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 that was trying to blend in with the Normans at that time.[2] She was head of a community of nuns.

Early Life[edit]

Originally named Theodora at birth, she was born into a wealthy merchant family.[3] Her mother's name was Beatrix in an effort to appear more Norman, and her father's was Auti. Her 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]

As a young child, Theodora is said to have talked to Christ "as if he was a man whom she could see."[1] She befriended an older man named Sueno who became her first 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. As a teenager, Theodora visited St Alban's Abbey in Hertfordshire with her parents. The visit apparently instilled in her a deep faith and she was prompted to make a private vow of chastity.[4] She told Sueno, but no one else.

Marriage[edit]

While visiting her aunt Elfgifu, Theodora met Bishop Ranulf Flambard. Her aunt was the bishop's concubine and he sought to make Christina his concubine as well. According to one account, when Ranulf attempted to force his attentions on her, she suggested that she lock the door. When he agreed, she proceeded to do so, from the outside.[5] Rebuffed, he then exacted revenge by brokering a marriage for her. He devised a plan for a young nobleman named Beorhtred to marry Theodora.[1] Her parents readily agree.

However, in keeping with her vow, Theodora refused. Her parents were furious and arranged for Beorhtred to have access to her room, only to discover the next morning that they had spent the night discussing religious subjects. On one occasion Theodora recounted the life of St. Cecilia, who according to legend, was guarded on her wedding night by a vengeful angel. On another occasion, she hid behind a tapestry while Beorhtred searched for her in vain. Word got around of Theodora's plight, and a hermit name Eadwine, with the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, helped her escape, disguised in men's clothes. Eadwine took her to stay with an anchoress at Flamstead, named Alfwen, who hid her from her family.[3] Theodora changed her name to Christina.

Anchoress[edit]

She next found shelter with Roger, a hermit and sub-deacon from the St Alban's Abbey, whose cell was at Markyate.[5] She spent her time in prayer, sewing to support herself. She was a skilled needlewoman, later embroidering three mitres of superb workmanship for Pope Adrian IV.[6] After two years, Beorhtard released Christina from the marriage contract, and Archbishop Thurstan of York formally annulled the marriage in 1122.[5] After the annulment, Christinas was able to come out of hiding, and moved to a small hut.[3]

Prioress[edit]

Upon the death of Roger, Christina took over the hermitage, near St. Alban's monastery, where she reportedly experienced frequent visions of Jesus, Mary, and Saint Margaret. Other women, including her sister Margaret, joined her. Christina took her vows at St Albans in 1131. Markyate Priory was established in 1145.[6]

Geoffrey de Gorham became abbot of St Albans in 1119. As prioress Christina became a close friend and councilor to the abbot. Their friendship was such that it is said that he altered the St. Albans Psalter as a gift for her, having an illuminated "C" placed at the beginning of Psalm 105.[4]

Hagiography[edit]

Her Vita was apparently written by a monk of St Alban's Abbey. Christina's hagiography is considered to be one of the most realistic hagiographies that we know of. [7] 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]

In the light of the priory's legal foundations by St Paul's, the friendship between Christina and Geoffrey seems likely to go back to fiction by Matthew Paris (c. 1200 – 1259) who pretended in his chronicle that the St Alban's abbey had the clerical competence for the nuns of Markyate. "It would almost seem that in the Gesta Abbatum the origins of Markyate and Sopwell have been confused. There Markyate Prioryis said to have arisen through the occupation of the hermitage of Roger, a former monk of St. Albans, by a saintly recluse called Christina, for whom abbot Geoffrey built a house. But in reality Markyate was not dependent on St. Albans, as it would have been if founded by the abbot, and as Sopwell was."[8] "It is therefore altogether very possible that what we are dealing with here is a later piece of fiction from a monastic chronicler."[9] A medieval cult of the anchoress Christina is not substantiated by the liturgical or historical sources.[10] The existence of the vita and references to Christina in the Gesta Abbatum Monasterii Sancti Albani still suggest some interest in instigating such a cult in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e 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. ^ a b c "Christina of Markyate", Diocese of Ely
  4. ^ a b Urquhart, Toni. "A book for Christina of Markyate" Florida State University Special Collections & Archives division
  5. ^ a b c Speigel, Frances. "Christina of Markyate: A Medieval Woman Who Refused Marriage", Decoded Past, September 15. 2014
  6. ^ a b "The Personalities", St. Alban's Psalter, University of Aberdeen
  7. ^ Amt, Emilie (2010). Women's Lives in Medieval Europe (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 71. ISBN 9780415466837. 
  8. ^ William Page, The Victoria history of the county of Hertford , 4, London 1914, p 422
  9. ^ Bernhard Gallistl, "The Christina of Markyate Psalter" A Modern Legend: On the Purpose of the St. Albans Psalter, Concilium medii aevi, 17, 2014, p.45,[1]
  10. ^ Rachel M. Koopmans, The Conclusion of Christina of Markyate’s Vita, Journal of Ecclesiastical history 51,4, 2000, p. 663– 698
  11. ^ Kathryn Gerry, Cult and Codex: Alexis, Christina and the Saint Albans Psalter. Der Albani-Psalter: Gottesfurcht & Leidenschaft / The St. Albans Psalter: Piety & Passion: 61–87.

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