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E06554: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, names *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) as an exemplary virgin. Written in Latin in southern Britain, for the nuns at the monastery at Barking (south-east Britain), c. 675/686.

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posted on 2018-09-20, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, prose On Virginity, 26

Nec pudeat, Christi caelibes strictis pudicitiae legibus lascivam naturae petulantiam coartantes corporeosque titillationum gestus velut indomitos bigarum subiugales ferratis salivaribus refrenantes Toronici reminisci pontificis; quem antequam regenerantis gratiae vulva parturiret et sacrosancti baptismatis rudimenta cognosceret, in catacuminorum gradu et competentium statu stipem pauperculis porrigentem agapemque egentibus erogantem, cum nocturnae membra quieti dedisset, caeleste beavit oraculum, quique pro adepta integritatis corona et fausta virginitatis infula, quas velut regale diadema ac gemmatas crepundiorum lunulas indefessis viribus meta tenus servare satagebat, miris virtutum signis effulsisse memoratur [...]

'Nor should it be an embarrassment for Christ's celibates (who are) constraining the unruly impulsiveness of their nature with the strict laws of chastity and curbing the bodily gestures of titillation with iron bridles, as if they were untamed cart-horses, to call to mind the bishop of Tours [i.e. MARTIN], whom, before the womb of regenerating grace had born him and (before) he came to know the elementary doctrines of holy baptism, in the grade of a catechumen and with the status of those suitable (to be baptized), (even then) offering alms to the poor and distributing charity to the needy a celestial oracle rewarded when (once) he had given his limbs over to nocturnal rest; and who, because of the crown of integrity he had acquired the blessed distinction of virginity – which he was able to preserve with tireless efforts right to the end, like a royal diadem or the jewelled necklaces of amulets – is said to have shone forth in the marvellous miracles of his virtues [...]'

Ehwald 1919, 260-61. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 85.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source

Toronicus pontifex


  • 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 - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Unbaptized Christians


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 source for this passage is Sulpicius Severus' Life of Martin (E00692) (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.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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