Richard W. Pfaff

title.none: Love, ed. and trans., Three Eleventh-Century Anglo-Latin Saints' Lives (Pfaff)

identifier.other: baj9928.9709.010 97.09.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard W. Pfaff, University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Love, Rosalind C., ed. and trans. Three Eleventh-Century Anglo-Latin Saints' Lives: Vita S. Birini, Vita Et Miracula S. Kenelmi and Vita S. Rumwoldi. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Pp. ccx, 149. $79.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-198-20524-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.09.10

Love, Rosalind C., ed. and trans. Three Eleventh-Century Anglo-Latin Saints' Lives: Vita S. Birini, Vita Et Miracula S. Kenelmi and Vita S. Rumwoldi. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Pp. ccx, 149. $79.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-198-20524-4.

Reviewed by:

Richard W. Pfaff
University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill

A reader looking at the table of contents of an edition and translation where the introductory material outweighs considerably the source in question may wonder whether the proportions should not have been reversed. In the case of the present book the answer would be, emphatically, no. None of the three eleventh-century saint's lives presented here is particularly full of intrinsic interest, and indeed there is a good deal in all of them that is either tedious or merely silly. What makes the volume so eminently worth having is precisely the extensiveness of Rosalind Love's introduction and the richness of the annotation she has furnished. In what began as her Cambridge dissertation and was submitted in present form only a year and a half later, she offers a highly substantial contribution to the cultural history of eleventh-century England as well as to the more specific discipline of hagiography.

The format of the series apparently requires all the introductory matter first (and, as this reviewer has complained before, all of it numbered Roman-style, so that one section here actually begins on p. clxxxviii); this means that the excellent overall introduction, "Eleventh-Century Anglo-Latin Hagiography and the Rise of the Legendary"--the latter term referring to the liturgical book of that name, not to a veracity quotient--is followed by long introductions to each of the three saint's lives. Probably the reader will want to break this down and, having profited from the general considerations in the first section, to confront the dossier for each of the saints discretely.

This approach would also make it easier to understand what is implicit throughout the book but becomes fully clear only when one has worked through the entire thing: that the manuscripts in which these lives are contained, and especially the eleventh-century legendaries into which so many saints' lives were collected, are of at least equal importance to the lives themselves. So it makes sense for the first chapter to deal with the question of hagiographical manuscripts and the great surviving (in whole or part) eleventh-century legendaries before talking about the revival of Anglo-Latin hagiography in that period and the individual lives that witness to the phenomenon.

This is not the place for detailed consideration of these legendaries, the principal survivors of which seem to have been connected with major religious houses--Worcester, both Christ Church and St. Augustine's at Canterbury, Winchester Old Minster, Hereford, and perhaps Leominster Priory (though scarcely major). In any case, they do not all contain all three of the lives here offered. But the question of which life shows up in which collection, and more widely of what is the range of manuscript contexts in which any given life survives, makes for a fascinating counterpoint to the local- habitation aspect that so strongly marks all three of these. This aspect is stressed by the way Love presents her chosen saints: as Birinus of Dorchester-on-Thames, Kenelm of Winchcombe, and Rumwold of Buckingham (who actually has a threefold habitation, as will be seen).

The historicity of these three diminishes progressively. There can be no doubt of the existence of the Birinus who was an early, perhaps the earliest, Southern-Christian missionary to Wessex, who after his death in about 650 was translated to Winchester some half-century later, and who seems to have been the only saint connected with Winchester until the potent Swithun (d. 865). Some time in the eleventh-century the life of Birinus presented here was composed, perhaps by the author of the Vita Swithuni (lists of verbal parallels are offered): this writer being possibly the celebrated hagiographer Goscelin, chiefly associated with St. Augustine's at Canterbury circa 1090. If so it would have been an early work of his, written in what Love characterizes as a "thoroughly pompous and verbose rhetorical style" (p. li). Arguably the most interesting point about Birinus himself, the manipulation of his cult by the Augustinian canons of Dorchester-on-Thames in the thirteenth century, is of course not a factor here, though discussed.

The name of Kenelm of Winchcombe may be the most familiar of the three in question simply because his legend had been read by the learned rooster Chaunticleer, as Love reminds us. There may well have been a Mercian princeling called Kenelm in the early ninth century, the son of the (historical) king Coenwulf and brother of the (probably historical) mouthful Cwoenthryth, who in the legend becomes the wicked sister responsible for the martyr's death at the age of seven. As one of the more substantial houses in the AEthelwoldian monastic reform, Winchcombe Abbey could well have used a saint, and Kenelm had clearly been taken up into this role by the late tenth century, as his prominence in a sacramentary connected to that house attests. Almost a century later the present life appears--actually in two forms, shorter and longer, with a separate set of miracula attached--again conceivably by Goscelin. One of the MSS in which this life is preserved, Bodleian Douce 368, was probably written at or for Winchcombe, and contains also Bede's History and a Mercian royal genealogy; Love's discussion of this (pp. cxxiv-cxxvii) is a virtuoso piece of description, giving to an amazing extent the full flavor of the codex in a mere five paragraphs. Intriguingly, the Life refers to a "cantilena" (a hymn or a more popular song?) and "Anglica scripta" (probably vernacular writings; the MSS are at variance here, one not surprisingly turning them into "angelica scripta": p. 50).

Whether justifiably or not, Kenelm seems to have figured seriously in the imagination of eleventh-century Englishmen. By contrast, it must have been hard even in that sometimes fervent age to keep a straight face where Rumwold was concerned. His Vita makes it plain that he must have been without competition as the greatest infant bore of Anglo-Saxon England, having at the age of three days arranged in detail for his own baptism (among other points he specified for use as a font a stone which could be carried only by pious priests), improved the occasion by a lengthy sermon heavily redolent of the Athanasian Creed, and specified that at his death--which we may suppose was caused by homiletic exhaustion--his body should be taken for a year to King's Sutton, then for two years to Brackley, and finally in perpetuity to Buckingham. Love accounts for the length of the sermon as "seemingly the only way to prevent the narrative from turning out to be extremely brief, since the life of a 3-day-old saint will necessarily have rather few events in it" (p. clxvi); in any case, whether because of Rumwold's precocity as a preacher or in spite of it, both his mid eleventh-century Life and his cult were surprisingly popular. Between eight and ten, at the least, medieval churches were dedicated to him, and there was a curious variant to his cult in Kent, where the fishermen of Folkestone seem to have funded a Christmas Eve feast by the sale of what they called "rumbal whitings" and where also in the sixteenth century there was a kind of clerical confidence game involving an image of Rumwold. (All this is genially explained on pp. cliv-clix; one of Love's many strengths is that she is tenacious about local history.)

It would be hard to overstate admiration for the depth of learning evident in this book, based as it admittedly is on a dissertation. Perhaps as a corollary, little lenience is accorded to the reader, who is, for example, expected to know some Old English (what is cited is not translated) and to command such unexplained rhetorical and literary terms as epanaphora, asyndeton, and "epanaleptic (paracteric)" (p. lxix). Nor is a map provided to show the numerous, sometimes obscure, cult sites connected with these three saints. It would also have been useful to have at least one facsimile page (preferably one for each life), showing if possible pages where a Vita has been marked for liturgical reading. If a slip or two is inevitable, the only serious one is the continued ascription of the famous suppplement to Pope Hadrian's Gregorian sacramentary to Alcuin rather than, as is almost universally accepted now, Benedict of Aniane (p. 136).

But in all save these minor respects this is a superb piece of scholarship, as well as one which it seems fair to characterize, in an entirely positive sense, as high- spirited. Seldom, in this reviewer's experience, has such a learned work been so enjoyable to read.