Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Life of Christina of Markyate by Anonymous

'Tell me, Beorhtred, and may God have mercy on you, if another were to come and take me away from you and marry me, what would you do?'

He replied, 'I wouldn't put up with it for a moment as long as I lived.  I would kill him with my own hands if there was no other way of keeping you.'

To this she replied, 'Beware then of wanting to take to yourself the Bride of Christ, lest in anger he slay you.'

First of all, if you're anything like me, every time you look at the name "Christina of Markyate," you want to read it as "Christina of Mary Kate," as if this were an 11th century account of some Olsen twin associate.  I f only that were so.  In truth--or according to this account at least--Christina was the daughter of nobles in early Norman England who objected to her arranged marriage to a lout named Beorhtred.  (Another misreading: that really ought to be "Betrothed," right?)  She argued that she could not marry Beorhtred because she was literally married to Christ already.

Persecuted by her parents ("In the end she swore that she would not care who deflowered her daughter, provided that in some way this could be arranged") and Beorhtred, a hermit monk helps Christina by allowing her to live in a cell only a few inches wide for, like, years.  When everyone finally calms down and she's permitted to leave, she takes up the monastic life, impressing everyone with her spirituality and having visions, some of which border on the sexually explicit.

I found a couple of things interesting about Christina's story.  First, the anonymous author is believed to have been a monk at the parish of St. Albans, where Christina lived, and this would-be hagiography is to some extent a transparent attempt to bestow sainthood on Christina, thereby making St. Albans an important site of pilgrimage.  That attempt fails (for reasons I'm not familiar with) and so The Life of Christina of Markyate is interesting as an unsuccessful attempt at persuasion.  Second, I'm really fascinated by the way Christina's "spiritual" marriage precludes and overshadows any "earthly" one.  Here (as well as in the next book I'm going to review, the 12th C. letters of Abelard and Heloise) marriage and family are depicted as necessary evils, antithetical to a life of religious contemplation, and to be avoided if at all possible.  How did we get from there to the "family values" ideal of modern American evangelism?

Anyway, the bottom line is this: Brent should name his next kid "Beorhtred."


Brent Waggoner said...

We've already decided on Mary Kate.

R.M. Fiedler said...

This reminds me of Seymour/Salinger. I'm a little rusty on A Perfect Day for Bananafish/Raise High the Roofbeams, but one issue Seymour seems to have with his betrothed is his view of how spirituality connects to marriage. When the marriage does not facilitate greater spirituality, it becomes a distraction.

A bit of a tenuous connection, but I think I'm incapable of not mentioning the Glass family if there's any possible reason to.

Christopher said...

Sure, except in this theology, ALL marriage is a distraction, unless your husband happens to be Jesus.