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Amending the Ascetic: Community and Character in the Old English Life of St. Mary of Egypt
Mary Helen Galluch
Newberry Essays in Medieval and Early Modern Studies: Volume 8, Selected Proceedings of the Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies 2014 Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference
In her book titled Écriture et réécriture hagiographiques, Monique Goullet asserts, “It seems to me that one of the most interesting phenomena in hagiographic discourse, for those who want to apprehend from it a double historical and literary dimension, resides in the usage of rewriting, which establishes a system of cross-references between the texts dedicated to one particular saint.” She goes on to describe the ways in which an approach to various versions of the same hagiographical story allow one to glean information about the context of each translator (or “rewriter”), as well as the evolution of a saint‟s “spiritual image.”
Among the most eligible saints for such treatment, Mary of Egypt deserves particular consideration: her popularity is evidenced by over a hundred extant Greek manuscripts of her Life and her uniquely prominent position in the Lenten liturgical cycle in the Eastern Church. Moreover, her Life was translated into Latin, Armenian, Ethiopic, Slavonic, Syriac, Old and Middle English, German, Dutch, Norse, Irish, Welsh, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Like another wildly popular Egyptian saint, Catherine of Alexandria, the historicity of Mary of Egypt has been questioned and generally denied; being unencumbered by a community‟s memories of her as a living person (compounded by the legend that Mary told only one person—St. Zosimas—her life‟s story) has made St. Mary‟s Life exceptionally susceptible to alteration and reinterpretation over the centuries.