Book I, Canto X
I’m back! Now that I’ve secured an apartment and a job, I will return to regular programming.
Spenser opens this canto with a reminder that nobody’s perfect. So don’t judge. Now, Una observes Redcross’s weak condition and decides to bring him somewhere safe so he can recover (with the help of “diets daint”). Una being the pious woman she is, they travel to the house of Holiness. This house is run by Dame Caelia (“Heavenly”) who has three daughters representing the three greatest virtues – Fidelia (“Faith”), Speranza (“Hope”), and Charissa (“Charity”). Una and Redcross are shown into the house by the porter Humility. After passing through a “stright & narrow” way, they come into a large courtyard and are entertained by a franklin named Zeal and greeted by a squire named Reverence.
Finally they meet the lady of the house, Caelia herself, who joyfully recognizes Una. Caelia remarks that it is strange to see an errant knight in her house, since not many people care about being holy. Her two virgin daughters, Fidelia and Speranza, are described. The first is wearing all white and holding a golden cup filled with wine and water and a serpent, and in her other hand a book. The second is wearing blue, holding an anchor, and praying with her eyes lifted up to heaven. Una (of course) is friends with these girls and introduces them to Redcross. Then Una asks about the third sister, Charissa, and is told that she is about to give birth and cannot be seen yet.
Then Caelia calls her servant Obedience to put her guests to bed. After they are rested, Redcross begins his training in holiness (remember that Book I’s theme is holiness). Fidelia teaches him about faith, preaching to him from her book and performing miracles. As Redcross thinks about his sins, he begins to despair yet again. Speranza tries to comfort him by teaching him about hope, but Una is worried and consults Caelia, who summons a doctor for the Knight. The doctor is Patience. He begins to heal Redcross at the root of his sickness. Through the unpleasant experience of Amendment, Penance, Remorse, and Repentance Redcross heals. Once he is done repenting, Una brings him to Charissa to learn charity. She is a matron arrayed in yellow, surrounded by a multitude of her children. Charissa instructs him in love and how to live for heaven. She calls yet another virtue, Mercy to help him. Mercy guides Redcross along a narrow path to a hospital, where he meets seven men (see Matthew 25:35):
#1 – his job is to accept all comers and entertain them, offering them lodging.
#2 – his job is to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty.
#3 – his job is to clothe those who need clothing.
#4 – his job is to release prisoners and captives.
#5 – his job is to look after the sick and comfort the dying.
#6 – his job is to care for dead bodies and prepare them for burial.
#7 – his job is to care for orphans and widows.
These men are the manifestations of Mercy and Charity. Mercy further instructs Redcross, who is finally learning. They visit another man, Contemplation, who lives alone in a hermitage on a hill. Contemplation constantly fasts and is physically old. He is actually somewhat annoyed at the interruption of visitors, as he spends every minute contemplating on heavenly things. He is asked to take Redcross to the “glorious house”, which he does after Redcross fasts and prays for a bit. They climb a mountain (compared to Mount Sinai, the Mount of Olives, and Mount Parnassus) and view the eternal city – not Rome, but the heavenly version of Jerusalem, the city of the saints. Redcross compares it to Cleopolis, where the Faerie Queen herself lives. Contemplation praises the Queen and agrees that Cleopolis is the greatest earthly city. He tells Redcross that he is doing the right thing by assisting needy people at her court, but that fighting is bad. He urges Redcross to retire after this adventure, proclaiming that he will be a saint – St. George of “mery England”.
This appears to worry George a little bit – he questions his saintliness and seems reluctant to give up both loving women and fighting battles. He concludes that he would be happiest if he were allowed to just stay in Caelia’s house or continue on to the new Jerusalem. Contemplation reminds him of his vow to help Una’s family against the dragon. George asks about his ancestry, wondering how he can be both an English and a Faerie knight, and it is revealed that he is a changling – an Elf swapped out her child for him long ago in our world. After the Elf abandons him as a baby, he is found by a ploughman and named George.
All this news is somewhat overwhelming for soon-to-be-Saint George, and he returns to Una as a new man. They leave the house of Holiness together.