medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Dear List -
My sincere apology for the five months delay of the promised question on
female danish saints.
Margaret of Roskilde is in fact the *only danish woman* to claim the title
of saint, and I regret the rush I had when she was deleted from the blessed
by a penstroke from my computer. It is not up to me to decide who are
entitled to be considered saints. It is understandable if some of my
feminist danish colleagues are infuriated by my arrogance. Sorry about
this. As a penance have I translated the most recent article on the subject
- it is up to you to draw your own conclusions. It is interesting to see
that she vanished into complete oblivion the moment when her influential
family lost their political power.
Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for Nordisk Middelalder, article "Margrethe", by
Margrethe, female saint from Sjaelland. 25 October 1176 was Margrethe, of
Absalon's family and closely related to bishop Peter Suneson and his
brothers, killed by her husband Herlog and the body hanged, to make it look
like a suicide. She was then buried, not on the churchyard, but on an open
field where a heavenly light appeared at night as proof of her innocense.
Absalon was told about this, and had the phenomenon investigated by
trustworthy men; Herlog was interrogated and confessed his guilt. Absalon
then went with a large company to Margrethe's grave, digged her body up,
and transported it in a solemn procession to the church of Our Lady in
Roskilde, where many miracles later occurred.
This is the story as told in the short and sober: "Relatio de translatione
Sancte Margarete Roskildensis", published in SRD [Scriptores rerum
danicarum, V, 302-03, 377-79] after a manuscript source which has now
As Peter Suneson is mentioned as bishop was the story probably written
after 1191 (Axel Olrik dates it after the death of Absalon in 1201, Lauritz
Weibull, however, to 1178/1188).
A more detailed account of the same story was discovered and published by
It is composed by Heribert of Clairvaux in 1178-1180 (when archbishop Eskil
was living in Clairvaux) and is part of a collection of devotional legends:
"Liber miraculorum". It has more details than found in the translation
account, but the details can be invented: The indulgence of Margareth and
the cruelty of her husband is depicted, his sister is mentioned as an
accomplice. The murder and the faked suicide is described in detail.
Margrethe is buried on the beach between two robbers. The heavenly light
has been exchanged with other common tomb miracles; The body was found to
be well-preserved and fragrant. It was then transported to Roskilde and
buried in the cathedral (!). Heriberts legend has left no trace in the
danish historical tradition.
Sjaellandske Aarbog mentions the place where the murder took place: Oelsyae
/ Oelishoeue (i.e. Hoejelse near Koege), and says the body was buried at
the far eastern coast. As date for the martyrdom is given 28 Oct. 1176.
Other Danish and Icelandic annals has the year 1177.
Margrethe was venerated as saint both in Roskilde and at the place of her
first grave near the coast, where a chapel had been erected, of which no
[archeological] trace has been discovered. The church of Our Lady [in
Roskilde] was c.1190 enlarged with a new eastern choir, that presumably
served as chapel for Margrethe. The church had an attached nunnery, which
Absalon reformed after the Cistercian rule, and provided with priviliges,
among others a third of the donations collected in Margareth's church at
the Baltic Sea, together with a special "Collecta S. Margarete" from twelwe
counties in the diocese. These priviliges were approved by the Pope in 1257.
At some unkown occasion has an attempt been made to obtain a formal
canonization, proven by two undated papal letters, where the archbishop is
asked to make a formal investigation of the miracles said to have occurred
at the grave of Margareth.
In the Icelandic World-cronicle from the 13th c. introducing Nikolas
Bergssons "Leidarvisir" (AM 194 8vo), is Margrethe mentioned as saint of
Roskilde: "In Roeskilde on Sjaelland is a fair maiden Margareta".
When Absalon made the dedication of a new church in Gumlosa with a lot of
reliquies of apostles and famous saints, was there also a
Margareta-reliquie among them.
Margrethe was not canonized, and there is no evidence preserved to show a
[liturgical] commemoration of her death or translation. But in the psalter
Egerton 2652 (British Library), which has been in the possession of the
Suneson family, is "Translatio S. Margarete" found on the 19 July, an entry
which led Ellen Joergensen to the conclusion, that the translation to
Roskilde took place on 19 July 1177. It is however uncertain if this not is
Margareta of Antioch.
H. Olrik: Danske helgeners levned, Copenhagen 1893-94, p.369-373.
M.Cl.Gertz (ed.): Vitae Sanctorum Danorum, Copenhagen 1908-12, p.388-90.
Analecta Bollandiana LII, 1934, 121-123.
Baudot & Chaussin: Vies des Saints et des Bienheureux, X, p.875-877 (Paris
Mag.art. Erik Drigsdahl CHD Center for Haandskriftstudier i Danmark
Kapelvej 25B 3.tv Phone: +45 +35 37 20 47
DK-2200 Copenhagen N Email: <[log in to unmask]>
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