ALEXANDRA H. OLSEN
SAINT PEGA AND SAINT GUTHLAC
IN THE SOUTH ENGLISH LEGENDARY
Detail of Harleian Guthlac Roll Y.6 Image. By Permission of the British Library. Reproduction Prohibited.
t Guthlac (d. 716) and St Pega (d. 719) were two early Anglo-Saxon saints, brother and sister like many famous saints (St Benedict of Nursia and St Scholastica, for example). Manfred Görlach comments that Guthlac's cult existed in a "restricted area" (159) near Croyland Abbey, founded after Guthlac's death on the site of his hermitage. Nine churches still exist that are or formerly were dedicated to the saint, and St Pega's Church at Peakirk is dedicated to his sister.
Despite its limited area, Guthlac's cult was important throughout the Middle Ages, and his legend kept developing through the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century when the latest manuscript of the South English Legendary that includes a Life of Guthlac was copied (see Bolton, 170-71). Pega, however, has practically disappeared from recorded history. She is a mute character in Felix's Vita Sancti Guthlaci, which reports none of her speeches although she buries Guthlac and later elevates his relics. Donald Atwater's Penguin Book of Saints has no separate entry for Pega but refers the reader to the entry on Guthlac. None of the three manuscripts of versions of the Legendary that include the Life of Guthlac include a separate life of Pega although fifteen manuscripts include an independent life of St. Scholastica (see Görlach, 307). The first mention of her in the Anglo-Saxon Life of Guthlac, Felix's Vita , occurs when the dying Guthlac orders his servant Beccel (who is given lines of dialogue), "Perge ad sororem meam Pegam, et dicas illi quia ideo aspectum ipsius in hoc saeculo vitavi, ut in aeternum coram Patre nostro in gaudio semptiterno ad invicem videamur " (154-55) [Go to my sister Pega and tell her that I have in this life avoided her presence so that in eternity we may see one another in the presence of our Father amid eternal joys]. Only the oldest Legendary version of the Life of Guthlac, Cotton Junius D.ix, contains this episode. The Cotton Junius version is the longest (292 lines) and most complete account of Guthlac, and it is the closest to Felix's Vita. The dying Guthlac " Betel ... het gon/ to his soster şat Pege het " (Bolton, 194) and tell her of his death, and Beccel does so:
Bettel wente sone ford after şis holi deşe
to his soster Pege to do şat he him sede
so şat hi come boşe a3en ...
and bureşe him fair ynou. (Bolton, 195)
However, we know from Latin works that the story of Pega was still developing in the thirteenth century. There is an episode found in some late Latin works where the devil takes the form of Pega, who originally lived at Croyland with Guthlac, and tempts Guthlac to break his vow never to eat before sunset, with the result that Guthlac asks Pega to leave the island and never sees her again. This story is found in Matthew Paris' thirteenth-century Chronica Maiora and could have been known to thirteenth-century English writers because it is found in Cambridge manuscript ULC Dd.xi.78. This text relates that the devil "Pe3am simulans" (Bolton, 67) [imitating Pega] tempts Guthlac and that, as a result, brother and sister part. It would certainly have been possible to include a Life of St Pega in the South English Legendary .
The legend of Guthlac continued to develop in Latin and English. The Legendary's version of the Life of Guthlac exists in only three manuscripts because, as Görlach says, the Legendary "is connected with areas outside the restricted area of the Guthlac cult" (159), and is in neither modern edition from EETS. This omission means that modern scholars only have a partial understanding of an important Anglo-Saxon saint and the development of his legend. The South English Legendary lives of St Guthlac were edited by Whitney F. Bolton as his doctoral dissertation, which has never been published. The Guthlac material is also found in a rare German edition by Hans Forstmann.
The three manuscripts that contain versions of the legend of St Guthlac are British Museum Cotton Junius D.ix (late fourteenth century), Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 145 (end of fourteenth century to 1420), and Bodleian 779 (late fourteenth century to early fifteenth century). Their ultimate source is Felix's early eighth-century Vita Sancti Guthlaci. Görlach believes that "Felix's flowery, ambitious style is adapted to the tone of the SEL" (159). He cites "parallels in the wording" (159) including the phrase in Cotton Junius saying that when the devils drag Guthlac through the thorns " he nas noman ilich" (273) in contrast to Felix, who says they were "dilaceratis membrorum " (102-3) [tearing his limbs]. Another example occurs when Felix describes sunset on the day of Guthlac's birth: "priusquam luciflula solis astra occidus finibus vegeretur " (76-77) [before the sun's radiant glory had sunk in the western horizon]. The Legendary simply says, "ar the sonne 3ede to grounde" (Bolton, 184). The Cotton Junius version is the closest to Felix's Vita, but it is greatly abbreviated. Felix's fifty-odd pages of Latin prose become only 292 lines of Middle English verse, and the other two versions are even shorter (104 and 174 lines respectively).
Except for minor dictional differences, all three versions begin with the same 38 lines and have a 24-line passage about Guthlac's birth, mentioning that he was born " be şe kinges dai of Engelond Aşeldreş şe king " and that his parents were "Penwald " and "Tette" (Bolton, 184). They also include what Felix calls the "prodigium divinum" (74-75) [heavenly prodigy] that signals Guthlac's birth, " humana manus croceo rubri nitoris splendore fulgenscens ab aetheris Olimpi nubibus ad patibulum cuiusdam crucis ante ostium domus " (74-75) [a human hand was seen shining with gold-red splendour, and reaching from the clouds of the heavenly Olympus as far as the arms of a certain cross, which stood in front of the door of the house]. This passage provides an example of what Görlach means by "Felix's flowery, ambitious style" (159). In contrast, the Legendary presents the episode rather simply. In Cotton Junius, the passage runs as follows:
child was ibore from şe eir op an hey
a red hond and cler ynou as şat folc ysey
ali3te and blesseş şe dore as şis womman jnne was. (Bolton, 184)
The Legendary version follows Felix's Vita, but it has some important differences as well, including that Felix's elaborate statement that Guthlac is a monk at Repton " bis denis bis binisque alternatium mensium circulis " (86-87) [four and twenty months] before deciding to become a hermit becomes "four and tuenti 3er " (Bolton, 29). Although Bolton feels that the three versions are so different that "they might almost be described as three poems on a similar theme, rather than three versions of a single poem" (175), all three share the substitution of years for months and other important features. The versions are actually remarkably similar until the end when they each abbreviate the account of Guthlac's death but do so in different ways.
I should like to suggest that the versions of the Guthlac legend are so similar as to negate Bolton's suggestion that they are three different poems. I would also like to differ with Katharine G. McMahon's suggestion that the Legendary was "part of a southwest tradition of literature" (19) that was written. Bolton, in fact, notes that all the versions include "formulaic tags" (178), which have been shown to be a sign of oral transmission. The Cotton Junius poet gives a clear indication that his work was intended for oral presentation because he twice addresses his audience: "jch wene so wolde ech of 3ou şat hadde ibe wit him şere" and " for God şer nis non of 3ou " (Bolton, 189). I believe that the three versions of the Guthlac material show the signs of oral transmission and that they are the type of work whose source was literate and Latin but which was composed orally in the vernacular. The work is thus part of the complex and rich interaction between Latin and English cultures.
The Legendary versions of the Life of Guthlac translate Felix's Latin prose--a precise written source--as rhymed verse of the kind that suggests oral transmission. The rhymes are the same in all three versions when the material is the same, but the lines often vary in an unpredictable way. The passage quoted above about the miracle at Guthlac's birth has identical rhyming words in all three texts, allowing for differences of dialect: "hey " and "ysey" and "was" and " cas". However, the Cotton Junius manuscript has omitted "was ," and an editor has to supply it to "complete ... both the rhyme and sense" (Bolton, 197). The rhymes are what William A. Quinn and Audley S. Hall call "systematic" and "predictable," part of a "preestablished rhyming vocabulary" (8) that allowed the work to be composed and transmitted orally. However, the lines themselves vary in a way consonant with oral rather than written composition. A formulaic tag ends the first line of the passage; Cotton Junius says "as şat folc ysey " (Bolton, 184) and Corpus Christi College " alle volk hi sey3" (Bolton, 221). However, Bodleian says "bare as şat folk jsey3 " (Bolton, 210). The addition of "bare " is the type of substitution seldom made by literate poets, who seek le mot juste, and "bare" adds no essential information to the line and also adds a thirteenth syllable to the twelve-syllable line. It is the kind of substitution that suggests that this poem was a reconstruction of some original version made by a poet trained in the techniques of oral-formulaic composition. It is intriguing that Bodleian is the latest manuscript, because words tend to get added to lines in late versions of poems. If we assume that Cotton Junius is closest to the original poem because it is closest to Felix, it is interesting that the other versions frequently add words to the lines. For example, Cotton Junius tells us that the red hand returns to Heaven after it miraculously announces Guthlac's birth: " suşşe fley op a3en" (10). In Bodleian, the hand "suşşe fley vp an hy ," and "hy" adds no essential information to the line. Corpus Christi College provides a third variant of the line, "and anon vly3 up a3eyn " (Bolton, 221), and the substitution of "anon " for "suşşe " does not mean that the three versions are separate poems. All three lines convey the same information, but in slightly different ways.
It is clear that Guthlac's cult and legend were still developing when the South English Legendary was compiled because there are some differences of content between the versions. All the incidents in Cotton Junius are based on Felix, but this is not the case with the other two versions, each of which has incidents that are found only in them and neither in Felix nor any other version. According to Corpus Christi College, the man who guided Guthlac to Croyland is given the saint's clothes in exchange for his promise to leave him "şre loues of clene barlich bred" (Bolton, 223) a month, and the passage occupies seven lines out of the 174 in the manuscript. The other passage, which it is twenty-three lines long, occurs when the devil tries to "brynge [Guthlac] into glotenye " (Bolton, 227). The passage unique to Bodleian is only four lines long, which is unsurprising in so short a version. It describes how Guthlac lives in holiness and teaching after conquering the devils:
and şus he leued mony a 3er jn wildernesse
and forsoke şe worldes ioye and Cristes word he gan lere
to hem şat to him woldin come and chriffte of hem bede
he hem lered wel to do and good lif wel to lede. (Bolton, 214)
A proper appreciation of
Guthlac's cult and his place in English history depends on
knowledge of these texts. Klaus Janofsky suggests that the
author of the Legendary "wants his audience to see and
feel what the Christian Life should be like and that it is
worthwhile. ... He provides a subtle ... answer to the great
question ... How to live? (77)." The Life of Guthlac
provides such an answer.
Atwater, Donald. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. Baltimore: Penguin, 1965.
Bolton, Whitney F., "The Middle English and Latin Poems of Saint Guthlac." Diss.: Princeton, 1954.
Colgrave, Bertram. Felix's Life of Saint Guthlac. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1956.
Charlotte and Anna J. Mill, eds. The South English
Legendary . EETS 235, 236, and 244. London:
Forstmann, Hans. Untersuchungen zur Guthlac-Legende. Bonner Beiträge aur Anglistik, 12 (1902).
Görlach, Manfred. The Textual Tradition of the South English Legendary . Leeds: U of Leeds, 1974.
Horstmann, Carl, ed. The Early South English Legendary. EETS 87. London: Trübner, 1887.
Jankofsky, Klaus P., ed. "Personalized Didacticism: The Interplay of Narrator and Subject Matter in the South English Legendary." Texas A & I University Studies 10 (1977): 69-77.
Olsen, Alexandra H. Guthlac of Croyland: A Study of Heroic Hagiography . Washington: University Press of America, 1981.
Matthew Paris. Chronica majora. Ed. Henry Richards Luard. Rolls Series 57 (1872).
McMahon, Katherine G. "St. Scholastica - Not a Wife!" In Jankofsky, The South English Legendary: A Critical Assessment. Tübingen: Francke, 1992. Pp. 18-28.
William A. and Audley S. Hall. Jongleur: A Modified Theory
of Oral Improvisation and its Effects on the Performance and
Transmission of Middle English Romance. Washington: UP
of America, 1982.
Guthlac Arriving at
Croyland. Harleian Guthlac Roll Y.6. By Permission of The
British Library. Reproduction Prohibited.
'Pega soror Guthlaci'
Having to Leave Croyland. (A later scribbler adds spectacles
to Guthlac and to the boatman, to whom he also awards a
feather for his coif.) Harleian Guthlac Roll Y.6. By
Permission of The British Library. Reproduction Prohibited.
John Sell Cotman, Croyland Abbey, 1802
St Pega's Hermitage and its Chapel, when owned by the Anglican Community of the Holy Family, now sold off and deconsecrated
Alexandra H. Olsen
Department of English
University of Denver
Denver, CO 80208
Go to Alexandra Olsen, St Pega and St Guthlac, St Boniface and his Women Companions
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