Some notes on St Alnoth

A correspondent was looking for the Life of St Alnoth in the Acta Sanctorum, and found himself confused by the series, as most of us are initially.

The Acta Sanctorum is confusing to the casual visitor, because all the lives of the saints are given on their saints’ day, the day in the Catholic Church on which they are commemorated.  For Alnoth this is February 27.  There is no overall numbering of volumes.  Instead the numbering is within each month – January vol 1, etc.

The material for St Alnoth is in February, vol 3, under the material for February 27th.  In the 1658 original edition, it’s on p.684.  I’m not sure if there is a standard way to reference this, but I might give it as something like:

Acta Sanctorum, Februarii III, Feb.27,  p.684 (1658)

This volume is online in a hard-to-read form here.  An electronic transcription is here.  (If you are on Windows, just do a ctrl-F in your browser for Alnoth)

Most people find the 19th century reprint easier to use.  There it’s on p.689, here (which is p.736 of the PDF).

There does not seem to actually be a “vita” for St Alnoth.  This item is instead a “sylloge”, which seems to be a collection of snippets from other hagiographical sources.  It was written in 1658 by the Bollandist editor: in this case, none other than Johannes Bolland (“I.B.”) himself.

Bolland quotes for St Alnoth the “Life” of St Werburgh, which is in February vol 1.  He also gives another couple of snippets from elsewhere.  I did look to see if the vita of St Werburgh had been translated, but if it has, it eluded me.

Alnoth himself was a 7th century anglo-saxon saint, who lived first as a herdsman.  He suffered from the attentions of an  unfair bailiff, and then he moved to become a hermit.  He was eventually murdered by robbers.

One day I ought to sit down and compile a “finder’s guide” for anybody wanting to work with the lives of the saints.  Maybe it already exists, I do not know.  Like most people, I wandered into the world of hagiography more or less by accident!


Literary sources for the “Life” of St. Eanswythe

There is a big news story yesterday about the bones of St Eanswythe, an anglo-saxon saint ca. 630 AD, which have been discovered in the wall of a Kentish church.  They were stashed there at the Reformation, and rediscovered a century ago, but without any certainty as to who they were.  The modern story is that they have been carbon dated and shown most likely to be authentic.  This all arises from the Finding Eanswythe project.

Here’s the headlines from the Daily Mail: here:

England’s missing saint is found: Scientists reveal skeletal remains squirrelled into the wall of Kent church belong to St Eanswythe who died 1400 years ago.  Hidden bones dating back as far as the 7th century are those of the Kentish Royal Saint of St Eanswythe. She was the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxon kings and one of the earliest English saints. Relics survived upheavals of the Reformation, squirrelled away in a wall, and were discovered in 1885. Patron saint of Folkestone is believed to have founded one of England’s earliest monastic communities.

Bones dating back to around the seventh century are those of St Eanswythe, the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxons who is venerated in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

The relics survived the major upheavals of the Reformation, during which Henry VIII’s agents seized and plundered the Folkestone church, before smashing the shrine of St Eanswythe.

Her remains, however, remained squirrelled away in the north wall of the church, and were discovered in a 12th-century reliquary in 1885, after church workmen stumbled upon a niche which had been plastered up.

The patron saint of Folkestone, Eanswythe is believed to have founded one of the earliest monastic communities in England, most likely around 630 on the Bayle, the overlooked historic centre of the town. She is thought to have died in her late teens or early 20s, though currently the cause of her death is unknown.

Now, over 1,300 years after her death, Kent archaeologists and historians, working with Queen’s University in Belfast, have confirmed the human remains kept at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe are those of the saint.

St Eanswythe was the only daughter of King Eadbald and his wife Emma, a Frankish princess. Born in around 614, it is believed that she was baptised and raised as a Christian. The princess committed her life to the service of God as a nun, and refused to marry.

Her father built her England’s first female monastery in Folkestone, into which she moved around 630 with companions who had received guidance from Roman monks who had moved to England in around 597 with St Augustine. Though she was not made an abbess, given she was aged 16, historians do not know of any abbesses prior to St Eanswythe.

Stories of her miracles including healing the sight of a blind man and casting out a devil in a sick man circulated during her life, and proliferated after her death in around 640. Historians believe that St Eanswythe prayed day and night, read spiritual books, copied and bound manuscripts, cooked and cleaned, and cared for the sick and elderly in her community.

The monastery survived for around two centuries after her death, before it was sacked by the Danes in 867, according to some historians. St Eanswythe’s holy relics were moved to a nearby church, before a new monastery and church dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswythe were built further inland in around 1138.

The story is copiously illustrated.  Her saints’ day is August 13th.

There seem to be two literary sources.

First there is a Latin vita (BHL 2555) in the Acta Sanctorum, August vol. 6, for 31st.[1]  This may be found online here., in vol. 40 the Paris reprint, on p.684 (p.728 of the PDF).

This is the only item listed in the BHL.  Incipit: Ethelbertus rex Angliae per s. Augustinum ep. – Des. et carnem prorsus a dolore purgavit.

There is a manuscript in British Library Cotton Tiberius E I/2, (late 14th century) fol. 60r-v.

A great number of catalogues of manuscripts are listed on the Bollandist website.  The material there is slender on editions.

Secondly an abridged version in Middle English in John of Tynemouth’s 1360 Sanctilogium Angliae, Walliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae.[2]  The electronic text may be found here, and, with modernised spelling, is as follows:

De sancta Eauswida virgine & abbatissa.

Saint Eauswyda was daughter to the king, son to king Ethelbert, Edbaldus. And from her youth she forsook the pomps of the world, and induced her Father to make her an oratory at Folkstone that she might in virginity serve our Lord.

And as the oratory was in building, the king of Northamhumbrorum, who was a pagan, desired to have her in marriage and her Father counselled her thereto, and praised the King much. And she said if he could in the name of his gods make a beam of her oratory, which was too short, long enough,  she would assent to him, if not she desired to be left alone.  And the king trusting in his gods gladly assented. And when he had long prayed, all was in vain that he did, and so he went away with shame.  And then the virgin prayed in the name of our Lord. And anon her prayer was heard, and the beam made long enough. And so the King departed.

And by her prayer water came against the hill from a town called Swecton to her oratory. And it came by another river and yet joined not with it.

Four brethren of great riches denied to give dysmes to St Eauswyda.  And after many years, three of them were compunct, and advertised the fourth to go with them to her sepulcre to do penance, and make satisfaction, and he denied it.  And anon the Devil entered into him.   And so his brethren bound him and brought him to her altar. And anon he was made whole and paid his tithes. And she went from this present life the day before the kalends of September.  And because her church was destroyed with the sea, her body was brought to Folkstone.

All useful.  It would be nice if someone would translate the Vita in the AASS.

  1. [1]My thanks to Mark for this.
  2. [2]My thanks to Judy Doherty for this!

Free! Database of manuscripts containing Latin Saint’s Lives – at the Bollandists

I’ve been looking for manuscripts of the “Life” of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  In the process I have just come across something very useful.

This is the “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Online” (although it doesn’t contain the BHL info) or Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina manuscripta (BHLms) database.  And … it is free!  You have to enter your name and email address,but then you can do what you want.

It’s hosted at the Société des Bollandistes.  Look under “online resources“.  The direct URL is here.  Click on Recherche, enter your name and email address (why?) and then you are in.

I clicked on “Trouver un texte hagiographique d’après son numéro BHL“, and entered 6104, which is the BHL number for the first part of John the Deacon’s Life.  This led to a page on the text, and then

Liste des manuscrits transmettant ce texte, décrits dans les catalogues des Bollandistes: par fonds ou par siècle.

Clicking on “fonds” – i.e. the libraries that hold the manuscripts – gave me a list ordered by library.  “siècle” gave me an even more useful list, in date order, thereby allowing me to concentrate on the earliest mss.  What I got was this:

Screen grab of the oldest manuscripts of John the deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas”

Note the statement at the top: 121 manuscripts counted in the catalogues published by the Bollandists.  That too is useful information.

The links do not lead to online manuscripts.  So it’s Google time.

Googling for “Chartres manuscrits” led me to a web page.  From this I learned that the Americans bombed Chartres in the war and destroyed half of its manuscripts, and cooked the rest.  But some survive.  A full list is here.  It turned out that the Bollandist “Ms. 68” now has the shelfmark ms.27, and … appears in the list of destroyed manuscripts.  So no luck, then.  The link to the catalogue info for it is here.

Googling for “Orleans manuscrits”, the next item, brought up a website alright: the “Aurelia – Bibliotheque numerique d’Orleans“.  I entered “342” in the search, and, among other cruft, got nothing useful.  I saw one manuscript had leading zeroes, so on a whim I tried 0342. This gave me a picture of a manuscript cover and “Views de saints et Sermons”, 342, Xe, XIe, et XII siecles”.  That looked OK, so I clicked on it and got … catalogue stuff, here.  A bit more experimenting and I found you have to click on the *image* itself.  There are facilities to download the manuscript, but unfortunately someone – a paperpusher, one fears – has limited it to 4 pages at a time.

The Life is supposedly at the start, but the very first page that one sees is damaged.  There are several references to St Nicholas tho.  It looks as if the cover was removed at some point, and the parchment is worn by being coverless for some period.  Turning the page reveals pen trials; turning again reveals a modern list of contents, and then the first page of the text (click to enlarge):

Orleans – manuscript 342, folio 6r. Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon (BHL 6104)

The note at the top of the page – “Monasterii sancti Benedicti Floriacensi” – tells us that prior to the French revolution the ms. belonged to the Benedictine abbey of Fleury.  So here is yet another manuscript online, although it took a fair bit of clicking to get it.

The Bollandist list of mnuscripts is inevitably incomplete.  I know of other manuscripts of this particular Latin text, thanks to the entry in the Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi: Italiae volume, which has an entry for John the Deacon / John of Naples, and which was the source that led me to the BHL Online.  But it’s still an invaluable resource.



From my diary

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.  Inevitably I found myself wondering what kind of ancient or medieval literary material there was about St Valentine.

I found very little.   What little there was to be found by a Google search suggested that it was all derived at many removes from the old Catholic Encyclopedia.  The article in this is vague too.

So off I went to the Acta Sanctorum.  Feb. 14, the feast day, is in February volume 2.  There wasn’t a lot, and this is one of the oldest volumes, from 1658.

I’ve been working on a Latin Life of St George lately, so I am very much “in the zone” to work on another Latin life.  So I thought that perhaps I would OCR the Latin text, and maybe look at translating it.

Abbyy Finereader 14 is an excellent piece of software.  It supports the Latin language properly, which makes it very useful.  Indeed I remember yearning for such a thing in days gone by.

I didn’t think that a 1658 edition, complete with long-s, would OCR that well.  So I looked for the Paris reprint of the 1850’s.  This I found without difficulty, as they are all in; but the quality is not good.  Not even Finereader could make much of those grainy faint pages.

My next step was to find some more copies of the book.  As I indicated in my last post, I faintly remembered a Google spreadsheet full of links to PDFs of the Acta Sanctorum.  A kind correspondent found it, and it is here.  But … the links were all to the original edition.

So I’ve spent this morning trying to locate a better scan of one of the Paris reprint volumes.  Eventually I succeeded, in Google Books, in finding it here, in the 1864 reprint.  This, I was delighted to find, OCRs quite well.  The page layout is hardly designed for OCR, but if you manually move the text boxes around, the results are really quite decent.

Time for lunch now.  I think that I need to go out and buy the materials that I intend to cook, actually!  But I shall continue correcting the OCR after that.

Once I have a Latin text, I shall post it.  I shall then look at translating at least some of it.

I’ve yet to see any studies of the St Valentine literature, which is odd.  It must exist; if not in English, then in German or French or certainly Italian.  My search terms clearly are not good.  But I can try out some searches over lunch!

UPDATE:  Over a lunch a kind correspondent emailed me a link to an obscure German site where they have apparently uploaded the transcribed text of the whole Acta Sanctorum.  The German site itself is poorly designed, but I am assured that buried within is the entire text.  If so, of course, then there is no point in my doing it.  Once I’ve worked out how to use the site, I’ll write a post on it.


Chasing some fake news about the Gospel of Barnabas

Weird websites can be a lot of fun!  Often they get hold of some obscure fact, which might pass us by.  It can be interesting to track it down.  I was reading Twitter earlier today and came across a series of tweets by an Islamic propagandist, one of which mentioned the Acta Sanctorum.  The page is headed How the Gospel of Barnabas survived.

The modern “gospel of Barnabas” is extant in Italian and Spanish, and was written in the renaissance by a renegade who converted to Islam.  It references events after 1300, so cannot be ancient.  The page is dedicated to proving that it is.

Here’s the claim that caught my eye:

In the fourth year of Emperor Zeno (478 C.E. ), the remains of Barnabas were discovered and there was found on his breast a copy of the Gospel of Barnabas written by his own hand. (Acia Sanctorum Boland Junii Tom II, Pages 422 and 450. Antwerp 1698).

All spelling as found.

Now I don’t believe for a moment that this is the actual source used by the author of that web page.  It’s clearly something copied from some undisclosed source.  But as it happens I have been collecting URLs for the original edition of the Acta Sanctorum.  So let’s go and look at these references!

It took little time to locate a copy of June volume 2, in the original Antwerp 1698 edition.  It’s on Google Books here.  For some strange reason they display it online in colour, but download is only in black and white.

The reference to p.422 can be briefly disposed of.  The text starts on p.421, and, as a note in the margin of p.422 makes plain, this is the text of the introduction by the Bollandists; “auctore D.P.”, in fact!  It is not an ancient or medieval text, although it quotes some ancient references.  In the right hand column, a few lines from the bottom, we read that the body of the apostle was found “& Evangelium supra pectus positum”.  Then at the end, we get a quote from Theodore Lector, writing around 520, and taken from a collection of assortments published in the Bibliotheca Patrum:

Reliquiae Barnabae Apostoli inventae sunt in Cypro, sub arbore cerasea, habentes sub pectore evangelium Matthaei, manu ipsius Barnabae scriptum.  Evangelium autem illud Zenon sub alia corona condidit.

The relics of the apostle Barnabas were found in Cyprus, buried under a tree, having on his chest a gospel of Matthew written by Barnabas’ own hand.  But that Zeno established that gospel under another crown.

I.e. this is the disposition of the relics in the monastery.

P.450 is here.  It’s in the Laudatio S. Barnabae Apost. (BHG 226, CPG 7400), written by “Alexander the monk of Cyprus”, from an unspecified Vatican manuscript, and translated by Francisco Zeno (p.436).  Chapter 4 is headed (p.449) “The finding of the body of St Barnabas”.  In this, section 40, in the left hand column, the Latin translation, part B, we read this:

It’s plainly Barnabas speaking, presumably in a dream, instructing someone where to find his body:

… & Evangelium manu proprie scriptum, quod a sancto Apostolo & Evangelista Matthaeo (a) excepi.

… and a gospel written in my own hand, which I took down from the apostle and evangelist Matthew (a).

It is, in fact, a copy of Matthew, not Barnabas, that is in question.  But there is a footnote here, which is also worth looking at, on p.452.  This is rather remarkable:

a. Nativus verborum sensus videtur esse, quod Barnabas evangelium, primitus Hebraice editum, propria manu exceperit ex ore ipsius met sancti Matthai, illud Graece dictantis, & et secum tulerit; sicut etiam fecisse dicitur S. Bartholomaeus: plures forsitan alii, uno eodemque tenore & tempore, citra ullam differentiam; quae inveniri deberet, si quisque suo marte propriam sibi versionem fecisset, cuius differentia nullam uspiam extat indicium.  Atque hinc factum sit, ut alii Iacobum, alii Ioannem, alii etiam Lucam vel Paulum interpretem fecerint; pro ut scilicet quoque Ecclesia evangelium legebat, ex huius vel illius Apostoli autographe.

a.  The natural sense seems to be, that Barnabas a gospel, originally written in Hebrew, with his own hand took down from the very mouth of St Matthew, speaking it in Greek, and bore it with him; just as is also said of St Bartholomew; perhaps many others, of  one and the same outlook and time, on this side of any difference….

The note is signed DP, which is a name of great authority – the Bollandist Daniel Papebroch.  The inference depends on the word that he rendered “excepi” – “took down”.  Unfortunately I don’t find the Greek text in the original at all readable – and that is the key here.

Fortunately others have read it, and printed the text.  The 19th century Paris reprint of the AASS is a bit easier to read.  July vol. 2 is here, although pagination etc is not the same.  Our section 40 is on p.445.

This seems to me to read “ξελαβον“, “I received from”, aorist.  It could indeed mean that Matthew dictated to Barnabas; but it need not.  Indeed the sense of dictation does not seem to be natural here.

But of course Papebroch was an expert, and I am not.  All the same, I can’t help feeling that he misunderstood his text here.  I don’t see any suggestion of a “gospel of Barnabas”; just of a written copy of Matthew in the hand of Barnabas, just as with Theodore Lector.

Alexander the monk seems to be a shadowy figure, who belongs to the 6th century.  The Wikipedia article mentions several scholarly articles, some giving a date as late as the 9th century, although I have not read these.

Fortunately a pre-print article by Chrysovalantis Kyriacou, “The Encomium on St Barnabas by Alexander the Monk: ecclesiastical and imperial politics in sixth-century Byzantium”, taken from an upcoming volume is online here.  This very useful article tells us much about the text (which has been edited critically since the Acta Sanctorum!), its manuscripts, and even discusses this question of “a gospel”, in note 49.  But he, like myself, sees only a copy of St Matthew here.

UPDATE: I find that the story that I am looking into is to be found in the Ragg translation of the Gospel of Barnabas, which has a long, copious and well-researched introduction.  On p.xlv of the introduction is the reference above, but the body of the text makes plain that the gospel found with the body of Barnabas was a gospel of Matthew.  So somebody has quietly ignored that.


Volumes of the Acta Sanctorum online

Lately I’ve found myself looking for Saints’ Acta. I’m not sure how one finds translations.  In fact it’s really not that easy to find even the original texts.   But I believe that the “go to” source for the texts is the monster 17-19th century compilation, made by the Bollandists, the Acta Sanctorum.

If you want editable text…


Here is the Bollandists’ own overview of the series.  The most important part is the Synopsis of the three editions of Acta Sanctorum (PDF).

  • The original series, published at Antwerp, consisted of 68 volumes.  See Brepols list here, and links to those I could find below.
  • A Venice reprint from 1734-1760 is basically the same, except that it combined May vol. 7 and the propylaeum, and it didn’t include September vols.6-8, October 7-13, or any of November or December.  A Brussels supplement to this (ed. Greuse) provided Sept. 5 and 8, and October 1-6.
  • A Paris reprint of 1863-1870 (edited by Palmé) assigned a number to each volume.  But it also divided the two January volumes into three, and stopped with October vol. 12; after which Palme was printing the original series as it appeared.  Links to these follow.
  • Finally there is a 1966-71 reprint of vols.1-60 of the original series.  The 60 volumes printed may be found at the DCO site here.

I doubt that this list of versions is complete.

I have found, by experience, that the page numbers in the Paris edition are not the same as those in the original.

Volume numbers and referencing

The original volumes did not have an overall series volume number, although the 19th century Paris reprint assigned one.  Instead the material is organised by Saint’s day; if the Saint is commemorated on 1st June, then that is where the material will be found.  In turn that means that we need to know which volume contains which days.

A reference to a page in the Acta Sanctorum will typically look like this: AS Mai 23, 412; i.e. May 23rd, page 412.  But you may also get ASS Mai III 412; which would indicate May vol. 3, page 412.

Other collections of links

See also:

Online volumes – The 19th century Paris edition

Here are the 60 volumes of the Paris-Palmé edition, courtesy of Villanova University; followed by the other original volumes which Palmé then issued.  We’re still missing two volumes.  Lots are on, or try a search for Acta Sanctorum ed. novissima.

At this point things get rather confused.  Palme’s numbering of 60 volumes of reprints is 1 more than the original series, because he divided January into 3 volumes.  So the “official” number is only 59 to this point.

There are three further volumes, listed at Brepols here as 69, 70, and 71; and then the “Acta Sanctorum Tables Generales” (1900), listed as 72.

Online volumes – Original Antwerp Edition

Since I compiled the list above, volumes of the original printing have started to come online.  I give those I could find here (which often meant searching for “acta sanctorvm septembris”!).  The Greek text in these is frankly very hard to read.

For November and December, the Paris/Palme volumes are the original edition.

Online volumes – Venice Edition

The Venice reprints start in the 18th century.  They do not reprint everything, however.  Here are some volumes that I came across incidentally:

The Venice edition carried on as far as September vol. 5.


  • H. Delehaye, The work of the Bollandists Through Three Centuries, 1615-1915, (1922) online here.

Contributions of links to volumes where there are gaps are most welcome.  Add them in the comments.