Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Geoffrey of Burton: Life and Miracles of St Modwenna

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Geoffrey of Burton: Life and Miracles of St Modwenna

Article excerpt

Geoffrey of Burton: Life and Miracles of St Modwenna, ed. Robert Bartlett, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002). Ixxi + 230 pp. ISBN o-19-820606-2. £45.00.

Burton Abbey, founded in 1004, originally had no saint's cult of its own, but its monks found one nearby on the island of Andresey in the Trent. Unfortunately the saint in question, Modwenna, was extremely obscure. Luckily, however, her name was close enough to that of an Irish saint, Moninna of Killevy (also known as Darerca), for the two to be conflated, a process begun in the eleventh century by an Irish hagiographer, Conchubranus, who rewrote an earlier life of Moninna in a longer version which made the saint travel (on a floating island) to Scotland and England to found monasteries, including a church on Andresey. The earliest Life of Moninna made her a contemporary of Patrick and Brigid; Conchubranus added Columcille and an Anglo-Saxon prince called Alfred. When in 1114 Geoffrey, a monk of Winchester, became abbot of Burton, he tried to find out as much as possible about the traditions of his new community. Since he was a good businessman, he undertook two surveys of the abbey's lands, and (equally prudently) developed a strong devotion to the cult of Modwenna and made enquiries in Ireland for material about her. Eventually a copy of Conchubranus' Life arrived at Burton. It satisfied Geoffrey's thirst for information, but its style was displeasing, and he therefore decided to rewrite it. Apart from a literary style with greater pretensions (Robert Bartlctt underlines its monastic and sermonizing qualities), the main changes Geoffrey made were to add more details about Modwenna's Anglo-Saxon associates, with Alfred now being clearly identified as Alfred of Wessex, and a whole new set of posthumous miracles worked at the saint's shrine at Burton between the middle of the eleventh century and Geoffrey's own abbatiate. …

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