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Dissemination of a Legend: The Texts and Contexts
of the Cult of St Guthlac

BACOLA, MEREDITH,ANNE (2012) Dissemination of a Legend: The Texts and Contexts
of the Cult of St Guthlac.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Ph.D thesis) - Accepted Version


This thesis gives an overreaching, detailed analysis of how the Anglo-Saxon cult of St Guthlac of Crowland developed from its modest origins in the eighth century to its summit in the early thirteenth century. It attempts to elucidate the reasons why and how an isolated fenland hermit became the object of widespread veneration instead of drifting into obscurity. In order to consider these reasons, fourteen materials have been chosen from the substantial and varied dossier of surviving Guthlacian materials, to elucidate particular phases or stages in this cult’s development. Ultimately, this thesis considers the function, dissemination, interaction and reception of materials indicative of each author’s adaptation of their subject matter for their patron(s) and audience, and in response to a changing ecclesiastical context. Its central argument is that the adaptability and popular appeal of the Guthlac narrative enabled this cult to benefit from lay support prior to the foundation of a monastic community at Crowland, possibly as late as three hundred years after the saint’s death.
This thesis is organized into seven chapters which respectively contribute to a holistic analysis of cult development. Following the introduction, chapter two seeks to draw attention to the variety and import of the Guthlac dossier through an analysis of the historiography relating to their dating, origins and provenance. The purpose of this chapter is to establish a chronology and identify fourteen materials which will be used to define different developmental stages; the Origins, Vernacular Variations, Norman Developments and Longchamp Revival, in subsequent chapters. The third chapter uses a variety of sources to reconstruct Crowland’s historical geography and landscape in order to determine how this context initially and over time affected the development of the cult. It argues that there is no evidence to support that Crowland was chosen as anything other than a site for ascetic retreat within borderlands, both perceived and actual, and that this choice provided substantial challenges to our perception of a cult’s requirements, though none that were insurmountable. Chapter four will proceed onwards to the dossier itself in order to consider how the Guthlac narrative was adapted in response to the changing ecclesiastical contexts defined in chapter three. An analysis of the sources used by these authors and the alterations which they made indicate that there were elements to these texts that were best understood and appreciated by a literate audience, that was likely exclusively monastic. In fact, the authors who were creating new Latin compositions for abbots of Crowland in the years following the Norman Conquest were less and less concerned with creating a text which could be easily comprehended by those with sparse Latin abilities and source knowledge, than they were with meeting the changing needs of successive abbots at Crowland and their progressive designs for the cult. There were nevertheless, other atypical elements found within the origins and vernacular variations phases which are not resolved by this interpretation. Subsequently, chapters five and six explain the social relevance of the heroic and visionary aspects of the Guthlac legend according to contemporary attitudes and accounts. Overall, it will be shown that the cult of St Guthlac of Crowland benefitted from the popular appeal this legend garnered early on, for this enabled it to remain adaptable and relevant until Crowland could take over, with variable results, the propagation of the cult.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:St Guthlac, Crowland, Anglo-Saxon cults, hagiography
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Jun 2012 10:02

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