Wednesday 7 March 2012

The Cult of Saints Brigid and Patrick in 12th-Century England

I have recently been reading a paper on the cult of Irish saints in medieval England. The evidence points to Saint Brigid being perhaps the best-known. She was, for example, the only Irish saint found in the Litany of the Saints in the late-12th century English Psalter Gough liturgica 2, which contains the names of 113 saints. She also appears in virtually all the English monastic kalendars of the Middle Ages. In the early 1130s Laurence of Durham composed a Life of Brigit that he dedicated to Aelred, the latter abbot of Rievaulx, on the basis of a Life given to him by Aelred's father, Eilaf, who had ended his days as a monk of Durham. I was especially interested to learn that in the 12th and 13th centuries, a number of English cathedrals and abbeys claimed relics of Saint Brigid, namely Abingdon, Durham, Exeter, Glastonbury, Leominster, Reading, Waltham and York. I will try to follow up on the references given as I would be keen to know if there is a description of these relics and whether any of them survived.

By contrast, Saint Patrick took second place to Saint Brigid in English cult, having fewer ancient dedications (7 for Patrick compared to 15 for Brigid), fewer relics in English churches (with the exception of Glastonbury which claimed his entire body!) and fewer commemorations in monastic kalendars. There were, however, three Latin Lives of Saint Patrick composed in 12th-century England, the first an anonymous Life preserved in the Legendary in Gloucester Cathedral MS 1, copied around 1200, the second a Life by William of Malmesbury written for the monks of Glastonbury but now lost and finally, the Life by Jocelin of Furness. Jocelin was a monk from the Cistercian monastery of Furness in Cumbria who wrote a number of saints' lives in the period 1175-1215. His Life of Patrick was written at the request of Tomaltach, Archbishop of Armagh, Echmilid, the bishop of Down and John de Courcy, the Anglo-Norman ruler of Ulster. This Life was thus written in England for export to Ireland as part of de Courcy's attempt to secure the blessing of the three native Irish patrons, whose relics he had translated to Downpatrick in the 1180s.

Source: Robert Bartlett, 'Cults of Irish, Scottish and Welsh Saints in 12th-century England' in B.Smith (ed.), Britain and Ireland, 900-1300: Insular Responses to Medieval European Change (C.U.P., 1999), 67-86.

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