University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E06549: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, names *Paul (the Apostle, S00008) as an exemplary virgin, and rejects the Revelation of Paul as an apocryphal text. Written in Latin in southern Britain, for the nuns at the monastery at Barking (south-east Britain), c. 675/686.

online resource
posted on 2018-09-20, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, prose On Virginity, 24

Paulus, dudum Saulus, vas electionis, tipicus Beniamin crepusculo devorans praedas, vesperi dirimens manubias, qui pithonissam necromantiae spiritu falsitatis fribula vaticinantem et ob hoc sumptuosas procerum opulentias affluenter cumulantem gazasque quaestuum diliciosas affatim locupletantem mutae taciturnitatis valvam labris procacibus opponere imperio terrente coegit quique – mirum dictu – quater senas in fundo maris profundo sospes transegit horas atque quinquies quadragenas acerrimo crudelitatis tormento una minus accepit, nonne ob purae integritatis praerogativam tertium polum peragrans supernorum civium arcana castis obtutibus contemplatur et caelestis militiae abstrusa ineffabili rerum relatu rimatur, licet revelatio quam dicunt Pauli in nave aurea florentis paradisi dilicias eundem adisse garriat? Sed fas divinum vetat catholicae fidei sequipedas plus quippiam, quam canonicae veritatis censura promulgat, credere et cetera apocriforum deleramenta velut horrisona verborum tonitrua penitus abdicare et procul eliminare orthodoxorum patrum scita scriptis decretalibus sanxerunt.

'PAUL, once (called) Saul, the vessel of election, a figural Benjamin "devouring the prey in the morning, in the evening dividing the spoils" [Gen. 49:27], who with a terrifying command compelled the sorceress to place a door of mute taciturnity in front of her insolent lips, when she was prophesying frivolities of falsehood through the spirit of necromancy, and for this reason piling up in abundance the sumptuous wealth of princes, and richly accumulating the delightful treasures of profit: (it was Paul) who – marvellous to relate – spent twenty-four hours unharmed on the deep bottom of the sea and received on five occasions forty stripes save one, in the severest torture of cruelty – does he not, because of the privilege of his pure integrity, traverse the third heaven contemplating the secrets of the heavenly citizens with chaste vision, and exploring the mysteries of the celestial army with (his) ineffable account of events, even though the so-called Revelation of Paul says foolishly that he came to the delights of Paradise in a golden ship? But divine law forbids the followers of the catholic faith to believe more, in any respect, than what the judgement of canonical truth promulgates, and the decrees of the orthodox fathers in decretal writings have sanctioned the utter rejection and complete banishment of the absurdities of the apocrypha as being a cacophonous thunder of words.'

Text: Ehwald, 1919, 256. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 81, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of specific texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Women Pagans


Aldhelm’s prose treatise On Virginity (De Virginitate), for Abbess Hildelith and the nuns of Barking (south-east Britain), survives in twenty manuscripts, the earliest of which are 9th c. Together with its later, poetic counterpart, it forms what Bede described in 731 as a ‘twinned work’ (opus geminatum), although there is a notable difference between the content and style of the two sections, the second part constituting more than a straightforward ‘versification’ of the first (see E06659). Aldhelm (ob. 709/10) appears to have been a son of Centwine, king of the Gewisse or West Saxons (south-west Britain) from 676 until 682/5, when he abdicated and retired to a monastery. We do not know when Aldhelm himself took religious vows, but he definitely attended, perhaps for many years, Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian’s school at Canterbury (from shortly after 670?), and possibly studied at the Irish foundation of Iona, off the coast of north-west Britain (perhaps in the 660s?). Around 682/6 he became abbot of the West Saxon monastery of Malmesbury, and in 689 probably accompanied King Cædwalla on his pilgrimage to Rome (see E05710 and E06661). In 705/6 he was appointed ‘bishop west of the wood’ in his home kingdom (later identifiable with the diocese of Sherborne). (For all aspects of Aldhelm’s career see now Lapidge, 2007.) At the core of On Virginity is a lengthy catalogue of exemplary virgins, first men (Old Testament prophets; New Testament figures; martyrs and other saints of the Roman Empire), then women (Mary; martyrs and other saints of the Empire), followed by some remarks on a group of non-virginal, Old Testament sancti who in some sense prefigured Christ. As with Bede in his Marytrology (725/31), Aldhelm makes good use of Roman Martyrdoms and Acts in his accounts of many post-Biblical saints. Although he does not seem to have had the same range of hagiographical material at hand as Bede later would at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow (north-east Britain), his use of the texts is more creative, and he extensively reworks them in his characteristically florid prose style. The prose On Virginity presents difficulties with dating, but the author’s reference to himself in its preface as only a ‘servant’ (bernaculus) of the Church would seem to place it before his abbacy in 682/6 (ibid., 67-9). Meanwhile – if the twelfth-century chronicler John of Worcester is correct – Aldhelm’s chief dedicatee Hildelith only appears to have taken control over Barking in 675, thus allowing us to date the work cautiously to somewhere within 675/86. This is significant, since it suggests that the many Martyrdoms which Aldhelm used among his sources (including several translated from the Greek) were available to him in southern Britain before his probable visit to Rome in 689.


Aldhelm's main sources for this passage are Biblical: Phil. 3:5; II Cor. 11:24-5, 12:2 and passim (Lapidge and Herren, 1979, 176).


Edition: Ehwald, R., Aldhelmi opera (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 15; Berlin, 1919). Translation: Lapidge, M., and Herren, M., Aldhelm, The Prose Works (Cambridge, 1979). Further reading: Lapidge, M., "The Career of Aldhelm," Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007), 15-69.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager