Narratives of the Saintly Body in Anglo-Saxon England

Thesis or Dissertation


This dissertation investigates narratives of the saintly body in Anglo-Saxon England that were written between the late seventh century and the late tenth century. Specifically, it examines the ways in which the bodies of holy men and women were constructed through these narratives, and read in local appropriations of emblematic vitae and passiones. The saints depicted in these accounts" to whatever extent these narratives rewrote biblical, exegetical, or hagiographic texts" illustrate various manifestations of sanctity. Indeed, sanctity itself is a mutable discourse, variously shaped from text to text in order to uphold other key discourses therein, such as those of chastity, Christian kingship, penitence, and reformed monasticism. This mutability is made clear in the texts that this study analyzes: the Anglo-Latin Prosa de virginitate and Carmen de virginitate by Aldhelm and the Ecclesiastical History by Bede, as well as the anonymous Old English Martyrology and Aelfric’s Lives of Saints. In these works, the textualized body of the saint provides fertile ground for narrative constructions of sanctity, regardless of the genre in which that body figures: it is clear that the processes underlying these constructions are always inflected by the historical circumstances surrounding the Marianne Alicia Malo Chenardproduction of the texts in which the saintly body is narrated. In the first chapter, Aldhelm’s delicate negotiations of virginity (in the bodily and spiritual dimensions of virginitas) illustrate the intimate connection of sanctity with a body part; in this case, the present or absent hymen. The second chapter examines how the metonymic value of the saintly body in Bede’s account of King Oswald contributes to the cult of a warrior king. The third chapter, which discusses the harlot saints Mary Magdalene and Pelagia, assesses the Old English martyrologist’s narrative focus on the penitents' nakedness. The final chapter examines Aelfric’s narrative portrayal of the breost [breast] in his passiones of the virgin martyrs Agatha and Eugenia. In these two accounts from the Lives of Saints, the breost emerges as the focal point of a discourse of chastity that, in the context of the Benedictine reforms, uses the female body as the ground of argument.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12022003-012945

Author Marianne Alicia Malo Chenard
Advisor Graham Hammill
Contributor Graham Hammill, Committee Member
Contributor Maura Nolan, Committee Member
Contributor Michael Lapidge, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Katherine OBrien OKeeffe, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Jill Mann, Committee Member
Degree Level 2
Degree Discipline English
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Defense Date
  • 2003-11-21

Submission Date 2003-12-02
  • United States of America

  • gender

  • chastity

  • discourse

  • saint

  • textuality

  • Anglo-Latin

  • Old English

  • medieval

  • hagiography

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Access Rights Open Access
Content License
  • All rights reserved