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Christina of Markyate

(c. 1097—1161) hermit and prioress of Markyate

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virgin. Christina came of a noble Anglo-Saxon family in Huntingdon, the daughter of Autti, a rich and influential guild merchant in the town. In 1112, on a visit to St Albans abbey, she made a private vow of virginity, which was intended to be fulfilled in some form of public dedication. It was not, however, acceptable to her parents. Ralph Flambard (after he became a bishop) attempted to seduce her in 1114; bishop Robert Bloet of Lincoln first agreed that she should not marry Burhtred, the man of her parents' choice, but was later bribed to give judgement against her. So after a year's virtual imprisonment, and having been both betrothed and married but retaining her virginity, she was helped to escape by the hermit Eadwin who had consulted Ralph, archbishop of Canterbury, about her case. She took refuge at Flamstead with an anchoress named Alfwen for two years and in 1118 moved to a hermitage at Markyate, where the elderly recluse Roger protected and instructed her. In 1122 both her betrothal and her marriage were annulled by Thurstan, archbishop of York, and Burhtred was free to marry again. This decision was reached in view of the unconsummated marriage being cancelled by her earlier vow of virginity and of it being undertaken under duress from her parents. Her return to Markyate was made possible by the death of Bloet in 1123.

There, apart from short intervals, she remained for the rest of her life, attracting disciples as her fame spread far and wide. The house became a regular priory of nuns. In 1130 archbishop Thurstan invited Christina to become abbess of his nunnery of St Clement at York; Fontevrault and Marcigny nunneries also asked her to join them, but she was persuaded by Geoffrey, abbot of St Albans, to remain at Markyate. Until his death in 1147 he guided her and she deeply influenced him away from the worldly success of administration towards prayer, solitude, and poverty. Hermits and recluses in the neighbourhood gained from his generosity. Christina, who was a skilful needlewoman, embroidered for the English pope Adrian IV (educated at St Albans) a present of mitres and sandals. She probably owned the sumptuous St Albans Psalter, a masterpiece of Romanesque illumination which contains the unusual Legend of Alexis, who left his wife on their wedding-night to pursue a life of devotion and voluntary poverty.

Christina seems to have been a well-balanced and able person, highly strung but not hysterical, who experienced visions on occasion, but was not given to excessive mortifications. There are some traces of a cult. There was a feast at St Albans of her companions, Roger and Sigar, on 5 December, and a Christina is mentioned on the same day in some Parisian calendars and in the English Martyrologe of 1608. A modern Bollandist conjectures that the feast of 5 December was the feast of the whole group, including Christina, while on the rood-screen at Gately (Norfolk) among other saints is a ‘puella de Ridibowne’, probably intended for Christina of Redburne or Markyate. Markyate continued as a nunnery until 1537.


Subjects: Religion

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