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Materials for the study of the cult of Saint Agnes of Rome in Anglo-Saxon England : texts and interpretations

Phillips, Christine (2008) Materials for the study of the cult of Saint Agnes of Rome in Anglo-Saxon England : texts and interpretations. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Throughout the Middle Ages, the late antique legends of the early Roman virgin martyrs were frequently retold, translated and adapted by numerous authors for a diverse range of audiences. This thesis seeks to offer some thoughts on the changing symbolism and functions of the figure of the virgin martyr during this period. My dissertation presents a case study of the reception of the legend of St Agnes of Rome into Anglo-Saxon England and its subsequent transformation in the works of Insular authors. The methodology employed in this discussion draws on one current trend in hagiographical studies, which explores the deployment of Biblical themes and images in such works. Many scholars have drawn attention to the use of these allusions which breakdown the narrative boundaries between the hagiographical text and the Bible in order to portray the saint as fulfilling the ultimate goal of all Christians: the perfection of faith and union with Christ This study takes that approach one step further. In the first part of the work I focus on one late antique work: the Passio Sanctae Agnetis (RHL 156). Through an analysis not only of the more apparent Biblical parallels in this text, but also numerous brief textual allusions, I explore how such echoes can refract the martyrdom of one virgin martyr into a wide range of meanings. I argue that due to the centrality of the Bible in the Christian faith, both author and audience shared a common Scriptural vocabulary. The author could therefore deploy Biblical allusions as part of a complex textual strategy to direct an audience to perceive the relationship between the Bible and his or her text. In turn, these associations then allow the hagiographical work to be interpreted on many different exegetical levels. The level of knowledge and the culture milieu of each person who engaged with the text would of course determine the signals that he or she perceived and lead to a diverse range of possible interpretations for one passio. It is this phenomenon that I explore in the second part of the study. Here I examine five Insular adaptations of the late antique passion: the prose and verse narratives of Agnes' martyrdom incorporated into Aldhelm's De uirginitate, Bede's hymn Illuxit alma saeculis, the entry for Agnes' feastday in The Old English Martyrology and the account of Agnes' legend in iElfric's Lives of Saints. My analysis reveals how each author responded to a different set of Biblical resonances present in the Passio Sanctae Agnetis and thus how the tale of one virgin martyr could be retold in many different ways and for many different purposes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > Centre for Medieval Studies (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.507789
Depositing User: EThOS Import (York)
Date Deposited: 11 Nov 2016 17:25
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2016 17:25
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/14131

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