Transitional Holiness in the Twelfth Century: The Social and Spiritual Identity of Domina Christina of Markyate
Joanna Marie Royle
Doctor of Philosophy, Department of History, Medieval Area, University of Glasgow, June (2008)
This thesis reassesses the evidence for the English woman of spirit, Christina of Markyate, as a case-study for transitions in sanctity and spirituality during the twelfth century. It highlights the lack of appropriate vocabulary and models available in the 1130s and 1140s to make sense of the new manifestations of holiness that Christina embodies. By using three distinct but overlapping discourses to structure the study – social networks in religious life, sanctity and spirituality – it reflects on how the stakeholders in Christina’s texts negotiated their positions in relation to these discourses and throws light on a context of rapid discourse shift.
The first section, ‘The Lady Christina: Texts and Contexts’, locates Christina, her texts, and her religious foundation at Markyate in their immediate and extended social networks. It shows that she had regional fame during her lifetime but that this was not sustained after her death. Her story is intimately tied up with the Abbey of St Albans, whose interest in their own domestic saints caused its revival in the later middle ages. Although charismatic in her own right, Christina was principally a successful institution builder and prioress, whose main concerns were domestic, rather than carving out a new kind of role for religious women in England. The second section, ‘Saint Christina: Sanctity and Learning’ addresses whether it is possible to consider Christina a saint, and what sanctity might involve when the traditional trappings of cult are missing. Christina fell between older and newer ideas about holiness, which resulted in the disrupted use of models to shape her story. Her saintly credentials were her virginity and visions, and in seeking to have these recorded Christina strategically performed and recast her external behaviour within recognisable modes of holiness. It is also possible to identify ways that Christina moved beyond existing constructions of identity and found a feminine voice in the performances of her ‘sartorial body’. The third section, ‘Ancilla Christi: Visions and Community’ looks in detail at Christina’s spirituality, using her visions to critique the separation of elite and popular modes of numinous encounter by taking her out of her primary social networks and identifying a comparative framework in contemporary trends in Western visionary culture.