Materials for an English translation of the “Life” of St Botolph (or Botwulf), BHL 1428

In 653 AD a Saxon monk named Botolph (Botwulf in Anglo-Saxon) built a hermitage at Iken Hoo, in Suffolk, overlooking the demon-haunted marshes on the river Alde.  Botolph was on good terms with the East Anglian kings, and he gained a reputation as an exorcist.  He died around 680 AD.  His monastery was later destroyed during the raids by the Vikings.  The tomb of Botolph in the ruined church was still visible, however, and in 970 King Edgar I gave permission for the remains to be removed.  They were taken to Grundisburgh, near Woodbridge, where they remained for almost 50 years.  There was a Saxon church at nearby Burgh, where a medieval church now stands dedicated to St Botolph.  In 1095 the monks of Bury St Edmunds transferred the relics to their own newly rebuilt abbey.

The feast day of St Botolph is on June 17th.  The medieval Life (BHL 1428) was composed by Folcard of St Bertin (d. after 1085).  It is printed by the Bollandists in the Acta Sanctorum, together with an account of the translation of the relics.  Folcard composed a set of lives of saints whose relics were held at Thorney Abbey, with a prologue about his efforts.  The prologue is not in the Acta Sanctorum but was printed elsewhere.  Modern study of Botolph, and the work of Folcard has been undertaken by Rosalind C. Love, whom I believe may have prepared an unpublished translation of the Life.

Ms. Bodleian 297 contains material relating to the abbey at  Bury St Edmunds.  One snippet tells us that the bones of St Edmund were brought to the abbey when it was rebuilt in 1095.  It then goes on with the statement about the remains of St Botolph.

Translati sunt nihilominus cum rege beatissimo et reliquiis multis sanctorum corpora duorum sanctorum, videlicet Botulphi [two words missing] episcopi et Jurmini clitonis Christi, amboque, ut percipimus, illo delati sunt tempore Lefstani abbatis.  Corpus namque beati Botulphi episcopi primitus apud quandam villam Grundesburc nominatam humatum est; cujus translatio cum obscura nocte fieret, columna lucis super fere­trum ejus ad depellendas tenebras protendi visa est. Corpus vero beati Jurmini similiter apud villam quandam Blihteburc primum jacuit; in cujus plumbea theca in qua delatus est tale ephithaphium inscriptum continebatur: Ego Jurminus commendo, in nomine Trinitatis sanctae, ut nulla persona audeat depraedare locum sepulturae usque in diem resurrectionis; sin autem, remotum se sciat a sorte sanctorum.

Also translated with the most blessed king and the relics of many saints were the bodies of two saints, namely Botulph … the bishop and Jurmin the prince of Christ, and both, as we learn, were transferred in the time of Abbot Lefstan.  For in fact the body of the blessed bishop Botulph had at first been interred at a certain village named Grundisburgh; his translation took place in the dark of night, and a column of light stretched out above his bier to banish the shadows.  And the body of blessed Jermin likewise first was set down at a certain village of Blythburgh; on whose leaden casket in which he was transferred was fastened this epitaph inscribed: “I Jurmin trust, in the name of the Holy Trinity, that nobody shall dare to plunder the place of burial until the day of resurrection; but if on the other hand [it is] to move him, he would know by the oracle of the saints but otherwise, let him know that he is removed from the lot/fate of the saints.

It would be good to make an English translation of the Life of Botolph, but I have no time at the moment.  However I have collected together the source materials to do so, and I will place them here in case I can come back to this.  (I’ve not really looked at the materials for the translation of the remains, except for the one fragment.)

Let me also add whatever bibliography came to hand:

  • BL Harley 3097 – online here.
  • N. Hall, “A handlist of Anglo-Latin Hagiography through the twelfth century”, Old English Newsletter 45 (2014), p.12 (online here).  This reads:

Folcard, Vita S. Botolphi [BHL 1428], ed. Acta Sanctorum, Iun. III, 402–03; IV, 327–28. Discussion by Thomas Duffus Hardy, Descriptive Catalogue of Materials Relating to the History of Great Britain and Ireland to the End of the Reign of Henry VII, 3 vols. in 4 (London, 1862–67), I/1, 373–74. A Life of St Botolph of Thorney (d. ca. 680) dedicated to Walkelin, bishop of Winchester (1070–98). New edition forthcoming by Rosalind Love.

  • Rosalind Love, “Folcard of St Bertin and the Anglo-Saxon Saints at Thorney”, in Martin Brett, David A. Woodman( eds), The Long Twelfth-Century View of the Anglo-Saxon Past, 2016, p.27 ff.  Preview here.
  • Stevenson, F.S. “St Botolph (Botwulf) and Iken”, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 18 (1924), pp.30-52. – Online here.
  • Sam Newton, “The forgotten history of St Botwulf”, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 43 (2016), pp. 521-550. Online here.

I hope this will be useful.

UPDATE: (31 March 2023): I learn that Rosalind C. Love has an unpublished edition and translation of Folcard’s Life of St Botolph, which she intends to publish.