Rewriting history in the cult of St Cuthbert from the ninth to the twelfth centuries

Rewriting history in the cult of St Cuthbert from the ninth to the twelfth centuries

Crumplin, Sally

University of St Andrews, 2005


St Cuthbert’s literary cult was conceived in the late seventh and early eighth century with the production of three vitae, most importantly Bede’s prose Vita sancti Cuthberti. Over the ensuing centuries, the cult stimulated the production of a great wealth of hagiographic material: this thesis analyses the key Cuthbertine works that were written by his Church during a turbulent but also prosperous time, between the ninth century and the end of the twelfth. Each chapter takes as a specific focus one of these texts, using it as a basis for exploring a number of themes pertaining to the cult of St Cuthbert, wider developments in the cult of the saints, and the changing and variable uses of hagiographic and historical writing. The first chapter takes the Historia de sancto Cuthberto as an example of a text combining property records with miracles, and written episodically over a period spanning more than a century, establishing the thesis’ triumvirate of themes: the fluidity of texts and of the representation of saints, and the enduring power of the Cuthbertine Church. Chapter Two explores the multifaceted identity that the Cuthbertine Church sought to convey for itself in Symeon of Durhamâs Libellus de exordio. The third and fourth chapters focus on two highly flexible and manipulated texts, Capitula de miraculis sancti Cuthberti and Brevis relatio de sancto Cuthberto, which appear in manuscripts together, and often amalgamated: they are used to examine how a saint’s image could be changed, and to question our often static notion of a text’s identity. The final chapter takes Reginald’s Libellus de admirandis beati Cuthberti virtutibus to compare the miracle profiles of all the Cuthbertine texts, contextualising them with formative studies in the cult of saints such as the work of Sigal (1985) and Vauchez (1981). The thesis ends by suggesting that Cuthbert’s cult was still thriving at the end of the twelfth century, and continued to do so, in the semi-independent socio-political and cultural sphere of northern England and southern Scotland. The discussions in these chapters are supplemented by four appendices: a table giving detailed synopses and a thematic breakdown of Reginald’s Libellus, and a table categorising and comparing the miracles that appear in all these Cuthbertine works provide the basis for exploring Cuthbert’s changing miraculous persona; a map charting the locations pertinent to Reginald’s Libellus shows the vibrant geographical extent of Cuthbert’s cult; a table of manuscripts illustrates the various permutations into which these texts may be worked.

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