Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

CHRISTINA OF MARKYATE
(ca. 1096/1098-1160)

Britain
Anchoress and Visionary

Young women in the Middle Ages were generally powerless in determining their own future, but Christina of Markyate courageously resisted the life her parents chose for her and instead decided to devote herself to her spiritual calling by becoming an anchoress, or religious recluse, and later, a Benedictine nun.

Although we have little information about Christina's life, we do have an extant narrative chronicling her early years. Like most women of the twelfth century, Christina was probably unable to write; it appears that the memoir was transcribed by a close friend or companion. She was born at the end of the eleventh century to a prosperous Anglo-Saxon family; her given name was Theodora, but she is known by her spiritual name Christina, which she chose to indicate her closeness to Christ. When she was thirteen, she and her family visited St. Alban's Abbey, where she was so impressed by the monastic way of life she witnessed that she promised God she would become a nun. Her parents ignored her vow and insisted that she accept one of her many suitors. A battle of wills ensued between Christina and her parents. Her mother, Beatrix, attempted various strategies to force Christina to yield: purchasing herbal remedies with alleged aphrodisiac effects to tempt her daughter away from her vow of chastity, procuring a local fortune-teller to persuade her to marry, and ultimately beating and publicly humiliating her. Throughout all of this torment, Christina was sustained by her strong faith and her comforting visions of the Virgin Mary. Her parents prevailed, however, and eventually arranged for her to marry a man named Burthred.

Although the marriage took place, it was never consummated, in spite of the extreme measures Christina's parents took to force their daughter's submission to her husband. Christina insisted on her desire for a life of chaste devotion to God, and with the help of some of her spiritual allies, she escaped from the tyranny of her family. One

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