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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  March 2000

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION March 2000

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Subject:

RE: Irish saints

From:

"Maeve B. Callan" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Thu, 23 Mar 2000 03:00:43 -0600

Content-Type:

multipart/alternative

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (130 lines) , text/enriched (196 lines)

Francine wrote:
>
>  >
>	Sorry, could you please tell me which reference you have in mind?

Peter O'Dwyer, Célí Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland, 750-950 (Dublin, 1981)

>
>
>  > Most of the hagiography is virtually impossible to date,
>  >
>	Hmm, I think some would contest that thought.


I'm speaking primarily about the vitae, though I think it applies to 
many of the Irish Lives, as well.  Take out Brigid, Patrick, and Colm 
Cille, and you've got a whole host of vitae that were written at some 
point between the 7th and 14th cen, but most of them can't be dated 
with any precision or degree of certainty.  Sharpe has done really 
excellent work on this, but his theories remain just that, theories, 
with no incontrovertible or even extremely persuasive evidence, 
unless one is sympathetic to Sharpe's arguments.  I might have a few 
thoughts on when an original vita was written for reasons that I find 
compelling, but whether or not they would persuade you would be 
another matter, and at any rate I have to deal with the fact that 
what I think might be an early 7th-century life, for example, exists 
only in a 12th-century copy.  Some very highly respected scholars 
often assign a date to a given vita, without an explanation or strong 
evidence, one of the many bees in Sharpe's bonnet (and understandably 
so), but if you know of scholars who have reliably dated the vitae of 
Ireland's non-patron saints, I would be very interested in learning 
of their arguments.

>
>  > outside of the most celebrated saints and/or the most celebrated Lives.
>  > But what exactly does this have to do with Oengus?  Are you arguing for
>  > his use for a political claim, or against it, and hence no Life?
>  >
>	I'm saying that there seemed to be a lot of interest about the
>details of Oengus' life in the marginalia. Perhaps there was even a lost
>life! But I'm also supporting J.F. Nagy's proposals that the natvie scribes
>of this period were trying to establish a new source of tradition--written
>and Christian, rather than oral and scular--that would take precedence in
>both secular and ecclesiastical matters. To establish credibility for that
>tradition, it had to be shown to be old. Therefore the claims of the
>earliest saints would be the ones that mattered, not the latter day.


comments on Nagy below

>	For the women, there may be a different explanation: who owned the
>land. Men's monasteries, by and large, were associated with the local
>dynastic family, even if a family member was not a founder. This enabled the
>land to be passed on. Most women's monasteries did not survive their
>founder's death. I don't think this means the women all suddenly ran off.
>Rather, early Irish law, as we know, did not allow women to bequeathe land;
>on a woman's death, any land she owned reverted to her kin-group. The
>women's monasteries that survived for generations were sites, like Kildare,
>that apparently were ritual sites--land not belonging to any
>kin-group--before Christianity arrived.

I know it's a truism for virtually everyone who does Irish law that 
women couldn't pass on land, which is an obvious conclusion given 
that some laws say that straight up, but I think legal historians 
need to reflect a moment on what's descriptive and what's 
prescriptive, and also how frequently the law codes contradict each 
other (as with most of the sources of Irish history).  Take the 
banchomarba, the woman who brings more property to a marriage than 
her husband, in which case the man is as dependent upon her as she 
would be if the situation were reversed.  Or lánamnas comthincuir, 
the marriage between equals, which was standard and in which neither 
party can make any binding contracts without the other, and each has 
the right to dissolve the other's bad deals, whether it be the 
husband or the wife.  And while married a woman's property remains 
her own, and stays with her in the event of a divorce, a divorce 
which she could initiate on many grounds.  And even some jurists who 
had problems with female property allowed that their religious gifts 
were inviolate.  Besides, from Patrick's own Confessio on down, Irish 
religious writings testify to women's rights to do with their 
property as they see fit.  Hagiographers mention women who gave their 
hereditary lands to a monastery, both members of the community and 
patrons.  Ó Corráin acknowledges that it's impossible to tell where 
description ends and speculation begins in the law tracts, but I 
think only Bitel has integrated the laws with the vitae and has done 
the best work on the subject.

>
>  >
>	Have you read Nagy's _Conversing with Angels and Ancients_?


I found it to contain many interesting theories, but I didn't find 
any terribly compelling.  Not that I thought he was wrong, 
necessarily, I just thought his readings were one possibility among 
many.  He was, however, fairly comprehensive (particularly re: Pat), 
and I want to run something by you that he discusses and that I've 
asked around about before, without much feedback.

With regard to the druids' prophetic satire of Patrick, the one which 
refers to him as Adze-head, Muirchú explains the awkwardness of his 
translation from the Irish as propter linguae idioma non tam 
manifesta (not very clear on account  of the idiom of the language) 
and goes on to give quite a different spin on the poem, prefacing it 
with,   Quod nostris verbis potest manifestius expraemi (which can be 
expressed more clearly in our words. . ., Nagy 46-7).  Nagy is 
primarily interested in how Muirchú is able to translate pagan 
concepts and wit into Christian discourse and notes that Muirchú here 
identifies with the Latin language rather than the Irish, but he 
doesn't comment on how odd it is that a 7th-century Irishman would do 
so, regarding Latin as "our language" and Irish as if it were a 
foreign tongue.  Muirchú repeatedly differentiates between what "we" 
say in Latin and what the Irish people and pagans (Scotici homines et 
gentiles) say; this could suggest his desire to separate himself from 
the laity and to affirm his identification with his monastic 
brethren, who were after all his audience, and given the 'Celticisms' 
found in Muirchú's Latin, among other reasons, it's highly unlikely 
that he wasn't a native speaker of Irish, yet I find this distinction 
that he repeatedly makes to be very significant.  Do you have any 
thoughts?

One more question: a number of Irish saints set off for a particular 
site because they've had a vision of their resurrection from there 
and their death is imminent, a practice that as far as I know is 
unique to the Irish.  Do you (or any of the many experts on saints on 
the list) know if this is found among non-Irish saints, or have any 
insights into the practice?

Maeve

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