The narrator suggests that humans shouldn’t be vain because all their strength and bravery come directly from God.
The narrator’s brief comments emphasize once again how important holiness is to this first book.
Una sees that the Redcross Knight is feeble after his long imprisonment in the dungeon, and so she tries to bring him back to his former good health. She takes him to a holy house to recover.
The Redcross Knight’s physical weakness represents his spiritual weakness as well, and so a holy house provides a way to cure both ailments.
At the holy house, Dame Cœlia has three daughters: Fidelia, Speranza, and Charissa. The house has also seen many distinguished guests like Humility, Zeal, and Reverence. When Dame Cœlia sees Una, she embraces her and declares that she must be an innocent, virtuous person. Dame Cœlia marvels at the presence of the Redcross Knight, saying that it’s rare to see a knight in their house and that many prefer to stay on the main road or go astray, with few taking the narrow path towards the holy house.
In addition to monsters with literal names, the poem also includes positive characters with literal names. The names Humility, Zeal, and Reverence all suggest a faith in God that things will work out, something that the Redcross Knight lacked during his encounter with Despair and so something that he could use more of.
Una tells Dame Cœlia that she and the Redcross Knight have come to see Dame Cœlia and praise her. Dame Cœlia responds by showing them every courtesy. She introduces Fidelia and Speranza, who are both virgins and who have many good qualities. They come out and have pleasant conversation with Una. Una asks about their sister Charissa, but she is married and resting after the recent birth of a son.
Fidelia, Speranza, and Charissa all have names related to the words “faith,” “hope,” and “charity.” Faith, hope, and charity (or sometimes love) are three virtues that are often mentioned together and sometimes called the theological virtues. They are highlighted in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13.
Dame Cœlia addresses the Redcross Knight and says she knows he must be exhausted after his many labors, and so he should rest. Once the knight’s body has begun to heal, Una suggests that the knight should go to the schoolhouse where Fidelia teaches, where the Redcross Knight can learn some heavenly wisdom. The knight attends, and Fidelia gives lessons from a holy book written in blood that only she is able to teach from. Her words are powerful, and the knight grows from hearing them.
The activities that the Redcross Knight takes part in during his stay at the holy house are all metaphors for how a person can strengthen their faith. It’s noteworthy that so many of Redcross’s activities center on reading or study, since Protestants place a greater emphasis on personal reading of the Bible (whereas Catholics place more emphasis on following Biblical interpretation by church authorities).
The Redcross Knight still regrets to remember all his past sins, so Speranza tries to comfort him with her sweet wisdom. She teaches him how to take hold of himself so that he won’t become so distressed by his sins that he wants to die.
Speranza (who is identified with hope) gives Redcross the hope that one day his sins will no longer bother him as they currently do.
Dame Cœlia also advises the Redcross Knight with her wise counsel. With the help of Patience, she shows the knight how to endure his pain. Nevertheless, the root cause of the knight’s sorrow—the corruption within him—is slower to heal.
Patience, like Speranza, helps the Redcross Knight understand that in addition to healing his spiritual wounds, learning how to live with them might be just as important.
The Redcross Knight tries to overcome his sin by wearing a sackcloth and fasting. He prays early in the day and late in the day. Penance disciplines him with an iron whip, Remorse pricks him to let blood out, and Repentance puts his body in saltwater that inflames his wounds in order to wash away his sin. In a relatively short period of time, the feeble knight is back to good health.
The actions the Redcross Knight takes here have long been associated with repentance, and many, like the wearing of sackcloth, are depicted in the Bible. The Redcross Knight’s quick physical recovery shows how physical and spiritual health are closely linked.
Una pities the Redcross Knight when she sees the anguish he’s in, but seeing his cleaner conscience makes her kiss him and cherish him even more. She brings the knight to Charissa, who has finally recovered enough from childbirth to see visitors. Charissa is beautiful and graceful, and she has many babies that hang sucking nourishment from her breasts, which she sends away once they are old enough.
Unlike many of the virtuous women in the poem, Charissa isn’t a virgin. Instead, she’s a very maternal figure. Her extensive generosity toward her children reflects the fact that her name is connected to the word “charity.”
Una and the Redcross Knight wish Charissa and her children well, and she is happy to host the two of them. Una asks Charissa to teach the Redcross Knight in her ways. She takes the knight’s hand, and says Charissa must teach him all about love, righteousness, and doing the right thing, while also teaching him how to avoid wrath.
Charissa’s status as a mother suggests that perhaps she is the most mature out of the three sisters, and so it makes sense that her lesson is the last step on Redcross’s journey to becoming spiritually stronger.
A very old matron named Mercy also helps the Redcross Knight in his education. She helps him when he has to go through narrow passages covered in thorns.
Redcross and the other holy knights often show a strength in battle that seems to be the opposite of mercy, but there are a few key moments in the poem where a virtuous knight realizes that it is best to show mercy to an opponent.
In the holy house there are also seven Bead-men, who have all pledged their lives to serving God. The first is the leader, the second is the almner (who provides food and drink), the third keeps the wardrobe and provides clothes, the fourth gives aid to prisoners, the fifth attends to the sick, the sixth is in charge of the dead, and the seventh cares for orphans and widows.
The seven Bead-men are the opposite of the seven deadly sins in the house of pride. Characters in the poem are often mirrored, with virtuous characters having evil counterparts and vice-versa.
When the Redcross Knight arrives, the first of the Bead-men welcomes him. He spends some time with them, and also with Mercy, and by the end he becomes almost perfect in his righteousness. Eventually, the Redcross Knight goes with Mercy up to a hermitage where an old man named Contemplation lives.
The time that Redcross spends with the Bead-men helps counteract the time he spent in the House of Pride, which, fittingly, happened shortly before his fall to the giant Orgoglio that led to his weakened state.
Old Contemplation is full of grace, and though he is blind and frail, he moves quickly. Contemplation is annoyed at first to have visitors because it means he has to put aside his heavenly thoughts. Mercy tells him that they have come for the highest purpose: to try to help the Redcross Knight attain heaven.
Though Contemplation is virtuous, he’s not without his flaws, since he can get distracted. In the poem, virtues can slip into vice when applied in the wrong way.
Contemplation tells the Redcross Knight that he is his own best guide for getting into heaven. Contemplation leads the knight to a tall mountain like the one that Moses once climbed in the Old Testament, or perhaps like Mount Parnassus, where the Muses lived. In the distance is a city with high walls and towers, protecting wonders inside that can’t even be described in earthly words.
Contemplation naturally believes that Redcross’s best course of action is to think things over for himself. The great city he shows to the Redcross Knight represents how contemplation can lead people to amazing discoveries.
Contemplation tells the Redcross Knight that the splendid city he sees is Jerusalem, where God’s chosen people live. The Redcross Knight says he used to think that Cleopolis, where the Faerie Queene reigned, was the fairest city he’d ever seen, but he now knows Jerusalem is fairer.
Attempting to take Jerusalem was an integral part of the Crusades, and the city holds enormous symbolic significance in Protestantism, too, as both the historic and heavenly abode of God’s people.
Contemplation says that the Redcross Knight must seek a path towards Jerusalem. The knight protests that he is unworthy of such glory. He also does not want to have to turn his attention back to earthly affairs.
Jerusalem, which is presented here as a mythical perfect city, can also be read as a stand-in for heaven.
Contemplation says he knows that the Redcross Knight is descended from the race of the Saxon kings of Britain. Soon after birth, a faerie took him away and raised him in faerie land.
Virtuous characters in the poem often descend from royal blood, reflecting ideas about morality common at the time, and of course flattering nobles like Queen Elizabeth who might happen to read the poem.
The Redcross Knight thanks Contemplation for all that he has done for him. He returns to Una and is happy to see her. They then go back to see Dame Cœlia and her daughters.
Although Contemplation has important things to show Redcross, ultimately, he must leave contemplation behind and take what he’s learned back to the real world.