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E06578: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, names *Lucia (virgin and martyr of Syracuse, S00846), whose name, among others, is recited during Mass, 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, 42

Mihi quoque operae pretium videtur, ut Sanctae Agathae rumores castissimae virginis Luciae praeconia subsequantur, quas praeceptor et pedagogus noster Gregorius in canone cotidiano, quando missarum sollemnia celebrantur, pariter copulasse cognoscitur hoc modo in catalogo martirum ponens: Felicitate, Anastasia, Agathe, Lucia, quatenus nequaquam literarum serie sequestrentur, quae contribuli populo apud Siciliam genitae simul caelesti gloria gratulantur. Etenim sicut Catenense municipium prae ceteris Trinacriae urbibus Agathae martirio feliciter coronatur, ita famosissimae Christi tirunculae Luciae praerogativa Siracusas, oppidum Siciliae, prosperis successibus sublimatur [...]

'To me it also seems worthwhile that the fame of St Agatha should be followed by the glories of the most chaste virgin LUCIA, which two our teacher and instructor St Gregory the Great is known to have coupled together in the daily litany, when the solemnities of the Mass are celebrated, placing (them) in the catalogue of martyrs in this order: Felicity, Anastasia, Agatha and Lucia, so that these (two), who were born in Sicily to a kindred race, and rejoice together in heavenly glory, should not be separated in the sequence of narratives. For, just as the town of Catania is happily distinguished by the martyrdom of Agatha, so Syracuse, another Sicilian town, is elevated with fortunate events through the claims of the renowned novice of Christ, Lucia [...]'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 293. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 108-9.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Lucia, virgin and martyr of Syracuse : S00846 Agatha, virgin and martyr of Catania : S00794 Anastasia, martyr of Sirmium and Rome : S00602 Felicitas, martyr of Rome with her seven sons : S00525 Gregory I, 'the Great', bishop of Rome, ob. 604 : S0

Saint Name in Source

Lucia Agatha Anastasia Felicitas Gregorius

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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Liturgical invocation

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

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 the Martyrdom of Lucia (E02092) (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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