Virginity and the married-virgin saints in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints: the translation of an ideal
Smith, Liesl Ruth
Thesis: Doctor of Philosophy,Graduate Department of Medieval Studies,University of Toronto (2000)
Among the narratives included in his Lives of Saints, Ælfric of Eynsham translates three passiones of married-virgin saints: Passio Sancti Iuliani et Sponse Eius Basilisse, Passio Sanctoe Cecilie Virginis, and Passio Chrisanti et Darioe Sponse Eius. This study offers a Iiterary examination of Ælfric’s construction and development of the virginal ideal in these passiones. ( 1) The study begins with an examination of the vocabulary of purity and body (virginitas, castitas, irztegritas, corpus and caro) in seminal works by Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Aldhelm, each of whom helped establish virginity as the preeminent fom of the Christian life. The symbolic, sacramental daims of virginity proposed in these texts call into question modem interpretations of virginity as the repudiation of sexuality and the means by which male authors exercised control over women’s bodies. (2) Ælfric addresses the necessity of sexual purity in two discursive works: the “Letter to Sigefyrth” and the hornily Nativitas Sanct~M arice Virginis. An examination of the Old English vocabulary of purity and body (mægdhad, ckoennes, lichama, andflasc) in these works illustrates that, although working in the tradition of the Church Fathers, Ælfric’s call for sexual purity arises from his particular concern for holy service. Moreover, his explicit concern for the inclusion of both sexes in this life of service redresses any disproponionate emphasis upon female virginity. (3) A cornparison of Ælfric’s translation of the passio of Julian and Basilissa with the Latin version found in the Cotton-Corpus Legendary reveals not only Ælfnc’s promotion of regular monastic values over ascetic ones, but also his deliberate avoidance of attaching the need for sexuai purity specifically to women. Throughout the passio, virginity signifies the saints’ etemal priorities and heavenly aiiegiance. (4) The passio of Chrysanthus and Daria contains a much more sexualized representation of the conflict between the saints and their antagonists, while the passio of Cecilia focuses upon the celestial nature of the virginal life. In neither, however, does the promotion and importance of ii physical purisr account for virginity’s significance. Instead, ÆIfric’s depiction of virginity in these two passiones pushes virginity’s symbolic. sacramental capacity to the forefront. The study concludes with a bnef examination of how ÆIfnc’s expressed purpose for these passianes and his treatrnent of virginity relate to the late Anglo-saxon context.