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Woman under Monasticism By Lina Eckenstein Characters: 58217

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

'Et ut dicitur, quid dulcius est, quam habeas illum, cum quo omnia possis loqui ut tecum?' Eangith to Boniface.

§ 1. The Women corresponding with Boniface.

In the course of the 6th and 7th centuries a number of men left England and settled abroad among the heathen Germans, partly from a wish to gain new converts to the faith, partly because a change of affairs at home made them long for a different field of labour. Through the influx of the heathen Anglo-Saxons, the British Christians had been deprived of their influence, and when Christianity was restored it was under the auspices of princes who were favourably inclined towards Rome. Men who objected to the Roman sway sought independence among the heathens abroad in preference to dependence on strangers at home, and it is owing to their efforts that Christianity was introduced into the valleys leading up from the Rhine, into the lake districts of Bavaria, and into Switzerland.

A century later the Church had so far extended the limits of her power that it was felt desirable at Rome that these Christian settlers should be brought into subjection. For the tenets which they held and the traditions which had been handed down to them differed in many ways from what Rome could countenance. They were liberal in tolerating heathen practices, and ignorant of matters of ritual and creed which were insisted on in the Church of Rome. The bishops, who were self-appointed, were won over by the promise of recognising the title to which they laid claim, but the difficulty remained of weaning them from their objectionable practices. Efforts were accordingly made to reconvert the converted districts and to bring some amount of pressure to bear on the clergy.

The representative of this movement in South Germany was Boniface, otherwise called Wynfred, on whom posterity has bestowed the title Apostle of Germany, in recognition of his services in the twofold character of missionary and reformer. He was a native of Wessex, and his mission abroad has an interest in connection with our subject because of the friendly relations he entertained with many inmates of women's houses in England, and because he invited women as well as men to leave England and assist him in the work which he had undertaken.

Boniface had grown up as an inmate of the settlement of Nutshalling near Winchester and first went abroad in 716, but proceeded no further than Utrecht. Conjecture has been busy over the difficulties which took him away, and the disappointments which brought him back. Utrecht was an old Roman colony which had been captured from the Franks by Adgisl, king of the Frisians, who gave a friendly reception there to Bishop Wilfrith in 678. But King Radbod, his successor, was hostile to the Franks and to Christianity, and it was only in deference to the powerful Frankish house-mayor Pippin that he countenanced the settling of Willibrord, a pupil of Wilfrith, with eleven companions in 692. However, owing to Radbod's enmity the position of these monks was such that they were obliged to leave, and it is possible that Boniface when he went to Utrecht was disappointed in not finding them there.

Two years later Boniface went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where the idea of bringing his energies to assist in the extension of Papal influence originated. The Pope furnished him with a letter[364] in which he is directed to reclaim the faithless, and armed with this he travelled in the districts of the Main. But as soon as the news of the death of Radbod the Frisian (? 719) reached him he went to Utrecht, where Willibrord had returned. We do not know what afterwards prompted him to resume his work in Germany, but perhaps the proposal of Willibrord that he should settle with him altogether awakened Boniface to the fact that he was not working for the Pope as he proposed. His reception at Rome, where he again went in 722, and the declaration of faith he handed in, are in favour of this view. But Gregory II who was aware of the abilities of Boniface forgave him, and on the strength of his declaration provided him with further letters. One of these was addressed to the Christians of Germany, to the representative clergy and to the Thüringians, and another to the house-mayor, Karl Martel, who had succeeded Pippin; both letters commanded that the authority of Boniface was to be everywhere recognised.

From this time for a period of over thirty years Boniface devoted his energies to extending, organizing and systematizing the power of Rome in Germany. His character appears in different lights varying with the standpoint from which he is regarded. Judging from his letters he is alternately swayed by doggedness of purpose, want of confidence in himself, dependence on friends, and jealous insistence on his own authority. He has a curious way of representing himself as persecuted when in fact he is the persecutor, but his power of rousing enthusiasm for his work and for his personality is enormous.

His biographer Wilibald describes this power as already peculiar to him during his stay at Nutshalling, where many men sought him to profit by his knowledge, 'while those who on account of their fragile sex could not do so, and those who were not allowed to stay away from their settlements, moved by the spirit of divine love, sought eagerly for an account of him[365]....'

The interest Boniface had aroused at home accompanied him on his travels. He remained in friendly communication with many persons in England, to whom he wrote and who wrote to him. Among the friends and correspondents whose letters are preserved are churchmen, princes, abbesses, clerics of various degrees, and nuns. From the point of view of this book the letters addressed to women are of special interest, since they bring us into personal contact so to speak with the abbesses and inmates of English convents, and we hear for the first time what they personally have to tell us of themselves.

Among Boniface's early friends and correspondents was Eadburg[366], abbess of the monastery in Thanet. She was a woman of great abilities, zealous in the pursuit of knowledge, and her influence secured several royal charters for her settlement. She had probably succeeded Mildthrith, but at what date is not known. Her letters to Boniface unfortunately have not been preserved, but the letters he wrote to her are full of interesting matter. The earliest of these was written between 718 and 719; in it Boniface does not yet address her as abbess[367].

In this letter Boniface in compliance with a wish Eadburg had expressed, describes a vision of the future life which a monk living at Mildburg's monastery at Wenlock had seen during a state of suspended animation. Boniface had first heard of this vision from the abbess Hildelith of Barking, and he writes a graphic and eloquent account of it, parts of which are put into the mouth of the monk himself. The account gives curious glimpses of that imagery of the future life which early Christians dwelt upon and elaborated more and more. Nuns at this time as well as later took a special interest in the subject.

First the monk is carried aloft through flames which enwrap the world. He sees many souls for the possession of which angels and devils are fighting. Impersonations of his sins confront and accost him, but his virtues arise also and enter into conflict with the sins. The virtues are supported by angels and the fight ends to the monk's advantage. He also sees fiery waters flowing towards hell: and souls like black birds which hover over waters from whence proceed the wails of the damned. He sees Paradise, and a river of pitch over which a bridge leads to Jerusalem, and souls are trying to cross it. Among others suffering torments he catches sight of King Ceolred of Mercia. At last the angels cast the monk down from the height and he re-awakens to life.

Such descriptions of a future life multiply as one nears the Middle Ages. By the side of the one which Boniface sent to Eadburg should be read another by him, a fragmentary one, which supplements it[368]. The sufferers in hell mentioned in this are Cuthburg, Ceolla and Wiala (of whom nothing is known), an unnamed abbot and Aethelbald, king of Mercia (? 756).

The description of the after life given by Boniface agrees in various ways with one contained in the works of Bede. According to this account there was a man in Northumbria named Drycthelm, who died, came to life again, and described what he had seen of the world to come.

The other letters which Boniface addressed to Eadburg are of later date and were written when he had settled abroad and was devoting his energies to converting the Hessians and Thüringians. At this time he asked her to send him through the priest Eoban the letters of the apostle Peter, which she was to write for him in gold characters. 'Often,' he says, 'gifts of books and vestments, the proofs of your affection, have been to me a consolation in misfortune. So I pray that you will continue as you have begun, and write for me in gold characters the epistles of my master, the holy apostle Peter, to the honour and reverence of holy writ before mortal eyes while I am preaching, and because I desire always to have before me the words of him who led me on my mission....' He ends his letter by again hoping that she will accede to his request so 'that her words may shine in gold to the glory of the Father in heaven[369].'

The art of writing in gold on parchment was unknown to Scottish artists and had been introduced into England from Italy. Bishop Wilfrith owned the four gospels 'written in purest gold on purple-coloured parchment,' and a few of the purple gospels with gold writing of this period have been preserved. The fact that women practised the art is evident from the letter of Boniface. Eadburg must have had a reputation for writing, for Lul, one of Boniface's companions, sent her among other gifts a silver style (graphium argenteum) such as was used at the time for writing on wax tablets[370].

Boniface received frequent gifts from friends in England. Eoban, who carried his letter asking Eadburg for the Epistles of St Peter, was the bearer of a letter to an Abbot Duddo in which Boniface reminding him of their old friendship asked for a copy of the Epistles of St Paul[371]. Again Boniface wrote asking Abbot Huetberht of Wearmouth for the minor works (opuscula) of Bede[372], and Lul, who was with him, wrote to Dealwin to forward the minor works of Ealdhelm, bishop of Sherbourne, those in verse and those in prose[373].

Judging from the correspondence the effective work of Boniface resulted in the execution of only a small part of his great schemes. His original plan was repeatedly modified. There is extant a letter from the Pope which shows that he hoped for the conversion of the heathen Saxons and Thüringians[374], and the idea was so far embraced by Boniface that he wrote a letter to the bishops, priests, abbots and abbesses in England asking them to pray that the Saxons might accept the faith of Christ[375]. But the plan for their conversion was eventually abandoned.

At this period belief in the efficacy of prayer was unbounded, and praying for the living was as much part of the work of the professed as praying for the dead. Settlements apparently combined for the purpose of mutually supporting each other by prayer. A letter is extant in the correspondence of Boniface in which the abbot of Glastonbury, several abbesses and other abbots agree to pray at certain hours for each other's settlements[376].

In his times of trouble and tribulation Boniface wrote to all his friends asking for prayers. 'We were troubled on every side,' he wrote to the abbess Eadburg, quoting Scripture[377], 'without were fightings, within were fears.' She was to pray for him that the pagans might be snatched from their idolatrous customs and unbelievers brought back to the Catholic mother Church.

Eadburg had liberally responded to his request for gifts. 'Beloved sister,' he wrote[378], 'with gifts of holy books you have comforted the exile in Germany with spiritual light! For in this dark remoteness among German peoples man must come to the distress of death had he not the word of God as a lamp unto his feet and as a light unto his paths[379]. Fully trusting in your love I beseech that you pray for me, for I am shaken by my shortcomings, that take hold of me as though I were tossed by a tempest on a dangerous sea.' This consciousness of his shortcomings was not wholly due to the failure of his plans, for Boniface at one period of his life was much troubled by questions of theology. The simile of being tempest-tossed is often used by him. In a letter addressed to an unnamed nun he describes his position in language similar to that in which he addresses Eadburg. This nun also is urged to pray for him in a letter full of biblical quotations[380].

Among the letters to Boniface there are several from nuns and abbesses asking for his advice. Political difficulties and the changed attitude of the ruling princes of Northumbria and Mercia towards convents brought such hardships to those who had adopted the religious profession that many of them wished to leave their homes, and availed themselves of the possibility of doing so which was afforded by the plan of going on pilgrimage to Rome.

The wish to behold the Eternal City had given a new direction to the love of wandering, so strong a trait in human nature. The motives for visiting Rome have been different in different periods of history. To the convert in the 8th and 9th centuries Rome appeared as the fountain-head of Christianity, the residence of Christ's representative on earth, and the storehouse of famous deeds and priceless relics. Architectural remains dating from the period of Roman rule were numerous throughout Europe and helped to fill the imagination of those dwelling north of the Alps with wonder at the possible sights and treasures which a visit to Rome itself might disclose. Prelates and monks undertook the journey to establish personal relations with the Pope and to acquire books and relics for their settlements, but the taste for travelling spread, and laymen and wayfarers of all kinds joined the bands of religious pilgrims. Even kings and queens, with a sudden change of feeling which the Church magnified into a portentous conversion, renounced the splendour of their surroundings and donned the pilgrim's garb in the hope of beholding the Eternal City in its glory.

Among the letters which are preserved in the correspondence of Boniface there is one from Aelflaed, abbess of Whitby, in which she writes to the abbess Adolana (probably Adela) of Pf?lzel (Palatiolum) on the Mosel near Trier, recommending to her care a young abbess who is on her way to Rome. This letter shows that Aelflaed was well versed in writing Latin. The name of the abbess in whose behalf the letter was penned is not known, but she may be identical with Wethburg, who lived and died at Rome[381].

'To the holy and worshipful abbess Adolana, a greeting in the Lord of eternal salvation.

'Since we have heard of your holiness from those who have come from your parts, and from widespread report, in the first place I pray for your warm affection, for the Lord has said: This is my command, that ye love one another[382].

'Further we make humble request that your holy and fervent words may commend us worthily to God Almighty, should it not be irksome to you to offer devotion in return for ours; for James the Apostle has taught and said: Pray for one another, that ye may be saved.

'Further to your great holiness and usual charity we humbly and earnestly commend this maiden vowed to God, a pious abbess, our dear and faithful daughter, who since the days of her youth, from love of Christ and for the honour of the apostles Peter and Paul, has been desirous of going to their holy threshold, but who has been kept back by us until now because we needed her and in order that the souls entrusted to her might profit. And we pray that with charity and true kindness she may be received into your goodwill, as well as those who are travelling with her, in order that the desired journey with God's help and your willing charity may at last be accomplished. Therefore again and again we beseech that she may be helped on her way with recommendations from you to the holy city Rome, by the help of the holy and signbearing leader (signifer) of the apostles Peter; and if you are present we hope and trust she may find with you whatever advice she requires for the journey. May divine grace watch over your holiness when you pray for us.'

The desire to go southward was strengthened among religious women by the increasing difficulties of their position at home. Monastic privileges were no longer respected by the kings of Mercia and Northumbria, and the Church lacked the power of directly interfering in behalf of monks and nuns. There is in the correspondence a letter which Boniface wrote in his own name and in that of his foreign bishops to Aethelbald, king of Mercia (716-756); he sharply rebukes him for his immoral practices and urges on him the desirability of taking a lawful wife. He accuses the king of indulging his wicked propensities even in monasteries and with nuns and maidens who were vowed to God; following the example of Tacitus, he praises the pure morals of the heathen Germans. The passages which bear on the subject are worthy of perusal, for they show how uncertain was the position of monasteries and how keenly Boniface realized the difficulties of nuns. He tells the king 'that loose women, whether they be vowed to religion or not, conceive inferior children through their wickedness and frequently do away with them.' The privileges of religious houses, he says, were respected till the reign of King Osred (706-17) of Northumbria, and of King Ceolred (709-16) of Mercia, but 'these two kings have shown their evil disposition and have sinned in a criminal way against the teaching of the gospels and the doings of our Saviour. They persisted in vice, in the seduction of nuns and the contemptuous treatment of monastic rights. Condemned by the judgment of God, and hurled from the heights of royal authority, they were overtaken by a speedy and awful death, and are now cut off from eternal light, and buried in the depths of hell and in the abyss of the infernal regions[383].' We have seen that in the letter written by Boniface to Eadburg, Ceolred is described as suffering torments in hell, and that King Aethelbald at a later date is depicted in the same predicament.

With his letter to Aethelbald Boniface forwarded two others to the priest Herefrith, probably of Lindisfarne[384], and to Ecgberht (archbishop of York, 732-66), requesting them to support him against Aethelbald. 'It is the duty of your office to see that the devil does not establish his kingdom in places consecrated to God,' he wrote to Ecgberht, 'that there be not discord instead of peace, strife instead of piety, drunkenness instead of sobriety, slaughter and fornication instead of charity and chastity[385].' Shortly afterwards he wrote to Cuthberht, archbishop of Canterbury (740-62), telling him of the statutes passed at the Synod of Soissons[386], and severely censuring the conduct of the layman, 'be he emperor, king or count, who snatches a monastery from bishop, abbot, or abbess.'

These admonitions show that the position of the religious houses and that of their rulers depended directly on the temper of the reigning prince. In the correspondence there are several letters from abbesses addressed to Boniface bearing on this point, which give us a direct insight into the tone of mind of these women. Their Latin is cumbersome and faulty, and biblical quotations are introduced which do not seem always quite to the point. The writers ramble on without much regard to construction and style, and yet there is a genuine ring about their letters which makes the distress described seem very real.

One of these letters was written by an abbess named Ecgburg, probably at an early period of Boniface's career[387]. Her reference to the remoteness of her settlement suggests the idea that it was Repton, and that she herself was identical with Ecgburg, daughter of Ealdwulf king of the East Angles, the abbess whom we have noticed in connection with Guthlac. If that be so her sister Wethburg, to whom she refers, may be identical with the young unnamed abbess whom Aelflaed sped on her journey to Rome.

'Since a cruel and bitter death,' she writes, 'has robbed me of him, my brother Osher, whom I loved beyond all others, you I hold dearer than all other men. Not to multiply words, no day, no night passes, but I think of your teaching. Believe me it is on account of this that I love you, God is my witness. In you I confide, because you were never forgetful of the affection which assuredly bound you to my brother. Though inferior to him in knowledge and in merit, I am not unlike him in recognizing your goodness. Time goes by with increasing swiftness and yet the dark gloom of sadness leaves me not. For time as it comes brings me increase of indignities, as it is written "Love of man brings sorrow, but love of Christ gladdens the heart." More recently my equally beloved sister Wethburg, as though to inflict a wound and renew a pang, suddenly passed out of my sight, she with whom I had grown up and with whom I was nursed at the same breast; one mother she and I had in the Lord, and my sister has left me. Jesus is my witness that on all sides there is sorrow, fear, and the image of death[388]. I would gladly die if it so pleased God, to whom the unknown is manifest, for this slow death is no trifle. What was it I was saying? From my sister not a sudden and bitter death, but a bitterer separation, divides me; I believe it was for her happiness, but it left me unhappy, as a corpse laid low, when adopting the fashion of the age she went on a pilgrimage, even though she knew how much I loved and cherished her, whom now as I hear a prison confines at Rome. But the love of Christ, which is strong and powerful in her, is stronger and more binding than all fetters, and perfect love casteth out fear. Indeed, I say, he who holds the power of divination, the Ruler of high Olympus, has endowed you with divine wisdom, and in his law do you meditate night and day[389]. For it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring tidings of good things[390]." She has mounted by a steep and narrow path, while I remain below, held by mortal flesh as by irons upon my feet. In the coming judgment full of joy she, like unto the Lord, will sing: "I was in prison and ye came unto me[391]." You also in the future life, when the twelve apostles sit on their twelve seats[392], will be there, and in proportion to the number of those whom you have won by your work, will rejoice before the tribunal of the eternal King, like unto a leader who is about to be crowned. But I living in the vale of tears as I deserve, shall be weeping for my offences, on account of which God holds me unfit to join the heavenly hosts. Therefore, believe me, the tempest-tossed mariner does not so much long for the haven, the thirsty fields do not long so much for rain, the mother on the winding shore does not so anxiously wait for her son, as I long to rejoice in your sight. But oppressed by sins and innumerable offences, I so long to be freed from imminent danger, that I am made desperate; adoring the footsteps of your holiness and praying to you from the depths of my heart as a sinner, I call to you from the ends of the earth, O beloved master; as my anxious heart prompts, raise me to the corner-stone of your prayer, for you are my hope and a strong tower invisible to the enemy. And I beg as consolation to my grief and as limit to the wave of my sorrow, that my weakness may be supported by your intercession as by a prop. I entreat that you will condescend to give me some comfort either in the form of a relic or of a few words of blessing, written by you, in order that through them I may hold your presence secure.'

By the side of this letter must be quoted another written by an Abbess Eangith, describing similar difficulties in a similar strain[393]. We do not know over which settlement Eangith presided, but her name and that of her daughter Heaburg of whom she speaks are inscribed in the Durham 'Liber Vitae[394].'

'Beloved brother in the spirit rather than in the flesh,' she writes, 'you are magnified by the abundance of spiritual graces, and to you alone, with God as our sole witness, we wish to make known what you see here spread out before you and blotted by our tears: we are borne down by an accumulation of miseries as by a weight and a pressing burden, and also by the tumult of political affairs. As the foaming masses of the ocean when the force of the winds and the raging fury of the tempest lash up the great sea, carry in and carry out again the heaving billows dashing over rocks, so that the keels of the boats are turned upwards and the mast of the ship is pressed downwards, so do the ships of our souls groan under the great press of our miseries and the great mass of our misfortunes. By the voice of truth has it been said of the heavenly house: "The rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house[395]," etc.

'First and before all noteworthy of the things that affect us from without, must be mentioned the multitude of our offences and our want of full and complete faith, due not so much to care for our own souls but, what is worse and more oppressive, to care for the souls of those of either sex and of every age which have been entrusted to us. For this care involves ministering to many minds and to various dispositions, and afterwards giving account before the supreme tribunal of Christ both for obvious sins in deeds and words, and for secret thoughts which men ignore and God alone witnesseth; with a simple sword against a double-edged one, with ten thousand to meet twenty thousand warriors[396]. In addition to this care of souls we have difficulties in our domestic affairs, and various disagreements which the jealous enemy of all good has sown, namely, he who fills the impure hearts of men with malice and scatters it everywhere, but chiefly in the settlements of monks and nuns; but it is said "the mighty shall be mightily tormented[397]." Moreover the poverty and scantiness of our temporal possessions oppress us, and the smallness of the cultivated part of our estate; and the hostility of the king, for we are accused before him by those who envy us, as a wise man has said: "the bewitching of vanity obscureth good things[398]." Similarly we are oppressed by service due to the king and the queen, to bishop and prefect, officers and attendants. It would take long to enumerate those things which can be more easily imagined than described.

'To all these evils is added the loss of friends, connections, and relatives by alliance and by blood. I[399] have neither son nor brother, neither father nor father's brother, none but an only daughter who is bereft of all that was dear to her; and a sister who is old, and the son of our brother, who too is unhappy in his mind, for our king holds his family connections in great contempt. There is no one else for us to rely on; God has removed them all by one chance or another. Some have died in their native land, and their bodies lie in the grimy dust of the earth to rise again on the day of doom, when the Master's trumpet shall sound, and the whole race of man shall come forth from dark tombs to give account of themselves; when their spirits, borne upwards in angels' arms, shall abide with Christ; when all sorrow shall end, and envy be worn out, and grief and mourning shall vanish in sight of the saints. Again others have left their native shores, and trusted themselves to the wide seas, and have sought the threshold of the holy apostles Peter and Paul and of all those martyrs, virgins and confessors, whose number God alone knows.

'For these and other like causes, hardly to be enumerated in one day though July and August lengthen the days of summer, we are weary of our present life and hardly care to continue it. Every man uncertain of his purpose and distrustful of his own counsel, seeks a faithful friend whose advice he follows since he distrusts his own; and such faith has he in him that he lays before him and reveals to him every secret of his heart. As has been said, what is sweeter than having someone with whom one can converse as with oneself? Therefore on account of the pressing miseries we have now insisted on to the full, we needs must find a true friend, one whom we can trust more than ourselves; who will treat our grief, our miseries and our poverty as his own, who will sympathize with us, comfort us, support us by

his words, and raise us up by wise counsel. Long have we sought him. And we believe that in you we have found the friend whom we longed for, whom we wished for, whom we desired.

'Would that God had granted to us that, as Habakkuk the prophet was sped with food into the lion's den to the seer Daniel[400], or that as Philip one of the seven deacons was sped to the eunuch[401], we also were sped and could come to the land and to the district where you dwell; or that it were possible for us to hear living words from your lips. 'How sweet are thy words unto my palate, O Lord, sweeter than honey to my mouth[402].'

'But since this is not vouchsafed to us and we are divided from you by a wide expanse of land and of sea and by the boundaries of many provinces, because of our faith in you referred to above we will tell you, brother Boniface, that for a long time we have entertained the design like so many of our friends, relatives and others, of visiting Rome, the mistress of the world, there to seek forgiveness of our sins as many others have done and are now doing; so especially I (wish to do) since I am advanced in age, and have erred more than others. Wala, at one time my abbess and spiritual mother, was acquainted with my wish and my intention. My only daughter at present is young, and cannot share my desire. But because we know how many there are who scoff at this wish and deprecate this desire, and support their view by adducing what the canons of the synods enjoin, that wherever anyone has settled and taken his vow, there shall he remain and there serve God; for we all live in different ways and God's purposes are unknown, as the prophet says: 'Thy righteousness is like the great mountains, thy judgments are a great deep, O Lord[403]'; and because His sacred will and desire in these things is hidden,-therefore we two, both of us in our difficulty, call on you earnestly and reverently: be you to us as Aaron, a mountain of strength, let your prayer be our help, swing the censer of prayer with incense in sight of the Divine, and let the lifting up of your hands be as the evening sacrifice[404]. Indeed we trust in God and beg of your goodness that by supplication of mouth and inward prayer it may be revealed to you what seems for us wise and useful: whether we are to live at home or go forth on pilgrimage. Also we beg of your goodness to send back your answer across the sea, and reply to what we have scratched on these leaves in rustic style and with unpolished wording. We have scant faith in those who glory in appearance and not in heart[405], but faith in your love, your charity in God and your goodness.'

It is not known whether Eangith carried out her intention and went to Rome.

Boniface had another correspondence with an abbess named Bugga, but though Eangith states that her daughter Heaburg was sometimes called by that name, it is not probable that they were the same, for Boniface writing to Bugga makes no mention of Eangith's plan, which he would hardly have omitted to do if Heaburg had been his correspondent[406].

Bugga was afterwards abbess of a monastery in Kent. She too sent gifts to Boniface, and later entertained the idea of going to Rome. In early days the prelate wrote to her telling her how he had been mercifully led through unknown countries, how 'the Pontiff of the glorious see' Gregory II had inclined to him, and how he had cast down 'the enemy of the Catholic Church, Radbod,' the Frisian.

In reply she assures him of her continued affection and makes some remarks on books they have exchanged. The Passions of the Martyrs which he has asked for she has not yet procured, but she will forward them as soon as she can. 'But you, my friend,' she writes, 'send me as a consolation what you promised in your kind letter, your extracts from the holy writings. And I beseech you to offer the oblation of the holy mass for one of my relatives whom I loved beyond all others. I send you by the bearer of this letter fifty gold coins (solidi) and an altar cloth, better gifts I cannot procure. They are truly signs of a great affection though of insignificant appearance[407].'

Bugga does not style herself abbess, but Boniface addresses her as such in acknowledging the receipt of her gifts and advising her about going to Rome. On another occasion he wrote to express concern at her troubles, which he heard from many people had not diminished since she retired from rule for the sake of quiet[408]. The letter in which he advises her about going to Rome is worth quoting[409].

'Be it made known to you, dearest sister,' he writes, 'regarding the advice which you asked for in your letter, that I do not presume to forbid you the pilgrim's journey, neither would I directly advise it. I will explain why. If you gave up the charge you had of the servants of God, of his virgins (ancillae), and your own monastic life, for the purpose of securing quiet and the thought of God, in what way are you now bound to obey the words and the will of seculars with toil and wearing anxiety? Still if you cannot find peace of mind in your home in secular life among seculars it seems right that you should seek in a pilgrimage freedom for contemplation, especially since you wish it and can arrange it; just in the way our sister Wethburg did. She told me in her letter that she had found the quiet she longed for near the threshold of St Peter. In reference to your wish she sent me a message, for I had written to her about you, saying that you must wait till the attacks, hostility and menaces of the Saracens who have lately reached the Roman States have subsided, and that God willing she would then send you a letter of invitation. I too think this best. Prepare yourself for the journey, but wait for word from her, and then do as God in his grace commands. As to the collection of extracts for which you ask, be considerate to my shortcomings. Pressing work and continuous travelling prevent my furnishing you with what you desire. As soon as I can I will forward them to please you.

'We thank you for the gifts and vestments which you have sent, and pray to God Almighty, to put aside a gift for you in return with the angels and archangels in the heights of heaven. And I beseech you in the name of God, dear sister, yea mother and sweet lady, that you diligently pray for me. For many troubles beset me through my shortcomings, and I am more distressed by uncertainty of mind than by bodily work. Rest assured that our old trust in each other will never fail us.'

Bugga carried out her intention and went to Rome, where she met Boniface, who was the Pope's guest about the year 737. He had achieved a signal success in reconverting the Hessians, and was now appointed to constitute bishoprics in Bavaria and to hold councils of Church dignitaries at regular intervals[410]. At Rome Bugga and Boniface walked and talked together, and visited the churches of the holy apostles. A letter from Aethelberht II, king of Kent, to Boniface refers to their meeting[411]. Bugga had come back to her old monastery and had given the king a description of her visit. She attained a considerable age, for she was advanced in years before her pilgrimage, and about twenty years later Bregwin, archbishop of Canterbury (759-765), wrote to Lul informing him of her death[412].

Boniface made provision at Rome for the women in whom he was interested. A certain deacon Gemmulus writes to him from Rome to inform him[413] that 'the sisters and maidens of God who have reached the threshold of the apostles' are there being cared for by himself and others as Boniface has desired.

The readiness with which Anglo-Saxon nuns went abroad eventually led to a state of things which cast discredit on religion. Boniface addressed the following remarks on these pilgrimages to Cuthberht of Canterbury in the letter written after the synod of Soissons[414].

'I will not withhold from your holiness,' he says, '... that it were a good thing and besides honour and a credit to your Church and a palliation of evils, if the synod and your princes forbade women, and those who have taken the veil, to travel and stay abroad as they do, coming and going in the Roman states. They come in great numbers and few return undefiled. For there are very few districts of Lombardy in which there is not some woman of Anglian origin living a loose life among the Franks and the Gauls. This is a scandal and disgrace to your whole Church....'

The difficulty of exercising more control over those who chose to leave their settlements was only partly met by stricter rules of supervision. For there were no means of keeping back monk or nun who was tired of living the monastic life. In the 9th century Hatto bishop of Basel (? 836) wrote to the bishop of Toul enjoining that no one should be suffered to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome without leave, and provisions of a much later date order that houses shall not take in and harbour inmates from other settlements.

In this connection it is interesting to find Lul, who had settled abroad with Boniface, excommunicating an abbess Suitha because she had allowed two nuns to go into a distant district for some secular purpose without previously asking permission from her bishop[415]. The women who settled in Germany under Boniface were brought under much stricter control than had till then been customary in either France or England.

§ 2. Anglo-Saxon Nuns abroad.

Among the women who came to Germany and settled there at the request of Boniface was Lioba, otherwise Leobgith, who had been educated at Wimbourne in Dorset, at no very great distance from Nutshalling where Boniface dwelt, and who left England between 739 and 748. She was related to him through her mother Aebbe, and a simple and modest little letter is extant in which she writes to Boniface and refers to her father's death six years ago; she is her parents' only child, she says, and would recall her mother and herself to the prelate's memory.

'This too I ask for,' she writes in this letter, 'correct the rusticity of my style and do not neglect to send me a few words in proof of your goodwill. I have composed the few verses which I enclose according to the rules of poetic versification, not from pride but from a desire to cultivate the beginnings of learning, and now I am longing for your help. I was taught by Eadburg who unceasingly devotes herself to this divine art.' And she adds four lines of verse addressed to God Almighty as an example of what she can do[416].

As mentioned above we are indebted for an account of Lioba's life to the monk Rudolf of Fulda (? 865). From this we learn that Lioba at a tender age had been given into the care of the abbess Tetta at Wimbourne[417]. 'She grew up, so carefully tended by the abbess and the sisters, that she cared for naught but the monastery and the study of holy writ. She was never pleased by irreverent jokes, nor did she care for the other maidens' senseless amusements; her mind was fixed on the love of Christ, and she was ever ready to listen to the word of God, or to read it, and to commit to memory what she heard and read to her own practical advantage. In eating and drinking she was so moderate that she despised the allurements of a great entertainment and felt content with what was put before her, never asking for more. When she was not reading, she was working with her hands, for she had learnt that those who do not work have no right to eat.'

She was moreover of prepossessing appearance and of engaging manners, and secured the goodwill of the abbess and the affection of the inmates of the settlement. A dream of hers is described by her biographer in which she saw a purple thread of indefinite length issuing from her mouth. An aged sister whom she consulted about it, interpreted the dream as a sign of coming influence.

To Lioba, Tecla and Cynehild, Boniface addressed a letter from abroad, asking in the usual way for the support of their prayers[418]. Lioba's biographer tells us that when Boniface thought of establishing religious settlements, 'wishing that the order of either sex should exist according to rule,' he arranged that Sturmi, who had settled at Fulda, should go to Italy and there visit St Benedict's monastery at Monte Casino, and he 'sent envoys with letters to the abbess Tetta (of Wimbourne) begging her as a comfort in his labour, and as a help in his mission, to send over the virgin Lioba, whose reputation for holiness and virtuous teaching had penetrated across wide lands and filled the hearts of many with praise of her[419].'

This request shows that Boniface thought highly of the course of life and occupations practised in English nunneries and that he considered English women especially suited to manage the settlements under his care. In a letter written from Rome about 738 Boniface refers to the sisters and brothers who are living under him in Germany[420]. Parties of English men and women joined him at different times. One travelled under the priest Wiehtberht, who sent a letter to the monks of Glastonbury to inform them of his safe arrival and honourable reception by Boniface, and he requests that Tetta of Wimbourne may be told of this[421]. Perhaps Lioba, who was Tetta's pupil, was one of the party who travelled to Germany with Wiehtberht.

'In pursuance of his plan,' says Lioba's life[422], 'Boniface now arranged monastic routine and life according to accepted rule, and set Sturmi as abbot over the monks and the virgin Lioba as spiritual mother over the nuns, and gave into her care a monastery at the place called Bischofsheim, where a considerable number of servants of God were collected together, who now followed the example of their blessed teacher, were instructed in divine knowledge and so profited by her teaching that several of them in their turn became teachers elsewhere; for few monasteries of women (monasteria f?minarum) existed in those districts where Lioba's pupils were not sought as teachers. She (Lioba) was a woman of great power and of such strength of purpose that she thought no more of her fatherland and of her relations but devoted all her energies to what she had undertaken, that she might be blameless before God, and a model in behaviour and discipline to all those who were under her. She never taught what she did not practise. And there was neither conceit nor domineering in her attitude; she was affable and kindly without exception towards everyone. She was as beautiful as an angel; her talk was agreeable, her intellect was clear; her abilities were great; she was a Catholic in faith; she was moderate in her expectations and wide in her affections. She always showed a cheerful face but she was never drawn into hilarity. No one ever heard a word of abuse (maledictionem) pass her lips, and the sun never went down on her anger. In eating and drinking she was liberal to others but moderate herself, and the cup out of which she usually drank was called by the sisters 'the little one of our beloved' (dilectae parvus) on account of its smallness. She was so bent on reading that she never laid aside her book except to pray or to strengthen her slight frame with food and sleep. From childhood upwards she had studied grammar and the other liberal arts, and hoped by perseverance to attain a perfect knowledge of religion, for she was well aware that the gifts of nature are doubled by study. She zealously read the books of the Old and New Testaments, and committed their divine precepts to memory; but she further added to the rich store of her knowledge by reading the writings of the holy Fathers, the canonical decrees, and the laws of the Church (totiusque ecclesiastici ordinis jura). In all her actions she showed great discretion, and thought over the outcome of an undertaking beforehand so that she might not afterwards repent of it. She was aware that inclination is necessary for prayer and for study, and she was therefore moderate in holding vigils. She always took a rest after dinner, and so did the sisters under her, especially in summer time, and she would not suffer others to stay up too long, for she maintained that the mind is keener for study after sleep.'

Boniface, writing to Lioba while she was abbess at Bischofsheim, sanctions her taking a girl into the settlement for purposes of instruction. Bischofsheim was on the Tauber a tributary of the river Main, and Boniface, who dwelt at Mainz, frequently conferred with her there. Lioba went to stay with Boniface at Mainz in 757 before he went among the Frisians[423]; he presented her with his cloak and begged her to remain true to her work whatever might befall him. Shortly after he set out on his expedition he was attacked and killed by heathens. His corpse was brought back and buried at Fulda, and Lioba went to pray at his grave, a privilege granted to no other woman.

Lioba was also in contact with temporal rulers. Karl the Great gave her presents and Queen Hildegard (? 783) was so captivated with her that she tried to persuade her to come and live with her. 'Princes loved her,' her biographer tells us, 'noblemen received her, and bishops gladly entertained her and conversed with her on the scriptures and on the institutions of religion, for she was familiar with many writings and careful in giving advice.' She had the supervision of other settlements besides her own and travelled about a good deal. After Boniface's death she kept on friendly terms with Lul who had succeeded him as bishop of Mainz (757-786), and it was with his consent that she finally resigned her responsibilities and her post as abbess at Bischofsheim and went to dwell at Schornsheim near Mainz with a few companions. At the request of Queen Hildegard she once more travelled to Aachen where Karl the Great was keeping court. But she was old, the fatigues of the journey were too much for her, and she died shortly after her return in 780. Boniface had expressed a wish that they should share the same resting-place and her body was accordingly taken to Fulda, but the monks there, for some unknown reason, preferred burying her in another part of their church.

It is noteworthy that the women who by the appointment of Boniface directed convent life in Germany, remained throughout in a state of dependence[424], while the men, noticeably Sturmi (? 779) whom he had made abbot at Fulda, cast off their connection with the bishop, and maintained the independence of their monasteries. Throughout his life Sturmi showed a bold and determined spirit, but he was not therefore less interesting to the nuns of Boniface's circle. His pupil and successor Eigil wrote an account of his life at the request of the nun Angiltrud, who is also supposed to have come from England to Germany[425].

We know little concerning the other Anglo-Saxon women who settled abroad, for there are no contemporary accounts of them. The 'Passion of Boniface,' written at Mainz between 1000 and 1050, tells us that as Lioba settled at Bischofsheim so Tecla settled at Kizzingen, where 'she shone like a light in a dark place[426].' No doubt this Tecla is identical with the nun of that name whom Boniface speaks of in his letter to Lioba[427]. She has a place among the saints[428], but it seems doubtful whether she founded the monastery at Kizzingen or the one at Oxenfurt.

The names of several other women are given by Othlon, a monk of St Emmeran in Bavaria, who in consequence of a quarrel fled from his monastery and sought refuge at Fulda. While there, between 1062 and 1066, he re-wrote and amplified Wilibald's life of Boniface. In this account he gives a list of the men who came into Germany from England, the correctness of which has been called in question. He then enumerates the women who came abroad and mentions 'an aunt of Lul called Chunihilt[429] and her daughter Berthgit[430], Chunitrud and Tecla, Lioba, and Waltpurgis the sister of Wilibald and Wunebald[431].' The only mention of Waltpurgis is her name, but he describes where the other women settled, some in the district of the Main, others in Bavaria.

This woman Waltpurgis has been the subject of many conjectures; writers generally do not hesitate to affirm that the sister of Wunebald and Wilibald is identical with the saint who was so widely reverenced. But St Waltpurgis, popularly called Walburg, is associated with customs and traditions which so clearly bear a heathen and profane character in the Netherlands and in North Germany, that it seems improbable that these associations should have clustered round the name of a Christian woman and a nun[432].

In face of the existing evidence one of two conclusions must be adopted. Either the sister of Wunebald and Wilibald really bore the name Waltpurgis, and the monk Wolfhard who wrote an account of a saint of that name whose relics were venerated at Eichst?tt (between 882 and 912) took advantage of the coincidence of name and claimed that the Walburg, who bears the character of a pseudo-saint, and the sister of Wunebald and Wilibald were identical; or else, desirous to account for the veneration of relics which were commonly connected with the name Walburg, he found it natural and reasonable to hold that Walburg had belonged to the circle of Boniface, and identified her with the sister of Wunebald and Wilibald[433].

Nothing is preserved concerning this sister except a reference to her existence, which is contained in the accounts of the acts of Wilibald and Wunebald written by a nun at Heidenheim, whose name also is not recorded[434]. These accounts offer many points of interest. The nun who wrote them was of Anglo-Saxon origin; her style is highly involved and often falls short of the rules of grammar, but she had possession of interesting information, and she was determined to impart it. It has been noticed that her writing varies according to whether she is setting down facts or dilating on them; for she is concise enough when it is a question of facts only, but when it comes to description she falls into the spirit of Anglo-Saxon literature and introduces alliteration into her Latin and launches forth into panegyric. She came from England to Germany, as she tells us, shortly before the death of Wunebald (c. 765), and experiences of an unpleasant nature led her to expect that her writings would not pass without criticism.

'I am but a woman,' she says[435], 'weak on account of the frailty of my sex, neither supported by the prerogative of wisdom nor sustained by the consciousness of great power, yet impelled by earnestness of purpose,' and she sets to work to give a description of the life of Wilibald and the journey which he made to Palestine, parts of which she took down from his dictation, for at the close of her account she says that she wrote it from Wilibald's narrative in the monastery of Heidenheim in the presence of deacons and of some of Wilibald's pupils who were witnesses to the fact. 'This I say,' she adds, 'that no one may again declare this to be nonsense.'

The account she gives of Wilibald's experiences contains one of the earliest descriptions written in northern Europe of a journey to Palestine, and modern writers have commented on it as a curious literary monument of the time. Interest in descriptions of the Holy Land was increasing. Besides early references to such journeys in the letters of St Jerome who described how Paula went from Rome to Jerusalem and settled there in the 4th century, we hear how Adamnan came to the court of King Ealdfrith of Northumbria about the year 701 and laid before him his book on Holy Places[436] which he had taken down from the narrative of bishop Arculf who had made the pilgrimage, but of whom we know nothing more. But Adamnan's account is bald and its interest is poor compared to this description of the adventures of Wilibald and of what he saw on his travels.

The nun prefaces her account of the journey by telling us of Wilibald's origin. She describes how he fell ill as a child, how his parents vowed him to a religious life if he were spared, and how in conformity with their promise they took him to the abbey of Waltham at the age of five, where Wilibald continued studying till manhood. We are not told to what his love of travel was due. He determined to go south and persuaded his father and his brother Wunebald to accompany him. We hear how they and their companions took boat and arrived at Rouen, how they travelled on till they reached Lucca where the father fell ill and died, and how the brothers pursued their journey to Rome where they spent the winter. We hear how the heat and bad air of summer drove them away from Rome and how, while Wunebald remained in Italy, Wilibald with a few companions pushed on by way of Naples and Reggio and reached Catania in Sicily, where he took boat for Ephesus and Syria. We get a good deal of information by the way on saints and on relics, and hear of the veil of St Agatha which stayed the eruptions of Mount Aetna, and of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The travellers experienced all kinds of hardships; thrice they were cast into prison and liberated before their feet trod on holy ground. Then they visited Nazareth and Chana; they gazed upon Lake Tiberias, they bathed in the river Jordan, and finally they reached Jerusalem where they made a long stay, broken however by several long expeditions. Each site is described in turn, and its connection with scriptural history is pointed out. We hear a good deal about Jerusalem, about Mount Sion, the site of the Ascension of the Virgin, and about the site of the Nativity at Bethlehem. It was 'once a cave, now it is a square house cut into the rock,' over which a little chapel is built. We also hear of various monasteries where the travellers stayed in coming and going. Finally they travelled to Tyre, where they took boat to Constantinople. There they made a lengthy stay and then journeyed on to Italy and visited the Isle of Lipari, where Wilibald desired to get a glimpse of the crater, which is designated as hell, the thought of which called forth a fine piece of description from the nun.

'And when they arrived there they left the boat to see what sort of a hell it was. Wilibald especially was curious about what was inside the crater, and would have climbed the summit of the mountain to the opening; but he was prevented by cinders which rose from the black gulf and had sunk again; as snow settles falling from the sky and the heavenly heights in white thick masses, so these cinders lay heaped on the summit of the mountain and prevented Wilibald's ascent. But he saw a blackness and a terrible column of flame projected upwards with a noise like thunder from the pit, and he saw the flame and the smoky vapour rising to an immeasurable height. He also beheld pumice-stone which writers use[437] thrown up from the crater with the flame, and it fell into the sea and was again cast up on the shore; men there gathered it up to bring it away.'

When Wilibald and his companion Tidberht reached Rome they had been absent seven years, and their travels had made them personages of such interest that the Pope interviewed them. Wilibald at the Pope's suggestion agreed to join Boniface in Germany. Wunebald, the brother whom he had left in Italy, had met Boniface in Rome in 738 and had travelled back with him. Wilibald also settled in Germany and was made bishop of the new see of Eichst?tt. Here he came across the nun, who was so fired by his account of his travels that she undertook to record them.

After she had finished this work she was moved to write a short account of the life of Wunebald[438]. It is written in a similar style and contains valuable historical information, but it has not the special interest of the other account. Wunebald on coming into Germany had first stayed at Mainz, then he travelled about with Boniface, and finally he settled at Heidenheim where he made a clearance in the midst of a wooded wilderness and dwelt there with a few younger men. He was active in opposing idolatrous customs, but does not appear to have been satisfied with his work. He died about the year 765, and his brother Wilibald, bishop of Eichst?tt, and his sister, of whom mention is now made for the first time, came to his monastery to assist at the translation of his corpse. The sister took charge of his settlement, apparently for a time only, for the monastery at Heidenheim continued to be under the rule of an abbot and there is no evidence that women belonged to it.

It was from this sister that the nun received her information about Wunebald. The theory has been put forward that she was the same person as a nun who came to Heidenheim and was there miraculously cured. However that may be, this literary nun is the last Anglo-Saxon woman of whom we have definite information who came abroad in connection with Boniface. Her name is lost, it is as the anonymous nun of Heidenheim that she has come down to posterity.

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