Book Review: Steve Boardman, John Rueben Davies, and Eila Williamson, eds., Saints’ Cults in the Celtic World

Steve Boardman, John Rueben Davies, and Eila Williamson, eds., Saints’ Cults in the Celtic World. (Studies in Celtic History, 25.) Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2009.  Pp. xiii, 217; 1 genealogical table and 1 map. UK £50.00 hbk, US $95 hbk. ISBN. 978-1-84383432-8.

Reviewed by Jane Scott.

This collection of essays grew out of two sessions of the Leeds International Medieval Congress in 2006, under the patronage of the funded project ‘Survey of Dedications to Saints in Medieval Scotland’. This may account for the notable concentration of chapters with a northern British theme. The editors tell us that the original sessions have been added to by invited contributors to give the volume a wider scope. The principal concern of the volume we are informed is to ‘trace … and explain … the spread of cults into new areas or social contexts. (p. xi).

In chapter one, James E. Fraser (pp. 1-17) examines ‘the movements of St. Andrew in Britain, 604-747’, and attempts to establish that the cult of Andrew had its foundation in the middle of the eighth century or the beginning of the ninth century. (p. 2). Fraser draws comparisons between the cult of Andrew and continental devotional patterns demonstrated in Britain at Canterbury, York and Hexham, and argues that they can also be seen at Rosemarkie and Cennrigmonaid (St. Andrews) in Scotland. (pp. 15-17).

Thomas Owen Clancy (pp.18-41), discusses Irish evidence for the cults of St. Patrick and Palladius dating back to the eighth century. Clancy acknowledges that the evidence is sparse, and whilst he traces the cults within southern Scotland he suggests its momentum came from Ireland. (p.25). The foundation of Kilpatrick, and the Dumbarton area are Clancy’s main areas of focus, and he dates this prior the sack of Ail Cluaide by the Vikings in 870. (pp. 28-29). The chapter ends with a useful set of appendices on the traditions of Palladius and Patrick in Britain, and a map showing churches dedicated to St. Patrick in the Kingdoms of Strathclyde and surrounding areas. (pp. 33-41).

Fiona Edmonds (pp.42-65) looks at personal names and the cult of Patrick in eleventh-century Strathclyde and Northumbria. She argues that the adoption of the name Gwas-Patric and Gille Patraic were as a result of interest in the Strathclyde region, and that the personal names were probably already being used among the Brittonic and Gaelic-Scandinavian speaking areas (pp. 51-55). The importance of Patrick’s cult in Strathclyde is discussed in detail, and how it appealed to the native Britons, but also to Gaelic-Scandinavian incomers (pp. 58-60). Edmonds closes that chapter with an appendix of name-forms of the Gospatric type (63-65).

John Rueben Davies focuses attention on the influence of twelfth century hagiographies on the ‘Age of Saints’, and traces the cult of St. Kentigern in Wales, Brittany and Scotland (pp. 66-90). Evidence of the cult of St. Kentigern is slight in Wales and Brittany, and there are only fleeting mentions until Jocelin’s Life was composed in the twelfth century. Davies argues that the Life was composed due to the outcome of changes in the Scottish kingdom of Strathclyde, and the reorganisation of the bishoprics of Scotland (p. 89). Davies concludes that evidence of the cult of St. Kentigern and the ‘Age of Saints’ has been heavily influenced by hagiographies written in the twelfth century (p. 90).

Karen Jankulak (pp. 91-118), investigates adjacent saints’ dedications and early Celtic history in Brittany, Cornwall and Wales. She investigates the geographical proximity of dedications, and focuses on SS. David and Non, SS Kea and Fili and SS Mewan and Austol. Recurrent adjacency she suggests seems potentially malleable like other manifestations of historical or pseudo-historical activity. She concludes that more often than not adjacent saints’ dedications were the product of medieval and modern historians interpreting earlier records, rather than a deliberate act (p. 116-18).

With a focus on Reginal of Durham’s Libellus de admirandis beati Cuthberti virtutibus, Sally Crumplin traces the veneration of Cuthbert the cross-border saint in the twelfth century (119-129). She argues that Cuthbert had a unique role in both the north of England and southern Scotland during this period. She concludes that, Cuthbert’s cult ‘transcended … border-imposed divisions … [and] continued to represent a powerful, semi-independent political force … but was never owned, by England’ (p. 129).

Joanna Huntingdon (pp. 130-45), discusses Aelred of Rievaulx’s creation of the Life of David the I of Scotland, as the ideal of kingship for the soon to be Henry II of England (p.131). David was not officially a saint but Huntingdon suggests that there was sufficient hagiographical ‘raw material’ for him to be seen as saintly (pp. 130-31). Aelred, we are told, used David as an example of kingly virtue, but also as a warning of falling short of the ideal. One area David fell short was his use of inappropriate military activity, and this Huntingdon shows allowed Aelred to present him as a ‘speculum of kingship’ to the eventual Henry II (p. 145).

Steve Boardman (pp. 146-59), discusses the cult of St. George in Scotland. He shows that by the end of the fourteenth century the saint had been adopted as an English patron saint, yet his veneration still flourished in Scotland. He cities evidence for this in the increase use of George as a Christian name throughout many of the prominent Scottish families in the fourteenth century, and also St. George’s inclusion in the early fifteenth century Legends of the Saints written in English, but produced in Scotland (p. 154).

Eila Williamson (pp. 160-79), explores the ways in which medieval and early modern Scots expressed devotion to the cult of the three kings of Cologne in Scotland. She refers to particular examples: all Scottish dedications to the Three Kings of Cologne relate to altars, and many of these foundations occurred in the east coast burghs, possibly due to trade patterns. Williamson concludes that the increased interest of Christocentric and Marian cults may have been a factor in the popularity of the cult (p. 178).

In the final chapter, Johnathan Wooding traces the medieval and early modern cult of St. Brendan (pp. 180-204). In Ireland, he examines records of the cult of St. Brendan, the processes for the establishment of St. Brendan’s cult, St. Brendan’s cult in Scotland and the Atlantic islands, and the cult in Britain. Wooding concludes that the cult is uncommon for the sheer amount of literary momentum that carried it forward prior to the early medieval period. He finishes with a caveat that further detailed study of certain points he raised was necessary (204).

The title of the collection is somewhat misleading, as a great many of the papers focus on the north of England and the south of Scotland, this leads to other areas in the Celtic world being underrepresented. However, despite the collections narrow focus it offers a re-examination of cross border veneration, and demonstrates that the transmission of saints’ cults had many avenues and routes, and purposes. The papers provide a diverse compilation of perspectives on the dissemination of saints’ cults over fluid national borders throughout the Middle Ages, particularly in the kingdoms of northern Britain.

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