Translating Christianity: Old Norse-Icelandic Hagiography in Medieval Iceland / Kristnin þýdd: Þýddar helgisögur á Íslandi á miðöldum

Í Odda 206 föstudaginn 10. mars kl. 15:15-17:00.

The topic of this session is translated hagiography in medieval Iceland. Approaching the topic in diverse ways, the papers cover a wide spectrum of issues related to saints and hagiographic writings: Mary of Oignies, the apostle Peter, and four female penitent saints. The papers furthermore share an interest in the question of how hagiographic writings served as a channel for Christian ideas and traditions, impacting Icelandic culture and society in significant ways.
All papers in English.

Session Moderator: Margaret Cormack


Meginviðfangsefni málstofunnar er þýddar helgisögur á Íslandi á miðöldum. Fjallað verður um fjölbreytileg viðfangsefni tengd dýrlingum og helgisögum, þ.e. Pétur postula, Maríu frá Oignies og fjóra kvenkyns iðrunardýrlinga. Erindin beina sjónum sínum að menningar- og samfélagslegu mikilvægi þýddra helgisagna og eiga það einnig sameiginlegt að fjalla um það hvernig þýddar helgisögur voru farvegur fyrir kristnar hefðir og hugmyndir inn í íslenskt miðaldasamfélag.
Öll erindi á ensku.

Margaret Cormack kynnir fyrirlesara og stýrir umræðum.


The lives, passions, or miracles, in part or in full, of about 150 saints have been preserved in prose in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, and some legends are preserved in more than one version. These texts represent some of the first prose works written in the Old Norse-Icelandic vernacular, and as such, they played an important role in bringing about and shaping the various saga genres that came about in the subsequent decades and centuries. Within the corpus of Old Norse-Icelandic hagiography are a number of sub-categories, which often correlate to types of sanctity. For example, there are the postola sögur, which focus on the lives of the apostles, and the heilagra meyja sögur, or the sagas of holy virgins. There is also a group of sagas that focus on the lives of penitents; these include the lives of the so-called desert fathers, as well as the lives of a select women penitents. This paper provides an overview of the lives of the four women penitents represented in Old Norse-Icelandic translated hagiographic literature: Sts. Mary of Egypt, Mary Magdalen, Pelagia, and Thaïs. It considers the relationship of these works to one another, and more importantly, their influence on other works produced in Iceland during the Middle Ages. 

This paper investigates the preservation of fragments of Mary of Oignies' vita found in the miracle stories of Maríu saga. The way in which Maríu saga was edited by Carl Unger in 1871 gives the reader the impression that it is a uniform saga, while in fact there are several iterations. Out of the many manuscripts of the saga, only four contain parts of Mary of Oignies' vita. Mary of Oignies (d. 1213) was part of the Beguine movement in the Bishopric of Liege, modern-day Belgium. Her Latin vita, written by Jacques de Vitry around 1215, played a significant role in the Beguine movement as well as women's mysticism. This importance, however, is lost in the translation to Old Icelandic. The new text becomes a part of the miracles of the Virgin, where the focus is on Mary, mother of God, rather than Mary of Oignies herself. Interestingly, the Old Icelandic manuscripts pre-date the majority of extant Latin manuscripts of her vita, and her story in Maríu saga is the oldest known vernacular iteration of her life. 

This paper explores the representation of the apostle Peter as it appears in hagiographic works translated into Old Icelandic in the centuries when Christianity was establishing itself in Iceland. Through a close examination of central Petrine passages, not exclusively but most importantly from Pétrs saga postola, comparison with their source texts, and contextualization of these passages in the Christian exegetical landscape of the Middle Ages, it will be argued that the representation of the apostle is firmly rooted in the so-called “Roman Exegetical Tradition.” Consistent with that tradition, the dominating aspects of Peter as the leader of the apostles are emphasized and by extension, the authority of the Roman pontiff and the Roman episcopal see as well. This finding will, as a conclusion, be explained in view of the religio-political context of 11th, 12th, and 13th century Iceland.