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The hagiographers of early England and the impossible humility of the saints

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The concepts of humility and self-abnegation are deeply alien to contemporary society, mired as it is in the narcissism of a life lived-out on the public stage of social media, and as states of mind they are fairly unfamiliar within academe now too, which is driven by a need to trumpet ones importance or originality in order to get ahead. The religious framework within which these qualities sat self-evidently for medieval writers and readers has also become a foreign country to most modern audiences. This article proposes a look at how the presentation of saintly humility by Latin hagiographers writing in England about the saints of England, in the tenth and eleventh centuries in particular, can surprise, even baffle, or seem contradictory to us now. But were they not just following convention, painting the saints this way? Did they present the humility of women differently from that of men? The enquiry will focus in part on the final book of the Liber Confortatorius by Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, eleventh-century England’s most prolific hagiographer, in which, addressing his former pupil turned anchoress, Eve, he offered extensive advice on how we ‘vessels of clay’ (lutea uasa) can only rise through humility.



The hagiographers of early England and the impossible humility of the saints


emotions, hagiography, humility, medieval England, saints

Is Part Of

Emotional Alterity in the Medieval North Sea World

Book type

Edited volume


Palgrave Macmillan