The “medieval legend” of the appearance of St Michael at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall: a modern myth

Reading the charming website of St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, there is the following statement:

From as far back as 495AD, tales tell of seafarers lured by mermaids onto the rocks, or guided to safety by an apparition of St Michael. The patron saint of fishermen, it’s said the Archangel Michael appeared on the western side of the island – below where the entrance to the castle is today – to ward fishermen from certain peril. It’s a legend which has brought pilgrims, monks and people of faith to the island ever since, to pray, to praise and to celebrate.[1]

The phrase “tales tell” is indicative of no certain knowledge.  But in fact no such legend exists in any source before modern times. A jumble of manuscript notes by a 15th century traveller, which really related to the appearance of St Michael at Mont-Saint-Michel in France in 1710, were misunderstood as applying to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.  Milton himself then repeats the legend.  The date of 495 appears only in 1806 by Daniel Lysons.  There is no legend of an appearance of St Michael in Cornwall.

Nor is this unknown to scholarship.  The facts were thoroughly analysed in 1874 by Max Müller.  In 1953 A.H. D. Bivar repeated the process, seemingly unaware of Müller’s article.  But here we are in 2021, and the process has been done once more.  Let us hope that the power of the internet will do what the scholarly journals could not.

St Michael’s Mount appears in history only with the Norman conquest, when a series of charters document its existence from the time of Edward the Confessor.  A priory of Benedictine monks came into being atop the mount, and this was given to the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy.  It was an “alien priory” in England – essentially a farm which remitted revenue to the mother house.  While Normandy was under the English crown this was not a problem; but once Normandy became part of France, with whom English kings were frequently at war, such enterprises were often seized by the crown.  In the end the priory became attached to Sion Abbey in London, and then passed into private hands with the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 under Henry VIII.  There it has remained every since.

But what about these “tales”?   A Google Search certainly reveals such stories today.  Worryingly they are never referenced to any source.

Here’s what I have been able to find about the apparition of St Michael at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.  It starts with Mirk’s Festial, a collection of sermons.

John Mirk’s Festial (ca. 1400)

In John Mirk’s Festial (online here) we read De festo Sancti Michaelis , and on p.258 of the edition (slightly modernised by me):

He appeared also to another bishop at a place that is called now Michael in the mount in Corneweyle, and bade him go to a hill top that is there, and there he found a bull tent with thewes, there he bade make a church in the worship of him. But for there were two rocks, won on either side the church, that the werke might not vp for him, Saint Michaell bade a man in a night go there and put away these rocks, and dread nothing. …

This was, in fact, taken from the narrative from the Golden Legend (online here), as Mirk so often did.[2]  This gives us more details:

The apparition of this angel is manifold. The first is when he appeared in the Mount of Gargan. This mountain is in Naples, which is named Gargan and is by the city named Syponte. And in the year of our Lord three hundred and ninety, was in the same city of Syponte a man which was named Garganus, …

The second apparition was in the year of our Lord seven hundred and ten, in a place which was named Tumba, by the seaside, six miles from the city of Apricens. S. Michael appeared to the bishop of that city and commanded him to do make a church in the foresaid place, like as it was made in the mount of Gargan, and in like wise should hallow the memory of S. Michael there. And the bishop doubted in what place it should be made. And S. Michael said to him in the place where he should find a bull hid of thieves. And yet he doubted of the largeness of the place, and S. Michael appeared to him, and said that he should make it of the brede that he should find that the bull had trodden and traced with his feet. And there were two rocks which no man’s power might remove. Then S. Michael appeared to a man and commanded him that he should go to that same place and take away the two rocks. And when he came, he removed the two rocks as lightly as they had weighed nothing. And when the church was edified there, Michael set a piece of stone of marble there, upon which he stood, and a part of the pall that he had laid on the altar of that other church he brought thither to this church. And because they had great penury and need of water, they made, by the admonishment of the angel, a hole in a stone of marble, and anon there flowed out so much water that unto this day they be sustained by the benefit thereof. And this apparition is solemnly hallowed the seventeenth kalends of November in that place.  ….

The third apparition happed in the time of Gregory the pope. For when the said pope had established the litanies for the pestilence that was that time, and prayed devoutly for the people, he saw upon the castle which was said sometime: The memory of Adrian, the angel of God, which wiped and made clean a bloody sword, and put it into a sheath. And thereby he understood that his prayers were heard. …

The fourth apparition is that which is in the Gerarchy of the same angels.

So we have an apparition of St Michael in 710, rather than 495.  But this apparition is actually from the foundation legend of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy.  Mirk has merely transferred the appearance to Cornwall.  This seems to be both the first record of an apparition of St Michael in Cornwall at St Michael’s Mount, and also the first indication that it was borrowed directly from accounts of the apparition at Mont-Saint-Michel.

William of Worcestre’s Itinerary (1478-80)

The next reference is in William of Worcestre.  Between 1478 and 1480 he travelled through the west country, making notes.  His autograph is preserved as 349 slim pages in the Parker library as MS Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 210 (online here).  There have been two editions of these “Itineraria” but neither of them seem to be online.[3] The “Itineraria” are rough notes, copied from whatever sources he found wherever he was.

William’s text is quoted directly in A. D. H. Bivar, “Lyonnesse: The Evolution of a fable”, in: Modern Philology 50 (1953), pp. 162-170 (JSTOR); p.164, although without identifying the folio:

Apparicio Sancti Michaelis in monte Tumba, antea vocata le Hore Rok in the Wodd; et fuerunt tam boscus quam prata inter dictum montem et insulas Syllye, et fuerunt 140 ecclesiae parochiales inter istum montem et Sylly submersae.

Prima apparicio Sancti Michaelis in Monte Gorgon in regno Apuliae fuit anno Christi 391.

Secunda apparicio fuit circa annum domini 710 in Tumba in Cornubia iuxta mare.

Tertia apparicio Romae fuit, tempore Gregorii Papae legitur accidisse, nam tempore magnae pestilentiae etc.

Quarta apparicio fuit in hierarchiis nostrorum angelorum. Spatium loci montis Sancti Michaelis est ducentorum cubitorum undique oceano cinctum, et religiosi monachi dicti loci, Abrincensis antistes Aubertus nomine, ut in honore Sancti Michaelis construeret… ; Praedictus locus opacissima primo claudebatur silva, ab oceano miliaribus distans sex, aptissima praebens latebram ferarum in quo loco olim comperimus monachos Domino servientes.


Apparition of St Michael on Mount “Tumba”, before called the “hoar rock in the wood”: and there was both woodland and meadows between the said mount and the isles of Scilly, and there were 140 parish churches submerged between that mount and Scilly.

The first apparition of St. Michael on Mount Gargano in the kingdome of Apulia was in AD 391.

The second apparition was ca. AD 710 on “Tumba” in Cornwall next to the sea.

The third apparition was at Rome, in the time of Pope Gregory it is read that it happened, for in that time of great pestilence etc.

The fourth apparition was in the hierarchies of our angels.  The area of St Michael’s Mount is 200 cubits surrounded on all sides by the ocean, and of the most religious monk of the said place, the abbot Aubert of Avranches by name, that he constructed it in honour of St Michael…; the aforesaid place was at first enclosed by a dark wood, six miles distant from the ocean, offering most suitably a hiding-place of wild beasts, in which place formerly we have learned of monks serving God.

How very familiar this is, from the Golden Legend.  Again the apparition at St Michael’s Mount would appear to be in 710, not in 495.

Once again we have a connection with Mont-Saint-Michel.  Dr Bivar tells us that the words after the “fourth apparition” appear to be verbally identical with a passage in the Romance of Mont-Saint-Michel, the Old French medieval romance which records the appearance of St Michael to St Aubert or Albert, in 708 AD at “Mount Tumba” in Normandy, which first caused him to build the abbey there.[4]  This in turn is based on the 9th century Revelatio Sancti Michaelis in Monte Tumba, (BHL 5951) to be found in the PL96, cols. 1389-94, and the Acta Sanctorum Sept. VIII, 76-78.[5]  These texts also record a woodland around that island also, now drowned by the sea.

Again “Cornubia” definitely means “Cornwall”.  But we now have additional information: the local name for St Michael’s Mount, the “hoar rock in the wood”, does appear to reflect a name in the Cornish language.  This appears in other sources, as we shall see.

William Camden: Britannia (1586 onwards)

Starting in 1586, with five more editions to 1607, William Camden published his Britannia.  This was in Latin, but an English translation appeared in 1610.  This reads[6]:

9. As the shore fetcheth a compasse by little and little from hence Southward, it letteth in a bay or creeke of the Sea, in maner of a Crescent, which they call Mounts-bay, … And in the very angle and corner of it selfe S. Michaels Mount, which gave name unto the foresaid Bay, sometime called Donsol, as we find in the booke of Landaffe: the inhabitants name it Careg Cowse , that is, The hoary Crag or Rock, the Saxons Michel-stow , that is, Michaels place, as Master Laurence Noel, a man of good note for his singular learning, and who was the first in our age that brought into ure [use] againe and revived the language of our ancestours the Saxons, which through disuse lay forlet and buried in oblivion, hath well observed.

This Rocke is of a good height and craggy, compassed round abut with water so oft as it is floud, but at every ebbe joined to the main-land, so that they say of it, it is land and iland twice a day. For which cause John Earle of Oxford not many yeeres ago, presuming upon the strength of the place, chose it for his cheefest defense when he raised war against King Edward the Fourth, and valiantly held the same, but with no good successe. For, his souldiers being assailed by the Kings forces, straightwaies yeelded.

In the very top heereof within the Fortresse there was a Chapell consecrated to S. Michael the Archangel, where William Earle of Cornwall and Moriton, who by the bounteous gift of King William the First had great lands and large possessions in this tract, built a Cell for one or two monks; who avouched that S. Michael appeered in that mount: which apparition, or the like, the Italians challenge to their hill Garganus, and the Frenchmen likewise to their Michaels mount in Normandie. At the foote of this mountaine within the memorie of our Fathers, whiles men were digging up of tin they found Spear-heads, axes, and swords of brasse wrapped in linnen, such as were sometimes found within the forest Hercinia in Germanie, and not long since in our Wales.

This records the idea of the apparition at St Michael’s Mount, although no date is attached.  The reference to Mount Garganus, and Mont-Saint-Michel, indicates how free-floating this material is.  (It should be added that the Latin Life of St Cadoc also gives the local name of St Michael’s Mount as “Dinsol”.)

Richard Carew’s Survey of Cornwall (1602)

Richard Carew in his The Survey of Cornwall, (1602)[7] also has information.  His book is foliated rather than paginated.  On folio 3r he writes:

Moreover, vntill Athelstanes time, the Cornish-men bare equal sway in Excester with the English: for hee it was who hemmed them within their present limits. Lastly, the encroaching Sea hath rauined from it, the whole Countrie of Lionnesse, together with diuers other parcels of no little circuite: and that such a Lionnesse there was, these proofes are yet remaining. The space between the lands end, and the Iles of Scilley, being about thirtie miles, to this day retaineth that name, in Cornish Lethowsow, and carrieth continually an equall depth of fortie or sixtie fathom (a thing not vsuall in the Seas proper Dominion) saue that about the midway, there lieth a Rocke, which at low water discouereth his head. They terme it the Gulfe, suiting thereby the other name of Scilla. Fishermen also casting their hookes thereabouts, haue drawn vp peeces of doores and windowes. Moreouer, the ancient name of Saint Michaels Mount, was Caraclowse in Cowse, in English, The hoare Rocke in the Wood: which now is at euerie floud incompassed by the Sea, and yet at some low ebbes, rootes of mightie trees are discryed in the sands about it. The like ouerflowing hath happened in Plymmouth Hauen, and diuers other places. ….

Continuing on f.153v:

Stepping ouer to the South-sea, (for the distaunce is incomparison, but a step) S. Michaels mount looketh so aloft, as it brooketh no concurrent, for the highest place.  Ptolomey termeth it Ocrinum, the Cornish men, Cara Cowz in Clowze, that is, The hoare rocke in the wood.  The same is sundred from the mayne land, by a sandy playne, of a slight shoot in breadth, passable, at the ebbe, on foote; with boat, on the flood.  Your arriuall on the farther side, is entertayned by an open greene, of some largenesse, which finishing where the hill beginneth, leaues you to the conduction of a winding and craggy path; and that at the top, deliuereth you into a little plaine, occupied, for the greatest part, by a fort of the olde making. It compriseth lodgings for the Captayne and his garrison, and a Chappell for deuotion. This latter, builded by Will. Earle of Morton, to whom William the Conquerour his vncle, gaue much lands in those quarters, and greatly haunted, while folke endured their merits, by farre trauailing.  They haue a tye pit, not so much satisfying vse, as relieuing necessitie.  A little without the Castle, there is a bad seat in a craggy place, called S. Michaels Chaire, some what daungerous, for accesse, and therefore holy for the aduenture.

This does not state that St Michael appeared on the mount, thankfully, but it does give some of the other elements as other sources of his time.

John Milton, Lycidas (1637)

Our next source is none other than Milton, whose poem Lycidas references St Michael’s Mount.

Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold:
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth;
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.

It may not be obvious to us that the “guarded mount” is St Michael’s Mount, but commentators seem to have had no doubts – indeed even modern editions include it.[8].  To choose one instance of many, in the Gentleman’s Magazine vol. 68 (1798), p.322 here, we find this explicitly stated in a footnote:

“The great vision of the guarded mount” Milton’s Lycidas. “The great vision is the apparition of St Michael.  The guarded mount is, simply, the fortified mount.  See Wharton’s edition of Milton’s poems.”

We will discuss Wharton in a moment.

This tradition embedded in a great English classic is undoubtedly responsible for some of our myth. Artists have depicted the scene, including Turner.

Google Books gives me nothing of interest for the remainder of the 17th and 18th centuries.  That may be because there is nothing, or more likely because Google Books does not contain much of what we want.  I suspect the next milestone is in 1778, therefore.

Publication of William of Worcestre’s Itineraria (1778)

We’ve already dealt with William of Worcester, but his work remained in manuscript, and therefore was perhaps little-known.  In 1769 even an antiquary such as William Borlase knew nothing of it, as appears from the account in his Antiquities, Historical and Monumental, of the County of Cornwall. On p.385 here this discusses St Michael’s Mount, St Keyne and St Cadoc.  But he makes no suggestion that St Michael appeared there.

However in 1778 the Itineraria of William of Worcestre was printed, and thereby became much more widely available.  The effect was not instant, as we can see, but the legend of the appearance of St Michael starts to spread rapidly.

The Modern Universal British Traveller (1779)

This traveller’s handbook, The Modern Universal British Traveller: Or, A New, Complete, and Accurate Tour Through England, Wales, Scotland, and the Neighbouring Islands … The Articles Respecting England, by Charles Burlington… from 1779 gives nothing of our legend.  This we can see from p.501 here:

Near Market Jew is St Michael’s Mount, so called from a monastery erected on it by a Lady, the daughter of a British lord, who was converted by one of St Patrick’s disciples about the middle of the sixth century. In the reign of Edward the Confessor the old monastery was pulled down, and a new one erected at the king’s own expence, and set apart for the residence of Benedictine monks, who were brought thither from Caen in Normandy. Their lands, which lay partly in England and partly in Normandy, were confirmed by a grant from the pope Adrian IV. 1155, who was himself a native of St. Alban’s in Hertfordshire. …

No mention of the legend here, in an entry of some length.

Thomas Wharton’s edition of John Milton, “Poems on Several Occasions” (1785)

But in 1785 Thomas Wharton published an edition and commentary of these poems by Milton, including Lycidas.  It is online, here, p.28, where he writes:

Tradition, or rather superstition, reports that it was antiently connected by a large tract of land full of churches with the isles of Scilly.

This sounds like William of Worcestre’s Itineraria.  Further down the page we find this:

There is a tradition that a vision of St Michael, seated on this crag, or St Michael’s chair, appeared to a hermit, and that this circumstance occasioned the foundation of the monastery dedicated to St Michael.”

These words were quoted by our commentator on Milton above.

Yet nothing in the William of Worcestre justifies Wharton’s “hermit”.  This appears to be his own embroidery of the Itineraria.

This demonstrates the tendency of writers, found in every age, to suppose that, if something is uncertain or possibly legendary then there is no need to trouble to recount it accurately, nor to refrain from embroidering it.

William Lisle Bowles (1798)

But we have already seen that commentators on Milton like Wharton in 1791 show knowledge of the legend.  The trailing years of the 18th century seem to mark a turning point.  This otherwise forgotten poet issued a poem in that year:

Marked ye the Angel-spectre that appeared?
By other hands the holy fane is reared
High on the point, where, gazing o’er the flood,
Confessed, the glittering apparition stood.
And now the sailor, on his watch of night,
Sees, like a glimmering star, the far-off light;
Or, homeward bound, hears on the twilight bay
The slowly-chanted vespers die away!

We may note the mention of the sailor, as well as the archangel.

Daniel Lysons, Magna Britannia 3: Cornwall (1806)

But undoubtedly the most influential figure in the development of the legend as we have it was Daniel Lysons.  Lysons is quoted quite a bit in the 19th century, and is clearly the source of most mentions in that period.  Online here, and in the 1814 reprint here, in a footnote on p.136, we find:

Some of the British monkish historians say that St Michael, the archangel, appeared about the year 495 on St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall; the Italians say that it was on Mount Garganus in Italy; and the French writers that it was on Mount St Michael in Normandy.

Here for the first time we see the date of 495 AD for an apparition at St Michael’s Mount.  Lysons has read Camden, and picked up his reference to the triad of Mount Garganus, Mont-Saint-Michel and St Michael’s Mount.  It looks as if he has looked up the first of these somewhere, found a date of 495 AD for the apparition at Mount Garganus, and casually assumed that all three were on the same date.

Davies Gilbert and the Life of St Keyne (1838)

By 1838 the legend was developing fast.  I find in Davies Gilbert, The Parochial History of Cornwall, vol. 2, on p.206 here, the claim that the archangel appeared to St Keyne (St Kenna) at the Mount:

The earliest definite tradition of a Christian establishment dates with the pilgrimage of St. Kenna, in consequence of the appearance of the Arch-angel at that place. No particular circumstances are ever related of this extraordinary vision, neither as to the occasion nor as to the persons so eminently favoured as to behold the celestial glory, nor as to the time, nor of the exact spot, since it could not have taken place on the top of the tower, that building having been constructed in honour of the vision itself. …

Saint Kenna is believed to have imparted the same identical virtue to the chair which overhangs the tower, as she bestowed on the celebrated well near Liskeard, and since no one obtains a seat in this chair without much resolution and steadiness of head, one may be inclined to anticipate the supposed effect with greater certainty from the achievement of sitting in St. Michael’s chair, than from drinking water from St. Kenna’s well. The time of St. Kenna’s visitation is not accurately known. She is supposed to be the same St. Keyna, daughter of a prince of Brecknockshire, who lived a recluse life for many years near a town situated midway between Bristol and Bath, since called Cainsbarn, after her name, where she founded a monastery in the beginning of the sixth century, and cleaned the neighbourhood from snakes and vipers by converting them all into Cornua Ammonis, which have abounded there ever since, in testimony of her sanctity and of the fervour of her prayers.

In fact a look at the Life here shows that it was an unspecified angel caused her to leave the island, and no mention of any “chair”:

Now after many years had passed, when the fame of the holy virgin had been everywhere spread abroad, and she had visited, and also built, many oratories, Saint Cadocus, visiting Saint Michael’s Mount on a pilgrimage, found his aunt Saint Keyna there, and filled with great joy desired to bring her back to her own land, but the people of the land would not permit it. At last, warned by an angel, the holy virgin returned to her native land …

Once again we find legend reinforced by misstatement.

Later References

The embroidery of the tale continues with John Thomas in Ancient and Modern History of Mount’s Bay, (1831) p.12 here, who vaguely suggests that other angels also visited, and describes how the “credulous monks” did this or that, although I have found no other source than Mr Thomas for this.

The pilgrims in those days had a tradition that these hills were occasionally visited by the inhabitants of the celestial regions; among the rest Michael the arch-angel was presumed to be very fond of perching among these rocks and rendering himself visible to the credulous monks who were ever ready to substitute imagination for fact . The monks who first inhabited the Cornish Mount laid claim to this angelic vision and even pretended to shew the spot on which the angel sat on an awful pile of rocks that seemed most difficult of access and which thenceforth obtained the honorable name of St Michael’s Chair. It was from the circumstance of this supposed angelic visit that the ancient Cornish name of this Mount which designated its situation was abandoned and that of St Michael became substituted in its stead.

Davies Gilbert, The Parochial History of Cornwall, vol. 2 (1838), p. 172 here, simply states the appearance in 495, and others copied him.  Popular handbooks had no doubt of a legend that St Michael appeared on the mount in 495.  My own search found Henry Besley, The route book of Cornwall, (1853), p.127; Richard Peacock, Physical and historical evidences of vast sinkings of Land on the North and West Coasts of France, and South Western Coasts of England (1868), p.137; The Western Antiquary (1884), p.68; The Art Journal 60 (1898), p.61; and no doubt there are many others.

Rather more wary was William Pengelly in “On the Insulation of St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall” in: Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution, vol 5 (1869), p.131 here:

History, however, affords some evidence on the question. St. Keyna is said to have made a pilgrimage to the Mount, and there to have met St Cadoc, another pilgrim, about the year 490. An apparition of St. Michael was seen on the Mount in 495, or, as some assert, in 710. It is of no avail to object that, at least, the latter event is improbable. The well-established fact that its occurrence was taught and believed, warrants the opinion that the monkish chroniclers carefully recorded every great event connected with a spot so sacred, and that they would have certainly mentioned so important an occurrence as its severance from the mainland. Nor was the belief in this sanctity of brief duration. In 1044, Edward the Confessor granted a charter to a body of monks already established there, …

This drew a response from no less than Max Müller, Chips from a German Workshop: Essays on literature, biography, and antiquities (1874), p.316 f. here, and on the apparition p.325 here. Müller goes through the whole body of evidence for the legend of the appearance of St Michael at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.  He states:

Under these circumstances we can well understand how in the minds of the monks, who spent their lives partly in the mother-house, partly in its dependencies, there was no very clear perception of any difference between the founders, benefactors, and patrons of these twin establishments. A monk brought up at Mont St. Michel would repeat as an old man the legends he had heard about St. Michel and Bishop Autbert, even though he was ending his days in the priory of the Cornish Mount. Relics and books would likewise travel from one place to the other, and a charter originally belonging to the one might afterwards form part of the archives of another house.

After these preliminary remarks, let us look again at the memoranda which William of Worcester made at St. Michael’s Mount, and it will appear that what we anticipated has actually happened, and that a book originally belonging to Mont St. Michel in Normandy, and containing the early history of that monastery, was transferred (either in the original or in a copy) to Cornwall, and there used by William of Worcester in the belief that it contained the early history of the Cornish Mount and the Cornish priory. …

The only way to explain this jumble is to suppose that William of Worcester made these entries in his diary while walking up and down in the Church of St. Michael’s Mount, and listening to one of the monks, reading to him from a MS. which had been brought from Normandy, and referred in reality to the early history of the Norman, but not of the Cornish Mount. The first line, “Apparicio Sancti Michaelis in monte Tumba,” was probably the title or the heading of the MS. Then William himself added, “antea vocata le Hore-rok in the wodd,” a name which he evidently heard on the spot, and which no doubt conveyed to him the impression that the rock had formerly stood in the midst of a wood. …

This seems to be correct, and indeed is quoted in other publications soon after.  But sadly it has made little impact on the popular tradition.

In 1878, W.S. Lach-Szyrma in his widely-quoted A Short History of Penzance, S. Michael’s Mount, S. Ives, and the Land’s End, p.91 here happily repeats Lysons: “The date of the apparition of S. Michael is given as A.D. 496.”

There are many 20th century sources which repeat the same story.

    *    *    *    *

So we find ourselves at the end.  There is no medieval legend of an apparition of St Michael at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.  There never was.

  1. [1]St Michael’s Mount – History and Legends.
  2. [2]So also Graham Jones, “The Cult of Michael the Archangel in Britain”, in: Culto e santuari di san Michele nell’Europa medievale, (2007) p.161.
  3. [3]The Itineraria Sym. Simeonis et Willelmi de Worcestre, ed. J. Nasmith (Cambridge, 1778) is in the commercial “Eighteenth Century Collections Online”, but this is inaccessible to me.  The other is J.H. Harvey, William Worcestre: Itineraries, Oxford (1969).
  4. [4]There is a useful blog post at the British Library on this text here:
  5. [5]A more modern edition exists: Thomas Le Roy. Les curieuses recherches du Mont-Saint-Michel, 2 vols., ed. Eugène de Robillard de Beaurepaire (Caen, 1878, I: 407-19)
  6. [6]Online here.
  7. [7]On here in PDF and here as typed out by Gutenberg.
  8. [8]See for instance A Rudrum &c. (edd.), The Broadview Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Verse and Prose (2001), p.197 here: “the great vision of the guarded mount  St. Michael, the guardian angel who was said to have appeared to fishermen on St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall in 495 C.E.; Namancos and Bayona’s hold a region in north-west Spain and a Spanish fortress respectively.”

Online: The Latin Josephus Project

Here’s something that I had never heard of!  It’s a website, based at Google Sites, called the Latin Josephus Project.  The URL is

It contains the full text of the Latin Josephus for both the Jewish War and Antiquities, given in parallel with the Greek, and Whiston’s translation.  These words were translated in the 6th century, probably by Cassiodorus.  They are found everywhere in medieval monastic libraries.

This is a very useful piece of work!


The “Vita Sanctae Keynae”, an extract from the “Vita S. Cadoci”, and a modern myth about the year 490 at St Michael’s Mount

One of the Cornish saints was a woman.  Her name was Saint Keyne, or Keyna – there are various spellings – and she is known from a number of hagiographical texts.  She flourished in the late 5th century, and is connected to St Michael’s Mount.  Indeed there are various places on the web that make claims such as:

Legends tell of a visit by St. Keyne and a spring that miraculously gushed forth when she set foot upon the rock in 490 AD.[1]

The precise date of 490 AD is curious.  Other sites mention a meeting between St Keyne and her nephew, St Cadoc.  Let’s look at the actual origin of these stories, which is two medieval saints’ lives.

The Latin text of the medieval saint’s Life of St. Keyne (=BHL 4653) was written in manuscript by John of Tynmouth in 1366.  He produced an edited and abbreviated version.  It is this version that was printed by John Capgrave, an Austin Friar, in his Nova Legenda Angliae in 1516.  In the 1901 reprint by C. Horstman (online here) it can be found in volume 2, on pp.102-104.  A footnote in Horstman states that the text was reprinted in the Acta Sanctorum for October, vol. IV, for the 8th October, on p.276-7, and also that the same text can be found in MS. Bodleian 240, a manuscript from the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds dated 1377.

Let me give the Latin text first, and then an English translation.  Note the medieval spellings, notably “terre” for “terrae”, etc.  I have normalised a few “v” and “u” where it will make the text easier to read, but left most of the medievalisms.

¶ De sancta Keyna virgine.

Beata enim Keyna virgo de regali prosapia in occidentali parte Maioris Britannie oriunda extitit. Cuius pater rex Breghenocensium nomine Braghanus erat. Fuerunt autem regi illi filii duodecim et filie totidem, omnes deo placentes et vite sancte. Primogenitus eius erat sanctus Canochus; primogenita filia Gladus, mater sancti Cadoci; secunda Molari, mater patris sancti David meneuensis archiepiscopi. Ceteris vero propter prolixitatem omissis, ad beatam Keynam stilum convertimus. Antequam enim nasceretur, mater eius in visione vidit sinum suum mirra et balsamo plenum, et mamillas suas celesti lumine radiantes. Vidit et niveam se pro prole peperisse columbam. Cum vero enixam filiam mater diligenter educaret, mira quedam spiritualis gratie venustas in facie virginis apparebat, ita ut quandoque sicut nix, quandoque sicut solaris claritas refulgeret. Cumque ad annos nubiles pervenisset, et multi nobiles eam in conjugium affectarent; virgo sancta, virilem copulam omnino recusans, virginitatem suam voto perpetuo domino consecravit. Ob hoc enim, que prius Keyna vocabatur, postea britannice ‘Keynwiri,’ id est ‘Keyn virgo’ dicta est. Proposuit tandem patriam deserere et locum desertum, ubi contemplationi vacaret, querere: et arrepto itinere, ultra Sabrinam veniens, repertis quibusdam locis silvestribus, a rege illius provincie solitudinem illam in qua deo servire posset expetiit: cui, quod petiit hilariter se concessurum respondit, nisi quia locus ille tanta serpentium multitudine repleretur, quod tam hominibus quam iumentis et feris inhabitabilis extitisset. Virgo vero constanter respondit, se confidere in adiutorio altissimi, et in eius nomine se velle et posse omnem illam virulentam multitudinem effugare. Concesso igitur virgini loco, ad solitas preces se prostravit et omnia illa mox genimina viperarum mortificata in lapidum duritiem commutavit. Lapides enim usque hodie imaginem serpentinam exprimunt per campos et vicos, quasi arte lathomi sculperentur. Elapsis autem multis annis, cum fama sancte virginis ubique divulgata esset, et visitatis multis, oratoria multa construxisset, sanctus Cadocus Montem sancti Michaelis peregrinationis gratia visitans, sanctam Keynam, materteram suam, ibidem repperit, et magno repletus gaudio, cum illam ad terram propriam reducere vellet, a populo terre permissus non est. Admonitione demum angelica virgo sancta ad patriam suam rediens, in quodam monticulo ad radices cuiusdam montis magni habitationem sibi faciens, fusa ad deum prece fontem de terra produxit, qui multis infirmitatibus meritis virginis sancte salutem prebuit. Cum autem, spiritu sancto revelante, dies consummationis eius appropinquaret, vidit in visione noctis columpnam quasi igneam usque ad lectuli eius pavimentum descendere—in nudo enim pavimento ramusculis arborum superiectis dormire solebat. Et angeli duo sibi apparebant; quorum alter reverenter ad illam accedens, cilicium quo induebatur leniter exuit, et casula bissina una cum tunica coccinea, cum clamide quoque auro contexta decenter illam ornans, dixit: ‘Parata esto et veni nobiscum, ut introducamus te in regnum patris tui.’ Que, cum pre gaudio flens angelos sequi vellet, evigilans sensit corpus suum febribus aggravari et finem suum imminere : accitoque sancto Cadoco ait: ‘Locus iste est quem pre ceteris diligo : hic erit memoria mea: locum hunc sepius in spiritu, si licuerit, visitabo: licebit autem, quia dominus hunc mihi locum jure hereditario possidendum concessit. Futurum est autem quod locus iste inhabitabitur a gente peccatrice, quam ego violenter ab hiis sedibus extirpabo; iacebitque tumulus meus multis diebus incognitus, donec veniant alii quos ego precibus meis huc adducam, protegam et defendam, et in hoc loco benedicetur nomen domini in eternum? Et cum anima a corpore egredi festinaret, vidit ante se angelicum exercitum, intra celi palatium sine metu et periculo animam illius cum gaudio suscipere paratum. Quod cum astantibus indicasset, sancta illa anima [a] corpore soluta est, octavo idus octobris. Que cum egrederetur a corpore, subrisit sancta facies ipsius, roseum induens colorem, tantaque suavitatis fragrantia ex corpore virgineo procedebat, quod omnes qui aderant, se cum ipsa putarent in paradisi gloria collocatos. Sepelivit autem eam sanctus Cadocus in oratorio suo, ubi in sancta conversatione multis annis vitam artissimam et deo placentem duxit.

Now the English, translated by Gilbert H. Doble.   This was printed as a single paragraph, but I have split it up.

De Sancta Keyna Virgine.

For the Blessed Keyna, Virgin, sprang of royal stock in the western part of Greater Britain. Her father, king of the Breghenocenses was named Braghanus. Now that king had twelve sons and the like number of daughters, all pleasing to God and of holy life. His first-born was Saint Canochus; his first-born daughter Gladus, mother of Saint Cadocus, the second (daughter) Melari, mother of the father of Saint David, Archbishop of Menevia. But omitting the rest, on account of the great length (of the list), we begin at once to write the Life of Blessed Keyna. For before she was born, her mother saw in a vision her bosom full of myrrh and balsam, and her breasts shining with heavenly light. She saw also that she had given birth to a snow-white dove. And afterwards when she (Keyne) was born and her mother was training her with great care, a certain wonderful beauty of spiritual grace appeared in the virgin’s face, which shone— sometimes like snow, and sometimes like the brightness of the sun.

And when she had reached the age when she might be wedded, and many noblemen sought her hand in marriage ; the holy virgin, refusing altogether to be joined to a husband, consecrated her virginity to the Lord by a perpetual vow. For this reason, she who before was called Keyna, was afterwards called in the British language Keynwiri, i.e., Keyne the Virgin.

She finally resolved to leave her native country and to seek a desert place where she might devote herself to contemplation; and setting out on her journey she came beyond the Severn, and finding certain wooded places, she asked the king of that province to give her that solitary place so that she might serve God there; He answered that he would gladly give it, but that the place was filled with such a multitude of serpents that neither man nor beast might live there. The virgin however replied with steadfast courage that she trusted in the help of the Most High and in His Name was willing and able to drive out all that poisonous multitude. The place was therefore given to the virgin, and, after prostrating herself in prayer, as she was wont, she quickly changed all that offspring of vipers into hard stones. For the stones in the fields and villages there even to this very day bear the form of serpents, as if they had been carved by the sculptor’s art.

Now after many years had passed, when the fame of the holy virgin had been everywhere spread abroad, and she had visited, and also built, many oratories, Saint Cadocus, visiting Saint Michael’s Mount on a pilgrimage, found his aunt Saint Keyna there, and filled with great joy desired to bring her back to her own land, but the people of the land would not permit it.

At last, warned by an angel, the holy virgin returned to her native land and made for herself an habitation in a certain hillock at the roots of a certain great mountain, and after pouring forth prayer to God, she caused a well to spring out of the earth, which has given health to many infirm persons (lit. infirmities) by the merits of the holy virgin.

And when the day of her consummation approached, which had been revealed to her by the Holy Spirit, she saw in a vision of the night as it were a fiery column descending to the floor on which her bed lay—for she was accustomed to sleep on branches of trees laid upon the bare floor. And two angels appeared to her; one of which, coming up to her with great respect, gently took off the hair shirt which she wore and clothed her with a linen chasuble, together with a scarlet tunic, and arraying her as became her dignity with a cloak woven with gold, he said, “Prepare thyself and come with us, that we may bring thee into the kingdom of thy Father.”

And she, weeping for joy, and wishing to follow the angels, awoke and felt that her body was oppressed with fevers and that her end was near: and calling for Saint Cadocus she said: “This is the place which above all others I love; here shall be my memorial; I will often, if it be permitted, visit this place in the spirit; and it shall be permitted, because the Lord has granted me this place to possess by hereditary right. But it will come to pass that this place will be inhabited by a sinful race, whom I will violently root up from these seats ; and my tomb shall lie unknown for many days, till other men shall come whom I by my prayers shall lead here, and whom I shall protect and defend, and in this place the Name of the Lord shall be blessed for ever.”

And when now her soul was hastening to leave her body, she saw before her the angelic host ready to receive her soul without fear or danger within the palace of Heaven, And she signified this to those who stood by, and straightway that holy soul was loosed from the body, on the eighth of the Ides of October. And when it left the body, her holy face smiled and assumed a rosy hue, and so great fragrance of sweetness proceeded from her virginal body that all who were present deemed they had been transported with her into the glory of Paradise.

Now Saint Cadocus buried her in her oratory, where she (had) lived a life most strict and pleasing to God in holy conversation many years.

Now for some very necessary bibliography, the gathering of which consumed some hours today.

The translation that I have just given was made by Canon Gilbert Doble; a High-Church Anglican clergyman of the first half of the 20th century, who collected an enormous amount of lore concerning Cornish saints.  His publications were slight and made in obscure places, and sometimes more than once. Accessing them is not a trivial enterprise, and even the bibliography can be confusing.  He produced around 40 pamplets on various saints in his “Cornish Saints” series.

One of these was  G.H. Doble, “S Nectan, S Keyne and the Children of Brychan in Cornwall”, Cornish Saints series 25, Exeter: Sidney Lee, 1930, which contained this translation.  After his death this was included in a 6 volume compilation “The Saints of Cornwall”; but sadly abbreviated.  Thus St. Nectan appears in volume 6, but I find that St Keyne has got lost along the way.  A reprint of the complete article, which was 60 pages long, was produced in 1990 by Oakmagic Publications.

Fortunately I was able to access a two-part article by Doble, also titled “S Nectan, S Keyne and the Children of Brychan in Cornwall”, in the Downside Review, volume 48 (1930) and volume 49 (1931).  The latter article contains the translation above.

    *    *    *    *

The other half of the story about St Michael’s Mount given in the Life of St Keyne is to be found in the Life of St Cadoc, which exists in two versions.

One version of this is was printed with English translation[2]  This text is BHL 1491, incipit “Quondam in quibusdam finibus Britannicae regionis”.

The Life is long, but we are only concerned with chapter 27.  According to the editor (p.22), the text was printed from MS Britsh Library Cotton Vesp. A. xiv, p.17, and collated with Titus D. xxii, p.51.

27. Quomodo Sanctus Cadocus in Cornubia fontem salubrem precibus de terra produxit.

Necdum Dei bonitatem mirabilibus mirabiliora adicere piget; verum ejus clarum vernulam signis clariorem miraculisque celeberrimum humane debilitati remedium atque solatium prebendo libet efficere. Nam dudum cum idem vir illustrissimus de monte Sancti Michaelis venisset, qui in regione Cornubiensium esse dinoscitur, atque illius provincie idiomate, Dinsol appellatur, et ibi idem arcbangelus ab omnibus illo adventantibus veneratur estuans ex itinere fatigatus, valde sitivit. Locus autem quo hoc accidit vehementer aridus extitit; beatus ergo Cadocus humum baculo pepugit, ac continuo illic fons largifluus de solo scaturiit; indeque tam ipsi qui sibi comitantes affati quoque potaverunt, in similitudine Israelitici populi sitientes in deserto, cum Moises virga petram percussit, et fluxerunt aque in habundantiam. Ut autem omnes limpha satiati sunt, dixit ad socios suos, “Oremus, fratres, divinam obnixius benignitatem, quatinus cuncti, qui ad hunc sacrum fontem languidi venerint, ex eo diversorum morborum medelam, Dei gratia annuente, recipiant; et sic nostram flagrantem sitim, ita corporum venenosas pestes extinguat. Si quis namque egrotus, ab ipso fonte firmiter in Domino confidens bibit, ventris ac viscerum sanitatem reciperet, cunctosque virosos vermes ex se perficiet.” Postquam autem Cornubienses crebra sanitatum remedia utriusque sexus apud eundem fontem indeficienter fieri divina pietate conspexerunt, in honorem Sancti Cadoci ecclesiolam juxta fontem edificaverunt.

The English:

27. How Saint Cadoc by his prayers produced from the earth, in Cornwall, a health-bearing fountain.

Nor it is unpleasant to mention the goodness of God in his more wonderful miracles, but it is agreeable to make his eminent servant more celebrated in miracles, by his affording a most excellent remedy, and comfort for human infirmity. For lately, when the said most illustrious man came from the mount of St. Michael, which is known to be in Cornwall, and in the idiom of the district, is called Dinsol, and there the same archangel, who was venerated by all who came there, being hot, and fatigued from his journey was very thirsty. And the place where this happened was very dry; therefore the blessed Cadoc struck the ground with his stick, and immediately a full flowing fountain sprang from the ground, and therefore they who accompanied him, also drank like the Israelites athirst in the wilderness, when Moses struck the rock with his stick, and the water flowed in abundance. As all were satisfied with water, they said to their companions. “ Let us earnestly beseech the divine goodness that all such persons, as shall come to this sacred fountain, may therefrom, with the favour of God, receive the cure of divers diseases; and as it extinguished our raging thirst, so let it heal the painful disorders of bodies.” For if any sick person, having firm confidence in God, shall drink of that fountain, he will receive the cure of his belly and bowels, and he will drive all venomous worms from his body. And after the men of Cornwall saw that frequent cures of the disorders of both sexes were constantly effected at that fountain by divine piety, they built a small church in honour of Saint Cadoc, near the fountain.

The other version of the Life of St. Cadoc is a much shorter Life printed by Capgrave (vol. 1, online here, p.167 f.) and reprinted in the Acta Sanctorum January vol. 2, 603-6.  This has the code BHL 1493, with incipit “Gundlei filius cum in utero matris…”.  The portion relating to St Michael’s Mount begins on p.171:

Dum autem de monte sancti Michaelis in Cornubia venisset et sitim maximam passus esset, in loco arido baculum fixit: et statim fons largifluus de terra scaturire cepit. Oravitque ut cuncti languidi illuc accedentes suorum morborum medelam reciperent, venenosas pestes illa aqua extingueret, vermesque cunctos de ventre potantium proiiceret. Juxta enim fontem illum in Cornubia in honore sancti Cadoci fundata est ecclesia magna.

A quick translation by me.

But when he had come away from St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, and suffered very great thirst, he set up a stick in the dry place: and at once a free-flowing spring began to gush forth from the earth.  And he prayed that all who were faint coming there should receive a cure of their malady, that  the water might extinguish toxic illnesses, and drinking it would expel all worms from the stomach.  For near that spring in Cornwall in honour of St Cadoc a great church was established.

As far as I know, these are the only sources for St Cadoc and St Keyne at St Michael’s Mount, and what they did there. These are medieval legends, quite literally, and their historical value is low.  They are also very much later than the events that they purport to record by many hundreds of years.  They post-date the establishment of a Benedictine priory on the Mount, recorded in charters of the Norman period.

The date of “490” for these events, which we see online, seems to be a guess.  I have read suggestions that these saints were active in the late 5th century.  No doubt somebody with a web page to write turned that into “490”.

Update 28 May 2021: A query on the “Gender Desk” blog produced a long and very interesting post in reply – Monastic Matrix.  This includes the interesting information that a 1516 abbreviated translation exists of the Life of St Keyne.  This is Edmund Pynson, Kalendre of the New Legende of England, 1516, which is in EEBO: Early English Books Online (Only At Wealthy Universities).  This is drawn from Capgrave.  Luckily it is transcribed at;idno=A17943.0001.001, and the St Keyne portion is here.  Let me modernise the spelling a bit (where I can understand it) for ease of reading:

¶De sancta Keyna virgine.

Saint Keyne virgin was daughter to the king of Breghenoke in the West part of Great Britain and nigh of kin to Saint David, and aunt to Saint Cadoc when her mother was with child with her, she saw in vision her bosom full of myrrh and balm, and her teats shining of a heavenly light, and she thought that instead of a child she was delivered of a fair wight, and when she was first born her face was sometimes white like snow, sometimes bright shining like the sun at her years of marriage she forsook all marriages advowing to keep virginity, & lived in a desert beyond Severn, where by her prayers serpents that before that time had made the country inhabitable turned into stones. Saint Keyne made many oratories & after she went to Saint Michael’s mount and there she met with Saint Cadoc, & by monition of an angel she went into her country again and dwelled at the foot of a hill, where by her prayers sprang a fair well whereby many have been healed. She saw in her sleep a beam of fire descend there where as she lay on a bare pavement with green boughs under her & two angels appeared unto her & one of them reverently did off a heer that she had used to wear & apparelled her with goodly apparel,  & bade her be ready to go with them into the kingdom of her father, & when she gladly would have followed them she awoke feeling her self sick of the Axes, and then she called Saint Cadoc to her and told him she would be buried in that same place, which she said she would in spirit often visit.  Before her death she saw a great company of angels ready to take her soul with great joy without fear or pareil, and when she had told them that stood about her thereof she departed the viii. Idus of October.  And anon her face was of a colour like red roses and a sweet savour was about her that all that were there thought it like a joy of paradise.  And Saint Cadoc buried her in her oratory where she had lived a hard and a blessed life many years.

I found the actual Monastic Matrix site ( very hard to use, but a search is the right way to do so.

The blog author drew my attention to Polwhele’s History of Cornwall (1816), where in book 2, p.126 (here), I find a mass of stuff about St Keyne, including this:

The first time I find this hill upon record as a place of devotion is in the legend of St. Keyne, a holy virgin of the British blood- royal, daughter of Braganus prince of Brecknockshire ; she is said to have gone a pilgrimage to St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, she lived about the year 490, and her festival is celebrated on the 30th of September. Now it must be concluded that St. Michael’s Mount was before of great repute , either for the residence of some saint or working-miracle hermit, or celebrated for some supposed angelic vision, as was the humour of those times, otherwise one of St: Keyne’s dignity and eminence would not have undertaken a pilgrimage thither ; St. Keyne made no short visit, she stayed long enough by the sanctity of her life and the miracles she was thought to have performed , to ingratiate herself with the inhabitants. For some years after this , St. Cadoc making a pilgrimage to this same place found here, to his great surprize, St. Keyne his aunt by his mother’s side, at which rejoicing he endeavoured to persuade her to go back with him to her native country Brecknockshire (the intercourse between Cornwall and Wales being then frequent and familiar ) but the people of the country interposing would not endure her removal ; at last having had an express command from above the saint obedient to the heavenly monition retired to her own country. Let it be observed here, that although there may be somewhat of the fabulous in these, as there is in most legends, yet that here are two pilgrimages of the same age, which mutually confirming each other, add tolerable support to the story in general.

This footnote is, I suspect, the origin of the date of 490 AD for the visit of Cadoc to Keyne at St Michael’s Mount.

Update (2nd June 2021):  Further discussion at GenderDesk here reveals a claim by Rice Rees, An essay on the Welsh saints, 1836, p.154 here, that in the Life of St Cadoc,

The Mount of St. Michael is the name of a hill near Abergavenny, which still maintains its sacred character.

The hill of Skirrid Fawr near Abergavenny is indeed said to have some form of association with St Michael on  various websites, although I have not investigated this very far.  The “Last Welsh Martyr” blog here offers various statements, calling it “St Michael’s Mount”, all post-Reformation and all unreferenced, unfortunately.  But the Life of St Cadoc  explicitly names Cornwall as the country in which the events took place.  In the Life of St Keyne, the Mount is said to be outside “her own country”, whatever that is; probably Wales, as this is a text written in the medieval period.  So I think it is safest to disregard the claim of Mr Rees.

  1. [1]
  2. [2]W. J. Rees, Lives of the Cambro British saints: of the fifth and immediate succeeding centuries, from ancient Welsh & Latin mss. in the British Museum and elsewhere, Llandovery (1853) (online here).  The Latin is on p.22-70; the English on 309-395.

The decretal “Consulenti tibi” (JK 293) and the canon of the bible

During the fourth century a change comes over the church, and indeed the bishop of Rome.  By the end of the century the medieval papacy is coming into existence.  The accession of Pope Damasus was attended with rioting in the streets and in the churches of Rome, as supporters of the candidates sought to impose their man by means of violence; and the lifestyle of Damasus was such that the Urban Prefect, Praetextatus, was reported as saying to him, by St Jerome (To Pammachius, against John of Jerusalem, c. 8):

“Facite me Romanae urbis episcopum , et ego protinus Christianus.”

“Make me bishop of Rome and I will at once become a Christian!”

Various pieces of imperial legislation require the church courts to follow the practices of the secular courts when hearing appeals.  Likewise it is in this period that the church began its collections of canon law, and papal decretals, and the other apparatus of a institution.

My attention was drawn to the letter of Pope Innocent I to Exsuperius of Toulouse in 405, which contains a canon of scripture.  This turns out to be a papal decretal. I have never known anything about these.  Apparently D. Jasper’s paper “Papal letters and decretals from the beginning through the pontificate of Gregory the Great (to 604)”, pp. 7 ff in D. Jasper & H. Fuhrmann, Papal letters in the Early Middle Ages, CUA (2001) is the orientation to read. (Preview).  A decretal is a papal letter, containing a ruling in response to an appeal for such a ruling from a subordinate bishop.

There is a catalogue of decretals, begin by Ph. Jaffé, Regesta pontificum romanorum; the 2nd edition, co-edited with S. Lowenfeld (who did 882-1198 AD), J. Kaltenbrunner (everything up to 590 AD), and P. Ewald (590-882 AD), appeared at Lepizig in two volumes in 1885 (here) and 1888 (here).  This lists all the decretals and gives them a number, with a brief summary of content.

The letter of Innocent to Exsuperius is JK 293 (on p.45, PDF page 86), with the incipit “Consulenti tibi”.  Here’s the entry:

This summarises the content, which falls into several chapters.  The last, as an appendix, gives a list of the canon of scripture, “which books are received in the canon.”

The Latin text of the letter / decretal is in PL20, 495-502, where it is labelled as Letter 6″ of Innocent I. Apparently a critical text was given by H. Wurm in 1939 in 87 Hubert Wurm, Decretales selectae ex antiquissimis romanorum Pontificum epistulis decretalibus, in: Apollinaris 12 (1939), 40-93, but this I have not seen; in fact I can’t even find any information about the journal.

A couple of chunks of the decretal were translated by Denzinger, and are online here.  An English translation of chapter 7 is online here with the Latin.

(2). . . It has been asked, what must be observed with regard to those who after baptism have surrendered on every occasion to the pleasures of incontinence, and at the very end of their lives ask for penance and at the same time the reconciliation of communion. Concerning them the former rule was harder, the latter more favorable, because mercy intervened. For the previous custom held that penance should be granted, but that communion should be denied. For since in those times there were frequent persecutions, so that the ease with which communion was granted might not recall men become careless of reconciliation from their lapse, communion was justly denied, penance allowed, lest the whole be entirely refused; and the system of the time made remission more difficult. But after our Lord restored peace to his churches, when terror had now been removed, it was decided that communion be given to the departing, and on account of the mercy of God as a viaticum to those about to set forth, and that we may not seem to follow the harshness and the rigor of the Novatian heretic who refused mercy. Therefore with penance a last communion will be given, so that such men in their extremities may be freed from eternal ruin with the permission of our Savior.

(7) A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon. These are the desiderata of which you wished to be informed verbally: of Moses five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Joshua, of judges one book, of Kings four books, and also Ruth, of the Prophets sixteen books, of Solomon five books, the Psalms. Likewise of the histories, job one book, of Tobias one book, Esther one, Judith one, of the Machabees two, of Esdras two, Paralipomenon two books. Likewise of the New Testament: of the Gospels four books, of Paul the Apostle fourteen epistles, of John three [cf. n. 84, 92] epistles of Peter two, an epistle of Jude, an epistle of James, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John. Others, however, which were written by a certain Leucius under the name of Matthias or of James the Less, or under the name of Peter and John (or which were written by Nexocharis and Leonidas the philosophers under the name of Andrew), or under the name of Thomas, and if there are any others, you know that they ought not only to be repudiated, but also condemned.

Here’s the relevant bit of a (very poor) scan of the PL.

The last sentence is telling:

Data x kalendas Martias, Stilicone secundo et Anthemio viris clarissimis consulibus.

Given on the 10th day before the kalends of March, the nobile Stilicho for the second time and Anthemius being consuls.

The sack of Rome by the Goths was a mere 5 years away.


BHL 5955b – the “Miracula in Monte S. Michaelis in Cornubia”

There is a very obscure medieval text, dated to 1262, which is referred to in a couple of modern works as the “Miracula in Monte S. Michaelis in Cornubia” – “The miracles at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall”.  It is, apparently, listed in the 1986 supplement to the Bibliographica Hagiographica Latina, “supplementum novum”, published by the Bollandists and still available on the website for no less than 130 euros.  The volume is itself not commonly held, and I have no access to it.  But I understand the author of the BHL supplement assigned the “Miracula” text the reference number  of BHL 5955b.

This information I derive from Richard F. Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend, (2002), p.68, n. 91.  This is a comment on

… Mirk follows the Garganic myth with a rendering of an apparition of St. Michael to “another bishop at a place that is now called Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.”[90] Although there indeed is a tradition of an apparition by St. Michael in Cornwall,[91]…

The footnote is:

91.  The apparition in Cornwall is designated “Miracula in Monte S. Michaelis in Cornubia” (BHL 5955b). On this apparition and St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, see G. H. Doble, Miracles at St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall in 1262 (St. Michael’s Mount, 1945) and J. R. Fletcher, Short History of St. Michael’s Mount (St. Michael’s Mount, 1951).

As printed this footnote can cause quite a bit of confusion.  It would be clearer in this form:

91.  The 12th century text recording healings by St Michael in Cornwall has been given the modern title “Miracula in Monte S. Michaelis in Cornubia” (BHL 5955b). For the text and translation see G. H. Doble, Miracles at St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall in 1262 (St. Michael’s Mount, 1945).  On St Michael’s Mount see J. R. Fletcher, Short History of St. Michael’s Mount (St. Michael’s Mount, 1951).

For the “Miracula” text itself does NOT in fact record any apparition; instead it records the miraculous healing of three people who came into the church of St Michael.  St Michael does not appear to anyone, unlike the situation alluded to and referenced to Mirk’s Festial which reads (p.258):

He aperet also to another byschop at a place that ys callet now Mychaell yn the mownt yn Corneweyle, and bade hym go to a hullus top that ys fer, and theras he fonde a bull tent wyih theues, ther he bade make a chyrche yn the worschyp of hym.

The Doble item is merely a couple of sheets of paper, with no title page, nor indication of date.  The catalogues that I have seen date it to the 1930s; which is perhaps more likely than 1945.  Thankfully it is online here.  The footnote does NOT make clear is that it is, in fact, the editio princeps of the “Miracula” text, together with an English translation of it.  In fact it contains nothing else of consequence.  (The Fletcher item is a small hardback, but I have no access to it.)

Let’s look further at the “Miracula” text.  From Doble we learn, by close reading, that he took the text from manuscript Avranches 159, folio 3r, at the foot of the second column.  This manuscript he says contains miscellaneous material, as well as its main text.  The “Miracula” is one such.

But we have an advantage over Canon Doble.  For we live in the age of digital manuscripts.

The surviving manuscripts of the great abbey of Mont S. Michel are now to be found at the public library – Bibliothèque Municipale – at Avranches, where the agents of the French Revolution deposited them.  Doubtless there were many losses.  But their modern heirs have placed the manuscripts online.  Our manuscript may be found here, and you can see the page images by clicking on the binding image at the bottom.

Avranches BM 159 is a 12th century manuscript of the Chronicon Eusebii, plus supplements.  But that work is preceded by three leaves of parchment in a different hand.  Folio 1r has an unreadable paragraph, at least to me; folio 1v starts talking about the books at the abbey of Bec; and fol. 2r, v and f.3r contain a catalogue of the books, giving their titles.  The red splodges seem to be intended to highlight such things as a change of author.  It is quite an impressive collection, for a 12th century abbey.  It is followed by a short paragraph, then more books; and then our text.

Our text is clearly visible on folio 3r.  It has no title, so “Miracula in Monte S. Michaelis in Cornubia” is a modern coinage, presumably by the Bollandist editor.  Doble does not give the work any title; indeed it is probably just a translation of the English title of his pamphlet!  That this is indeed the same work can be seen by looking at the incipit (the starting words) and explicit (final words) of the text, as printed by Doble; as visible in the manuscript, and as given for BHL 5955b on the Bollandist website which gives no other details:

Incipit: Nulli monasterio S. Michaelis in Cornubia accedenti
Desinit: …anno Domini MCCLXII, XIII kal. septembris.

So all these items are the same item.

Let’s look at folio 3r:

Avranches 159, fol. 3

Look at the right-hand column.  The top section is just the list of books.  Then there is a blank line, then a chunk of text, then another blank line.  Then a paragraph with red marks, which seems to be additional “libri”. And then, without any blank line, our text begins with a capital N beginning “Nulli…”.  The whole text is contained here, with abbreviations, and ends with “septembris”.

Here is the transcription by Canon Doble:

Nulli monasterio sancti michaelis in Cornubia accedenti vertatur in dubium quin quaedam mulier nomine Christina de partibus glastonie per sex fere annos occulorum luminibus orbata ad dictum monasterium orationis et peregrinationis causa cum maxima deuocione accedens ii ydus maii anno domini m cc lx ii ante magnam missam quadam die dominica in conspectu populi in maxima fide perseuerans intercessione beati archangeli michaelis clausorum recuperauit diuinitus lumen occulorum testibus presentibus quamplurimis religiosis & aliis. Eodem anno iii ydus Junii quedam mulier nomine matildis de parrochia lanescli que per duos dies & duas noctes sensum amiserat & loquelam a parentibus suis ducta ad illud monasterium die dominica statim cum intrasset ecclesiam precibus celestis milicie principis sensui & loquele fuit restituta. Ego vidi & interfui. erat tunc temporis prior illius loci Radulfus viel. Eodem anno quedam iuuencula nomine aalicia de partibus de herefort engales nata per septem annos elapsos occulorum luminibus orbata ad dictam ecclesiam orationis et peregrinationis causa cum maxima deuotione accedens iii i kal. Februarii ante solis ortum quadam die lune in maxima fide persuerans precibus beati michaelis archangeli clausorum recuperauit diuinitus lumen occulorum erant tunc temporis socii illius loci petrus de vallibus eng(elrannus) de baiocis mauricius taboeier quando illa iiii miracula in illa ecclesia acciderant quartum miraculum de quodam muto est in principio huius libri in vii folio anno domini mcclxii xiii kal septembris.

And his translation:

“Let no one going to the Monastery of St. Michael in Cornwall doubt that a certain woman, named Christina, of the neighbourhood of Glastonbury, who had been deprived of the sight of her eyes for about six years, coming with the greatest devotion to the said monastery for the sake of prayer and pilgrimage, on 14th May, 1262, before High Mass, on a certain Sunday, in the sight of the people, persevering in the greatest faith, by the intercession of the Blessed Archangel Michael, recovered miraculously (lit. divinely) the sight of her closed eyes. There were present as witnesses many monks and others.

In the same year, on the 11th June, a certain woman named Matilda, of the parish of Lanescli (Gulval), who for two days and two nights had lost consciousness and the power of speech, being brought by her parents to that monastery, on Sunday, immediately she had entered the church, by the prayers of the Captain of the Heavenly Chivalry, was restored to consciousness and power of speech. I saw it and was present. The Prior of that place then was Ralph Viel.

In the same year a certain girl named Alice, of the parts of Hereford, born in Wales, who for seven years past had been deprived of the sight of her eyes, coming with the greatest devotion to the said church for the sake of prayer and pilgrimage on the 29th of January, before the rising of the sun, on a certain Monday, persevering in the greatest faith, by the prayers of the Blessed Archangel Michael recovered miraculously the sight of her closed eyes. The socii of that place then were Peter De Vallibus, Engelran of Bayeux, Maurice Taboeier, when those four miracles happened in that church.

The fourth miracle, on a certain dumb man, is in the beginning of this book on page 7, in the year of Our Lord 1262, on the 20th August.

Mr Doble adds,

Unfortunately the page containing the record of the fourth miracle has disappeared.

These few leaves at the start of the manuscript evidently were part of a larger volume before being found in as endleaves to Avranches BM 159.

I hope that anybody in search of “Miracula in Monte S. Michaelis in Cornubia” will find these notes useful.


New publication: Georgi Parpulov’s catalogue of NT catenas

A useful new open-access publication!  Georgi Parpulov has compiled a fresh catalogue of manuscripts containing the medieval chain-commentaries (“catenas”) on the Greek New Testament.  It’s being [published by Gorgias Press, here, but a free PDF is available here.  Get it now while it’s hot!

From Gorgias Press:

The book is a synoptic catalogue of a large class of Greek manuscripts: it describes all pre-seventeenth century copies of the Greek New Testament in which the biblical text is accompanied by commentary. Manuscripts where this commentary consists of combined excerpts (catena) from the works of various authors are described in particular detail. Those that have similar content are grouped together, so that the potential relatives of any given manuscript can be easily identified. Several previously unknown types of catenae are distinguished and a number of previously unstudied codices are brought to light for the first time. To ensure its longer shelf-life, the volume systematically references on-line electronic databases (which are regularly updated). It will be of use to anyone interested in Byzantine book culture and in biblical exegesis.

I remember that Eusebius’ Gospel Problems and Solutions included fragments of the work quoted by Nicetas of Heraclea in the catena on Luke.  It was very hard to find source material.  I’ve written before on catenas, and they are a very neglected area.  This catalogue must be of very great value.  Thank you, Dr. P.!

Via: Elijah Hixson at ETC Blog here.


From my diary: the Tertullian Project cleanup

I’ve continued to work on cleaning up the old Tertullian Project website.  I’ve just counted how many Html pages it includes – the answer is 8,147.  I have been a busy boy, it seems, over the last 24 years.  By chance I came across a page announcing the “” domain – that appeared in 1999, it seems.

Something that I have removed reluctantly is the “counter” that showed the number of hits on each page.  But it had long ceased to work, and the numbers were all wrong anyway.  I gather that such things are often a security threat these days, which I can understand.

I’ve added to every page a long and annoying “meta” tag specifying the “viewport”. The only reason for this is that you get marked down by search engines if it is not there, so everyone is adding it to their pages.  I imagine sooner or later someone will realise the waste involved and get rid of it again.

I’ve started to look at the broken links, of which there are many.  Internal links I can fix.  These must always have been wrong.  External links to now vanished websites are another matter.  One possible solution would be to link to the version of that site archived at, but this would be a hugely time-consuming business.  Another would be to remove the link; but this also removes the opportunity for the user to go and find the content at  I suspect that I will have to ignore external breakages.

It’s been a week and a half since I began.  The labour is immense, even with scripting tools.  I’ve always preferred to add content rather than worry about technical underpinnings.  I suppose a couple of weeks once in 25 years is not unreasonable.  Maybe I will revisit it again in 25 years.

I’ll continue working on internal links for a day or two, I think, and that will be that.  Whether it will produce better search results is another question.


Peeking through the arch of Constantine – another view of the Meta Sudans

Another photograph care of Roma Ieri Oggi depicts a US actress, Aloha Wanderwell, with husband, in front of the Arch of Constantine in 1928.  The angle is square on to the arch, unusually, so we can see the Meta Sudans particularly clearly through the arch. Nice!


From my diary

Over the last few days I have been working on the static HTML files of the Tertullian Project.  My objective is to improve its metrics in the search engine race, but I have found much else to do. I’ve enabled HTTPS, as seems trendy today (and you get marked down for not having it).

Most of the files were in ANSI format.  Many contained strange characters, a product of the very spotty support for anything but US 7-bit ascii, even today.  Various meta tags have been removed; others will be added.

At the moment I am grepping the files for non-ascii characters, whatever they happen to be, and fixing files.  I had not remembered that I have a letter by Lupus of Ferrières online, until my grep informed me that the e-grave in his name was corrupt.  Likewise an old favourite about a “Ramshackle Room on the Banks of the Cam” had mysteriously acquired corruption.

A kind correspondent let me know that, while doing this, I had disabled the Roman cult of Mithras pages.  This was mainly because a symlink had vanished; but I spent a stressful hour this morning before I discovered that a .htaccess file needed to be copied also.

A few days ago one of my backup hard drives started to make a squealing sound while idling.  I took this seriously; any odd noises from hard drives mean that failure is imminent.  What annoyed me was that the drive was only 3 months old; and bought to replace a drive which did the same only 6 months earlier.  So last week I bought a (third!) replacement from Amazon, which was defective on arrival, and went straight back.  I then bought a different drive from a shop locally.  But it is not a trivial process to back up in full the terabytes of data on my PC, and it is still running as I speak.

Ah well.  On with it!


An aerial view of the Colosseum, the Meta Sudans, and the base of the Colossus (1909-25)

Via the amazing Roma Ieri Oggi site, I learn of this interesting aerial photo of the Colosseum and, much more interestingly, the meta sudans and the base of the Colossus, the statue of Nero.  It was made between 1909-25.

At the bottom left the gate of Constantine.  Above it is the Meta Sudans, the demolished Roman fountain.  And above that is a square pedestal, also ancient, which is the base on which once stood the massive statue of Nero known as the Colossus, from which the Colosseum took its name.  I believe the pedestal was also demolished by Mussolini when he created the Via del Impero at the top left of the picture.