University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E06658: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, concludes his list of exemplary virgins with the ultimately non-virginal Old Testament figures *Joseph (patriarch, S00277), *David (king of Israel, S00269), *Samson (judge of the Israelites, S02496), *Abel (second son of Adam, S02497), *Melchizedek (king and priest of Salem, S01783), and *Judith (S02498). Written in Latin in southern Britain, for the nuns at the monastery at Barking (south-east Britain), c. 675/686.

online resource
posted on 2018-09-29, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, prose On Virginity, 53-7

LIII. Sed quid mirum, iam rudi coruscante gratia, postquam virgo virginem sancto puerperio peperit, cuius principatus super umeros esse perhibetur, si ecclesia virginibus redundet, sicut caelum sideribus resplendet, cum etiam castissimum Ioseph legalia veterum volumina immensis praeconiorum laudibus celebrent? Quem ab ingruenti multiformium calamitatum discrimine [...] quamdiu purae virginitatis comes et lenocinantis prostibuli contemptor extiterat, illaesum divina tutela protexit [...]

[...] David quoque opinatissimus regum sub ipso pubertatis tirocinio illibata virginitate praeditus antequam copula matrimonii et conubii nexu nodaretur, nonne argutis fibrarum fidibus liniphaticum mitigabat et impensa sospitatis gratia freneticum curavit dira procul tetrorum d explosa spirituum vesania? [...]

[... ] Samson ille Nazareus ab ipsa gracillima cunabulorum aetatula Domino septenis crinibus sacer, antequam fraudulentis Dalilae complexibus caperetur et perfidi pelicatus stupro enerviter deceptus illecebrosis lenocinii nexibus nodaretur, nondum ferro dempta cincinnorum caesarie quantis miraculorum signis et virtutum rumoribus omni saeculo usque ad id tempus inexpertis effulsisse devulgatur! [...]

LIV. IGITVR sicut supra retulimus, per Hieremiam et Danielem ceteros que eiusdem propositi consortes et florentis pudicitiae sodales futura incarnati verbi virginitas misticis sacramentorum obumbrationibus figurabatur, ita per Abel insontem mitis innocentia et passio, per Melchisedech vero supernae potestatis pontificium et caelestis infulae flaminium praesignabatur [...]

LVII. IVDITH, filia Merari, post obitum Manasse sumpto viduitatis theristro et spreto sponsali e peplo blanda procorum lenocinia contempnens, nondum resultantibus apostolicae salpicis clangoribus: Dico innuptis et viduis: bonum est illis, si sic permanserint , quasi candens lilium pia castitate florescens atque a publicis conspectibus delitescens in cenaculi solario pudica conversabatur [...]

'LIII. But what wonder is it, when the new grace is now gleaming forth [i.e. the New Testament], after the Virgin bore a virgin in holy childbirth, on whose shoulders the government is said to be [cf. Is. 9:6], if the Church should abound in virgins as the sky shines with stars, when the books of the Old Law also honour the chaste JOSEPH with immense paeans of praise? For as long as he was a companion of pure virginity and a despiser of the enticing bawdy-house, divine protection guarded him unharmed from the menacing danger of multifarious calamities [...]

As for DAVID also, the most illustrious of kings, endowed with a stainless virginity in the boyhood of his youth before he was tied by the bond of matrimony and the shackle of marriage, did he not soothe the frenzied (Saul) with his clear musical strings and cure the (same) madman by bestowing the gift of health, driving far off the dread fury of black spirits? [...]

SAMSON the Nazarene, who from the very tender age of the cradle was sacred to the Lord because of his seven hairs – before he was caught in the fraudulent embraces of Dalila and, weakly deceived by the debauchery of this treacherous concubinage, was entangled in the the seductive chains of her allurements – while the mane of his tresses had not yet been shorn by a knife, with what great miraculous signs never experienced in any age up to that time is he said to have shone forth!

Although, I say, each of these patriarchs was most pleasing to the heavenly majesty for as long as he consumed the air of the atmosphere and the breath of life, nonetheless, after their joining in carnal union, the glory of their virtues slackened and became less.

LIV. Therefore, just as we mentioned earlier, just as the future virginity of the incarnate Word was prefigured in the mystical foreshadowings of a mystery through Jeremiah and Daniel and other associates in the same resolve and companions of flourishing chastity, so through the guileless ABEL gentle innocence and suffering, and through MELCHESIDECH the episcopal authority of heavenly power and the sacerdotal office of the divine priesthood are prefigured [...]

LVII. JUDITH, the daughter of Merari, scorned the flattering allurements of suitors after the death of Manasses, taking up the weeds of widowhood and rejecting a wedding-dress – and (this at a time) when clarion-calls of the apostolic trumpet had not yet put out the call: 'But I say to the unmarried and to the widows; it is good for them if they so continue' [I Cor. 7:8]. Flowering like a bright lily in her devout chastity and hiding from the public gaze she lived a pure life in an upstairs solar [...]'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 310-17. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 121-7.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Joseph, Old Testament patriarch : S00277 David, Old Testament king of Israel, Psalmist : S00269 Samson, Old Testament judge of the Israelites : S02496 Abel, Old Testament patriarch, second son of Adam : S02497 Melchizedek, Old Testament king and

Saint Name in Source

Ioseph David Samson Abel Melchisedech Iudith

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

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits 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.


Lapidge: there is 'no apparent reason' for Aldhelm's decision to sum up his list of exemplary virgins with this group of non-virginal Old Testament figures (Lapidge and Herren, 1979, 57).


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.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager