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Document Text Contents
Page 1

-1-

WOMEN AND SANCTITY:

LIVES OF THE FEMALE SAINTS WRITTEN IN ENGLISH

FROM CYNEWULF TO THE KATHERINE GROUP

GOPA ROY

Thesis submitted f or the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,

University College, London, April 1991.

Page 2

-2-

ABSTRACT

An important concern in these Lives is the conflict between the flesh

and the spirit. Virginity in particular plays a central part. The

first part of this study examines the background to these concerns.

The discussion is based on works by the Fathers, particularly

St Augustine, and by English writers (Bede, Aldhelm and s€lfric).

Illustrations are taken from the Old English Lives. The following

areas are covered: the disobedience of the flesh, of which sexual lust

was one symptom; the Christian view of virginity as a means of

recovering the obedience of the flesh and restoring the harmonious

relationship between man and God lost by the fall; the qualities,

physical and spiritual, required of a virgin; the powers attributed to

virginity in the Lives of virgin saints. The last part of the section

discusses the reasons for the greater emphasis given to virginity in

women than in men, and examines the degree to which such reasons

influenced the Lives produced in England before the Conquest.

The second part consists of studies, in the light of the

foregoing, of the following Old English Lives: Cyriewuif's Jullana;

Eugenia; Euphrosyne; Margaret; Mary of Egypt.

Part three traces developments in spirituality and changes in

attitudes towards women which influenced the Lives of the Katherine

Group. The following are amongst the works discussed: the Liber

Confortorius of Goscelin; works by Anseim and the Cistercians; Hall

Melôhad and the Ancrene Wisse. This Is followed in part four by

studies of the three Lives of the Katherine Group.

The Appendix provides textual and bibliographical information

about the Lives which are the subject of the study.

Page 259

-259-

yrystlecende . Ic me of ere ylcan stowe astyrede e ic is gebd

cw.b . and me eft to am Ingangendum gemengde. syan nes nan )incg )e

me utsceofe oe me es temples dure bewerede . and ic ya ineode mid

am ingangendum; Dc gegrap me witodlice stranglic fyrhto . and ic s

call byftgende gedrefed . ' a Ic me eft to ere dura gebeodde e me s

er ingang belocen . swilc me call ,et megen e me r es inganges duru

bewerede efter an 'one ingang es sibfetes gegearwode. (454-64)

Within the church, the theme of God's reception of penitents Is

reinforced: as is the strong sense of the physical always associated

with Mary, for she threw herself to the floor and kissed the ground:

'ic er geseah a halgan godes gerynu hu he symle geare Is a

hreowslgendan to underfonne; Da wearp Ic me sylfe f orb on a flor

and a halgan eorban gecyste' (467-69).

After she had prayed before the cross, she returned outside to

the spot where she had seen the vision, and prayed for direction. She

would go where the Virgin willed: 'gerece me nu on bone weg ye in

willa sy' (479-80). Mary's search was no longer for ways of

fulfilling her desires for sexual pleasures, but for salvation and

truth, and she sought a guide 'going before her in the path that leads

to repentance': 'beo me nu helo laeow eteowod . and sobfestnysse

ealdor. before me gangende on bone weg e to dedbote let' (480-82).

There Is a poetic Justice in the fact that the Virgin, humble and

obedient and the ideal of female virginity, should be the one to help

Mary, who had wilfully lost her virginity at twelve and spent her life

obsessively indulging her sexual desires. Mary felt It to be

incongruous (432-38). But the very incongruity helps to express one

of the lessons of the story; that God calls sinners to repentance

(439-41, quoted above. p. 257), and It is possible for one who Is

Page 260

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truly penitent to be saved through repentance, no matter how sinful

she or he has been.

In answer to her prayer for guidance, a voice told Mary to cross

the Jordan (483-84). The sacramental significance of the Jordan in

Mary's story will be discussed below. Here, the continuing sense of

the physical In relation to Mary should be noted. Just as she had

thrown down her work and run to the sea to join the pilgrims: 'tc a

sona )a spinle" me fram awearp . ye Ic seldon gewunode on handa to

hbbenne • and to re s am' (367-68), and had run to the church

(401-2), then been brought to a stop, pushing, but unable to gain

entry, Mary ran all the way to the river, in obedience to the Virgin's

instructions, weeping: 'De a Ic bone weg wiste ic wepende be am

si&fste am symle a axunga ra mscan towrlbende", and gemang am bms

dieges sifmt wepende gefylde' (494-96). Her energies, like her will,

had been redirected, though she retained her tendency to run; when she

saw Zosimus, she had run from him too (188, 196-98).

Mary's account of herself during her early career has described,

at some length, what it was to be fallen (as mankind was fallen), and

sinful, and subject to the flesh, in a particular, obsessive way.

When she turns to her life of penitence, we learn that although M8ry

had led a life of solitary penitence until Zosimus found her, she

still felt herself to be susceptible to the flesh, with its desires

and troubles. Even after she had spent forty-seven years in the

desert (515), Zosimus's questions could disturb her:

And mihtst u swa manegre tide lencgu oferfaran . et u ne freode

,one bryne are flmsclican gehwyrfednysse;° Heo a gedrefedu him

andswarode . Nu yu me axast a incg e Ic swibe ear1e syif

Page 518

-5 18-

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Against the Pagans, vol. III: Books 8-11, 'Loeb Classical Library,

London

Wilmart, André, 1934,: 'Eve et Goscelin', Revue Bénédictine 46,

pp. 414-38

- 1938a: 'La legende de Ste Edith en prose et vers par le moine

Goscelin', Analecta Bollandiana 56, pp. 5-101 & 265-307

- 1938b: 'Eve et Goscelin', Revue Benedictine 50, pp. 42-83

Wilson, Katharina M., 1984: ed., Medieval Women Writers, Manchester

Wilson, R. 14., 1968: Early Middle English Literature, London

Winstead, Karen Anne, 1989: 'Changing Ideals of sainthood in late

Medieval virgin martyr legends' (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation,

Indiana University)

Winterbotton, Michael, 1972: ed., Three Lives of English Saints,

Toron to

Witkowskl, G. 3., 1908: L'Art profane a l'egllse, Paris

WittIg, 3. S., 1975: 'Figural Narrative in Cynewuif's Juliana', ASE 4,

pp. 37-55

- 1977: Review of Bugge 1975, in Speculum 52, pp. 938-41

Wolpers, Theodor, 1964: Die englische Heiligenlegende des

!'fittelalters, Ttlbingen

Woolf, Rosemary, 1958: 'Doctrinal influences in the Dream of the

Rood', Medium £vum 27, pp. 137-52

- 1963: 'The Fall of Man in Genesis B and the Mystére d'Adam', in

Studies in Old English Literature in Honor of Arthur G. Brodeur,

ed. S. B. Greenfield, New York, pp. 187-99

- 1966: Juiiana, London, 1955; rev. ed., New York, 1966

Wormald, Patrick, 1977: 'The Uses of Literacy in Anglo-Saxon England

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Page 519

-5 19-

Zettel, Patrick H., 1979: '&lfrlc's Hagiographic Sources and the Latin

Legendary Preserved in BL MS Cotton Nero E. I & CCCC MS 9 and

Other Manuscripts' (unpublished D.Phil. dissertation, University

of Oxford)

- 1982: 'Saints' Lives in Old English: Latin Manuscripts and

Vernacular Accounts: 4(lfrlc', Peritla vol. 1, pp. 17-37

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