JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE AND ITS CONTEXTS ©1997-2015 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY  || JULIAN OF NORWICH  || SHOWING OF LOVE || HER TEXTS || HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME ||  ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN  ||  BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE  || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM || THE CLOISTER  || ITS SCRIPTORIUM  || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER|| CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || Apply to The British Library, Picture Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB for reproduction of the Guthlac Roll Y.6l as their copying from this Website is prohibited by them.
 

ALEXANDRA OLSEN

SAINT PEGA AND SAINT GUTHLAC, HERMITS

Detail of Harleian Guthlac Roll Y.6 Image. By Permission of the British Library. Reproduction Prohibited.

aint Pega (d.719) and Saint Guthlac (c. 674 - 714) were sister and brother, like other famous saints, among them Saint Scholastica and Saint Benedict . Their father was named Penwalh, and the family was related to the royal family of the East Angles.

More is known about Saint Guthlac than Saint Pega. Indeed, Donald Atwater's Penguin Book of Saints has no separate entry for Pega but refers the reader to the entry on Guthlac. Their cults were extremely important during the Old and Middle English periods but waned during the late Middle Ages and especially after the Reformation. There are scattered references to Guthlac thereafter. In 1538, for example, a man named John Lambert claimed to have seen "St Guthlake's Psalter" at Crowland Abbey, and the proverb "sweet as Crowland bells" was recorded in 1878 by Samuel Henry Miller, indicating that the saint and the abbey dedicated to him were remembered that late. In 1899, Frances Egerton Arnold-Forster reported that she had seen a statue of Saint Pega in the church dedicated to the saint at Peakirk.

Guthlac's death is noted for 714 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but the principal source for information about Guthlac and Pega is the Anglo-Latin Vita sancti Guthlaci , written by Felix soon after Guthlac's death. Felix describes himself as "catholicae congretationis vernaculus " [a servant of the Catholic community] (60-1) acting under the orders of Ælfwald, king of the East Angles from 713 to 749. The Vita may have been composed for a lay audience even though it is in Latin because it is dedicated to King Ælfwald and emphasizes Guthlac's noble lineage. Guthlac's heroic sanctity is described in terms reminiscent of Beowulf and would have been of interest to the laity. Later epitomes of the Vita by writers like the early twelfth-century Ordericus Vitalis contain additional information about both Guthlac and Pega which may derive from oral tradition. According to Felix, portents surrounded the birth of Guthlac, who was named " ex appellatione illius tribus, quam dicunt Guthlacingas " [from the name of the tribe known as the Guthlacingas] (76-77). The young Guthlac was inspired by " valida pristinorum heroum facta" [the valiant deeds of heroes of old] (80-81) and served in the army of Æthelred of Mercia for nine years, gaining war-booty and attracting followers from many parts of the country. At the age of twenty-four, he began to think about the " miserabiles " [wretched] (82-83) deaths of secular heroes, and he underwent a religious conversion. He joined the monastery of Repton, and two years later became an anchorite at Crowland, on an island at the western edge of the Peterborough Fen.

Guthlac Arriving at Croyland. Harleian Guthlac Roll Y.6. By Permission of The British Library. Reproduction Prohibited.

His sister Pega became an anchorite also, and according to Matthew Paris in the thirteenth-century Chronica Maiora, she originally lived at Crowland with Guthlac. On one occasion, the devil took her form and tried to persuade Guthlac to break his vow never to eat before sunset. To prevent further attempts of this nature, Guthlac ordered Pega to leave the island, and they never met again. She became a solitary in the neighborhood of Crowland, and Peakirk ["Pega's Church"] is named for her.
 

St Pega's Hermitage and Chapel

A church was built on the site of her hermitage, and Anglican nuns formerly occupied a hermitage and chapel dedicated to Saint Pega, though this was deconsecrated in 1995 by the Bishop of Peterborough and sold off.

'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.

Guthlac endured many trials and temptations, which Felix relates in terms reminiscent of the Desert Fathers, especially Saint Anthony of Egypt. Several times, Guthlac was rescued from demons by Saint Bartholomew, to whom he had a special devotion. Like many solitaries, Guthlac loved the birds and beasts, even tolerating the thefts of crows and magpies. He was visited three times by his cousin Æthelbald of Mercia when the latter was in exile and in need of spiritual comfort.

When he was dying, Guthlac sent his servant Beccel to Pega, saying " dicas illi, quia ideo aspectum ipsius in hoc saeculo vitavi, ut in aeternum coram Patre nostro in gaudio sempiterno ad invicem videamur " [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] (154-55). On her way to bury Guthlac, Pega healed a blind man. After praying over Guthlac's body for three days, she buried him " in oratorio suo" [In his oratory] (160). Twelve months later, "inmisit Deus in animum sororis ipsius, ut fraternum corpus alio sepulchro reconderet " [God put it into the heart of his {Guthlac's} sister to place her brother's body in another sepulchre] (160-61).

According to the Historia Croylandensis (of which the Historia Ingulfi is the first section), she left Guthlac's Psalter and a scourge given to the saint by Saint Bartholomew in the possession of Abbot Kenulph of Crowland. Finding Guthlac's body incorrupt, Pega placed it in a monument which King Æthelbald had decorated. According to Ordericus, she went on a pilgrimage to Rome and died there in 719. According to the fourteenth-century Historia Ingulfi , on her arrival in Rome, all the church bells rang to signify her sanctity. Felix says that Guthlac's relics were associated with miracles, and Ordericus recounts the same thing about Pega's relics. He also says that at his time they were kept in a church in Rome that bore her name. A legend known to the Anglican Community of the Holy Family says that Pega was associated with swans.

After Guthlac's death, his hermitage was occupied by a converted pagan named Cissa, who was living there when Felix wrote the Vita. Eventually a monastery was built on the site, but its early history is shrouded in legend. In the thirteenth century, Ordericus visited the monastery and recorded a tradition that it had been founded by Æthelbald, who had confirmed the grant of land he had originally made to Guthlac by a charter (which seems to have been a forgery because it includes anachronisms). Ordericus also says that the monastery was destroyed by the Danes in 870 and refounded in the tenth century; there is, however, no evidence that the monastery was founded before the middle of the tenth century. The Tate Gallery possesses a watercolor showing the ruins of Crowland Abbey .

John Sell Cotman, Croyland Abbey, 1802

Guthlac and Pega are known not only from Latin texts but from those in the vernacular. The earliest is the Old English Martyrology, which its editor, George Herzfeld, dates as early as 850. There are five manuscripts of the Martyrology , of which Herzfeld edited MS Corpus Christi College 41. Like all martyrological entries, these are very brief. That on Guthlac mentions that his birth was marked by signs from Heaven and that an angel of God spoke to him daily while he was a hermit. That on Pega mentions that she healed a blind man with the aid of salt consecrated by Guthlac.

Despite the relative scarcity of texts from the Old English period, there are numerous references to Saint Guthlac. For example, both the tenth-century Leofric Missal and the eleventh-century MS British Museum Harleian 1117 contain masses for the Saint's feastday. There are also an eleventh-century Old English translation of the Vita in MS B.M. Cotton Vespasian Dxxi and two chapters of it are given in the manuscript known as the Vercelli Book (circa 1000), the Anglo-Saxon manuscript in which is also the Long Text of the poem of the Dream of the Rood , brought to Italy by a pilgrim. The Cotton Vespasian version simplifies the elaborate language and episodes of the Vita and focuses the reader's attention on Guthlac. For example, it shortens the account of Guthlac's life and childish virtues in order to emphasize his achievements as an anchorite. Although the dying Guthlac does not speak of his sister by name, Pega is referred to as "Cristes þeowe Pege " (169) [Christ's servant Pega] (169) when she elevates his incorrupt body. The short untitled excerpt in the Vercelli Book is a translation of chapters 28-32 of Felix's Vita, focusing on the episode where the demons take Guthlac to the mouth of Hell and he is rescued by Saint Bartholomew. While MS Cotton Junius D ix, for example, provides a 292-line version of Felix's Vita, including the fact that the dying Guthlac sends "Betel" (l. 261) to "his soster þat Pege het" (l. 263).

Most interesting of the works in Old English are two poems (known as "Guthlac A" and "Guthlac B") in the Exeter Book (circa 1000), available on the Web in a digitalized version of the Guthlac A and B edition by George Phillip Krapp and Elliott van Kirk Dobbie. Both are oral-derived works using the formulaic devices found in Beowulf and the poems of Cynewulf, heightening the heroic story that would have been of interest to an Anglo-Saxon audience. "Guthlac A" is based on oral tradition rather than on Felix's Vita. It seems to have been written for a learned, monastic audience and contrasts transitory earthly joy and eternal heavenly joy. It does not develop as a linear narrative but consists of a series of repeated episodes. Because Guthlac lives in a "beorg " [barrow] (148a) that had been inhabited by devils, the poem reminds Anglo-Saxonists of Beowulf even more than Felix's Vita does. In addition, "Guthlac A" uses formulaic themes like that of Exile and the Cliff of Death to make its subject matter of interest to an Anglo-Saxon audience. Guthlac is a hero in terms of both the monastic and the secular heroic traditions.

Guthlac B" is more closely based on Felix's Vita than is "Guthlac A," but not in a mechanical way. Important images in the poem are death and the Fall, and the poet presents Guthlac's death in a moving way. Death is personified as a warrior attacking Guthlac " hildescurun " [with battle-showers] (1143b), and Guthlac's death itself is depicted in terms of the formulaic theme of the Hero on the Beach. A large portion of "Guthlac B" focuses on Guthlac's "ar " [messenger or servant] (1146a), who is nameless in this version. As in Felix's Vita and its Old English prose translation, Guthlac sends his servant to his "sweostor " [sister] (1179b), but as in the Old English prose, she is nameless in "Guthlac B." As a result of the anonymity of both Pega and Beccel, the poem's focus is on Guthlac as hero. After Guthlac's death, angels carry his soul to " longan gefean" [lasting joy] (1307a), but the conclusion of the poem is lost. The last words of the extant text are a lament by the grieving servant. The poem is elegiac, as is the case of many Old English poems (its tone has been compared to that of the "The Wanderer"), but it reconciles the typically Anglo-Saxon lament for transience and the Christian belief in Heaven.

There are a number of interesting works about Guthlac and Pega composed after the Norman Conquest, most remarkable the Harley Roll (MS British Museum Harleian Roll Y.6), eighteen roundels illustrating scenes from the life of Saint Guthlac. [The pictures in this essay are from the Harley Roll, by permission of the British Museum.] Each picture has a short explanation in Latin. The Harley Roll is usually dated to the abbacy of Henry Longchamp, and the earliest date given for its composition is 1141. Many of the works written during the Middle English period deal only with Guthlac, but the Chronicon ex Chronicis of Florence of Worcester (d. 1118) speaks of Guthlac as " virginis Pegiæ germanus" [the brother of the virgin Pega], leading some scholars to speculate that Florence considered Pega more important than Guthlac.

There were numerous churches dedicated to Guthlac, as well as the one at Peakirk dedicated to Pega. Vernacular references to Guthlac become less frequent after the Norman Conquest than they were before. An intriguing one occurs at the end of one version of the fifteenth-century Sir Gowther: 'There he lyeth in a shryne of gold And doth maracles, as it is told, And hatt Seynt Gotlake'.

Poems about Guthlac appear in three manuscripts of the work known as the South English Legendary (14th c), but neither of the two modern editions of the collection includes the Guthlac material. Much material about Guthlac and Pega must have been lost at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, although antiquarians in the nineteenth century made important discoveries about the cult of Guthlac, which are relevant to the examination of his legend. Charles Kingsley in his 1868 study of hermits acclaims Guthlac as the spiritual father of the University of Cambridge, and therefore of Harvard University. Interest in Guthlac and Pega has risen in the late twentieth century (for example, Olsen), and perhaps the new Millennium will see a revival of the cults of both of them.
 
 

Bibliography

Latin quotations and translations are from the standard edition of Felix's Vita:

Felix's Life of Saint Guthlac. Ed. and trans., Bertram Colgrave. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Other Primary Texts

Florence of Worcester, Chronicon ex Chronicis, ed. Thorpe. London: Sumptibus Societatis, 1848.
Fulman, W. Rerum Anglicarum scriptorum veterum, vol 1. London: E. Theatro Sheldoniae,1684. (Includes Historia Croylandensis)
Gonzer, Paul. Das angelschsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac. Anglistiche Forschungen 27 (1909).
Herzfeld, George. An Old English Martyrology. EETS, O.S. 116. Millwood: Kraus Reprint Co., 1975.
Historia Ingulfi. Ed. H. T. Riley. London: H.G. Bohn, 1854.
Matthew Paris. Chronica Majora . Ed. H. R. Luard. Rolls Series 57 (1872).
Ordericus Vitallis. Abbrevatio . MS Douai, Public Library 852. Unpublished.
Roberts, Jane, ed. The Guthlac Poems of the Exeter Book. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.
Scragg, D. G. The Vercelli Homilies and Related Texts. EETS, 300. Oxford: University Press, 1992

Secondary works

Attwater, Donald. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. Baltimore: Penguin, 1965.
Arnold-Forster, Frances Egerton. Studies in Church Dedications. London: Skeffington and Sons, 1899.
Bolton, Whitney F., "The Middle English and Latin Poems of Saint Guthlac," Ph.D. Dissertation. Princeton University, 1954
Kingsley, Charles. The Hermits . London: Macmillan, 1868.
Miller, Samuel Henry. The Fenland, Past and Present. London: Longmans, 1878.
Olsen, Alexandra H. Guthlac of Croyland: A Study of Heroic Hagiography. Washington: University Press of America, 1981.
 

St Pega's Hermitage and its Chapel when owned by the Anglican Community of the Holy Family, now sold off and deconsecrated


 

Go to Alexandra Olsen, St Pega and St Guthlac in the South English Legendary, St Boniface and his Women Companions



JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE AND ITS CONTEXTS ©1997-2015 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY  || JULIAN OF NORWICH  || SHOWING OF LOVE || HER TEXTS || HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME ||  ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN  ||  BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE  || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM || THE CLOISTER  || ITS SCRIPTORIUM  || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER|| CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY ||