University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Eckenstein, Lina, d. 1931 / Woman under monasticism: chapters on saint-lore and convent life between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500 (1896)


Previous Previous subsection


Further Peculiarities of this Type of Saint.

The Church, as mentioned above, had put every facility in the way of transforming heathen festivals into its own festal days. The heathen festival in many ways carried on the traditions of the tribal festival; the tribal festival was connected with the cult of tribal goddesses. If we bear in mind the many points mother-goddess, witch, and woman pseudo-saint have in common, the association of the pseudo-saint with practices of a profane character no longer appears wonderful. Both in the turn saint legend takes, and in the character of festivities associated with the saint's name, we discern the survival of ideas which properly belong to differently constituted family and social arrangements, the true meaning of which is all but lost.

On looking through the legends of many women-saints, it is surprising how often we find evil practices and heathen traditions associated with them, practices and traditions which the legend writer naturally is often at a loss to explain in a manner acceptable   [p. 29]   to Christianity. Thus the father of St Christiane of Dendermonde is said to have set up a temple where girls did service to Venus;[1*] doing service to Venus being the usual way of describing licentious pursuits.

In the metrical life of Bilihild, patron saint of Würzburg and Mainz, a description is introduced of the marriage festival as it was celebrated by the Franks in the Main district about the year 600, as this account would have it. Dances took place and unions were contracted for the commencing year. The Christian woman Bilihild was present at the festival, though we are of course told that she found it little to her taste and determined to abolish it.[2*] The legend of Bilihild has very primitive traits and is wanting in historical foundation and probability; and it is at least curious that her name should be coupled with a festival which Christian religion and morality must have condemned.

Again it is curious to find how often these women-saints die a violent death, not for conscience sake, nor indeed for any obvious reason at all. Radiane of Wellenburg, as mentioned above, was torn to pieces by wolves;[3*] Wolfsindis of Reisbach, according to one account, was tied to wild oxen who tore her to pieces, according to another version of her story she was tied to a horse's tail.[4*] St Regina of Alise, in the bishopric of Autun, is sometimes represented surrounded by flames, sometimes in a steaming caldron[5*] which recalls the caldron of regeneration of Keltic mythology.

Frequently the saints are said to have been murdered like Cunera of Renen,[6*] and St Sura otherwise Soteris or Zuwarda of Dordrecht;[7*] sometimes their heads are cut off as in the case of Germana worshipped at Beaufort in Champagne;[8*] sometimes like Godeleva they are strangled, and sometimes burnt; but Christianity is not the reason assigned for their painful deaths. For even the legend writer does not go so far as to bring in martyrdom at a period and in districts where suffering for the Christian faith is altogether out of the question.

  [p. 30]  

Panzer tells us about a group of three women-saints, to whom we shall presently return. He says in some churches masses are read for their souls and prayers offered for their salvation. Though reverenced by the people in many districts of Germany, they are as often said to have been hostile to Christianity as favourably disposed towards it.[9*]

We find immoral practices and violence ascribed to some of the English women-saints by Capgrave in the 15th century. He says of Inthware or Iuthware, who perhaps belongs to Brittany, that she was accused of being a harlot and put to death. Similarly he says of Osman or Oswen that she was accused of being a witch, but when brought before a bishop she consented to be baptized.[10*] Stanton notifies of Iuthware that her translation was celebrated at Shirbourne.[11*] Winifred too, who is worshipped in Shropshire, had her head cut off and it rolled right down the hill to a spot where a fountain sprang up, near St Winifred's well. The head however was miraculously replaced, Winifred revived and lived to the end of her days as a nun.[12*] The want of information about these women makes it impossible to judge how far their existence is purely legendary; certainly their stories are largely coloured by heathen traditions. The names Iuthware and Oswen are probably not Germanic; and the fact of Winifred's living on the confines of Wales makes it probable that she is a Keltic rather than a Germanic saint.

In connection with the festivals of some women pseudo-saints we find celebrations of a decidedly uproarious character taking place at a comparatively recent time. The feast of St Pharaildis, called locally Fru Verelde, used to be the chief holiday at Ghent, and was the occasion for much festivity and merrymaking.[13*] At Luttich (Liège) stood a chapel dedicated to St Balbine, who is said to have been venerated far and wide in the 14th century. On her day, the first of May, there was a festival called Babilone at which dancing was kept up till late at night.[14*] The festival of St Godeleva kept at Longuefort maintained even in the 18th century a character which led to a violent dispute between the   [p. 31]   populace and the Church dignitaries, who were determined to put it down.[15*] Coincident with the festival known as the day of St Berlindis, a saint frequently referred to as a protectress of the peasantry, there is a festival called the Drunken Vespers, in which as early as the 16th century the archbishop forbade his clergy to take part.[16*]

But by far the most striking and the most conclusive instances of the pseudo-saint's association with heathen survivals are afforded by St Verena of Switzerland and St Afra of Augsburg, whose worship and history we must examine more closely.

Verena's association with various rites has already been referred to; she is represented sometimes with ears of corn, sometimes accompanied by a cat, and sometimes, which is even more suggestive, she is brought into connection with a brothel. The procession of St Verena's day from Zurzach to a chapel dedicated to St Maurice passed an old linden tree which, so the legend goes, marked the spot where the saint used to dwell. Hard by was a house for lepers and a house of ill fame, where on the same day the district bailiff (landvogt) opened the fair. He was obliged by old custom to pass this tree, at which a loose woman stood awaiting him, and to dance round the tree with her and give her money.[17*]

The legend of St Verena written between 1005 and 1032 [18*] does not explain these associations. We are told of a woman who came from the east with the Theban legion, which is generally supposed to have been massacred in 287. She is said to have made her home now in one district now in another, and one modern writer goes so far as to suggest that she was zealous in converting the Allemans to Christianity before the coming of Irish missionaries.

According to folk-custom in districts between the Aar and the Rhine, girls who have secured husbands sacrifice their little maiden caps to Verena. At Zurzach married couples make pilgrimages to the Verenastift in order to secure offspring. Several dukes of the Allemans and their wives made such pilgrimages in the 9th and 10th centuries. It would lead too far to enumerate the many directions in which Verena is associated with heathendom. Her day, which comes at the harvest festival, was a time of un   [p. 32]   restrained license in Zurzach, a fact on which the Acta Sanctorum cast no doubt.

Rochholz considers Verena to be a tribal mother of heathendom; Simrock in his mythology considers her to be identical with the goddess Fru Frene, in whom he sees a kind of German Venus.[19*] Grimm tells how the version of the Tannhäuser saga, current in Switzerland, substitutes the name Frau Frene for that of Frau Venus.[20*] The hero Tannhäuser, according to mediaeval legend, wavers between a baser and a higher interpretation of love; the acceptance of the name Frene as representative of sensuousness shows the associations currently preserved in connection with this so-called saint.

A similar association occurs in Belgium, where a saint Vreken (Sint Vreke), otherwise Vrouw Vreke, in medival legend is the representative of sensual as opposed to spiritual love. Cordmans describes how in the version of the saga of the faithful Eckhardt (Van het trouwen Eckhout current in Belgium, the hero wavers between spiritual love of Our Lady and sensual love of Vreke. Among the folk Vrouw Vreke is a powerful personage, for the story goes that the Kabauters, evil spirits who dwell on the Kabauterberg, are in her service. In the book Reta de Limbourg, which was re-written in the 17th century, the Kabauterberg becomes a Venusberg, and Vreke is no longer a great witch (eene grote heks) but a goddess with all the alluring charms of Venus.[21*] Grimm includes a Fru Freke among his German goddesses.[22*] She retains her old importance among the folk as a protective saint and presides over tree-plantings.[23*]

Like the saints Verena and Vreke, St Afra of Augsburg is associated with licentiousness; Wessely expressly calls her the patron saint of hetairism.[24*] Her legend explains the connection in a peculiar manner; as told by Berno, abbot of Reichenau († 1048), it is most picturesque. We hear how Afra and her mother came from Cyprus, an island which mediaeval, following the classical writers, associated with the cult of Venus, and how she settled at Augsburg and kept a house of ill fame with   [p. 33]   three companions. Here they entertained certain Church dignitaries (otherwise unknown to history) who persuaded the women to embrace Christianity and give up their evil practices. They became virtuous, and when persecutions against Christians were instituted they all suffered martyrdom; Afra was placed on a small island and burnt at the stake.[25*] The legend writer on the basis of the previous statement places the existence of these women in the early part of the fourth century during the reign of Diocletian. Curiously enough the legend of Afra is led up to by a description of the worship of the heathen goddess Zisa, a description to which Grimm attaches great importance.[26*] This goddess was worshipped at or near Augsburg. Velserus,[27*] who in the 16th century compiled a chronicle of Augsburg, gives us a mass of information about traditions connected with her and her worship, as he also does about St Afra. There is in his mind of course no shadow of a suspicion of any connection between them. But he informs us that the Zizenberg, or hill of Zisa, and the Affenwald which he interprets as Afrawald or wood of Afra, are one and the same place.

Berno also wrote a life of Ulrich (St Udalricus), bishop of Augsburg ( † 973) who boldly defended the town at the time of the invasion of the Hungarians. In this life the bishop has a miraculous vision of St Afra, who takes him on a pilgrimage by night and points out the site where he afterwards founded a monastery, known to later ages as the monastery of St Ulrich and St Afra. The worship of Afra is referred to by the poet Fortunatus as early as the sixth century; the story of the saint's martyrdom is older than that of her conversion. The historian Rettberg is puzzled why so much stress should be laid on her evil ways;[28*] but the historian Friedrich, regardless of perplexing associations, sees the beginnings of convent life for women in Augsburg in the fact of Afra and her companions dwelling together between their conversion and martyrdom.[29*]

There are other traits in saint legend which point to the customs and arrangements of a more primitive period, and tempt   [p. 34]   the student to fit together pieces of the past and the present which appear meaningless if taken separately.

It seems probable that in early times the term mother was applied to a number of women of a definite group by all the children of the group, and that the word had not the specialized meaning of one who had actually borne the children who termed her mother.

The story of a number of children all being born at once by one woman is possibly due to a confused tradition dating from this period. In local saga, both in Germany and elsewhere, there are stories in which a woman suddenly finds herself in the possession of a number of offspring, and often with direful consequences to herself, because of the anger of her husband. The same incident has found its way into saint legend. Thus Notburg, patron saint of Suiz, had at a birth a number of children, variously quoted as nine, twelve and thirty-six. Stadler says that she is represented at Suiz holding eight children in her arms, a ninth one lying dead at her feet.[30*] Lacking water to christen these children, she produced from the hard rock a fountain which even to the present day is believed to retain the power to cure disease.

A similar story is told of Achachildis, popularly known as Atzin, who is held in veneration at Wendeistein near Schwabach. She bore her husband five children at once and then took a vow of continence. Her legend has never been written, but she enjoys a great reputation for holiness, and a series of pictures represent various incidents in her life.[31*]

Images of women sheltering children, usually beneath their cloaks, are frequently found abroad built into the outer wall of the church, the place where Christian teachers felt justified in placing heathen images.[32*] Students of pictorial art will here recall the image of St Ursula at Cöln sheltering 1,000 virgins under her cloak.

Again there are other emblems in saint worship which cannot be easily accounted for, such for instance as the holy combs of Verena and Pharaildis, which remind one of the comb with which the witch Lorelei sat combing her hair, or, on classic soil, of the comb of the Venus Calvata; or the holy slippers of St Radiane, which   [p. 35]   are preserved to this day in the church of Wellenburg and which, as Stadler informs us, had been re-soled within his time. Stadler und Heim, Vollständtes Heiligenlexicon, 1858, St Radegundis, nr 3. Slippers and shoes are ancient symbols of appropriation, and as such figure in folk-lore and at weddings in many countries to this day. The golden slipper was likewise a feature at the witches' festival, in which the youthful fiddler also figured.[33*] Both the golden slipper and the youthful fiddler form important features in the legend of the saint Ontkommer or Wilgefortis. The images and legend of this saint are so peculiar that they claim a detailed account.

It is evident from what has been said that the legends and cult of many women pseudo-saints have traits in common; indeed the acts ascribed to different saints are often exactly similar. The stories of Notburg of Rottenburg, of Radiane of Wellenburg, and of Gunthild of Biberbach, as Stadler remarks, are precisely alike; yet it is never suggested that these saints should be treated as one; each of them has her place in the Acta Sanctorum and is looked upon as distinct from the others.

There is, however, a set of women-saints whose images and legends have features so distinctive that hagiologists treat of them collectively as one, though they are held in veneration in districts widely remote from each other, and under very dissimilar names.

The saint, who is venerated in the Low Countries as Ontkommer or Wilgefortis, is usually considered identical with the saint Kümmerniss of Bavaria and the Tyrol; with the saint Livrade, Liberata or Liberatrix venerated in some districts of France as early as the 9th century when Usuard, writing in the monastery of St Germain-des-Près, mentions her; with Gehulff of Mainz; with Hilp of the Hulfensberg at Eichsfelde; and with others called variously Regenfled, Regenfrith, Eutropia, etc.[34*] The name Mariahilf which is very common in south Germany, is probably a combination of the name of the Virgin Mother with that of St Hilp or St Gehulff.

The legends of this saint, or rather of this assembly of saints, are characterized by Cuper in the Acta Sanctorum as an endless labyrinth.[35*] Whatever origin be ascribed to them, when once we examine them closely we find explanation impossible on the hypothesis   [p. 36]   that they relate to a single Christian woman living during Christian times.

A considerable amount of information on this group of saints has lately been collected by Sloet, who deals also with their iconography.[36*] The peculiarity of the images of Ontkommer or Kümmerniss consists in this, that she is represented as crucified, and that the lower part of her face is covered by a beard, and her body in some instances by long shaggy fur. Her legend explains the presence of the beard and fur by telling us that it grew to protect the maiden from the persecutions of a lover or the incestuous love of her father; such love is frequently mentioned in the legends of women pseudo-saints.

The fact that Ontkommer or Kümmerniss is represented as crucified might be explained on the hypothesis that the common folk could not at first grasp the idea of a god and looked upon Christ as a woman, inventing the legend of the woman's persecution and miraculous protection in order to account for the presence of the beard. But other accessories of the representations of Ontkommer or Kümmerniss lead us to suppose that her martyrdom, like that of other saints, has a different origin and that she is heiress to a tribal goddess of the past.[37*]

In many of her representations Ontkommer or Kümmerniss is seen hanging on the cross with only one golden slipper on, but sometimes she wears two slippers, and a young man is sitting below the cross playing the fiddle. Legend accounts for the presence of this young man in the following manner. He came and sat at the foot of the image and was playing on his fiddle, when the crucified saint suddenly awoke to life, drew off a slipper and flung it to him. He took it away with him he was accused of having stolen it and condemned to death. His accusers however agreed to his request to come with him into the presence of the holy image, to which he appealed. Again the crucified saint awoke to life and drew off her second slipper and flung it to the fiddler, whose innocence was thereby vindicated and he was set free. Where shall we go for a clue to this curious and complicated legend? Grimm tells us that a young fiddler was present at a festival   [p. 37]   of the witches, and that he played at the dance in which he was not allowed to take part. Grimm also tells us that one of the witches on this occasion wore only one golden slipper.[38*] The association of Kümmerniss with a golden slipper is deep-rooted, especially in Bavaria, for the saying goes there that 'She with the golden slipper and with the youthful fiddler is also a mother of God.[39*]

Many years ago Menzel wrote[40*] : 'Much I believe concerning this saint is derived from heathen conceptions.' Stories embodying heathen traditions are preserved in connection with this saint in districts abroad that lie far apart.

Thus the image of her which is preserved in North Holland is said to have come floating down the river, like the images of the Virgin referred to above. At Regensburg in Bavaria an image is preserved which is said to have been cast into the water at Neufarn. It was carried down by the river and thrown on the bank, and the bishop fetched it to Regensburg on a car drawn by oxen. In the Tyrol the image of the saint is sometimes hung in the chief bed-room of the house in order to secure a fruitful marriage, but often too it is hung in chapel and cloister in order to protect the dead. Images of the saint are preserved and venerated in a great number of churches in Bavaria and the Tyrol, but the ideas popularly associated with them have raised feelings in the Church against their cult. We hear that a Franciscan friar in the beginning of this century destroyed one of the images, and that the bishop of Augsburg in 1833 attempted in one instance to do away with the image and the veneration of the saint, but refrained from carrying out his intention, being afraid of the anger of the people.[41*]

It has been mentioned above that associations of a twofold character survive in connection with Verena and Vreke, who are to this day popularly reckoned as saints, but who are introduced in medieval romance as representatives of earthly love as contrasted with spiritual. Associations of a twofold character have also been attached to the term Kümmerniss. For in the Tyrol Kümmerniss is venerated as a saint, but the word Kümmerniss in ordinary parlance is applied to immoral women.[42*]

  [p. 38]  

Other heathen survivals are found attached to the Ontkommer Kümmerniss group of saints. At Luzern the festival of the saint was connected with so much riotous merrymaking and licentiousness that it was forbidden in 1799 and again in 1801. The story is told of the saint under the name Liberata that she was one of a number of children whom her mother had at a birth.[43*]

Sloet, on the authority of the philologist Kern, considers that the various names by which the saint is known in different districts are appellatives and have the same underlying meaning of one who is helpful in trouble. According to him this forms the connecting link between the names Ontkommer, Kümmerniss, Wilgefortis, Gehulff, Eutropia, etc., of which the form Ontkommer, philologically speaking, most clearly connotes the saint's character, and on this ground is declared to be the original form. The saint is worshipped at Steenberg in Holland under the name Ontkommer, and Sloet is of opinion that Holland is the cradle of the worship of the whole group of saints.[44*] But considering what we know of other women-saints it seems more probable that the saints who have been collected into this group are the outcome of a period of social evolution, which in various districts led to the establishment of tribal goddesses, who by a later development assumed the garb of Christian women-saints.

The cult of women-saints under one more aspect remains to be chronicled. Numerous traditions are preserved concerning the cult of holy women in triads, who are locally held in great veneration and variously spoken of as three sisters, three ladies, three Marys, three nuns, or three women-saints.

The three holy women have a parallel in the three Fates of classic mythology and in the three Norns of Norse saga, and like them they probably date from a heathen period. Throughout Germany they frequently appear in folk-lore and saga, besides being venerated in many instances as three women-saints of the Church.

In stories now current these three women are conceived sometimes as sisters protecting the people, sometimes as ladies guarding treasures, and sometimes as a group of three nuns living together   [p. 39]   and founding chapels and oratories, and this too in places where history knows nothing of the existence of any religious settlement of women.

Panzer has collected a mass of information on the cult of the triad as saints in southern Germany;[45*] Coremans says that the veneration of the Three Sisters (dry-susters) is widespread in Belgium[46*] but the Church has sanctioned this popular cult in comparatively few instances.

The story is locally current that these three women were favourably disposed to the people and bequeathed to them what is now communal property. Simrock considers that this property included sites which were held sacred through association with a heathen cult.[47*] 'In heathen times,' he says, 'a sacred grove was hallowed to the sister fates which after the establishment of Christianity continued to be the property of the commune. The remembrance of these helpful women who were the old benefactresses of the place remained, even their association with holiness continued.' By these means in course of time the cult of the three goddesses was transformed into that of Christian saints.

Besides bequeathing their property to the people it was thought that these three women-saints protected their agricultural and domestic interests, especially as affecting women. In Schlehdorf in Lower Bavaria pilgrimages by night were made to the shrine of the triad to avert the cattle plague; the shrine stood on a hill which used to be surrounded by water, and at one time was the site of a celebrated fair and the place chosen for keeping the harvest festival.[48*] At Brusthem in Belgium there were three wells into which women who sought the aid of these holy women cast three things, linen-thread, a needle and some corn.[49*] Again in Schildturn in Upper Bavaria an image of the three women-saints is preserved in the church which bears an inscription to the effect that through the intercession of these saints offspring are secured and that they are helpful at childbirth.[50*] In the same church a wooden cradle is kept which women who wished to become mothers used to set   [p. 40]   rocking. A second cradle which is plated is kept in the sacristy, and has been substituted for one of real silver.[51*]

In some districts one of these three saints is credited with special power over the others either for good or for evil. The story goes that one of the sisters was coloured black or else black and white.[52*]

In many places where the triad is worshipped the names of the individual sisters are lost, while in districts far apart from one another, as the Tyrol, Elsass, Bavaria, their names have considerable likeness. The forms generally accepted, but liable to fluctuation, are St Einbeth, St Warbeth and St Wilbeth.[53*] The Church in some instances seems to have hesitated about accepting these names, it may be from the underlying meaning of the suffix beth which Grimm interprets as holy site, ara, fanum, but Mannhardt connects it with the word to pray (beten).[54*] Certainly the heathen element is strong when we get traditions of the presence of these women at weddings and at burials, and stories of how they went to war, riding on horses, and achieved even more than the men.[55*] Where their claim to Christian reverence is admitted by the Church, the stories told about them have a very different ring.

According to the legend which has been incorporated into the Acta Sanctorum, St Einbetta, St Verbetta, and St Villbetta were Christian maidens who undertook the pilgrimage to Rome with St Ursula, with whose legend they are thus brought into connection. The three sisters stayed behind at Strasburg and so escaped the massacre of the 11000 virgins.[56*]

The tendency to group women-saints into triads is very general. Kunigund, Mechtund and Wibrandis are women-saints who belong to the portion of Baden in the diocese of Constance.[57*] The locus of their cult is in separate villages, but they are venerated as a triad in connection with a holy well and lie buried together under an ancient oak.[58*] We hear also of pilgrimages being made to the image of three holy sisters preserved at Auw on the Kyll in the valley of the Mosel. They are represented as sitting side by side on the back   [p. 41]   of an ass(?), one of them having a cloth tied over her eyes. The three sisters in this case are known as Irmina, Adela and Chiotildis, and it is said they were the daughters or sisters of King Dagobert.[59*] Irmina and Adela are historical; they founded nunneries in the diocese of Trier.

In another instance the sisters are called Pellmerge, Schwellmerge and Krischmerge, merg being a popular form of the name Mary which is preserved in many place-names.[60*]

I have been able to discover little reference to local veneration of saints in a triad in England. But there is a story that a swineherd in Mercia had a vision in a wood of three women who, as he believed, were the three Marys, and who pointed out to him the spot where he was to found a religious settlement, which was afterwards known as Evesham.

A curious side-light is thrown on the veneration of the three women-saints abroad by recalling the images and inscriptions about Mothers and Matrons, which are preserved on altars fashioned long before the introduction of Christianity under heathen influence.

These altars have been found in outlying parts of the Roman Empire, especially in the districts contiguous to the ancient boundary line which divided Roman territory from Germania Magna. They bear inscriptions in Latin to the effect that they are dedicated to Mothers and Matrons, and sometimes it is added that they have been set up at the command of these divine Mothers themselves. The words imperio ipsarum, 'by their own command,' are added to the formula of dedication, and as it seams that they never occur on altars set up and dedicated to specified Roman or Gallo-Roman divinities, they yield an interesting proof of the wide-spread character of the worship of tribal goddesses.[61*]

At one time it was supposed that these altars were of Keltic origin, but some of the tribes mentioned in their inscriptions have been identified with place-names in Germany. Altars found in outlying parts of the Empire primarily served for the use of the soldiery, for sacrifice at the altar of the gods was a needful preliminary to Roman military undertakings. The view has been   [p. 42]   advanced that, as the altars dedicated to pagan divinities served for the devotions of the Roman and Gallo-Roman troops, it is possible that these other altars dedicated to Mothers served for the devotions of the German heathen soldiery, who were drafted from districts beyond the Rhine, and at an early date made part of the Roman legions.

The parallels between the mothers of the stones and the three women-saints are certainly remarkable.

Where a representation, generally in rude relief, occurs on the altar stones, the Mothers are represented in a group of three, holding as emblems of their power fruit, flowers, and the spindle. These recall the emblems both of the heathen goddess of mythology and of the pseudo-saint. Moreover one of the Mothers of the altars is invariably distinguished by some peculiarity, generally by a want of the head-dress or head-gear worn by the two others, perhaps indicative of her greater importance. This has its parallel in the peculiar power with which one member of the saint triad is popularly credited.

The erection of the altars belongs to a time before the introduction of Christianity; our information about the three women-saints dates back earlier than the 12th century in a few cases only; it chiefly depends on stories locally current which have been gleaned within the last hundred years. If the hypothesis of the mother-age preceding the father-age holds good, if the divine Mothers imaged on the stones are witnesses to a wide-spread worship of female deities during the period of established Roman rule, these tales told of the triad carry us back nearly twenty centuries. The power ascribed to tribal goddesses in a distant heathen past survived in the power ascribed to Christian women-saints; the deep-rooted belief in protective women-divinities enduring with undying persistence in spite of changes of religion.

In conclusion, a few words may be acceptable on the names of pseudo-saints, which I believe to be largely epithetic or appellative. Grimm holds that the names of the German goddesses were originally appellatives. In a few cases the name of the goddess actually becomes the name of a saint. Mythology and hagiology both lay claim to a Vrene and a Vreke; but from the nature of things these cases are rare. The conception of the protective divinity is ancient; her name in a philological sense is comparatively new.

With few exceptions the names are German; sometimes in contiguous districts variations of the same name are preserved. The   [p. 43]   saint Lufthildis is sometimes Linthildis;[62*] Rolendis is sometimes Dollendis;[63*] Ida, Itta, Iduberga, Gisleberga are saints of Brabant and Flanders, whom hagiologists have taken great trouble to keep separate. In some cases the name of a real and that of a fictitious person may have become confounded. The names are all cognate with the word itis, an ancient term applied to the woman who exercised sacred functions.

The attempt to connect the group Ontkommer-Wilgefortis by the underlying meaning of the several names has been mentioned. It has also been mentioned that this saint is sometimes spoken of as a mother of God. Similarly St Genevive of Paris is worshipped as Notre-Dame-la-petite, and again the saint Cunera of Reenen is popularly known as Knertje, which signifies little lady.[64*]

On every side the student is tempted to stray from the straightforward road of fact into the winding paths of speculation. The frequent association abroad of female deities with hill tops suggests a possible explanation why the word berg, which means remoteness and height, so often forms part of the name of the woman pseudo-saint, and of women's names generally. For the beginnings of tilth and agriculture are now sought not in the swampy lowlands, but on the heights where a clearance brought sunlight and fruitfulness. Hill tops to this day are connected with holy rites. Is it possible that the word berg, designating hill top, should have become an appellative for woman because the settlements on the hills were specially connected with her?

Philology hitherto has been content to trace to a common origin words cognate in different languages, and on the conceptions attaching to these words, to build up theories about the state of civilization of various peoples at a period previous to their dispersion from a common home. But the study of local beliefs and superstitions in western Europe tends more and more to prove that usages pointing to a very primitive mode of life and to a very primitive state of civilization are indissolubly connected with certain sites; and that the beginnings of what we usually term civilization, far from being imported, have largely developed on native soil.

Thus, at the very outset of our enquiry into saint-worship and the convent life of the past, we have found ourselves confronted by a class of women-saints who must be looked upon as survivals from   [p. 44]   heathen times, and who are in no way connected with the beginnings of Christianity and of convent life; their reputation rests on their connection with some hallowed site of the heathen period and the persistence of popular faith in them. But the feeling underlying the attribution of holiness to them, the desire for localized saints, yields the clue to the ready raising to saintship of those women who in England, in France, and in Germany, showed appreciation of the possibilities offered to them by Christianity, and founded religious settlements. In some cases superstitions of a heathen nature which are of value to the hagiologist, if not to the historian, cling to these women also, but fortunately a considerable amount of trustworthy material is extant about their lives. These women during the earliest period were zealous in the cause of Christianity, and it is to them that our enquiry now turns.


[1*] A. SS. Boll., St Christiane, July 26.

[2*] Rochholz, L., Drei Gaugöttinnen, p. 37.

[3*] Stadler und Heim, VolIstädndges Heiligenlexicon, 1858--82, St Radegundis, nr 3.

[4*] Ibid., Appendix, p. 998, footnote.

[5*] Stadler und Heim, Vollständiges Heiligenlexicon, 1858, St Regina, nr 4.

[6*] Kist, N. C., ' Reenensche Kuneralegende' in Kerkhistorisch Archiv, Amsterdam, 1858, Vol. 2, p. 5.

[7*] Stadler und Heim, Vollständiges Heiligenlexicon, 1858, St Sura.

[8*] A. SS. Boll., St Germana, Oct. 1.

[9*] Panzer, F., Beitrag zur deutschen Mythologie, 1848, pp. 5 ff., 272 ff.

[10*] Capgrave, Catalogus SS. Angliae, 1516.

[11*] Stanton, R., Menology of England and Wales, 1887.

[12*] Capgrave, Catalogus SS. Agliae, 1516. Comp. Surius, Vitae SS.1617.

[13*] Hautcoeur, Actes de St Pharailde, 1882, Introd. cxxviiii.

[14*] Reinsberg-Düriringsfeld, Traditions et legendes de la Belgique, 1870, vol. 1 p. 288.

[15*] Lefebure, Ste Godeleine et son culte, p. 209.

[16*] Wauters, A., Histoire des environs de Bruxelles, 1852, vol.1 p. 304.

[17*] Rochholz, Drei Gaugöttinnen, 1870, p. 154.

[18*] Potthast, Wegweiser durch die Gesehichtswerke des europ. Mittelalters, 1862; Rochholz, loc. cit., p.108, prints an early poetic version of the story in the vernacular.

[19*] Simrock, K., Handbuch der deutschen Mythologie, 1887, p. 393.

[20*] Grimm, J., Deutsche Mythologie, 1875, p. 254, footnote.

[21*] Coremans, Lannee de l'ancienne Belgique, pp. 61, 113, 158.

[22*] Grimm, J., Deutsche Mythologie, 1875, p. 252.

[23*] Coremans, L'année de l'ancienne Belgique, p. 76; Stadler und Heim, Vollständdiges Heiligenlexicon, and the A. SS. Boll, pass her over.

[24*] Wessely, J. G., Iconographie Gottes undder Heiligen, 1874.

[25*] A. SS. Boll., St Afra, Aug. 5.

[26*] Grimm, J., Deutsche Mythologie, 1875, p. 242.

[27*] Velserus, Antiqua monumenta, Chronica der Stadt Augsp. 1595; pp. 4, 14, 17, 32, 88.

[28*] Rettberg, F. W., Kirchengeschichte, 1846, vol. 1, p. 147.

[29*] Friedrich, Kirchengeschichte, 1867, vol. 1, p. 413.

[30*] Stadler und Heim, Vollständiges Heiligenlexicon, 1858, St Notburg, nr 1. A. SS. Boll.. St Notburga, Jan. 26.

[31*] Stadler und Heim,Vollständiges Heiligenlexicon,1858, Appendix, St Achachildis.

[32*] Birlinger, A., Schwäbische Sagen, vol. 2, p. 341.

[33*] Grimm, J., Deutsche Mythologie, 1875, p. 896.

[34*] Stadler und Heim, Vollständiges Heilienlexicon, 2858, St Kümmernissa.

[35*] A. SS. Boll., St Liberata, July 20.

[36*] Sloet, De heilige Ontkommer of Wilgeforthis, 1884.

[37*] I cannot account for the presence of the beard; St Paula, venerated at Avila in Spain, is also represented with one (Stadler und Heim). Macrobius (Sat. bk 3, c. 8) tells us that the Venus Barbata was represented in Cyprus in the form of a man with a beard and wearing female clothing, which shows that goddesses of this type were venerated during heathen times.

[38*] Grimm, J., Deutsche Mythol. 1875, p. 896.

[39*] Sloet, De heilige Ontkommerrner of Wilgeforthis, 1884, p. 36.

[40*] Menzel, W., Christl. Symbolik, 1854, article 'Bart.'

[41*] Sloet, De heilige Ontkommer of Wilgeforthis, 1884, pp. 31, 33, 36, 42 etc.

[42*] Ibid. p. 32.

[43*] Stadler und Heim, Vollständiges Heiligenlexicon, 1858, St Liberata, footnote, p. 807.

[44*] Sloet, De heilige Ontkommer of Wilgeforthis, 1884, pp. 5, 50 etc. Ellis, H., Original Letters, series III, vol. 3, p. 194, quotes the following sentence from Michael Woddes, Dialogues, 1554: ' if a wife were weary of her husband she offered Otes at Poules (St Paul's) at London to St Uncumber,' a proof that the veneration of Ontkommer had found its way into England.

[45*] Panzer, F., Beitrag zur deutschen Mythologie, 1848, pp. 5 ff., 272 ff.

[46*] Coremans, L'année de l'ancienne Belgique, 1844, p. 149.

[47*] Simrock, K., Handbuch der deutschen Myth., 1887, p. 344.

[48*] Panzer, F., Beitrag zur deutschen Myth., 1848, p. 23.

[49*] Coremans, L'année de L'ancienne Belgique, 3844, p. 148.

[50*] Panzer, F., Beitrag zur deutschen Myth., 1848, pp. 69 ff.

[51*] Cradles are frequently kept in churches in Bavaria, and form, I am told, part of the furniture which was formerly used at the celebration of the Nativity play at Christmas (Weihnachtskrippenspiel).

[52*] Panzer, F., Beitrag zur deutschen Myth., 1848, p. 273.

[53*] Simrock, K., Handbuch der deutschen Myth., 1887, pp. 344,349, gives lists of their names.

[54*] Grimm, Wörterbuch, 'Bett'; Mannhardt, W., Gerrnanische Mythen, 1858, p. 644.

[55*] Panzer, F., Beitrag zur deutschen Mythol., 1848, p. 180.

[56*] A. SS. Boll., St Einbetta, Sept. 16.

[57*] A. SS. Boll., St Kunegundis, June 16.

[58*] Panzer, Beitrag zur deutschen Myth., 1848, p. 379.

[59*] Menck-Dittmarsch, Des Moseithals Sagen, 1840, pp. 178, 258.

[60*] Grimm, Wörterbuch, 'Marge.'

[61*] Lersch, Centralmuseum rheinl. Inschriften, vol. 1, p. 23; also Jahrbücher des Vereins von Altertumsfreunden im Rheinlande, Bonn: J. 1852 Freudenberg, 'Darstellungen der Matres oder Matronae'; J. 1853, 'Neue Matronensteine'; J. 1857, Eick, 'Matronensteine'; J. 1858, Becker, 'Beiträge' etc.

[62*] Stadler und Heim, Vollständiges Heiligenlexicon, 1858, St Lufthildis.

[63*] Ibid. St. Rolendis.

[64*] A. SS. Boll., St Cunera, June 12.

Previous Previous subsection

Go up to Top of Page