Signa de caelo in the lives of st Cuthbert: The impact of biblical images and exegesis on early medieval hagiography
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Heythrop Journal 41 (4):399–412 (2000)
This article uses the two prose Lives of Cuthbert written by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne and by Bede in the first half of the eighth century to illustrate how an understanding of the impact of biblical language and its accompanying exegetical tradition may help in the interpretation of hagiographical works. After an examination of recent scholarly work on the relationship scripture and hagiography and the impact of signa upon the early medieval thought‐world, the paper examines the incidents that are recorded as happening during Cuthbert's time as a hermit on Farne. Looking first at the Lindisfarne account, the potential symbolism inherent in miracles concerning building materials such as rock, stone and wood, as well as living water and ravens are examined by outlining biblical parallels and then looking at the development of the symbols in the exegetical tradition. It thus becomes apparent that the writer was using a shared Christian symbolic language to make statements about Cuthbert as builder of the Northumbrian Church. A similar process is undertaken with Bede's account, noting differences and additions, and reaching the conclusion that it is more developed, showing Cuthbert as a teacher and pastor. In both cases the writers were using the events to foreshadow Cuthbert's imminent episcopal career, thus connecting the contemplative preparation with the subsequent active ministry. The article concludes that the hagiographers believed that God continued to speak to His Church through signa as He had spoken in the Bible and that it was natural His words should coincide with their own polemical and didactic concerns and intentions
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