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Sanctity in tenth-century Anglo-Latin Hagiography: Wulfstan of Winchester's Vita Sancti Æethelwoldi and Byrhtferth of Ramsey's Vita Sancti Oswaldi

Sanctity in tenth-century Anglo-Latin Hagiography: Wulfstan of Winchester's Vita Sancti Æethelwoldi and Byrhtferth of Ramsey's Vita Sancti Oswaldi
Nicola Jane Robertson


Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UNITED KINGDOM.


This thesis examines central examples of sanctity in the hagiography of late tenth- and early eleventh-century England in order to determine whether or not there are any common themes to be found. It considers specific moments and examples from the broad context of 'the Benedictine Reform' in order to investigate the ways in which texts and ideas were manipulated or negotiated to promote particular political and ecclesiastical interests. These include the influence of certain types of narrative, for example, hagiography and other documentary sources such as charters, setting them in the context of, and also interrogating them for what they can show us about, the contemporary ideology.

The specific focal points of the study are encapsulated by the two main thesis chapters, Winchester and Ramsey. The primary focus is on Æthelwold and Oswald, and the contemporary hagiography associated with their cults: Wulfstan of Winchester's Vita S. Æthelwoldi and Byrhtferth of Ramsey's Vita S. Oswaldi. In addition, Dunstan and Edward the Martyr are examined, and Edmund of East Anglia whose cult was promoted and received its first hagiography during this period. The texts in question are closely examined in order to determine what other figures and themes the saint in question is associated with and the ways that these associations contributed to the characterisation of the saint and thereby to the construction of their sanctity. It is evident that whilst the two primary texts under consideration - the Vita S. Æthelwoldi by Wulfstan of Winchester and the Vita S. Oswaldi by Byrhtferth of Ramsey - do have certain ideas in common, there are also significant contrasts between the two, leading to the conclusion that Winchester and Ramsey valued different qualities in the depiction of, and perhaps even qualifications for, sainthood, and constructed the sanctity of their monastic patrons accordingly. The fundamental basis for both Æthelwold's and Oswald's claim to sanctity is the same: it was their roles as Benedictine monks and promoters of Benedictine monasticism which placed them in the ranks of confessors, thereby qualifying them for sanctity.