Friday, 25 March 2016

Jocelin and his Vita Patricii: 'undervalued for far too long'

We conclude the octave of posts in honour of the feast of Saint Patrick with a final tribute to Jocelin of Furness and his Life of Patrick by one of the current generation of scholars who are reassessing the author and his work. I was only recently able to find an affordable copy of Helen Birkett's study of Jocelin and his Vitae and am finding it a fascinating read. In the extracts below, Birkett lays out her conclusions, first on the Life of Patrick and then more generally. Her initial thoughts reminded me that one of the basic rules of the modern approach to hagiography laid down by Pére Delehaye is 'that whatever a vita tells us, it tells us more about the time of its composition - its theology, spirituality, politics - than of the time of the saint, and more about the mind of the hagiographer than of the mind of the saint':
The Vita Patricii was not commissioned to document the life of a fifth-century missionary but to record the legend of a twelfth-century saint. It offered a carefully crafted version of Patrick as a figure who was recognizable in both word and deed but also as one who was clothed in contemporary fashions and values and .... whose face was turned firmly towards a twelfth century present... 
...The Vitae can now be recognised for the complex, carefully constructed and communicative texts that they are. Jocelin too, must be reconsidered. As an author whose movements and patronage have been shown to straddle various geo-political, ecclesiastical and cultural boundaries, he emerges from this study as a potentially significant figure for our understanding of wider British history during this period, a time which saw the increasing permeability of these borders. This is not to make an extravagant claim about Jocelin's importance but merely to bring greater attention to the work of a writer who has been undervalued for far too long.

Helen Birkett, The Saints' Lives of Jocelin of Furness: Hagiography, Patronage and Ecclesiastical Politics ( York Medieval Press, 2010), 51-2, 285.

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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Saint Patrick's Aunt

We have seen that Jocelin's Life of Saint Patrick provided our patron with an extended family, with an emphasis not on the line of the father and grandfather named in Saint Patrick's own writings but on the matrilineal. In the opening chapter of his Life, Jocelin introduces not only the French mother of Saint Patrick but her unnamed sister who is to play a part in the saint's childhood. Both of these women are depicted as having been brought to Britain as slaves, but Conchessa rises above this station to marry Patrick's father:
THERE was once a man named Calphurnius, the son of Potitus, a presbyter, by nation a Briton, living in the village Taburnia (that is, the field of the tents, for that the Roman army had there pitched their tents), near the town of Empthor, and his habitation was nigh unto the Irish Sea. This man married a French damsel named Conchessa, niece of the blessed Martin, Archbishop of Tours; and the damsel was elegant in her form and in her manners, for, having been brought from France with her elder sister into the northern parts of Britain, and there sold at the command of her father, Calphurnius, being pleased with her manners, charmed with her attentions, and attracted with her beauty, very much loved her, and, from the state of a serving-maid in his household, raised her to be his companion in wedlock. And her sister, having been delivered unto another man, lived in the aforementioned town of Empthor. (Chapter I, p.135)
As we saw yesterday, the anonymous aunt is actively involved in the care of her nephew Patrick and his sister Lupita:
And Patrick, the child of the Lord, was then nursed in the town of Empthor, in the house of his mother's sister, with his own sister Lupita. (Chapter IV, p.138)
Auntie is also depicted as being involved in agriculture and in the episode below she falsely accuses her nephew of being negligent in his duties as a shepherd. In true hagiographical style our saint patiently bears the injustice and by his faith is able to vindicate himself:
WHILE Saint Patrick was a little boy, his aunt entrusted him with the care of the sheep, and to these he diligently attended with his aforementioned sister. ...But as the boy Patrick was one day in the fields with his flock, a wolf, rushing from the neighboring wood, caught up a ewe-lamb, and carried it away. Returning home at evening from the fold, his aunt chided the boy for negligence or for sloth; yet he, though blushing at the reproof, patiently bore all her anger, and poured forth his prayers for the restoration of the ewe-lamb. In the next morning, when he brought the flock to the pasture, the wolf ran up, carrying the lamb in his mouth, laid it at Patrick's feet, and instantly returned to the wood. And the boy gave thanks to the Lord, who, as he preserved Daniel from the hungry lions, so now for his comfort had saved his lamb uninjured from the jaws of the wolf. (Chapter VIII, p.142-143)
In a second episode involving the young Patrick and his aunt's livestock, she is presumably rather happier that he is on hand to deal with an outbreak of mad cow disease:
THE aunt who had nursed Saint Patrick had many cows, one of which was tormented with an evil spirit; and immediately the cow became mad, and tore with her feet, and butted with her horns, and wounded five other cows, and dispersed the rest of the herd. And the owners of the herd lamented the mishap, and the cattle fled from her fury as from the face of a lion. But the boy Patrick, being armed with faith, went forward, and, making the sign of the cross, freed the cow from the vexation of the evil spirit; then drawing near to the wounded and prostrate cows, having first prayed, he blessed them and restored them all even to their former health. And the cow, being released from the evil spirit, well knowing her deliverer, approached with bended head, licking the feet and the hands of the boy, and turned every beholder to the praise of God and the veneration of Patrick. (Chapter IX, p.143-144).
Overall, I am left with the impression that although the aunt remains anonymous she is nonetheless an important part of the extended family supplied by Jocelin for Saint Patrick. And with her 'many' cows she also appears to have been of some means. It leaves me wondering therefore, why the writer was unable to furnish a name for her.

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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Saint Patrick Heals His Sister Lupita

As we have already seen, Jocelin's Life of Saint Patrick supplies our patron with a trio of sisters and goes on to name their offspring as his willing cooperators in the mission to Ireland. Jocelin features one of the sisters, Lupita, in the earlier section of the Life dealing with Patrick's childhood, where he presents the pair as having been raised together in the home of their maternal aunt:
And Patrick, the child of the Lord, was then nursed in the town of Empthor, in the house of his mother's sister, with his own sister Lupita. (Chapter IV, p.138)
Lupita then features in her own miracle story in Chapter VI when she suffers a bad fall. Although other family and friends rush to offer assistance, needless to say there is really only one person able to heal her - her brother Patrick:

 How the Sister of St. Patrick was healed. 
 ON a certain day the sister of Saint Patrick, the aforementioned Lupita, being then of good stature, had run about the field, at the command of her aunt, to separate the lambs from the ewes, for it was then weaning time, when her foot slipped, and she fell down and smote her head against a sharp flint, and her forehead was struck with a grievous wound, and she lay even as dead; and many of the household ran up, and her kindred and her friends gathered together to comfort the maiden wounded and afflicted; and her brother came with the rest, compassionating his sister, but confiding in the divine medicine; for, drawing near, he raised her, and, touching with his spittle the thumb of his right hand, he imprinted on her forehead, stained with blood, the sign of the cross, and forthwith he healed her; yet the scar of the wound remained as a sign, I think, of the miracle that was performed, and a proof of the holiness of him who, by his faith in the cross of Christ, had done this thing. (Chapter VI, p.141)

Tomorrow I will look a bit more at the figure of the aunt in Jocelin's Life of Patrick.

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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

How Saint Lumanus Sailed against the Wind and the Stream

Yesterday we were introduced to the extended family of Saint Patrick as recorded by Jocelin of Furness in his Life of the saint. Today we look at the account of a miraculous voyage by one of the reputed nephews of Saint Patrick, Lumanus, in the service of his uncle's Irish mission:


How Saint Lumanus Sailed against the Wind and the Stream. 

AND Saint Patrick, having sailed over from Ulidia, came unto the territory of Midia, at the mouth of the river Boinn, among barbarians and idolaters; and he committed his vessel and its tackle unto his nephew, Saint Lumanus, enjoining him that he should abide there at the least forty days, the while he himself would go forward to preach in the interior parts of the country. But Lumanus, abiding there the messenger of light, and being made obedient through the hope of obtaining martyrdom, doubled the space of time that was enjoined unto him, which no one of his companions, even through the fear of their lives, dared to do. Yet was not this child of obedience disappointed of his reward. For while he received the seed of obedience, he brought forth unto himself the fruit of patience, and deserved to fertilize strange lands, even with the seed of the divine Word, to the flourishing of the flowers of faith and the fruits of justice; and the more devotedly he obeyed his spiritual father, the more marvellously did the elements obey him. And having fulfilled there twice forty days, and being wearied with the continual expectation of the saint's return, on a certain day, the wind blowing strongly against him, he hoisted the sails, and, trusting in the merits of Saint Patrick, even by the guidance of the vessel alone passed he over unto the place where he was appointed to meet him. O miracle till then unheard and unknown! The ship, without any pilot, sailed against the wind and against the stream, at the bidding of the man of God, and bore him with a prosperous course from the mouth of the Boinn even to Athtrym; and He who formerly turned back the stream of Jordan unto its fountain did, for the merits of Patrick, guide the vessel against the wind and against the stream.

Rev. James O'Leary, The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick including the Life by Jocelin, (New York, 1904), 191.

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Monday, 21 March 2016

Extending Saint Patrick's Family

The Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness added to the stock of stories surrounding our patron saint. This included the development of an extended family for Saint Patrick, who in his own writings had mentioned only the names of his father and grandfather. As we will see in the extract below, Jocelin supplies a trio of sisters for our patron and their offspring in turn become Uncle Patrick's willing helpers in his Irish mission:
Of the Sisters and the Nephews of St. Patrick.  
AND the saint had three sisters, memorable for their holiness and for their justice, and they were pleasing unto the Lord; and of these the names were Lupita, Tygridia, and Darercha. And Tygridia was blessed with a happy fruitfulness, for she brought forth seventeen sons and five daughters. And all her sons became most wise and holy monks, and priests, and prelates; and all her daughters became nuns, and ended their days as holy virgins; and the names of the bishops were Brochadius, Brochanus, Mogenochus, and Lumanus, who, with their uncle, Saint Patrick, going from Britain into Ireland, earnestly laboring together in the field of the Lord, they collected an abundant harvest into the granary of heaven. And Darercha, the youngest sister, was the mother of the pious bishops, Mel, Moch, and Munis, and their father was named Conis. And these also accompanied Saint Patrick in his preaching and in his travel, and in divers places obtained the episcopal dignity. Truly did their generation appear blessed, and the nephews of Saint Patrick were a holy heritage. 
In his 1985 study of medieval households, which includes a chapter on Ireland, scholar David Herlihy puts Jocelin's account of Patrick's family into context:
The Irish lives make frequent mention of the avunculate tie, and of other relationships running though women. In the life of St Patrick written by the English Cistercian Jocelin of Furness (after about 1180), Patrick is represented as the great-nephew of St Martin of Tours; his mother Conquessa is Martin's niece.  Jocelin is the first to claim that the two saints were related, and significantly, he runs their blood tie through two women.  Still according to Jocelin, to his cognatus Patrick, Martin gives  the monastic habit and his rule. As a boy, Patrick had been reared in his aunt's house in a town called Nemphtor (presumably Clyde) in northern Britain. The aunt was his mother's sister. Patrick himself had three sisters, one of whom, Lupita, had seventeen sons and five daughters. They all become priests and nuns, and all come to help Patrick on his mission; so also did his other nephews, sons of sisters. "Truly the offspring of these [sisters] appears blessed... and a holy inheritance was the nephews of St Patrick". The embellishments, which Jocelin added to the ancient legends of Patrick, are extraordinarily rich in matrilineal allusions.
David Herlihy, Medieval Households (Harvard and London, 1985), 41.

Tomorrow we will look at a miracle recorded in Jocelin's Life which involved one of these reputed nephews, Bishop Lumanus.

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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Saint Patrick: An Acceptable Saint in 12th-century England

As we have just witnessed the annual and ever-growing phenomenon of Saint Patrick's Day being celebrated all over the world (and not just by people of the Irish diaspora), I found it interesting to reflect that his cult had already spread beyond these shores in medieval times. Jocelin of Furness was one of three English writers who wrote a Life of Patrick in the twelfth century. I have already made a post on the conclusions of Professor Robert Bartlett on this subject here. The conclusion of another recent scholar is also worth considering in trying to put Jocelin's work into context:
In the 12th century the British Isles were free from hagiographical barriers: cults of Irish saints, notably Patrick and Brigid, were perfectly acceptable in England. No reader of the twelfth-century Life of Patrick by Jocelin of Furness, which was dedicated to the Ulster conquistador John de Courcy, as well as to northern Irish bishops, could avoid the message that Patrick the Briton's career belonged to Britain and Europe as well as to Ireland.
R. Frame, 'Exporting state and nation: being English in medieval Ireland' in L. Scales and O. Zimmer, eds., Power and the Nation in European History (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005), 155.

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Saturday, 19 March 2016

Jocelin's Secular Patron: John de Courcy

We continue the series of posts on the Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin of Furness with a look at the secular authority who commissioned its writing - the Anglo-Norman adventurer, John de Courcy. In 2012 I attended a conference on the theme of John de Courcy and the Normans in Downpatrick at which I was privileged to hear several leading scholars in the field talk about this compelling yet still enigmatic figure in our history. The term adventurer is a particularly apt one for de Courcy as he was a man who seems to have made his own luck. He was the son of a younger son of the de Courcy family and thus whilst he had the family name he had no prospect of inheriting the family land. John arrived in Ireland in the autumn of 1176, landing in Dublin with a small group of 22 knights and 300 other soldiers. He left the garrison without permission and led his band northwards, passing peaceably through two Irish kingdoms and possibly even recruiting Irish auxiliaries en route. He appears to have exploited the rivalries between native rulers and arrived unannounced in Downpatrick, taking the town the following summer after two bloody battles. The entire enterprise was undertaken without the consent of King Henry II and as his newly-conquered Ulster territory did not adjoin any other Anglo-Norman lands, de Courcy was free to run it as his personal possession. This independence eventually caused him to fall foul of King Henry's successor, King John, and by 1204 John de Courcy drops out of the historical record, with even the date and circumstances of his death uncertain.

So where does the commissioning of a Life of Saint Patrick fit into all of this? Well, for one thing John de Courcy may well have been aware of the cult of Saint Patrick before he ever set foot in Ireland. Steve Flanders has established in his research that a network of family ties stretching from the de Courcy family seat in Somerset through to Cumbria and back to their original homeland in Normandy was of vital importance to John. The cult of Patrick was known in Normandy, it was also known in Somerset at Glastonbury, near the family seat of Stogursey (Stoke Courcy) and it is also reflected in the place names of northern Britain, in Gospatrick in Cumbria, for example. Jocelin himself alludes to de Courcy's reputation as an admirer of Saint Patrick as he lays out the reasons behind the writing of his work saying that he has been 'enjoined by the commands of the most reverend Thomas, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, and of Malachy, the Bishop of Down; and to these are added the request of John de Courcy, the most illustrious Prince of Ulidia, who is known to be the most especial admirer and honorer of St. Patrick, and whom we think it most becoming to obey' (Proeme, p.133).

Certainly the commissioning of the Life was but one example of John de Courcy's promotion of the cult of Saint Patrick in Down. Another tangible expression was the issuing of a coin bearing the inscription Patricius, which is today used as the logo of the Down Museum, as their website explains:
The Down County Museum logo is based on a coin minted by John de Courcy, about 1190, probably in Downpatrick. It has the name of Patrick, with a crozier, on one side and of de Courcy on the other. It was a symbolic linking of the religious and political associations of the area and because it did not bear the head of Prince John, Lord of Ireland, it was a declaration of independence by de Courcy.
The other main evidence for de Courcy's adoption of Saint Patrick is the role which he played in the discovery of the bodies of the three patrons at Down in 1185. His fellow Norman, the chronicler Gerald of Wales, placed John at the centre of the action writing in his Expugnatio Hibernica:
John de Courcy having discovered a precious treasure, the bodies of three Saints, Patrick, Bridget and Columba, at Down, these relics were by his care translated. (Chap. XXXIV, p. 77).    
Scholar Helen Birkett, however, feels that the primary role in this great discovery was played by Malachy, bishop of Down,  but to examine that will require a separate post.

I find John de Courcy's relationship with Saint Patrick and with Saints Brigid and Colum Cille a fascinating one. Obviously there seems to be more than a touch of self-interest involved in his desire to talk up and appropriate the Patrician associations with Down, the territory he conquered. He was doubtless spurred on by what seems to have been a genuine belief  that he was the 'white knight on the white horse' who would be the first to conquer Ulster, spoken about in a book of prophecies attributed to Saint Colum Cille and which Gerald of Wales tells us de Courcy was supposed to carry on his person as one of his prized possessions.  He remains for me one of the more interesting historical characters to have had a relationship with Ireland's patron saints.

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