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The Life of Christina of Markyate: A Twelfth Century Recluse (MART: The Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching) [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   212
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.8" Width: 6" Height: 0.6"
Weight:   0.8 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 31, 1998
Publisher   University of Toronto Press
ISBN  0802082025  
EAN  9780802082022  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...

"The Life of Christina of Markyate", a twelfth-century English recluse and later abbess of Markyate near St Albans, is a remarkable example of late medieval hagiography. Originally written at the time of or soon after Christina's death in the twelfth century, the Life is unusual both in its relative lack of miracles, and in the unknown author's decision to write Christina's life factually rather than gathering together stock elements from previously written saint's lives, as was the custom.

First published in 1959, this edition contains the original Latin text with a facing-page English translation. It is accompanied by a comprehensive Introduction that discusses the codicological problems of the text, and provides other contextual and background material.

'One of the great virtues of this Life is its vivid revelations of Christina's personal circumstances, which must have been based on her own reminiscences. Although doubts have been cast on her veracity ... they do not affect the main lines of the extraordinary story she told the author.'

From the General Editors' Note

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Sad paradox in an intriguing work.  Jul 28, 2001
Popular belief holds that during the Middle Ages sex was avoided like the plague --another medieval staple-- and all human energies went to glorify God. This "Life of Christina" is able to both support part of the popular belief and, at the same time, undermine it, leaving the reader with a strange sense of wonder at such a talented and resourceful woman who, with her work and example, contributed to the solid establishment of a social paradigm that would become dominant for the next 800 years and that would be so detrimental to women.

Christina, whose given name was Theodora, chose many paths in her life. She chose her name, chose to remain a virgin, chose not to marry any man, and chose to stick to her decisions. This is not the story of a girl who is forced into a convent and must sacrifice her terrenal love to obey her family. Christina is literally hounded by her parents because they want her to marry. Her mother will eventually not care if there is a marriage as long as Christina has sex with somebody. Since Christina refuses, such act would have to be rape, but mom is just fine with that, too. The smart girl will prove to be quite a match for Ralph Flambard, a cad who attempts to seduce her; for Burthred, her hapless betrothed; and for mom and dad. Even the prior Fredebertus will not be able to disuade her from remaining a virgin. This story is, then, very much in line with the popular view of the Middle Ages: virginity at all costs and service to God. But Christina is continuosly penalized precisely for wanting those two things. Everybody else around her wants her to marry, and her mother just wants her to have sex and get it over with.

Christina triumphs and accomplishes her goals, which is not a surprise after you have read the back cover comment and the excellent, if lengthy, Introduction. What strikes me as sad, though, is that Christina, a very determined and intelligent woman, assists in perpetuating, with her example, the ideas that with the guidance of the Church will become established wisdom and, in many cases, dogma: sex is bad, abstinence is good, God loves virgins, desire is the way to the devil, and the perfect place for women is a cloister where they can be kept safe from the dangers and temptations of the world. Even if Christina's "relationship" with Christ is, for her, a very sexual one, this does not lessen the effect of her overall message: she has chosen to become a recluse, remain a virgin, and thus serve God, as if those options were, by necessity compatible and mutually supportive. True, in her time the options available to women were very limited, but she uses her wits and her resources toward a rebellion that will just contribute to the identification of sex with sin. We may get the nuances and endearing contradictions today, but this hagiography served one purpose in her day, and for centuries after her death: to show Christina as an example for other girls and women to follow. In this way, her book and example helped cement misogyny in a world that was already leaning in that direction, tilted by the intellectual and apostolical inputs of, among others, Aristotle, Saint Paul, and Saint Augustine. By being a rebel whose cause is to renounce sex and live as a recluse, Christina is not really helping widen the horizons for other women and, thus, not helping humanity in the end. The saddest part is that she truly believes she is doing God's work.

This University of Toronto Press Edition, edited and translated by C.H. Talbot, has good footnotes in the Introduction, a helpful map of Christina's environs, and the Latin text on the even-numbered pages. You may disagree with my opinions, but I think everybody interested in the Middle Ages will find this a very well-edited, useful, and peculiar work. Read it and reach your own conclusions.


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