Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 161

Corpus 161 is a passional or collection of saints’ lives. Comprising 152 folios, it measures 300×205 milimetres and is laid out, like most twelfth- and thirteenth-century manuscripts of this type, in double columns. It was produced at the end of the twelfth century, and its contents may be listed as follows:

  1. Vita et miracula gloriosi episcopi Martialis, ‘Life and Miracles of the glorious bishop Martial of Limoges’ (fols. 2r–23r) [Elements of BHL 5551–2, plus other material.]
  2. Miraculum S. Nicholai episcopi, ‘Miracles of St Nicholas the Bishop’ (fols. 23r–25r) [BHL 6210]
  3. Sermo de maxima laude S. Dunstani archiepiscopi et confessoris, ‘Sermon about the greatest praise of St Dunstan, archbishop and confessor’ (fols. 25r–26r)
  4. Faricius, monk of Malmesbury, Vita S. Aldelmi episcopi et confessoris, ‘Life of St Aldhelm, bishop and confessor’ (fols. 26r–30v) [An abbreviated version of BHL 256]
  5. Vita S. Erkenwaldi Londonie episcopi, ‘Life of St Erkenwald, bishop of London’ (fols. 31r–33r) [BHL 2600, abridged]
  6. Arcoid, Miracula S. Erkenwaldi Londoniensis episcopi, ‘Miracles of St Erkenwald, bishop of London’ (fols. 33r–45v) [BHL 2601, abridged]
  7. Vita et miracula S. Swithuni episcopi, ‘Life and Miracles of St Swithun’ (fols. 45v–54v) [Life = BHL 7943; miracula not in BHL, some minor omissions]
  8. Vita et translatio S. Neoti abbatis, ‘Life and Translation of St Neot the abbot’ (fols. 54v–60r) [BHL 6054, 6055, abridged]
  9. Vita S. Iohannis archiepiscopi Eboracensis, ‘Life of St John of Beverley, archbishop of York’ (fols. 60r–61v) [BHL 4346]
  10. Folcard of Thorney, Vita S. Botulphi abbatis, ‘Life of the Holy Abbot Botulph’ (fols. 61v–63v) [BHL 1428]
  11. Miracula S. Ithamari episcopi, ‘Miracles of St Ithamar the Bishop’ (fols. 63v–68r) [BHL 4501]
  12. Rhygyfarch ap Sulien, Vita S. Davidis Gualensis archiepiscopi, ‘Life of St David, archbishop of Wales’ (fols. 68r–75v) [BHL 2107]
  13. John of Cluny, Vita Odonis abbatis Cluniacensis, ‘Life of St Odo, abbot of Cluny’ (fols. 75v–93r) [BHL 6292–5]
  14. Odilo of Cluny, Vita Majoli abbatis Cluniacensis, ‘Life of Maiolus, abbot of Cluny’ (fols. 93r–96v) [BHL 5182]
  15. Peter Damian, Vita Odilonis abbatis Cluniacensis, ‘Life of St Odilo, abbot of Cluny’ (fols. 96v–103r) [BHL 6282]
  16. Hugh of Cluny, Vita Hugonis abbatis Cluniacensis, ‘Life of Hugh, abbot of Cluny’ (fols. 103r–108v) [BHL 4012]
  17. Aelred of Rievaulx, Vita beati confessoris Christi Edwardi gloriosi regis Anglorum, ‘Life of the blessed confessor of Christ Edward, glorious king of the English’ (fols. 108v–138v) [BHL 2423]
  18. Osbert of Clare, Vita et miracula S. Edwardi regis et confessoris, ‘Life and miracles of St Edward, king and confessor’ (fols. 138v–152v) [BHL 2422, abridged]

firebeastAs is frequently the case with legendaries, many of the vitae and especially the miracula in Corpus 161 have been abridged, but to differing extents and without achieving the regularity of length which often seems to have been desired in collections of this kind. The contents show a considerable interest in the lives of English saints, who comprise nine of the sixteen covered; but Corpus 161 also includes a cluster of the lives of the four greatests abbots of Cluny. Various regional affinities are in evidence: the presence of lives of Botulph and Neot points to the Fenlands where these saints were the patrons of Thorney and St Neot’s respectively; the Erkenwald texts and the two lives of Edward the Confessor point strongly to London; Ithamar was venerated at Rochester Cathedral, Dunstan at Glastonbury Abbey and Christ Church Cathedral, Canterbury; the presence of the Swithun materials and of Rhygyfarch’s David, on the other hand, seems anomalous. Given strong London and Cluniac elements, M. R. James opted for Bermondsey Abbey, a Cluniac house on the southern side of the River Thames. In view of the Kentish dimension, which is strengthened by the full page frontispiece showing an archbishop holding a crozier (folio 1r), Nigel Morgan opts for Faversham, a Cluniac house in Kent founded on a grand scale by King Stephen (1135–54).

But an equally strong case might also be made for St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury. The flyleaf, folio i recto, has the word Twyne, written in red chalk, indicating that the book was procured for Archbishop Matthew Parker by John Twyne (c. 1505–81), a teacher and antiquarian resident in Canterbury. Many of Twyne’s manuscripts are known to have come from St Augustine’s where he had been a schoolmaster before the monastery was dissolved in 1538. There is, in addition, a rubric on folio 49r, at the head of one of the miracula of St Swithun which may point to an association with this monastery: De diuitis podagriti curatione quam beatus Augustinus sancto Swithuno reseruauit, ‘About the cure of a rich gout-sufferer whom the blessed Augustine reserved to St Swithun’. Michael Lapidge thinks that a rubric of this kind would have been problematic at Winchester Cathedral where St Swithun was venerated, but was the association implicit in the miracle really a humiliation? Partnership miracles of this sort are often celebrated in miracle collections, the hagiographers being anxious to show that their subjects enjoyed the recognition of other high-status saints. There are, unfortunately, no medieval ownership inscriptions, nor has the book been identified in the St Augustine’s library catalogue.

Facsimile: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 161.

Item for Discusssion: Vita S. Erkenwaldi Londonie episcopi (fols. 31r–33r). Corpus 161 divides the text of this vita into seven chapters. There is a set of capitula or chapter titles at the head of the text on fol. 31r, and the divisions are indicated in the text itself with large initials and chapter numbers. The divisions and the headings may have been introduced or adjusted by the makers of the book. (Divisions are found in the four other surviving copies of the life proper, but they occur at different points in the text.) The text is written in Gothic textualis formata by a single scribe whose work continues into the Miracula S. Erkenwaldi which follows. He corrected the text as wrote, but abbreviated it at the same time. The text lacks the sentences at the following lines in Whatley’s edition: 41–42, 84–86, 92–93, 104–110, 111–14, 117–18, and 135–39. The fullest text, on which Whatley’s edition depends, is that found in London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius A.V (s.xii/xiii), a collection of four saint’s lives which once belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Holme Cultram. Corpus 161 is also the home of the fullest copy of Arcoid’s Miracula S. Erkenwaldi, but it is highly likely that it has also suffered abbreviation—a point that has important implications for attempts to exploit this text for historical purposes.


  • Barker-Benfield, B. C. (ed.), Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, vol. 13, St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, 3 pts. (London, 2008). ZVRea2.
  • Bethell, D., ‘The Miracles of St Ithamar’, Analecta Bollandiana, 89 (1971), 421–37, at p. 427. Corpus 161 has the only copy of the Miracula S. Ithamari episcopi, a text which dates from the 1140s.
  • Dumville, D. N., and M. Lapidge (ed.), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Collaborative Edition, vol. 17, The Annals of St Neots with Vita Prima Sancti Neoti (Cambridge, 1984), pp. lxxxi–lxxxii.
  • James, M. R., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1912), i, 358–63.
  • James, M. R., Ancient Libraries of Canterbury and Dover (Cambridge, 1903).
  • Martin, G. H., ‘Twyne, John (c.1505–1581)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).
  • Morgan, N. J., Early Gothic Manuscripts, pt. 1, 1190–1285, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles (London, 1982), p. 52.
  • Ker, N. R., Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving Books, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks 3 (2nd edn, London, 1964), p. 39. Reference 2JMea.
  • Lapidge, M. (ed.), The Cult of St Swithun, Winchester Studies 4.ii (Oxford, 2003), pp. 623 and 643. Oversize MWKM.K.
  • Watson, A. G., ‘John Twyne of Canterbury (d. 1581) as a Collector of Manuscripts: A Preliminary Investigation’, The Library, 6th ser., 8 (1986), 133–51, at p. 150 (no. 27). Available at Oxford Journals Online.
  • Whatley, E. G., The Saint of London: The Life and Miracles of St Erkenwald, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 58 (Binghamton, 1989), esp. pp. 1–23.
  • Whatley, E. G., ‘Vita Erkenwaldi: An Anglo-Norman’s Life of an Anglo-Saxon Saint’, Manuscripta, 27 (1983), 67–81.

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