The first mention of St Austell, ca. 900 AD, in a Vatican manuscript

In the Vatican there is a Latin manuscript, shelfmark Vatican Reginensis Latinus 191, which contains a collection of texts assembled for the church in Reims in northern France.  The manuscript is online, and may be found here.

At some point before the 12th century, the manuscript was given some parchment guard-leaves on either end.  These are not blank.  They were taken from another volume and turned upside down to avoid distraction.  The pages contain part of ps.Seneca, De Moribus, followed by the notice of Jerome on Seneca from De viris illustribus.

Jerome finishes part way down what is now folio iir.  Then on the same line there is a list of 48 names, written in an larger insular book hand, and carrying on over the page.

Here is the first page, turned back the right way:

Vatican Reg. Lat. 191, f. iir.

And here is the verso:

Vatican reg. lat. 191, folio ii, verso.

On the verso, at the start of line 2, are two names: Austoll and Megunn.

A list of names is inscrutable, and the reader may well ask what he is looking at.

In a brilliant article in Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies,[1] B. L. Olson and O. J. Padel analyse the list and come out with some fascinating conclusions.

They show that these names are all in Old Cornish.  Of the 48, 21 are most certainly the patron saints of modern Cornish parishes.  St Just, for instance, is there.  Other names are very obscure, and it is possible that the parish patron saint has simply changed since to one better known.

Even more interestingly, they print a map of Cornwall, showing the location of each church.  This shows that the parishes cluster together.

These cannot be coincidences.  They conclude from this that this is a list of Cornish parishes, written down for some unknown purpose shortly after 900 AD, either in Cornwall or in Brittany.  As such this is testimony to the existence of some sort of parish system at this date, in the Anglo-Saxon period, a century before the Norman conquest.

Austoll is of course St Austell (see this previous post).  This scrap of waste parchment is the earliest mention of the saint; but since this is a list of parish saints, this is also the earliest witness to the church and village of St Austell.

The name “Megunn” is undoubtedly Megwin, i.e. St Mewan, or S. Méén, so important in Brittany.  There is still a village of St Mewan near St Austell, and we learn from the medieval life of St Mewan that St Austell was a deacon who was the disciple of St Mewan.  The two stand together in the list, as on the ground.

There is almost nothing left of Old Cornish, or so the authors tell us.  The history of the land has perished.  Cornwall began to be assimilated into English even before the conquest.

So this is a precious peek into a land which became Christian in the Roman or sub-Roman period, but about which nothing is really now known.  Thus it is only from archaeology that we know of Byzantine ships visiting north Cornwall during this period, off-loading  goods from far away, and doubtless taking on a cargo of tin.  What did the sophisticated Greek merchants see, on the hills above the landing, in this rude land?  Simple churches dedicated to Celtic saints, it would seem.

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  1. [1]B. Lynette Olson & O. J. Padel, “A tenth-century list of Cornish parochial saints”, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 12 (1986), 33-72, with plates.

Looking for an article in the Cambridge/Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies journal

The plague rages among us, or so we are assured by the mass media.  My local library has closed after a librarian had a close encounter with someone later found to be infected.  There’s no question of visiting a research collection.  So … what you are about to do, do it online!

A kind correspondent sent me a couple of articles relating to St Austell.  There is a Tenth-century list of Cornish saints’ names in a Vatican manuscript, it turns out.  In fact the manuscript is online!  But the publication of it is in an obscure journal: the Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies series, volume 12 (1986).  Another correspondent believes that he has access, so it may appear that way.

But the journal turns out to be very obscure indeed.  It is abbreviated CMCS, and there is a website here.  The journal has now become the Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies series, and is now based, not in Cambridge, but in Aberystwyth.  It’s clearly a fine journal, in an obscure, difficult-to-work-with, area which is not really being supported that well by the academic community.

Thankfully copies of the journal are not expensive, and I have simply ordered issue 12 to be sent to me.  Let’s see if anything turns up!

UPDATE: The journal issue turned up almost by return of post, which is very pleasing.  I also learn that, while it may be obscure to those of us interested in patristics, it has the largest subscription base of any of the Celtic Studies journals.  Oops.  It is, at any rate, obviously a first-rate publication.

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Who was St Austell?

Who was “St Austell”.  There is a town of that name in Cornwall, in the UK.

I am no expert on saints, and I would imagine that there are shoals of local saints in the Celtic regions of Britain.  But I did find a source.  Apparently the book to go to is Nicholas Orme, The Saints of Cornwall, Oxford (2000). Fortunately there is a Google Books preview, and it had an entry on page 67 for this St Austell.

Let’s see what we can make of this entry.  These sorts of handbooks are often stuffed full of abbreviations, so it can be hard.

Austell (Austoll)

(a) Austoll 10th (Olson and Padel: 59).
(b) St Austell: ecclesiam de Austol 1155 x c.1160 (Barlow: no. 74); sanctuarium de Sancto Austolo 1169 (1235) (PRO, C 53/28: m. 10); ecclesie Sancti Austol 1259 (Chanter 1: f. 6 V); ecclesias . . . Sancti Austoli 1281 (Oliver 1846: 43); de Sancto Austolo 1291 (Tax.); ecclesie… Sancti Austoli 1446 (Chanter X: f. 200r); S. Austelles (place) c.1540 (Leland 1907- 10: i. 201-2); Austel 1733 (Willis: 169); Austell 1742 (Ecton: 176); Austle 1782 (Jones: 98); Austolus 1846 (Oliver 1846:437), 1925 (Henderson 1925a: 23).

The 11th-century Life of Mewan, written in Brittany, claims that Austell was a priest and godson of Mewan who lived with him in his monastery at Saint-Meen (I.-et-V.), attended his deathbed, and died on 28 June (his subsequent feast-day), exactly one week after his master (Plaine 1884: 155-6; Doble 1939c: 4-11). Both saints were honoured at Saint-Meen. In Cornwall the parishes of St Austell and St Mewan adjoin one another, and have probably done so since at least the 10th century when the two saints occur together in the early list of saints (Olson and Padel: 34, 59). Austell’s Cornish parish, however, was much larger than Mewan’s, reversing their status in Brittany.

St Austell church is first mentioned distinctly in a document of the mid-12th century (above). Nothing is known about Austell’s cult there until the early 17th, when Nicholas Roscarrock wrote that local people believed that he and Mewan were great friends who lived together in the parishes named after them. Roscarrock refers to a statue of a bishop or abbot in a wall of St Austell church, which he supposed to commemorate Austell, and states that the saint’s feast was held on the Thursday after Whitsunday (Pentecost) (Orme 1992a: 56). This was perhaps to associate it with the holiday season of Whitsuntide. Since the mid-i9th century St Austell church has been regarded as dedicated to the Trinity, because the parish feast was then held on Trinity Sunday, but in medieval times the dedication was always to Austell (Orme 1996a: 69).

In 1173 Tywardreath Priory near St Austell was said to be dedicated to Andrew and Austell, implying that the priory had acquired the latter’s relics (Oliver 1846: 38). In Wales Llanawstl in Machen parish (Mon.) appears to mean ‘church-site of Austell’, but no church is recorded there and none is known to have been dedicated to him in Brittany (Loth 1910:12). See also Doble 1939c.

The main text is clear enough, but the opening material in smaller text looks like references to primary documents.  I can’t make much of this, except that “PRO” is clearly “Public Records Office”.  “Leland” is John Leland, the antiquarian of King Henry VIII.  He travelled all over England at the time of the Reformation, and his journal – he never published his finds – clearly was printed in a 1907 edition.  If I had the complete book, possibly these entries would make more sense.

It’s clear that this is a very obscure saint indeed.  There is no “Saint’s Life” for him; only a mention in the Life of St Mewan.

But Google comes mightily to our aid.  A preview of what is plainly an important book, S. Boardman &c, Saint’s Cults in the Celtic World, p.114, reveals in a footnote that the Life of St Mewan or S. Meen, is “Vita S. Mevenni: abbatis et confessoris in Britannia armoricana”, ed. F. B. Plaine in Analecta Bollandiana 3 (1884), 141-58.

I was unable to locate a downloadable copy, but it is at Hathi here if you have access.  The mention of St Austell is at the end, cc.19-20, on pp.155-6, where he is introduced: “Quo viso Austulos quidam presbyter, ejus filiolis, qui ei in monasterio serviebat humiliter,…”, “Seeing this a certain presbyter Austolus, his godson, who humbly served him in the monastery…”.

The Boardman book goes on:

The Life also, in its account of Meén’s death, introduces a certain presbyter named Austolus, his godson (filiolus), who is comforted by Méen’s prediction that Austol will join him in death within seven days. This indeed happens, and when Austol is taken for burial beside Méen, the monks find that:

“the saint’s body, which diffused a fragrant odour instead of the odour of corruption, had moved and was lying on the right of the grave facing the vacant space on the left, as if waiting for his disciple. They believed that this had happened by God’s appointment, and they buried the blessed godson by his blessed godfather. And thus the dead bones of the two saints declared the love which had ever united them.[137]”

137. Vita S. Mevenni, § 20: ed. Plaine, 156. Doble, Saint Mewan, 11.

Elsewhere we seem to be in a world of little antiquarian scribblers.  Thus “Doble” is Rev. G . H . Doble , Saint Mewan and Saint Austol , 2nd edn (Long Compton , 1939), who turns out to be a deceased Cornish clergyman.  None of those kinds of sources are online; they lie, buried in rural archives and libraries. (Update: Doble is here.)

More promising is Olson and Padel, which turns out to be B.L.Olson and O.J.Padel, “A tenth-century list of Cornish parochial saints”, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 12 (Winter, 1986): 33-71.  I didn’t try very hard, but this too seems offline.

The same sort of process would probably apply to anyone seeking information on a vast number of Celtic saints.  It reminds us that there is much still to do in getting the materials of scholarship online.

This information exists; but for how long, once libraries close down because “everything is online”?  There is work to do.

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