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E06572: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, names *Amos/Amun (ascetic and monk of Nitria, S00419), whose soul *Antony ('the Great', S00098) saw carried to heaven, 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 2018-09-21, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, prose On Virginity, 37

Amos, primus Nitriae famosus accola, qui cum a parentibus invitus ad nuptiarum commercia cogeretur et tamen invitus nequaquam pudicitiae palma privaretur, magis magisque invisi oblatam matrimonii sortem acsi squalentis ceni contagia vel venenatum aspidis morsum refragabatur – hic ergo Amos generosa prosapia oriundus fuit, qui i praepollenti gazarum affluentia et sumptuosa patrimonii opulentia apud Aegiptum celebris habebatur. Huius ergo parentes amantissimam sobolem cum adultam et iam pubescentem in annis iuvenilibus deprehenderent, quasi secuturae posteritati consulentes ad nuptiales thalami copulas licet magnopere refragantem invitant. Quorum obstinatam importunitatem cum refutando frustrari non posset simulata matrimonii coniventia invitus anulo subarratam sortitur virgunculam, quam in obstruso thalami cubiculo clandistinis verborum hortamentis ad pudicitiae praemia persuadet; cuius precibus et monitis obsecundans ad summum virginitatis fastigium anhelat. Qui prolixa temporum intercapidine pariter in castimonia Deo tantum a teste vixisse feruntur et in rigido sanctae conversationis proposito cum virtutum incrementis usquequaque prosperabantur. Sub quorum magisterio ad fidem Christi et contemptum mundi numerosa utriusque sexus caterva confluxit; cumque secundis meritorum successibus in practica pollesceret, horrentis heremi vastitatem aggressus theoricam anachoreseos exercuit vitam.

Infinitis a vero remuneratore virtutum prodigiis donatur. Nam quidam iuvenculus rabidis molosi rictibus in vesaniam versus strictis catenarum nexibus ad eum deductus actutum incolomitati a pristinae donatur, sed ea conditione prius interposita, ut pauperculae direpta et depeculata mulierculae redderentur. Ast illi strofam in abdito perpetratam profetica virtute propalatam cognoscentes ea, quae fraude abegerant, sponte restituunt. Sed et illud strictim et summatim commemorandum, quod duo quidam dolium se viro Dei delaturos spoponderunt; e quibus alter, dum pollicita fefellisset, obeuntem gibbum amisit camellum, alius promissa complens asello sospite perfruitur. Quanta vero sit pudicitiae virtus, ex hoc manifestius liquebit, quod vir Dei, dum Nilotica gurgitis fluenta transire satageret et spoliare se melote et amiculis erubesceret, ne pudibunda corporis nuditas et indecens obscenitas castos offenderet obtutus, extemplo in citeriorem alvei marginem divina virtute translatus legitur, ne hoc incredibile videatur, memento, qualiter Ambacuc discifer messorum fercula de Iudea ad Chaldeos angelico fretus officio in puncto temporis perniciter detulerit et in leonum lacu e rugientium per tanta terrarum intervalla familicum Dei profetam affatim paverit et ubertim saginaverit. Huius itaque Amos spiritum Antonius heremita, cum carnalis ergastuli vinculis enodaretur, a caelestis militiae manipulo astriferis inferri caelorum orbibus conspexit.

'AMOS, the first renowned citizen of Nitria, who, although he was compelled unwillingly by his parents to the intercourse of marriage – and yet, unwillingly, would in no way be deprived of the palm of chastity – resisted more and more the proffered lot of this detested marriage, as if it were the contagion of squalid filth or the poisonous bite of an asp. This Amos, therefore, was born of a respectable family which was renowned in Egypt for the outstanding affluence of its riches and the sumptuous wealth of its estate. Accordingly his parents, when they saw their most affectionate offspring growing up and maturing in youthful years, thinking as it were of posterity to follow, they urge Amos to the nuptial bonds of marriage, even though he was resisting strenuously. When he could no longer disappoint their obstinate importunity by refusing, he unwillingly chooses a young virgin who is betrothed by a ring under a simulated connivance of matrimony; (and) in the secret seclusion of their wedding-chamber he persuades her with private verbal exhortations to (strive after) the rewards of chastity. Complying with his prayers and admonitions she aspires to the highest summit of virginity. The two of them are said to have lived together – with God alone as witness – in chastity for a lengthy period of time; and they continually prospered, with an increase in virtue, in their strict observance of the holy way of life. Under the instruction of a numerous crowd of either sex streamed to the faith of Christ and to contempt of this world; and when Amos had prevailed in practical affairs through the favourable outcome of his merits, he set out for the wilderness of the dreadful desert, where he practised the contemplative life of an anchorite.

He is endowed with an infinite number of prophetic signs by the true rewarder of virtues. For a certain young man, turned to insanity by the rabid bites of a dog, was brought to him bound tightly in chains; he is immediately restored to his pristine health, but with the condition first imposed, that what had been stolen and plundered would be returned to a certain poor little lady. And these (people), recognizing that the deceit perpetrated in stealth was now revealed through the prophetic power (of Amos), restored of their own volition those things which they had removed by fraud. And this (following) story ought to be retold briefly and cursorily: that two certain men had promised that they would bring a large jar to the man of God. The one of them, when had broken his promise, lost his hump-backed camel which died thereafter; the other man, fulfilling his promise, has the benefit of a healthy donkey. How great is the value of chastity shall be made more clear by the following (anecdote) – that the man of God, when he was endeavouring to cross the waters of the river Nile, was ashamed to shed his sheepskin coat and other clothing lest the shameful nakedness of his body and its improper indecency were to offend chaste eyes; he is said to have been transported suddenly to the far bank of the river by divine power. And, lest this seem incredible, recall how Habacuc, the bearer of food to the reapers, swiftly brought a meal from Judea to the (land of) the Chaldeans [i.e. Babylon] in one split second, supported by angelic aid, and over so great a distance of land amply fed the prophet of God [i.e. Daniel] and abundantly nourished him (while he) was in the den of roaring lions. St Anthony the hermit saw the soul of this Amos being borne aloft by a band of heavenly soldiers into the starry orbs of heaven when it was released from the bonds of its fleshly prison.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 284-6. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 102-3.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Amun, ascetic and monk of Nitria : S00419 Antony, 'the Great', monk of Egypt, ob. 356 : S00098

Saint Name in Source

Amos Antonius

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

Miracle during lifetime Healing diseases and disabilities Miracle with animals and plants Invisibility, bilocation, miraculous travels Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Relatives of the saint Aristocrats Women The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Animals


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' History of the Monks, ch. 30 (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



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