Christina of Markyate

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Christina of Markyate
Image from St. Alban's Psalter, thought to be Christina of Markyate
Thought to be Christina from St. Albans Psalter

Christina of Markyate was born in Huntingdon, England, c. 1096-1098, and died around 1155.[1] Christina was an anchoress and prioress from a wealthy Anglo-Saxon family who were trying to blend in with the Norman's at that time.[2] She was a local saint at St. Alban's Monastery and was head of a community of nuns.

Early Life[edit]

Originally named Theodora at birth, Christina's mother told a story of "knowing" her daughter would be holy because of a dove flying into her sleeve and living their for seven days while she was pregnant.[1] Her mother's name was Beatrix in an effort to appear more Norman, and her father's was Auti.

Christina as a young child talked to Christ "as if he was a man whom she could see." According to her hagiography, Christina beat herself before she was of the age that could know the difference of right and wrong. [1] Christina befriended an older man named Sueno who becomes her first male religious mentor. It is mentioned in her hagiography that Sueno once held an unholy life and that Christina's faith renewed his and they helped each other.

Still in her youth, Christina visits St. Alban's monastery with her parents for the first time. The visit supposedly instills deep faith in her and the next day she goes to church to take vows of chastity and virginity within herself. She tells Sueno after the incident but no one else.

Marriage[edit]

While visiting Christina's aunt Elfgifu, Christina meets Bishop Ranulf Flambard. Chrstina's aunt was the bishop's concubine and he sought to make Christina a concubine of his as well. She rebuffed his advances and he then tried to exact revenge. He talked to a young nobleman named Beorhtred and devised a plan for Beorhtred to marry Christina.[1] Christina's parents readily agree and force Christina to marry him after wearing down her resolve.

Christina, even after they are betrothed, refuses to consummate the marriage. The parents were outraged because the marriage isn't considered legal until it's consummated. They devise plans to get Beorhtred to rape her. This happens several times and each time Beorhtred fails. She talks him out of it the first time and every time after she escapes.

Christina eventually flees Huntingdon to live as an anchoress to escape her husband. While living at St. Alban's Beorhtard comes and formally releases Christina from the marriage so she's free to roam instead of being trapped in a tiny room within the monastery. Eventually Archbishop Thurstan of York formally annuls the marriage, confirms her vows, and allows Beorhterd to remarry.

Holy Life[edit]

Anchoress[edit]

Though her role as an anchoress is debated because being an anchoress was forced on her out of necessity not by choice. However, her hagiography says she was an anchoress first with another anchoress in Flamstead and then at St. Alban's Monastery. Christina was often left all day by herself without food, water or the ability to go to the bathroom since her room was so small. Eventually she developed life long illnesses because of it including blood clots and possibly a stroke. [1]

Nun[edit]

In her hagiography it never clearly states she becomes a nun at St. Alban's while Roger, the owner and a hermit within the monastery, was alive, it is implied. Christina is able to walk the monastery and attend mass like normal, something an anchoress isn't allowed. She also develops a close relationship with Roger during this time and eventually he decides to leave Christina the successor of St. Alban's.

Prioress[edit]

Once Roger dies, Christina is named prioress of St. Alban's monastery. She becomes to head to a community of nuns and a visionary within the area. As a prioress she develops an extremely close relationship with Abbot Geoffrey of St. Alban's. Their friendship was so great it is said that he altered the St. Albans Psalter as a gift for her.

Hagiography[edit]

Christina's hagiography is considered to be one of the most realistic hagiographies that we know of. [3] Some parts still follow the typical route of hagiographies, a vow of chastity, overcoming all obstacles including marriage, and even being an anchoress. However, other parts pull away from the norm. Christina is shown as having power as prioress of St. Albans. She's also one of very few to be shown having sexual desire even though she over comes the desire.

Her hagiography is incomplete. Parts of it were lost in a fire in the 18th century and it is unknown whether the biographer wrote this before or after her death. [1] There is debate on whether or not the hagiography was complete or not before it was burned.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Talbot,, C.H. Trans. (2009). The Life of Christina of Markyate (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199556052. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  2. ^ Karras, Ruth Mazo (1988). "Friendship and Love in the Lives of Two Twelfth-Century English Saints". Journal of Medieval History 14 (4): 306. doi:10.1016/0304-4181(88)90030-9. 
  3. ^ Amt, Emilie (2010). Women's Lives in Medieval Europe (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 71. ISBN 9780415466837. 

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