Christianity, and Christian ideas, appear everywhere in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Arthurian chivalry is founded in Christian ideals, as is symbolized by the pentangle painted onto Gawain’s shield, with the face of Mary in its center. The timeline of events are dotted at significant moments by Christian holidays (Christmas, Michelmas). Gawain, on the verge of despair during his quest, prays to Mary and suddenly comes upon Bertilak’s castle, and he attends confession daily in the midst of Bertilak’s wife’s attempted seduction.
In addition, the climax of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, when Gawain presents himself to face the Green Knight’s axe-trike, takes place not at a castle or battle-field but at a chapel. And it is at this chapel that the theme of Christianity itself comes to a sort of climax. While Gawain has attended confession each day as he fended off the advances of Bertilak’s wife, he did not confess everything—he kept secret the green girdle that he hoped would protect his life. The revelation after the Green Knight spares Gawain’s life that Bertilak is the Green Knight and knew about the girdle all along leads Gawain to truly embrace his flaws and humility for the first time and in so doing to find atonement and a more stable base for Christian behavior than the rule-based chivalry of Arthur’s court. Finally, the showdown at the chapel highlights the tension between the biblical Pharisees and Jesus, mirrored in the contrast between Camelot and Bertilak’s court, between man-made law and Christian divine love and mercy, with Bertilak’s mercy toward Gawain ultimately revealing the poem’s contention on the primacy of mercy rather than law as the foundation of true Christian behavior.
Christianity Quotes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
I'm spoiling for no scrap, I swear. Besides,
the bodies on these benches are just bum-fluffed bairns.
If I'd ridden to your castle rigged out for a ruck
these lightweight adolescents wouldn't last a minute.
But it's Yuletine – a time of youthfulness, yes?
So at Christmas in this court I lay down a challenge:
if a person here present, within these premises,
is big or bold or red blooded enough
to strike me one stroke and be struck in return,
I shall give him as a gift this gigantic cleaver
and the axe shall be his to handle how he likes.
The handsome head tumbles onto the earth
and the king's men kick it as it clatters past.
Blood gutters brightly against his green gown,
yet the man doesn't shudder or stagger or sink
but trudges towards them on those tree-trunk legs
and rummages around, reaches at their feet
and cops hold of his head and hoists it high
and strides to his steed, snatches the bridle,
steps into the stirrup and swings into the saddle
still gripping his head by a handful of hair.
And Gawain had been glad to begin the game
but don't be so shocked should the plot turn pear-shaped
for men might be merry when addled with mead
but each year, short lived, is unlike the last
and rarely resolves in the style it arrived.
So the festival finishes and a new year follows
in eternal sequence, season by season.
So it suits this soldier in his spotless armor,
fully faithful in five ways five times over.
For Gawain was as good as the purest gold –
devoid of vices but virtuous, loyal
so bore that badge on both
his shawl and shield alike.
A prince who talked the truth.
A notable. A knight.
"As an honest soul I swear on my heart,
you shall find the Green Chapel to finalize your affairs
long before dawn on New Year's Day.
So lie in your room and laze at your leisure
while i ride my estate, and, as our terms dictate
we'll trade our trophies when the hunt returns
I have tested you twice and found you truthful.
But think tomorrow third time throw best.
Now night passes and the New Year draws near,
drawing off darkness as our Deity decrees.
But wild-looking weather was about in the world:
clouds decanted their cold rain earthwards,
the nithering north needled man's very nature;
creatures were scattered by the stinging sleet.
But no wonder if a fool should fall for a female
and be wiped of his wits by womanly guile –
it's the way of the world. Adam fell for a woman
and Solomon for several, and as for Samson,
Delilah was his downfall, and afterwards David
was bamboozled by Bathsheba and bore the grief.
Since fearless Brutus first set foot
on these shores, once the siege and assault at Troy
our coffers have been crammed
with stories such as these.
Now let our Lord, thorn-crowned,
bring us to perfect peace. AMEN.