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The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness

The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness: Hagiography, Patronage and Ecclesiastical Politics

Helen Birkett
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 342
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  • Book Info
    The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness
    Book Description:

    Jocelin of Furness (fl.1175x1214), the Cistercian hagiographer, composed four substantial and significant saints' lives; varying widely in both subject and patron, they offer a rich corpus of medieval hagiographical writing. Jocelin's Vita S. Patricii and Vita S. Kentegerni provide updated versions of each saint's legend and are carefully adapted to reflect the interests of their respective patrons in Ireland and Scotland. The Vita S. Helenae was probably commissioned by a female community in England; it represents an idealized narrative mirror of its early thirteenth-century context. In contrast, the Vita S. Waldevi was written to promote the formal canonization of a new saint, Waltheof (d.1159), abbot of the Cistercian house of Melrose in the Scottish borders. This is the first full-length study of the Lives. It combines detailed analyses of the composition of the texts with study of their patronage, audiences, and contemporary contexts; and it provides new insights into Jocelin's works and the writing of hagiography in the period. Helen Birkett is a Mellon Fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-896-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-22)

    Although acknowledged as the author of four extant hagiographical texts, Jocelin of Furness remains a shadowy figure in modern historiography.¹ Much of this obscurity reflects our limited knowledge about the author himself. HisVitaeare largely impersonal works and outside sources provide little further information to complete the picture. In addition, the fact that three of Jocelin’s four texts are reworkings of much earlier material means they have found few admirers in modern scholarship. Of those historians who choose to comment on Jocelin, only the minority do so with an interest in the author himself or the context in which...

  7. Part I. Texts

    • CHAPTER ONE Expanding the Narrative: The Composition of the Vita S. Patricii
      (pp. 25-58)

      Although theVita Patriciiseems to be the earliest of Jocelin’s extant works, it is unlikely to have been the first text written by the author. The length and scope of theVita, combined with the high-profile status of the Anglo-Norman ruler and Irish ecclesiastics who sponsored it, indicate that Jocelin must already have enjoyed the literary renown necessary to qualify him for this commission. The task of rewriting and updating the life of St Patrick was certainly not a job for an amateur. By the late twelfth century, a large amount of Patrician hagiographial material was already in circulation....

    • CHAPTER TWO Compiling Female Sanctity: The Sources for the Vita S. Helenae
      (pp. 59-84)

      Superficially, Jocelin’s commission to write theVita Helenaepresented a similar project to theVita Patricii. The central figures of each work were saints of international renown and both were already the subjects of a significant amount of literature. However, although an earlier hagiographical account of Helena seems to have been available for use as a primary base text, Jocelin chose to construct his work largely from other sources – the ‘diverse ecclesiastical histories and universal chronicles’ acknowledged by the prologue.¹ In contrast to the composition of theVita Patricii, Jocelin formed theVita Helenaeepisode by episode, using the most...

    • CHAPTER THREE Restoring the Text: Jocelin’s Approach to the Vita S. Kentegerni
      (pp. 85-114)

      Of the four differentvitaeof Kentigern that seem to have been in circulation during the twelfth century, Jocelin’s version is the only one to survive intact today. The twovitaethat constituted Jocelin’s main source material have vanished, while a third text composed in the mid-twelfth century survives only in fragmentary form. The loss of these earlier texts has led many scholars to use Jocelin’sVitaas an important but flawed source for the historical Kentigern and early Scottish religious history. However, few studies have analysed theVitaon its own terms as a literary and historical document of...

    • CHAPTER FOUR From the Testimony of Trustworthy Men: The Interaction of Oral and Written Sources in the Vita S. Waldevi
      (pp. 115-138)

      Jocelin’s second commission in Scotland brought the Furness monk to the Cistercian house of Melrose to write theVitaof a near-contemporary, Abbot Waltheof (d. 1159). As a text commemorating the life of a man who had died only fifty years or so previously, the composition of theVita Waldeviposed several new challenges. In contrast to Jocelin’s other works, which were built on the foundation of various earlier written accounts, theVita Waldeviappears to have been the first hagiographical text to document Waltheof’s cult. Consequently, the work was based largely on the abbey’s oral traditions, stories that had the...

  8. Part II. Contexts

    • CHAPTER FIVE Irish Ecclesiastical Politics and Anglo-Norman Sponsorship: The Patronage of the Vita S. Patricii
      (pp. 141-170)

      The commissioning of theVita Patriciiformed part of a wider project that involved the establishment of a new monastic community, the rededication and rebuilding of Down cathedral and the discovery of Patrick’s relics in the Cathedral cemetery. It was also a text that publicly attested to the strong alliance formed between its three patrons, Archbishop Tomaltach of Armagh, Bishop Malachy of Down and the new ruler of Ulaid, John de Courcy. However, although theVitais a product closely associated with the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland, analysis of the text indicates that it was conceived as a vehicle to...

    • CHAPTER SIX Scottish Independence and Ecclesiastical Reform: The Vita S. Kentegerni in Context
      (pp. 171-200)

      TheVita Kentegerniwas commissioned by Bishop Jocelin at some point between 1175 and 1199 and represented the literary aspect of a wider programme of regeneration being undertaken at Glasgow Cathedral in the closing decades of the twelfth century. Just as the cathedral was enlarged and decorated with contemporary flourishes, so too theVitaof the cathedral’s patron saint was lengthened and embellished.¹ And just as the architecture of Kentigern’s new shrine may have been designed to accommodate contemporary pilgrimage practices, the text, too, was adapted to reflect the needs of the late twelfth century diocese.² Analysis of the text...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Promoting Sanctity: The Vita S. Waldevi, Canonization and Cistercian Saintly Cults
      (pp. 201-226)

      The second discovery of Waltheof’s incorruption at Melrose Abbey in mid-1206 seems to have been the event that reinvigorated interest in the saint’s cult and reopened older questions surrounding its promotion.¹ The community’s response was to commission Jocelin, a fellow Cistercian, to write an official account of Waltheof’s life and deeds, a work that was begun during the brief abbacy of Abbot Patrick from 1206 to 1207.² The main intention of theVitawas to raise the profile of Waltheof’s cult. The possession of an incorrupt corpse was, as the text makes clear, no common claim. Waltheof joined a select...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Locating the Text: The Patrons, Sources and Historical Context of the Vita S. Helenae
      (pp. 227-258)

      In terms of patronage, theVita Helenaeprovides a significant contrast with Jocelin’s other works. Although the prologue states that the text was written at the request of others, the specific identity of Jocelin’s patrons remains unstated – we are told only that the work was commissioned by a monastic community dedicated to St Helena. TheVitaalso differs from Jocelin’s other texts in terms of purpose. Whereas theVitae Patricii,KentegerniandWaldeviwere written for communities based at the foci of their respective cults, theVita Helenaecarries no suggestion that the commissioning house held a shrine of this...

    • CHAPTER NINE Exemplary Narratives: Contemporary Reforming Discourses in Jocelin’s Vitae
      (pp. 259-278)

      As an explicitly didactic genre, hagiographical texts presented the reader with clear models of moral and religious behaviour. While much of this instruction was grounded in centuries-old traditions of Christian piety, as has been shown,vitaealso reflected the particular religious interests and circumstances of those writing or commissioning the texts. It is, therefore, unsurprising that a number of contemporary religious concerns are articulated in Jocelin’s works. Explanatory additions and first-person asides not only direct the reader to a particular understanding of the narrative but clearly situate theVitaein the ecclesiastical environment of the late twelfth and early thirteenth...

    (pp. 279-286)

    By analysing Jocelin’s hagiographical works in the contexts in which they were written, this study has presented a more sympathetic appraisal of the author and his achievements than has previously been offered. Through an investigation into Jocelin’s working methods and the treatment of his sources, the first part of this book showed how the author integrated and adapted this material into his texts. Jocelin structured hisVita Patriciilargely according to the framework provided by an earlier account of the legend, to which he added narratives taken from other written and oral sources. TheVita Kentegerniwas compiled in a...

    (pp. 287-312)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 313-326)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 327-331)