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The sacrament of penance was once described by the poet TS Eliot as The rending pain of re-enactmentThe shame of ill done and done to others harmWhich once you took for exercise of virtueThe exasperated spirit proceeds unless restored by that refining fire Perhaps nowhere in the whole of English literature is the concept of the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation so misunderstood as in the twelfth century poem penned by an anonymous author Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Sir Gawain the protagonist of the poem sets forth on a journey to fulfill a challenge issued by the Green Knight which at first called for Gawain to decapitate the Green Knight and then for the Green Knight to return the favor to Gawain exactly a year to the date after the feast of New Years After traveling for a significant amount of time Gawain takes refuge in the home of Lord Bertilak who is later revealed to be the Green Knight Bertilaks wife the lady of the manor attempts to seduce the seemingly incorruptible young nobleman but twice to no avail Yet during her third attempt on the day before Gawain plans to face the Green Knight she leaves him with her green girdle which she claims protects the wearer from harm Gawain however having promised to give all that he earned to the Lord while under his roof remained too embarrassed to return the object of scandal to the master of the house Instead he turns his guilt ridden conscience to the confessional where on the eve of battle he seemingly begs Gods forgiveness for all wrongs committed He leaves according to the text clean as if the Judgment were appointed for the next day However it is unknown as to whether he confessed to possessing the girdle Gawain during the fulfillment of his challenge at the Green Chapel makes a confession to the Green Knight pleading for his forgiveness for the possession of
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