A (Middle?) English Miracle of St Audrey?

Getting to the end of Marie de France’s Life of Saint Audrey (c. 1200), I come across the following miracle:

” We are told a story of a good monk of the monastery of Ely who read the life of Saint Audrey which he found in a book. The life was written in English, and that delighted the monk. He found in it a wonderful miracle which he then related about the queen, Saint Audrey, who was first given to Tonbert, a duke of great valor esteemed of our Lord. Together they lived a good and holy life of chastity. One day the queen was in her chamber supervising the work that her servant girls were doing. The duke came in to speak with her about a certain matter. When he had disclosed it to her and asked her opinions, because she did not agree with him, he began to threaten her. The saintly virgin suffered this in silence and did not answer a single word. She remained humble and quiet, for she remembered the gospel which says that patience overcomes malice and calms great anger. As the virgin was reflecting and praying to God in her heart, she took the gloves off her hands and threw them in front of her husband. It happened that both gloves became suspended on a ray of sunlight and lay there quite still. The duke witnesses the miracle and all those who came with him also considered it a great miracle. The duke bitterly repented, acknowledging that he behaved badly. He duly cried for mercy from her, asking that she bear him no ill-will, and that she graciously forgive him and not be angry with him. Sweet and humbly the virgin forgave him. This anger I told you about did not come as the work of the Enemy but rather in order to show the glory of God and the victory of the virgin. However, the monk who read about this miracle in her life story did not believe it. The next night, when he lay down, Saint Audrey appeared to him and told him not to have any doubt or disbelief concerning the miracle that he found in the book. He accepted it as truth, for it was she herself, Saint Audrey, whom he had seen. The following morning the monk told all about it and made it known to the monastery. For this revelation they thanked God and His Name.” (McCash and Barban, p. 243,245)

Its a nice little layered miracle. Audrey’s demure, patient attitude is offset by throwing her gloves, like a gauntlet in challenge (p. 257), at Tondberht (and you dear reader). As the last miraculous episode in the 4625 line poem, Marie is challenging you to believe her and in St Audrey.

So back to the origins of the miracle, do we take Marie’s claim that it came from an English book seriously? It could be a ploy to get English approval, but given that she is writing in Old French, I doubt that was a major concern. She also claims all of her sources are Latin. McCash and Barban discuss three sources for the life: the life of Aethelthryth from the Liber Eliensis, de seconda translatione, and collection of miracles Miracula Sancta Etheldrede. Given that she sets this the first miracle of his last episode out separately as from an English book, it would seem not to have been from the Latin book of miracles. It is not found in the LE and has nothing to do with her translation(s). It is possible that she heard about the monk’s story from an oral source and never saw the English source herself. Has anyone heard of his miracle before (or one like it)?


June Hall McCash and Judith Clark Barban. 2006. The Life of Saint Audrey: A Text by Marie de France. McFarland.


7 thoughts on “A (Middle?) English Miracle of St Audrey?

  1. Hello,

    Interestingly, there is a Middle English life of St. Audrey, extant in Oxford, Corpus Christi college, MS 120 dating from the fifteenth century. It is apparently unique. One of my students has just edited it, and we shall be publishing it somewhere. The Marie de France connection is fascinating, and woeth following up. If you would like more information, just ask.

    Best wishes
    Stephen Morrison

    1. Hi Stephen,

      I was wondering if you or your student ever got around to publishing OCCC Ms 120. It’s my favourite version of the Middle English lives, and I’ve been trying to trace the addition of the glove miracle. Various Google searches haven’t turned up anything terribly useful (other than this post, reminding me of the Anglo-Norman version).

      Many thanks,
      Kerryn Olsen

  2. Do you recall if this miracle is found in that Life of Audrey?

    The 15th century is a lot later than Marie de France though. It would make me wonder who is borrowing from who.

    1. (Two years late. but never mind…)

      The Middle English Life of Audrey contains a story of Tonbert, sunbeams and gloves, but it is rather different from that of Marie. It is found in the correct place in the story, i.e. while Audrey is still married to Tonbert, and has her placing the gloves on a sunbeam when he comes to demand his marital rights (which he does not do in any other version I’ve found yet).

      Interestingly, the rest of this Life appears to be an extracted translation of the Liber Eliensis, but this episode does not show up there…

      Always interested to hear about AEthelthryth,

      1. Note that this miracle also includes a monk who doesn’t believe in the sunbeam miracle who has a vision of St Audrey to prove that it is true. Interesting. I haven’t seen this middle English life in translation. If you find a citation for it, please let me know.

  3. The gloves hanging on the sunbeam is similar to St. Brigid hanging her cloak on a sunbeam. But St. Brigid did that very casually, and IIRC, not to prove anything. (Although I believe the person who saw it took it as a sign that she was holy!) But it’s been a while since I read all the Brigid stuff.

  4. (I too only came upon this post recently.)

    In the Latin Vita of Wulfade and Ruffin (the martyred brothers of Stone Priory, near Peterborough), the bishop Chad (who is here mythicized as a hermit-figure) also hangs his garments, accidentally, on a sunbeam when the boys’ father Wulfere, who had murdered them, came to Chad for forgiveness. I don’t have a date for the vita in my notes — it is BHL 8735, in MS Cotton Ortho A.xvi. I would be surprised if it greatly predated Marie de France, though.

    The miracle does seem to be fairly popular in later Middle English hagiography — in addition to the Audrey examples everyone else pointed out, the early 16th c. Chester monk Henry Bradshaw picks it up from the Wulfade and Ruffin vita in his Life of Werburgh. I have a niggling suspicion that I’ve seen it other Middle English lives (but can’t recall them just now).

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