medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Autbertus (in French, Aubert and Autbert; in Breton, Alverzh) is the name of the bishop of Avranches to whom the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared in or around the year 708, instructing him, in several appearances, to erect a church in his honor on a seaside elevation called Mons Tumba ("Mount Tomb"; now known the world over as Mont-Saint-Michel). Autbertus is further said to have consecrated a church there on 16. October 709, hallowing it with relics of the archangel obtained from the latter's sanctuary on the Gargano peninsula of Apulia. The core of the story is found in the perhaps mid-ninth-century _Apparitio Michaelis in Monte Tumba_ (BHL 5951, etc.), was repeated in Autbertus' own Vita (BHL 858), and became very widely known thanks to its adoption by Jacopo da Varazze in the _Legenda aurea_.
In the early eleventh century Autbertus' putative remains were discovered at Mont-Saint-Michel; most were then placed in a shrine and given a formal Elevatio at the monastery church. This is said to be the start of Autbertus' recorded cult. Here's the skull in its present reliquary at Avranches' basilique Saint-Gervais (et Saint-Protais):
This skull is a purported Michaelic contact relic. The oldest surviving inventory of the relics at Mont-Saint-Michel dates from 1396. According to the abbot who drew it up, Autbertus' head (thought to have been part of the remains discovered in the early eleventh century) had been placed in a separate reliquary in 1131 by abbot Bernard who had had engraved thereon (the reliquary, obviously, not the head) a statement identifying it as the head of the founder, blessed Autbertus, and adding that a hole in the head was proof of the angelic revelation (_Foramen sis certus revelatione angelica rei bonae_). In the 1396 inventory _Foramen_ ("opening") has become _vestigium_ ("trace"). The story is that Michael placed his finger on Autbertus' head, creating the hole (this detail is not present in BHL 5951). It is now thought that the hole is the result of trepanning. Starting under Bernard (d. 1149) lay donors to the abbey affirmed their gifts by swearing by another relic, Autbertus' arm.
Today (10. September) is Autbertus' feast day in the diocese of Coutances and Avranches and his day of commemoration in the Roman Martyrology.
Some period-pertinent images of St. Autbertus of Avranches:
b) as portrayed (perhaps) in an eleventh- or twelfth-century statue in the south transept of the abbey church of Mont-Saint-Michel:
c) as depicted (St. Michael touching Autbertus' head with a finger) in a detail of a full-page illumination in the twelfth- and thirteenth-century cartulary of the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel (Avranches, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 210, fol. 4v):
d) as depicted (his vision of St. Michael) in a mid-fourteenth-century copy, from the workshop of Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston, of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (1348; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 241, fol. 260r):
e) as twice depicted (the top two illuminations in the right margin: welcoming a pilgrim; striking water from the rock) by the Bedford Workshop in the earlier to mid-fifteenth-century Salisbury Breviary (ca. 1420-1460; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 17294, fol. 610r):
f) as depicted (preaching on the Mount) in a later fifteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1480-1490); Paris, BnF, ms. Français 245, fol. 237r):
g) as depicted (topmost register: at left, his vision of St. Michael; at right, the building of the monastery) in an earlier sixteenth-century copy of Guillaume Crétin's _Recueil sommaire des cronicques françoyses_ (betw. 1516 and 1526; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 2819, fol. 111v):
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