The Lady as Saint

The Lady as Saint: A Collection of French Hagiographic Romances of the Thirteenth Century

Brigitte Cazelles
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    The Lady as Saint
    Book Description:

    Among the thirteenth-century saints exalted are female martyrs and hermits of early Christianity. InThe Lady as Saint, Brigitte Cazelles offers the first English translation of these lives and provides extensive commentary on the portrayal of female spirituality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9230-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Part I: Commentary
    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-12)

      The aim of this work is to provide access to an important literary genre of medieval France: verse hagiography, that is, writings about saints. The oldest extant literary document in French (the ninth-centurySequence of Saint Eulalia) is, indeed, a hagiographic poem; the genre also attracted the interest of numerous vernacular authors up to the fifteenth century.¹ The thirteen poems translated in this Anthology are representative examples of Old French hagiography as the genre flourished during the thirteenth century.

      The central subject of hagiographic literature is the commemoration of the holy men and women—that is, saints—of the Christian...

    • 1. Holy Perfection in the Old French Tradition
      (pp. 13-42)

      The history of Old French hagiography is intricately linked to the rise and development of French literature. It is, in fact, a hagiographic poem, the ninth-centurySequence of Saint Eulalia,that marks the emergence of literary writing in the vernacular. Saints’ Lives, which figure prominently in the entire literary production of medieval France, constitute a textual corpus of considerable variety. From the ninth to the fifteenth century, the genre evolved in a manner consistent with the changing nature of society. As noted in the Introduction, the form of the texts in this Anthology, including the use of verse and other...

    • 2. Female Sanctity: Trial by Disclosure
      (pp. 43-61)

      Beginning with the troubadours’ love songs at the turn of the eleventh century, women became an essential topic of the vernacular literary production as it developed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This chapter proposes to explore the significance of women’s prominence in twelfth-century secular romance and thirteenth-century hagiographic romance, with particular attention to visibility both as an essential component of the portrayal of female perfection and as the locus of a gender distinction regarding the functional role of greatness.

      Three main arguments justify a comparison between the holy heroine of verse hagiography and the lady of the courtly tradition....

    • 3. Femininity Circumscribed
      (pp. 62-86)

      The medieval period shows a pronounced tendency to resort to spatial imagery when delimiting the topography of social order, and particularly when charting one’s progress on the road to salvation.¹ Distance between the believer and God is expressed in terms of a vertical continuum whose two extremes, Hell and Paradise, give confinement an antithetical significance. Enclosure is in the first case a punishment, and in the second a state of celestial bliss. It is the latter state that the heroines of hagiographic romance constantly yearn for, all the more so as, on earth, they endure the ordeal of forced exposure....

  5. Part II: Anthology
    • The Life of Saint Agnes Version A
      (pp. 89-101)

      There are two extant versions of the story of Saint Agnes in thirteenth-century verse hagiography. The first one is a 984-line poem in decasyllabic rhyming quatrains, which is contained in a single manuscript.¹ According to its editor, Denomy, the poem dates from approximately 1250, or a little before.²

      Little is known about the author, except that he was from the northwest of France near Laon, and probably a cleric, given his technical knowledge of Church liturgy. Denomy identifies a sixth-century text, theGesta Sanctae Agnes,as the probable source of this French version (p. 133). The French poet adds drama...

    • The Life of Saint Barbara
      (pp. 102-112)

      This Life, a 512-line poem written in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, is contained in a single manuscript copied between the years 1428 and 1429 by one Jehan Vagus.¹⁰ Composed in the district of Hainault at the end of the thirteenth century, the poem was probably inspired by Jacobus de Voragine’s rendition of the story of Saint Barbara in hisGolden Legend.¹¹

      Little is known about the facts of Barbara’s life, but her legend grew steadily, from the early martyrologies to the tenth-century compilation of Simeon Metaphrastes, a version which Jacobus de Voragine expanded.¹² Her cult started in the East, and Barbara...

    • The Life of Catherine of Alexandria Version B
      (pp. 113-137)

      This version of the Saint Catherine legend comprises 1,971 octosyllabic lines in rhyming couplets. The text was for a long time thought to be contained in a single manuscript.¹⁷ An eighteenth-century copy analyzed by Meyer,¹⁸ this manuscript supposedly transcribed a “lost” original. Dembowski, however, recently identified the latter.¹⁹

      The author gives his name (“Gui,” 1. 1940), but no other details are known about him. At the beginning of the narrative (1. 19 ff.), Gui mentions a Norman version of the legend.²⁰

      The origin of the Catherine legend remains conjectural. The main centers of her cult were the monastery of Mt....

    • The Life of Saint Christina
      (pp. 138-150)

      This poem of 3,800 alexandrine lines in rhyming couplets is contained in two manuscripts.³⁴

      The hagiographer is the relatively well-known Benedictine monk Gautier de Coinci, the author of theMiracles Nostre Dame,whose first book was completed around the year 1218 while Gautier was in the monastery of Vic-sur-Aisne near Soissons.³⁵ In his first book of Miracles,³⁶ Gautier refers to theLife of Saint Christinawhich, he says, he composedPautr’an.Ott, the editor ofChristina,who interprets this allusion as meaning “some years ago,”³⁷ sets the date of composition of the Life between the year 1214, when Gautier arrived...

    • The Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary
      (pp. 151-171)

      The case of Elizabeth of Hungary is a very unusual one in the context of thirteenth-century French hagiographic romance. Elizabeth is, indeed, the only real-life contemporary woman among the saints figuring in this volume.

      Various documents, particularly those of her canonization process, provide relatively ample information on her life and accomplishments. The daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, Elizabeth was born in 1207 and betrothed at the age of four to the Duke Louis of Thuringia (Ludwig IV), the son of the Landgrave Hermann, who was him self eleven years old. They were married in 1220 at the Wartburg...

    • The Life of Saint Euphrosina
      (pp. 172-181)

      One of the many medieval tales inspired by the motif of transvestism, the story of Euphrosina (or Euphrosyna), which has an eastern origin, narrates how a young woman is led to dress as a man. The author ofEuphrosinawrote this poem in the traditional epic style: thus,Euphrosinacomprises 1,279 alexandrine lines grouped in lo-line rhyming stanzas. The poem is contained in four manuscripts.⁶⁴

      A complete edition ofEuphrosinawas published by Hill,⁶⁵ who gives an extensive account of the manuscripts, of the author of the poem, and of his probable source.⁶⁶ From northern France, this Picard or Walloon...

    • The Life of Saint Faith
      (pp. 182-203)

      TheLift of Saint Faith,which contains 1,242 octosyllabic lines in rhyming couplets, is preserved in a single manuscript.⁷⁴ In the fourteenth century, this manuscript belonged to the Augustinian nuns' community of Campsey in Suffolk and was used for mealtime reading.⁷⁵ The author, Simon of Walsingham, lived at the Benedictine monastery of Bury St. Edmunds (Suffolk), where there was a chapel dedicated to Saint Faith.⁷⁶ Simon’s birthplace—Walsingham (Norfolk)—was located near the priory of Horsham, also dedicated to Saint Faith. Moreover, as he tells us in this poem (11. 53–56), the author was born on the saint’s feast...

    • The Life of Saint Juliana
      (pp. 204-215)

      Composed in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, this poem has been edited Feilitzen⁸⁷ and is preserved in seven manuscripts.⁸⁸

      Little is known about this text.⁸⁹ Intertextual evidence suggestsJulianawas indeed composed in the thirteenth century, since the alludes to “contritionism,” the tearful admission of guilt (seeJuliana,830–34). Slow in assimilating the new trends in theology, twelfth-century devotional works in the vernacular tended, rather, to incite the believers fear the consequences of sin (what is called “attritionism”⁹⁰). A Council held at Lateran in 1215 (the Fourth Lateran Council), which recommended that Christians be taught the redeeming value of repentance and...

    • The Life of Saint Margaret of Antioch
      (pp. 216-237)

      Margaret counts among the most popular women martyrs venerated during the Middle Ages. Analyzing the Greek and Latin versions of the legend, Tammi,⁹⁹ the editor ofMargaret E,shows that the most ancient Latin text—the ninth-century “Passio a Theotimo”—derives from a lost eighth-century Greek version in which Margaret is known as “Marina” (29–52). The two names of Margaret and Marina reappear in other legends, where these heroines are not martyrs but hermits who are led to hide their identity under a male disguise.¹⁰⁰ Hence the eventual confusion between Margaret of Antioch (a martyr), Margaret the tranvestite, and...

    • The Life of Saint Marina
      (pp. 238-257)

      This anonymous poem, which comprises I,I76 lines written in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, is preserved in two fifteenth-century manuscripts.¹⁴⁸ The following translation refers to Clugnet’s edition of the text.¹⁴⁹ To date, there is no revised edition of this Life, which has not attracted the attention of the critics.

      The legend concerns an early fifth-century Maronite saint who lived as a recluse at Kanoubine in Syria. According to Nau,¹⁵⁰ the word “kanoubine” refers to caverns carved in the rock and used as cells by hermits. A young orphan from Tripoli, Marina disguised herself as a man and took refuge in one of...

    • The Life of Mary the Egyptian
      (pp. 258-273)

      Mary the Egyptian might have lived during the second half of the fifth century. The oldest version of her story is a Greek narrative attributed to Sophronios in the seventh century.¹⁵⁵ In this tale, which evolves around the traditional motif of competitive asceticism, the central character is a monk by the name of Zozimas. After years of austere living, Zozimas discovers another hermit, Mary the Egyptian, who surpasses him in righteousness. TheVitae Patrumcontain a number of similar tales, including a Latin adaptation of Sophronios’ narrative, in which male hermits are led to encounter characters (such as single or...

    • The Life of Saint Paula
      (pp. 274-288)

      This anonymous poem comprises 1,243 octosyllabic lines in rhyming couplets and is preserved in a single manuscript.¹⁷⁵ Grass, the editor of this Life, also publishes the Latin source of the poem, namely, the fifth-century account written by Saint Jerome.¹⁷⁵ The anonymous poet tells his audience that he was asked by a “good man” to translate this Life for a “lady” (ll. 78–79), as an edifying example for women (ll. 1223–43). He probably composed his rendition of the life of Paula at the end of the thirteenth century,¹⁷⁷ around the year 1290.¹⁷⁸

      Along with Elizabeth of Hungary, Paula is...

    • The Life of Saint Thais
      (pp. 289-302)

      The legend of Thais is a particularly interesting example in the history of the cult of the saints. Although she probably never existed, this famous converted harlot has inspired a vast number of poets and novelists from the fourth to the twentieth century. According to the earliest extant narrative, a Greek text written in the fourth or fifth century, Thais was a notorious prostitute who lived in Egypt toward the middle of the fourth century and was converted by one Sarapion.¹⁷⁹ This Greek text is the origin of a series of adaptations in other languages, including a sixth-century Latin version...

    • Notes
      (pp. 303-310)
  6. Appendices
    • The Ninth-Century Sequence of Saint Eulalia
      (pp. 313-314)
    • Holy Heroines of Hagiographic Romance: Summary of Information
      (pp. 315-318)
  7. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 319-332)
  8. Index
    (pp. 333-334)