tradition.