Session 90: Ystafell 6
Hagiography and ecclesiastical history

Chair: David Parsons

Buchedd Gwenfrewy: the Life of St Winefride in NLW MSS Peniarth 27ii and Llanstephan 34

Jane Cartwright
Prifysgol Cymru y Drindod Dewi Sant (Llanbedr Pont Steffan)

St Gwenfrewy (or Winefride as she is known in English) is effectively a Welsh super saint. With the exception of St David, of all the saints whose Welsh prose Lives will appear on the AHRC-funded website ‘Saints in Wales: the Welsh-language sources and their transmission’ Gwenfrewy has the most substantial hagiographical dossier. This includes two twelfth-century Latin vitae, various Middle English Lives and a fifteenth-century Welsh buchedd, as well as numerous medieval Welsh poems. Although some versions of her Life have previously been published, her Middle Life has hitherto attracted relatively little scholarly attention. This paper will consider the various versions of her Life and focus on the Middle Welsh Life of Gwenfrewy paying particular attention to two manuscripts kept at the National Library of Wales: Peniarth 27ii (compiled by an unknown scribe in the second half of the fifteenth century) and Llanstephan 34 (a recusant manuscript compiled by Roger Morris of Coed-y-talwrn in Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd at the end of the sixteenth century).

A curious omission: Bede and the Constitution of Lindisfarne

Patrick McAlary
University of Cambridge

According to Bede, Lindisfarne’s foundation can be traced back to a request made by King Oswald of Northumbria to the Irish monastery of Iona for a bishop. After a false start, Bishop Aidan was sent and to Northumbria and Oswald granted him the Lindisfarne for his episcopal see. In his prose Vita Cuthberti Bede includes a digression on the constitution of the monastery of Lindisfarne. This in itself is not overly surprising, the vita, having been commissioned by the community at Lindisfarne, and focusing on the patron saint of the site, necessarily spends a good deal of time discussing Lindisfarne. As part of this digression Bede outlines the system of abbatial succession practiced at Lindisfarne, where filling the abbatial office was the prerogative of the bishop (with the advice of the brethren). However, in a similar discursion in the Historia Ecclesiastica which bears marked similarities to the passage in the Vita Cuthberti, Bede curiously does not include this outline of abbatial succession. This paper will consider why Bede omitted this note in the Historia Ecclesiastica, and the connected question of how abbatial succession actually functioned at Lindisfarne. At a wider level this will also deal with the relationship between Lindisfarne and Iona, which provided the impetus for the foundation of Lindisfarne in the first place. Ultimately, Bede’s accounts will be set into their proper context and using various textual clues from both the Vita Cuthberti and the Historia Ecclesiastica it will be argued that Bede’s account deliberately obfuscates the reality of Lindisfarne’s succession practices in the period before the Synod of Whitby (664).

Milk symbolism in Bethu Brigte

Polina Sedova
Moscow State University

The image of Saint Brigit of Kildare, one of the most important Irish saints, is known to combine both Christian and pagan features that in many cases are difficult to distinguish from each other. The ninth-century Old Irish Life of Saint Brigit, Bethu Brigte, seems to be a quite well-detailed source of our knowledge of religious and mythological aspects of worldview in Ancient and Early Medieval Ireland.

There are forty-six paragraphs in Bethu Brigte, most of which describe a particular simple or double miracle. My research focuses on the three paragraphs that describe miracles where milk appears and on an episode that tells a story about a miracle involving fresh butter. Besides, two miracles that Saint Brigit performs with milch cows are examined. The paper aims to investigate what influence the 'milk miracles' had on the image of Brigit, what details define her as a specifically Irish saint and to explain why the compiler of the Life highlights the fact the drink that Brigit uses to perform miracles is cow milk. The research draws attention to the parallels with the Bible, Irish and European hagiographical texts, literary and legal sources of Early Medieval Ireland, folk customs associated with Saint Brigid’s Day, evidence of Pre-Christian beliefs of the Irish as well as recent biological data regarding the importance of milk for the population of Ancient Europe.