The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness. Hagiography, Patronage and Ecclesiastical Politics

By Bell, David N. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness. Hagiography, Patronage and Ecclesiastical Politics


Bell, David N., The Catholic Historical Review


The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness. Hagiography, Patronage and Ecclesiastical Politics. By Helen Birkett. (Rochester, NY: York Medieval Press in association with Boydell & Brewer. 2010. Pp. xii, 326. $115.00. ISBN 978-1-903-15333-8.)

Little is known of the life of Jocelin of Furness. He was a priest-monk of the Cistercian abbey of Furness is what is now Cumbria, and his writings indicate that he was active from about 1174 to 1214 (when he probably died). Efforts to identify him with two other Jocelins- one the abbot of Furness, the other the abbot of Rushen (a daughter-house of Furness)- remain unconvincing. Jocelin's literary endeavors compose the four saints' lives that are the subject of Helen Birkett's detailed study, and (according to Thomas Tanner) a work De Britonum episcopis, which, if it was indeed a product of Jocelin's pen, has not survived.

The four saints' lives are those of Patrick who, as everyone knows, expelled the snakes from Ireland (Jocelin is the earliest source for this tale); Helena, the mother of Constantine; Kentigern (t c. 612), the Scottish missionary who was bishop of Strathcryde; and the more obscure but attractive figure of Waltheof orWaldef (c. 1100-59), an Austin canon who transferred to the Cistercians and became abbot of Melrose. Birkett's admirable study of these four vitae reveals the contexts in which they were composed, the audiences for which they were intended, how they reflect the complex political and ecclesiastical situation of the times, and how the author adapted the material to satisfy the interests of his patrons. Who were these patrons?

The Life of Patrick was commissioned by Tomai tach, archbishop of Armagh; Malachy, bishop of Down; and John de Courcy, the Anglo-Norman ruler of what are now the counties of Down and Antrim, and the work attests to "the close alliance of the reformed church and the new Anglo-Norman regime in the north of Ireland" (p.

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