Friday, 18 March 2016

The Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness

We begin the octave of posts in honour of the feast of Saint Patrick with a look at the late twelfth-century Life composed by the English monk Jocelin of Furness. Jocelin was commissioned by the Norman conqueror of Ulster, John de Courcy, to write a Life of the Irish patron in connection with the 1185 finding and later translation of the relics of not just Patrick but those of his two co-patrons, Brigid and Colum Cille. Inevitably, this later work has never enjoyed the same status as the earlier Lives by Muirchú and Tírechán, the nineteenth-century English hagiologist, Sabine Baring Gould, for example dismissed it as "of little historical value compared with the earlier and more authentic sources of information, which it not unfrequently contradicts on the authority of some idle legend." But understanding of hagiography has developed since Baring Gould's day and in the last decade a scholarly reappraisal of Jocelin's work has begun. A project at Liverpool University has sought to bring out a new edition of Jocelin's Life of Patrick and to better establish the cultural context in which he was working. It is perhaps worth remembering that despite any sniffiness about this Norman upstart, Jocelin's Life was for centuries a much-used source in both English and Irish language biographies of the saint, as a scholar has recently reminded us:
The Life of Patrick written by Jocelin of Furness in the twelfth century experienced continual popularity among both language communities throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First popularised for an Irish audience in Thomas Messingham's Florilegium Insulae Sanctorum (1624), Jocelin's Life subsequently could be found in an English translation by the Franciscan Robert Rochford as The Life of the Glorious Bishop S. Patricke, Apostle and Primate of Ireland (1625); another English translation was published by Edmund Swift in Dublin in 1809. In Rockford's publication, Patrick's life was also paired with a life of Bridget...Indeed, these two lives - that of Jocelin and Cogitosus - dominated the hagiography in circulation among eighteenth and nineteenth century scribes. In particular Jocelin's Life of Patrick - who as a subject was in turn the most often cited in these Irish language texts, about twice as often as Bridget- made up approximately half of the surviving lives of this saint in this time period.

N.M. Wolf, An Irish-Speaking Island: State, Religion, Community and the Linguistic Landscape in Ireland, 1770-1870 (Univ. Wisconsin Press, 2014), 200.

Jocelin's Life was also a source for the seventeenth-century Trias Thaumaturga compiled by this blog's hero, Friar John Colgan, where it formed the Vita Sexta or Sixth Life the great hagiologist used.

Over the coming days of the octave of the Feast of Saint Patrick I will bring some more selections and commentary on Jocelin's Life.

Further Resources:

In the absence of a modern, scholarly edition of Jocelin's Life, that of Father James O'Leary contained in his collection The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick is the most accessible. Read it at the Internet Archive here.

One of the scholars involved with the Jocelin project, Dr Clare Downham, has made an article on Jocelin available to read through the academia site here.

Boydell and Brewer have published a 2010 study by Helen Birkett on The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness. Details here.

Proceedings of the Liverpool University's Project 2011 Conference on Jocelin have also been published. Details here

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