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E06627: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, names *Scholastica (nun of central Italy, ob. c. 543, S01728), *Christina (martyr of Tyre and Bolsena, S00907), and *Dorothea (virgin and martyr of Caesarea, S01898) as exemplary virgins. 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 2018-09-27, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Aldhelm, prose On Virginity, 47

Porro Scolastica ac Cristina simulque Dorothea apud Caesariam oriunda in provincia Cappadocia, licet dispari saeculorum serie sequestrentur, pari tamen integritatis tiara a Christo coronabantur.

Quarum prima sub confessionis titulo, licet cruentae passionis occasio defuisset, in consortio catholicorum laudabiliter degebat et in tam praecelso puritatis fastigio fulminavit, ut, cum unicus germanus, quem subnixis precibus unius noctis intercapidinem importune poposcerat, obtemperare per tinaciter reluctaretur, statim profusis lacrimarum fontibus serenitatem aetheris in procellarum turbines commutans et tonitrua fragore horrisono orbem trementem terrentia concitans simulque igniferas fulminum coruscationes eliciens mirum mundo spectaculum exhibu(er)it.

Secunda autem in tantum divinae caritatis faculis accensa , etiam antequam baptismi rudimenta susciperet, fuisse memoratur, ut statim ab undecimo aetatis anno fanaticae superstitionis contemptrix et supernorum decretorum cultrix extitisse narretur [...]

Tertiam vero cum Sapricius, orthodoxorum cruentus carnifex, non solum ad nuptias, sed ad nefandas quoque idolorum culturas et ineptas gentilium caeremonias cogere nequiret, confestim furibundus catastarum crudelitatem exercuit, lividas palmarum vibices exhibuit, torrentes lampadarum flammas applicavit. Duabus quoque feminis, quae nuper a fide naufragaverant et a Christi consortio apostataverant, eandem tradidit depravandam, sed versa vice earundem probrosas apostatarum cicatrices poenitudinis medicamento ita salubriter curavit, ut statim ordine praepostero doctricem propriam ad martirii palmam praecederent. Verum cum egrederetur crudele praetorium, Theophilo cum cachinnanti cavillatione flagitanti, ut de paradiso sponsi caelestis, ad quem se properare fatebatur, rata fructuum munuscula mitteret, quod cum calumniae gannatura prolatum, in veritate completum est. Nam pridemquam pateretur et cruentis mucronibus truncanda subderetur, tria mala cum purpureis totidem rosis ad eundem Theophilum distinasse describitur. Qui huius rei gratia propriae occasionem salutis adeptus rubicundis martirii sertis coronabatur.

'Next, SCHOLASTICA and CHRISTINA and at the same time DOROTHEA, who was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia, although separated by different periods of time, were yet crowned by Christ with the same diadem of purity.

Of these (three), Scholastica, under the title of a confessor, even though no opportunity for a bloody martyrdom presented itself, lived in a manner worthy of praise among the company of the faithful; and she shone at so high a peak of purity that, when her only brother, whom she had importunely entreated with earnest prayers (to stay) for the space of a night, was obstinately refusing to agree, by means of profuse fountains of tears she immediately changed the serenity of the sky into a stormy tempest; and, arousing thunder to terrify the trembling earth with horrific rumbling, and at the same time eliciting fiery flashes of lightning, she displayed a marvellous spectacle to the world.

The second, Christina, is said to have been kindled with the flames of divine love to such an extent that even before she received the rudiments of baptism, that she is said to have been a despiser of fanatical superstition and a worshipper of heavenly decrees right from the eleventh year of her life [...]

When Sapricius, a bloody butcher of the faithful, failed to compel the third virgin, Dorothea, not only to marriage but also to the wicked worship of idols or the foolish ceremonies of the heathen, immediately the raging maniac inflicted the savagery of the scaffold, laid on the livid bruises of fists, applied the burning flames of torches. He also gave (Dorothea) over to be corrupted by two women who had recently shipwrecked their faith and who has apostasized from the fellowship of Christ; but instead Dorothea so wholesomely healed the shameful wounds of these apostate women with the medicine of penitence, that at once, in a reversal of the proper order, they precede their teacher to her own palm of martyrdom. But when she left the cruel place, and Theophilus demanded with a jeer of laughter that she be sure to send him small gifts of fruit from the paradise of her heavenly groom, to whom she said she was going, what was requested with a snarl of malice was fulfilled in reality. For, well before she suffered (martyrdom) and was given over to be carved up with bloody swords, she is said to have sent three apples with as many crimson roses to this Theophilus. As a result of this action, Theophilus, seizing the occasion for his own salvation, was crowned with the scarlet garlands of martyrdom.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 300-302. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 113-15.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Scholastica (nun of central Italy, ob. c. 543) : S01728 Christina, martyr of Tyre and of Bolsena (central Italy) : S00907 Dorothea, virgin martyr of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Asia Minor : S01898

Saint Name in Source

Scolastica Cristina Dorothea

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 Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Relatives of the saint Unbaptized Christians Pagans Torturers/Executioners Women


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 Gregory the Great's Dialogues (E04455); the Martyrdom of Christina (E02090); and the Latin Martyrdom of Dorothea (E?????) (Lapidge and Herren, 1979, 178).


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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