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E06555: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, names *Gregory (bishop of Nazianzos, ob. 390, S00837) 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, 27

Gregorius, Nazanzenae ecclesiae gubernator, apud Athenas, qua per idem tempus rumigerula grammaticorum gloria et clandistinum academicae disputationis sofisma pollebant, litteris incomparabiliter eruditus, Basilii in filosoficis dogmatibus condiscipulus , sicut undecimus ecclesiasticae liber historiae manifestat, cum a rudis infantiae teneritudine corporalis illecebrae contemptor et zelotipus castitatis amator existeret, pulchrae visionis oromate somno sopitus clementer solatur. Cui propter virginale pudoris propositum et gimnicum filosofiae studium in gemino feminini sexus simulacro Castitas et Sapientia per soporem apparuisse describuntur, hoc modo sanctum ad integritatis coronam cohortantes alloquuntur: Altera enim ex nobis Sapientia , altera Castitas dicitur et missae sumus a domino tecum habitare, quia iocundum nobis et satis mundum in corde tuo habitaculum praeparasti. Cuius somni coniectura colligi et his argumentis animadverti fas est, eundem huiuscemodi meritorum munificentia praeditum illaesae puritatis coronam usque ad metam sortis supremae indefessis viribus usquequaque custodisse, praesertim cum de illo cautum sit: Huius neque vita aliquid pvobabilius et sanctius neque eloquentia clarius et illustrius neque fide purius et rectius neque scientia plenius et perfectius inveniri potest quod Rufinus mira verborum urbanitate praeditus in prologo apologitici plenius exposuit.

'GREGORY, the governor of the church of Nazianzus, was incomparably educated in letters at Athens, where at the same time the renowned glory of the grammarians and the recondite sophistry of academic disputation flourished, (and was) a fellow student of Basil in philosophical doctrine, as the eleventh book of (Eusebius') Ecclesiastical History attests: since from the tenderness of early infancy he was a despiser of bodily allurement and passionate lover of chastity, he was benignly consoled, when (once) he was lulled to sleep, with a vision of beauteous appearance. Because of the virginal resolve of his purity and his strenuous pursuit of philosophy, Chastity and Wisdom are described as having appeared to him in his sleep in two figures of the female sex; they spoke in this way, urging the saint on to the crown of integrity: "One of us is called Wisdom, the other Chastity; and we are sent from the Lord to dwell within you, since you have prepared a pleasing and fully pure dwelling for us in your heart." From these statements it is fitting to observe, and from the interpretation of this dream it is fitting to conclude, that this saint, endowed with munificence of merits of this sort, had safeguarded the crown of undefiled purity with tireless energy in every way (possible) up to the limit of his last end, especially since concerning him it is stated in admonition: "Nothing more commendable or holy than his life, nothing ore distinguished or illustrious than his eloquence, nothing more pure or righteous than his faith, nothing more full or perfect than his learning is to be found (anywhere)" – which Rufinus, endowed with an amazing verbal elegance, has more amply elaborated in the prologue of his Liber Apologeticus.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 262-3. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 85-6, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Gregory 'the Theologian', bishop of Nazianzos (of Constantinople?), ob. 390 : S00837

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 - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


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 Rufinus' Continuation of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, 2.9 (Lapidge and Herren, 1979, 177).


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