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Medieval Saints' Lives

Medieval Saints' Lives: The Gift, Kinship and Community in Old French Hagiography

Emma Campbell
Series: Gallica
Volume: 12
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Medieval Saints' Lives
    Book Description:

    Contending that the study of hagiography is significant both for a consideration of medieval literature and for current theoretical debates in medieval studies, this book considers a range of Old French and Anglo-Norman texts, using modern theories of kin

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-660-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-22)

    The beginning of a saint’s life seems an appropriate place to open this introduction. The Vie de Saint Alexis is of one of the oldest and best-known saints’ lives in the French vernacular and the illuminations prefacing it in the St Albans Psalter are a unique series of images depicting the saint’s departure from his home on his wedding night and embarkation on a career of service to God.¹ On the far left, in a room filled by the marriage bed he will leave empty, the saint hands his newly-wed wife his sword-belt and ring. In the centre, the pensive...

  7. The Gift

    • 1 The Gift, Sacrifice and Social Economy
      (pp. 25-50)

      The gift is one of the most pervasive and conceptually important motifs in Old French hagiography.¹ Saints’ lives depict their protagonists as both recipients of gifts from God and model donors in their own right, as exemplary individuals given over to the service of a higher authority and as powerful benefactors communicating divine gifts to a wider Christian community. Saints are frequently implicated in networks of relationships in which the gift is at once a form of sacrifice and an idiom of social and spiritual interaction between God, the saint and a human community of believers. In giving to God,...

    • 2 The Gender of the Gift
      (pp. 51-68)

      As seen in the previous chapter, the saint’s gifts in hagiography depend on the impossibility of possessing that which is given. However, these gifts still rely on an ability to give in human contexts that evokes the possibility of possession, even as it forecloses such a possibility in the act itself. As seen in the Vie de Saint Gilles, the saint abandons the land and property that make him a powerful lord in a human social setting, giving up both property and social position through this act of renunciation. The redefinition of the saint’s relationship to society – and the concomitant...

  8. Kinship

    • 3 Incest and Life at the Limits of the Social
      (pp. 71-95)

      As the previous chapters have suggested, kinship constitutes an important part of the human social system that the saint rejects. Chapters One and Two considered several cases where the saint’s relationship to human kin – by both blood and marriage – is redefined by forms of renunciation performed through the gift. The saint’s relationship to kinship within the narrative model I have been outlining nonetheless requires further elucidation. For, as anthropologists and gender theorists have indicated, kinship is one of the primary means of anchoring and reproducing heterosexual social formations. Given that saints are frequently obliged to spurn human kinship as part...

    • 4 Marriage and Queer Desire
      (pp. 96-118)

      I argued in the last chapter that the saint’s relationship to God is characterized by its association with troubled forms of kinship and desire; this relationship serves both to reveal the saint’s liminality with regard to human social networks and to create an alternative relational context that frames his or her identity. Whereas the example I examined in Chapter Three was incest – a form of ‘kinship trouble’ that marks by its very nature the boundaries of human social systems – this chapter considers a less obviously transgressive manifestation of troubled kinship: marriage or, more precisely, nuptial virginity. In doing so, I...

  9. Community

    • 5 Textual Community
      (pp. 121-148)

      This chapter is concerned with community: that is, community as an imaginary and always ideological relationship to others.¹ It is also concerned with the role that medieval texts might have played in creating a sense of community in the world outside them. As both this and the next chapter will demonstrate, these are themes with which vernacular saints’ lives are very much concerned. The formation and confirmation of Christian community is axiomatic to the hagiographic project as a whole and, in some vernacular Lives, provokes reflection on the processes that contribute to this important textual and extra-textual function. It is...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 6 Queer Community
      (pp. 149-178)

      In my readings of the Lives of Eustace and Alban in Chapter Five I outlined how community is not simply used as a predicate or foundation for the text but also in an important sense emerges from it, as the ultimate – but inevitably deferred and incomplete – consummation of the text’s ideological project. Community is thus often incorporated into the text as part of a representational ethos that attempts to reproduce and consolidate for the reader or listener a sense of participation in a collective body united in faith, a sense that is arrived at by textually-mediated identifications of various kinds....

  10. Manuscripts

    • 7 The Campsey Manuscript (London, BL, Additional 70513)
      (pp. 181-204)

      When considered alongside Latin hagiographic manuscripts of the same period, thirteenth-century vernacular collections incorporating saints’ lives can seem comparatively disorganized. As Pamela Gehrke points out, the Latin manuscripts generally conform to certain principles of classification based on criteria such as type of saint or type of collection, whereas French vernacular manuscripts represent alternative methods of classification which seem less constrained by such literary taxonomy.¹ These vernacular collections often vary quite widely in form, ranging from large miscellanies to small collections of religious works. Most collections contain texts that are predominantly religious in tone, although saints’ lives are also sometimes found...

    • 8 Oxford, Bodleian, Canonici Miscellaneous 74
      (pp. 205-222)

      The Canonici manuscript provides an interesting comparison to the Campsey manuscript in a number of ways. In physical terms, the Canonici collection is substantially smaller than the Campsey codex, suggesting that it may have been read either individually or in small groups. Though the absence of illumination sometimes makes it difficult to navigate between different texts, the Canonici collection was clearly intended for use rather than show. In its current form, the codex contains a decasyllabic version of the Vie de Saint Alexis which, as Meyer indicated some time ago, is executed in an original fashion from the Latin Vita...

    (pp. 223-230)

    The relationships that saints’ lives mediated and constituted – and might still mediate and constitute – feature only indirectly in this examination of Old French hagiography; my readings of French vernacular saints’ lives have been, first and foremost, explorations of the economies that underwrite such relationships. In investigating social and sexual economy in vernacular saints’ lives I have focused on the structures that allow relationships to emerge and the ways in which these structures are given narrative articulation. This has been an examination of the narrative conditions that make relationships possible, and the possible relationships that such conditions might engender. The absence...

  12. TABLES
    (pp. 231-234)
  13. Appendices

    • Appendix 1. Descriptions of the manuscripts referred to in Chapters Seven and Eight
      (pp. 235-237)
    • Appendix 2. Complete list of rubrics in the Oxford MS version of the Poème moral
      (pp. 238-239)
    • Appendix 3. Passages transcribed from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Canonici, Miscellaneous 74
      (pp. 240-241)
    • Appendix 4. Saints’ Lives
      (pp. 242-252)
    (pp. 253-268)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 269-274)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-277)