In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anglo-Saxon Hagiography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Research Tools
  • Reference Works
  • Methodological Background
  • Conceptual Background
  • Manuscripts and Textual Criticism
  • Anthologies
  • Aldhelm
  • Bede
  • Cotton-Corpus Legendary
  • Other Latin Hagiography
  • Cynewulf
  • Old English Martyrology
  • Other Old English Hagiography
  • Martyrologies, Litanies, Calendars, Liturgy, Relic Lists
  • Late Traditions

British and Irish Literature Anglo-Saxon Hagiography
Christine Rauer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0131


A substantial corpus of hagiography survives from the Anglo-Saxon period, composed between c. 700 and c. 1100. The texts are in Latin or Old English, written anonymously or by a known author. Indeed, some of the most famous Anglo-Saxon authors, such as Ælfric (c. 950–c. 1010), Bede (c. 673–735) and Aldhelm (d. c. 709–710) took a great interest in the hagiographical genre, and Bede’s and Aldhelm’s Latin hagiography experienced an even wider transmission on the Continent. The surviving texts belong to a diverse range of subgenres, which include both hagiographical prose and poetic works, ranging from sprawling encyclopedic material (such as the Old English Martyrology or the Cotton-Corpus Legendary) to more compact, free-standing texts focusing on individual saints, such as Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, or the Old English Life of Chad. In stylistic terms, some texts are cast in a relatively plain and factual language (the martyrological texts, for instance), while others display greater literary ambitions, such as the Old English Menologium or Aldhelm’s De uirginitate. If Old English and Latin hagiographies share certain characteristics in genre and style, the two corpora also differ in various ways, for example in the greater number of anonymous texts written in the vernacular, or the relative lack of Latin hagiographical composition in the 9th century, a period during which some interesting vernacular texts seem to have been produced, such as the Old English Martyrology. Recent decades have seen continuing progress in making Anglo-Saxon hagiography accessible for scholarly study, with greater numbers of reliable editions being produced, as well as easily available translations, up-to-date research tools, and detailed scholarly studies. A substantial number of doctoral theses have focused on hagiography, making a substantial contribution to the field. Comparison of the primary texts with traditions from outside Anglo-Saxon England has never been easier, and one of the most lively areas of current research seeks to draw links between the Anglo-Saxon production and its Continental European or Eastern models. Another flourishing field of research explores the transmission and usage of hagiography in Anglo-Saxon England, with interesting new insights arising from the study of manuscripts and authors’ intertextuality. The present bibliography begins with sections listing general introductions, background material, and research tools, before paying separate attention to both Latin and Old English hagiography. It ends with a representative list of studies on individual saints (biblical and apostolic traditions, universal saints, Anglo-Saxon saints).

General Overviews

Because of the wealth of surviving texts, the more detailed general introductions to Anglo-Saxon hagiography (e.g., Cross 1996, Lapidge and Love 2001, Whatley 1996a) have tended to focus on either the vernacular or Latin corpus of material. Old English and Latin hagiographies diverge in their chronological development, with Latin hagiography experiencing an early flourishing (in the works of Bede and Aldhelm) bookended by a very late period of production (the later 10th and 11th centuries); Old English prose hagiography, on the other hand, seems to come into fashion only in the 9th century, although poetic Old English hagiography seems to have predated it, though it is difficult to date to specific years. After the highlight of Ælfric’s late Anglo-Saxon production, Old English hagiography seems to have declined more quickly than its Latin counterpart (Anderson 2003, Love 2014). In reading across the two corpora, it is important to remember that, although Anglo-Saxon authors and readers are likely to have been bilingual, an Anglo-Saxon individual would probably have been less well read than a modern reader; an Anglo-Saxon reader of hagiography is likely to have had a more partial (and possibly more local) knowledge of hagiography.

  • Anderson, Rachel S. “Saints’ Legends.” In A History of Old English Literature. Edited by R. D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain, 87–105. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

    Chronological survey of Anglo-Saxon saints’ lives, both in Latin and the vernacular.

  • Cross, James E. “English Vernacular Saints’ Lives before 1000 A.D.” In Hagiographies: Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550. Vol. 2. Edited by Guy Philippart, 413–427. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1996.

    Concise overview of the earlier vernacular corpus, with particular attention to poetic texts, especially Cynewulf; presents a brief bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

  • Lapidge, Michael. “The Saintly Life in Anglo-Saxon England.” In The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. 2d ed. Edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, 251–272. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCO9781139042987.020

    Illustrates the various hagiographical genres of Anglo-Saxon England, using the example of Clement’s legend; discussion also includes calendars and poetic texts, covering both Latin and vernacular material.

  • Lapidge, Michael, and Rosalind C. Love. “Hagiography in the British Isles 500–1550: Retrospect (1968–98) and Prospect.” Hagiographica 6 (1999): 69–89.

    Brief survey of materials, including those of the Celtic-speaking areas; includes section on desiderata (more facing-page translations; work on neglected texts, such as Bede’s Martyrologium).

  • Lapidge, Michael, and Rosalind C. Love. “The Latin Hagiography of England and Wales (600–1550).” In Hagiographies: Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550. Vol. 3. Edited by Guy Philippart, 203–325. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2001.

    Comprehensive summary of the surviving corpus of Latin hagiography, the earlier parts of which cover Anglo-Saxon England (pp. 203–223). Arranged in chronological order, with some attention paid to certain centers (York, Canterbury, Winchester, Ramsey).

  • Love, Rosalind C. “Hagiography.” In The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. 2d ed. Edited by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg, 231–233. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2014.

    Concise recent summaries, in chronological order, of both the Latin and the vernacular traditions. Gives brief bibliography.

  • Magennis, Hugh. “Approaches to Saints’ Lives.” In The Christian Tradition in Anglo-Saxon England: Approaches to Current Scholarship and Teaching. Edited by Paul Cavill, 163–183. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2004.

    Introduction to the genre; aimed at students “as they encounter saints’ lives for the first time” (p. 163). Discusses gender, heroism, and “defamiliarizing features” such as miracles and anti-Semitism. Concludes with a section listing resources for the study of Anglo-Saxon hagiography (pp. 179–183).

  • Watson, Claire. “Old English Hagiography: Recent and Future Research.” Literature Compass 1 (2004): 1–14.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2004.00100.x

    Identifies thematic trends in recent scholarship: attitudes to source study, the social relevance of hagiography, and the growing interest in the hagiography of female saints. Also discusses a representative selection of primary and secondary literature.

  • Whatley, E. Gordon. “An Introduction to the Study of Old English Prose Hagiography: Sources and Resources.” In Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints’ Lives and Their Contexts. Edited by Paul E. Szarmach, 3–32. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996a.

    Useful collection of research tools and handlists, for example of Old English prose saints’ lives and manuscripts containing hagiography.

  • Whatley, E. Gordon. “Late Old English Hagiography, c. 950–1150.” In Hagiographies: Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550. Vol. 2. Edited by Guy Philippart, 429–499. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1996b.

    Continues the survey of Cross 1996, extending the chronology to the end of the Anglo-Saxon period. Political contextualization followed by useful lists of anonymous saints’ legends and Ælfric’s saints’ lives; appendix on Ælfric’s Latin sources.

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