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Mnemonic Sanctity and the Ladder of Reading: Notker’s “in Natale Sanctarum Feminarum”

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Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

In the late ninth century, the monk and schoolmaster Notker of Saint Gall composed a hymn for the Church’s festival commemorating holy women. “In Natale Sanctarum Feminarum,” or “For the Festival of Holy Women,” provides a case study in how a text could deploy the memory arts to shape both individual and institutional identities around specific conceptions of gender. A liturgical poem intended for a monastic audience, this sequence demonstrates the memorial function of hagiography and its role in the construction of both individual and communal monastic identities. Notker represents Saint Perpetua in his hymn through carefully selected images from her Passio, which he then contextualizes among images of Mary and Eve. Through his hymn, Notker instructs his audience in how to read, remember, and understand Perpetua’s text. One effect of this mnemonic instruction is to suppress the possibility of the nuanced reading of gender that Perpetua’s Passio invites. Notker’s text instead structures the audience’s memory around binary gender categories, in which women’s sanctity and paths to holiness are clearly differentiated from those of men. This conception of gender difference, in turn, is constitutive of community membership, as Notker interpolates his audience into a community defined (in part) by its shared memory and understanding of holy women.

Keywords

Community Membership Woman Writer Institutional Identity Mnemonic Device Medieval Literature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    For a thorough study of the sequence form, see Richard L. Crocker, The Early Medieval Sequence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977) and Studies in Medieval Music Theory and the Early Sequence (Brookfield, VT: Variorum, 1997).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ella Johnson discusses the memorial function of the liturgy in chapter 7 of the present volume. Mary Carruthers points out that liturgy and scripture constituted the two most primary loci of memory for medieval religious: Mary J. Carruthers, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 34 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 61.Google Scholar
  3. Janet Coleman discusses the role of liturgy and liturgical time in structuring the collective memories of monastic communities in Janet Coleman, Ancient and Medieval Memories: Studies in the Reconstruction of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 131–32. For Coleman, monks’ memories as fashioned by liturgy constitute their identities, as the collective memory shaped by liturgy supplanted individual memories from monks’ previous lives outside of the cloister.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Catherine Cubitt amends this assertion in Catherine Cubitt, “Monastic Memory and Identity in Early Anglo-Saxon England,” in Social Identity in Early Medieval Britain, ed. William O. Frazer and Andrew Tyrell (New York: Leicester University Press, 2000), 253–76. Although Cubitt claims that the mnemonic forces shaping monks’ memories and thus identities were more varied than Coleman accounts for, the underlying mnemonic function of liturgy remains.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    This transition was slow and by no means strictly linear; it has its roots in late antiquity, with Isidore of Seville and Saint Ambrose, and reaches full acceptance in the twelfth century, when we see a standardization of abbreviational practices around semantics rather than phonics. For a full examination of this topic, see Vivien Law, Grammar and Grammarians in the Early Middle Ages, Longman Linguistics Library (New York: Longman, 1997),Google Scholar
  6. and Anna A. Grotans, Reading in Medieval St. Gall, Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology 13 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 4.
    Benedict and David Oswald Hunter Blair, The Rule of St. Benedict (Fort Augustus, Scotland: Abbey Press, 1906), 41,Google Scholar
  8. and Mary J. Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, 2nd ed., Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 70 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Carruthers devotes considerable attention to the literal and figurative image of the ladder as utilized by Hugh of Saint Victor (300–302 and 448–449) and also draws a connection to the work of Richard of Bury (200). Benedict’s use of the Jacob’s ladder, among other mnemonic devices, is discussed on page 31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 7.
    Latin text in Wolfram von den Steinen, ed., Notkeri Poetae Liber Ymnorum (Bern: Francke Verlag, 1960), 88. English translation my own.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    The ancient text contains sections attributed to three separate authors: Perpetua herself, recounting her time in prison and the dreams she experienced while she was there; Saturus, one of her fellow martyrs, who writes an account of his own dream while in prison; and an anonymous redactor, who writes an introduction to the two autobiographical sections and also provides an eyewitness account of the martyrs’ deaths at the end of the text. The best and most recent Latin edition is Jacqueline Amat, ed., Passion de Perpétue et de Félicité suivi des Actes, vol. 417, Sources Chrétiennes (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1996).Google Scholar
  11. The standard English translation is in Herbert Musurillo, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, Oxford Early Christian Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  12. Musurillo works from Shewring’s edition of the text: W. H. Shewring, The Passion of Ss. Perpetua and Felicity Mm; a New Edition and Translation of the Latin Text Together with the Sermons of S. Augustine upon These Saints (London: Sheed and Ward, 1931).Google Scholar
  13. Musurillo’s translation is reprinted in Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, Medieval Women’s Visionary Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 70–77.Google Scholar
  14. Peter Dronke provides his own translation of the autobiographical portion of the text in Peter Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua to Marguerite Porete (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 2–4.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    Peter Godman, ed., Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 67.Google Scholar
  16. 13.
    See Joyce E. Salisbury, Perpetua’s Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman (New York: Routledge, 1997). The last chapter of this book considers attempts by Saint Augustine and other late antique redactor s to revise or cont rol the gendered i mplicat ions of Per petua’s text. The texts of the two Augustine sermons on Saint Perpetua known prior to 2007 are available in Shewring, Passion of Ss. Perpetua and Felicity Mm.Google Scholar
  17. A “new” sermon by Saint Augustine about Saint Perpetua was discovered in a manuscript at the University of Erfurt, Germany in March 2008; the text of this sermon can be found in Isabella Schiller, Dorothea Weber, and Clemens Weidmann, “Sechs Neue Augustinuspredigten Teil 1 Mit Edition Dreier Sermones,” Weiner Studien 121 (2008): 227–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 16.
    The text of the Acta is in Amat, Passion de Perpétue. Although Amat dates the Acta to no earlier than the fifth century, the sermon by Saint Augustine on Saint Perpetua discovered in 2008 appears to cite the Acta verbatim; as a result, it seems necessary to push the date of the Acta back to the fourth century. See Jan N. Bremmer and Marco Formisano, eds., Perpetua’s Passions: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), especially the introduction and chapters 1 and 16 .Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    Catherine Cubitt, “Memory and Narrative in the Cult of Early Anglo-Saxon Saints,” in The Uses of the Past in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Yitzhak Hen and Matthew Innes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 31.Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    As discussed in the introduction to this volume, Patrick J. Geary describes the formation of communal memory in the century after Notker: “A society that explicitly found its identity, its norms, and its values from the inheritance of the past, that venerated tradition and drew its religious and political ideologies from precedent, was nevertheless actively engaged in producing that tradition through a complex process of transmission, suppression, and re-creation.” This, I would argue, is exactly what Notker is doing. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millenium (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 8. My claims here regarding Notker are very similar to those made by Claire Barbetti regarding Hildegard von Bingen in chapter 4 .Google Scholar

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© Margaret Cotter-Lynch and Brad Herzog 2012

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